"2002: SF Novels Summary" by Richard Horton

My list is deliberately padded with a) some long novellas that either were printed as books or are over the bare minimum to be moved to the novel category, b) a reissue of an old novel with minor revisions and old short stories mixed in, and c) a couple of books that I would probably call mainstream but which are either vaguely SF or associational. There are also several books only published in the UK in 2002. There are currently 56 books on the list. If we consider only unambiguous SF or Fantasy, of novel length, published in book form in the US in 2002, the list is cut to 37 books that might reasonably be regarded as "Hugo Contenders". However, I should also consider the 2001 UK books that were published in the US in 2002 and are eligible for the Hugo. These include Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds, Dark Light by Ken MacLeod, Appleseed by John Clute, and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. (Those are the ones I've read, at any rate, I'm sure there were others.)

Note that I've also included my word count estimates. Do take these with a grain of salt -- they are just estimates. I do count six novels at basically 200,000 words or more (including Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, which I estimated at a mere 198,000 words) -- a continuation of a well-established trend toward tree-killers.

Christopher Anvil, Pandora's Legions. Not really new to 2002, but new in this form, Eric Flint has (with Anvil's approval) rearranged and slightly rewritten a previous Anvil novel and some novelettes to make this longer novel of the unexpected consequences to an alien species of conquering Earth. Mediocre. 130,000 words.

Janine Ashbless, Divine Torment. Part of the Black Lace series of pornographic (though not terribly hard porn) novels, this one is a fantasy about a warrior sent to a border city controlled by the incarnation of a goddess. Actually the story is not bad, though not great, decently written, and the sex scenes are not bad either. 83,000 words.

John Barnes, The Duke of Uranium. Fun romp set in a future with a highly settled solar system, where young Jak Jinnaka gets a tour of part of this future while rescuing his girlfriend, who turns out to be a Princess, from the family of the title Duke. 76,000 words.

John Barnes, The Sky So Big and Black. First rate novel about a girl coming of age on Mars, a century from now, coping with personal life changes and a shocking disaster. One of the best SF novels of the year. 86,000 words.

Stephen Baxter, Riding the Rock. A PS Publishing novella. 20,000 words. Pretty good story set in Baxter's stark future in which humans on the rebound from an alien takeover of Earth bring war to the galaxy. This one involves an asteroid used in the war effort, and the attitudes of the soldiers involved.

David Brin, Kiln People. Decent novel with a pretty fascinating basic idea -- people make copies of themselves that last only 24 hours, to do chores basically. The main action is a detective story/thriller about the mysterious death of one of the inventors of this process. I thought the novel lost focus toward the end when Brin allowed his speculations to get too wild and silly. Still, some pretty neat SFnal extrapolation along the way. 200,000 words.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Diplomatic Immunity. Solid but uninspired SF mystery in which Miles travels to Graf Station, home of the four-armed Quaddies, to unravel a crisis that threatens to entangle Barrayar, the Quaddies, and Cetaganda in a needless war. 105,000 words.

Paul Di Filippo, A Year in the Linear City. Very enjoyable and imaginative novella about a writer in the title city, indefinitely long but very narrow. One of the better novellas of the year. 29,500 words.

Paul Di Filippo, A Mouthful of Tongues. Frankly pornographic (or "erotic", if you insist) novel about a woman who ingests an experimental cell-modifying agent and becomes an agent of sexual liberation and/or vengeance in Bahia. Very well written, quite well imagined. 66,000 words.

Greg Egan, Schild's Ladder. Fascinating novel about creating a new universe from mathematical constructs, mixed with examining a future starfaring human society based on running consciousness on Quantum computers. 100,000 words.

Carol Emshwiller, The Mount. Enjoyable, thoughtful, intriguing story about a boy who is a "mount" for an alien invader, and his ambiguous involvement in a revolution against the aliens. 65,000 words.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated. I don't really consider this SF or Fantasy, but it does feature a hint of a time loop, and some decidedly Magical Realist imagery. First rate novel, at times extremely funny, at times wrenching, about the author visiting the present day Ukraine and learning (with his tour guide) about his family, especially during a terrible massacre in WWII. 105,000 words.

Jasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book. Second in his Tuesday Next series. Very funny and clever, full of wordplay. Tuesday must confront a threat to the entire world, and the erasing of her husband, and the media. Oh, and time loops. Features a trip into Great Expectations, a character confined to footnotes, and many more delights. UK only until 2003. 117,000 words.

