So a few days ago I made it clear that my feelings toward the Hugo Awards had changed, and that this year I would be bringing you the definitive opinion-declarations that you all so richly deserve.
Since I said a bunch of stuff about it there, I don’t have to say much in the headnote, except as follows: there are a bunch of Hugos for stuff I don’t really know very much about, and that are small-time enough 1 to feel like a muddier, under-baked opinion wasn’t really a useful addition to the throng of voices on the subject. So the fan categories, the zine categories and the editor categories aren’t here. I’m also skipping the artist category, for reasons that are more related to not wanting to parse it all out 2, and reasons related to the preservation of the nice thematic unity of only writing about the narrative categories. I will point out that Chuck Tingle is nominated in the “Fan Writer” category, and he absolutely deserves another Hugo.
And so, without further ado: The Hugo Awards, and their rightful winners.
This is a new category to the Hugos, and is possibly temporary – this is the trial year for it, and it stands to be ratified/not ratified at this year’s WorldCon. This is a pretty good crop of choices, for the first year out, but already it runs into a problem. The front-runner, and probable rightful winner, is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is great, but I’m also completely unable to explain in what way it would be eligible this year 3. This also sort of highlights the general problem with the “series” category – when does it get the award? The rules are that it has to have at least three volumes and one of them has to be published in the last calendar year, but does that mean you give it to them at the third one (which risks giving it a Hugo before some completely-derailing future installments 4)? Or do you wait until it ends, risking just…never giving some series a Hugo 5? Anyway, it all raises a bunch of questions, and it might even be interesting to see how all this turns out.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Since it can’t be “rightful” if it’s not apparent why it was chosen, it’s going to have to be James S.A. Corey’s also-great The Expanse.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
I do not love television. One of the things that is, increasingly, becoming difficult when the time comes to write these things, is that I also do not much care for Game of Thrones 6. So that leaves that right out. I feel like Black Mirror is better in memory than it is in practice. I’m just stalling for time so I’ll say it’s not Doctor Who or The Expanse 7 either. Long-time readers will know about my endless, unconditional love for clipping., and how it has been truly surreal to see Daveed Diggs become one of a vanishingly small set of people to be nominated for a Hugo and a Tony 8, and certainly the only one of those people who also wrote an afro-futurist noise-rap masterpiece. So this category would almost certainly have belonged to clipping. and Splendor and Misery even if I did love television.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: clipping. – Splendor and Misery
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Deadpool and Ghostbusters were both movies that I enjoyed a great deal. They made me laugh, a bunch of cool shit happened in them, I’m very happy. They are, surprisingly, both outclassed here though. Which means, of course, that Hidden Figures never stood a chance 9. Arrival was a fine movie, but the thing that should have won a Hugo award was the story, which already had its chance 10, so we can move on. Stranger Things and Rogue One both, in their odd way, rely heavily on other narratives to offer their own a sense of weight and depth. In Stranger Things’ case, that made it more satisfying, and more emotionally resonant, but probably not any better as a thing in and of itself. Since Rogue One (the best Star Wars movie made in my lifetime) is only meant to exist entirely in and as a part of the larger Star Wars universe, the fact that it adds a human element, and makes the actual risks taken in the other movies seem more real, makes it a movie not only good enough to stand on its own, but also makes several other movies better.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rogue One
Best Graphic Story
The Hugos are, sadly, the only one of the three book awards that I cover here that has a specific category for comics 11. This was a tough field – none of these are bad, and a numerical majority of them are genuinely great. Marjorie Liu’s Monstress and Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls are both newcomers that seem like they could each develop into something amazing, but aren’t quite there as of their first volumes. Vaughan’s second nomination is for Saga, whose sixth volume is as fun and thoroughly enjoyable as the first five, even if it isn’t necessarily the best thing here. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther misses the mark a bit, although it is a darn shame that it won’t have stuck around to develop its ideas a little further 12. Tom King’s Vision uses a venerable (and weird) superhero to talk about what makes a life, and sort of the idea of prejudice and where it comes from. G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel uses its character’s superheroics to deal with the moral implications of personal power, and also specific prejudice and issues that crop up within families and communities. Both are genuinely great, Ms. Marvel is slightly better, mainly because Super Famous (the volume up for consideration here) is, in addition to all those things, also funny.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 5: Super Famous
