2015 Hugo Best Novel Longlist Discussion Thread

By JJ: We’ve spent a lot of time over the last several months reading and discussing the Hugo Best Novel finalists. This thread has been created to give us the opportunity to discuss the rest of the entries on the longlist.

Please employ your best judgment, and use rot13 to encrypt anything especially spoilery, in consideration of those who may not have gotten to read all of the entries yet.

To make a JavaScript bookmarklet for your browser that handles rot13 – so that all you have to do is highlight some text and click the bookmark to encrypt/decrypt it — go here, click on the “file suppressed” message, copy the one line of code to your clipboard, and save it as the target/URL of a Bookmark/Favorite. (Thanks to Rev. Bob for the neat trick.)

[First in a series. See also — Hugo Best Novella Longlist Discussion Thread and Hugo Best Novelette Longlist Discussion Thread.]

181 thoughts on “2015 Hugo Best Novel Longlist Discussion Thread

  1. I refuse to read anything by Correia or Torgerson or any seriously crazy puppy. And I especially don’t want to read religious claptrap. I have several hundred books on my TBR pile so I know I’m not missing anything.

    Lock In by John Scalzi – Good mystery, smooth writing, interesting characters, great plot. On the fence about its Hugo-worthiness.

    City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – I’m in the middle of this and the worldbuilding is fantastic and the characters fascinating. I would have nominated this for a Hugo if I’d read it in time. I am going to find his other books and add them to Mt. TBR.

    The Martian by Andy Weir – thoroughly engrossing and I finished it in one shot. I liked the science, although he admits he made a few errors. But honestly, who cares about a few errors cause he gets a lot right! He actually wrote a program to do all the orbital calculations.

    I bounce off Jo Walton’s writing. I really want to like her books but, after many attempts, I haven’t been able to finish one. I have given up on trying.

    I tried one Kameron Hurley and it was so depressing I coudn’t finish. I love her blog and think she’s cool, but not sure any of her books would work for me.

  2. The Chaplain’s War is a decent book. It’s a re-framed version of Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine — although I didn’t get the impression that Torgersen used that novella as a template.

    An agnostic assistant inherits the role of Chaplain when his superior officer is killed during wartime, then has to convince an alien conqueror that it is worth keeping the human race alive to understand why they believe in god(s) (the aliens have no such belief and cannot comprehend why humans would develop one), and why their different belief systems take such a widely disparate form.

    The text, surprisingly, is far less religiously rabid than Torgersen’s blog — to the point of reasonableness.

    Unfortunately, the author decided to close the book with “Ntabfgvp Puncynva qrpvqrf ur vf eryvtvbhf nsgre nyy, naq vfa’g vg jbaqreshy!” This really diminishes the quality of the book, in my opinion — it would have been much better if left ambiguous, giving the reader things to consider.

    Also, Torgersen clearly struggles a lot with correct spelling and grammar, and Ms Weisskopf doesn’t seem to be ensuring that his works get the final polishing they need.

    I didn’t regret reading it, but it wasn’t anywhere close to being on my Hugo nom list, either.

  3. The Southern Reach trilogy is the only one of these that I’ve read, although Lagoon is near the top of my TBR pile. I thought the SR was just spectacularly good, probably the best thing I’ve read in a couple of years.

  4. Words of Radiance was my favorite book of the year and I liked it better than either Goblin Emperor, which I put in first place, and the Three Body Problem, which I put second.

    I’ve also read The Martian and Lock In and would put both on my Hugo ballot if they had been awarded the nomination. Like Meredith, I am disabled and I think Scalzi really got it in some very specific and subtle ways that took it over the top from just being a near-future whodunnit. I also read The Chaplain’s War and didn’t love it. It felt like a religious message was hidden in it even though the protagonist was an agnostic.

    Thanks for the samplers of the other books! Now I will know what to ask for at the library next.

  5. So a bit more detail about the ones I’ve read:

    Lock In: Fun read, if a little rushed towards the end and a bit of handwavium on how quickly the antagonist was resolved. Didn’t realize the thing about Chris until a read some reviews – I always though that Chris was male, to the point where some of the words I remebered were different to the ones in the text. The prequel novella, Unlocked is brilliant, give it a read for some nice scenery setting and worldbuilding.

    Martian: Like Lock In, a fun read. I really liked the narrators voice. I glossed over much of the science-y bits, cause enh, not my thing, but it was really nice how Weir walks us through a lot of bits and pieces.

    A question though – I recently saw a physical copy that had the Matt Damon on the cover, and it looks like the ending has been changed from the Google Play version I had – instead of switching narrative voices, it ends as a sort of tribute to NASA? Was this the only change?

    Words of Radiance: A good doorstopper fantasy series, and Sanderson has progressed enough that the magic system is a feature and not the meat and bones of his writing. Can’t recommend it, as heck, it’s only book 2 of freakin 10.

    Mirror Empire: Nope. Took me 2 weeks to get halway through the novel, and once I got to the bit where the stupid kid kills the another kid, I was well into Eight Deadly Words territory.

