With voting right around the corner — the deadline being July 31 — Hugo voter packets1 have gone out.
They’ve actually been out for some time, maybe a month already, but I’ve been dreading opening mine.
Because, as no one could forget, this is the year that the Hugo’s were bolloxed up by two groups known respectively as the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. While their slate nomination voters ran roughshod over the novelette, novella, and short story categories, the best novel was not nearly so easily corrupted. Too many people weighed in on novels, so not even several hundreds of voters could entirely dominate it. Initially, two women slid through on the force of their own popularity: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword , the sequel to her multiple award winning debut novel Ancillary Justice, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, a.k.a. Sarah Monette.
Then, in the kerfuffle that followed, Marko Kloos withdrew his novel Lines of Departure from consideration. It was replaced with Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem, which is a Chinese science fiction novel in translation that’s been popping up on a lot of award lists this year.
With all of that, only two “Puppy Books” remain on the ballot: Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars and Jim Butcher’s Skin Game, the fifteenth book in his popular Dresden Files series.
Despite the wonky way in which they arrived on the ballot, I was not automatically predisposed against either Butcher or Anderson. I’ve heard a lot of great things from friends who enjoy the heck out of the Dresden File series. Meanwhile, Kevin J. Anderson is a household name among longtime Star Wars novels fans (including me).
I have to admit, however, I went into both of these books hunting for that clue, the hint as to why the Puppies picked these guys over all others. Guess what? Neither of them disappointed and I figured out why they were beloved by the pups by the second chapter of each of their excerpted novels.
Anderson’s…wow, okay, I wanted to like Kevin J. Anderson’s book. It’s got this great title, The Dark Between the Stars — heck, that’s just COOL — and his acknowledgements are all about how this book is meant to be a love song to all the great, rip-roaring science fiction adventure novels he grew up on.
Okay, sounds great. I’m so in. Bring it.
I think I maybe made fifteen pages before I quit.
This violates my personal rule, by the way. My personal rule is to try to give each of the books up for an award this year at least fifty pages. To be fair, the only other book I bailed out of this fast was The Goblin Emperor, but that was mostly because I’m so incredibly un-fond of high fantasy.
In The Dark Between the Stars, our hero is a guy by the name of Garrison, who is part of race/clan of future-humans called Rovers – free-spirited, fiercely independent, space-farers, disparagingly called “space gypsies.”
I can feel some of you cringing already, but I was totally willing to roll with “space gypsies” given that I knew, going in, this was supposed to be old-fashioned space opera, and come on, “space gypsies” is right up there with “space pirates” as a guilty guilty pleasure, is it not?
The thing that got me is that Garrison is kidnapping his own son. They’ve been living in Hell, I’m sorry, on the planet Sheol, and Garrison has been trying to warn his stubborn wife and her lava-siphoning company that the whole volcanic mess is unstable and is going to blow. She won’t listen. Not only won’t she listen, but she’s described this way:
He flew out of the Sheol system, running far from any Roamer settlement or Confederation outpost. Elisa was not only an ambitious woman, she was abusive, tenacious, and dangerous—and she would come after them. He needed a head start if he had any hope of getting away.
Apparently, every thing about this woman is awful. She’s a terrible mom because she keeps her only son, Seth, away from all other kids his age (he’s somehow the only ten-year-old on the entire planet), and even goes so far as to deny him this universe’s version of “Space Academy.” So, she sucks. In case this isn’t heavy-handed enough, Garrison has his father’s words of warning on heavy repeat in his brain:
“You should have never married that woman.”
So, hmmm, yeah. That’s about where I quit.
I did not need hundreds of more pages of “ambitious woman as villain” – a woman who would be so much better off if she’d just listen to her husband’s mathematical genius warnings (which no one else could repeat, but of course those experts were bought by the company!) about the unstableness of a planet covered in lava flow.
Maybe it gets better?
I’ll never know, unfortunately. More stalwart reviewers than myself can let me know.
In Jim Butcher’s Skin Game, we are, presumably, reintroduced to Harry Dresden. Having never met him before, all I can tell you about him is that he has some kind of awesome title like “Winter Knight,” is a wizard, and is currently living on some kind of prison/containment island for demons, the Demonreach, because he has an unwelcome guest/parasite of some magical variety in his head that is literally giving him migraines.
Butcher’s writing style is breezy, pleasant, easy-to-read. I’m not a super-huge fantasy fan, but I could easily see myself caught up in this kind of light, fun story. Then I hit the moment when Queen Mab, queen of the faerie, shows up with a proposition for Harry – well, it’s more of an ultimatum. Turns out, that thing in his head is going to kill him in three days. She has the antidote. Apparently, they were/are former/current enemies or something, because she won’t just give it to him in exchange for his services, she will, however, offer him temporary headache relief. All he has to is wear an earring. Harry is totally cool with that BUT OH MY GOD NO HOMO PUT IT IN THE LEFT EAR.
“My ears aren’t pierced,” I objected.
Mab arched an eyebrow. “Are you the Winter Knight or some sort of puling child?”
I scowled at her. “Come over here and say that.”
At that, Mab calmly stepped onto the shore of Demonreach, until her toes were almost touching mine. She was several inches over six feet tall, and barely had to reach up to take my earlobe in her fingers.
“Wait,” I said.
“Wait.” She paused.
“The left one.”
Mab tilted her head. “Why?”
“It’s . . . Look, it’s a mortal thing. Just do the left one, okay?”
This passage caused me to do a little, cursory research into GLBT characters and the Dresden Files. Apparently, according to some, the track record ain’t so good.
This makes me very sad. And, frankly, it should shame Anderson and Butcher to realize that they were not, in point of fact, chosen for their awesome, but because their books skew misogynist and homophobic.
Well done, guys.
I was really hoping that the Sad Puppies were being genuine when they promised to introduce me to good, old-fashioned science fiction and fantasy. Maybe this is one of those places where the Rabid Puppies took the reins? Regardless, I am made of disappoint. So much disappoint.
[Post image via Shutterstock]
The voter packets are pretty much what you’d expect them to be, a free-to-paying-voter-members, electronic collection of excerpts and samples from publishers and/or authors of works eligible for this year’s Hugo, which includes everything from novels, graphic works, all the way down to best fan writer. ↩