2015 Hugo Nominations v 0.1
Best Novel

The flush of the 2014 Hugo Awards is fading, and, with the holidays just peeking around the corner, I wanted to take the time to discuss some of my favourite novels from 2014, the ones that, at this very moment, would comprise my nomination slate for the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Will it change by next spring when nominations are due? Undoubtedly.

These are all terrific novels, and, if you haven’t read them already, well, I envy you.

Best Novel

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Say hello to the best fantasy novel of 2014.

Even as I was startled by its twisted depth, I adored every moment I spent with City of Stairs. Colonialism lies at City of Stairs‘ centre, and RJB handles it with equal parts boldness and delicacy. The ruined beauty of Bulikov and its fallen gods haunted me long after I turned the final page.

Robert Jackson Bennett is best known for his contemporary fantasy and horror crossovers, such as American Elsewhere and The Troupe, so his move into more traditional epic fantasy put him on the radar of a lot of new readers, and the result is something special. On first reading City of Stairs, I described it to a friend as “China Mieville without the ego.” I’m not sure I still agree with that statement, because it’s unfair to saddle one writer with another’s baggage, but while reading City of Stairs I couldn’t fight the feeling that RJB was mixing and refining elements from some of my recent favourite fantasies. Other touchstones exists, such as Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire and Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, that place RJB among the most exciting and vibrant young fantasy writers working today.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Buy City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie — Review

Ancillary Justice took the genre world by storm last year, and Leckie stood deservedly atop the Best Novel podium at last year’s Hugo Award ceremony. Will Ancillary Sword be able to recapture its predecessor’s lightning-in-a-bottle success? Probably not, but it’s one of the year’s best novels and, due to its more focused storyline, smoother narrative, and introspective thematic elements, I actually liked it better than Ancillary Justice. No sophmore slump for Leckie.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Buy Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: Book/eBook

The Eternal Sky Trilogy by Elizabeth Bear — Review

Calling on the Wheel of Time rule, I’m including Bear’s trilogy here as a bit of a self-indulgence and pie-in-the-sky dream scenario. The Eternal Sky trilogy — Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky — is a fascinating epic fantasy that eschews the tired medieval tropes the genre is known for and replaces with a vivid world based on the Turkish-Mongolian khanates of 13th century Asia. My time with Temur and his companions is dear to me, and I’d love to see Bear (who’s already a Hugo Award winner for her short fiction) rewarded for writing the best epic fantasy trilogy of the past decade.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Buy Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear: Book/eBook

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

On the surface, Vandermeer’s weird and haunting opening act in the Southern Reach trilogy appears to be a Lost-esque mystery about Area X, an undefinable pocket of land that has defied researchers and driven explorers crazy for years. Like the tower at the centre of the story, however, delve deeper and what you’ll find is an autobiography about a failing marriage, with raw emotional resonance bared to the reader as the narrator, lost in the mysteries of Area X, discovers herself and comes to understand that labyrinthine relationship between her and her husband.

Buy Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: Book/Audio

Buy Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer: Book/Audio

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison — Review

In a modern fantasy landscape that is littered with the broken corpses left in Grimdark’s wake, Katherine Addison (a pseudonym for Sarah Monette) is a shining light, a beacon of nostalgia and hope on the horizon. It took me some time to fall in love with The Goblin Emperor. At first, I was startled by Addison’s slow introduction to the world, and protagonist’s timid and reluctant nature. Without realizing it, however, the midway point of the novel passed and I realized I’d fallen somewhat in love with Maia, the titular Goblin Emperor, and became utterly enveloped by Addison’s dissection of classism, family, loyalty, and love. Even now, I fondly remember my time in Addison’s Elvish empire and look forward to returning again in the future. The Goblin Emperor is without a doubt one of the best fantasy novels of the year.

The Goblin Emperor by Katharine Addison

Buy The Goblin Emperor by Katharine Addison: Book/eBook

And don’t forget…

From books I enjoyed, but don’t think are quite up to standard that I hold the Hugo shortlist, to novels that I expect might end up on my shortlist if I read them before nominations, this is a list of other 2014 novels worth looking at:

What are your favourite novels published in 2014? What egregious omissions have I made from my list?

  • Jonah October 28, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    disappointed not to see Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon on that list. Otherwise looks like I have a good list of books to add to my to-read list :)

  • Aidan Moher October 28, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    Sadly, I’ve not read any of Okorafor’s work. Would Lagoon be a good entry point? I love the Joey Hi-Fi cover art!

  • Renay October 28, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    I’m really glad you went first on this topic. Now I can go hog wild and point to you as inspiration.


  • Aidan Moher October 28, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    I can’t wait to see your list, Renay! I always seem to find something new when you start recommending books. :)

  • kamo October 28, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Sadly Okorafor’s style doesn’t seem to work for me, but Lagoon’s definitely a significant book. One of those ‘new take on an old standard’ concepts that’s almost shameful in its novelty, and if people are perpetually willing to give Dick a pass on style because of his ideas I don’t see why we shouldn’t here. Worth a read.