    So I may give the Walton a try, but probably much later. I tried her Small Change series and was kinda unimpressed altogether. I tried Gannon’s Fire with Fire last year, but then dozed of when they started with the random codenames and the like.

  6. @JJ

    Really? I’m sure the novella upon which the novel is built didn’t do that at the end, unless I’m horribly misremembering it. What a shame.

  7. snowcrash –

    So I may give the Walton a try, but probably much later. I tried her Small Change series and was kinda unimpressed altogether. I tried Gannon’s Fire with Fire last year, but then dozed of when they started with the random codenames and the like.

    If you do The Just City is pretty great man. I can’t get into all of her books, but that one is a good one.

  8. Meredith: Really? I’m sure the novella upon which the novel is built didn’t do that at the end, unless I’m horribly misremembering it. What a shame.

    The Chaplain’s War is a fix-up novel created by combining “The Chaplain’s Assistant” and “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, then adding some new material, including more at the end. It’s as if he decided, “Paste Hollywood Ending Here”.

    And yes, it’s a shame. It really takes the book down a couple of notches, from “thought-provoking” to “trite”.

  9. rrede made a great comment in another thread the other day, which I’m going to replicate here.

    rrede on September 12, 2015 at 7:13 pm said:
    @Chris S: Thank you for saying: He actually hasn’t read Lock In, so is getting hung up about the unspecified gender of the lead character. Who is, of course, completely paralyzed, unable to speak, and interacts through a mechanical body. I believe that the human body is only shown in one brief scene.

    I admit that I assumed throughout the novel which I thoroughly enjoyed that the narrator was male because the vast majority of Scalzi’s narrators are male (Zoe’s Tale being the standout exception in my mind), and because as others have said, I tend to default to the male as standard character because so many are.

    And I had to go back and re-read when I picked up from something Scalzi said on his blog that neither sex nor gender was specified–and it wasn’t (I didn’t notice any awkwardness). And I was quite taken with thinking about why–coming to the conclusion that one reason was Chris’ young age when contracting the disease and becoming “locked in” and starting a life of physical paralysis and use of the mechanical body. Although studies have shown adult humans interact diffrently with even very young infants based on the assumed or identified sex (same baby dressed in blue or pink treated very differently), I doubt many of us consciously remember much of what happens before three or four. I suspect that the stereotype of people with physical disabilities as not having “normal” bodies might have played some part in my overlooking the lack of clearly identified sex or gender as well. I think it’s only one scene….may have to re-read! It’s fascinating and sneaky (in a good way!).

  10. @JJ

    As a data point: Aside from some rather insidious views from doctors, much of what people defaulted to when thinking of me as a young woman vanished once I got the wheelchair. It was very noticeable. The other thing that happened: No-one said I was smart anymore. Visible disability interacts with gender and personhood in some very interesting ways, and that despite me not having a shiny threep to move around in.

    ETA: While Chris’ body is only shown once, Chris’ Agora image appears a few times. The image is not described, though.

  11. I read “Unlocked” (the novella prequel) before I read Lock In (and I highly recommend that anyone picking up Lock In take the time to read “Unlocked” first). One of the characters in Unlocked is Chris’s father, [former NBA star and Basketball Hall of Famer] Marcus Shane, whose ethnicity is never specified, but my assumption was that he was a POC (because basketball).

    My assumption in Lock In was that Chris was a male POC, because 1) I haven’t ever known any females who went by Chris (just Christie, Christy, Kris, Krissy, etc), and because 2) while numerous people in the book throw insults at Chris, none of them ever throws the sort of insults that women typically get — about being fat, or ugly, or needing to stay home and cook and clean, or not being capable of doing a “man’s job”.

    So when Scalzi pointed out that Chris’ gender had never been specified, my reaction was “huh, isn’t it funny how we paint our own preconceptions onto characters in the stories we read? let me think about why I made the choices I did; let me think about how I might have viewed the story differently if I had assumed Chris was female”.

    It didn’t make me feel angry or stupid, or feel that I was duped — it just gave me some interesting material for reflection. I mean, how powerful is that — recognizing that I assumed that a character must be male because they never got the usual sexist/misognist insults thrown at them, because that’s what I perceive to be the (unacceptable, in my opinion) norm for insulting women in our culture???

  12. And yes, if there is any message in Lock In, it’s about how people treat those with disabilities. It’s clear that Scalzi did a great job doing extensive research for the book.

    The novel’s treatment of the physically-locked-in people echoes the ongoing cultural debate involving people who are deaf or hearing-impaired: Are these people who need to be “fixed”? Or is “curing” their condition a form of genocide for people who have developed their very own rich subculture? I don’t have any answers for that — and Scalzi’s book does not presume to try to answer that question, either.

    There’s a really interesting scene in the novel when Chris, unable to use his/her own android body, is forced to use another android body which is partially disabled — and the subsequent disrespect and dismissal shown by others parallels that often shown to people in wheelchairs. It’s a powerful — and uncomfortable — glimpse of the subconscious thinking a lot of us may experience in such situations.

