Having some Dorothy Parker moments

Or maybe it was Sid Ziff who first quipped about not tossing a novel aside lightly when it deserves to be thrown with great force.

Anyway: yes, I am ploughing my way through the Hugo 2014 nominated works, why do you ask?

I gave one of the novels nominated more attention than I normally would for a work that didn’t grab my imagination within the first few pages, because I knew I didn’t like his earlier work, but he’s been writing steadily (and profitably) for a few decades now and I wanted to be rigorous in ascertaining whether his writing had become in any way more appealing to me since 2003. Sadly, no.

If anything, it seems to have worsened – the first two chapters were pure infodump regarding this particular space opera’s historical background and then finally in Chapter 3 there was an attempt to start introducing some characters that were perhaps about to say or do something to unfold the next stage in the space opera. I don’t know how or if anything interesting did unfold, because when (after several pages of introducing a perfunctory cast of characters complete with overworked tropes) he then described his POV character meeting a tall imposing man holding an impressive title and dressed in a robe covered with symbols.  Symbols of what, you may wonder, and so still do I, because there was no attempt made to inform the reader about what those symbols meant or what level of authority they represented in whatever hierarchy was represented by that impressive title, and at that point all I could do was snarl incoherently about utterly incompetent world-building, and that’s when I stopped reading and put that book below No Award on my Hugo ballot.

I’ve had a similar reaction so far to the several other SP/RP slate nominated works I’ve taken a look at. It seems to be common practice amongst the authors favoured by SP/RP adherents to approach world-building as ticking off a tell-all-up-front checklist rather than to build their speculative worlds as an ongoing and gradual show-don’t-tell process of exploration and revelation. For me, that up-front checklist approach makes them crappy world-builders, which means I am most unlikely to find their works Hugo-worthy, and apparently I’m not alone: complex and innovative world-building is a prime indicator of quality writing for a large number of SF readers.

Sean Connery starring in the movie Zardoz. He is wearing some sort of orange nappy/bandolier with thigh-high black boots.

Even Zardoz had better world-building than what I’ve found so far in slate-worlds. Definitely better moustache/boots combo.

Anyhoo, on with the next contender.

Categories: arts & entertainment, culture wars, social justice

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4 replies

  1. I look forward to reading your recommendations. I have come late to the Culture series by the sadly late Iain M Banks, and I took John Scalzi’s recommendation and read Ancillary Justice and have recently finished Ancillary Sword. I await impatiently Ancillary Mercy. I forgot how much fun really well written sci-fi is and am unashamedly hoovering up recommendations from others doing the hard slog through the Hugo noms list.

    • I found Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor a fascinating exercise in fantasy world-building and extremely believable in its plottings of various political intrigues and dynastic shenanigans, with a sympathetic protagonist to boot. I presume it is the first in a series, and I’ll definitely read any sequels.

      I’m about a third of the way through Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, and relishing it so far. Big picture hard SF with a dose of alternate history, and being set in Communitst China takes it out of the Anglophone comfort zone.

      John C Wright cannot do worldbuilding at all, he just assembles some tropes and then sermonises incessantly. Didn’t last more than 5 pages in any of them.

      • I read the Goblin Emperor on Friday and really enjoyed it. I have heard some people complain about the names, but I loved the way they were so long and sonorous, and not words to be spoken quickly at all. Quite in keeping with the culture in question. I picked up Ancillary Justice last year when it was getting so much awards buzz and loved it. I considered signing up for Hugo voting, but having read a lot of reviews of the nominees I am glad I didn’t. I think Transhuman and Subhuman would cause me to have an embolism.

        Uprooted by Naomi Novik is an excellent recent publication. It has a very female take on some old stories, and takes them in unexpected directions. Every time I thought I knew where it was going it turned around on me.

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