For those of you unfamiliar with the competition, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award is a juried best novel prize given out each year. There are rankings, 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes are awarded. The jury changes a little each year, it seems and thus things are a little mixed, in terms of prediction. They definitely seem to consider all of the major novels each year, and it looks like they try to throw in a few books that wouldn’t normally be considered as part of the SF mainstream (i.e. weren’t published by one of the standard SF imprints.
While I don’t always agree with their selections, there is a hint of awarding books based on merit rather than politics or popularity, which I can only applaud. I’m not typically one for media spectacle, and sometimes the Hugos and the Nebulas are irritating in that they seem to be overwhelmed by those factors. So, a few words about each of the finalists, followed by some predictions. But first, a retraction: mentioned in the last post that I’d talk more about Ian McDonald’s River of Gods in this post, but looking again, he doesn’t seem to be here, I’m guessing that it was published too late in the year and will likely make it onto the ballot next year (I also don’t know whether or not the selection committee is going off of US or UK release dates in the case that a novel had both, that also might factor in). In any case, he’s not here, and it’s a book that needs talking about. So, another post on McDonald, some day soon.
Transcendent, by Stephen Baxter
I haven’t read this one. It isn’t really my policy to read Baxter anymore. It’s all interesting big ideas stuff, but his writing never really grabbed me and the level of shared universe navel-gazing got too extreme at some point and I stopped reading.
The Meq, by Steve Cash
People seem to like this book, as they also seem to like mentioning that Cash was once part of the The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. The synopses and reviews that I’ve read lead me to believe that it isn’t something that I’d usually go for, but I’ll likely pick it up now that the original is in paperback, on the strength of positive buzz, and because I’m a weak, weak man when it comes to buying books.
Child Of Earth, By David Gerrold
I hadn’t heard of this one before today, to be honest (and many readers will be wondering why I bothered commenting on all of these if I haven’t read any of them. I’ve read most of the second half of the list, I promise). It looks like a YA SF novel, which is really very strange coming from Gerrold, who I know best from his unfinished War Against the Chtorr series, which are grim and violent and sexual to a degree which would make one thing that Gerrold is an unlikely children’s author. That said, Scott Westerfeld is writing YA now, and all of his books before Midnighters are grim and violent and sexual, so what do I know. Evolution’s Darling, one of his earliest, is a wonderfully strange novel full of post-human fucking and interclade love affairs, from what I remember. Neat stuff, if often uncomfortable. I saw him speak not too long ago and he admitted that the reasons for switching to YA are at least partially financial, which, in my mind, is a sad state of affairs. Not that I don’t like his YA books, but they’re forced by the tenor of the times to skirt too widely around too many issues for them to be entirely engaging. But I digress, wildly.
Mind’s Eye, By Paul McAuley
I like Paul McAuley. I haven’t read this, because it isn’t out here and I haven’t seen it at the store (they carry imports, but can’t really get all of them. I’ll have to ask). I have no idea if it’s any good, but I would assume so, based on his history.
Seeker, By Jack McDevitt
I’ve only read one book, Chindi, which I think that this is a follow up to. A lot of people seem to like McDevitt, but I don’t really see it. Despite the increasingly furious pace of socio-technical evolution, the people in these books seem already in the past, other than that they’ve got neato spaceships and know how to go faster than light. It makes any speculation that they books may put forth seem strangely stunted. Also the writing is lackluster and the characters seem stock and the whole thing could have been written 20 years ago. I’m still talking about Chindi, mind you. I haven’t read this one, and some trivial research indicates that it’s entirely unrelated and seemingly more up my alley than that book. So, we’ll see. When it comes out in paperback. Maybe.
