A few moments ago I cast my vote for this year's Hugo Awards. Usually I wouldn't make a big deal about voting – I'd simply cast my vote and be done with it. I also don't usually reveal my final picks. While I've long made it a practice of disclosing my initial ballot recommendations for the various awards, I do that to bring attention to deserving stories and books. But final votes tend to be more objective and, usually, all of the finalists for the various categories are deserving of a win. So until now I've kept my final votes to myself.
But this year the finalists for the Hugo Award for Best Novel are far from usual, so I'm breaking tradition and urging people to cast their vote for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.
Here's my reasoning:
I read a number of SF/F books each year, and usually I enjoy most of them. Usually these novels are well written and entertaining and take me to new and interesting worlds as only good science fiction and fantasy can do.
However, perhaps you've noticed me using the word "usual" a lot in this essay. There's a reason for that – far too much of today's SF/F feels like simply another go around of the usual stuff. I'm sure every reader out there knows what I'm talking about. A "usual" novel is warm and soothing, the perfect story to read while sipping milk and munching cookies as you snuggle under a dozen cats on a cold winter's night. These usual novels use themes and ideas and plots we've all seen a thousand times in our genre. There's nothing wrong with usual novels – hell, I enjoy reading them.
But usual novels are not worthy of major literary awards.
Instead, I want award-winning novels to be those stories which break with convention, which come at our genre in new and exciting ways. And of this year's finalists for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, only N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms fits this bill.
There are plenty of reviews available for N.K. Jemisin's fantasy novel, so I won't bore you by giving a long one. Suffice to say this novel is amazingly well written, more so when you realize that the voice you're reading isn't as clear cut as you initially think, which is a trick our genre usually only sees in the works of Gene Wolfe. But even as Jemisin plays with our minds, she's also telling a totally engaging story you can't put down. This novel recently won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and if there's any justice in our genre it will also win this year's Hugo Award.
Of the other finalists in this category, only The Dervish House by Ian McDonald is in the same league as Jemisin's novel. The Dervish House is a very good book and I wouldn't be upset if it wins. However, it is not McDonald's best book – which is easily Brasyl – and The Dervish House is also not as original or thought-provoking as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Then we come to the usual books with make up the rest of this year's finalists. The double novel Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis recently won both the Nebula and Locus Awards, so obviously it's a favorite for also winning the Hugo. However, for the life of my I can't understand why, aside from the fact that Willis is well-loved in our genre and hasn't published a novel in almost a decade. Unfortunately, Blackout/All Clear is not her best work and reads as if the books should have been edited down into one novel.
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold is another usual book. It's a fun read, being a continuation of her well-known Vorkosigan Saga. If you've read the entire saga, then you'll know what to expect with this book.
The same with Feed by Mira Grant, although obviously this book is not part of a long-running series. Instead, Feed plays off our continuing love affair with zombies while throwing in a good bit about how social media is going to change our world. Unfortunately, it's not a startling idea that social media is going to change our world, and while Feed is a very good read it still feels very much like a usual novel.
I challenge anyone to tell me why The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms isn't the best novel among this year's finalists. This doesn't mean I'm saying the other finalists are bad novels. But none of them, with the possible exception of The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, is worthy of winning over The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
But don't take my word for it. If you're an attending, young adult, or supporting member of this year's World Science Fiction Convention, check out N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Hell, read all the novels, which are available as downloadable packets on the Renovation website (but you'll need your password to access them). And remember – the deadline to vote is Sunday, July 31.