  • Niall October 29, 2014 at 1:43 am

    I’m curious as to why you’ve listed the whole of Eternal Sky but only the first volume of Southern Reach — because you’ve only read Annihilation? Or because you think the former is more of a single work?

  • Tudor October 29, 2014 at 5:50 am

    My 2015 Hugo Nominations, before reading A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar and The Peripheral by William Gibson:
    1. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
    2. Jean le Flambeur trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi
    3. The Way Inn by Will Wiles
    4. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
    5. Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

    Other great 2014 novels:
    Echopraxia by Peter Watts
    Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear
    The Empire of Time by David Wingrove
    Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
    Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
    The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

  • Martin October 29, 2014 at 5:53 am

    Currently on my list:
    The Race by Nina Allan
    Wolves by Simon Ings
    Echopraxia by Peter Watts

  • Aidan Moher October 29, 2014 at 6:54 am

    @Niall — Exactly that. I’ve only read Annihilation, so I don’t want to speak towards the rest of the trilogy (despite hearing very good things.) I’ll finish it before nominations are due, however. I think Vandermeer has a legitimate shot of making the ballot (whereas I think Bear is a longshot), so I’ll likely fill out my final ballot in a way that is most beneficial to seeing the Southern Reach books on the final list (either one volume or as a trilogy.)

    I’m so glad to see so many novels I haven’t read popping up in these lists. I’m particularly interested in the Nina Allen and Claire North books.

  • Joe Sherry October 29, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Good list, and very happy to see The Goblin Emperor on it. I hadn’t planned on starting my Hugo list making until the new year, but since you have….

    Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie
    Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
    The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
    The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley
    Lock In, by John Scalzi

    -A step down
    Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
    He Drank, and Saw the Spider, by Alex Bledsoe
    Defenders, by Will McIntosh

    I suspect that the Scalzi will get knocked off my ballot when I catch up with the Eternal Sky books (Range of Ghosts was phenomenal). The Bledsoe will never be competitive for this, but was thoroughly enjoyable, seriously, go read his Eddie LaCrosse books. They’re akin to Glen Cook’s Garret PI novels but feel a bit more modern.

    Southern Reach was excellent, but I think that Annihilation will be the novel that people latch onto more than the trilogy as a whole. It is a touch more welcoming.

    I think Bear will more likely need the Eternal Sky to be nominated as a trilogy, because a third volume picking up a nomination where the first two did not is going to be a very difficult road.

    And clearly, I need to read the Bennett.

  • Mark October 29, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I’ll second The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (an exceptional novel) and I’ll also put forward The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey (another very good read).

    The other books I’ve read this year that fill my top 5 (at present) are from authors that don’t tend to get a mention when talking about the Hugo’s, or awards in general:
    The Abyss Beyond Dreams by Peter F Hamilton
    Skin Game by Jim Butcher
    Extinction Game by Gary Gibson
    To be honest, I don’t expect to see any of those authors on the shortlist any time soon – they just don’t seem to fit in. Perhaps they are simply too…. I don’t know. Traditional? Mainstream? Not diverse enough? Who knows.

  • John October 29, 2014 at 9:53 am

    My favorite SF/F novels of the year so far have been:

    A PLANET FOR RENT, by Yoss
    THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, by Genevieve Valentine
    TIGERMAN, by Nick Harkaway

    I would love to see at least one of them get a Hugo nod.

    In my “not yet read but have high hopes” category are:

    THE PERIPHERAL, by William Gibson
    BATHING THE LION, by Jonathan Carroll

  • Aidan Moher October 29, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Ooh, I’ve seen several people mention The Three-Body Problem. I need to dig out my ARC.

  • Joe Sherry October 29, 2014 at 10:11 am

    John: I loved The Girls at the Kingfisher Club and highly recommend it, but I’m not sure it is even a little bit SF/F. We think of Valentine as a SF/F writer because of her short stories, Mechanique, and her genre presence, but Kingfisher Club is just straight fiction with no genre twist (except that it is a retelling of a fairy tale).

  • John October 29, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Aidan: I’m very excited to read THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM. Also, I can’t recommend the A PLANET FOR RENT enough. It’s the first English language translation of Cuba’s most well-known science fiction writer, and it’s both fascinating and excellent.

    Joe: I subscribe to the Damon Knight definition of SFF (“Science fiction is what we point to when we say it”), and for my money fairy tale retellings, and Valentine’s novel in particular, are SFF. Were I participating in the Hugo nominations for next year I wouldn’t think twice before nominating it.

  • Carl October 29, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Of the above I’ve only read THE GOBLIN EMPEROR. I thought it was a nice change of pace, but am surprised to see it on a best-of list. Most of the plot points are wholly incidental to the character’s development. The world-building, tone, and the character development are very well done, but did anyone else feel something was missing?