Jeffrey Ford, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque. A portrait painter, tortured by his perception of having sold out, is hired to paint the portrait of a mysterious woman, without ever being allowed to see his subject. A curious book, at times lyrical and almost magical realist, at times quite pulpy. Solid work. 94,000 words.

Neil Gaiman, Coraline. YA fantasy with much to please adult readers, about a girl who finds a door to a parallel version of her house, inhabited by the "Other Mother" and other distorted versions of people who live in her real house. Scary, well-written, original. Another top novella. 34,000 words.

James Alan Gardner, Trapped. Lightish Science-Fantasy (that is, SF which includes a rationale for sorcery) about a science teacher and his friends on a quest to save a student from an evil alien. Fun but strained in spots. 130,000 words.

Joe Haldeman. Guardian. Mostly this is a good historical novel about a woman's life in the late 19th Century, particularly including the Yukon Gold Rush. Unfortunately, there's a not very interesting science-fictional part with a terribly banal message tacked on. It is brief and well-structured and to the point at 57,000 words.

M. John Harrison, Light. Intriguing novel about impending war in the far future, strange artifacts and strange aliens near an unusual rift in space, and the discovery of the principles which will lead to star travel in the present day. Flawed by the downright silly view of scientists at work, but mostly quite fascinating, and nicely written. 98,000 words. UK only.

Charles Harness, Cybele, with Bluebonnets. Curious semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Texas in the 20s and 30s. Incorporates Harness' fascination with romantic love, with cycles in time, with chemistry. Enjoyable. 70,000 words.

John G. Hemry, Stark's Crusade. Weak novel of heroic soldiers resisting corrupt politicians and business types on the Moon. 106,000 words.

Alexander C. Irvine, A Scattering of Jades. Fine, not great, first novel about Mexican Gods reawakening, old New York City, slavery, and Mammoth Cave. 140,000 words.

Ben Jeapes, The Xenocide Mission. Enjoyable YA-ish novel about a dangerous alien species suspected of having wiped out another intelligent species in their solar system. 93,000 words. UK only.

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, The Fall of the Kings. Sequel of sorts to Kushner's fine first novel Swordspoint. An academic challenges the notion that the old Kings were corrupt and their Wizards evil and unable to do real magic. He also falls in love with a young man who may be a potential new King -- but who would be his Wizard? 171,000 words.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, I Dare. The seventh Liaden novel, this one closes the main plot arc that began with the first Liaden book, while leaving much room for sequels on different arcs. Satisfying to fans in the way that it resolves things, and an enjoyable enough read, but a bit overbusy, and a bit convenient at times. Not the best of the series. 155,000 words.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, The Tomorrow Log. Romantic space opera, with magic, thus resembling the Liaden series, but not to my mind quite as good as those books. 103,000 words. Electronic publication only -- due in paper form in 2003, I believe.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "Paradises Lost". Included on this list because it's long enough to be called a novel on a technicality, though at some 36,000 words it's officially a novella. It appeared in her collection The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. Pretty good story about a generation ship, and conflict between those who want to stay on the ship and those who want to settle the planet they reach.

Edward M. Lerner, Survival Instinct. Two part Analog serial about a virus in a computer network gaining self-awareness. Interesting, decent Analog fare, not special. 45,000 words.

Rebecca Lickiss, Never After. Pleasant light fantasy based on twisting around Sleeping Beauty, with other fairy stories like Rumpelstiltskin and The Princess and the Pea mixed in. It turns out the sleeping royal is three princes, not a princess, and the only princess available to kiss the princes isn't really that interested in the job. 76,500 words.

James D. Macdonald, The Apocalypse Door. Very fun short novel about a modern day member of the Knights Templar, with a friend who is a Poor Clare, trying to figure out what's up with these mushrooms that recoil from the cross, and why do people keeping turning up with their faces sliced off, and why do spectra of the heavens show blood? Lots of wisecracking spy thriller action mixed with Catholic theology and practice. Swift as a sermon on a hot summer day in a church without AC, too, at 59,000 words.

Ken MacLeod, Engine City. Fine conclusion to his Engines of Light series. Introduces some additional aliens, more politics, conflict with the "gods", and pretty much goes a bit wild, mostly pulling it off. 93,000 words. UK only.

