stdesjardins: (Steven)
[personal profile] stdesjardins
The 2016 Hugo finalists are being announced in a few minutes, making this the perfect time to post my thoughts on fiction eligible for next year's award.

(That sounds like a joke, but isn't. Up until the nominating deadline, I was only reading fiction published last year. After nominations closed, I made an effort to catch up on what I'd missed, so I would be better prepared for next year. Once the finalists have been announced, I'll be busy for a while reading those. So: summary time.)

I ended up rating everything I read from zero to five stars, depending on how likely I am to put it on my nominating ballot, and whether I'd recommend it to others. Five stars means it's almost definitely going on my ballot, four stars means it's a strong contender, three stars means it's probably not going on my ballot but I'd recommend it, two stars are the mass of good stories that I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend, one star are stories that I would recommend against reading, and zero stars are stories that the author should feel shame for having written. Nothing so far has gotten zero or five stars.

The only story that I gave four stars to (so far) is "Recalled to Service" by Alter S. Reiss (tor.com). I didn't like it as much as the same author's Sunset Mantle, which was near the top of my novella nominations last year, but it's still an interesting story of a necromancer in a post-revolutionary society learning something about the nature of his re-animated creations.

Most of the three-star stories were pleasant to read, and I'd recommend them to anyone who wants a bit of light reading, but they just didn't have the extra bit of resonance that would put them on my ballot. Falling into this category: "Foxfire, Foxfire" by Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #194), "The Fixer" by Paul McAuley (Clarkesworld #113), "The Sweetest Skill" by Tony Pi (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #197), "Call and Answer, Plant and Harvest" by Cat Rambo (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #194), "Rabbit Grass" by Kelly Stewart (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #197), and "Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass" by Jeremiah Tolbert (Lightspeed #69). "The Devil You Know" by K. J. Parker (tor.com) was a clever deal-with-the-devil story, but again, basically just light reading. K. J. Parker's "Told by an Idiot" (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #192) had some nice period flavor, which maybe elevated it to three-and-a-half stars, but couldn't push it to four. "Tower of the Rosewater Goblet" by Nin Harris (Strange Horizons) and "Between Dragons and Their Wrath" by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld #113) were stylistically interesting, and might end up getting another look. "Sea of Dreams" by Alter S. Reiss (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #196) was nice, but the resolution felt a bit obvious. And "Or I Wil Harrie Them Out of This Land" by Thomas M. Waldroon (Beneath Ceaseless Skies #198, not yet online) was (by the author's own admission) more of a historical story than a fantasy, part of a novel he's writing about his ancestors, and I didn't quite warm to it.

I read two 2016 novels, both of which ended up in the three-star section. In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan (Tor) is the fourth novel in her Lady Trent series about a female naturalist in a Victorian-esque (or earlier) British analog. I enjoy the characters and the series quite a bit, I just don't see them on my Hugo ballot. Safely You Deliver by Graydon Saunders (Tall Woods Books) is the third in his fantasy series, dealing with the education of a novel variety of sorcerors, which gets high marks for innovation but gets bogged down in the details. (For example, when his students decide to make a table, they spend about a page deciding how big to make it and what the materials should be and, and, and I see why he's putting in this detail, he's genuinely interested in the details of how his magic works, but it can be kind of clunky to read. I feel like he's the fantasy version of E. E. "Doc" Smith, who was the exemplar of following up super-science ideas with bigger super-super-science ideas with even bigger super-super-super science ideas. It can be fascinating to the right reader, but definitely not for everyone.)

Two-star stories: "Longsleeves" by Mike Allen, "The Birth Will Take Place on a Mutually Acceptable Research Station" by Matthew Bailey, "A Salvaging of Ghosts" by Aliette de Bodard, "In Skander, for a Boy" by Chaz Brenchley, "Beyond the Heliopause" by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown, "The Mama Mmiri" by Walter Dinjos, "The Stone Garden" by C. A. Hawksmoor, "Maiden, Hunter, Beast" by Kat Howard, "Extraction Request" by Rich Larson, "Sparks Fly" by Rich Larson, "The Right Bright Courier" by Anaea Lay, "Whale-Oil" by Sylvia Linstead, "The Maiden Thief" by Melissa Marr, "How the God Auzh-Aravik Brought Order to the World Outside the World" by Arkady Martine, "The Savannah Liars Tour" by Will McIntosh, "The Mountains His Crown" by Sarah Pinsker, "Sooner of Later Everything Falls Into the Sea" by Sarah Pinsker, "The Algorithms of Value" by Robert Reed, "The Knobby Giraffe" by Rudy Rucker, "Blood Grains Speak Through Memories" by Jason Sandford, "Salvage Opportunity" by Jack Skillingstead, "Blessed are Those Who Have Seen and Do Not Believe" by D. K. Thompson, "The Godbeard" by Lavie Tidhar, "The Abduction of Europa" by E. Catherine Tobler, "The Three Dancers of Gizari" by Tamara Vardomskaya, "Origin Story" by Carrie Vaughan, "That Game We Played During the War" by Carrie Vaughan, "Michael Doesn’t Hate His Mother" by Marie Vibbert, "Dragon Brides" by Nghi Vo, "In the Midst of Life" by Nick Wolven, "Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Research Station: Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0" by Caroline M. Yoachim. All worth reading, but I'd prioritize the stories above higher.

One-star stories: "RedKing" by Craig DeLancey, "Charlotte Incorporated" by Rachael K. Jones, "Chimera" by Gu Shi, "Everyone Loves Charles" by Bao Shu (didn’t finish), "Salt Circles" by Andrew F. Sullivan, "Starfish" by Karin Tidbeck, "And the Blessing of the Angels Came Upon Them" by Dean Wells, "Secondhand Bodies" by JY Yang. I wouldn't call these stories terrible, if I thought they were actively bad I would have given them zero stars, but they all had some characteristic (clumsy exploration of ideas, or tedious fascination with violence, or the like) that I found offputting.

And that's all my reading so far.
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