I have blogged a great deal about Puppygate and this year’s Hugo ballot. However much I mislike how we arrived at this ballot, here it is and here it will remain, and we will have to deal with it. As I’ve said in my previous posts, I am not endorsing either of the NO AWARD responses, the “Vote NO AWARD on everything” nuclear option, or the milder “Rank All Puppy Nominees Below NO AWARD” alternative. But I certainly do intend to vote, and I urge all of you to do the same.
That means I have a lot of reading to do.
I am not going to report on everything I read on my Not A Blog. I have been a book reviewer and critic in the past, but I’m not one at present. Besides, I have never really liked writing killer reviews, or reading them, and I have the feeling that there will be lots of stuff on this year’s ballot that I will not like very much. Also, when reviewing something I feel an ethical obligation to read all of it, and I suspect I will not be reading every word of every story and book on this year’s ballot. You don’t have to eat a whole steak to know the meat is off. But I will at least sample everything that’s been nominated.
Anyway, I may share my thoughts here from time to time, as I read. If you don’t see something mentioned, it’s either because (1) I didn’t like it much, or (2) I haven’t gotten to it yet. No doubt my reading program will be aided by the Hugo Packet, where Sasquan sends that out… but as that has not happened yet, I decided to get a head start. (I read all the time in any case, so that’s no big change). I don’t think I am going to make formal endorsements here — “You should vote for this” — though I reserve the right to change my mind about that. And these will not be real reviews, as I said. Just me sharing a few thoughts.
Let me start with Best Novel.
The Big One, as I have called it in the past. Traditionally the last award to be given out on Hugo night, and the most important. The finalists are SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher, LINES OF DEPARTURE by Marko Kloos, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS by Kevin J. Anderson, ANCILLARY SWORD by Anne Leckie, and THE GOBLIN EMPEROR by Katherine Addison. The first three were Puppy picks, the last two were not. Just to provide some context, and be upfront about any predispositions I might have, let me state that I am very familiar with the work of both Jim Butcher and Kevin J. Anderson. I have never met Butcher in the flesh, to the best of recollection, but I’ve traded emails with him and bought stories from him for my anthologies. Kevin Anderson is someone I have known for decades, crossing paths with him at many conventions, on panels and at parties. I have never met either Marko Kloos or Katherine Addison, and in fact had never heard of either of them until this ballot. Anne Leckie won the Hugo last year for ANCILLARY JUSTICE, the prequel to this year’s contender. I may have met her at Loncon… but if I did, it was only in passing, and I don’t recall… I met a lot of people at LonCon.
Enough prelude. To the books. Or book, since I have only read one of them as of yet: Katherine Addison’s THE GOBLIN EMPEROR.
I liked it.
It’s a fantasy, a novel of court intrigue. Those of you who like that aspect of my own work will probably like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR as well. The characters were well drawn, especially the protagonist, who I found likeable and sympathetic. This is a “low magic” fantasy, something else it shares with GAME OF THRONES. In fact, there’s even less magic here than in my own books. No dragons to be found, and though there’s talk of ogres and trolls, we never see any. The setting is an Elvish empire, and the hero is the late elf emperor’s half-goblin fourth son, unexpectedly elevated to the throne by a tragedy. But Addison’s elves are not Tolkien’s elves, and her goblins are not Tolkien’s goblins, and in fact it is easy to forget that you are reading about elves and goblins entirely, since they all seem just like… well, like people. Which is actually fine by me, you know. I like reading about people.
Do I have cavils? Sure, a few. Some readers complain that my own books have too many characters, and maybe they do… but I swear, THE GOBLIN EMPEROR seems to have just as many, in a book maybe a third the size of one of mine. And the names… Addison has a very complex naming system, which is detailed in an appendix at the end of the book. It’s very well worked out and consistent, admirable really, but I confess, all those long complicated hard-to-pronounce hard-to-tell-apart names were giving me a headache after awhile, and I found myself yearning for a goblin named Bob to turn up somewhere (none ever did). Also — mild spoiler ahead here — while I loved all the court intrigue, I rather wished for a few more twists. The characters, while well drawn, all struck me as bit too predictable. The ones who seemed to be bad guys turned out to be the bad guys; the ones who seemed to be good guys were all okay. Maybe it’s just my own taste, but I would have liked for some of them to have fooled Maia (and me).
Oh, and I really wanted a map. It’s fantasy, got to have a map. I kept wanting to look up where all these places were, and there was no map.
Overall, though, I thought this was an enjoyable book. I am glad I read it, and if there’s a sequel I will read that as well. THE GOBLIN EMPEROR did not knock me out the way Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN (the book I was recommending for the Hugo last month) did, but since STATION ELEVEN is not on the ballot, that’s moot. I have yet to read the other four books that ARE on the ballot, so I don’t know what my final vote will be… but I know I won’t be voting NO AWARD. I’d not be at all displeased if THE GOBLIN EMPEROR claimed the rocket.
(Please keep all comments on topic).