Hugo winner: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translation, Ken Liu), 2015
My take: in many ways, this is the exact opposite of what can be stereotypically termed an "action-packed" SF novel; the violence it depicts - although occasionally quite brutal, as with the opening chapter that occurs during the Cultural Revolution - is either in flashback form or so much at a remove from anything currently happening in the main plot of the novel that the violence is more of a news report than a direct threat to any of the main characters. That's not to say that Three-Body isn't full of menace. Without resorting to spoilers, the Trisolarans are one of the most ominous alien invasion forces recently dreamt up by an author specifically because they're so subtle in terms of strategy. They don't need death rays, UFOs or other varieties of traditional BEM-style super-weapon to deal with their future human antagonists because what they have in their arsenal is both so subtle as to be nearly invisible and so powerful that it could put humanity in a potential tailspin years before the invasion actually happens. But don't take my word for it; read the book.
Nuggety?: You really might want to re-read the previous paragraph if you think so.
Hugo nominee: Count Zero by William Gibson, 1987
My view: It could be the fact that I empathized a lot more with Count Zero's Turner than I did with Case in Neuromancer; it could be the fact that I first read CZ at an emotionally stressful time in my life (the unexpected death of my father due to post-surgery complications in 1990) that somehow caused the novel to remain especially vivid in my memory; or it could be that it's just a damn good novel. It's certainly full of the twists, turns and strong characterization that make Gibson such an vital writer at his best, but whatever the reasons, CZ still remains a favorite of mine to this day.
Hugo nominee: The Peace War by Vernor Vinge, 1985
My view: Sure, it's a lot closer to the traditional idea of hard SF than most of the novels I've read (it was serialized in Analog, so there's your proof), but that's not to say I couldn't - or didn't - enjoy the hell out of it. I ended up getting a hardcover copy as a freebie at a local convention (Capricon, probably) shortly after its publication and it serves as proof that sometimes you get far more than what you pay for.
Nuggety?: I'm going with "no" on this one as well; Vinge has rhetorical points to make in this book, but he does it in a way that seems more than a little too subtle for the likes of what Torgersen and co. seem to think is suitable for Sad Puppy-approved SF. Plus, Vinge's small-l libertarian (read: probably not Objectivist) technophile streak wouldn't sit too well with a John C. Wright or a V*x D*y, either.
Hugo nominee: Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederik Pohl, 1981
My view: It's a continuation of Gateway, to be sure, but Pohl never stoops to the lazy pattern of writing more of the same formulaic crowd-pleasing material (what I lovingly term "fanwank") in order to please an equally lazy audience. Indeed, if he had done that Beyond would've probably never come close to receiving the Hugo and Nebula nominations it did. As stated before, Pohl's ability to be a challenging writer well into his years was as much a way of defying the clichés of old age as a degree of abnormally robust physical health. He may have been getting older but he certainly never started thinking that way.
Hugo nominee: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, 1975
My view: I suppose this was a sign of things to come in terms of my tastes in SF; it's been decades since I've read this, yet the feel of the novel's oppressive atmosphere has remained in my mind since I read it and was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
The nightmarish alternate world that Jason Taverner is thrust into after a failed murder attempt embodies the word "Kafkaesque" with a vengeance, but unlike PKD's earlier works the usual sense of paranoia is leavened by certain degree of empathy that points a way out of the maze Taverner has been thrust into no matter how dark his personal universe has become. It seems like PKD was becoming something of a humanist (albeit a very odd version of one) in his later years, and this novel is strongly indicative of that fact.
Nuggety?: Not even close.
Elric at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock.
Hugo nominee: Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg, 1973
My view: There is no doubt as to what David Selig is in this book. He's a telepath.
He's also a complete and utter wreck of a human being because of it.
This is easily one of Robert Silverberg's darkest novels (at least of the ones I've read) because he pulls absolutely no punches about Selig's many psychological shortcomings or the supposed gift of telepathy.That "gift" has helped shaped Selig into an opportunistic, ethically void grifter who is just as incapable of any sort of real emotional connection to another human being as anyone suffering from severe Asperger syndrome or full-blown autism. He's not a particularly likable protagonist as a result, but that's the point: Silverberg's ultimate message is that taking the easy way out from real human emotional give-and-take (in short, normal human interaction) is no real gift at all - it's one of the worst curses anyone can suffer in life.
Nuggety?: Only if you're into chewing gravel.