    I was disappointed in that the solution to the crime in the book is a “mundane” (non-SFFnal) one — but other than that, I thought that the novel was very innovative and well-done in a lot of ways. It was on my Hugo shortlist because of that.

  13. Sorry this is so long. Yes, I ramble. Many thanks to JJ & Mike for this post/thread!

    LOCK IN: I enjoyed this a lot*, though I kinda wish I hadn’t read on Scalzi’s blog about the no-specified-gender thing. I’ve got both audiobooks (thanks to the special deal when they first came out) and look forward to “re-reading” – but I’m not sure which to try first! Since the protaganist was usually in a threep, the whole “OMG no gender” overreaction by pups like Maynard just baffles me; you’re trying to picture a threep – a (sometimes very clunky-looking) robot body – not a human body! (But of course, folks complaining about this usually haven’t read the book, thus don’t realize, in their haste to worship received wisdom from the internet, what a non-issue the gender of the protag is.) BTW I didn’t even read much of the novella, “Unlocked” – yawn. I should try it again, it sounds like. But anyway, Lock In – great book; the window into disability was interesting, BTW.

    * I should probably read more near-future SF thrillers. Once in a long while, one grabs me and I wind up enjoying it, to my surprise.

    THE MARTIAN: Reading it now and enjoying it so far. I keep hearing/seeing Matt Damon as I read it; that’s A Good Thing, since my imagination frequently bites in this respect. ;-P (I don’t mind having him in mind. 😉 One thing to keep in mind re. the narrator’s voice is that (I believe) it’s literally supposed to be his voice, as he’s recording things for posterity in case he doesn’t make it. I don’t know if that helps or hurts, for whoever said they didn’t like the voice, but it works for me.

    SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY: I picked up the lovely hardback omnibus at World Fantasy in Crystal City, but haven’t read it yet. I look forward to it, though!

    THE MIRROR EMPIRE: On my to-buy list. I skimmed the excerpt at one point and it didn’t grab me. I plan to take another look when I have more attention to focus, since I’m intrigued by the concepts and what I’ve heard about the book. I have a couple of her earlier books (thanks, Hugo packets of yore!) and plan to read them at some point.

    CITY OF STAIRS: On my to-buy list, but let’s see how I like the excerpt; I seriously dislike nearly all present tense, so that’s a big strike against it . . . for me. But I keep hearing how awesome it is, so I’ll probably give it two tries (as abover). BTW, it’s a bit odd that Tor.com’s excerpt is chapter 2, but I believe I have a real sample on my iPad.

    THE REST: I know little about the Okorafor, but I’m confused by it sounding like SF but being described as magical realism; I suspect this may not be for me. I have no interest in the Gannon (MilSF sequel to unread book), the Torgersen (what @Ita said above, mostly, plus isn’t this the start of a MilSF series? yawn), the Sanderson (ginormous sequel to unread ginormous book), or the Walton (non-SFF, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” ;-).

    Voting in an Alternate Universe: I’d’ve been torn on putting Lock In or Ancillary Justice 2nd (AJ was second on my ballot), but I probably would’ve kept TGE 1st. I’m not 100% sure, though. the Martian would’ve gone 3rd or 4th, based on what I’ve read so far – I’m enjoying it, but so far, I enjoyed the others on my Alternate Universe Ballot better, methinks.

  14. Re: Chris’ race

    His father is described as black at one point in Lock In. I don’t remember whether his mother is.

  15. @JJ: IIRC, at one point in Lock In, Marcus Shane is referred to by another character (and/or described) as being black. And again, I really wish I hadn’t known Chris’s gender wasn’t specified; I’m sure I’d’ve defaulted to male for Chris.

    On the other paw, I had a fun time trying to read between the lines and going back and forth. At one point I was like “Oh Scalzi it’s so obvious from X” and then Y would happen and I’d be like “Uh I mean it’s really obviously the other gender ‘cuz Y.” Tell me I’m not the only one, of those of us who knew going into the book, who had fun with that! I mean, it wasn’t distracting (sorry, Maynard) – just a little bonus thing. So maybe it’s good that I knew? 😉

    The more I think about it, the more I think I’d’ve put LI 2nd and AJ 3rd on my Alternate Universe Ballot. At least, if this thread had happened pre-Alternate-Universe-Hugos.

    ETA: @Meredith, I feel like Chris’s mother was white, but maybe I’m imagining having read something indicating this.

  16. @Kendall

    I just had a look and her family is Virginian and were apparently gun runners for the Confederacy, so that hints at her being white, I think. Marcus Shane is definitely black, because spoiler I’m too tired to rot13 spoiler. 🙂

  17. @Kendall (and others who usually dislike present-tense narratives): I recommend giving City of Stairs a chance. It snuck past my default “ugh, present tense” orientation to pin itself to my “books I loved despite expecting not to” list.

  18. Thanks, Meredith, yes it does. And LOL at “too tired to rot13.” I just added the bookmarklet JJ pointed to (Thanks, JJ!).

    BTW you’re quite a trooper at double-checking things like this; I blush at my own laziness . . . okay, plus I’m not sure where I put Lock In, but that’s really just an excuse.

