Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

This Year’s Hugo Nominees

Posted by hyperpat on April 30, 2007

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been assiduously reading all the current crop of Best Novel nominees. Eventually I’ll probably get around to writing individual reviews of all of them, but for now my overall take:

‘Hard’ SF dominates. Vinge’s Rainbow’s End, Stross’s Glasshouse, Watt’s Blindsight aren’t just hard SF, they do fair to being a crash course in modern day physics. Now each of these books have their own pluses and minuses, but none of these are something you can hand to someone who isn’t already steeped in SF and science and expect to get anything other than a very confused “Huh?” This may not be good for the general health of SF. Somewhere along the line there needs to be new, good books written that are accessible by the average man in the street, books that neither insult his intelligence with obvious nonsense nor require Ph.D. to decode what’s happening. If at some point the SF community doesn’t reach out to people who aren’t already members of this tiny cult, it will eventually dry up and die away. This is not to say these books aren’t good. Blindsight especially is very intriguing, with a very insightful look at whether self-awareness is really useful or desirable in a living entity – but it does take quite a bit to get into this book, as the concepts and characters are very different from the norm, and at least early in this book there is little explanation.

So how about the other two nominees?

Novik’s Her Majesty’s Dragon is fantasy combined with an old-time sailing story; Horatio Hornblower with dragons. It’s a unique (I think) idea, and her execution is good. And it doesn’t require a science degree to understand it – in fact having such a degree will probably spoil this one a bit, as the basic concept of flying dragons of the size she posits violates several basic scientific tenants, from the square-cube rule to the energy requirements needed to produce the appropriate amount of aerodynamic lift. This one is just a fun read.

Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim is not hard SF, even though 12 dimensional manifolds and light-speed variations figure prominently. It is rather an alien contact story, aliens who bear a strong resemblance to giant grasshoppers, as seen mainly through the eyes of a 14th century priest. Neither the theological nor emotional sides of such a contact are slighted here, and this one will probably end up making you cry and think at the same time. The science here is also somewhat unique, deep mathematics right alongside of historical research. This was expanded from a novella published way back in 1986 (which was nominated in that category for the 1987 Hugo) – and as an indication of how strong the story arc is, I still remembered that original story. For my money, this is clearly the best of this year’s crop, understandable, engaging, with real people and a lot of important things to say.  This is the type of book you can give to that average man in the street.

4 Responses to “This Year’s Hugo Nominees”

  1. Peter said

    Thanks for the recommendations – I just ordered Rainbows End and Eifelheim based on your suggestions.
    Interesting that you mention that SF readership is dropping off. It seems to me that the SF section in my local Barnes and Noble is rather large and well stocked – but perhaps it is mostly Fantasy – Anime – Graphic novels these days….

  2. fencer said

    Yes,thanks for your discussion. I will look for Eifelheim, especially.

    Regards

  3. hyperpat said

    Peter:

    There are a lot of titles being published, though your impression is correct, there’s a lot more fantasy than SF making it to the shelves lately. But readership and circulation numbers for all the SF magazines are down, continuing a trend that has been noticeable for about the last five-seven years. Con attendance is either flat or down for anything except the very largest cons, and most worrisome, although the evidence is circumstantial, fewer teenagers are picking up the SF habit. Publishers are now openly stating that identifying a book as SF is the kiss of death, and are doing what they can to position such books as something else, or at least make them appear less ‘geeky’ with toned down covers and such.

    On the plus side, more and more colleges are offering courses on some aspect of the field, and even a few high schools have a section on it, though most are still limited to a study of the ‘classics’ – the Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451 type.

    Perhaps it is just another cycle in literature, and SF has weathered prior downturns in interest. But personally I feel that much of the decline has to do with the relative paucity of new SF books that are accessible by the non-SF reader, and concepts in many SF books that are so far removed from the everyday world of today that many non-fans will just not be able to see their relevance.

    Fencer:

    Flynn surprised me with this one, as little of his work has greatly impressed me. But he clearly put a lot of work into this expansion of the novella, and the end result is impressive.

  4. Fantastic insight in that post, anime occupies a lot of of my own time.

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