Oh my god, you guys. The Fucking Hugos. I propose that the expletive become a part of their name. I propose this because they are, once more, a mess because of the actions of people who seem to not be willing to accept people into the fold.
So, having shovelled out from under the weirdness/retro-grade insistence of the Various Puppies, they decided to turn around with the exact same shovel and make an enormous mess of things this year. The public business appears to begin with Bogi Takacs being misgendered in eir program bio, which was the final straw on what had become an overwhelming display of non-caring directed eir way by the Worldcon folks. Said folks first denied responsibility, claiming that they didn’t even write the bio, Takacs did, despite the bio using pronouns that Takacs has never used, and also complaining to another erstwhile attendee 1 that Takacs had gone public with eir complaints in the first place. Kevin Roche, chair of Worldcon, did eventually issue an actual apology.
In the days after this, Worldcon came under fire for denying people a place on panels for not being famous enough, and for denying the currently-much-discussed #ownvoices movement a panel because they felt that not enough people knew about it (the movement I mean). They undertook further chicanery like pulling an unauthorized Facebook photo, and a number of other, semi-documented/non-entirely-public offenses 2, as a result of some combination (or all) of which, NK Jemisen 3 elected not to attend at all, Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz pulled out of panels, and John Scalzi (among others) offered to give any seat on a panel he was on up to someone who was newer and less-able to already be heard. Amal El-Mohtar called publicly for a response and a plan to repair things, and Alexandra Erin is starting a “queer rapid response team” to help ameliorate these issues in the future 4
As a result, the programming was scrapped entirely a few weeks before the con (the post in the link is a few weeks old at the time of this piece’s posting). Perhaps this would be less surprising 5 if there hadn’t just been a publicly-decided upon decision to be more editorially in favor of actually honoring the idea of both new voices and works by people who weren’t in the usual set of identities that had been honored by the Hugos historically
But the nominations were in before all of this, and the voting was mostly accomplished before this also, so this has basically (I guess?) nothing to do with the work itself! Most of which is very good and worthy of being honored! Yay! So here we go to look at it, and judge its worthiness.
And then, y’know, spending the next ten or so months until next year’s nominations are out deciding if I should just go back to not writing about The Fucking Hugos.
Oh, and as a programming note of my own: I’m not particularly up on either the fan-based stuff or how to evaluate it as such in a way that is fair to the people that work very hard on it, so I’m limiting myself to the books and dramatic presentation categories. I’m wildly unqualified to talk about visual art, and I didn’t have time to get up on the podcasts and stuff.
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
While everybody here is a worthy contender, I think this basically comes down to two people who came straight out and had a heck of a year. Rebecca Roanhorse received a Nebula for her excellent short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™”, and her debut novel, Trail of Lightning is a much-praised sensation 6. Vina Jie-Min Prasad actually did even better, as far as I’m concerned: “Fandom for Robots” is a goddamn delight, and “A Series of Sneaks” would have won a Nebula if it hadn’t been up against Sarah Pinsker’s tour-de-force “Wind Will Rove.” She also wrote a fantastic story called “Portrait of Skull With Man” that was unfairly ignored this awards cycle. Anyway, it’s her. She’s great.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vina Jie-Min Prasad
Award for Best Young Adult Book
This is a particularly heavy-hitting YA category, especially considering what heavyweights Sam J. Miller, T. Kingfisher 7, Frances Hardinge and Nnedi Okarafor are.
Nnedi Okarafor’s Akata Warrior is a worthy sequel to Akata Witch, and deepens the world and Sunny, the main character. It’s still a very good world in which to set a series of adventure stories, and it’s not like anything else currently going. I suppose it seems unfair to call it “just” a YA series, but it doesn’t really do much beyond that, and while they’re fun to read, they’re not as good as her grown-up work, and they’re just not as good as, say, the T. Kingfisher or Frances Hardinge books in this category.
Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving remains an emotional wollop of a novel, taking on a very difficult and under-represented set of problems (male eating disorders in this case), with an enormous amount of sympathy and humanity. The characters are well-drawn, and the generalize sense of dread is very real. Some of the descriptions of the mental state of the protagonist are viscerally unsettling. It also, in wonderful news, is a story about a pacifist, or at least about someone who is categorically opposed to revenge. I don’t know if it’s something in the water, or a turn for the better, or if there’s just more people out there who wanted stories about people who specifically don’t punch and/or murder as a solution, but it’s fantastic that it’s all happening.
Phillip Pullman’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage is a return to the world of His Dark Materials, and thus makes it through this on name recognition and general affection for his past work. It almost certainly isn’t here on its own merits, and isn’t really in the running 8.
Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands gets over being a sort of love-triangle-adjacent 9 piece of portal fiction by being very funny, and by delving into love-triangle-ish areas that aren’t commonly explored. The main character is especially well-written, and she manages to actually write a sarcastic know-it-all character with dialogue that doesn’t seem like it’s all creaky, forced, long-reaching setups for the sarcastic character’s jokes 10. It’s also a story about a genuine by-gosh pacifist, which is always something I’m always happy to see. All told, it’s a perfectly fine novel that isn’t as good as some of the others.
Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows is almost certainly the best book about a ghost bear that I’ll ever read. Hardinge takes a sort of theme-and-variations approach: she once again creates a scary, deeply enthralling supernatural world and drops another progressive-minded young lady into to find her way out. She does this, through her own ingenuity and her ability to make friends and negotiate. She and the protagonists of The Lie Tree and The Cuckoo’s Song would probably find they had a lot to talk about 11. That’s not to say it’s not the equal of those books, and I do love an author that finds a way to twist the standard fantasy elements in such a way that they illuminate the different sides of these stories. Hardinge’s novels work prismatically in this way, and they’re better for it.
It’s (perhaps unsurprisingly) T. Kingfisher’s Summer in Orcus that I think is the best one here. Another pacifist, and another portal fiction, all for the better there. This one also has Baba Yaga, a sardonic weasel, a bunch of sartorially-inclined tiny birds, and a mythic-level threat that turns out to be something entirely different from what it seems to be in the beginning. It’s a terrific upending of the usual “get to the center of the world and stop the evil thing” book that I’ll not spoil here, because you should all go read it as soon as possible.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: T. Kingfisher, Summer in Orcus
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
This category, even though it’s mostly television, is forcing me to consider a clipping. song against episodes of The Good Place. I would prefer to never have to make this kind of decision again. While “The Deep” is a very good clipping. song, The Good Place is probably the best show on television, and “Michael’s Gambit” is a huge part of the reason why.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place, “Michael’s Gambit”
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Only one of these movies is basically perfect. Wonder Woman is great right up until the superhero-by-the-numbers CGI fight at the end. Blade Runner 2049 failed to get most of its ideas off the ground, and took too long to do so. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was as good as it could have been, and I appreciate there being a Star Wars movie that is explicitly about the idea of inspiring hope in the downtrodden, but it is still, by the nature of the franchise, stuck moving a lot of parts that it shouldn’t have to just to keep the series rolling. Thor: Ragnarok is as entertaining as any of these movies, and would probably have won in a world without Get Out. Get Out is a basically perfect movie.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Get Out
Best Graphic Story
Bitch Planet: Volume 2 was a welcome sight to finally behold, and only the knowledge that the world could literally end before volume 3 is enough to chill its reception. The stormclouds are clearly gathering, we are clearly winding things up, the cast is coming together. We’re still meeting new, awesome members of the thing, and someday we will have it all and we can be happy. Someday.
Black Bolt Volume 1: Hard Time is getting a lot of positive press, and people seem to really, really love it. I am afraid that I might be missing something. It’s pretty good, certainly. The art is top-notch, it’s tightly-paced and it does some dealing with a Black Bolt that can, for plot reasons, speak. It also makes excellent use of The Absorbing Man, which is a thing I didn’t think I’d ever say I suppose.
Monstress Volume 2 continues to make its way through here (I’m assuming) largely on its East-meets-West art style, which is genuinely incredible. It’s got a lot going on, but it’s also building toward a sort of RPG-ish “collect all the things and use them to do a thing” place, I presume. The plot isn’t really holding my attention nearly as well as the art is. In any event, I think it could really blossom into something, but as it is I don’t think it’s quite getting there. It has a sort of less-gonzo version of Saga’s “throw everything from every kind of story in there” 12 approach, and since Saga works on about 50% gonzo-ness, that’s probably to Monstress’s detriment.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters is also a fantastic piece of art. The storytelling is very good, with an elliptical, dreamlike quality that seems to not be providing any actual answers even while it’s advancing. I’m glad it has a sequel coming – the book seems entirely unfinished, and I thought at the time I read it that it was stand-alone. Still, there’s a lot here to like, and it’s a wildly impressive work.
Volume 3 of Paper Girls is where things really get cooking, and our time-travelling Ohioans become deeply involved in what appears to be the overarching plot of the whole thing. It’s the best volume yet of a series that is also quite possibly its creator’s best 13, or at least his best straight-up story. So far, anyway.
