Discussion

Hugo Finalists 2020: Thoughts

As you might or might not know, depending on how much you’ve been following this blog and my goodreads, I love writing posts in which I talk about award finalists (here, for example, are last years’ Hugos); this time, however, I’ve also challenged myself to read as many of the finalists as possible before writing this post, so that I could write it with a more well-rounded opinion.

I love this kind of challenge because:

  • more than anything, it helps me discover new short fiction and sometimes new short fiction authors. The problem with short fiction is that there’s a lot of it but pretty much all of it gets very little visibility.
  • it makes me try books I wouldn’t have tried otherwise (sometimes with great results, as it happened this time) with a little more guarantee that the minimum threshold of objective quality won’t be too low.

I will talk about the categories I’m interested in: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, and Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.


Best Novel

The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders – read, ★★★★½ (review)
Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir – read, ★★★★½
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley – read, ★★★★ (review)
A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire – read, ★★★★★ (review)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow – read, ★★½ (review)

I fell in love with this line-up the moment I saw it, because hello, three of my favorite books of last year made it here? That had never happened before, and prompted me to decide that, since I had liked so many of these, I also had to read the two novels I still hadn’t read by then, The City in the Middle of the Night and Gideon the Ninth.

The second was already on my TBR, the first wasn’t (I didn’t love anything I had tried by Charlie Jane Anders so far), but I ended loving them equally for different reasons – one is quiet and introspective, the other is over-the-top and fun; both are really smart books in their own way – and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them on my list of favorites at the end of the year.

As far as the books I already read, I’m so glad to see The Light Brigade here. It might not have been a five star read for me, but I still consider it a favorite because of how much it impacted me. Since I didn’t expect it to be here (it has been ignored by most SFF awards so far) it was the best surprise.
There’s only one book I didn’t love: The Ten Thousand Doors of January. I thought it was nothing special overall and had issues with its (incorrect) use of the Italian language.

Then there are two books that ended up on my list of ten best books of 2019: Middlegame, a weird, genre-bending book that made something not at all easy feel easy to follow (something I will never stop appreciating, because that’s difficult, and I’m glad many others agree!) and the masterpiece that was A Memory Called Empire, which talked about language (especially bilingualism) in the context of imperialism in a way I’ve never seen any other book do, and it will forever be important for me because of that and approximately a hundred other reasons.

For how much I’m glad that this shortlist had so many books I loved on it, it’s also an all-white list, which is a huge step back when compared to previous years and doesn’t reflect the genre accurately at all. Off the top of my head, Gods of Jade and Shadow should really have been here! I’m glad it’s in the Nebula line-up, at least.

Predicted winner: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
What I want to see win: this is hard and I’d be really happy with… all of them but one? But my answer is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, my favorite book of last year.

Best Novella

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang – maybe
The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes – read, ★★★★ (review)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark – read, ★★★★★ (review)
In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire – read, ★★★★★ (review)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone – read, ★★★★★ (review)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers – not interested

I really like this lineup as well! First, it’s not all-white, and second, so many of my favorites published in 2019 are here (sadly but expectedly, they don’t include the awesome Desdemona and the Deep nor the crackling finale that was The Ascent to Godhood).

My favorite of these is probably In an Absent Dream – not only I couldn’t see one flaw in the whole novella, I also have a lot of fond memories tied to it because I listened to it in my two best days of last year – but I’d actually prefer to see win The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (the Wayward Children series has already won awards), even though I don’t see it as likely. A more likely This Is How You Lose the Time War win would be a great step for sapphic fiction – as would be The Deep, which I also liked, though not as much as the aforementioned three (so much competition for my heart in these first two categories!)

I didn’t challenge myself to read all nominees in the novella category. Having already tried a lot of Becky Chamber’s works, all of which have managed to annoy me in some way, so I don’t see any purpose to trying To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I also probably won’t be able to read Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom anytime soon, but since Ted Chiang’s stories have been nominated in two categories this year, I’m thinking about trying the anthology Exhalation sometimes in the future, even though I haven’t read anything by this author yet.

