Visions of Paradise

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Time Traders / Hugo nominations

Recently I have been reading fiction by some classic sf writers whom I have somehow missed over the past 5 decades. Med Ship, by Murray Leinster was one of those books, and I was incredibly-pleased by it. Next I decided to read some Andre Norton, a Nebula Grandmaster whose audience is as devoted as almost any science fiction writers. In fact, it is probably fair to say that Norton’s baby boomers equal Heinlein’s children for fervor and loyalty.

I started with her four-book Time Traders series, since those are among her most acclaimed books. The first volume is entitled The Time Traders and it tells the story of a small-time punk named Ross Murdoch who has already served some minor jail time and is on the verge of doing more time until he is recruited by an organization which travels back in time engaging in a Cold War against the Russians (not the Soviets, since Norton was clever enough to foresee the breakup of the Soviet Union). It is a fairly routine pulp adventure, with minimal characterization, and plotting which seems almost made up as the author went along. While it was enjoyable reading overall, it was more on the level of such writers as Mack Reynolds or C.C. MacApp than comparable to Murray Leinster’s Med Ship series, and certainly did not seem representative of a Nebula Grandmaster.

But, of course, one novel is certainly not representative of an author’s entire career. Imagine if the first Roger Zelazny novel I had read was A Night in the Lonesome October, or the first Samuel R. Delany was Equinox. And this novel was the first of a series, so it is entirely possible Norton had not reached her stride with it yet. So I’ll read the series–the novels are short, typical of ‘50s sf–before a make a value judgment on whether I want to read more Norton sf.


Hugo voting has closed, so I can make some observations on the nominees without risk of influencing anybody’s ballot. While I have not read much of the fiction yet, always being a year or two behind in current fiction, only 3 nominees seem to be serious contenders for best novel: Stephenson’s Anathem, Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Doctorow’s Little Brother. Both Stross and Scalzi have loyal followings who nominate them routinely each year for Best Novel (this is Stross’ 6th consecutive nomination, while Scalzi has been nominated 3 of the past 4 years), but so far those followings have not translated into a Best Novel Hugo. Anathem has certainly garnered the most positive reviews of any 2008 sf book–along with a handful of negative reviews–but Gaiman has a very loyal following, so it should be an interesting choice.

In the short fiction categories, based on reviews and author popularity, I think the favorites are Ian McDonald’s “The Tear,” Paolo Bacigalupi’s "The Gambler," and Ted Chiang’s "Exhalation." I’ve read both the McDonald (which I found tedious) and the Chiang (which was good, but not as much as some of his exquisite previous stuff), while Bacigalupi’s form of near-future-dismal rarely excites me (the exception being “The Fluted Girl”).

Lois McMaster Bujold’s popularity should result in a Hugo for The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold in the Best Related Book category, while The Dark Knight should beat Wall-E for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, even though the latter is much superior as sf, and, in my opinion, the much better movie overall, since much of the success of The Dark Knight depends on its special effects and Heath Ledger’s performance.


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