A Thread For Discussing Hugo Nominated Works, Without Reference To The Recent Controversy

You can find a list of this year’s Hugo finalists, along with links to online versions (for those that are available online), here.

This is a thread where spoilers are acceptable. If you want to avoid spoilers, then you’ll need to do what I’ll be doing – skimming over the discussions of works I haven’t read yet. :-)

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37 Responses to A Thread For Discussing Hugo Nominated Works, Without Reference To The Recent Controversy

  1. 1
    redheadedfemme says:

    I’ve actually started my Hugo reading; checked out the novels, and bookmarked a site with links to as much of the online-available fiction as I could find. The first short story I read last night was the Rabid Puppy-backed “Turncoat,” by Steve Rzasa, and let me say, if the rest of the Puppies’ slate is as bad as that one, I won’t have any problem voting No Award.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    I just finished “The Goblin Emperor” last night, and I thought it was loads of fun, but I still had some reservations.

    RedHeadedfemme, can you provide a link to the site you mentioned?

    And would anyone else like a thread for dicussing Hugo nominated works? Not focusing on puppy vs anti-puppy, just discussion of what we thought of the nominated works. If anyone else would be up for it, I’ll start the thread.

  3. 3
    Ledasmom says:

    Hugo works discussion thread, yes, please! I am brimful of opinion with nowhere for it to spill over at the moment.
    Redheadedfemme, is it the sfsignal page that you bookmarked? That’s the one I found most of the nominees from.

  4. 4
    Mandolin says:

    Novelwise —

    I liked Goblin Emperor. I think GRRM had it nailed when he said the problem with it was lack of surprise; first impressions were pretty much right. Also, I got totally name overwhelmed. It started slowly for me, but I sure enjoyed reading it, and I like how generous it was with the characters. I bought it in audio so I could add it to my list of books I cycle through when I want to feel relaxed and immersed (mostly Pratchett, but I’m broadening now…)

    (Disclaimer: Ann’s a really good friend of mine.) I had mixed feelings about the small stakes when I read Ancillary Sword when I read it as a draft. It worked for me a lot better in the final form. I’m not sure whether that’s because I knew what the general plot outline was so I wasn’t surprised by the stakes, or because of the gloss of something being finished, or because she made changes. I still think it’s a bold move to go from something as sweeping as Justice and take it into a small space like Sword. I like the emotional sophistication of Breq’s evolving relationship with the ship and other AIs, and of course the ambassador is excellently amusing.

    I’m in the middle of Three Body Problem which I shouldn’t be because it’s up for the Nebula. When I opened it up for the Neb reading, my brain gave me one of those “nope” reactions that it does sometimes, which was totally a burnout thing, and not related to the book. I thought the beginning was interesting, but I’ve gotten into the physics part now, and while I think I’m supposed to be just getting excited, I’m starting to get bored instead. I may just need to push through a few pages, or it might not be the book for me (although I am really excited to see the cultural interaction between the American and Chinese SF worlds).

    I’m two novels behind on reading I need to do for other commitments (as well as a couple of short stories), so I’m worrying about time allotment at this point.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    I really enjoyed “The Goblin Emperor”; it was well written and fun and went down smoothly, although I don’t think I’ve ever used a glossary of names in the back as much as I have in this book. There are so many characters, and each of them can be referred to in a few different ways, which is realistic but really hard to keep track of.

    I liked how non-violent the book was, compared to the genre; I liked how good a person the protagonist was (and I can’t help but love a protagonist who is really excited by new bridge-building technology). But I think he was a little too perfect. His opinions on everything important were always exactly right from the perspective of a 21st century liberal like me, and it made me feel overly catered to.

    But I did like that the character has to simply accept that he’s going to get married in a politically advantageous way whether he wants to or not.

    On the whole, “Goblin Emperor” reminded me of Anne McCarthy’s “Dragonsong” and “Dragonsinger” books, which I treasured when I was a kid. Replace “is the rightful Emperor” with “is ridiculously talented,” and they’re pretty similar.

    I also enjoyed “Ancillary Sword,” – which had in many ways a similar plot to Goblin Emperor (an outsider comes to a badly-governed state, imbued with a great deal of official authority, and has to find their feet, make allies and begin cleaning things up). I like the relatively small stakes and scale, but I’ve always liked that sort of thing – my own work tends to have very world-non-shaking stakes. The prose is smooth and feels more artful than “Goblin Emperor.”

