And if you DO have an ad blocker running, here's the text link: Qualify.
Preliminaries AND Disclaimers. I'm writing a series of reviews of the 2018 Dragon Award Finalists in the categories of Best SF novel, Best Fantasy Novel, Best Mil SF novel, and Best Alternate History Novel. This is the 11th book in that series, and the third contender in the Best Science Fiction Novel category.
NO, IT ISN'T EITHER!
The novel which is the finalist is 'Win,' by Vera Nazarian. I HAVE a copy of that novel, courtesy of the author, but it is my understanding that THIS is a case in which reading the novels in sequence will make a difference.
It's a tough problem for me, because my time is limited; I only have 10 days left before Awards Day. That's further aggravated by the fact that these are hefty tomes. 'Qualify' comes in at 600 pages; the second installment, 'Compete,' has 530 pages, and the third installment, which is the actual contender, boasts a beefy page count of 930 pages. I just do NOT see any way that I can do an adequate treatment of the nominated work with the time constraints imposed on me by the small window Dragon Con gave me between announcing the finalists and making the award.
So, rather than risk an incoherent attempt to digest the massive third course of the meal, I decided to review the first installment NOW. This will at least provide you, Gentle Readers, with an exposure to the story and style, and give you SOME basis for forming an opinion.
I will review the last two books in the series as soon as possible, once the Dragon Awards are in our rear-view mirrors.
A brief review of the book. It's 2047, and we are all about to die; the Sweet Meteor of Death, which we had all longed for during the last presidential election, has been sighted, and it's composed mostly of heavy metals, so there is no way we can divert it with our nuclear arsenal.
However, just as the winter brings the snow, and the dead rhinos bring the hungry vultures, so the impending arrival of SMOD brings back our long-lost relatives: the folks from Atlantis. It seems that they escaped the sinking of their civilization by going to the stars, where they have lived and prospered; now, seeing Mother Earth about to be smashed into planet juice (pulp included), they have returned with a fleet of space transports to rescue a remnant.
Alas, it is ONLY a remnant. They don't have the space to take everybody, and they are also concerned that the Earthlings will have some difficulty in adapting to their culture, so they have determined that only people between the ages of 11 and 20 can be considered for rescue. Furthermore, they insist that the selection process be competitive. There will be a series of screenings and competitions, which will decide who gets to board the spaceships, and who becomes Meteor Chow.
Four children of the Lark family seek selection. Their parents, who obviously harbor a deep hatred for their children, have given them all names beginning with G: George, Gwenevere, Gordie, and Gracie. The children, in a pathetic attempt to make light of the mark of Cain branded on their foreheads, refer to each other as G1, G2, G3, and G4. You can't REALLY blame the parents, of course; the father is a professor of antiquities, and the mother was an opera star before cancer took away her ability to sing. With that kind of parentage, I suppose the children should be grateful that their names aren't Abelard, Heloise, Brunhilda, and Igor.
The story is told from the POV of nearly-seventeen Gwen, who feels herself to be an ugly duckling, with no hope of becoming a swan. She excels in academics, but is not confident socially, and has neither skills nor experience with athletics.
The Atlanteans provide very in the way of information about the testing program, and some of the tests seem nonsensical. The entire program is mysterious, bordering on creepy, and there is inevitable backlash to the idea of teenagers being swept off into the sky, leaving behind everybody else.
And with this, I conclude the REVIEW part, because to go further would be to get into the realm of spoilers.
Final comments. I can already hear someone grumbling out there. You say, 'why, this is derivative of "The Hunger Games.."'
Nope. It ain't.
Yes, they do share the feature of a life-and-death struggle between young people, but that's the ONLY thing they have in common. There are supposedly only some very small number of unique plots anyway, right? What makes a book valuable, it seems, is not having some exciting new plot twist. Those are RARE. Brad Torgerson came up with a completely new vision of the BEM a few years ago in "The Chaplain's War," but really, that's the first true innovation I've seen since I became aware that some of the greatest stories were simply older stories with the serial number filed off.
Nope, what makes a book a GREAT book is the way the story is told. And I have to tell you, quite honestly, that I didn't think I was going to like this story. For one thing, most of the characters are teenagers, and I was a middle school counselor for 16 years, and am raising teenagers #5 & #6 at the moment, and frankly, the little monsters aggravate me. Wonderfully, there is only enough of that teen-age emotional storming to remind me that they ARE teens, and not so much as to make me want to drown them. But, even with that bit of prejudicial disfavor, I found myself DEEPLY involved with the story. Nazarian is one HECK of a good writer, and I think this would be an excellent book to take along on a long plane flight, drive across country, or to curl up with and turn the real world away. Actually, I tend to forget that not everyone reads a zillion words a minute, the way that i do; this volume in itself might make for some nice reading on a weekend getaway, and the entire series might last you Earth People for an entire two-week vacation at the beach. You could surely do a lot worse!
As it should be, the competition for Beast Science Fiction Novel is going to be intense. At this point, I wouldn't dare to hazard a guess as to who is gonna win this category. I wouldn't whine if "Win" won, if for no other reason that it makes such a moofie sentence to write. However, Nazarian's work made the 'Finalist' cut, and I have great hopes that her bank account will reflect that popularity, as fans vote with the TRUE award, which is little green pieces of paper.
Peace be on your household.