  19. @Lexica: I plan to try the sample/excerpt, but it is very good to hear from another who doesn’t care for present tense – I’ll keep an open mind. 😉

  20. Kendall: at one point in Lock In, Marcus Shane is referred to by another character (and/or described) as being black.

    He is, fairly late in the book. My point was that I went in at the beginning assuming this, based on my own personal biases, after reading in “Unlocked” that he was a basketball player and his name was Marcus.

    It’s only in recognizing and examining our own personal biases and prejudices that we are able to change them. I think that Unlocked / Lock In does some good work in facilitating that, with regard to gender, race, and ableism.

  21. Re: Lock In: I was about a third of the way into the book before I remembered that Scalzi had said Chris’s gender was unspecified. Up to that point, I had defaulted to thinking Chris was male, but I decided after that that it would be more interesting to me if Chris were female. It took real mental effort, but it definitely added to my reading enjoyment.

    snowcrash: You’re clearly a spiritual sibling. That moment in The Mirror Empire is exactly where I gave up. As I recall, it was accompanied by “Oh, f— this bulls—!”

    I just bought a bunch of Kindle books based entirely on File770 recommendations. Sorcerer to the Crown, Penric’s Demon, Karen Memory, Updraft. Curse you all for forcing me to buy good books!

  22. @JJ: Sorry, I did get that you were assuming based on biases, from what you said; I just misunderstood and thought you didn’t actually realize it was the case. FWIW, as I recall I saw Marcus (uh, Roman name) + basketball and wondered whether he was black (wasn’t sure till it was spelled out). Anyway, agreed re. recognizing and examining things like this!

    @Jim S.: Curse you all for forcing me to buy good books! – LOL!

  23. SOUTHERN REACH:

    @LunarG: have gotten much pleasure on re-reads on spotting signs of incursion. If VanderMeer is giving eavesdropped-upon dialogue between unnamed characters, there is a reason.

    Yes yes yes this. On that note: I was seriously spooked in Authority when [rot13]Pbageby jnf bireurnevat pbairefngvbaf ur pbhyq abg culfvpnyyl/puebabybtvpnyyl or urnevat. Lbh xabj gur cneg V’z gnyxvat nobhg? Ur’f va gur UD naq ur vf urnevat, nzbat bgure guvatf, rknpg dhbgrf bs qvnybthr gung unccrarq ng gur pnzc va Naavuvyngvba. Nsgre frireny erernqf V pna bayl pbapyhqr guvf vf n fvta bs Nern K nyernql ortvaavat gb rapebnpu.[/rot13]

    Here is a single thing that bugged me about Authority in particular: The constant reference to the smell of “rotten honey.” Honey, famously, never goes bad. Thanks to its lack of water content, it has no known shelf-life. Seriously, archaeologists have tasted the millennia-old honey found in the pyramids of pharaohs (and I am SO jealous). Anyone play trivia with their local Geeks Who Drink crew? This was a focus of one of their trivia questions last night/Wednesday night. Honey doesn’t rot, is what I’m saying.

    Yes, yes, I know what the author means. A smell that is both sweet but rotten, evoking the specter of decay and decomposition. Fine. But it bugged me, nonetheless.

    @Eli: Example of a great moment in Southern Reach that, for me, is totally satisfying in a flat-out horror thriller mode despite all the unanswered questions and subtle ambiguities before and after it: nsgre ohvyqvat hc ybgf bs perrcvat qernq nobhg gur qnatre bs Nern K’f obeqref rkcnaqvat, naq univat gur Qverpgbe qvfnccrne be qvr va gur svefg obbx… gung zbzrag va gur frpbaq obbx jura nyy uryy svanyyl oernxf ybbfr, Pbageby svaqf n ubeevoyr yvivat jnyy vafvqr gur ohvyqvat, naq gura ur frrf gur obeqre ivfvoyl oneeryyvat gbjneq gurz jvgu gur genafsbezrq Qverpgbe jnyxvat ng gur urnq bs gung jnir.

    Gb zl zvaq, gur yvivat jnyy, gur jnyy gung fubhyq unir orra vabetnavp ohg fhqqrayl sryg yvxr syrfu, fb zhpu yvxr gur jnyy vafvqr gur Gbjre, jnf fb zhpu jbefr guna gur nccrnenapr bs gur Qverpgbe. Oeeee vf evtug. Ba gur bgure unaq, gung fprar jvgu gur Qverpgbe naq Nern K znepuvat ba UD ernpurq sbejneq gb perngr erfbanapr jvgu gung ubeevsvp fprar va gur cvnab one va Npprcgnapr. (Uvf svatref! Qrne Tbqf, uvf cbbe svatref!)

    @JJ: VanderMeer created something that is interesting and thought-provoking as hell. But I still don’t know what that “something” is.

    …an experience? That’s all I got.

    (And now I am suddenly reminded of Steven Universe. NO CROSSOVERS PLEASE.)

