The Hugo Award for Best Novel is “the big one,” the last to be presented at every Hugo ceremony (well, except that one year when Lester del Rey screwed up the presentations), the category that typically draws the most nominations and the most votes (well, along with Dramatic Presentation), the most prestigious award in the field, and the oldest. Other Hugo categories have come and gone over the decades, but Best Novel has been there since the beginning. The first one was awarded in 1953, and went to Alfred Bester for THE DEMOLISHED MAN. The books and authors that have won the award in subsequent years form a virtual Hall of Fame for our genre, the best that SF and fantasy have to offer. Heinlein won it four times. Zelazny, Le Guin, Simmons, Haldeman, Leiber, Pohl, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Walter M. Miller… that’s company that any writer worth his salt would be proud to keep.
So who should be nominated for the Big One this year? Well, once again, I do have a horse in this race. A DANCE WITH DRAGONS was published in July, and is among the eligibles. I should probably leave it at that. My best chance of making the ballot would be for all those fans of mine who liked DANCE to nominate it, and nothing else.
I can’t do that, however. There are five lines on the nomination form, after all, and it wouldn’t feel right to leave four of them blank when there were so very many good books published in 2011. I am sure many of you have your own favorites. I won’t pretend to have read all the books published last year, or even just the good ones. There’s just too much. But I have read some terrific ones, so let me recommend them to your attention.
For science fiction, my favorite novel of the year was a classic old-fashioned space opera titled LEVIATHAN WAKES, by James S.A Corey.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was favorably disposed toward this one, since “Jimmy” Corey is actually a collaborative pseudonym for two of my friends, my sometime collaborator Daniel Abraham and my assistant Ty Franck. However, I have a lot of friends who published books last year, and this is the one that kicked my ass the hardest. It’s a terrific read, a page turner. If you love SF the way they used to write it, you will love this book.
Also worthy of a good look when filling out your ballot is HEAVEN’S SHADOW, another solid and engrossing hard SF novel from David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt.
In fantasy… well, damn, it was a great year for fantasy. I read at least half a dozen books so good that they made me say, “I wish I’d written that.” THE HEROES by Joe Abercrombie was an action tour de force, an entire novel built around a single battle. Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIAN KING was a worthy successor to THE MAGICIANS, and proof that last year’s Hugo voters knew what they were about when they voted Grossman the Campbell Award as the best new writer in the field. And Daniel Abraham… yes, him again, damn him… did something I would not have thought possible. He published a novel called THE DRAGON’S PATH, the first volume in the new epic fantasy series called THE DAGGER AND THE COIN, and it was just as bloody good as his Long Price Quartet.
Any of those books would be worthy nominees, but none of them were the best epic fantasy I read last year. For my money, that has to be THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, by Patrick Rothfuss.
WMF is the second volume in Rothfuss’s Kvothe series, and it took him nearly as long to write it as I took for A DANCE WITH DRAGONS (hey, I’m glad it did, he drew some of the fire). But it was worth the wait. I gulped it down in a day, staying up almost to dawn reading, and I am already itching for the next one. He’s bloody good, this Rothfuss guy. THE WISE MAN”S FEAR should rightly contend not only for the Hugo, but also for the World Fantasy Award.
Last, but far from least, is yet another huge tome of a book that kept me up reading all night, a science fiction novel by a writer best known for horror — and that’s 11/22/63, by Stephen King.
Now, I’m a major Stephen King fan, and have been for decades. King is tremendously prolific author, and when you write that many books, inevitably some of them are going to be better than others. That being said, 11/22/63 is the best King for at least a decade, a major piece of work… and it’s NOT horror. This is King working outside his usual comfort zone, stretching his considerable talent to write a pure-quill time travel novel, about an English teacher who steps through a hole in space and time to prevent the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
That’s hardly a new idea. Lots of people have done it before. Hell, we even did it on THE TWILIGHT ZONE back in the mid 80s, when I was working on the show (an episode called ‘Profile in Silver’). But no one has ever done it as well as King does here. He handles the JFK/ Oswald stuff masterfully, I think… but there’s so much more to the book than that. This is a love story as well. A wonderful period piece that brings the late 50s and early 60s to vivid life. This is a classic proof of something that I have long contended: that story is more than plot, that it’s the journey that matters, not how fast you arrive at your destination.
Stephen King has never been nominated for a Hugo, so far as I know. That’s truly absurd. Yes, he writes horror… but the Hugo Awards have always recognized horror as well as science fiction, and when you get down to it, horror is really just a subgenre of fantasy. Dark fantasy, if you will.
Anyway, those are my recommendations. I hope some of them make the final ballot. And I hope A DANCE WITH DRAGONS makes the ballot too, so I can kick their butts… winning (and losing, for that matter) is much more meaningful when you are going up against the best.
Current Mood: null