My 2012 Hugo novel nominee reviews

Once again this year, I endeavoured to read the Hugo nominees for best novel. I was mostly successful, although I skipped one book because it was book 5 of a series and another book I couldn’t finish. Here are my capsule reviews:

EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville
China Mieville novels are not easy reading, but they are stories that will stay with you for a long time and Embassytown is one of those.

On one of mankind’s most distant worlds sits a group of ambassadors who are our race’s only means of communication with an alien species which is one of the most alien ever imagined.

These aliens have a language which is almost beyond human comprehension. It requires two humans to speak simultaneously, with each making different sounds in order for the words to be heard and understood. Ambassadors are twinned with each other at an early age so they can perfect this speech and live together as if the two are sharing one brain and thinking simultaneously.

The story is told through the eyes of a woman who grows up in Embassytown, but leaves to be a star-faring space pilot, only to return years later with a lover who is a linguist fascinated by the language of the aliens.

As the story unfolds, it seems that the aliens are addicted to the words and concepts that they hear and learn from the humans they speak with. Things go bad when one faction begins to break away from their addiction and clashes with those who remain hooked.

It’s really a hard book to explain which is probably why you’d have to read it for yourself to grasp its complexities.

It’s clearly not a book for someone seeking escapist entertainment, but if you’re looking to have your mind expanded and give your brain a workout, Embassytown is worth a read

LEVIATHAN WAKES by James Corey
The best way to describe this book is that it is a film noir space opera.

With the backdrop of a war that spans the solar system, a weary, street-savvy detective from one of the asteroid colonies attempts to get to the root of the cause of the conflict and maybe save the Earth in the process.

It is a time when Mars, the asteroids and moons of our solar system’s outer planets are colonized and there is as a thriving trade between them all, accompanied by the rivalries that come along with that as each vies for advantage over their economic competitors.

Our hero works security on an asteroid colony and gets word that an heiress has gone missing and may be involved with a revolutionary group of nogoodniks. He sets out to find her and ship her back to Earth.

During the investigation, he discovers a body that has been transformed beyond recognition by some sort of pathogen that may be powerful enough to destroy humanity if allowed to spread across the colonies.

In a separate story line, a salvage crew discovers a lifeless spaceship near a tiny asteroid and board it to investigate. They find evidence that it may have been attacked by Mars’ navy. They are themselves attacked and manage to escape on a smaller, armed pinnace. They broadcast their findings to the solar system and nations start blaming each other and it quickly escalates into war.

Meanwhile, back to our detective friend. He does some digging and finds a link with our disappeared heiress to the pinnace that was used by the crew in our other story line to escape. He tracks them down to whatever space rock they are hiding at and the two groups link up.

What is the link between the war, the disappeared heiress and the deadly pathogen? That is the mystery that they set out to solve and that keeps the reader glued to their book as they watch them have one obstacle after another thrown in their path.

I found Leviathan Wakes immensely satisfying as a good, old-fashioned science fiction novel. In some ways, the style and content reminded me of a book like Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, but that’s a good thing since that was an excellent novel.

AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton
This year’s Nebula Winner by Montreal-resident Jo Walton was a surprise because it was a lot better than I expected.

It’s the first book of hers that I have read and found it hard to put down.

It is a fantasy story set in Wales, Walton’s homeland, about a teenage girl who sees fairies. She is sent off to England to study at a boarding school. Because she’s Welsh, has a handicap from a car accident that hinders her walking and is a big reader of science fiction, I couldn’t help but wonder how autobiographical a story it is consdiring Walton is Welsh, walks with the help of a cane and is a frequent and excellent critic of science fiction.

The book is written in a first-person, diary form and is set in 1979-1980. It recounts how our diarist is sent away after her sister dies in the car accident which leaves the writer with her disability.

The two of them would frequently see and interact with fairy-like creatures that lived in the Welsh countryside, mostly found near the abandoned structures of mines.

After the accident, the girl is sent off to a boarding school. Her tuition is paid for the aunts of her father, who she has never met since her parents split up a long time ago and now takes a more active role in her life. They bond because both are science fiction fans.

One of the amusing parts of the story is the ongoing book reviews that the girl jots down in her diary of the different science fiction titles she reads over the months she’s at school. If you isolated just that part of the book, you’d be left with Jo Walton’s canonical list of science fiction!

Because it is written as a diary, the story is very episodic and it may not appear to have a clear plot. As you read it, the story mostly deals with the day-to-day life of a schoolgirl with the usual concerns about friends, rivals and boys.

The only difference is there are sporadic references to the fairies and magic being used by her mother against her.

Considering that her sister has died, you start to wonder if these fairies are real or some sort of illusion created by her sick mind. For me, that ended up being the plot. Is this girl crazy or does she really see fairies? Finding the answer to that question was enough to keep me reading.

DEADLINE by Mira Grant
I y learned that this was book 2 of a trilogy, so set off to read the first book, Feed, which was nominated for a Hugo last year.

Sadly, I could not finish it. It’s yet another zombie apocalypse book which I found too self-conscious to be interesting. I got about a third of the way through and said “who cares?”

I’m sure it is beloved by many, but it was not my cup of tea and it’s extremley rare that I bail on a For the most part, I will slog through a book, no matter how dull or poorly written.

A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Having not read the previous 4 Game of Thrones books, I wasn’t going to plow through those just to read this book. I am sure it is a worthy title for nomination, but fear that it’s only here because of the success of the Game of Thrones mini-series. My bigger fear is that the name recognition is enough to propel this book to victory.