    CITY OF STAIRS:

    Right! How could I forget? Loved it. Expected to love it, since I loved American Elsewhere. Was not disappointed (though I will always love AE more; that Lovecraftian WTF sweet spot that it hits overlaps the one that Southern Reach bullseyed). Loved the chewy shades-of-gray/no-easy-answers ethical set-up. Real people in real political tangles. Fantastic characters, intricate worldbuilding, lots of exciting action (Ur chapurq n Tbqyrg va vgf rlr, l’nyy. Evtug va vgf rlr!)

    From reading those two books, I am satisfied to trust Bennett for the foreseeable future to write kick-ass female protagonists who are kick-ass in all possible ways (not just the approved Manly-Man ways), and at many different ages and stages of their lives. (On a related note, here’s two fantastic blog posts by Bennett: “Why are you writing a rape scene?” and “Three things that shaped how I think about sexual abuse“. It’s really a relief that he takes it so seriously. I’m reminded of this classic and horrifying blog post on a related topic by Seannan McGuire.)

    But on another axis of privilege, can anyone who’s read more by him tell me, [rot13 for spoilers for both American Elsewhere and City of Stairs]fubhyq V or jbeevrq nobhg uvf gjb-obbx geraq bs xvyyvat bss uvf tnl punenpgref? Va Nzrevpna Ryfrjurer, vg frrzrq varivgnoyr sbe gung cbbe punenpgre gb qvr, ohg jura vg unccrarq va Pvgl bs Fgnvef gbb, vg cvatrq zl enqne sbe gur Xvyy Lbhe Tnlf gebcr.[/rot13]

    I worry about these things.

  24. Right now I’m wondering if Rev. Bob has a website/PayPal, because his rot13 script makes reading and writing here SO much easier.

  25. I liked Lock In, didn’t love it. It was an tight and entertaining read but there’s nothing about it that stays with me like there was with Redshirts (esp the codas). I thought he got inside Chris’s head well but as I am not disabled, there was no resonance. I’m glad that others got the satisfaction of thinking “he gets it.” I had already read it before I read about the indeterminate gender. My reaction was typical of File770s denizens: I was impressed with Scalzi’s writing muscle-flexing as there was nothing awkward about it (I hadn’t noticed), and it made me consider what led me to assume that Chris was male. So I received entertainment and a little bit of enlightenment for one low price.

    The Martian: what can I say except whoa. What a page-turner. My usual requirement of award-winning writing is that there be something about it that haunts me, that comes back to me and compels my attention at odd times. The Martian doesn’t really have that but that’s irrelevant. The execution is just about perfect. This is a modern Golden Age story which puts the science back in science fiction.

    To diverge from the long list, TBP definitely has that quality of making me reflect on it. It has some serious weaknesses but I can forgive weakness offset by whoa-ness. The opening section is chilling and the trisolar game sections are mind-blowing.

    I didn’t read Chaplain’s War, but I did read one of the constituent novellas (Chaplain’s Legacy) and thought it belonged on the Hugo ballot that year. Torgersen’s handling of religion was deft and the story didn’t go where I thought it would. It uses enough tropes that I can’t call it original, but it is individual. For example n pbhcyr bs gebcrf, bar aba-FSS (gur aba-oryvrire jub oevatf rayvtugrazrag gb bguref) naq gur FSS gebcr bs uhzna fubjvat harkcrpgrq qrcgu gb na nyvra naq pbaivapvat vg gb fcner uhznavgl. Rira vs gur vqrnf nera’g bevtvany, Gbetrefra unaqyrf gurz qrsgyl naq chgf uvf bja fcva ba vg: aba-oryvrire vafcverf ercerffrq oryvrire jub vafcverf nyvra. Hayvxr Fnz va Ybeq bs Yvtug, gur aba-oryvrire vf abg ng nyy plavpny ohg vf eraqrevat na ubzntr gb fbzrbar ur erfcrpgf. It’s an uplifting story. Sounds like its inclusion in the novel didn’t help it. Pity.

    I have a few others from the long list on hold at the library. I hope I can get to them in time. But I have to read the new Jack Reacher first. And if a new Harry Bosch comes out, that takes precedence over SFF.

  26. I wanted to like Annihilation, of which I had read many good things, but it mostly didn’t do anything for me. V guvax V sbphfrq ba gur zlfgrel bs gur “gbjre” naq sryg vg qenttrq n ovg jvgu nyy gur vagrecrefbany vagrenpgvbaf gung vagresrerq jvgu jung V gubhtug gur tbny bs gur zvffvba jnf, naq lrf, V guvax gung jnf cneg bs gur cbvag bs gur obbx. I liked Trial By Fire, but I suspect it has middle book syndrome. I haven’t read The Chaplain’s War, but don’t know if I want to. My impression is that it is based on the novella that was Hugo nominated last year, and I wasn’t impressed with the theme or execution of the novella. Lock In and The Peripheral both had protagonists in remote devices solving mysteries, but I think I’d give Scalzi a slight edge for a realistic portrayal of disability (or so I assume). I overlooked a lot of The Martian’s faults because the “how do I survive despite all the setbacks including some of my own making” sucked me in. I haven’t read the rest.

  27. Lock In: I have not been the biggest fan of Scalzi’s work in the past, but this seemed to me a decent effort to engage with capitalism, universal surveillance and above all disability politics, let down somewhat by an implausibly theatrical scene resolving the mystery.