    But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with this one, either. The main character’s politics seemed, again, almost too perfect from my perspective – and this was a MUCH more overtly political novel. Things seemed to go too easily in the protagonists’ favor a lot of the time. Although there was one chapter in which a character got to deliver a blistering “bottom-up” perspective on events, in many ways this novel is a left-wing fantasy of being able to institute progressive change in a top-down manner; I’m personally more interested in stories about how change can happen without requiring a visionary high executive leading the way.

    Nonetheless, the writing was excellent, and the main character’s unusual background remains really appealing.

    So I liked both novels, but neither one left me thrilled and going “GIVE THIS THE HUGO RIGHT NOOOOOOW!,” which is always what I’m kind of hoping for.

  6. 6
    Ledasmom says:

    Regarding “Ancillary Sword”, I read it directly after “Ancillary Justice” and therefore compared the two immediately as I was reading, the first fresh in my mind as I read the second. Amp, when you say the politics were almost too perfect – yes, that is what I’ve been trying to articulate. More, I loved the structure of the first book – the tragedy coming but not seen by the reader until quite a ways into the book.
    Just finished “The Dark Between the Stars”. Much too thoroughly expositional. Decent story, many plot points thoroughly telegraphed, ending a wtf? for me. Would not pick up next book in series unless it’s a nominee next year. And besides, there is so much of it.
    “Skin Game” is perfectly decent Dresden Files, but Michael’s being even peripherally involved in something as morally questionable as the robbery bothered me a lot. Didn’t seem consistent with his character at all. Loved Butters, also Dresden’s chat with Hades.
    The only short I thought was decent was “Totaled”.
    Reading “Goblin Emperor” now, “Three Body Problem” on hold at library.
    Oh – Wright’s short nominees are all available as a free ebook from Castalia House. His plots irritate me, like Lewis without the subtlety.

  7. 7
    Evan Þ says:

    I read Goblin Emperor last fall, before I’d even heard anything about the Hugo controversy. It was a nice book – not just well-written, but a feeling of “niceness” as if things were well-arranged. That might be related to your response, Ampersand – there’s next to no violence, and only for one brief time is the protagonist’s throne actually in danger. My other initial reaction was disappointment that nothing’s actually done with the characters being goblins and elves. You could search-and-replace with any human ethnicities, and virtually everything else could stay just the same. I prefer my fantasy books to do more interesting things with their worldbuilding.

    But all that told, it’s a good book. I love the idea of “speaker-for-the-X” in court, and I liked the exploration of when a king should break with proper procedure. And the princess who really wants to be an astronomer was a lot of fun.

  8. 8
    Ben Lehman says:

    I was not a fan of Ancillary Sword. I love Ancillary Justice, and I thought Ancillary Sword was a step down in every way, not just in stakes, but also in political sophistication, characterization, plotting, pacing, etc. Ancillary Justice was so good that this step down still leaves Sword at “mediocre” but it’s not something that I want to win an award. All in all it feels like marking time until Book 3.

    Goblin Emperor I enjoyed a lot, minus some annoyances. I love court intrigue and fish-out-of-water stories and it did both well. I got some name fatigue, and also I feel like the main character’s fiancee was appallingly underused (I assumed she was being set up to be a more significant character in the sequel but, apparently, no plans for a sequel.) I also have a very stupid annoyance with some of the world’s logistics (where is all this coal and natural gas coming from?) But it’s a really good book, I like the characters, I love the plotting, I love the way that it handles violence, and it presents a fairly plausible political system which I always enjoy. I would be very happy if it won.

    Haven’t read Three Body yet. Obviously I have a great desire to see more communication w/ Chinese Science Fiction, but that doesn’t mean much for this particular book.

    Haven’t read the other two books yet.

  9. 9
    Ledasmom says:

    I have one quite specific complaint about Wright’s “Plural of Helen of Troy”: I thought it would have been much cleverer to have the younger Jack disappear when the older one was shot because the younger one was actually the older, but using the device to make himself seem younger. Seemed to be setting that up but didn’t deliver.

  10. 10
    nm says:

    I agree with Ben about Ancillary Sword: not as good as Ancillary Justice, which I thought was wonderful. I still thought it was very good, and I enjoyed following Breq’s further voyage into becoming a singular being,* but I confess to a little surprise that it was one of only two novels to beat out the slates–I wouldn’t have expected it to be that popular. I wasn’t bothered at all by the smallness of the stakes, relative to Ancillary Justice, but the patness of the crises and resolutions was unworthy of all the surprises Leckie gave me in the first volume of the series.

