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Raymond's Reviews #145: 1991 Novel Hugo post-mortem

1991 Novel Hugo Post-Mortem

Having read the fifth Hugo nominee and mostly recovered from the fine madness that is Worldcon, I give you the Raymond's Reviews post-mortem on the novel Hugo this year. This year's nominees were The Vor Game (Bujold), Earth (David Brin), The Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons), The Quiet Pools (Michael P. Kube-McDowell), and Queen of Angels (Greg Bear).

In RR#144 I examined the only nominee I hadn't previously reviewed; Bear's Queen of Angels. Now, some reflections on how the four other nominees look at a few months' distance; finally, a discussion of the intricate and interesting politics that surrounded the voting this year, complete with hot gossip from Lois Bujold's triumphal appearance at the Baen party.

I raved about Earth in RR#67. From a few months distance, it still looks to me like a major, Hugo-quality work, though I'm not as unreservedly enthusiastic about it as I was (the ending now seems flawed and the introduction of the Gaia-mind unnecessary). I predicted that Earth would be nominated but not win because Brin's already had a boatload of Hugos, and this does indeed seem to be exactly what happened. I watched Brin congratulate Bujold at the Baen party after the Hugos.

I reviewed The Quiet Pools in RR#55. Nothing in my judgement has changed since then. It's still a big, thought-provoking hard-SF novel in the traditional vein, still badly marred by the whiff of pornography and carnography that hangs about it. Sex and violence can be fine things when they're integral to the story, but when they've obviously been spot-glued on to grab the bestseller crowd, I revolt. The results have a pandering, cynical, nasty tone that ruins the rest of the novel. I judge this the weakest of the five, the only one I'm really surprised was nominated.

I micro-reviewed The Fall of Hyperion in RR#119. The mega-novel formed by Hyperion and this book is without a doubt one of the most sweeping and impressive SF novels of the last five years. Of this year's nominees, I think it is clearly the strongest in the traditional "literary" sense. Had the two been issued as a unit this year, they would have been my pick for the Hugo, edging out Earth. As it is, I suspect the voters figured the meganovel already got its Hugo last year when Hyperion won.

I read Queen Of Angels (RR#144) as a failure of breathtaking magnificence. Idea content surpassing in scope and originality any of the other contenders except possibly Hyperion was vitiated by some painfully bad writing, incoherent plotting, and obvious derivative elements. The brains of this book earned it a nomination, but it didn't deserve to win.

And, finally, The Vor Game (RR#84). I was there at the Baen Books party when Lois McMaster Bujold arrived, Hugo in hand, from the award ceremony. She was in tears with joy and everyone in sight was literally cheering; it was a very affecting moment. I was one of the group that stuck around and talked and celebrated with her as pro after pro came to congratulate her with her family standing around looking fit to burst with pride. And all this, I think, supports the analysis that was general in conversation; that it wasn't The Vor Game alone that won Bujold her first novel Hugo.

Lois has given us a string of novels of consistent and truly excellent quality over the last six years. From Shards Of Honor onwards her work has won both popular and critical acclaim, and deservedly so; she combines all the virtues of military/adventure hard SF with a psychological depth and sympathy rare anywhere in the field. The Vor Game is no disappointment, but it's not (as she's well aware) her best to date.

All present agreed that what was really going on was that the readers just couldn't stand not to give her a novel Hugo any more, a decision made easier because the serious competition (Earth and Hyperion) both came from authors who'd already been given the accolade.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Jan 09 13:52:30 EST 1992

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>