Choice Cuts: What the People Missed
The Goodreads Choice Awards are in full swing for the best books of 2013. Conveniently, they break down all the nominees into categories; science fiction and fantasy are separated so we don’t have to wade through anything we aren’t interested in. My understanding of the Choice Awards is that this is a true people's choice award. Of the 250 million books added, rated, and reviewed on the site, the good folks at Goodreads nominate 15 books per category based on statistics like number of reviews and average rating. You can read their full rules for eligibility here. They then post them, add in the top five write-in votes, and let the registered users of Goodreads vote on which ones are their favorites. It’s like Apollo Creed getting into the ring with Rocky Balboa to see, once and for all, who the people’s champion is. Except, of course, it’s for books. And no one gets punched or eats raw eggs.
As for those nominated in science fiction, it's your typical murderer's row of authors. John Scalzi, Peter F. Hamilton, Margaret Atwood, and the enfant terrible of digital publishing, Hugh Howey, are among the heavyweights listed in the science fiction category in the opening round, but there are a few surprises as well. Wesley Chu's The Lives of Tao has 148 reviews and 547 ratings with an average of 3.88 out of five stars. While the popularity of this book may come as no surprise to readers, I’m sure the Apollo Creeds of the publishing world are taking note.
The book is very contemporary. It captures modern existential truths about being lazy and overweight in a way that few recent novels have. But seriously, it is a very fun read about an alien life form that takes up residence in the head of a schlumpy IT tech. I would love it if Wesley Chu, a man whose dreams of being an NFL punter were dashed early, could sneak in and take an award from the writers I mentioned earlier.
If there are faults with awards like this, however, it’s that rare works like Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers go unheralded. A compact 21,000-word novella, Salvage and Demolition still manages to cover time travel, Beat poetry, a Sumerian diety, and a nihilistic apocalypse cult. Powers, who is best know for his classic The Anubis Gates, is truly a writer worth reading. Salvage and Demolition will not disappoint.
The initial fantasy ballot includes favorites like A Memory of Light, the final novel in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and entries from well-known writers like Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, and Scott Lynch. There are more than a few that I’d like to read among the nominations, but the one that stands out to me is The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Weckler, which Amazon’s editors chose as the best science fiction and fantasy book of the year from their recently released Best of 2013 list.
But Weckler is a writer you are likely to hear a lot about in the coming months. Not on the list, Australian author Margo Lanagan, quite likely, is a writer who won’t make it into the spotlight. That isn’t to say she isn’t known or deserving of more attention. With considerable peer admiration, Ms. Lanagan is a four-time World Fantasy Award winner. But one of the reasons she hasn’t become a bigger name with fantasy readers is that she is categorized as a YA author.
Considering her sophistication as a stylist, the depth of her characters, and the detail of her worlds, she is certainly an author that won’t disappoint as a crossover artist. There is something about Lanagan's writing that sticks with you. My first exposure to her writing was with the imperfect but beautiful Tender Morsels, a sort of twisted fable of youth and innocence that I find myself thinking about, unbidden, from time to time.
Her latest collection, Cracklescape, a concise four-story tome, is no less affecting. Lanagan uses language in a way that will make you want to reread sentences, and her themes will make you want to talk about what you read. At the very least, the third story, “Bejazzle,” will foster some good discussion for a book group. What’s it about? I’d rather not say. Lanagan is a writer who is best read without preconceptions.
The end of the year lists are going to be coming hard and fast in the weeks ahead, but the Choice Awards are the one list that we, as readers, can effect. Get out there a let yourself be heard. Your favorite may go the distance.