    I enjoyed The Goblin Emperor but found it ultimately unsatisfying: yeah, nice intrigues, nice characters, nice enough world-building. But I was oddly bothered by the way the main character, despite having spent most of his life with one abusive guardian and a couple of servants as the only other people in his world, was able to interact with others at court so easily. I know we’re supposed to read it as his having trouble with this, but he only doesn’t know the rules; he doesn’t actually have trouble connecting with others at an emotional level. And, I dunno, with that backstory I would expect him to have more problems about it.

    So for me, those two novels were similar in the topic of “isolated outsider learns to connect,” but Breq’s experiences were much more convincing.

    As I’m not a Hugo voter, I’m not likely to read the slate books until/unless I get positive recommendations from people whose tastes I know I share.

    *for me, that was the compelling issue in both Ancillary books; the “doesn’t perceive gender” feature was interesting but wasn’t what made me want to read more, more about Breq.

  11. 11
    Ledasmom says:

    I got the impression that “goblin” and “elf” in “Goblin Emperor” did refer to ethnicities, basically – they are not significantly different creatures with essentially different capabilities. I thought that was pretty interesting; one expects the usual fantasy tropes and doesn’t get them.

  12. 12
    Ledasmom says:

    Just started “Three-Body Problem”, which makes it: bought one, got four from the library. Am liking it so far.
    At the moment, out of what I have finished reading of the novels, I loved “Goblin Emperor”, loved “Ancillary Sword” nearly as much – I give GE the nod partly because it’s so damn charming, partly because I do think it’s more difficult when you’re starting from scratch in world-building. A sequel is starting further up on the ladder, and I preferred the sense of tragedy in “Ancillary Justice” anyway. That is not to say AS is in any way a bad book. Holy crap Leckie can write. “Dark Between the Stars” didn’t thrill me, mainly due to the tell-don’t-show, but I tend to give greater weight to good prose style than, say, my husband does. “Skin Game”, again, benefits from a lot of series momentum, but also doesn’t quite solve the problem of what you do once your scrappy underdog is not an underdog anymore – Dresden never seems to be seriously in peril any more, and in my opinion Butcher hasn’t successfully substituted a sense of moral or ethical hazard for a sense of physical hazard. Also, the explanation of how the Winter Mantle works is irritating. Not to be a huge giant nerd cliche, but it’s midichlorians all over again.
    It is nice to be reminded that I can read and enjoy imperfect, sometimes exceedingly imperfect prose. The sense of obligation to read all the candidates kept me reading past a few rough spots and somewhat out of my comfort zone, and I am grateful for that.
    Now, anyone else read the short fiction yet? I love dissecting a short story, good or less so.

  13. 13
    Charles S says:

    I read Ancillary Sword and was unsatisfied with it. Some of the world development was great, and I really liked the way that the oppressive and colonialist functions of the Radch gender system were exposed over the course of the novel, and I liked the character of Tisarwat and Breq’s interaction with her new ship, but I felt like Breq developed a sort of superheroic level of rightness. It felt like for every situation she encounters, she alone is capable of understanding what is going on and how best to proceed. She even is the only one who recognizes the bomber’s sister is the bomber’s brother- even though her persistent incompetence at recognizing the genders of clearly gendered characters is one of her core character traits in the first book.

    And the final fight with the other captain felt like the other captain fell into Evil Overlord level of bad planning, which was frustrating.

    Also, I missed the nice parallel structure of the first book.

    I’m still reading the Goblin Emperor, but I’m not sure I’ll make it to the end. I’ve reached the anti-climactic meeting with the secretly feminist Avar, and I don’t really feel like there are any challenges or complications waiting in the wings that won’t be resolved with the same combination of mediocrity on the part of Maia, absurd incompetence by his enemies, and ridiculous luck ensuring that all of Maia’s actions are morally virtuous and profoundly successful.

    I mean, this is a character who lets himself fall in with the sybaritic aristocrat that his evil Grand Chancellor sets him up with, and it turns out that the secret plot of corruption that the aristocrat is leading him into is to support a virtuous and disenfranchized group of non-noble engineers in their daring plan to bridge a difficult river and bring prosperity to the populace (a plan the evil Grand Chancellor opposes), and that despite being brought into this plan by his attraction to a beautiful seductress who then offers herself to him as a reward for taking up the cause of the engineers, he decides to reject her advances because he fears he wouldn’t perform well and it would be embarrassing, achieving the moral and virtuous course of action through his own mediocrity.

    And then the evil vizier, foiled by his own son’s connivance in corrupting Maia into backing the bridge project the vizier hates, hatches a conspiracy to depose the Emperor that involves kidnapping him for maybe half an hour, asking him to step down, letting him talk to his heir who they plan to install even though the heir is (a) friendly with the Emperor (b) not in on the plan, and not bothering to have any loyal troops or guards to fend off the Emperors soldiers who come to arrest them. Good job evil Grand Chancellor! I did like the execution by suicide sequence of the bodyguard who betrays Maia, although I am baffled why the author chose to set up that entire sequence and yet didn’t bother to develop the relationship between Maia and the guard at all before hand, given that the guard is someone who has been in Maia’s presence half the time for hundreds of pages.