Predicted winner: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
What I want to see win: I’d be really happy about at least other three of these, but probably The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

Best Novelette

The Archronology of Love, by Caroline M. Yoachim – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Away With the Wolves, by Sarah Gailey – read, ★★★★ (review)
The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, by Sarah Pinsker – read, ★★ (review)
Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin – probably not interested
For He Can Creep, by Siobhan Carroll – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Omphalos, by Ted Chiang – maybe

46301916I’m so glad to see For He Can Creep here, it’s one of my favorite short fiction piece I read this year – I read it before the finalists were announced, and it’s a story about a demon-fighting cat, full of cat logic! And while reading the other stories, I found another favorite, The Archronology of Love, which is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long while. Painful in the best way, beautifully written, and I love anything related to space archaeology so much.

I didn’t love Sarah Pinsker’s – it wasn’t my kind of horror and I didn’t find it creepy – while I surprisingly quite liked Sarah Gailey’s story about accessibility for a werewolf with chronic pain (…bad track record with the author).

I’m not interested in buying Emergency Skin (it’s not available for free online) because I’ve disliked pretty much all the sci-fi stories in How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, and again, Omphalos is in an anthology I don’t own (yet?).

Predicted winner: Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin
What I want to see win: either The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim or For He Can Creep by Siobhan Carrol, I consider both of them favorites

Best Short Story

And Now His Lordship Is Laughing, by Shiv Ramdas – read, no rating
As the Last I May Know, by S.L. Huang – read, ★★★★ (review)
Blood Is Another Word for Hunger, by Rivers Solomon – DNF, no rating
A Catalog of Storms, by Fran Wilde – read, ★★★ (review)
Do Not Look Back, My Lion, by Alix E. Harrow – read, ★★★★ (review)
Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, by Nibedita Sen – read, ★★★ (review)

48594209._sy475_Oh, this was an interesting! I didn’t discover any new favorites like I did in the previous category, but I didn’t hate any of the stories either (unlike last year). I decided to DNF Rivers Solomon’s for reasons unrelated to the quality of the story itself (magical pregnancy) and decided not to rate Shiv Ramdas’ because I have a complicated relationship with fantasy stories based on real tragedies, but that again doesn’t have to do with craft.

My favorites were As the Last I May Know, which engages with a very difficult question with grace, heart, and a lot to say, and Do Not Look Back, My Lion, which was set in one of those queernorm fantasy worlds I will always love, and was the only story I already read before the finalists were announced.

As for A Catalog of Storms and Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island, both of them were really well-written but I didn’t find them particularly memorable.

Predicted winner: And Now His Lordship Is Laughing by Shiv Ramdas
What I want to see win: As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer – maybe
Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge – maybe
Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee – read, ★★★★★ (review)
Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher – read, ★★★ (review)
Riverland, by Fran Wilde – probably not interested
The Wicked King, by Holly Black – maybe

My first thought when I saw these nominees was that something had gone really wrong, because only two of these are actually Young Adult NovelsThe Wicked King and Catfishing on CatNet. My second one was that the title of the award probably only means “book that isn’t adult”, which would make more sense, but I still think it’s really interesting how the YA books that interest adults/the adult SFF community (which composes the majority of the voters here for obvious reasons) are radically different from the the favorites of the YA crowd. As usual, I’m not surprised that the adult SFF crowd gets along with middle grade better than with YA (two partial truths: 1. YA is more similar to adult SFF than middle grade, which opens the ground to comparisons that are not in the young adult range’s favor; 2. a significant number of adult SFF readers won’t touch YA for the same reasons they wouldn’t even dream to look at romance, the TL;DR of it being basically the book version of girl cooties).

About these nominees: Dragon Pearl was one of my favorite books of last year, and it has I think a good chance of winning (or maybe not; I don’t know that much about this crowd’s taste in middle grade!), and I read Minor Mage out of curiosity for this post – after all, middle grade novellas go by quickly – but I don’t think T. Kingfisher’s books are for me. Every time I read something of hers, I think it’s cute/charming/somewhat fun but completely forgettable.

While I’m marginally interested in Catfishing on Catnet (because YA with a questioning main character!), Deeplight (I’ve never read anything by Frances Hardinge and anything involved with deep seas sounds vaguely interesting, even though I’ve never heard anything about this book) and The Wicked King (this is mostly curiosity due to the hype; I hate bully romances and this is very much one), I’m not particularly drawn to any of them. I may or may not read some of them before the winners are announced, I don’t know. And as I haven’t loved anything I have read by Fran Wilde and haven’t heard much about Riverland, I’m mostly uninterested in it.

