I’ve been giving some thought to what I’d recommend for the Hugo Awards this coming year. Nominations are open and there is an ocean of stuff to consider. I’m still not sure exactly what is going to make my final ballot but, of the limited number of novels I read this year the ones mentioned below really stood out.
The novel of the year for me, and it wasn’t even close really, was Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars. A follow-on of sorts to Under Heaven, it’s a deeply moving historical fantasy recasting events from Northern Song Dynasty China, the fall of the city of Kaifeng, and the stories of the great general Yue Fei and poet Li Qingzhao. Gripping from the first pages to the last, Kay has not written a better book. Extraordinary.
If there was a competitor for book of the year it was Neil Gaiman‘s The Ocean at the End of the Lane which, almost unexpectedly, proved to be his most personal, most complete and most accomplished novel yet. Returning to the Hempstock family first met in The Graveyard Book, Gaiman constructed a story that was at once charming and nuanced, dark and moving, and his most grown-up novel. I say it was unexpectedly his most accomplished novel because I didn’t expect him to surpass The Graveyard Book, but he has and handily.
I was swept up in the excitement when Charles Stross’s ‘Accelerando’ sequence of stories was setting SF alight in the mid-2000s and am a great fan of his Laundry novels, but I had my doubts about Saturn’s Children so I approached second “Freyaverse’ novel Neptune’s Brood with some trepidation but was won over by this slower-than-light space opera which engagingly combines Spanish Prisoner scams, space bound cathedrals and other Strossian craziness. It belongs amongst the best books of the year and will almost certainly make my final ballot.
After a comparatively quiet couple of years Nalo Hopkinson published two novels in fairly quick succession. The best of these, Sister Mine, took us to a magical Toronto where two sisters work their way through a tangled mess of family issues. I read a lot of fiction during 2013 and this fine novel really stayed with me.
The year was also remarkable for two strong debuts: one science fiction and fantasy. Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice was first in a military SF series exploring gender and personality, while Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria is an enchanting tale of travel, books and self-discovery. Both are strong contenders for any Hugo ballot.
While I’m considering these books for my Hugo ballot, there are a number I still have to read. Sitting on my bedside table at the moment are Stephen Baxter’s Proxima (which my pal James really liked), Paul McAuley’s Evening’s Empires, and Christopher Priest’s The Adjacent. Any of them could sneak on to my final ballot, especially given that personally I prefer to nominate SF for the award. I’ll add a number of these, especially the Kay, Gaiman, and Samatar novels are going to be strong World Fantasy Award contenders.
One hope I have for the Hugos is that the British contingent who will be attending Loncon 3 nominate and vote in numbers. I’d love to see the Hugos reflect the strength of British SF this year.