Saga is the 900-pound gorilla of comics at the moment, and Volume 7 is its most emotionally intense, largely for what goes on in the first issue of the collection. A couple of different times here I’ve mentioned that it largely flies on sheer audacity, which is true. This makes it difficult to judge against other works: it’s a bit like trying to evaluate a tightrope walker in terms of their atheltic ability. It’s there and you could do it, but it’s difficult and the result doesn’t really make much sense in either case.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters is so unlike any of the rest of this, and so carefully and fully thought out and executed that it almost has to be the winner.
Best Related Work
I think of this as the “nonfiction book” category, because, well, it kind of is. It was as entertaining as I think it’s ever been, but also didn’t contain much that I can imagine I’m going to spend much of my time going back to. So it goes, I suppose. Well, except one.
Zoe Quinn’s Crash Override is a pretty useful little book, all things considered. She spends the first half telling the story of gamergate from the point of view of the first of the people it was focused on, and then the second half sharing her hard-won wisdom about how to deal with the very real possibility of online harassment. She’s laudably clear-eyed and funny about the whole thing 14, and her advice is sympathetic and extremely doable. Good book, this.
The University of Illinois’s Modern Masters of Science Fiction series aims to give people that haven’t been as academically-studied their first serious academic exposure 15, and they tapped Paul Kincaid to write about Iain M. Banks. Banks was an entertainingly unique character in science fiction, and The Culture created a new way to think about utopianism. Kincaid’s work here is basically an overview/treatise on his work and its major themes, and as such is probably not a very good introduction to the stories themselves. It’s good, but it’s worth it primarily if you’re already familiar with Banks’s work, or if you’re looking for other avenues down which to explore it.
Nat Segaloff’s A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison is, as Segaloff himself says in the introduction, not actually a biography. It’s a set of Harlan Stories 16, largely framed in the conversations that Segaloff had with Ellison and a number of other players about the man, his work, and his life. Segaloff is unabashedly Ellison’s friend, and it probably reads better as such than it would have if it had been written by an enemy 17. It’s weirdly unself-aware at times, and it’s probably as thought-provoking in what it leaves out as it is in what it includes, but what are you going to do, I suppose?
Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler is a series of letters to Octavia Butler. Many of them point out the parallels between our current governmental woes and Butler’s Parable books (especially The Parable of the Talents). They come from all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations, under all sorts of circumstances, and it’s a lovely set of sentiments to read, but doesn’t always provoke so much as it basks, and while it’s nice to read it kind of doesn’t leave there much out there to discuss.
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters is a collection of the great Ursula K. Leguin’s blog posts. It’s not bad as such things go – LeGuin was a good essayist, and her blog was a source of many fine anecdotes and musings when it existed. This, however, feels a little cash-grab-ish 18, and there’s very little editorial oversight given to it. The erstwhile blog posts are grouped loosely by subject matter with little thought given to continuity or temporal order. It’s fine for the words, and not-really-fine for the amount of time and care given its existence.
Liz Bourke is great in her unabashed championing of the things she likes, and her unceasing expression of her disappointment in the things about those things that don’t work. Sleeps With Monsters is a collection of her long-running tor.com column, with some original pieces thrown in. I almost never like the same things she does, and even when we do both like things we like them for unrelated reasons, but she’s a darn fine analyst, with a healthy appreciation for Cool Shit, and that goes a hell of a long way with me. Plus she’s one of those people who, it seems, has read everything. I love those folks.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Liz Bourke, Sleeps With Monsters
This one is less incomprehensible than it was last year, but I still find it truly difficult to evaluate. I suppose the thing to do is take the nominees and decide which of them has done the best so far with the volumes that exist. The major problem here is: this is the category for which I have not read everything nominated, so I kind of have to guess. I console myself by pointing out that that’s mostly what everyone who’s voting is also doing.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Seanan McGuire, InCryptid
Best Short Story
This is a very good crop, although it is not the crop you’d want if you wanted to not be filled with despair. Not a lighthearted bunch, is what I’m saying here.
Caroline Yoachim’s “Carnival Nine” remains 19 one of the most emotionally-affecting stories here, and its world, of clockwork people and their short lives, creates some fantastic images (I think also of the process of acquiring grown-up limbs even more as I get further from reading it, for example), in the service of its powerful allegory.
Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly-Steady Hand” is a lovely exercise in style and texture. Intentionally formed from wisps of description and very little straightforward language, it’s probably someone’s favorite story of the year – it’s deeply idiosyncratic in a way that I can very much imagine someone being super excited about. I liked it, but didn’t love it.
Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” is a part of why I think she’s the rightful winner of the Campbell award (see above), and it’s a fantastic look at AI and how we grow to love things, even if it trips a little bit before the end of it.
