(I don't plan to nominate in the special category of Best Series, both because I find it poorly defined, and because I haven't read a lot of work that qualifies. I suppose I could have nominated Dave Hutchinson's Fractured Europe sequence, but I didn't get around to reading Europe in Winter before the nominating deadline.)
(As usual, I relied for my Campbell nominations on the invaluable resource that is Writertopia's Campbell eligibility page.)
Previous posts in this series:
Most years I complain about not reading enough recent books to nominate in this category, but I actually read quite a lot of 2016 genre novels. Nevertheless, there are several books I wish I'd managed to finish before the nominating deadline--chiefly Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning, but also Emma Newman's After Atlas and Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Winter.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman (review) - As I've said, this feels more like a Clarke award book than a Hugo award one, but nevertheless Alderman's chilling, Handmaid's Tale-esque story about a world in which women suddenly develop the ability to shoot bolts of electricity from their bodies, upending the world's balance of violent potential, is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking works of science fiction I've read in some time. What's most interesting about The Power is that while it is undeniably a book about gender and the role that violence plays in maintaining gender roles, that's not its main interest. What Alderman is doing with her premise is using it to discuss the role that violence and the use of force play in organizing our society, even when we pretend to be beyond them. That feels like a vital issue at this point in time.
- Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee - I wasn't as blown away by Lee's debut novel as some--under all its bells and whistles, the plot struck me as quite conventional, and the book feels hampered by being the first volume in a trilogy. But none of that changes the fact that this is one of the most distinctive and fascinating space operas to emerge from a period that was already testing that genre's limits and capabilities. Lee has been doing tremendous work in short fiction for years, but with Ninefox Gambit he synthesizes many of the ideas in those stories--most especially, the notion that math, and the basic axioms of your mathematical system, can be used as a weapon of war--into an effective and involving story of space battles and sieges.
- The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (review) - One of the best books I read in 2016, Samatar's sequel/companion to A Stranger in Olondria got less attention than that earlier book, but quite undeservedly. It is, in many ways, a more conventional work than Olondria, one that plops the reader in the middle of a fantasy-world civil war. But it's also, like the previous volume, an examination of its own genre, of the effect that writing and storifying can have on history and our understanding of it, of the uses to which empire puts those effects, and of the roles that women are allowed in such stories. And, like so much of Samatar's work, it is beautifully written, set in an instantly winning world, and people with indelible characters.
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (review) - It actually took me a little while to realize that Whitehead's exceptional, heart-wrenching novel about slavery was eligible for the Hugo, perhaps because of the gloss of respectability that attends a novel that has been so widely lauded. But The Underground Railroad, which uses a fantasy premise to decouple American racism from any one period in time and sends its heroine on a journey through the different forms that it has taken over the centuries, is a genre work in almost exactly the same way as previous Hugo winner The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and like that novel it reveals the ways that genre can be used to make necessary observations about the state of the world today.
Campbell Award for Best New Writer:
- Joseph Allen Hill - Hill wowed me with his novelette "The Venus Effect", which cannily examines genre tropes and which kind of people can end up being excluded from them. He's also published other stories--"We'll Be Together Forever" from 2015 and "You Can't See It 'Til It's Finished" from 2016--which reveal an intriguing and unique voice, combining surrealist and metafictional elements with a quirky sense of humor. Second year of eligibility.
- Malka Older - Older's 2015 story "Tear Tracks" was an unexpected surprise that has lingered with me, and her debut novel Infomocracy more than lives up to the promise of that early work. Nearly alone among writers imagining the near-future, Older focuses on the changing face of democracy, and on the role that information technology plays in those changes. She writes about these topics with a clarity that is obviously rooted in a keen observation of the state of the world around--there is scarcely a bit of Infomocracy's worldbuilding that doesn't feel achingly relevant to our present moment. Second year of eligibility.
- Laurie Penny - Penny has been an outspoken and incisive feminist activist and non-fiction author for several years now, so it's kind of unfair for her to reveal that she's also a pretty good fiction writer. Her novella Everything Belongs to the Future, and short story "Your Orisons May Be Recorded", reveal a good eye for details, a winning sense of humor, and a deft hand at combining politics with good fiction. Second year of eligibility.
- Tade Thompson - Thompson's novel Rosewater--a fungus-based work of cyberpunk in the vein of Lauren Beukes's Moxyland--is a little more interesting for its worldbuilding than its story. But the worldbuilding is indeed very interesting, describing a world in which aliens invaded several decades ago, and physically altered a portion of humanity, but no one really knows what to do about that. Set in Nigeria and focusing on a ne'er-do-well "sensitive" who can access the "xenosphere" created by the presence of alien fungus on Earth, Rosewater combines politics and technology, imagining how the irretrievable alteration of the world looks from the parts of it that have come last in the old order. Second year of eligibility.
- Tamara Vardomskaya - Vardomskaya caught my attention this year with the novelette "Polyglossia", but when I went back to look I realized that I'd read and liked several other stories by her, including "Acrobatic Duality" from 2015, and "The Three Dancers of Gizari" from 2016. In all of her work, she constructs fascinating fantasy worlds in which the focus is on art and creativity--and in which those forces are nevertheless vectors for politics, oppression, and conflict. Second year of eligibility.