That's Entertainment:
Hugo-Nominated Novels of 2013

By Prof. Cosmo B. Mott

One of the most prestigious awards for science fiction and fantasy, the Hugo Awards have been given out every year since 1955 at the World Science Fiction Convention. This year's Worldcon was held in Texas, where John Scalzi's Redshirts won the award for Best Novel.

This was the first year I paid attention to the awards. Sure, I've heard of them — one of my favorite shows ever, Babylon 5, won a Hugo two years in a row, and this was when TV shows and movies competed in the same category — but the awards are primarily given to the written word, and I haven't been much of a reader in years. However, this year, I was interested not only because I had some favorites I was rooting for, but because, as a Worldcon member, I not only nominated but voted for the awards. It was pretty exciting for me, and even though I didn't get through all of the material, I can't wait to do it again next year!

Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 started strong. It's pretty much hard sci-fi, which was a brand new experience for me, but there was intriguing world-building and interesting characters, so I dove right in. Unfortunately for me, everything that seemed promising in the beginning just kind of sat there and did nothing for a lot of the book. The farther I got into the book, the less I wanted to read it. It wasn't bad, exactly; it just got boring. And the more boring it was, the more frustrated I became with it, and I just wanted to be done with it... but not enough to devote a lot of time reading it. The whole thing sagged and drooped in the middle, and by the end, that experience soured me on the book as a whole. Other people seem to like it better, though, so don't dismiss it entirely! Or do. Whatever you'd like, really.

Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first novel of Saladin Ahmed's The Crescent Moon Kingdoms series. It's a fantasy adventure with ghuls and djenn, where an old, nearly-retired, and practically the last actual ghul hunter and his apprentice are pressed upon to investigate the supernatural deaths of an old friend's family. Along the way there's a lot of action, intrigue, and consequences that reach far beyond the little band of ghul hunters. I really enjoyed this — read through it in a weekend — but I'm having a hard time remembering much about it and why I enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong; it was really good, and I look forward to reading more in the series, but I'm finding it somewhat forgettable at the moment. Maybe I won't rush through the next one quite so fast.

Lois McMaster Bujold earned her tenth nomination with Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which is the fifthteenth published novel in her Vorkosigan Saga. Now, I've never read any of the other Vorkosigan books, so I was afraid I'd be so lost and confused about everything and would hate the book. That wasn't the case, though! Captain Vorpatril's Alliance was very new-reader-friendly. There were obviously moments when someone would reference another person who I had no idea about and who would probably get me excited, if I knew the books, to have mentioned, but it wasn't like I was missing out on really important details; it was as if a friend was talking about their cousin I don't know but gave me enough information to get why it was relevant to the conversation. I really enjoyed the story, which had a healthy number of plot twists and surprises to keep me going, plus there was a bit of a... romance, sort of? Well, yes, a romance, but an odd one, and it's not what I would call a romance story. (Not that there's anything wrong at all with romance stories; this just wasn't one.) Overall it was entertaining and has me interested in reading the other fourteen novels in the series.

Blackout by Mira Grant was very nearly my top pick for the category; it was so good, but I think a lot of what I loved about it had to do with the characters I'd already gotten to know and love in the previous two books, Feed and Deadline. It's the third novel of the Newflesh Trilogy, which is about life after the zombie apocalypse, a world where every human is infected with the zombie virus, there's no foreseeable cure, and bloggers are a fundamental part of the news culture. Blackout picks up where the previous novel left off, and it gets pretty gut-wrenching so quickly. Personally, I got everything I wanted out of the story and more, and I had just a fantastically good time reading it. (I had an even better and more heart-breaking time with the Hugo-nominated Newsflesh novella San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats because it told me from the first word how things would end — spoiler alert: not well — but I still, still had hope that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't happen the way it said it would. To be able to pull off that sort of emotional manipulation tragically hopeful narrative without it feeling cheap is, to me, astonishing. Everyone should go read that novella!) It was so very, very close to my top pick, and it would have been had it not been for...

John Scalzi's Redshirts! Are you familiar with the concept of redshirts? In the original Star Trek television show, if the Enterprise had to send an away team down to a planet, it would often comprise two or three regular cast members and one or two extras, often in red-shirted uniforms. To keep the stakes of the away mission high — but not so high as to threaten the main characters — one of the extras would get killed. So a redshirt is an expendable member of the team whose main purpose is to be expended. The novel Redshirts takes a look at the lives of a few of these redshirt characters, who live and work in a spaceship not unlike the Enterprise. It's funny, it's tear-inducing, it's brain-breaking, and it's such a good read. I mean, I knew I enjoyed Scalzi's writing; I've been reading his blog off and on for five or six years, and I've read and enjoyed Old Man's War, but Redshirts was just so good. I can't even say more because of spoilers, but this is definitely worth checking out.