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Hugo Nominees

Posted by phduffy on 2006-03-30 17:05:07
1 forum posts
The 2006 Hugo nominees have been announced. Not aware of the Hugos? They’re the fan-voted awards for the best science fiction or fantasy novel of the past year. I think I’m going to try to review all the nominees here, and hopefully before the awards happen. The 5 nominees are:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Learning the World by Ken MacLeod

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

Accelerando by Charlie Stross
and
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

A few words about the contenders:

Accelerando is available here as a free download. If you’re not into SF, or haven’t read any SF for a while, this might be a reasonable place to start. I assume it has some quality (haven’t read it yet) and it’s free. My understanding of Stross is that he writes quick paced stories with big ideas. Not space operas, but good British SF, in the vein of Iain M Banks and others.

Ken MacLeod is also a British SF writer (well, actually he and Stross are Scottish). Traditionally he writes very similar stuff to Banks (political, sweeping SF). To be honest, I like the new British SF writers, but MacLeod’s never done much for me. Instead of fusing scientific ideas and extrapolating them, he takes economic and political science conventions/ideas and turns them on their head. If that sounds appealing to you, you might like MacLeod. That said, Learning the World is a first contact story about humans contacting a near spaceflight species. Think of A Fire Upon the Deep (which, if you haven’t read and you like SF, you need to read ASAP.

A Feast of Crows is the 4th novel in Martin’s song of Ice and Fire series. Now, I don’t plan on reading any more of this series until the series is completed. I am hoping that a wolfshack reader who’s read this book will post something on it.

Robert Charles Wilson is a Canadian SF writer. I’ve heard Spin is his best novel yet. I read and reviewed his prior novel, the Chronoliths. I thought it was a solid, but unspectacular novel. Hopefully this will surpass it.

Finally, that brings me to the subject of today’s review, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. If you’ve never heard of Scalzi, no worries, this is his first novel. He works as a professional writer, writing magazine articles, advertising copy, you name it. He has a very interesting and thorough discussion of how to become a writer on his site, which you should check out if you’re interested.

Anyways, on to the novel. Old Man’s War has been called a tribute to Heinlein, or a novel as Heinlein would have written it, whatever. The premise is this: We’re not alone in the universe. In fact, we’re just one of a thousand different species out there. Most humans live their lives on earth and don’t worry about that. But the Intergallatic defence (or something like that, I don’t have the book in front of me) controls all flight off of earth. And by control I mean “doesn’t let anyone but themselves off the planet”.

When you turn 75, and not before you’re 75th birthday, you can enlist in the army. You take the ride up to space, and they rejuvenate you. That’s the deal. You join the army, sell all your possessions (in fact, when you leave, your will is executed, and you can never return to earth) and somehow get rejuvenated. At this point, the novel takes a turn that reminds me that it’s sort of a homage to novels from the 60s, and all the new soldiers have sex with each other. At least in this case it’s not the legitimately 60 year old man/writer/scientist having sex with a young woman whose breasts have never felt gravity (note to non-SF readers: that happens in at least two SF classics, The Gods Themselves and Ringworld. )

The recruits are told up front that only 20% of them will live to see 10 years, which is the minimum time commitment they must put in before they can leave. So, they go to boot camp, get yelled at, and learn about the military and humanities enemies. Then, in a style reminiscent of Starship Troppers and The Forever War the troop goes out and fights the bad aliens. Or the aliens anyways. As in many other SF novels, the characters eventually start to wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing. And of course, people die, etc, which leads to all kinds of bonding and feelings of brotherhood (used loosely, as the army doesn’t exclude women).

Old Man’s War is told from a first person view, which makes it very very easy to get through. This is the type of novel you can read in two nights. Scalzi has an easy going, conversational writing tone that makes things flow. And he does a decent job of introducing fun alien cultures (a war is started between humans and one of their alien enemies when the aliens invade a human planet, and then have a celebrity chef go on tv and show how to best prepare a human for dinner).

That said, this isn’t a novel that really does anything new, or leaves you with a sense of wonder at either the culture, the ideas, or the literary ability of the author. While I look forward to the sequel, I’m not sure that this is award winning material.
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