    Ultimately, the entire book feels like Maia is playing his life on the “Too Easy” setting.

    I did like the handling of Elf-Goblin ethnicity, and the detail of their expressive ears.

  14. 14
    Ledasmom says:

    Just finished “Three-Body Problem”. Excellent. The only complaint I have is the chapter about the sophons – seemed of another degree of speculation beyond the rest of the book and didn’t quite fit in.
    Now, if the husband doesn’t want to read it, back to the library it must go. I was lucky and got on the list when there were only three previous holds on it.

  15. 15
    Charles S says:

    I did finish the Goblin Emperor and enjoyed it more in its completion than I did most of the way through.

  16. 16
    Ben Lehman says:

    I’m midway through Three Body (just finished the Copernicus chapter) and I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or just pretentious and dreary.

    Ken Liu did a great job with the translation, though. He really preserves the rhythm of written Chinese in English, which is not easy.


  17. 17
    Mandolin says:

    Heh, the sophons were my favorite part.

    I found the book often dull, but striking (as in, provoking, unusual) in sum from an intellectual standpoint. I’m also not sure where I stand on it. I’ve been explaining it to people who haven’t read it by analogizing to Greg Egan.


  18. 18
    Ledasmom says:

    Oh, I loved the sophons on their own, but they didn’t quite fit with the rather straightforward science of the rest. In particular I enjoyed the humor of missing the target by a dimension or so, repeatedly.
    I couldn’t help thinking what a powerful intellectual tool something like the Three Body game could be – immerse people in a world where they can’t count on their real-world facts, and see what they can deduce.

  19. 19
    Ben Lehman says:

    Just finished Three Body.
    … I’m still thinking about it. I’m not sure I can assess it’s quality easily.

  20. 20
    Ben Lehman says:

    Just finished Skin Game. For context: I’ve read the first three Dresden Files books but none after that. It’s recognizably the same series but has also clearly departed from the formula. I think it’s cool that it’s departed from the formula (I mean, 15 books in, you sort of have to) but I’m not sure the arc really hung together. It suffered from being, well, book 15 in a series. A lot of stuff happened that seemed to only matter in the context of the series as a whole.

    I didn’t like the first half, which sort of meandered through a bunch of plot stuff just trying to get the protagonist back into the action, but I did like the second, when the action actually takes off. I felt like some of the ending (with the Star Wars faith stuff) was extremely hoaky, particularly given that the series has always handled faith in a pretty cool way.

    Ultimately, in this set of books, I find myself comparing it a lot to Ancillary Sword. Both of them are mediocre entries in pretty good series. I enjoyed half of both of them (the first half of Ancillary Sword, the second half of Skin Game.) Both of them are written by friends of people I know. Both of them are fairly fan-servicey, even at the expense of plausibility. Skin Game was less of a disappointment than Sword, but that’s really just about my expectations.

    It’s frustrating because… I think Jim Butcher winning a Hugo for a Dresden book would make a lot of sense. It’s a good series. But, because Skin Game was nominated due to politics, rather than because it’s a particularly stand-out book, it ended up being a not very outstanding entry.

    And at the same time, there’s a desire to set strong social mores about slate nominations and so on.

  21. 21
    Ben Lehman says:

    I don’t think I’m going to actually end up voting (I don’t want to spend the $40 and I don’t want to have to wade through the rest of the nominees), but if I did, here is how I would vote.

    I still haven’t settled my thoughts about Three Body. The story isn’t very thrilling, the protagonist is a wet noodle, and the pacing could use a ton of work. But none of those things really matter. Ultimately, Three Body is a novel of ideas, and it presents intriguing ideas in a lucid, gripping fashion.

    (It also happens to be a set of ideas that I very strongly disagree with. Without diving too much into the politics of science, it’s very clearly a book about physics written by an engineer, and that matters on a ton of levels. But, it is one of the most strongly presented cases for the engineer view, and it introduces fascinating new ideas as well. So, whether or not I agree with its ideals and ideas, I have to say it’s very good.)

    Goblin Emperor is almost exactly the opposite. It’s fun, it has awesome world building, the pacing is relaxed but enjoyable, the main character is also sort of a wet noodle but at least he has personality and comes across as a likable, sympathetic person. Much of the fantasy world makes no sense but that’s okay because this isn’t a story about the fantasy world making sense, and the author has the good sense not to try to explain it to you with a pile of exposition. It’s an appealing, engaging power fantasy, and I really enjoyed it all the way through.

