Hugo Nominations

by Henry Farrell on March 23, 2011

They close tomorrow. I’m not eligible to vote, but if I was, I’d be nominating the following.

* Felix Gilman – The Half-Made World. See here for my thoughts, and here for Cosma Shalizi’s.

* Ian McDonald – The Dervish House. Very good and interesting near-future book on Turkey – blending together historical conspiracy, complexity theory, theories of religious experience and politics. It somehow works. “True wisdom leaks from the joins between disciplines.”

* China Mieville – Kraken. Not his most intellectually challenging book, and a little bit baggy, but enormous fun.

I’d also recommend Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (which has surely _already_ won the Hugo in the alternate reality that spun off when _Gravity’s Rainbow_ won the award in 1973 (ok – it was the Nebula – but Artistic Licence!)), but I would prefer to wait on that recommendation until its US publication (sometime this year, I think). I also enjoyed Hannu Rajaniemi’s _The Quantum Thief_ (which also gets published in the US this year), but not as much as many others – the intellectual pyrotechnics are dazzling, but it’s still a fairly straightforward caper novel underneath it all. Feel free to add others, agree/disagree etc in comments.



Evan 03.23.11 at 7:35 pm

I largely agree with you, but at a much lower level of enthusiasm (good books in an otherwise bad year, rather than great books) (also I totally agree with you about TQT, which was fun but hardly worthy of the hype).

Interesting that everything on this list falls down, where it does, over issues of control. THMW and Kraken are both uneven novels in need of tightening, but bursting with interesting (if often unexplored) ideas (and oh the missed opportunities). TDH, on the other hand, suffers from some dramatic over-control, its formal aspirations getting in the way of the author having any real fun with the setting. Better than Brasyl, but not up to par with River of Gods. As airless, at points, as the stifling and overheated Turkish afternoons it so ably describes.

Still, a year with a McDonald book is better than a year without, and it’d be my pick, of the three.


Theophylact 03.23.11 at 8:12 pm

Iain M. Banks’s Surface Detail, for (among other things) its notion of artificial hells for religious fanatics.


John Quiggin 03.23.11 at 9:35 pm

I’d also endorse Surface Detail. I’m reading Kraken now – it’s fun, but owes an awful lot to Neverwhere. Is The Trade of Queens eligible as a representative of the Merchant Princes series?


Lars 03.23.11 at 10:09 pm

I just finished Kraken last night and would qualify what Prof Q had to say – clear lines of similarity (Goss and Subby are highly reminiscent of the assassin pair from Neverwhere, whom I keep recalling as Mr. Pin and Mr. Tulip, except that these are another pair of eccentric but lethal assassins from yet another urban fantasy, and while I am on the subject of digressions, I apparently have a meeting scheduled with my academic advisor this Friday to discuss, among other things, my tendencies to both digress and be overly long-winded), but Kraken has a much more feral feel to it.

And Gaiman isn’t a class warrior. Mieville is. He doesn’t let you forget it.


Henry 03.23.11 at 10:34 pm

Mieville himself disagrees with the Neverwhere comparison fwiw.

bq. If anything it’s more of a negative – people point out comparisons I don’t see. I’m happy to cite Gaiman as an influence, for example, and have done more than once, notably in Un Lun Dun, where he’s thanked by name. But I’ve seen several reviews that have compared Kraken to Neverwhere, and that, honestly, astonishes me. And the claim, as part of that, that Goss & Subby are like Valdemar and Croup – well, I get that there are two of them and they speak slightly funny, but I don’t see it as a comparison myself at all. There is a long, long tradition of weird, vaguely unreal villainous duos, especially in fantastic fiction. This isn’t meant as disavowal, please let me stress, and nor am I saying I’m the repository of wisdom about hte book – I’m only saying that to me, this doesn’t feel at all, and wasn’t in any conscious level at all, a Gaiman-ian book, let alone a riff on Neverwhere. And were it, I’d be proud to say so, honest to god.


paul haine 03.23.11 at 10:35 pm

I didn’t have the faintest idea what was happening in The Quantum Thief. Probably says more about me than it does the book, though.


Zora 03.23.11 at 11:01 pm

I’m reading THMW right now. After an initial burst of enthusiasm (well-made prose, beguiling world-building) I’ve slowed to a crawl — or perhaps it’s a stop. I don’t *like* any of the characters. The litany of horrors (murder, massacre, slavery, genoicide, environmental destruction) is overwhelming. I need a palate-cleanser, a unicorn chaser: something featuring cottage gardens, fresh scones, and frolicking kittens.


Evan 03.23.11 at 11:25 pm

I forgot about Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan’s new novel, but I guess it isn’t eligible until its US release, which isn’t planned at all at this point, from what I can tell.

For what it’s worth, what Kraken really reminded me of was Barker’s Weaveworld and Imajica.


roac 03.24.11 at 12:44 am

@ 4 & 5: When I read The Truth I certainly thought Pin and Tulip were inspired by Croup and Valdemar; but the suggestion made Pratchett go absolutely ballistic.


David 03.24.11 at 3:24 am

My list would be Surface Detail, Kraken and The Dervish House , all of which I enjoyed quite a bit although none were their respective authors’ best efforts. Still better than most people’s best efforts.


Sherri 03.24.11 at 4:58 am

Zora – I had the same reaction to THMW. I lasted about 2/3 of the way, and realized that I just no longer cared what happened. It wasn’t even that it was so depressing; I’ve read depressing before and still cared about what happened (Peter Watts comes to mind – Blindsight is depressing but compelling.) I just didn’t care about any of the characters or the story, so I quit reading it. I had heard so much good about it, I wanted to like it, but no go.