Sean McMullen, Voyage of the Shadowmoon. Fairly fun if not exactly plausible science fantasy about a doomsday weapon and the various people (most of whom seem to be deposed Princes, Princesses, Kings, Queens, and the odd Duke in exile) who try to get possession of it, for good or ill. 225,000 words.

China Miéville, The Scar. Excellent book. Science Fantasy, set in Bas Lag, the same world as Perdido Street Station. Bellis Coldwine, fleeing New Crobuzon, is kidnapped and taken to the Armada, a mysterious floating city, and becomes enmeshed is the mad plan to harness an avanc (a huge sea creature) and be towed to the Scar, where probability mining is possible. The plot is quite well done, twisty and smart, and the characters are sharply and interestingly drawn, but the best part is Miéville's wild, grotesque imagination, particularly as displayed in some of the weird inhabitants of Bas Lag, such as the "anophelii", mosquito people. At 216,000 words I think it's a bit too long -- discipline is not Miéville's strong suit, but then I'm not sure if you could rein in his excesses and not risk losing some of the wonderful weirdness too.

China Miéville, The Tain. Pretty good novella from PS Publishing, and winner of the Locus Award. It's based on a notion from Jorge Luis Borges, that the reflections in a mirror are real sentient beings that have been enslaved to mimic our every action. The Tain follows what happens when they escape and cross over to our world. 25,000 words.

Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark. Published in the UK in 2002 as Speed of Dark. Pretty good novel about an autistic man in the near future facing a decision as to whether or not to accept a treatment to cure his autism. Plusses: excellent characterization of main character. Minuses: Moon-standard sneering villains, weak ending. 136,000 words. UK only, though the US edition was published in January 2003.

Vera Nazarian, Dreams of the Compass Rose. Linked cycle of stories about a rather Arabesque fantasy world. The writing is uneven, at times quite lush and effective, at other times a bit clunky. At its best it is evocative and original. At its worse, the story logic slips a bit, and depicted world seems a bit familiar. 132,000 words.

Patrick O'Leary, The Impossible Bird. Fine novel about the rivalry of two brothers, about alien visitors, and about death. 110,000 words.

Christopher Priest, The Separation. 138,000 words. First rate alternate history novel about twin brothers in England during WWII, one a pacifist, the other a bomber pilot.

Alastair Reynolds, Redemption Ark. Fine space opera, direct sequel to Reynolds' first novel and peripheral sequel to his second. Humans have awoken the interest of the Wolves or Inhibitors, machines which destroy starfaring intelligent life. One faction among the conjoiners wants to flee, leaving the rest of humanity to die, but Nigel Clavain wants to begin some resistance, while Ana Khouri is trying to evacuate Resurgam. Cool techie and SFnal ideas, lots of scope, interesting resolution. Good stuff. 275,000 words. UK only.

Alastair Reynolds, Turquoise Days. A novella published as a thin paperback by Golden Gryphon, first in a program that seems to resemble the PS Publishing novella program. On the order of 30,000 words. Set in his main future history, but somewhat peripheral. Pretty good.

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt. Intellectually involving, often moving, often slow, alternate history of a world without Europe, which is wiped out by the Black Death. Avoids pitfalls like cute cameos for figures from our history, and like demonizing western civilization by making this alternate an utopia, but some of the long sections are a bit tedious, the interludes in the Bardo are tiresome, and the author's hand was too obvious on occasion, arranging for implausible scientific advances, etc. By turns preachy and convincing, it's as ambitious a book as there was in 2002, definitely worth reading, but not fully successful. For ambition and the considerable good parts it might make its way onto my Hugo Ballot. 260,000 words.

Geoff Ryman, V. A. O.. Another PS Publishing book, this one only novelette length at 15,500 words. A good story, though, about elderly people committing vandalism etc. as a statement.

Robert J. Sawyer, Hominids. A good fast read with a combination of some interesting and some downright silly ideas, and a plot unfortunately marred by requiring the cooperative stupidity of an entire society, not just a few people. Better than the run of Sawyer novels, but not a particularly good book. 96,000 words (as serialized).

Karl Schroeder, Permanence. Interesting if flawed story of humanity encountering an alien artifact, tied with economic conflict between ftl-linked colonies of stars and stl-linked colonies of brown dwarfs. 148,000 words.

Lucius Shepard, Valentine. Lush story of a man meeting his ex-lover in a Florida town where they are marooned by a hurricane. Lots of male wish-fulfillment sex, lots of angst and declarations of eternal love set against her quasi-loyalty to her husband. I wasn't convinced. Not SF. 36,000 words.