Learning The World, By Ken MacLeod
OK. Now we’re back on familiar ground. Ken MacLeod is one of my favorite authors from the past couple of years, and this is one of his best books. Rarely, in the newly burgeoning field of singularity related SF, do you see anything positive. We’re destroyed or irrevocably transformed or fractionated or herded into easily manageable groups. It’s always a disaster. MacLeod thinks differently. In his future, we’ve survived, Singularity is a chronic but tractable infection and mankind has spread to the stars in a big, big way. You can see human space for light years as the stars go green with life. Megastructures of truly astonishing scale are mooted. Travel tubes between solar systems? Why not? Immortality? Old hat. In my opinion this is one of the best visions I’ve seen of a humanity truly triumphant over dumb matter, not huddling in tiny colonies on hostile world, fighting grim, useless battles with incomprehensibly alien stand-ins for earthly foes. Not here. Space is too big and too rich to fight over. Planets are pleasant places to evolve and grow up, but a mature civilization has too much on the move to be bothered with such limitations. Throw in an interesting first contact story cum detective tale and you’ve got one hell of a novel.
The Summer Isles, By Ian R. MacLeod
Our second MacLeod, Ian, is a gifted writer. He lacks some of the speculative brio of many other prominent SF writers, but he has a true gift for evoking atmosphere, and that’s usually enough. He’s much like Gene Wolfe in that respect, which is high praise. I’m actually not sure whether I’ve read this or not. I’ve read the story of the same name in one of his other collections, but it looks like this has been extended out to the length of a short novel, so it’s quite likely that I’ve only read part of it. In any case, it’s very interesting, a story of an England that lost WWI and went fascist immediately (rather than waiting for Thatcher), and there are many parallels with early Nazi Germany, as is standard. The story left me wanting to know more, so I’ll have to pick up the novel if indeed it’s been extended. Although it looks like it’s going to be an expensive book to come by.
Counting Heads, By David Marusek
Counting Heads, at first, looks like it’s going to be as packed with wonderful and bizarre speculation as Stross’s Accelerando, but there are long gaps in the pace of innovation and there are pacing issues where Marusek seems to just settle down to actually tell the story that’s going on here, and doesn’t quite achieve the balance that he’s looking for. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but it seems a story unfinished and one that never quite pays off fully. David Marusek is a fucking crackerjack short story writer, and I’m looking forward to the followup, as hopefully he’ll get more comfortable with the form and start cranking out some incredible novels.
Mindscan, By Robert J. Sawyer
Didn’t read this one. Never been a huge fan of Sawyer’s, and the book didn’t really seem all that interesting to me, as it seems to me that a lot of the issues therein have been richly addressed in the past.
Accelerando, By Charles Stross
Hard to say anything about this one that hasn’t already been said, but that never stopped me before. A string of novellas fix-uped into a novel with, as far as I could tell, very little alteration. Explosively inventive to the point that it’s hard to follow occasionally, as people change and mutate and are manipulated by a weakly godlike feline AI. Even if all of the stories aren’t great and it doesn’t really hang together all that well as a cohesive novel, this should be required reading if you really want to know what’s possible and what’s going on in SF today.
The World Before, By Karen Traviss
I’ve not gotten to this one yet. I thought that City of Pearl, the first book in the trilogy of which The World Before is the third novel, was pretty good, and very interesting as a first novel. Traviss isn’t pushing a ton of boundaries, but she’s a good writer and draws interesting and sympathetic characters.
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson
I avoided Robert Charles Wilson for years because I confused him with Robert Anton Wilson, author of the Illuminatus! books. Oh lordy was I wrong. Once I realized that, I read everything of his that I could get my hands on. Wilson is a fine, fine writer of prose, and never fails to tackle Big Ideas. Sometimes he fails, but that’s a good thing. His forte seems to be tracking in great and telling detail the reactions of humans to events quite beyond their ken. A truly enjoyable read and one that only lets you down a little when the ending doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the start, but you don’t really care because the writing is too wonderful to regret.
Evan’s Hopeful Predicitons:
Learning the World
Evan’s Cynical Predictions:
Also, I note that I’ve been linked to by Jeremy, which means that there might be more than just two or three of you out there now (gotta love RSS readers). Just as a note, I close comments because I don’t have time to deal the the comment spam, nor do I have the time to learn the ins and outs of wordpress’s spam reductions mechanisms. However, I always enjoy getting feedback and hearing what other people have to say about the issues that I’m addressing. There’s an email contact link at the bottom of the page (obfuscated a tad for spammers, but simple enough), and I’d love to hear from you.