2005 Hugo Novel Nominees Roundup

I just completed my reading project for the last two weeks. I read four of the five nominees for the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The fifth book was the _N_th book in a N-book fantasy sequence; I opted not to read that one.

Kudos go to the Madison Public Library, for making this all possible.


1) Old Man's War, John Scalzi,

ISBN 0765315246, 2005.

This is a fairly simple adventure story and a homage to Heinlein's Starship Troopers (if you are thinking about the movie and not the book, you are misguided and ignorant. Go fix yerself). The twist is that the military recuits are old people given new bodies. Question: aside form their frail old bodies, does the experience of the elderly give them an edge in battle? Who the hell knows. My father quotes my mother's sister's husband's late father: "This getting old business ain't for pussies."

The Old Man's universe is full of clich├ęd aliens who want to eat human beings for breakfast. In this sense, it reminded me of Futurama. I suspended disbelief and enjoyed the ride. The characters had an odd point of view: humans fighting humans is pointless and wasteful, but humans fighting aliens is the way the universe works: get used to it or someone will eat you. It is hinted that the Consu keep this part of the galaxy in a perpetual state of war for their own perverted reasons. And this book offers no explanation for the Fermi Paradox. Can a book about aliens be considered serious sci-fi if it doesn't aknowledge this querstion?

Good book, but it doesn't deserve the Hugo. There is a sequil, which I will read at some point.

See also: Scalzi's Blog


2) Learning the World, Ken MacLeod,

ISBN 0765313316, 2005.

I had wanted to read this for a while, since I've enjoyed MacLeod's other books. This is yer basic Humans-of-the-future- make-first- contact-with- an-industrial-level- alien-species book. The humans come from a post-human society, but are still fairly human. One of the major problems I had with this book was that I didn't really understand the goals of the various political factions within the human expedition. It was explained, but I never really internalized the reasoning.

A neat touch was the fact that one of the protagonists had a blog which the author used to shed light on her actions and how she related to the other characters. I think that MacLeod failed to use this literary tool to its greatest extent.

Overall, I really did't understand the human society at all. Why do stars turn green? I can't imagine a Dyson swarm that only contains chlorophyll plants. MacLeod has dealt with the technologocal singularity before, but in this book, he ignores that concept completely. I expected more from him.

Overall, this story doesn't compare to some of MacLeod's other books, for example the Cassini Division.

See also: MacLeod's blog


3) Accelerando, Charles Stross,

ISBN 0441014151 2005.

If I've got the singularity on my mind, the culpret is Accelerando. This book is a series of nine interconnected short stoiries that deal with how we get from here to the singularity and how the singulartity is a trap that many alien societys fall into.

The early chapters might have been written by Cory Doctrow (in fact, the UK version of the cover has a picture of Doctrow on the cover, refering, supposedly, to the fact that character Manfred Macx wears glasses just like Doctrow.

The thing I hated the most about this book is that I don't like any of the characters much at all. Manfred Macx and his daughter Amber are somewhat likeable, but I don't like the people they associate with at all.

The episodic narrative structure allows the story to span several centuries, but allows some stories to sag, pulling down the overall quality. I especially disliked the last story, as it revealed nothing about the central nature of the universe.

Interesting concepts: (1) the metacortex. (2) Legal systems evolve and can change in ways similar to computer systmes. A legal system is the platform on which lawsuits run. (3) AIs can be people under our current legal system, if they are recursivly-owned corporations. (4) Economics 2.0 dehumanizes any entity that wishes to participate. (5) Post-singularity digital beings crave processing power (and consequently, energy), memory, and low-lag bandwidth. Therefore, they will want to live in small-sized Matrioshka brains, and not be prone to explore the galaxy.

This book has the greatest neat-idea density of all the nomimees.

See also: Stross's blog


4) Spin, Robert Charles Wilson,

ISBN 0765309386, 2005.

This is the most literary of the nomines. There was more character development and the images were effective.

The plot is interesting. Anonymous Aliens (the hypotheticals) encase the earth in a giant buble which blocks communication with the outside world and slows down time by a factor of 100,000,000:1.

Interesting ideas: (1) Terraforming Mars can be cheap if you have 100,000,000 years to wait. (2) Most civilizations drown in their own wastes shortly after achieving technology. (3) The universe belongs to self-evolving von-Neuman machines in Stellar Oorts. (4) The fourth-stage of human life is a nod to the Niven Pak Protector, but less inhuman.

Most importantly, I liked the protagonist. I could both identify with and respect his motivations.

I'd give this one the Hugo, if I were a voter. Alas, I avoid fandom like the plague.