Reviews of Hugo Nominees

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Hugo Nominees 2000

Disclaimer: Some reviews contain spoilers. I read all the novels and most of the stories, but never got around to writing about them. Sorry.

NOVEL

  • A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen, hb, ISBN: 0671578278, Aug 99, $24, 405p.; SFBC $11.98)
  • Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson (Avon, hb, ISBN: 0380973464, May 99, $27.50, 918p; Harperperennial Library, trade, ISBN: 0380788624, Jun 00, $16.00, 928p.; SFBC $13.50)
  • Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear (Ballantine, hb, ISBN: 034542333X, Aug 99, $24.00, 430p.; Ballantine, pb, ISBN: 0345435249, Aug 00, $6.99, 544p.; SFBC $11.98)
  • A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge (St. Martins Press, hb, ISBN: 0312856830, Feb 99, $27.95, 608p; Tor Books, pb, ISBN: 0812536355, Jan 00, $6.99, 774p.; SFBC $13.98)
    To be honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to this prequel to the Hugo-award-tieing Fire Upon the Deep, mostly because I didn't like the book it was prequelling that much in the first place. And my reservations are largely borne out, as here we have an overlong, talky, circumspect, confusing presentation of what under the surface are actually some pretty good ideas. Vinge isn't interested in plot, or setting, or character this time around, and even the physics plays far less of a role than in the previous book. The basic premise is two competing groups, the Qeng Ho and the Emergents race to be the first to meet up with the first known alien race, the Spiders, although the Emergents immediately stack the deck in their favor, leaving themselves stranded in the process. The Spiders, while being completely alien by all accounts, are presented in such a human context that it's hard to see what the point was of making them so alien in the first place. Vinge's main area of interest seems to be the politics of the various groups, and does raise some interesting observations about how first contact could come about, especially if you think of the shoe on the other foot and we humans as the contactees. But none of the characters are particularly well-drawn (Pham Nuwen being the only one I could find in both books), so it all falls kind of flat, without even the wild physics of Fire Upon the Deep to keep you on your toes. In the final analysis, a big, sprawling, ambitious mess.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (Arthur A. Levine, hb, ISBN: 0439136350, Sep 99, $19.95, 435p; SFBC $9.98)
    Reviewed 09/2007: The third of the now-legendary Harry Potter books was I think the one that rode the mounting crest of enthusiasm and buzz around the series and somehow found its way to the Hugo ballot, which caused a bit of buzz of its own. Disregarding the relative merits of the story itself, the controversy, such as it was, centered around both that Rowling was not a genre author and that the book was marketed as YA. Probably not the first time in Hugo history this has happened, but the spectre of such a popular series encroaching on the otherwise sacrosanct Hugo nomination process was cause for concern. That it didn't win was only a temporary victory for the purists, since Goblet of Fire came along the next year and took the prize, albeit against some weaker competition. After that, the world went back to the way it was, and presumably both camps were happy. So what about the book itself? Well, you have to admit, it's a compelling read, hundreds of pages fly by, and while it may not be the most profound thing ever written, there are enough tropes in there involving childhood and coming of age and fitting in with you peers and isolation from your family and having special abilities, that every person on the planet, especially sf readers, must find something or someone to identify with. Ron, Harry and Hermione have gotten old enough to start questioning their superiors and even talking back to them in certain situations. Rowling's pacing holds together well, in spite of most of the action happening at opposite ends of the school year. Many of the artifacts around which the book revolves are either familiar territory, like werewolves, or sound obvious enough that they've probably turned up elsewhere before, like a map that shows you the current location of people you know. While it isn't necessary to have read the previous books to pick up what's going on, this is after all just part of a much larger continuum, like any fantasy series, and therefore difficult to judge on its own merits. Plus in the intervening years, all the other books have come out, so you sort of know what comes up next, and you have the movies to back it up and make everyone seem possibly more well-defined than they are on the page. But I would have to say that while it helps to have a specific visual image of the various teachers and students in mind while reading, there's plenty of information provided in print to make these characters distinct and individual. Even those who seem a bit stereotyped at first are revealed to have more substance, and many of them carry a lot of baggage that explains their behavior. The character names themselves are inspired (since compared to Dickens), and the various non-human creatures again seem archetypal yet don't feel like a rehash of other cultures' ideas. Unlike most British novelists, Rowling keeps the intensity up, and let's you know when something important is about to happen. While it's supposedly YA, there's still the occasional mild swearing, people get hurt, tortured, make life or death decisions, Rowling does not pander or talk down to her audience. Sure quidditch is silly, and Malfoy is over-the-top evil for no apparent reason, and some of the revelations are telegraphed a bit too much, but those are minor quibbles. Years from now maybe it will be revealed that Rowling conspired with an alien intelligence that trawled the whole of world literature and assembled the most emblematic and universally accessible series of all time, since right now it seems hard to believe one person could have written it all alone with her own two hands. If fans should resent anything about Rowling and the Harry Potter books, it's that genre sf and especially fantasy wishes it were this well assembled and this interesting.
  • NOVELLA

  • "The Astronaut From Wyoming", by Adam-Troy Castro and Jerry Oltion (Analog 7-8/99)
  • "Forty, Counting Down", by Harry Turtledove (Asimov's 12/99)
  • "Hunting the Snark", by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 12/99)
  • "Son Observe the Time", by Kage Baker (Asimov's 5/99)
  • "The Winds of Marble Arch", by Connie Willis (Asimov's 10-11/99)
  • NOVELETTE

  • "Border Guards", by Greg Egan (Interzone 10/99)
  • "The Chop Girl", by Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov's 12/99)
  • "Fossil Games", by Tom Purdom (Asimov's 2/99)
  • "The Secret History of the Ornithopter", by Jan Lars Jensen (F&SF 6/99)
  • "Stellar Harvest", by Eleanor Arnason (Asimov's 4/99)
  • "10^16 to 1", by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's 6/99)
  • SHORT STORY

  • "Ancient Engines", by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's 2/99)
  • "Hothouse Flowers", by Mike Resnick (Asimov's 10-11/99)
  • "macs", by Terry Bisson (F&SF 10-11/99)
  • "Sarajevo", by Nick DiChario (F&SF 3/99)
  • "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur", by Michael Swanwick (Asimov's 7/99)
  • DRAMATIC PRESENTATION
  • Being John Malkovich (Single Cell Pictures/Gramercy Pictures/Propaganda Films) Directed by Spike Jonze; Written by Charlie Kaufman
  • Galaxy Quest (DreamWorks SKG) Directed by Dean Parisot; Story by David Howard; Screenplay by David Howard and Robert Gordon
  • The Iron Giant (Warner Bros. Animation) Directed by Brad Bird; Book by Ted Hughes; Screenplay by Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies
  • The Matrix (Village Roadshow Productions/Groucho II Film Partnership/Silver Pictures) Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; Written by Andy and Larry Wachowski
  • The Sixth Sense (Spyglass Entertainment/Hollywood Pictures) Directed by M. Night Shyamalan; Written by M. Night Shyamalan