Linda Nagata’s “The Martian Obelisk” is a rumination on what we owe each other, and what our responsibilities are to each other, even in the face of utter hopelessness. It is, therefore, catnip for certain me-people who would come to read it. It’s possibly the most uplifting (if also emotionally devastating) story about the putative end of the human race I’ll read for a long, long time.
Also: I lied. Ursula Vernon’s “Sun, Moon, Dust” would probably make just about anyone happy, with its cranky ghosts and story of unexpected companionship. We are spoiled to live in a world with Ursula Vernon writing stories in it, guys.
Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™“ is at least a different kind of upsetting – it’s angry, and it manages to also be funny. It’s a very good story, and if it isn’t as good as several of the others, that’s just because it’s a very strong year in this category.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Linda Nagata, “The Martian Obelisk”
Aliette de Bodard’s “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” is a fine, Persephonish story set in post-apocalypse magical Paris. It’s a nice story, well-writen, and I bounced off it completely and entirely. Probably this is not a sign that the story is bad, as such, but it is definitely a sign that I did not like it.
Yoon Ha Lee’s “Extracurricula Activities” is a lot of fun – it’s a surprisingly light look at some of Jedao’s 20 younger goings-on, and gives us a very different look at the character. I’m not sure it’s up there in the “best novelettes of the year” running, but it’s hard not to get excited about any part of the series itself.
Suzanne Palmer’s “The Secret Life of Bots” touches on some really interesting things about self-determination and self-reliance and all the usual sorts of AI things in a really fascinating way – she approaches it sort of inside-out, with a highly unorthodox AI-rebellion that doesn’t end the way these things usually do. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer, and she had been able to talk about more of the chain of robots as they come around to a new way of thinking.
Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “A Series of Steaks” is a fantastic, wildly-inventive story about a caper involving some forged meat (it make sense in context) that manages to include the best parts of stories about rakish folk practicing their delicate, expert craft on the outside of the law. Its title is also, as previously mentioned, a Spoon reference.
K.M. Sparza’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” is another in the “not long enough” category – I would definitely and happily read a much longer story set in a world where vampirism is bureaucratized and a part of regular living. Especially if it had somewhat less graphic sex in it.
But of course, they all fall before the bulldozer might of Sarah Pinsker’s “Wind Will Rove,” which is probably one of my favorite stories ever written at any length. A folk musician on a generation ship tries to grapple with questions of why we need to remember things, and how difficult it is to remember things, and what it means to hold things in a cultural memory. It’s so good, guys. I cannot say enough good things about it. If you only read one thing that was nominated for a Hugo this year, it should be this one.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Pinsker, “Wind Will Rove”
Martha Wells’s All Systems Red was a fantastic introduction to the deeply-lovable Murderbot, but it also kind of suffers by being all introduction. There’s a story there, but it left me wishing we’d spent more time with the character, and less time on the intrigue that the plot centers around. It’s not as major a complaint as it sounds, though.
“And Then There Were (N-One)” proves that there is something that Sarah Pinsker can do that I won’t be head-over-heels in love with: a murder mystery. It’s fine, and it wins points for its fantastic, original idea, and anyone whose hometownism is enough to compel them to write a story like this one is aces in my book, but the story is somewhat sub-aces.
Nnedi Okarafor’s Binti: Home is a fine piece of work, and I like the Binti books especially, but it also has a bit of a middle-book problem 21. Getting Okwu on Earth and starting to find out about the night masquerade, and Binti’s origins, is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where it goes, but it feels less like a complete installment and more like part of the greater work (which it is).
JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven also doesn’t quite feel like a whole work, although it’s pretty explicitly also only half the story. I really do love the main character a lot, though, and for its part it’s not a let-down or anything. It definitely left me wanting to read the rest of it.
Seanan McGuire’s Down Among the Sticks and Bones is my favorite of the Wayward Children books so far published, and is also a fantastic stand-alone book. There are a lot of great works on this list about self-determination, and what the expectations of others and what we owe them, and this might actually be the best of them. It’s certainly a mighty story, and carries a lot as it goes along.
Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth is still a cracking great adventure story that manages not only to be a western that doesn’t fill me with dismay 22, but also the best story about hippos I’ve ever read. It does an excellent job with its characters, it lays its plot down effectively (and it doesn’t even telegraph its twists!), and it’s as much fun to read as anything else I’ve read all year. I hope these books continue on forever, is what I’m saying here.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth
John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire is an above-average Scalzi effort. It takes place at what appears to be the end of an empire. When I read it I didn’t realize there would be sequels, and I sort of liked the openness of the ending, but it appears that I was wrong about the openness, and I feel like maybe it suffers a little bit for my mistake. It doesn’t make the book worse, it just changes the way I feel about it.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is his best work in years 23, and its look at a near-future, and the way people will find their way through to survive, is uplifting and downright joyful. Also, since I’m trying to keep this all as spoiler-light as possible, corner me sometime and we can talk about that ending.