  • Cat October 29, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Currently on my list:

    The Mirror Empire
    City Of Stairs

    books that I will be reading soon and suspect will be on my list

    Ancillary Sword
    Steles of the Sky (probably as trilogy)

    Books I’m considering adding
    Portal (or possibly its series)
    Spiral Path (or possibly its series)

    I should probably check out the other books mentioned here, but I expect to give ILL a workout, since I can’t afford to buy this many brand-new books.

  • Michael Senft October 29, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    City of Stairs is at the top of my list right now. After that I’d go with
    Ancillary Sword
    Southern Reach Trilogy
    Words of Radiance
    Lock In.

    The last two could be trumped by Three Body Problem and the Peripheral. I’m curious about the Elizabeth Bear series now. But City of Stairs is hands-down the best book I’ve read this year (Acceptance and Ancillary Sword are close behind though).

  • Amanda October 29, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I had not heard of “City of Stairs” but you sold me with the line, “China Mieville without the ego.”

    *scurries away to add more books to holiday wish list*

  • Paul (@princejvstin) October 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

    A good solid list of books that I am considering nomination.

  • Brandon Kempner October 31, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Great post! Interesting to see how these awards are beginning to develop. Readers seem to be loving The Goblin Emperorand City of Stairs. You’ve got a very fantasy heavy list, which isn’t that surprising. It seems like a lot the excitement these days in speculative fiction is coming from fantasy, and I wonder when the Hugos—traditionally biased towards SF—are going to catch up.

  • […] of the first posts about the 2015 Hugos are beginning to appear, including this excellent post from A Dribble of Ink. As more and more people begin talking about the Hugos and Nebulas, new contenders are going to […]

  • Pedro Fragoso November 2, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve just finished Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. It is one of the best science-fiction books of the year, and it should be a Hugo contender for 2015. Personally, I found it better than either Ancillary Sword and Lock In.

    Michel Faber is, obviously, first and foremost, a science-fiction writer. He’s on record that this will be his last novel (of a grand total of 3: first one, Under the Skin, beautiful alien on earth; this one, earthlings on alien planet; in between, the wonderful The Crimson Petal and the White, which was not science-fiction).

    This is a very religious, very grow-up, deeply serious reflection on life, love, and our place in the large scheme of things. Even if (or maybe because) “I would like also to express my appreciation for the team of writers, pencillers and inkers who worked at Marvel Comics during the 1960s and 1970s, giving me such enjoyment as a child and ever since. All the surnames in The Book of Strange New Things are based on theirs, sometimes slightly altered or disguised, sometimes not.”

    Final note. One of my favorite Heinlein quotes is from Stranger in a Strange Land, can’t forget this: “There comes a time in the life of every human when he or she must decide to risk ‘his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor’ on an outcome dubious. Those who fail the challenge are merely overgrown children, can never be anything else. Jill Boardman encountered her personal challenge-and accepted it-at 3:47 that afternoon.” From The Book of Strange New Things: “In every Christian’s life there comes a time when he or she needs to know the precise circumstances under which God is willing to heal the sick. Peter had reached that pass now. Until today, he’d muddled through with the same hodgepodge of faith, medicine and common sense that everyone else” and a few pages down “And then there’s other people who are just trying to live quietly, they stay out of trouble, they’re maybe ten years old, or fourteen, and one Friday morning at 9.35 something happens to them, something private, something that breaks their heart. For ever.” I loved this.

  • IlyaP November 2, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Matt Stover’s Acts of Caine were re-released in the UK: does that make them eligible for the award? The bloke bloody well deserves the recognition!

  • Milt Stevens November 6, 2014 at 9:40 am

    I’ve only found one 2014 novel I like well enough to nominate it for the Hugo so far. That would be The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross. I like Stoss, he’s screwy. This novel features Rob Howard, a mild mannered necromancer working for an super secret British agency called The Laundry. The Laundry is dedicated to protecting earth from tentacle horrors from beyond space/time. WARNING: This novel contains graphic scenes of bureaucracy. Also, blood sucking bankers, a demonic violin, and a stray cat. Oh, the night watchmen are zombies, but it’s impolite to mention it. Chapter headings include; “Two Vampires With Clip-boards Walk Into a Bar,” and “A Vampire, a Vicar, and a Vespa.” This is great stuff.

  • Josep November 24, 2014 at 3:35 am

    It’s not a tower, it’s a tunnel.

  • Aidan Moher November 24, 2014 at 8:53 am

    *Glances suspiciously at Josep*

  • […] going to follow Aidan of A Dribble of Ink (as I do in many things) and nominate this for the Hugo under the “Wheel of Time Rule.” Though […]

  • […] Aidan Moher of A Dribble of Ink Last year’s Hugo winner in the fanzine category catalogues his favorite novels of 2014. […]

  • […] posted it on March 9th (though he’d posted novel thoughts earlier), and nominations closed less than a week later. The Sad Puppies 3 slate was posted at the […]

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