Henry 03.24.11 at 2:35 pm

I should have had the _Trade of Queens_ in there, as a proxy ‘award for the whole series’ suggestion. It’s not only a lot of fun, but a very clever discussion of the political economy of development. And I should also mention Ken MacLeod’s _The Restoration Game_ as another ‘should definitely get a go when it has a US pub and some realistic hope of getting on the shortlist’ nominee. It’s a very interesting double-layered account of the politics of intervention in non-democratic countries. Like _The Execution Channel_, it has a sly ‘should have seen it coming but it is still a surprise’ ending – but I thought that the ending of this one did a better job of turning back towards the main theme of the story and making you rethink it (I don’t want to say any more for fear of spoilers). And actually, now that I come to think of it, Paul McAuley’s _Cowboy Angels_ is out in a US edition. It would be nice to see an essay looking at how all three treat the politics of intervention in other societies. It’s also not a coincidence that they are all written by UK writers (and Scots writers at that – McAuley is, as far as I remember a Scot transplanted to London). Which brings us of course to Iain Banks too (I liked _Surface Detail_ but it was not on my shortlist of very best Culture novels).


Doug K 03.24.11 at 4:29 pm

I enjoyed the Half-Made World, but felt that like his first novel Thunderer it is full of wonderful ideas incompletely realized; so put it down a little frustrated; and the despair is, as Zora notes, overwhelming.
My favorite line from Kraken,
“Creationism’s a way of thinking ‘I am not worthless’ at a time when people were being told and shown they were. ”
which gives one to think..


ajay 03.24.11 at 5:43 pm

12: minor nitpick: McAuley and Stross are both English-born, though, to give them credit, they moved to Scotland as soon as they could.


JulesLt 03.24.11 at 6:32 pm

TQT – I think I enjoyed it precisely because there was a conventional caper story underneath it all. I had a similar feeling about Mieville’s The City and The City – I think anchoring the ideas on top of what was pretty much a standard police procedural / thriller plot really worked.

One book I’m surprised hasn’t been talked about more is Aurorama – it’s going to be lumped in as steampunk (due to airship) but it’s a lot closer to Mieville’s ‘New Weird’. There’s a good sense of a city with a rich culture, that is referenced without info-dumping. Maybe once it hits paperback?


shah8 03.24.11 at 7:34 pm

Admittedly, his book is fairly literary and all, but, um…

Shouldn’t Charles Yu be running away with this thing?


jms 03.24.11 at 11:00 pm

shah8 — Totally. I finished How to Live Safely just a couple weeks ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.


hellblazer 03.25.11 at 8:58 am

I have to sympathise slightly with Pratchett, even though I’d read Neverwhere well before Messrs Pin and Tulip came along in The Truth. I do tend to think people who think they *must* be a homage to Croup and Vandemar should read more books with villainous double acts and look up (a) the Kray twins (b) the Rangers – Celtic derby.

The comparison of Goff & Fubby with C & V did cross my mind when I read Kraken, but I’m not sure it really holds up as the book progresses. Quite enjoyed the book itself – Collingswood in particular’s a lovely creation – though I think the desire to have a twist ending (or to conceal the real theme as a twist) doesn’t quite work structurally.


Anarcho 03.25.11 at 9:00 am

I would also suggest Surface Detail — great book based on a great concept. And not to mention the extremely funny discussion of the birth and evolution of religion which created the basis for the artificial hells in the first place.


ajay 03.25.11 at 9:48 am

18: well, good point. Croup, Valdemar, Pin and Tulip all follow in a long tradition of Weaselly Bright Guy/ Large Stupid Guy villain pairs which also includes the Piranha Brothers – Doug, who nailed men’s heads to the floor, and Dinsdale, who used… sarcasm.


mds 03.25.11 at 2:00 pm

Admittedly, his book is fairly literary and all,

Oh, well, then, forget it. If it’s not dumbed-down stuff with ray guns, we readers of science fiction aren’t interested.


Daniel Wolf 03.25.11 at 7:26 pm

Let’s not forget that Kraken, to a large extent, is joyful revenge on the whole Dan Brown & Co.- ancient- &- secret- conspiracy- genre, with the twist, of course, that Mieville allows all of the magic and miracles and apocalyptic fantasies of the religions he describe to happen, and happen in competition among the creeds.


jackd 03.25.11 at 9:46 pm

Henry, it’s largely thanks to your recommendation that I got HMW for Christmas. Thank you! I loved it, although more for the world than for the story and characters.

I’m reading Kraken now, and the resemblance of Goss & Subby to other villainous duos struck me as well. But I’ve seen at least three others (in Gaiman, Pratchett, and a fantasy/horror writer I can’t recall) so I’m willing to grant it as a general trope rather than borrowing. (Now that I think of it, there’s also a wizard and his “son” in the second set of Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant novels, but they’re not really a duo.)

But since I just finished Stross’ The Fuller Memorandum last week, the family resemblance between Mieville’s FSRC – the magic cops – and Stross’ Laundry just jumped out at me. A search of Stross’ blog shows others have asked about the connection, but as far as I can tell Charlie hasn’t commented one way or the other.


David 03.26.11 at 4:41 am

It’s Croup and Vandemar.


hellblazer 03.26.11 at 6:56 am

Good point at #22. I can’t resist digging out one of my favourite lines from Kraken, although I admit it isn’t so funny out of context.

“Bugger this”, whispered Dane. “Ferretists versus racists. This is not the end of the world.”

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