Causes of Separation, by Travis Corcoran, is the sequel to his The Powers of the Earth, which won last year's Best Novel award. The first volume was the build-up of tensions between Earth and the expatriate colony at Aristillus; this volume is the actual war, and it's very effectively told—Corcoran has the trick of putting you into the mind and the emotions of people engaged in combat. It's ironic, in a novel whose protagonist is an anarchist, but I feel that one key scene, where Mike Martin, thinking the war is lost, appeals for the lives of the lunar colonists, shows him as the True King in the mythic or fantasy sense; that scene does more to make him a heroic figure than anything earlier in the books.
The Kingdom of the Wicked, by Helen Dale, was a surprise for me, but a happy one: The trial of Yeshua ben Yusuf in an alternate timeline where Rome developed advanced technology and experienced an Enlightenment leading to free markets and the abolition of slavery. In the same way that The Lord of the Rings can be seen as hard science fiction based on comparative philology, this can be taken as hard science fiction based on legal history, with its exploration of what form classical liberalism might have taken in a society based on paganism and Roman law rather than Christianity and common law. Dale makes ingenious use of the Gospels in putting her story together and brings many of their characters to life. I'm seriously debating whether to rank this one first or second (after Corcoran), for the sheer interest of the author's theme.
State Tectonics, by Malka Older, is the third in a series that began with Infomocracy. I couldn't bring myself to read the first volume; the title put me off, with its clumsy portmanteau of info- (from information, which ought to be split as in-form-ation) and -mocracy (from democracy, which ought to be split as demo-cracy). Having read the third one, I find the prose style fairly appealing, with loan words mixed into its future English, but I'm less happy with the characterization; the viewpoint characters are women from multiple cultures, but I found it hard to remember which was which or see any cultural differences between them. And I don't think this is remotely libertarian; its concern is with who should exercise political power and how, with a scheme involving division of the world into local governments of 100,000 people each, but all autonomy seems to rest with those voting units, not with individuals—there's no suggestion of any concern with how to limit political power. I expect to rank this below No Award.
The Fractal Man, by J. Neil Schulman, has the opposite problem. It's clearly libertarian, and clearly science fiction. In fact, it's very focused on the libertarian science fiction community of several decades ago, in the way that "The Number of the Beast—" is focused on science fiction or the Divine Comedy on medieval Italian politics. But I don't really feel that it works as a novel, because it lacks meaningful conflict or suspense; its protagonists advance from victory to victory and empowerment to empowerment. It was like reading the sort of fanfic that's been nicknamed "Mary Sue," even if the Mary Sue character is not so much the author as one of his oldest friends, now no longer with us; it was an effort for me to keep advancing the pages to the end. I expect to rank this below No Award.
The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells, is actually a series of four novellas, which the judges decided to classify as a single work of novel length. At this point I've read the first and fourth volumes. I expect to read the other two before I vote; based on what I've read so far, though, I'm not expecting this to be my top choice—I don't feel enough involvement with the protagonist to get caught up either in the action or in the internal conflict. Wells's writing is adequate but I can't anticipate ever wanting to read this series again (whereas, for example, I've read Corcoran three or four times already and expect to go back for more in the future).