- Among Others, by Jo Walton
- Embassytown, by China Mieville
- Firebird, by Jack McDevitt
- God's War, by Kameron Hurley
- Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine
- The Kingdom of Gods, by N. K. Jemisin
That looks like a pretty great ballot to me. I've already mentioned how much I like Among Others and Mechanique, both of which I intend to nominate for the Best Novel Hugo this year. The Kingdom of Gods is the third in the series that began with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I enjoyed very much when I read it last year. I'm looking forward to Embassytown, but I don't know much about Firebird or God's War. I'll have to hunt them out.
Between the Nebula announcement and reading for the Hugo Awards, I've been thinking quite a bit about what these awards actually mean to me. Is the 'best' novel simply the one I enjoyed the most? Perhaps not -- I think I try to choose the novel that I believe would cast the genre in the best light if I were to give it to a critical reader (whatever that means).
Which brings me to Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey (who is really Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). It was published last year, so it's part of my reading for the Hugo ballot. I just finished it yesterday, and I had a great time. I'm a real sucker for big, action-packed space operas, and this was a particularly good one. I realised as I read it, though, that I was never going to nominate it for Best Novel. And if it did appear on the final ballot, I probably wouldn't vote for it.
Why is that? I've spoken about this before, but I think I believe that a book should be judged against its own goals. There's not really much point in comparing a plot-driven thriller against a literary character piece (although Best Novel awards force you to try). If I really believe that, though, why isn't a space opera that absolutely nails it just as worthy of a Best Novel nomination as anything else?
I feel like the answer might be ambition -- a space opera just seems like a less ambitious undertaking than, well, many other things. But that's not a feeling I'm particularly comfortable with. It implies an inescapable, objective hierarchy of value: these books over here are 'good', by definition, and these other ones are 'trashy'.
And worse than that, it's a paralysing feeling. I love space operas. I think they'd be really fun to write. But I never try. Maybe I should nominate Leviathan Wakes for the Best Novel Hugo -- embrace it, rather than give into the temptation to marginalise it. Because really, I enjoyed it very much.