Update: There was one book that I read late this season, and it was Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Here’s my review of that book.
I already read a lot of science fiction (clearly), but starting in February I made a concerted effort to read as many Hugo-eligible novels as possible.1 I participated in the awards process last year for the first time, but I only jumped in for the final round. This year I wanted to contribute earlier in the process.
Of course I’d already read several Hugo-eligible novels on my own (The Fold, Son of the Black Sword, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, The End of All Things, Half-Resurrection Blues, Nemesis Games, Angles of Attack, Shadows of Self, The Buried Giant, and Strands of Sorrow), but I wanted to see what novels were being considered by other folks. To that end, I relied on two sources. First, I found this recommendations list by Locus. Second, I also picked several Goodreads Readers’ Choice finalists. Theoretically, it would be great to read every eligible novel, but that’s not realistic. And so I appreciated having some lists to look at and direct some of my reading.2
That’s the same spirit behind publishing my reviews. I am not seeking to influence anyone’s vote in any way, nor to participate in any form of voter coordination. I’m putting out my reviews so that other folks can use those reviews to pick another book or two to read and vote on before polls close at the end of the month. If you read my reviews and tend to agree with my ratings, then you should pick one of my favorites that you haven’t read yet. If you read my reviews and tend to disagree with my ratings, then you should pick one of the books I didn’t like as much. That’s the purpose of including both positive and negative reviews. It’s not to influence or to persuade but simply to help other readers calibrate their own reading choices.
What makes me think a book is a good fit for the Hugo? I have two criteria. First, I want the book to be well-written. This can be from the perspective of literary skill (I’m a huge fan of The Road and Never Let Me Go in this regard) or it can be a fun story (I’m also a huge fan of Harry Potter, after all.) Second, I want the book to have something that sets it apart: either a really amazing concept or a compelling treatment of a serious issue. To me, science fiction really is the literature of ideas, and that’s kind of the implicit legacy that I would like a Hugo winner to uphold. Of the two criteria, however, I put more emphasis on just quality of writing.3 An absolutely amazing book without anything really deep is its own kind of profound, but even the most amazing idea doesn’t deserve an award if it comes wrapped in a poorly executed novel.4
I have written out full reviews for each one of these books. Next year, I’ll move this process at least one full month earlier in the year to give folks more time to actually read books based on what I’ve written. So, here are the books.
My Personal Hugo Nomination Shortlist
These are the books that I’m seriously considering nominating myself. All of them are fantastic, and I’m going to have a hard time picking from among them. 5
|Book||Mini-review||Link to full review|
|Red Rising was a mashup of Ender’s Game (good) and Hunger Games (not as good). It was fun, but not great. The followup, Golden Son, surpasses it by miles. It’s more like Ender’s Game + Dune (my two favorites) and if you haven’t read it you’re missing out.||Golden Son by Pierce Brown (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Half-Resurrection Blues is the best-written urban fantasy novel I’ve ever read. You need to get the Audible version to hear Daniel José Older narrate the work himself.||Half-Resurrection Blues (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|I was ecstatic and relieved when The Three-Body Problem took the Hugo last year. It was an ugly, ugly awards season, but in the end the best book won. The Dark Forest is a worthy sequel. Some parts in the middle are not as strong as the first book, but the ending is even strong.||The Dark Forest (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|I am a huge, huge fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, but if you have tried them and found them not to your taste, you should still give The Aeronaut’s Windlass a read. It is the most ambitious and accomplished work by Butcher to date, and a very stark departure from his other works.||The Areonaut’s Windlass (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Correia is most famous for his Monster Hunter International series, of which I am not the biggest fan. Son of the Black Sword is something entirely new. New setting, new tone, new narrative structure. As with Butcher, even people who haven’t loved Correia’s previous works should pick this one up. It is epic fantasy done right.||Son of the Black Sword (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|I haven’t The Buried Giant on a lot of speculative fiction lists, but it deserves to be there. Ishiguro’s fantasy tale is every bit as genre-authentic and excellently written as his earlier Never Let Me Go, and deserves very serious Hugo consideration.||The Buried Giant (Hugo 2016 Review)|
Some of the books I read this year were a lot of fun. Even though I don’t think they are serious contenders, I want to highlight them as books you should definitely check out.
|Book||Mini-review||Link to full review|
|Nemesis Games is the fifth installment in The Expanse, and I think it’s the best-written to date. You should definitely read it, but the novel doesn’t work well as a stand-alone and so doesn’t make sense as an individual Hugo nomination.||Nemesis Games (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The Mistborn series is my favorite series by the prodigious Brandon Sanderson, and within the Mistborn series the second sequences (starting with The Alloy of Law) is my favorite so far. The entire series is a must-read but, again, individual works from it don’t make sense to me as Hugo nominations.||Shadows of Self (Hugo 2016 Review)|
Here are the rest of the books that I read as part of this Hugo-preparation binge-reading marathon. Some of them I think are also pretty close contenders for the Hugo, whereas others I don’t think really work at all. But, since they all showed up on the source lists that I
|Book||Mini-review||Link to full review|
|Ancillary Mercy is the conclusion to the trilogy that started with (Hugo-winning) Ancillary Justice. The third book is solid, but it seems overshadowed by the first novel.||Ancillary Mercy (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Angles of Attack is the third book in the Frontlines series. Kloos pulled Lines of Departure out of the Hugos last year, which is a shame because it’s the better book. I’m still looking forward to Chains of Command, however.||Angles of Attack (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Armada is often reviewed as primarily a hit of 1980s nostalgia, but it worked fine for this child of the 1990s. A couple of very questionable plotting calls near the end of the book kept the novel from fully working for me, however.||Armada (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Barsk is Dune, but with anthropomorphic elephants instead of human nomads and tropical islands instead of deserts. It’s a warmly written, novel take, but anthropomorphic animals just don’t resonate with me, and neither did the book’s ending.||Barsk (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Seveneves is full of incredible ideas and it’s going to have an impact on the trajectory of the entire genre, but the story took a distant, distant back seat to the ideas and that was a real shame.||Seveneves (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The entire Black Tide Rising series is incredibly fun zombie-apocalypse action, and I definitely recommend it. But Strands of Sorrow, the last book in the series, is also the weakest. And there are some pretty fundamental authorial decisions (like including lots of death metal playlists and lyrics) that are going to be deal breakers for some.||Strands of Sorrow (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The End of All Things is the conclusion to the incredible Old Man’s War series. I still think the first book deserved a Hugo, but with The End of All Things the series ends with a whimper.||The End of All Things (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The Fifth Season is well-written with an intriguing premise and setting, but the endless litany of children who were molested, abused, raped, or murdered in the book was too much for me.||The Fifth Season (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The Fold is the same book as 14, but not as good. I do not recommend it. But I really, really highly recommend 14.||The Fold (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|The Water Knife comes closes of all these books to making my short list. In the end, however, too many aspects of what is written as a kind of credible, near-future thriller were not actually credible (for one) and the moral nihilism was too dark for me.||The Water Knife (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Updraft is the sole YA title on this list. It was an engaging read, but in the end there just wasn’t enough going on. I’m curious to see if the scope expands in future installments, however, and I might check back in if it does. There’s a lot to see in this world, but Wilde doesn’t let us venture very far in this book.||Updraft (Hugo 2016 Review)|
|Warship is an absolutely pristine example of military sci fi. Downtrodden commander of a downtrodden fleet that’s part of a downtrodden military is suddenly the only thing between humanity and extinction. I liked it almost well enough to put it in my “Fun” list, but the sequel was a big let down to me.||Warship (Hugo 2016 Review)|