    The Martian: It’s the kind of book Arthur C. Clarke might have written in the 1950s or 1960s, though I think he would have done a little better on the characterisation (which one could charitably describe as “early Scalzi”) and he would also have been a bit more merciful to the reader in terms of the bounteous numerical information in the book.

    My Real Children: I read this pretty quickly, and enjoyed it and was moved by it, but not as much as Walton’s previous “Among Others”. I found the biographical details of the main character’s parallel lives a bit staccato in places, and I wasn’t at all convinced that her early decision was a plausible jonbar point for the two histories – though that appears to be the point of the story.

    Lagoon: I did find the writing a bit clunky in places near the beginning, but that may have been just getting used to the style. I also liked the politics, and the sexual politics.

    The Southern Reach Trilogy: Liked the first book, but it lost me around the middle of the second.

  28. Ok, here goes:

    Trial By Fire, by Charles E. Gannon (read Chapters 1-14)

    Never heard of it up to now. Will seek out.

    The Chaplain’s War, by Brad Torgersen (read Chapters 1-13)

    Not too motivated to seek it out, but might, if I finish all the rest.

    Lock In, by John Scalzi (read Chapters 1-5)

    This seriously goes into my TBR pile for when I finish Europe in Autumn.

    City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett (excerpt)

    Loved it loved it loved it. Fantastic world building, fantastic characters, a deft, intelligent, thoughtful treatment of religion, a sense of deep time, action!, funny dialogue, a dragon. Loved it.

    The Martian, by Andy Weir (excerpt)

    I disagree that it reads like Clarke. Clarke never bored me. The Martian did, because I am not THAT much into competence porn. I finished it in like an afternoon, but that was because every time he started to explain the chemistry I skipped. I have a VERY bad habit of skipping. I expect to enjoy the movie a whole lot and perhaps revisit the book later.

    Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson (read Chapters 1-6)

    Not terribly motivated to seek it out, probably unfairly.

    My Real Children, by Jo Walton (read Chapters 1-7)

    I have a complicated relationship with Jo (who is a personal friend). Of her books I read, some I loved, some I just liked, some I bounced off. I must be the only person on Earth who didn’t like Among Others. I did, however, love My Real Children, which left me emotionally wrung out in a big but good way for several days. I am still thinking about it at odd moments.

    The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley (read Chapters 1-5)

    Started it, is somewhere in my Kindle.

    Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor (excerpt)

    OK, this is the annoying bit. I bought this book. In paper format, ok? Then I put it somewhere. I have been looking for it for AGES, and I can’t find it. My home library, which was sort of organised alphabetically at one point, is now hopelessly disorganised due to several people who neatened my house (a sorely needed task for which I am grateful) by putting books into shelves at random.
    Will need to repurchase.

    The Southern Reach Trilogy ( Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), by Jeff Vandermeer (excerpt)

    People keep raving about this, and I should try it, but for some reason it doesn’t call to me. Sell it to me.

  29. Anna writes: I have been looking for it for AGES, and I can’t find it.

    The surefire way to find a book is to buy another copy, and the first one will show up 3 hours 10 minutes later.

  30. The surefire way to find a book is to buy another copy, and the first one will show up 3 hours 10 minutes later

    That is true, she said drily.

  31. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan: I must be the only person on Earth who didn’t like Among Others.

    You’re not. I really wanted to love that book, and I thought the first 2/3 was well-done, but that it really went off the rails at the end. Like everyone else, I loved that the book paid homage to a lot of the SFF authors and books which were seminal to me at a young age — but that wasn’t enough to make it a great book.

  32. Stankrom, not to burst your bubble or anything, but the books that are being discussed in this thread are from last year’s Hugo longlist. They’re the books that didn’t quite get enough nominations to make it onto the ballot; Worldcon releases the titles of the top 15 nominees. So they’re all 2014 publications, and not eligible for this year’s nomination. Which doesn’t mean that they’re not worth reading, mind you; just don’t put them on your Hugo ballot this year because they’ll be disqualified.

    Sorry to disappoint….

  33. Several of these are on my TBR pile, several more on the to-buy list… sadly, the only ones I’ve actually read yet are the Southern Reach ones, and I don’t have much to add to what the rot-13 guys have been saying. These are eerie, haunting, peculiar books… they leave a great deal about the central situation unexplained, and (perhaps paradoxically) that seems to me to be a huge strength of theirs. It’s a story about a mystery, and the mystery stays a mystery. We catch glimpses of it, from different viewpoints, approaching it at different angles… I, for one, wouldn’t have minded seeing some more angles (I’d have loved to know more about Lowry’s story, for instance), but you could add a whole lot more angles and still not find the right one to get to the heart of the mystery. Fascinating books. Possibly, to some, deeply frustrating books. (Heck, mostly, I like my mysteries wrapped up neatly in an explanation. But Vandermeer doesn’t do that, here, and the story still works for me.)

