Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Nominating for the Hugos Part II

Or is that “Nominating for the Hugos Part III? Or IV? Because it’s come up now and then for a while, I know.

Nevertheless, with just a couple weeks to go, here’s my updated list(s):

Novels:

1. The Goblin Emperor, obviously.

2. A Darkling Sea

3. Ancillary Sword, maybe

4. The Tropic of Serpents, maybe

5. Cuckoo Song, maybe. I haven’t read it yet (it hasn’t arrived yet, but you all sound so enthusiastic).

Definitely not:

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. This one just did not grab me, though I can’t put my finger on why not. That’s why I stopped in the middle to read other things. I will think about it and see if I can figure out why I didn’t find this title more engaging.

Update: I’ve finished it, and while I’m not going to nominate it, I am going to get the sequel when it comes out.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. This one absolutely did grab me. I read it fast and enjoyed it very much. But.

(a) The plot is extremely predictable. Almost from the first, I was all: Well, it’ll either wind up this way or that way. From the early middle, I was almost entirely certain where it was going. The moment those sporangia were discovered, in the late middle, there was no doubt left at all. By that time, I had also correctly predicted the role every single major character was going to play and who was going to live and die. I still enjoyed the book very much, because for me it’s all about the journey, not the end. But, well, yeah, that degree of predictability is a definite flaw.

(b) I liked how Carey handled the Sergeant. Sergeant Parks started off as a caricature of The Jackbooted Military Man, but that’s not how he wound up. But in *general*, the characters were quite stereotyped. The Caring Teacher. The Mad Vivisectionist. Mind you, they were well-drawn stereotypes, but still.

(c) Good Lord, isn’t it possible to have a whole book where there’s an important female character and an important male character and NOT have them fall into bed together? Carey laid some groundwork for that moment, but it was fundamentally unbelievable and also unnecessary. NOTE: Martha Wells pulled this off in City of Bones That’s almost the only case I can think of where an author did not force her protagonists into a sexual encounter just because one was a guy and one was a woman, no matter how unsuited to each other they might be. Can anybody else think of a story when an author declined to go there?

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. I made it through, oh, maybe four pages, and that was it for me. I simply cannot bear to read about physics instructors being tortured and humiliated because they taught evil capitalist Einsteinian physics. No matter what awards this is nominated for or how good it is, I am not going to be able to read this book.

The Bees by Laline Paull. I read about half the sample and . . . I could not perceive the characters as bees. I tried. I really did. But I just kept thinking, This is not how bees are. This is not how bees act. Bees don’t think like this. Bees don’t think. Bees don’t have more than a handful of neurons to rub together. They’re baking pastries? This is ridiculous.

So that was it for me.

Defenders by Will McIntosh. I’ve read about 25% of this book and, though I liked the beginning, I’m having a hard time going on with it. The first pov protagonist gets killed and we switch to someone else and that is jarring, or it was for me. Then we skip back and forth in time a good bit. When the Defenders are actually in battle, we don’t get close to that — we are held at a distance, watching from the perspective of distant observers. This, combined with a clear idea of where the plot is going — partly my fault; I shouldn’t have read all those reviews first — drains this early conflict of excitement and tension. Also, I thoroughly dislike one of the main pov protagonists. He seems both stupid and ineffectual and I can’t see why Any. Other. Person. Wouldn’t work as well as him at what he’s supposed to do (communicate with the alien). It appears to be able to talk to anybody it likes. What exactly makes this particular guy so special that he gets to be a high-level advisor? Has he ever actually offered useful advice? I don’t know if he’s going to improve, but at this point, I’m not interested enough to really care.

I still might try:

The Girl on the Road
Station Eleven
Lagoon

I probably will not try:

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. If it is not really fantasy, but more a straight historical, then it’s out as far as I’m concerned.
Boy, Snow, Bird.
The Book of Strange New Things

Novellas:

“Trading Rosemary” by Octavia Cade. I will probably put this on the ballot, though it was too slow for me (that’s saying something, since I usually like a slow pace) and though I seriously disliked the pov character. Despite that, it’s clearly a good novella.

“Dream Houses” by Genevieve Valentine. I probably will NOT put this on the ballot. I disliked it *too* much, though anybody can see it’s also a good novella. A horribly claustrophobic story.

“Island in a Sea of Stars” by Kevin J Anderson. I haven’t read it yet.

“Where the Trains Turn” by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. I haven’t read it yet.

Novelettes:

“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys. I haven’t read it yet. (I haven’t read a single novelette yet.) But it is accessible via tor.com, so I will.

Then there’s set of novelettes that don’t seem to be available online, which I probably won’t read:

“The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” by Rajnar Vajra.

“Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart

“Marielena” by Nina Allen

“Steppin’ Razor” by Maurice Broaddus.

But I will also at least try to find any of the novelettes that are up for the Nebula, which I’m listing below. Tor.com has another of those, and I think some of the others may be available. Here’s that set again, though I’m not going to take the time to google each one and see if it’s easily available:

“Sleep Walking Now and Then,” Richard Bowes

“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” Alaya Dawn Johnson. I already had this on my list, but since it’s not available online, I am very unlikely to read it prior to the close of the nominations. I’d kind of like to see it on the Hugo ballot, though, because I would like to read it.

“The Husband Stitch,” Carmen Maria Machado

“We Are the Cloud,” Sam J. Miller

“The Devil in America,” Kai Ashante Wilson

Short stories:. A good handful of these are available online, though I haven’t searched for them all yet (links to some are in the previous post, as you no doubt rememeber). I will try to make time to read all the ones that are easy to get to.

“Mad Maudlin” by Marie Brennan. Definitely at the top of the ballot. An excellent story.