Best Related Work
With “related,” perhaps confusingly, meaning “writting by someone who usually writes and/or acts in science fiction but who is, in this case, writing nonfiction.” Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg is the least of the bunch: a slight series of conversations that are there to take the form of a rough biography, without stooping to anything so gauche as writing a narrative. Uncle Bob is a good storyteller 13, with a keen grasp of his place in the world and all that. I’m sure the conversations were great fun to have, and I have no trouble believing that it seemed like a good idea to publish them. It is, nevertheless, the one work in this category that I would not recommend to the reader of this piece. Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats and Ursula K. Leguin’s Words are My Matter are both interesting essay collections from brilliant fiction writers, each of whom is a capable, if not exactly brilliant, essayist. Gaiman is amiable and enthusiastic, but the essays, speeches and introductions here collected are journalistic, friendly and completely non-analytical. Leguin fares a little better – most of her collection is, after all, just straight-up book reviews, and she’s a great reader as well as a great thinker, but Words Are My Matter is kind of the least of her essay collections, good as it is. The late Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist is, in part, funny and erudite and all of the things that you’d want from a book by Carrie Fisher. The main part of it, however, genuinely is excerpts from the diary she was keeping during her on-set affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars. It’s got the germ of what would make Carrie Fisher such a joy to read things by, but it’s, y’know, the diary of a twenty year old. There’s only so well that can go down. Still, the beginning and the end of it (written when Fisher was older and more in control of her faculties) are pretty great. Sarah Gailey’s “The Women of Harry Potter” is a series of blog posts, each of which focuses on a different character in the series of books, highlighting their role and the effects they had on the story. It’s the best kind of fan-writing, casting things in a slightly different (or even just “more”) light, and giving a new dimension to the generally male-character-dominated discussion of the story. The best of these, however, is probably Kameron Hurley’s Geek Feminist Manifesto, which is also (like the Gaiman and Le Guin books mentioned above) a collection of previously-published essays, but this one with an eye toward topics that are more currently in the public mind: what it means to like things that are problematic (or to be problematic), the economic realities of being a writer of fictions, the general sociopolitical realities of liking stuff 14, and generally presenting an interesting set of perspectives and thoughts. It’s sort of the diametric opposite of the Silverberg book, really 15.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kameron Hurley, Geek Feminist Manifesto
Best Short Story
This is one of the only categories to have a major Puppy incursion 16, in the form of John C. Wright’s “An Unimaginable Light,” a diatribe about robots and people and political correctness run amoke that is tedious in its constant moralizing, and straight-up steals its moral/end reveal from Metropolis 17. Brooke Bolander’s “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” is still fine, but not quite at the level of the other nominees. Amal El-Mohtar’s “Seasons of Glass and Iron” is no less beautiful than it was when I wrote about it for the Nebula awards, but this field has some even better candidates. Similarly, at Nebula time I had a hard time not choosing Alyssa Wong’s “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, and it is even a pretty good candidate for winner here, but it still isn’t quite there. Carrie Vaughan’s “That Game We Played During the War” makes use of chess and mind-reading and allegory and metaphor in a way that is all very beautiful and effective. N.K. Jemisin’s “The City Born Great” is about a city that is also a Kaiju and a Lovecraftian Other Thing that threatens it and a protagonist that makes sure the city is unharmed and is emotionally satisfying, visually inventive, and, you know, fucking rad.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisin, “The City Born Great”
