The Hugos, 2016; Some Good Novels

I’ve read four great SF novels this months, and three of them would be eligible for Hugo nominations. One I read as an ARC and it will not be released until 2016.

The others, however, I recommend highly, depending on your taste:

Raising Caine, by Charles E. Gannon. I’ve reviewed all three of Gannon’s books in this series, and they get better with each book. This story follows Caine and a small group of terrestrial humans as they interact with various exo-sapient species. Earth’s sworn enemy, the Ktor, are well-represented with a new adversary-character who is fascinating. Gannon is a champ of the Big Idea, the “what-if?” and his non-human characters show us various models of physical and societal evolution. Plus, it’s got close shaves, narrow escapes, space battles, double-crosses and mysteries. There’s something for everyone.

Gannon’s two previous books were both short-listed for the Nebulas, and he narrowly missed the Hugo ballot in 2015 – but we all know what happened with the ballot this year. His work qualifies as both Military SF and “hard” science fiction and provides pleasure for those of us who are curious to see how groups of beings work together and those of us who like space ships and explosions.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. I think Jemisin pulls a great switcheroo here, making us think we’re reading fantasy when we’re really reading science fiction, but since this is the first book of a series, I may be wrong. I can’t wait to find out! Jemisin lets us follow three POV characters, at different points in time, across a continent that is seismically dynamic. Two of the storylines take place before a cataclysmic rift opens across the breadth of the continent; one takes place immediately afterward. Certain people have a magical ability to connect with the earth, and control tremors or volcanic flows; far from being revered, these people are feared by their neighbors and enslaved by the Empire. The story opens with a dramatic event that leaves us gasping questions; it ends with two of the storylines resolving (maybe a bit too conveniently) but with the third one poised to deliver still more questions. Along the way the books grapples with questions of morality and power. Excellent.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Leckie triumphs here with a beautiful closure to her genuinely original space opera trilogy. What is a person? What happens when empires collapse? What exists beyond the Ghost Gate? How you have a civil war with yourselves, or more accurately, your selves? What is Breq’s place in the universe? What is up with Seivarden? And what will the Translator eat next? These questions and more are answered in Leckie’s final work, which also noses beyond her usual dry wit to outright laugh-out-loud humor, provided mostly by Translator Zeiat.

I had a few quibbles. I thought Seivarden’s story got a lot of play for basically being a relationship dispute. And in some ways, folks got off lightly at the end. Leckie managed, however, to do brilliantly the thing I feared she would not; bring this whole innovative, original story to a plausible and satisfying close. Through all three books, this story has belonged to Breq, a former “ancillary” or human node of consciousness of a sentient starship. Breq was Justice of Toren. Justice of Toren was betrayed and murdered by the Lord of the Radch, and Breq only survived because her body was temporarily offline. Throughout the trilogy, Breq has tried to make sense of what she is, and finally, in this book, she comes to an answer that is honest and balanced.

The fourth book is Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Blades which will be released in January, 2016. I loved City of Stairs. Loved it. This one is better. And heartbreaking.

I’m going to break my own rule here, because you can advance order City of Blades via Amazon. I don’t like it, but there it is.

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