Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #8

By Chris M. Barkley:

Stuff I’m Nominating for the 2017 Hugo Awards, Part Three

Best Series (Special Category)

The Expanse by James S.A. Corey featuring Leviathan Wakes (2011), Caliban’s War (2012), Abbadon’s Gate (2012), Cibola Burn (2014), Nemesis Games (2015), Babylon’s Ashes (2016).

Seriously, is there any series in recent sf literature that can match The Expanse? It is probably the most well-written, exciting, riveting and audacious series of novels the community has ever seen or likely to any time in the near future.

Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who write the series as James S.A. Corey) have created a universe filled with intrigue, war, horror and a ton of surprising plot twists and revelations that have landed each subsequent volume on the New York Times Best Sellers list and in critics and fans hearts as well.

With each novel, the evolving conflict between a United Nations ruled Earth and Moon, the militaristic Mars, the asteroid dwelling Belters and the Outer Worlds grows in intensity and wonder as the ever-growing cast of characters are drawn together and cast apart with alarming frequency.

This isn’t the fairly clean and antiseptic future depicted here; it’s hard scrabble, dirty, dangerous and as fatal as anything George R.R. Martin has written in the guise of a hard science epic. The television adaptation of the novels on the SyFy network (which also happens to be the best sf show currently on television) is easily comparable to Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Doctor Who.

Needless to say, The Expanse will be my only entry in this category.


Best Novel

Version Control by Dexter Palmer, Pantheon Books, 495 pages.

On the surface, Dexter Palmer’s second novel, Version Control, seems at first to be an attempt at those pretentious literary novels pretending not to be a pretentious sf novel. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Philip is a physicist in a small fictional New Jersey town. He has just invented a “causality violation device” , which he prefers you NOT to call a “time machine”. Rebecca, his wife, works as a customer service rep at a digital dating service called Lovability, a hyperbolic version of

As Philip’s experiments progress, Rebecca begins to notice that objects and people around her are not quite right. In her mind’s eye, events are ever shifting and changing causing her to believe that everything is on the verge of spinning out of control. And then she starts receiving messages from a Lovability customer that seem to confirm their reality is unraveling and they are the only two who are aware of it happening. And then, things take a truly terrifying turn for the worst.

Palmer’s layered plot takes a while to get started but once it does, it becomes a captivating and terrifying tale of science gone awry. And it’s easily the best novel about time travel in the past decade.

Best Novel

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, Crown, 352 pages.

Over the past fifteen years, Blake Crouch has built himself a growing reputation as a crackerjack writer of crime thrillers (Good Behavior, Abandon and Run) and sf-tinged novels (the Wayward Pines trilogy, which was adapted for television and ran for two seasons during the summer on Fox).

His bestselling breakthrough novel is Dark Matter, which features another scientist in peril. Jason Dessen is a failed scientist who had a theory about multiple universes. Unfortunately for him, he has been abducted and taken into an alternate universe where his family does not exist. Desperate to Return to his true home, Dessen finds himself being chased from one reality to the next by forces who will do anything and literally go anywhen to ensure he does not talk.

Although the pace is lightning fast and the plot holes pop up like potholes in the springtime, Crouch’s story just hooks you and demands you keep reading to the end.



Best Novel

All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Tor Books, 313 pages.

All The Birds in the Sky is a strange and wondrous amalgam of a novel that touches on and combines the worlds and manners of fantasy and science fiction in the same novel. Usually, an author chooses either one form or another. Combining both is an audacious and dangerous act of literary larceny, which Charlie Jane Anders pulls off brilliantly.

Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead were very close friends in their childhood years. Then Patricia grew up to be a witch and Laurence grew up to be a mad scientist. Their world is coming apart at the seams and each is convinced that either science, or magic, will be Earth’s salvation.

Their story is unlikely, enthralling, scary, sexy and terrifying. A novel like this may come around only once in a generation or so and we are damned lucky to be reading it and considering it for a Hugo Award.

Best Novel

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Harper Voyager, 441 pages.

Every now and then, a reader (like myself) will come across a novel that is SO DELIGHTFUL and fun to read, that you never want it to end. Becky Chamber’s The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is such a novel and fans and critics have been clamoring for more since its publication.