Robert Silverberg, The Longest Way Home. Pleasant, not very challenging, YA-ish novel about a boy on a distant planet caught up on the wrong side of a revolution, forced to walk thousands of miles to his home among various alien and human races. 87,000 words (as serialized).

Lemony Snicket, The Carnivorous Carnival. Number 9 in the saga of the Baudelaire kids trying to escape the evil Count Olaf. In this one they dress up as freaks at a carnival and face the threat of becoming lion food. Pretty good, but not the best in this series. 44,000 words.

Brian Stableford, Dark Ararat. Decent story about a murder and a mysterious alien ecology, tied in with Stableford's emortality future, and with a generation ship. 127,000 words.

Brian Stableford, The Omega Expedition. Excellent capstone to Stableford's Emortality sequence. Some long-frozen people are revived and forced to consider the various different types of emortality on offer, while hopefully averting a war. 163,000 words.

Allen Steele, Coyote. A group of people steal a starship from a cartoonishly repressive future post-US government and use it to colonize the planet Coyote. Once there they face standard colonization hazards: adapting to the local biosphere, dealing with internal strife, raising rebellious kids. I read it in its quasi-serialization as a bunch of novelettes/novellas in Asimov's (plus one in a DAW anthology). Pretty fun adventure-oriented stuff. The novel version includes a few extra scenes and some rewriting throughout. 143,000 words.

Charles Stross, The Atrocity Archive. Great fun: Nazis, magic, computers, Dilbertian work environments, spies, dangerous extra-dimensional planets, a beauteous red-haired scientist. UK serial only, though Stross has announced that he will add a novella to fill this shortish novel out to saleable length, so it will appear as a book sometime in 2003 or 2004. 65,000 words.

Michael Swanwick, Bones of the Earth. First rate time travel novel, specifically about time travel back to the age of the dinosaurs. One of the year's best. 100,000 words.

Mark W. Tiedemann, Metal of Night. Decent novel of war on a colony planet, portraying a xenophobic Earth trying to resist contact with aliens, while the farther colonies naturally promote such contact. 155,000 words.

Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia. Alternate History in which the Spanish Armada succeeded. About a decade later Shakespeare is involved in a plot against the Spanish occupiers, while Spanish playwright Lope de Vega tries to ferret out English spies in the theatrical world. OK, not quite convincing, a bit slow. 198,000 words.

Jo Walton, The Prize in the Game. Fine fantasy set in Walton's Arthurian-period Ireland analog, Tir Isarnagari. Features character who had small parts in her first two books. Two people fall in love, but kingly ambitions, family problems, and an unfortunate curse get in the way. I ended up liking it better than The King's Peace and The King's Name. Oddly, I think it might read better if read before those two novels. 107,000 words.

Lawrence Watt-Evans, Ithanalin's Restoration. Light, fun, novel about a wizard's apprentice trying to fetch her master's furniture -- which happens to have become imbued with parts of his essence and run away. 92,000 words.

John C. Wright, The Golden Age. Baroque SF about a far future in which people mostly interact via virtual reality, and the protagonist is an aristocrat/engineer who learns that he have forfeited hundreds of years of memories as "punishment" for some vague crime. It's intriguing stuff, very reminiscent, to me, of Charles Harness. This is the first of a two book series, and it does suffer by being largely exposition, though interesting exposition. 130,000 words.

So, my Hugo nominees? I'm sure of the first three: Bones of the Earth, The Sky So Big and Black, The Scar. Contenders for the last spots: The Omega Expedition, The Years of Rice and Salt, The Separation, Chasm City, Dark Light, Schild's Ladder, The Eyre Affair, The Golden Age, The Mount. The eventual nominees were the Swanwick, Miéville, Robinson, Brin (Kiln People) and Sawyer (Hominids). I voted for them in that order, with No Award ahead of the Sawyer novel.

For Locus, there are categories for Best SF novel, Best Fantasy, and Best First Novel. So move The Scar, the only fantasy on my list above, to the Fantasy category, and add The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Cybele With Bluebonnets, A Scattering of Jades, The Fall of the Kings. The first novels on my list are those by Foer, Wright, Stross, Irvine, and Nazarian, and I'll vote for those in that order. The Locus Award winners were The Years of Rice and Salt, The Scar, and A Scattering of Jades.