    I could easily choose either one as the top pick, but I think it has to go to Three Body, simply because really good SFF novels of ideas are pretty rare and, also, I want to encourage more translation of Chinese SFF.

    I couldn’t get past chapter three of The Dark Between the Stars, both because it just wasn’t my thing and because it relied heavily on knowledge from the previous trilogy. I didn’t find it appalling, just, not my thing at all. Thus, not going to vote for it in any slot.

    Skin Game, and Ancillary Sword, as noted about, are pretty similar in quality and my reaction. I would probably have to give the edge to Skin Game, just because starting weak and finishing strong is better than starting strong and finishing weak. On the other hand, I don’t feel like the Hugo should go in either case to a mediocre novel in a larger series. So I might drop either or both of them below No Award. (likewise, the slate thing might drop Skin Game there.)

    So, probably something like:
    1) Three Body
    2) Goblin Emperor
    3) Skin Game
    4) Ancillary Sword
    5) No Award

    Where 3, 4, 5 are extremely close and might abruptly shift depending on mood.

    If I was going to vote. Which I probably won’t do.

  22. 22
    nm says:

    I just finished The Three Body Problem. I found the style kind of unappealing without being able to say exactly why: too much telling rather than showing, especially about the characters’ thoughts and emotions? Too many short sentences? I have the feeling that I may have been encountering contemporary Chinese literary style for the first time and not enjoying it; perhaps if I had read more Chinese novels I’d be more comfortable with it. (Also, clearly, I am one of those dreadful SJWs who cares about things like style instead of just the story.)

    But I thought the story was engaging, though I had huuuuuuuuge questions about using a video game as an alien teaching tool: I just can’t see how they had enough info about Earth cultures to make that work. But it sounds like it would have been a hella fun game. Also, like Ledasmom, I loved the sophons and the missing/extra dimensions. So I guess I enjoyed the more game-like parts of the novel, and wasn’t that thrilled by the novel qua novel.

    So I don’t know how I’d rank it, compared to Ancillary Swordand The Goblin Emperor. I think I have more invested in Breq than in the other main characters, but really none of them seems Hugo-worthy to me (as a non-Hugo-voter).

  23. 23
    Mandolin says:

    I liked SWORD more than Ben did, and GOBLIN EMPEROR less.

    I think people neatly summed up my problems with Emperor (and to a lesser degree Sword) when noting that the characters’ morals and actions seem always perfect or nearly so, and just weirdly in step with contemporary mores. In Emperor, all the problems are solved by other people as well, and the final assassination attempt is a real let down, tension-wise. Also, I found the scene with the opera singer apologizing for using her advantages with the emperor weird, again, very contemporary.

    That said, I read the book, and then used it as background listening in audio, so I ended up more familiar with it than I would otherwise have been. I’ve also both read and listened to Sword. For me, Sword improved with retreading, and GE felt weaker.

    I don’t agree with the particular point Charles made about when he got irritated with Breq’s always being right. Breq, having lived outside the empire, would actually be aware of the fact that the locals are distinguishing by sex, and might care. The other Ra’adchaai would have no reason to consider it.

    I dislike Three Body Problem, I think. But it’s a weighty book, and had some striking images. If I decide to vote on what I consider the importance and lastingness of the book, I’ll vote for 3BP. Otherwise,Sword.

    Are any of the three Hugo-worthy? An awfully broad question, that. I’d say they’re not out of step with previous Hugo winners. Are they CHINA MOUNTAIN ZHANG? No. Are they REDSHIRTS? For me, sure. Interesting or entertaining enough reads, not mind-blowing, but tapped into the emotional zeitgeist for whatever reason this year. (In particular, I think GE’s popularity — including my own like for it — is influenced by how nice it is to read something other than grimdark high fantasy.)

    For mind-blowing, well, I can’t speak for adult SF/F because I only concentrated on YA/MG. But in young adult, GLORY O’BRIEN’S FUTURE HISTORY by A. S. King is a good place to start. (And in middle grade, GREENGLASS HOUSE was outstanding.)

  24. 24
    Charles S says:

    I can’t find my copy of Sword, so I can’t check exactly how Breq realizes that the bomber’s sibling is her brother. There are ways that it could have been established that would make sense to me (basically, Breq’s years abroad have sensitized her to gendering in language, so if she noticed how someone referred to the brother in the gendered minority language, that would make sense).

