Because two of the novels were already on my Hugo nomination ballot (and one only just missed making the cut), and I'd also already checked out some of the shorter fiction (notably Binti and Cat Pictures Please, both of which I adored), I didn't have all that much to read this year. Unlike last year, when I no-voted most of the slate on principle, this year I decided to give some of the works a shot (more details in my post on the short list), and overall I'd say the stories I chose to read were worth my time. I didn't like all of them -- some (like The Builders and And You Shall Know Her...) were Not For Me, and others (like Obits and Perfect State) had some aspects I enjoyed and others that annoyed me. But I'd rather dwell on the stories that I liked, so a few words on each of them:
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson I've had a mixed track record with Stephenson in the past. Like most of sf/f fandom, I liked Snow Crash a lot, and I loved The Diamond Age even more. And I also enjoyed Cryptonomicon, but even though the long digressions on cryptography and the history of code breakers in World War II were informative, I did find myself starting to skim at times. Then came the Baroque Cycle. I made it through the first book, but not long after starting the second, I realized that I just wasn't enjoying the slog through pages and pages of history and technobabble. So I set it aside forever, and on some level I wrote off Stephenson as Not For Me (anymore), even though I kept meaning to give him another shot (Anathem has been on my TBR shelf for literally years; more than once I have brought it along on a vacation, determined to start reading, and every time it has come home unopened). All this is to say that I wasn't certain that I would read Seveneves, despite strong reviews from justira and other people I trust, but when it showed up on the Hugo ballot I decided to prioritize it. Fortunately, I found it to be more Cryptonomicon than Quicksilver -- although there was still plenty of long segments of techsposition (mainly about robotics and orbital mechanics), they all related directly to the story, and for the most part I found them engaging. At its heart, Seveneves is a story about human nature and how we build societies, and I found that aspect of it pretty compelling. Also, in a nice change from some other Stephenson books, there is a strong cadre of female characters who are written pretty well. If you like hard sci-fi and are either interested in reading lots of scientific detail and/or a good skimmer (I did some of each), I do recommend it.
Penric's Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold This novella is set in the World of Five Gods (the setting of The Curse of Chalion and the other books in that series), a universe I've always enjoyed, and this book is no exception. The story of how an inconvenient extra son accidentally acquires a demon and escapes a dangerous political situation to get everything he ever wanted is vintage Bujold fantasy, and I enjoyed every minute of it. There's a sequel, too, which I need to read immediately.
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds This military SF story of a starship journey gone very, very wrong has plenty of action and intrigue, but it also tackles themes of identity, memory, and building society. I find this story particularly interesting to compare with Seveneves -- they tackle some comparable ideas about building a new society almost from scratch, while also preserving the history that came before. This is the first work I've ever read by Reynolds, and I'm curious to see more if anyone has recommendations.
Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang I'm a sucker for stories where the city is one of the characters, and this is no exception. Fascinating concept of a three Beijings that occupy the same space, in order to house three times as many people, and the perhaps inevitable stratifications of society that result. A sympathetic and appealing main character, as well. This story was translated by Ken Liu, who seems to be singlehandedly bringing all of the best Chinese writers to English-speaking audiences. This is a good trend that I hope continues.
Still on my to-do list for the next few days: I want to check out the excerpt of the Jim Butcher book that was included in the Hugo packet. I've never read a Butcher novel, despite being curious about such a popular urban fantasy author, mostly because the Harry Dresden character did not appeal to me. But this is the first book of a new series, so I feel that I should at least give it a shot. Also I admit to wild curiosity about the Chuck Tingle story, although the odds of me actually voting for it seem vanishingly small. But otherwise, this is a good place to wrap up my Hugo reading for the year. Now I can (mostly) relax and look forward to WorldCon. If you'll be there, let me know!
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