Looking back on my Hugo reading and preparation this year, I'd class 2015 as solid but not spectacular (2014 was much stronger, which makes it all the more unfortunate that its Hugo nominations were hijacked by the puppies). I enjoy the process of reading and considering in preparation for my nominations, but I'm always a little relieved when it's over--bring on the nominees, and let's hope that this year they give off light as well as heat.
Previous posts in this series:
- Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (review) - Cho's pastiche of Georgette Heyer's regency romances, crossed with a reconsideration of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is laudable first for being able to carry both of those antecedents without being crushed by the weight of reference. On the contrary, Cho manages to infuse her story and setting with its own unique flavor, drawing on Malaysian mythology as well as the less savory aspects of empire that the novels she's drawing on are prone to ignore. Sorcerer to the Crown is not without its flaws, chiefly a less-than-engrossing plot and an occasionally too-passive lead, but it's never less than a lot of fun--and frequently quite funny--to read, and its handling of issues of race and gender is nuanced and interesting.
- The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (review) - As I wrote in my review of The Lie Tree, I prefer Hardinge in full-on secondary world fantasy mode, but there's no denying that she draws the Victorian setting of this supernatural mystery as impeccably as she does any of her invented worlds. Her heroine, a troubled, emotionally repressed young woman who finds an outlet for her frustrated intelligence in spreading malicious lies, is also a typically vivid and compelling creation, and the fevered pitch that The Lie Tree builds up to as her manipulations take hold of a small community is everything we've come to expect from a Hardinge novel--psychologically astute, perfectly drawn, and quietly horrifying.
- Persona by Genevieve Valentine (review) - It's been nearly a year since I read Persona, and since then I've found that the novel has a surprising staying power. Partly it's just that nobody in genre is doing what Valentine is doing--telling a political thriller story in which power is rooted not just in appearance, but in looks, charisma, and fashion choices. That Valentine takes these subjects--which tend to be dismissed as trivial or (gasp!) girlish--and makes them deadly serious is an unusual and refreshing choice, and in addition Persona has two memorable, savvy protagonists to root for, as they make ruthless choices but also long for human contact.
- Kelly Robson - Robson made a big splash this year with her novella "The Waters of Versailles", which has been nominated for a Nebula award, and takes an unusual but fascinating approach to its setting of the pre-Revolutionary French court. I also enjoyed her Clarkesworld story "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill", which offers an interesting twist on its body-snatching premise. First year of eligibility.
- Iona Sharma - I enjoyed Sharma's novella "Quarter Days" (from GigaNotoSaurus), about magician-lawyers in post-WWI England, whose protagonists include people of color trying to find a place for themselves in that society. Her Strange Horizons story "Nine Thousand Hours" takes place in the same universe, and this time revolves around an enlisted magician whose war-spell has had a terrible, unforeseen consequence. First year of eligibility.
- Alyssa Wong - Sometimes a single story is enough to put a writer on the map, and Wong's "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (already nominated for the Nebula) is one such story. It has a simple premise--a vampire trying not to be--but complicates it first by changing the rules of how vampires function, and second by introducing several complex relationships between older and younger women, none of whom are exactly what they seem. Second year of eligibility.
- JY Yang - Yang has had several interesting stories in the first few years of her career, each completely different from the others. "Tiger Baby" (Lackington's) is a slipstreamy fantasy about a girl chafing against a restrictive life, who believes she has a beast within her. "Storytelling for the Night Clerk" (Strange Horizons), is a cyberpunk-ish heist story. And "Patterns of a Murmuration, in Billions of Data Points" (Clarkesworld), is also a cyberpunk story, but with a much more mournful tone. Second year of eligibility.
- Isabel Yap - Yap came to my attention relatively late in this year's Hugo reading period, but once she did it was clear that she was an author to watch. "The Oiran's Song" (Uncanny) is a brutal, punishing horror story about powerless people trying to survive in a hellish situation. It's hard to believe that it comes from the same author who wrote "Milagroso" (Tor.com), a gentle story about tradition and family relations that explores an interesting SFnal concept in a setting that is full of fascinating local detail. Second year of eligibility.