    I was probably misremembering how she noticed it, particularly since I don’t think it particularly stuck out to me as a problem when I actually read it. So that was probably a faulty example of Breq’s super-competence problem.

  25. 25
    Ledasmom says:

    I could be wrong, as the book is back at the library, but I think Breq referred to the sibling as “your sister”, got an incredulous response and corrected to “brother”.

  26. 26
    Charles S says:

    “I gestured resignation and reseated myself. “She threatened your sister, I take it?” An incredulous look told me my mistake. “Your brother. Is he all right?”

    So that is completely sensible.

    Shortly before that, she genders the Grandfather correctly:

    One of the people at the table was the elder who had spoken to me, the day we’d arrived. Who’d changed the choice of song, when she’d seen that we were in mourning. “Good evening, Grandfather,” I said to her, and bowed. Because of my long familiarity with Valskaay, I was fairly sure my choice of gender—required by the language I was speaking—was correct.

    That one is more questionable, but if the gender markers Breq is using are social then it is reasonable (In Justice, Breq can’t comprehend physical gender markers even when her life depends on it).

    Also, she guesses twice in this scene and is wrong once, so complaining about the fact she thinks her first guess is justified and it ends up correct is silly.

  27. 27
    Ledasmom says:

    Just finished the actual, rewritten, nominated version of “One Bright Star”. Never mind the carelessness of Wright’s writing (my editing finger twitched constantly). What thoroughly put me off was his having the protagonist captured by three baddies with no apparent escape, and ending the chapter there. At the beginning of the next chapter the protag is walking up to someone’s door, and shortly explains that the baddies all got killed by their own side Because Evil, and that he was in the clutches of another baddie except that his magical catpanion gave him the ability to fall without getting hurt, and here he is.
    Being cheated of seeing the actual confrontation is why I finally stopped reading Patricia Cornwell, and I’m not putting up with it from John C. Wright.

  28. 28
    Ampersand says:

    I just finished reading Three Body Problem.

    Of the three Hugo-nominated novels I’ve read, I liked Goblin Emperor least. It was entertaining and I had fun reading it, but so nice and sensible it finally struck me as bland and lightweight.

    Ancillary Sword and Three Body Problem are toss-ups for me. Ancillary Sword was definitely superior when it came to the prose and the characterization. Both the characters, and the world, felt fairly well fleshed out. And I enjoyed the relatively small scale and stakes of this book. But Breq just seemed too perfect for my tastes, and intractable problems – like regrowing the personality of a girl who has been viciously mind-murdered by a villain – just seemed too tractable. Breq’s conversion from ship to singular human seemed too easily managed to hold my interest.

    On the whole, this book was well written, but felt like Leckie didn’t have the heart to ever have things turn out badly.

    Three Body Problem certainly didn’t have that problem. Its basic pessimism was refreshing after Goblin Emperor, frankly. And the novel had a lot of really neat science-fiction-based ideas and problems, with the fascinating backdrop of the Cultural Revolution and the trauma, both for many characters and for the country, of having survived the Cultural Revolution.

    For me, the big problem with this book was Wang Miao, the protagonist for much of the book, who to me seemed like a mannequin, human-shaped but with no emotional life at all. The first half of Three Body, mostly told from Wang’s perspective, was a drag to get through just because the character felt so lifeless. Ye Wenjie’s sections, in contrast, were much more lively reading, just because plot events are more interesting if I have a real character to experience them with. (It helped, also, that the trauma Ye Wenjie experienced ended up mattering a lot to the story.)

    On the whole, Three Body Problem gave me a lot more to think about than Ancillary Sword, and I enjoyed that. I also found the setting of the Cultural Revolution fascinating (slash nightmarish). But Sword‘s writing and characterization were, I thought, much better.

    Right now I’m leaning towards voting for Three Body Problem for the Hugo.

  29. 29
    Ampersand says:

    I read On a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli, nominated for a short story Hugo this year. (That link goes to the story posted on the author’s blog; you can also go here to download it in various ebook formats.)

    This story was okay as far as it went; the writing was smooth and clean, and the situation interesting. The story explains the premise on the first page:

    Unlike Earth, Ymilas has only one sentient life form. The Ymilans have a low-tech highly-ritualized culture. Their religion is genuinely unique because the living and the spirits of the dead coexist side by side.

    Dergec is the chief cleric of the continent where our Terran base is located. After my posting there as Base Chaplain, we spoke frequently and found a surprising amount of common ground. The Ymilans believe–as do many Terran religions–that each individual has a spark of an eternal extra-dimensional over-arching consciousness that is imbued in each of them at birth and ultimately returns to a higher dimensional plane when the physical form is no longer viable.

