I signed up early this year as a Worldcon supporter to take part in the excitement of reading the year’s best and helping choose the best of the best. That didn’t happen this year, and I feel cheated. Still, I’ll do my duty, bearing in mind a single question: Is this work something I can recommend highly, especially to someone new to the genre?
My thoughts on the nominated novels:
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
A quiet fantasy novel about a young man who does not want and did not expect to become emperor. The fantasy element is slight, and it could almost have taken place at the 18th-century French court. The book’s invented language mostly employs words that are mere calques of English and make the story unnecessarily hard to follow. In spite of that authorial imposition, which is actually a minor point, the story of how he overcomes his fear and ignorance to become a fine emperor is worth reading and was worth nominating.
The Three-Body Problem by Chixin Liu
During China’s Cultural Revolution, a message to space receives an answer ... and scientists react to it in response to their own hopes and tragedies. China in the 1960s and afterward provided plenty of disillusionment and tragedy. This is hard science fiction full of technical ideas, and the narrative style is not exactly Western, which at times may require some patience. It also helps to know a little about Chinese history. Overall the novel delivers a delightful sense of wonder and a satisfying story. Outstanding.
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Breq gets assigned to a problematic space station in the sequel to the earlier Ancillary book. Like the original, it features taut writing and a relentless plot, perhaps with better characterization than the first book although fewer surprises, and with the same examination of freedom, exploitation, equality, and civilization. Another outstanding space opera, worthy of being on the ballot.
The Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Harry Dresden must help someone he hates make a big heist, with double-dealing and backstabbing encouraged and guaranteed. Well-plotted, funny, and number 15 in the series: it’s easy to see why Harry Dresden books have so very many devoted fans. Yet the quality of the writing at times grates, and the supernatural elements are clever rather than original. It’s not a bad book, but also not an ambitious book. Not the year’s best, in my opinion.
The Dark Between Stars by Kevin J. Anderson
A space opera with lots of galactic empires, aliens, conflict, and chapters that bounce between a wide cast of characters. The subgenre is a favorite of mine, and the story isn’t bad, but the story-telling is: flat and even stereotypic characters, a lot of summary, and plenty of “as you know, Bob,” dialogue. The worst of the five novels on the ballot, and not Hugo-worthy.
— Sue Burke