  34. People keep raving about this, and I should try it, but for some reason it doesn’t call to me. Sell it to me.

    Let me put it this way: do you like weird fiction that has astonishing atmospherics but no real answers? If no, feel free to skip the trilogy. I could not subsist solely on a diet of weird fiction but I like it here and there and Vandermeer really hits it out of the park with this trilogy.

  35. I really enjoyed both Fire with Fire and Trial by Fire. Yes, it’s competence porn, but Gannon is incredibly intelligent and savvy about politics and military strategy — so it’s the Thinking Person’s 007 In Space. There’s great action and good SF mixed with political intrigue.

    My only real problem with the two books is that the first one uses a rather unlikely event — gur hacynaarq certanapl jvgu bar bs gur bgure znva punenpgref — as a major plot point. Jung, gurl pna qb vagrefgryyne geniry, ohg gurl fgvyy qba’g unir eryvnoyr pbagenprcgvir vzcynagf? Okay, fine: because I really enjoyed the rest of the book, I can let that slide.

    But then, in the second book, he uses the exact same plot device with a different main character — as another major plot point. This was unnecessary, and I felt as though it was laziness. After all, this character already had sufficient motivation to do what needed to be done because it was their job, and they were extremely good at and dedicated to their job (abg gb zragvba gung gurl pnerq qrrcyl nobhg gur crefba vg jnf gurve wbo gb cebgrpg). They didn’t need another cheap motivation tacked onto that to make it extra poignant.

    So… worth reading if you like action and adventure, military strategy and political intrigue wrapped up in an intelligent SF package, as long as you can overlook the aforementioned plot issues.

    ETA: There is a new free novella set in the same universe available here: Not For Ourselves Alone.

  36. @Anna Feruglio Dal Dan:

    I must be the only person on Earth who didn’t like Among Others. I did, however, love My Real Children, which left me emotionally wrung out in a big but good way for several days. I am still thinking about it at odd moments.

    Right there with you. My Real Children knocked me out, and I enjoyed The Just City. I keep bouncing off Among Others. It sits half-read atop the TBR list giving me mournful looks as I set it aside, over and over, to devour other books.

    If I return to it, it’ll be because of JJ’s remark at 5:03. The idea that it’ll eventually run off the rails is appealing. I’d very much like for it to do something.

  37. I went into City of Stairs not sure what to expect, and ended up loving it. I came out of that novel thinking “What a great book!” and that feeling really stayed with me afterward (which is saying something). As Nicole says, it features a really well-written kick-ass female protagonist (which is, sadly, still too much of a rarity in SFF). It ended up on my Hugo shortlist.

    I thought Bennett did some interesting twists on the usual SFF tropes; the book seemed very fresh and original to me because of that. The sequel, City of Blades, comes out in January, and I’m definitely going to be onto that one.

    American Elsewhere sounds so incredibly interesting that I’ve added it to Mount File770. *sigh* I can’t ever die. I’ve still got too many books left to read.

  38. Laertes: I keep bouncing off Among Others. It sits half-read atop the TBR list giving me mournful looks as I set it aside, over and over, to devour other books. If I return to it, it’ll be because of JJ’s remark at 5:03. The idea that it’ll eventually run off the rails is appealing. I’d very much like for it to do something and that sounds exciting.

    By “went off the rails at the end”, I mean “the plot sort of trailed off and disappeared”. If and when you do read it, I’d very much be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

  39. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan –

    People keep raving about this, and I should try it, but for some reason it doesn’t call to me. Sell it to me.

    It’s weird. There’s this strange place called Area X and the books explore what it is and there are clues that feel like puzzle pieces only they don’t seem to fit all together and even if you managed to do so the picture that the puzzle would show might be one that isn’t comprehensible.

    Only the mystery isn’t so much the focus of the books as is the internal struggle of the people faced with something so truly bizarre that there’s no frame of reference while they try to hold their sanity together.

    It’s also kind of like Lost where fans argue their different theories about what is going on.

  40. I have a complicated relationship with Jo (who is a personal friend). Of her books I read, some I loved, some I just liked, some I bounced off. I must be the only person on Earth who didn’t like Among Others. I did, however, love My Real Children, which left me emotionally wrung out in a big but good way for several days. I am still thinking about it at odd moments.

    I think that’s a very normal relationship to Walton’s works. Her stuff is so very, very different. What connection can there be between Tooth and Claw (Trollope with dragons!) and My Real Children (Too much exposition? I’ll show you how exposition is meant to be done!)? The Arthurian books are different even to Lifelode and they at least kinda share-if-you-squint a universe. Among Others is nothing like the Small Change books. And where is any connection from those books to the Philosophy books? It’s perfectly rational to like some of her work and not others.

  41. I’m kinda-sorta interested in reading the Southern Reach books, but I’ve gotten the impression there’s some, umm, body horror involved? I don’t deal well with that sort of thing. I unrot-13ed enough to see something about a piano and my mind went Very Bad Places No Thank You Uh Uhn. Should I avoid these books, or is my imagination worse than the reality?

  42. There is some body horror. It’s not the main event–this isn’t a slasher picture or some kind of human centipede thing–but it’s present at times. There are themes of contamination and transformation and a few scenes of gruesome and intense suffering.