Here we have another appearance of a puppy-approved work 18 in a literary category, in the form of Stix Hiscock’s seemingly Chuck-Tingle-esque 19 Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, who is, by her own confirmation, not any kind of puppy, nor familiar with them, nor did she intend to write anything other than a silly dinosaur sex scene (with a green alien woman who has three breasts that shoot lasers). Good for her, I suppose. The Jewel and Her Lapidary is a pretty good piece of work, but it’s either too long (I would’ve liked to see the focus winnowed down to just the events that make up the centrality of the action) or too short (I would also have liked to have spent several hundred pages in this world). It’s fine, but if it were a short story or a novel it would probably be amazing. Nina Allan’s “The Art of Space Travel” is a story about Mars colonization and one woman’s search for her father, and is also fine. Carolyn Ives Gilman’s “Touring With the Alien” is a good story in which the nature of humanity is addressed through an inventive conception of alien life 20 , and comes highly recommended. Alyssa Wong’s “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” is wonderful, just as it was back in the Nebulas, but Ursula K. Vernon’s “The Tomato Thief” 21, which is actually about a world in which trains are gods and there’s magic in the desert and also about how tomatoes are basically the best of all foods, all of which I can totally get behind, is the best.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ursula K. Vernon, “The Tomato Thief”
This is, as it so often is, the category that I have the least-strong feelings for. China Mieville’s The Census Taker was pretty good, but also feels like an experiment that never makes itself clear 22. Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey remains an impressive feat of narrative efficiency, and incredible characterization, and remains entirely outside of my wheelhouse. Since I’m deciding “Rightful” here, that matters, dammit. If I had different tastes/interests, however, it might actually be the best-constructed story here. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and the Shaman is a fun, creepy semi-mystery. I’ve not read much of her Penric material, but I always mean to. This is probably not the best of it. Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a fantastic bit of world-introduction, and I’m tremendously happy that there are more stories set at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe is the second-greatest piece of Lovecraft-touching fiction published all year – a great examination of what happens when someone from Lovecraft’s Dreamlands ends up in the real world, and about a woman in Lovecraft’s world. But, as with the Nebulas, it’s down to Victor Lavalle’s tremendous The Ballad of Black Tom, which also does many of those things, but does them in a way that also resonates with the racially-tinged material both in the original Lovecraft and in the environs in which Lavalle is writing. Plus it’s genuinely pretty scary, which I think is undersold when people talk about it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Victor Lavalle, The Ballad of Black Tom
Alright, it’s time to get a thing out of the way. Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem was one of those books that was not much like anything I’d ever read before. It had everything. It had action, and quantum physics, and “what is a human” philosophy, and everything. I bounced hard off The Dark Forest the first time I tried to read it, but when I gave it another chance, I found much to like in it as well – less of the practical questions, and a lot more of the moral and philosophical ones. Death’s End, here nominated, was…deeply disappointing. Not merely because it elected to have a whole bunch of different endings, but because it handles its characters poorly. There are still things to admire about it, certainly, but it stil winds up looking a bit like a dropped ball at the end there. N.K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate was an excellent sequel to The Fifth Season, but also has a bit of “middle book” syndrome going – it will probably be better when it’s able to be read as part of the completed series, but as it is right now it just advances the plot, building toward the payoff rather than allowing much of one on its own. Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning does an enormous number of things 23, but also seems incomplete – it’s pretty clearly the beginning of a larger story, and feels it. Becky Chambers’ A Close and Common Orbit is technically also a sequel 24, and is a rollicking party of a space adventure story that also deals with the nature of human-ness, and the selection of family, and the choosing of one’s proper place in the universe. Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky is also a damned delightful book of great ideas, and a surprisingly coherent storyline and bit of plotting, for something with what could very easily veer into a soup-sandwich approach to incorporating many, many different (good and interesting) ideas and reference points into itself. Yoon Ha Lee also wrote a great book in Ninefox Gambit about self-determination (and what that actually means), as well as complicated math and a really interesting approach to space warfare/interstellar technology that I’ve been pleased to think about for awhile ever since I read it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit 25
And that about wraps it up here! Tune in come November for the World Fantasy Awards! And also later in the week for the Teen Choice Awards, because Ohioneedsatrain contains multitudes!