“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad. I liked it a lot. I may very well nominate it. Clever and touching, and I like the ending, which is not the horrible dark ending so popular in SFF stories today. Incidentally, this is a Message story where the author kept the Message in the background enough that, though noticeable, it didn’t come across as unbearably preachy. Authors who are determined to make the Message more important than the story should take a look at this to see how to manage both. Then they should back the Message off just a little bit more, imo. Still, not a bad job.

“Never the Same” by Polenth Blake. I may nominate this one.

“When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster. I may nominate this one.

“Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” by Caroline Yoachim. Cleverly put together, but not really my thing.

“Tuesdays With Molakesh the Destroyer” by Megan Grey. I liked it, but I wouldn’t say it’s brilliant.

“Totaled” by Kary English. This turns out to be available on Amazon, so I read it. It’s a good, straightforward story, with, I warn you, echoes of “Flowers for Algernon.”

“On A Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli. It’s just okay for me.

“The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” by John C Wright. Definitely not, though it’s well written.

“Goodnight Stars” by Annie Bellet. Haven’t read it.

“A Single Samurai” by Steve Diamond. Haven’t read it.

“The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard. Haven’t read it.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee. Okay, I’ve read this one, and I liked it a lot. It’s a creepy ghost story, but it handles the ghost thing in a unique way. It’s poetic, almost magical realism. And I particularly liked how Ferebee handled the subplot with the sheriff. I’m definitely nominating this one.

“We Are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller. Haven’t read it.

“Hold Back the Waters” by Virginia M. Mohlere. After Linda and Craig commented about this one, I had to read it! It’s a very good story, though to me it felt a bit unfinished because there was no resolution at all for the relationship between Annabeth and Jasper. Still, I’m happy to move this one onto my nomination ballot. It’ll be different having a set of short stories I’m really rooting for — this is the first year I’ve read any short stories.

“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye” by Matthew Kressel. Haven’t read it.

“The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” by Usman T. Malik. Haven’t read it.

“A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker. Haven’t read it.

“Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon. Haven’t read it.

“The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong. Haven’t read it.

I know that a couple of you are definitely nominating, too. Let me know what you think of shorter works, if you read them! Or if you find any that you are mad to get on the ballot, please let me know and I’ll prioritize them.

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8 Comments Nominating for the Hugos Part II

  1. Hanneke

    The first answer to your question c that jumps to mind for me is the Cast in … series by Michelle Sagara, because it has a female protagonist with two possible men as secondary characters, but psychologically it was highly unlike and so it doesn’t happen. The second are Michelle (Sagara) West’s other series, the new one (Queen of the Dead) starting with Silence, which is about a small group of highschool friends (and thus looks like a candidate for the near-obligatory YA pairing up, but it hasn’t quite happened in the first two books), and the large conglomerate of books about the Essalien Empire (sp?): the Hunter duology, the Sun Sword six, and the five-and-counting books centered around Jay/Jewel. Those are epic stories, with very many protagonists, so there might be an occasional hookup for someone, but no such reasonless pairings as you’re talking about. She always stays true to her characters’ characters, whether she writes the complex books under her West name, or the ‘simpler’ single pov books under her maiden name Sagara.

    There are many more good writers who don’t automatically follow that trope (is that the right word?), but the others who immediately come to mind are ones I know you aready admire, like C.J.Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, , Patricia McKillip – there’s no need to elaborate. Others sometimes do and sometimes don’t, like Patricia Briggs.

  2. Linda S

    Thanks for the warning about THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM. If it’s nominated, I’ll probably feel honor-bound to give it a try, but I’d be shocked if I got any further than you did.

    I’m about 15% of the way through CITY OF STAIRS now, and I’m actually finding it pretty engaging. We’ll see if that continues.

    I was pleased that a story by Virginia Mohlere made a “best of the year” list, since I met her years ago when she was living in Chicago and liked her very much. However, I wasn’t expecting to actually like “Hold Back the Waters,” since the work of hers that I’ve read hasn’t been my cup of tea. To my surprise, I actually liked it very much and will almost certainly nominate it. If you have time to read it, I’d be curious to hear what you think.

    I liked the protagonist of “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps,” and the structure was very interesting. The message was a little too heavy-handed for me, though.

    “When It Ends, He Catches Her” was well-written, but a little too far down the horror spectrum for me.

  3. Rachel

    Linda, I specifically thought of you when I read those few pages of The Three-Body Problem. I’m pretty sure you won’t make it much farther than I did. I’m 85% of the way through City of Stairs now, and I do like it, but . . . still not all that well. I will make sure to move “Hold Back the Waters” to the top of my read-it-next list.

    Fundamentally, if you consciously notice the Message, it was too heavy handed. But the Robot story didn’t go as overboard as many, many message stories I’ve read (or started and then DNFed) over the past few years.

  4. Rachel

    I’ve got several of Michelle Sagara / West’s books on various TBR piles. Eventually I’ll try them . . . I hope!

  5. Craig

    Linda,
    Huh; I hadn’t connected the name Virginia Mohlere until I saw your post (I only met her a couple of times) — and I’d already tentatively added “Hold Back the Waters” to my list. I’m not even sure why I liked it as much as I did, although the Chicago setting didn’t hurt. By comparison, “When It Ends, He Catches Her” was too much a ghost story for my taste.

  6. pete mack

    I mostly don’t care for Sagara-West. The CAST IN X series started out boring. The House Wars series started out promising, but got horribly bogged down with Robert Jordan Syndrome. Big fat books with too many characters = stalled plot

  7. Rachel

    Well, I admit I will be looking for any book or series that has three or fewer pov characters. I think I’m done with huge cast epics for a while.

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