    I told him we call it the “soul”.

    They also know–I won’t say believe because the evidence was obvious on Ymilas–that while alive we develop an electromagnetic imprint as a result of the experiences of life that survives after death. I told Dergec an ancient Terran religion had the same belief, and in fact built elaborate pyramids and tombs filled with personal belongings to keep those spirits happy.

    The ancient Egyptians called that type of a spirit the “Ba”. The Ymilans call them Helpful Ancestors, and they are considered part of one’s extended family.

    I explained Earth’s weak magnetic field apparently allows most of our spirits to dissipate, “Although there were many cultures on Earth that believed their ancestors were a part of their everyday lives,” I said. “But you couldn’t interact with them.”

    So if that premise interests you, then this is a short story worth reading.

    The premise did interest me, but I ended up feeling that it wasn’t developed in any interesting way.

    For instance, in the story the main character and his Ymilan pal both seem to believe in a Soul, but they also believe in electromagnetic spirits (or ghosts), and they see these as separate things.

    I took the opportunity to ask a question. “Does he [Joe, the ghost character] realize that this trip means extinction,” I said. “That his soul has already flown, he is just a ghost?”

    And again, a little later:

    “He says it is good, he realizes there is nothing left for him here, and he would rather be nothing than a ghost on a strange world,” said Dergec. “He said the others have given him courage. He hopes his immortal soul has already reached your heaven.”

    “I know it has, Joe,” I said, my voice cracking a bit. “I have faith in that, that’s my job. To have faith.”

    “Joe says he likes that,” said Dergec.

    So wait – Joe is a walking, talking, sentient ghost with feelings and thoughts and preferences and memories, and whose personality doesn’t appear to have been changed by his death – but he doesn’t have a soul? That seems disturbing.

    Why is the protagonist so determined to make sure that any humans who die have their electromagnetic ghosts – who seem perfectly benign – killed as soon as possible? The ghosts seem benign, even benevolent. And rushing a person to suicide moments after a major change in their life is pretty obviously wrong. To me, the entire attitude seems profoundly immoral – which would be okay, if the author had made his main character thoughtless or a monster deliberately, but I get the impression that Antonelli doesn’t actually see any moral problem at all with rushing new ghosts to commit suicide, and intended his protagonist to be a thoughtful-morally-upright-hero type.

    If you can be fully sentient and feeling without having a soul, then what is a soul for, exactly? If the only purpose of a soul is to give people with souls immortality in heaven, then how is it fair that God gives souls to some people but not others? And if having a soul serves some other purpose, then why – other than being depressed and willing to kill himself quickly (a trait not shared by the alien ghosts), does ghost-Joe not seem to have changed all that much, as far as the story tells us?

    What are the implications for a society in which only one-seventh of one’s expected lifespan is spent in a corporeal body, and the other six-sevenths are spent as an electromagnetic ghost? Why didn’t Antonelli explore any of this?

    Smoothly written, but completely failed to develop its premise in any interesting manner, or to consider (not answer, just consider) any of the hard questions the premise should have brought up. Not a terrible story, but a very unsatisfying one.

  30. 30
    Ledasmom says:

    For some reason, it’s titled “On the Spiritual Plain” in the Hugo packet.

  31. 31
    Jake Squid says:


    I have had no time to read anything lately so I won’t have time to read On A Spiritual Plain. Are the passages you quoted representative of the writing in the story as a whole?

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    Pretty much representative, except that I deliberately quoted a long expository passage (not to make the story look bad, but to let people know what the story is about). Most of the actual story is not infodump, unlike the passage I quoted.

    It’s a very quick read, and I’m sure I’ve read worst stories. But I’ll be very disappointed if there aren’t any better short stories nominated this time around. A SF story that is relying on its ideas, rather than on great writing or characterization, had better actually develop its ideas in surprising and intelligent ways; this story failed to do that.

  33. 33
    Jake Squid says:

    It’s a very quick read, and I’m sure I’ve read worst stories. But I’ll be very disappointed if there aren’t any better short stories nominated this time around. A SF story that is relying on its ideas, rather than on great writing or characterization, had better actually develop its ideas in surprising and intelligent ways…

    That’s exactly the impression I got from the quoted passages. Great job!

  34. 34
    Ampersand says:

    I also posted this on an open thread, but I’m reposting it here, with some comments about the Sad Puppy stuff edited out, in case anyone would like to discuss it without getting into the Puppy stuff.

    I’ve been reading some Zombie Nation today – Zombie Nation, for those who don’t recall, is the Puppy nominee for “Best Graphic Story” this year.