- or, in some cases, I just don’t know enough about what to say. You may feel free to note that this never stops me in the case of the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes or whatever, and that’s true, but those aren’t really anything I feel could ever be taken seriously. At least, not really. At least, they shouldn’t. ↩
- I am, as previously acknowledged in this space, not terribly excited by visual art in most cases, so it’s easy enough here to just talk about narrative forms. ↩
- genuinely, as far as I can tell, nothing from it was published in the period of eligibility. ↩
- Think Foundation ↩
- think Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict books. Or, y’know, the Vorkosigan books, but they’re apparently not bound by the same rules I guess? ↩
- I also do not like A Song of Ice and Fire to speak of, although it’s much better. ↩
- although, y’know, see above. ↩
- the other person that comes to mind is Mel Brooks, who was nominated for a Hugo for Young Frankenstein, and a Tony for The Producers ↩
- I like biopics about as much as I like television or paintings. Probably less, actually. ↩
- Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life, which Arrival is based on, didn’t win the Hugo that year, although it did win the Nebula. It lost to Greg Egan’s Oceanic, which seems disappointing to me, but hey, I was a much younger me in 1999. ↩
- the World Fantasy Awards, in fact, have banned comics from being nominated, after there was much kerfuffle over Sandman winning one. ↩
- it was recently cancelled, see. ↩
- and is genuinely one of those people who seems to have read every. fucking. thing. In the world, and remembers it all. ↩
- sure, sure, it sounds vague, but there’s a handful of essays about it, damn it. IT’S A REAL THING. ↩
- to be fair, however, while Kameron Hurley certainly seems well-read, she probably has not read as much as Robert Silverberg, because it seems like NO ONE HAS. ↩
- the rabid ones, specifically, I am unsure if the sad puppies made any real presence known in this year’s Hugos. If they did, I couldn’t quite figure out how. ↩
- the robots are the real people, and the people with the “freedom” to think and act are the real robots. WAKE UP SHEEPLE. ↩
- with the following additional note: the puppies would also happily take credit for The Census-Taker in the novella category because, for reasons that I find myself unable to grasp, they always put China Mieville on their slates. The odds that the Census-Taker would have been nominated anyway are pretty high – Mieville is a well-known author, and a frequent Hugo nominee – but in the interest of fair discussion, it’s probably appropriate to acknowledge that the puppies like him also. ↩
- googling “Chuck Tingle Hugos” will get you all of the best-of-all-possible-worlds information you could want about the good Dr., but in case your goggling arm is broken: Chuck Tingle writes absurdist “erotica” that got on the puppies’ radar because it often involves dinosaurs – remember that they have a specific, well-beyond-rational distaste for the Rachel Swirsky story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” and are frequently found dismissing the kind of things they don’t like about sff as “dinosaur erotica” – and turned out to be neither a puppy-supporter or a neutral party, but in fact specifically set against the puppy mission, in a number of hilarious and crowd-pleasing ways. ↩
- which is basically catnip for Our Hero (me) ↩
- set in the same world as her World-Fantasy (and Nebula-) -Nominated “Jackelope Wives” ↩
- I end up feeling this way about China Mieville’s stories a lot. ↩
- a small subset of which being: it takes place in the future, is written in the style of the past, it has a twisty main character, it provides a number of brief treatises on various modern philosophies along the course of its narrative, and also may or may not be reliably told. ↩
- to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet ↩
- at Nebula time it also came down to Ninefox Gambit or All the Birds in the Sky, and that time it went, in my estimation, to All the Birds in the Sky (and, indeed, it did actually win the Nebula). But the advantage of having some time since I’ve read it means that Ninefox Gambit edges it out just barely – I’ve been drawn to thinking about it an awful lot, and it makes me genuinely excited for more books in that series. ↩