The Hugo Awards controversy got ugly last year, but you didn’t read about it here: we’d rather talk about good books than the nastiness surrounding an award ostensibly intended to honor the best of them. Which is why we breathed a sigh of relief at yesterday’s release of the nominees for the 2016 Hugos, which will be handed out at MidAmericon II in Kansas City on August 20.
Yes, many of the categories still reflect the obvious influence of politically motivated slate voting, but it’s unlikely that this year’s ceremony will best 2015’s rather ignominious claim to fame, the most times voters elected to recognize “No Award” in a category rather than hand a trophy to something placed on the ballot through perceived manipulation of the nomination process. We’ve certainly no quibbles with the Best Novel category—the nominees include four books that made our list of the best SF/F of 2015, and one that very nearly did.
Read about the contenders for Best Novel below, and head over to the official Hugo Awards site for the complete list of nominees, which, yes, includes a short story called “Space Raptor Butt Invasion.” What a time to be alive.
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher
Butcher takes a break from The Dresden Files for an epic steampunk fantasy adventure featuring airships, sky pirates, and talking cats. Clouds of war are gathering around the Spires, towers citadels that house humanity and produce the technological marvels that have changed the world. Captain Grimm, commander of the airshipPredator, is loyal to Spire Albion, which has a bitter rivalry with Spire Aurora. When the Predator is damaged, Grimm is roped into undertaking a secret mission on Albion’s behalf…and soon discovers that the conflicts between the spires are mere set dressing in the face of a greater threat: the return of an ancient enemy that hasn’t been seen in 10 millennia. This series-opener is good stuff, and proves that Butcher can apparently write anything he sets his mind to. Read our review.
Paperback $15.49 | $16.99
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
The author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms begins the Broken Earth, a new epic fantasy trilogy set in a world rent by a series of apocalyptic events. Essun and her children are orogenes, sharing the magical ability to control natural forces, an ability hated and feared in equal measure. Essun has passed on her curse, and when her husband finds out, he murders their son and their daughter disappears. Essun sets off to find her, and her journey will take readers across a ravaged, sparsely populated landscape and deep into her hidden past, as she fights to save at least one small part of a world already lost. That just one thread of a tapestry both beautiful and terrible, wrought in daring, immensely readable prose that ranges from wry omnipresence to painfully intimate second-person. Read our review.
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie
The sci-fi series that turned space opera on its ear and won all the awards along the way comes to an end, wrapping up the story of Breq, once the artifical mind inhabiting a vast starship and a network of mine-wiped human bodies, now confined to a single, frail human form. The action is set largely upon a remote space station in orbit around an unremarkable but strategically located planet that could be a crucial outpost in a brewing intergalactic civil war between the divided halves of Anaander Mianaai, the once-human, many-bodied Lord of the Radch. Exploring complex themes of gender, sexual, and cultural identity, Leckie’s trilogy tells an unusually thoughtful story that’s also immensely satisfying when it comes to blowing stuff up real good, and with this final installment, she totally sticks the landing. Read our review.
Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
The author of the beloved Temeraire series takes a break from Napoleonic Era dragon combat for an inventive standalone fantasy with the tectonic pull of a classic fairy tale and a bold, contemporary sensibility all her own. Plain young Agnieszka lives in a small kingdom on the border of a malevolent wood. Only the protection of a secretive wizard known as the Dragon keeps the darkness contained within. In return for his services, the Dragon demands a terrible price: a decade of servitude from one of the girls of the village. As the time of his choosing nears, Agnieszka despairs, fearing she will lose her best friend, the beautiful Kasia. Her fears turn out to be…misplaced. Ursula K. LeGuin called it “vividly believable,” and Lev Grossman labeled it, “an instant classic.” We tend to agree: read our review.
Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson
A new Neal Stephenson novel is always a major event, not only because of their characteristically major page count (this one lands with a thump at 880 in hardcover). Seveneves marks the author’s return to hard sci-fi after he detoured into thriller territory with Reamde. And with an opening chapter in which the moon explodes and a plot than spans 5,000 years, they don’t get much more sci-fi than this. All you need to know about the scale is that, at one point, you’re going to turn a page and encounter the disconcerting phrase “Five Thousand Years Later.” (This is halfway through, by the by.) Stephenson explores the reactions and actions of humanity as it prepares for what comes after an extinction-level event—and keeps exploring, up until there are literally only seven woman left capable of bearing children; the titular “seven Eves” who will rebuild humanity in Earth orbit over the course of unimaginable time. Read our review.
Who are you rooting for this year?