    This is as purely mediocre a comic as I’ve ever read. The best this comic ever gets is “that was okay,” and at a craft level it’s atrocious. Take a look at this episode, for example:

    On the good side: 1) He’s got some basic Photoshop skills, and employes textures, gradients, and gloss effects so that he winds up with a shiny surface. Not my cup of tea, but many readers genuinely enjoy that approach. 2) The figure drawing isn’t bad. 3) And it looks like he actually cared about drawing that monster, and the result is fun to look at.

    On the bad side: 1) He doesn’t know how to place word balloons so that they’re read in the correct order. The script only makes sense if “I’m hoping the rule where the two prettiest people always live compensates for that” is a direct response to “What about no splitting up”? in the previous panel. But because he didn’t know how to put his word balloons in the right order, there’s either one or two word balloons between those two, and by the time I got to “compensates for that” I had to sit for a minute and figure out what the hell “that” was referring to.

    This isn’t a “Barry is a comics snob and only likes Chris Ware comics where someone is depressed for eighty panels then goes to sleep” thing; being able to put your word balloons in the right order is a matter of basic craftmanship. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, as any cartoonist could tell you, but it’s reasonable to think that the person the Puppies apparently think is the best cartoonist of 2014 should be able to manage it.

    2) He didn’t bother to draw the figures in panel 3; he just cut-and-pasted the figures from panel 1 and reused them. If you read further, he does this a LOT; for instance, in the very next strip, there are seven figures but he actually only drew three figures. Then, he reuses those same figures AGAIN in the strip after that. Oh, and the monster’s tentacles never move, because he also just cut-and-pasted those from panel to panel.

    This is lazy cartooning. And it’s crappy work. The reason a cartoonist like Jeff Smith – or, for that matter, ANY of the other Hugo nominees in this category this year – doesn’t constantly repeat figures is because static figures aren’t as expressive as figures that move and react and change body language in response to what’s going on around them.

    3) The entire premise of this episode is swiped from the movie Scream, without even a nod to the original.

    4) This is a comic with absolutely no ambition. Not only does it not want to be anything more than a silly gag comic, it doesn’t even try to be an especially well-done silly gag comic.


    None of which is that big a deal. This is an amateur webcomic, and if he and his readers have fun with it, then it’s all cool. Not every work needs to be of professional quality, and not every work needs to try to be great. When I first looked at Zombie Nation (without reading it), I thought it looked like an okay webcomic (although it didn’t do very well when I actually read it). The cartoonist has talent, and if he actually put some time and effort in he might produce something better.

    But at present, if Zombie Nation is any example, this cartoonist is not working at the level I’d expect a Hugo nominee should be at.

  35. 35
    Ampersand says:

    The second paragraph of this comment, from a File 770 thread, really gets at what I found unsatisfying about the politics of Ancillary Sword:

    Going To Maine on May 27, 2015 at 8:51 am said:

    Speaking of books, Ancillary Sword seems quite puppy-unfriendly, in that a big chunk of plot is devoted to the complexities of class relations and the exploitation of laborers. On the other hand, while I found those sections predictable in a yes-I’ve-read-books-with-similar-themes-and-messages way, they didn’t feel shoehorned in or badly handled, just same-old-same-old.

    I do find it a bit annoying that Breq is kind of becoming more of an ultimate force for good; it would make me happier as a reader if her perceived ideal solutions were both different from my own, less palatable, and effective – in other words, more alien.

  36. 36
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I just read three body problem. By and large I found it excellent. I share some of Amp’s commentary, though I think that Wang’s numbness makes more sense in the context of the story than Amp does, and I’ve seen similar perspectives in other writing. More to the point it had some very well done and unique imagery.

    Ancillary Sword, in comparison, was perfectly fine, and competently written. I read it shortly after it came out, and I remember enjoying it a bit. And after I read it I promptly forgot about it and have not been inclined to think about it, or read it, again. (Same thing for Skin Game, for example. And for most books.)

    That’s why I think it’s important to read the stuff early and see how it sits. Of the books which “stick in my head,” a very large %age of them are, as it happens, award winners of something or other. Forever War sticks; Old Man’s War didn’t. 3BP sticks, Ancillary ___ didn’t.

    Anyway, of those two (or of those 3 if you include Skin Game though nobody actually does), 3BP is clearly superior in an award-winning sense. I haven’t read goblin emperor yet though.

  37. 37
    nm says:

    it would make me happier as a reader if her perceived ideal solutions were both different from my own, less palatable, and effective – in other words, more alien.

    Yes, that’s it. That’s the letdown from the first book, where Breq’s thoughts seem totally alien to me.