Predicted winner: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
What I want to see win: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Between Catfishing on Catnet, Deeplight and The Wicked King, which one do you think would be more worth reading?


What did you think of this year’s finalists? Have you read any of them?

7 thoughts on “Hugo Finalists 2020: Thoughts

  1. This is a great post and you are definitely inspiring me to do something similar. We have some common and some very opposite opinions but I guess that’s the fun 😍😍😍
    I haven’t read any of the Best Novel nominees though, and I’m just not feeling it. Hopefully I’ll read atleast a couple of them before the winners are announced..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to see yours! I really want to know everyone’s opinions on the short fiction categories especially, as it’s really not talked about enough.
      Of course (…given what I thought of them) I recommend reading the novels, but it’s also true that there was no way I would have challenged myself to read all of them had I not already read more than half.
      Anyway, I hope you like them if you end up trying them!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll probably just write up a post about Short fiction, because I agree with you that not many talk about them and they are wonderful.

        And that’s exactly it. If I had read a couple novels already, I would have been interested to catch up but now it’s too much. I definitely have A Memory called Empire and The Light Brigade on my tbr, so I’ll read the both of them but when is the question 😂😂 I’m just not in the mood for now.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great round-up, Acqua! I’m really disappointed Gods of Jade and Shadow didn’t make the shortlist too – I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work and I think she deserves more recognition. (Like how vampires are suddenly back in fashion but she wrote a great vampire noir novel that was published in 2016 and is now out of print because not enough people discovered it. I will not rest!)

    I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January, it spoke to something very personal in me, but I’d also be really annoyed with a book if it used my language incorrectly! I really want to read Gideon the Ninth (the ebook is still so pricey 😭) and I want to finish A Memory Called Empire, too. I’ve started it and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t quite in the right headspace to concentrate on it. Middlegame is one I still need to get to, too!

    Of the novelettes I’ve only read Emergency Skin so far – I did enjoy it, but I think the themes and issues it tackles were addressed with more nuance in The Broken Earth trilogy – but I did think the way it was told was interesting. I’m looking forward to trying the others and reading the short stories!

    It is really interesting that a lot of the YA nominees aren’t actually YA. Why don’t they just bring in a Middle Grade award too? Although I have a feeling an MG award would probably be dominated by the Rick Riordan Presents line.

    I really enjoyed The Wicked King – it was my favourite book in the series – and even though I haven’t read any Frances Hardinge I was pleasantly surprised to see her on the shortlist. It’s always nice to see a British author pop up in categories that are usually dominated by North American authors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the rest of the short fiction!
      I was surprised when Certain Dark Things and The Beautiful Ones went out of print – it felt so soon? And in my small circle they’re talked about fairly often, but I see how that doesn’t necessarily translate to sales.
      The ebook price of Gideon is unreasonable – I just looked it up and Harrow’s is even worse. Why, Tor. Why.

      Most of YA SFF feels more similar to adult SFF than MG to me, so I don’t get why they’re lumped together, but to know that one would have to actually read YA sometimes. (I wonder whether the majority of the people usually involved in these awards read enough YA/MG to have separate categories at all…)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only read two novels off the list (Gideon and 10000 Doors), but all the others have been on my TBR, I have Middlegame on my Kindle, and I just bought A Memory Called Empire and The City in the Middle of the Night off BookOutlet, so I’m wondering if this should be the year I actually read all the Hugo nominees so I can have an Opinion.

    Silvia Moreno-Garcia deserves so much more recognition than she gets tbh. I forget if you’ve read The Beautiful Ones? It’s such a gorgeous book. And I just read Untamed Shore and loved it, and of course Gods of Jade and Shadow was excellent (even if it was personally not my fave because I dislike journey narratives). I’m super excited to read Mexican Gothic and I really need to go back and read her vampire novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m biased because of what I think of this year’s line-up, but yes, I think that’s a great idea and I would love to know what you think. I want all the opinions!

      I haven’t – I’ve read her vampire book and Gods of Jade and Shadows and really liked both (and tried Untamed Shore but it didn’t work). I don’t know if I’d like TBO, though, because that kind of historical fantasy isn’t really a genre I get along with.

      Liked by 1 person

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