Reading the Hugos: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

This is the last of my Hugo reading, as I decided after the short stories that life is already full of pointless suffering, and why should I inflict more upon myself?  Plus, I’ve had a convention to chair, a novel to write/revise, and also a day job.

Accordingly, my ballot looks like this:

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and Best Fan Artist

Not voting, haven’t had time to do research.

Best Fan Writer

Not voting, as the only nominated writer I’ve read is Laura J Mixon for her piece on RequiresHate/Winterfox/Benjanun Sriduangkaew, which to my mind doesn’t constitute a body of work.  (Plus, I just hate giving Sriduangkaew oxygen.)

Best Fancast

I’ve only ever enjoyed one podcast enough to listen to it religiously. (Sorry, podcasters, I’m just not very aurally-oriented.)  Luckily, Galactic Suburbia is one of the nominees.  I’m going to give that my first preference, and otherwise not vote.

Best Fanzine, Best Semiprozine, Best Professional Artist, Best Editors (long form and short form)

Not voting, as haven’t had time to look at nominees.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Finally, a category where I’m familiar with more than one nominee!  I’ll be voting thusly:

1. Orphan Black, “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

2. Doctor Who, “Listen”

3. Game of Thrones, “The Mountain and the Viper”

I haven’t seen Flash or Grimm, so I’m ignoring those.  I hope Orphan Black wins, just because I love it so much, and the second season finale was outstanding — but I also suspect this episode will be completely mystifying to anyone who hasn’t watched at least the preceding season.  Likewise Game of Thrones.

“Listen”, on the other hand, is a perfect, standalone piece of creepypasta, and I adored it, and won’t be at all sorry if it wins.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

I’ve seen three of the nominated movies — Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie — but I can’t get excited about any of them.  I’m not voting in this category.

(Stephanie note: This is because Liz doesn’t have enough heart to have feelings about the Steeb and Bucky story)

(Liz response: My heart is a cold, misandrist lump of coal with no room for manpain.)

Best Graphic Story

You know, I probably have time to read the nominated works before the deadline.  I read Ms Marvel: No Normal last year, and loved it, but there are a couple of other nominees that were already on my radar.  Let me come back to this.

Best Related Work

I’m not voting in this one, partially because I haven’t read any of the nominees, but also because I’m pissed off that the thoroughly deserving Queers Dig Time Lords didn’t get a nomination, thanks, Puppies.

Plus, Companion Piece — remember that book I co-edited? — is eligible for nomination next year, and I feel like I just have too much personal involvement in this category.

Best Short Story

No Award.  No hesitation.

(Okay, some hesitation.)

Best Novelette and Best Novella

Not voting; haven’t read them.

Best Novel

  1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  3. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
  4. No Award

“Wow, Liz,” you might be thinking, “you’re ranking The Goblin Emperor below Ancillary Sword, which you were quite lukewarm about?”

Yes, Hypothetical Reader, I was surprised, too.  Lots of my friends loved The Goblin Emperor, and found it engaging and enjoyable on every level.  And that’s great!  I am quite happy, and also a little jealous, that they enjoyed it so much.

I found it beautifully written, with interesting worldbuilding, and completely boring.

The plot: Maia, unloved half-goblin son of the elf emperor, unexpectedly takes the throne when his father and half-brothers are all murdered.  Despite his lack of training, and lack of self-confidence, he sorts out various political situations and solves the mystery by being really, really decent to people.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying that The Goblin Emperor is a response to the trend for grimdark fantasy.  I really hope not, because the opposite of grimdark is not dull.

I feel a bit weird saying this, because Characters Being Competent and Political Shenanigans are two of my favourite things in fiction.  But Maia’s competence feels unearned.  He instinctively knows how to deal with people, he instantly befriends trustworthy and reliable allies, and where he makes bad decisions, the consequences are minor.

Likewise, the Political Shenanigans are, well, predictable.  The traitors are just who you would expect, and Maia deals with them appropriately, and no one minds very much because the traitors weren’t even that good at their jobs, let alone popular or widely supported.

I’ve been thinking about the problems with The Goblin Emperor for a few weeks, and I think what it needed was a second POV character.  Maia is interesting, but he has very little context for the places he goes and the things he does, and that gets old fast.  And all of the supporting characters around him are two-dimensional in the extreme.  It’s difficult to imagine any of them having a life that doesn’t revolve around the main character.

Likewise the women — not that there are many.  The sympathetic female characters are what I think of when I hear that horrible phrase “awesome ladies”: they turn up, do or say something to subvert the patriarchy, and then step back and let the men get on with the plot stuff (such as it is).

The unsympathetic women are all ambitious and super-feminine (and they’re still subordinate to the plot-driving men).

In short, I was extremely disappointed in The Goblin Emperor, and really only forced myself to finish it for the sake of the Hugos.  It’s possible I was just in the mood for something more plot-driven.  But I don’t plan to read anything else by Addison, whether under that name or her Sarah Monette identity.  Life’s too short.

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