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.