Just consider the opening paragraph:

As she awoke in her pod, she remembered three things. First, she was traveling through open space. Second, she was about to start a new job, one she could not screw up. Third, she bribed a government official into giving her a new identity file. None of this information was new, but it wasn’t pleasant to wake up to.

The “she” in question is Rosemary Harper, the newest member of the Wayfarer, an interstellar ship that opens up hyperdrive tunnels to new worlds. Along the way, we meet and get to know Rosemary’s shipmates, Ashby, the captain, Lovey the ship’s AI, Doctor Chef (who provides both functions!) and Sissix, the pilot and Jenks and Kizzy, the onboard techs.

As the year-long voyage progresses, they all engage in various adventures and get into trouble. It’s all very picturesque and a bit cozy, reminiscent of the sort of stories Murray Leinster, James H. Schmitz and Clifford D. Simak used to write for Astounding and Analog for John W. Campbell, Jr., but with a more modern sensibility.

And the best news is that her second novel in this series, A Closed and Common Orbit, was just published in paperback. So get out to your local bookstore and enjoy!

17 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #8

  1. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely delightful, but it’s also from 2014 and so not eligible.

  2. Ugh. Version Control. I had such high hopes for it, but it was 500 pages describing — in excruciating, tedious detail — the lives of a bunch of petty, unlikeable characters whom I did not care about. I was really hoping that the causality violation device would work and turn them into at least interesting — if not likeable — people. The device worked, but the hoped-for improvement in the characters did not materialize.

  3. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is definitely delightful, but it’s also from 2014 and so not eligible.

    However, the sequel A Closed and Common Orbit is from 2016 and is eligible.
    (The series, on the other hand, is too short to be eligible for Best Series.)

  4. Johan P: the sequel A Closed and Common Orbit is from 2016 and is eligible

    Like its predecessor, it is indeed awesome — and it’s on my Hugo ballot.

    What I said after reading it:

    Synopsis: One of the Wayfarer‘s crew has rescued Lovelace – or what was left of her – after the reboot, and taken her back to their home planet to adjust to life in her new body, in order to spare her and the Wayfarer‘s engineer the grief of Lovey’s lost personality. But for an AI who’s used to being able to see and hear everything at all times and download any required information instantly and save it all in an expansive memory, life in a human-like body constrained by leftover inhuman programming protocols is confusing, confining, and terrifying.

    What I thought: This is your feel-good holiday reading book, your temporary election antidote. Yes, there is danger, and loss, and pain, and grief – but there is also self-discovery, redemption, friendship, and joy. This is on my Hugo Novel longlist because I am still smiling and feeling uplifted, a week after finishing it.

  5. As she awoke in her pod, she remembered three things. And then the murders began.

  6. One of the positives of the genre is that there can be so many recommendation worthy books that while I have heard good things about some of these books, I haven’t read any of them. I don’t believe that my net reading experience is any worse for wear.

    Imagine the alternative of a smaller genre with far fewer high-quality books.

    @JJ – I had a similar experience with Michael R. Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption. It is well written, but I found myself being unattracted to…and mostly outright repelled by…most of the characters. I’ll probably read the sequel at some point, but it just isn’t that high on my list.


  7. Seriously, is there any series in recent sf literature that can match The Expanse?

    Let me introduce you to Mr. Brust and Ms. Hodgell

  8. @rea

    If only there had been a Vlad book out last year….

    (But Vallista is due later this year, I think!)

  9. Max Gladstone’s Craft series is also eligible this year and certainly worthy of a nomination.

  10. Seriously, is there any series in recent sf literature that can match The Expanse?

    I abandoned it a few pages into the second book, when I realized it was just Zombies…In…Spaaaaaace!

  11. I nommed A Closed and Common Orbit, soI’m hoping it IS eligible. Both books are lovely.

  12. Darren Garrison says of The Expanse series that I abandoned it a few pages into the second book, when I realized it was just Zombies…In…Spaaaaaace!

    Errrr no. That aspect is a very small part of an exceedingly well-crafted series. I’ve certainly enjoyed it immensely. Is it worthy of Best Series Hugo? Oh yes!

  13. The Expanse never did it for me either. I read Leviathan Wakes, back when it came out and liked it all right, but I was never compelled to seek out the sequels. And when the TV show came out, I realised that I remembered very little about the book, which is extremely unusual for me.

  14. Pingback: The Hugo Awards 2017 – Nomination Worthy Novels – Book Reviews & Reading Guides

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