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My long list for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel

Started: 2015-01-25 19:24:17

Submitted: 2015-01-25 22:28:51

Visibility: World-readable

As a supporting member of the 2014 Worldcon, I get to nominate for the 2015 Hugo Awards. (You, too, can nominate if you join the 2015 or 2016 Worldcons by Saturday, 31 January.) I've read twenty novels published in 2014. Here are my favorites, which constitute my long list for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, sorted very roughly with my most favorite at the top:

The Martian by Andy Weir: An astronaut gets stranded on Mars on the third manned mission and resorts to heavy-duty ad-hoc engineering to survive. I think an entire undergraduate engineering curriculum could be written around this book. This book hit all the right buttons for me and I loved it. This is the best book I read in 2014, but it's probably not eligible for the Hugo award this year, since it was first self-published by the author in 2012. I shall nominate him for "Best New Writer" instead.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley: I don't normally read epic fantasy, but when I read epic fantasy, I want it like this. Kameron Hurley systematically dismantles all of the tropes of epic fantasy and puts them back together in a gripping epic fantasy story. Did I mention carnivorous plants, mirror universes, languages with five grammatical genders, genocidal matriarchs, and battered husbands? (While reading it I couldn't help but construct the board-game mechanic for the satellite magic.) If you read one book off this list, go read The Martian; if you read two, read this book next. Here's one more review to convince you to read this book: Polyamorous Pacifists and Sentient Plant-monsters Collide in The Mirror Empire.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: This is an English translation from the original Chinese by Hugo Award-winning author Ken Liu. This book combines a couple of my areas of interest: modern Chinese history and science fiction. The story starts in the Cultural Revolution, then advances to the twenty-first century with alien first contact and global conspiracies. (I found the translator's notes in the footnotes interesting, though I do compulsively read every footnote, which can break up the narrative when done wrong.) A trilogy has been published to great acclaim in Chinese; I'm looking forward to the forthcoming English translations of the remaining two books.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: After winning all the awards for her debut novel Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie's sequel gives narrator Breq a ship of her own and sends her out to see what's happening in the next star system, including a great (and terrifying) early scene with a young Lieutenant. The book gives time for the narrator to dwell on the colonial history of the Radch. There are some big unresolved plot points foreshadowing the inevitable sequel.

Lock In by John Scalzi: Scalzi proves his versatility with this murder mystery with a near-future science-fiction setting. (His idea: the apocalypse came and went, and humanity figured out how to adapt, and life went on.) My only real complaint is that I didn't get to spend more time in the world Scalzi created.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett: This book adds steam engines to a rapidly-industrializing Discworld, including a loving depiction of the eccentric people who make a railroad work. (As an engineer, these are my people.) I liked Pratchett's treatment of religious extremism in the face of social progress. This is probably the best Discworld I've read to date.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: This book combines my interest in India with my interest in science fiction. It's a weird story of a young woman in India who walks across the Indian Ocean on a wave-capture system, a girl in Africa who catches a ride on a convoy across the continent, and their inevitable collision.

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias: This review (Awesome Aliens: Jim Cambias's A Darkling Sea) by Jo Walton pretty much says everything I want to say about this book, but does it much better than I can. It reminded me a bit of the weird alien first contact in A Deepness in the Sky with the claustrophobic bottom-of-the-ocean research station in The Abyss. Here we have not one but two sentient alien species on a collision course with a small group of human researchers.

The Peripheral by William Gibson: Telepresence and time-travel combine to give a post-apocalyptic world a window into an alternate, pre-apocalypse past. I couldn't help but wonder what the technology underlying small-scale fabrication of electronics would be; in 2015 it takes billions of dollars to build a factory capable of producing the nanometer-scale features on a modern microprocessor. I had some trouble following the plot points of the future narrative but I still enjoyed the ride.