I've read plenty of novels in my time, but I'm not sure I'm going to have enough of it, time that is, to read all five of these. Two of them have excerpts in the packet, the other three appear to have the full novel. I'm not sure which are the slate nominees, although I'm relatively sure some of them are, so I'm going to judge them by what's on the page and nothing more.
- Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
When the first thing I do after finishing the excerpt is to go to the library to get the whole book to read, you gotta assume I liked it. The excerpt was about 100 pages long, the first six chapters, I think, and got me intrigued enough to want to read the rest. Fortunately for my currently gasping budget, the library had a copy on the shelf and I was able to get it quickly. It was a compelling read. I was completely absorbed in both the universe and in the ongoing plot. I only wish I'd been able to read the first book first... not because it was necessary to understand the action in this book, but because of what I assume are spoilers for the first book dotted throughout this one. Definitely award worthy.
- Skin Game, Jim Butcher (Orbit UK/Roc Books)
Well, I know why the Dresden Files are popular now. It's a nice, fun urban fantasy. I didn't find it incredibly good, but I found it far more readable than the Anita Blake series, which I tried and didn't enjoy much. It's nothing amazing... I'm not sure this book, the 15th in a series, deserves an award for excellence. But I'll probably rank it on the ballot, under "No Award".
- The Dark Between the Stars, Kevin J. Anderson (Tor Books)
It didn't start out too bad, but rapidly got moderately boring, then deathly boring. I might have enjoyed it if it had stayed on the first characters introduced, but after the third change I just found I didn't care about the new characters enough to keep reading. It just wasn't compelling. I couldn't keep going, and after a couple of chapters I started skimming, then just gave up altogether. Not something that will make my ballot. Which is kind of a shame. I really like the title and the image it evokes in my mind.
- The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) (Tor Books)
After all the crap in some of the categories I've been wading through, it was nice to hit a story that I enjoyed on just about every level. The main character is very likable, the style is one I enjoy anyway and the book raced on with a good sense of urgency as the main character tries to get a grip on his life. The magic in the book was subtle and sometimes almost seemed understated, but it worked nicely. The mix of technology was also fun to see... particularly how Maia enjoyed experiencing new technology. There was also a few intense interpersonal relationships that just worked. My favorite was probably when Maia finally confronts the man who raised him, although there are lots of good bits. This one deserves a Hugo.
- The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
This has an interesting concept and fascinating characters, but it bogs down massively in the details to the point that I found myself skimming paragraphs, looking for the next bit of story instead of explanation of the technology. Don't get me wrong, I like tech. But this book overloaded me. Also, how could people playing a video game not be able to figure out the key component of the game when it's in the name of the game itself? I finished it and found it very cool, but due to the clunkiness in the middle I can't say it's the best of the year.
Overall, this category wasn't too bad for reading. I don't know if there were better choices that were pushed off the ballot by slate nominees, but I also am not sure which of the nominees were on the slate solely by their quality. I truly enjoyed Goblin Emperor, to the point that I'm going to be seeking out more writing by the author. And I will be reading the first book in Ancillary Sword's series. Heck, I may even seek out the earliest Dresden Files books, eventually, for popcorn reading. Overall, reviewing this category was a positive experience.