So, the Hugo nominations deadline has come and gone, and I'm still reading the tail-end of something I didn't nominate because I didn't finish it yet.
This did lead to some contemplation on the subject of the various "Vol. 1 in a Series" books I read recently (of which this "unfinished" was one). If you're excited by the first book in a series, is it weird to nominate it for Best Novel, given that most of these don't quite stand on their own?
I had no compunctions about nominating Ancillary Justice and The Fifth Season in their respective years because they both blew me away, and they both wrapped up their endings enough to give some closure. But Robert Jackson Bennett's Foundryside ends quite deliberately on a very blatant teaser for what's to come. In fact I did nominate it because it was some of the best fun I've had in a book for a while, but I do have reservations in that it's nowhere near a complete work.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller wants to be a great, timely, and significant book. It has ecological disaster, a Cool City, found families, people of diverse gender and sexuality, and its own "edgy employed street kids" answer to the skateboarding couriers in Snow Crash. On the other hand, the degree of improbable relatedness of significant characters gives that in the original Star Wars trilogy a run for its money, and Miller spends lots of time telling us how cool these characters are rather than showing us. He has some (self-consciously) beautiful set pieces near the end of the book that just didn't strike me as honestly earned. He didn't show me enough about (say) Character X to make me impressed and excited about her actions at the end. And this was true pretty much across the board, not just for one character. I found myself thinking that this must be the work of a novice author but in fact, he had a book in the running for the YA not-a-Hugo (now called the Lodestar) last year. And I didn't think much of that one either. Miller just doesn't seem to be a good match for me. Needless to say, I didn't nominate this one.
Then I read three novellas, but I am giving them their own post (likely tomorrow) because this is getting LONG.
Next, Semiosis by Sue Burke starts out very depressing. In fact, it put me in a funk for a day or so on my lovely (book-filled) vacation last week. But part of its grimness is realism: a clear-eyed look at a human colony settling what seems at first to be a very peasant world, with foods people can eat and plants that can be used for building etc. Life's never that simple in reality, of course. The secret of why people are dying and what exactly is going on with the ecology here turns out to be fascinating (and perhaps improbable ... but although I thought this once or twice, the story had me by then). There will be a sequel, and the ending of the current volume is pretty clearly the end of a major story arc rather than the whole work. Potential readers should note, as mentioned elsewhere, that there is a rape early in the story. I didn't feel that it was unnecessarily graphic, and perhaps more importantly, it's framed as one of several acts of violence done to the target in question. She reacts that way as well: it's just one more thing that happened, and she is not defeated by it. I nominated this one.
After that, I read Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee, and hoo boy, was that a weird and unhappy contrast to what I'd been reading. It's not that the book is bad, and in retrospect, Brazee really wasn't terrible with his female characters either. But his prose is clunky, no more than serviceable, where most of the other authors I have read recently actually write well, And the first chapter with Beth, the pilot of a mostly automated survey scout ship, obsessing about her "pee tube" began to get unpleasant — not because it made me squeamish, but just ... alright already, we get it. Beth is not a prude, and being in these ships is no picnic. Once things really got rolling, there was lots of derring-do and camaraderie and siblings-in-arms, and Beth gets a tough female friend so that we know Beth is not Smurfette. I don't regret reading it, and it might be interesting to see where Beth goes. But there are plenty of other books to read, and I'm not sure I want to bother. Your mileage may vary. (No, I didn't nominate it.)
Now I'm reading The Philosopher's Flight: A Novel by Tom Miller. This is a sort of alternate history with a touch of magic — only the faux historical book extracts at the start of each chapter insist it's not magic, it's philosophy. Some people in this world can bend natural forces to their will via the art of "sigilry," in which the practitioner draws special sigils (duh) or glyphs to focus the powers. At the time the story opens, early in the 20th century, philosophy has become Magitek, used for all sorts of practical purposes, from transporting goods and people across distances to putting badly injured patients into stasis until they can receive proper medical attention. One striking feature of the system is that women are naturally better at it than men. Robert Weekes, son of a doughty women of strong philosophical abilities (and possessed of a dark history that her son does not learn until later), proves to have an abnormal talent for philosophy (for a man) and is encouraged to enroll at Radcliffe College. A lot of is made of his gender-role-reversed fish-out-of-water status (he's from backwoods Montana), mostly to good effect. But I'm 95% of the way through, and the thing seems to be running off the rails a bit. We'll have to see how it ends.