So the deadline for Hugo nominations this year is March 10, so it’s time to get some recommendations down. As always my main interest is with novels, so let’s get those out of the way first. In no particular order:
Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis
What sets this apart from the hundreds of other young adult fantasies are several things. First, there’s the ingenious concept of the protagonist, Nolan, being forced to live somebody else’s life, see through a stranger’s eyes, every time he closes his. Second, Duyvis makes this into a disability more than a superpower. If every time you blink you see through somebody else’s eyes, it’s bound to distract you from the real world. And that has consequences. It’s not the only way Otherbound deals with disability; all three main characters are bound together by their disabilities, their lives interwoven because of it. Third, she has also seriously thought about the consent issues of being able to share someone’s life so intimately. And she manages to do all this and write a gripping adventure story too.
The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley
The first book in the new fantasy series by one of the hot new science fiction writers. In some ways it is a traditional epic fantasy, complete with a Big Bad that needs to be defeated, but what makes it special is its worldbuilding. The world of The Mirror Empire is one of the more fully realised, interesting and novel I’ve read in a long time and she manages it without “the great clomping foot of nerdism” stomping down on the story.
Lagoon — Nnedi Okorafor
Written out of frustration with the South African sf movie District 9, this is her version of an alien invasion, set in Lagos, Nigeria. That setting already sets it apart from the ordinary run of invasion stories, usually set in the States or sometimes Europe. But there’s also Okorafor’s unapologetic use of Nigerian English rather than “standard” English. Then there’s the genre breaking Okorafor cheerfully commits here as well, as one chapter frex is told from the perspective of a spider trying to cross a tarmac road, a self aware and evil tarmac road looking for new victims to devour.
Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie
The sequel to the novel that last year swept the SF awards is just as good. Paradoxically it both takes place on a smaller stage than the previous novel and concernes itself with bigger matters. Most of Ancillary Justice revolved around Breq’s struggle to come to grips with her own identity and her quest for vengeance, her inner turmoil, but Ancillary Sword has those struggles if not entirely resolved, so much so that she’s in full control here. And whereas the focus of the original novel, thanks to its novel use of pronouns, was mainly on gender, here it is on the impact of colonialism, something science fiction as a genre direly needs to come to grips with.
The Stone Boatsmen — Sarah Tolmie
This reminded me of The Steerswoman series, in that it’s the purest of science fiction stories set in what first looks like a fantasy setting, a world with three cities who didn’t even suspect each other’s existence until one navigator prince took the gamble to go look for other cities in the direction the stone boatsmen in the harbour of his city were pointing. What was most impressive about this novel was how free of violence and conflict it was without it being some boring utopian walkthrough.
These are my choices for the Hugo, but that leaves out Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, SL Huang’s Zero Sum Game, Jo Walton’s My Real Children, Andy Weir’s The Martian and Ken Macleod’s Descent as almost equally good choices for the Hugo and I won’t be miffed if any of these end up on the final ballot instead of my choices. But I’m limited to five choices and reluctantly had to leave these out.