  43. Southern Reach:

    I’d agree. The body horror element is there, but it’s relatively mild (on a scale from, say, an infected hangnail at zero and OMG THE TATTOOS ARE COMING ALIVE AND TAKING OVER MY BODY at eleven, I’d put it at about 2 to 3 most of the way through, with an occasional brief spike to 4 or maybe 6) and not the main focus. Contamination, infection, transformation, transfiguration are good words to describe it.

    The piano thing is brief and covered in about two sentences. But if you make it there, you’ve already gotten through some bits that are arguably more intense.

    Not sure whether that’s a useful enough description to help you decide whether it’s within your range of tolerance. My tolerance for body horror in written stories is relatively high, so maybe calibrate accordingly.

    City of Stairs and all things Bennett:

    @Ita – glad you liked the links! When I found those posts, they mostly confirmed my impression of the author from the two books I’d read. I remember laughing my head off right at the beginning of American Elsewhere when he very clearly and deliberately gets some of the “hot tough-chick protagonist” tropes done and out of the way, as though to say, “Yes. She is attractive and skeezy dudes ogle her. Acknowledged. Bored now. Can we move on? I have far more interesting things to show you.”

    Bennett writes mothers-and-daughters very well, too. In surprising ways.

  44. @Laertes-

    Sorry, I have been kind of incoherent on cold meds, but off the top of my head, some of what I caught on reread:
    Va Nhgubevgl, rirel pbairefngvba Pbageby bireurnef orgjrra haanzrq punenpgref vf qvnybthr jbeq-sbe-jbeq bhg bs Naavuvyngvba, hfhnyyl orgjrra gur Ovbybtvfg naq gur Fheirlbe. Vs V erzrzore pbeerpgyl, gurer ner gjb bppheeraprf ng gur Fbhgurea Ernpu ohvyqvat, juvpu vfa’g fhecevfvat, tvira gur raq bs Nhgubevgl. Gung ohvyqvat unf orra cneg bs Nern K sbe n ybat gvzr! Ohg gurer vf nabgure bppheerapr va n gbjavr one, juvpu unf vagrerfgvat vzcyvpngvbaf.

    Gur pnsrgrevn pnecrg vf qrfpevorq nf neebjf cbvagvat va bar qverpgvba rneyl ba; bapr rirelguvat fgnegf snyyvat ncneg naq gur jnyyf fgneg oernguvat, gurl ner cbvagvat va gur bgure qverpgvba. Gur ebggvat ubarl fzryy gung obguref Pbageby vf nyfb cerfrag va gur Gbjre, nppbeqvat gb gur Ovbybtvfg. V fhfcrpg gur ohvyqvat unf orra na betnavp cneg bs Nern K sbe dhvgr n juvyr, naq gung Juvgol, ng yrnfg, pna creprvir vg. Cbbe thl.

    Nyfb va Nhgubevgl, Pbageby qevirf cnfg Puvccre’f, gur objyvat nyyrl/chgg-chgg tbys cynpr gur Qverpgbe serdhragrq, nf jr svaq bhg va Npprcgnapr. Vg vf pbzcyrgryl biretebja naq snyyvat ncneg, gubhtu gur Qverpgbe jnf gurer fubegyl orsber fur yrsg ba gur rkcrqvgvba… Gurer unfa’g orra rabhtu gvzr sbe gung xvaq bs qrpnl va gur abezny jbeyq. Puvccre’f, jurer gur Qverpgbe cergraqrq gb or n ybat qvfgnapr gehpx qevire, naq uhat bhg jvgu n cebonoyl snxr-pbjobl naq n erny-rfgngr ntrag jubz fur nyfb npphfrq bs orvat n snxr, nsgre urnevat gur ntrag eryngr n fgbel nobhg rivpgvat crbcyr sebz n cebcregl jub gubhtug gurl jrer fnsr orpnhfr gurl unqa’g cebivqrq gurve anzrf…

  45. Mark: which category do you plan on doing next? I might do some reading ahead.

    Mark, do you have a website where I can find a contact form, or a rot13 e-mail address? I can send you some info which I don’t want to post publicly right this moment, for reasons.

  46. @Nicole: Exactly! But then I thought…gung gur fcrnxref jrer cebonoyl nobhg nf erny nf gur erghearq zrzoref bs gur ynfg ryriragu rkcrqvgvba jrer, gung gurl jrer pbcvrf naq gur pbcvrq qvnybthr jnf whfg n sbez bs zvzvpel, gb svg va. V org Juvgol’f urnqpbhag jnf npphengr, jura Pbageby jnf tevyyvat uvz naq guvaxvat gung Juvgol’f ahzore’f jrer gbb uvtu. Juvgol’f ahzoref whfg vapyhqrq gur pbcvrf gung Nern K unq fahpx vagb gur ohvyqvat.

  47. For the record, I am pretty certain that Lagoon’s U.S. release date in 2015 makes it eligible for this year’s Hugo, as well. So nominate it again, if you liked it, and put it on your to-read list if it sounds like your cuppa!

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