Ann Leckie’s Provenance was a much more lighthearted look at a different part of the same universe as the Imperial Raadch books 24. It’s yet another murder mystery, but it never really feels like one, as it is more about the politicking and maneuvering in the world itself than it is about the murder as such. It’s a compelling book, but of the ones here the one I’m least likely to go back to.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Stratagem is a little more comprehensible than it’s excellent predecessor, and it has a much stronger ending. It muddles a little bit through the middle as it arranges the pieces so they can be in place for the finale 25. It definitely left me deeply excited about the end of it, but is a much more complete middle book than it might have been.
Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes is the other (sort of) murder mystery in this category. It was another one that was fun 26, but not a whole lot else. I thought highly of the nearly-absurdist level of coincidence that the ending required, and I wonder how I’d feel about it after another trip through the book.
And finally we come to N.K. Jemisen’s The Stone Sky, the conclusion of the Broken Earth trilogy, itself possibly the finest work of science fiction of the last several years. She’s already won back-to-back Hugos for the first two, and there seems to be almost no way that the third one – which is the best of them – wouldn’t be worthy. I definitely think it’s the best book here by a fairly wide margin, and I can’t really imagine it going to anyone else.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, The Stone Sky
- the attendee became “erstwhile” as a result of this exchange, in fact. ↩
- this list is incomplete not because of any particular editorial stance on them, but rather because I can’t find the definitive source for some of them and also because this doesn’t need to be a full list, the idea is: they shit the bed real bad. ↩
- who is set to win her third Hugo for best novel in a row at Worldcon this year. ↩
- a writeup of the events, which includes the El-Mohtar tweets and some other information, can be found here. ↩
- or galling/frustrating/annoying/infuriating/misguided/wrong-headed/silly/dismaying/you know what there’s a lot of adjectives that this could be, depending on who you are reading it. ↩
- in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon. ↩
- She writes grown-up fiction under her grown-up name, Ursual Vernon ↩
- Although, in the interest of fairness, Pullman is never my dude. There are occasionally people that become wildly beloved, even by people whose opinions I respect and admire, that miss me entirely. Pullman is one of those. I genuinely don’t get it. ↩
- Which appears to be Brennan’s classic style, unfortunately. ↩
- This was a good quality of her Lynburn books, also. ↩
- Well, probably especially Faith from The Lie Tree. ↩
- Tentacle demons! Possession! Sassy cats! Other, more mystical cats! Fairies! Secret orders! Hidden societies! Living legends! ↩
- While it doesn’t reach quite the dizzying heights of Saga it also manages to ground itself better and rely less on whiz-bang craziness. ↩
- she is, to be sure, significantly more clear-eyed and funny than I would have been able to be about it. ↩
- although it is worth noting that both at the end of the book and in the bibliography, Kincaid lists some scholarly works aimed at Banks’s writing. ↩
- this is all but the term of art for the anecdotes that accumulated around Ellison wherever he went.\ ↩
- although the most perverse part of me wishes it had been written by Christopher Priest. ↩
- a feeling that is compounded by the fact that the blog posts here published have also been pulled from her blog, so the only way to read them is to acquire this book. ↩
as it was during the Nebulas, you may remember.
- the villain/antihero/mastermind/sort of of the Machineries of Empire series, which was recently concluded. ↩
- I suppose I’m probably giving the impression, between this and All Systems Red, that I only like final books? I mean, that might be true. I’ve never considered it. It is the case that I’m liable to feel differently about each installment when the actual series is ended – it happened with the Broken Earth books, which I’ll get to in a minute. ↩
- which is no small feat. I have a lot of negative things to say about Westerns, and maybe someday I’ll even say them! ↩
- and I liked Aurora an awful lot also ↩
- in fact, the funniest bits come from the Raadchi ambassador, which we see through the eyes of characters who live outside the Raadch. ↩
- See what I mean? I’m just a malcontent about this stuff. ↩
- longtime readers may remember that the reason I didn’t used to cover the Hugos actually had nothing to do with social justice or anything like that, it was because they choose the “easiest” and most crowd-pleasing books at the expense of the actually-good ones. This sort of happens perennially, but I got over it when they (the nominators) appeared to grow an editorial spine and make a stand about what kind of science fiction they wanted to promulgate. That may not last, obviously. ↩