|Spin is a novel whose|
appeal may be limited
outside of fannish
circles, but that's also
what makes it great.
(Image via Goodreads)
From 2001 – 2010, the Hugo Awards converged with the mainstream literary establishment in a way that they usually hadn’t in previous decades. Six of the Hugo-winning novels from that decade sat atop the New York Times bestseller list and sold millions of copies. Three others were written by perennial Hugo favourites.
Which is why Robert Charles Wilson’s win in 2006 stands out. Wilson is certainly not as big a name as George R. R. Martin. He hasn’t enjoyed the same level of sales as John Scalzi. And he hasn’t been Hugo shortlisted as often as Charles Stross. But Spin beat out Accelerando, Old Man’s War, and A Feast For Crows to take home Wilson’s to-date only Best Novel Hugo Award.
And it’s a win that, with the benefit of a dozen years of hindsight, looks better and better.
Spin is a novel about a mysterious event that separates the Earth from the rest of the universe. All at once humanity is cut off from its telecommunications satellites, and observations show that time is moving thousands of times more slowly on Earth than outside the barrier. The protagonist Tyler Dupree grows up in the shadow of this mysterious event, all the while searching for answers.
Spin faced tough competition in 2006, in what was possibly one of the most stacked Hugo shortlists in recent memory. Old Man’s War is perhaps John Scalzi’s most famous work, spawning five sequels, a variety of short stories, and earning the author a blockbuster literary deal. It’s probably Scalzi’s best book to date, engaging and fun, but Spin aims higher in terms of nuance and imagination.
A Feast For Crows was the first George R. R. Martin novel to top the New York Times bestseller list,
|Robert Charles Wilson may not have|
as high a profile outside of fandom,
but his work is worth celebrating.
(Image via Goodreads)
Charles Stross’ Accelerando has been described as the gold standard of singularitarian works. It’s a very interesting book, offering a series of vignettes that show how the world changes over three generations. But Stross’ everything-and-the-kitchen-sink cavalcade of sci-fi ideas gets in the way of the human aspects of the story.
Ken McLeod’s Learning The World is a moderately good novel that is undermined by a deus-ex-machina ending. It remains one of the more puzzling Hugo-shortlisted works in recent memory. McLeod is an excellent writer (The Execution Channel should not be missed), and this book has interesting ideas about assimilation and cultural norms, but the ending is deeply unsatisfactory.
Spin bested all of these, and in retrospect I think it deserved to. It is a deeply human story of growing up, set against a backdrop that explores a unique and science-fictional idea.
While the central mystery of the novel is well imagined, and explored seriously and satisfyingly, it is probably not something that would have been noticed by the mundane literary establishment.
This is a novel that deserves to be celebrated, but unlike most other Hugo winners in that decade, would never have been recognized outside of genre awards.
To us, it may be the platonic ideal of what a modern Hugo Award winner should be.