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?


Hugo Finalists: Thoughts

A few weeks ago, the 2019 Hugo finalists were revealed, and in this post I’m going to talk about what I think of them – at least, of the categories I have some experience with, so novels, novellas, novelettes and short stories.

And to all of those who still say that they refuse to read adult SFF because “it’s all cis white men”: in the novel and novella categories, there isn’t even one.

Note: a draft of this post went up at 4 AM a few days ago because of a scheduling mistake. I took it down, but not immediately (…I was sleeping), so some of you already saw parts of this post. Here’s the complete thing.

Best Novel

  • The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal – not interested
  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers – not interested
  • Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee – read, ★★★★★ (review)
  • Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente – read, ★★★★★ (review)
  • Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik – read, ★★★★★ (review)
  • Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse – to read

I like this line-up! More than I liked its Nebula counterpart, in which I only read and liked two of the books in the list and hated one. Here, there’s nothing I hate – even though I’m pretty sure I would dislike the Becky Chambers one for the same reasons I disliked The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet if I read it – and there are three books that were on my “favorites of 2018” list, including my favorite book of the year, Revenant Gun.

I have to say that I would have liked to see C.L. Polk’s Witchmark, one of the Nebula nominees, there, or Nicky Drayden’s Temper (why does she never get nominated for anything major? Her novels are amazingly weird).

I also find it very interesting how this year the fantasy vs. sci-fi ratio is skewed, with only one high fantasy book, and I agree: 2018 was a mostly mediocre year for my adult high fantasy reading too.

Predicted winner: The Calculating Stars
What I want to see win: Revenant Gun

Best Novella

  • Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells – read, ★★★★★ (review)
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire – read, ★★★★ (review)
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor – not interested
  • The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark – read, ★★★★★ (review)
  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson – not interested
  • The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard – read, ★★★★★ (review)

I love this one! It has all my 2018 favorites in it. I’m personally rooting for The Tea Master and the Detective and The Black God’s Drums, I thought they were the best ones, but I really liked Artificial Condition (the best in the Murderbot series in my opinion) and Beneath the Sugar Sky too.

I haven’t read the other two, but as I haven’t liked the first two Binti novellas and as I have read three short stories by Kelly Robson and thought they were mediocre at best (I outright hated the Nebula-winning A Human Stain, one of the worst things I’ve ever read), I don’t think I’d like them, so I’m not reading them.

Predicted winner: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
What I want to see win: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Best Novelette

  • If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho – read, ★★★★★
  • The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections, by Tina Connolly – read, ★★★★★
  • Nine Last Days on Planet Earth, by Daryl Gregory – read, ★★
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander – read, ★★★★
  • The Thing About Ghost Stories, by Naomi Kritzer – read, ★★★★
  • When We Were Starless, by Simone Heller – DNF

I like this list too! However, I also see that it’s very white and I don’t feel like that represents the field at all.

Anyway: I read/tried reading all of these, and my favorite one was definitely Zen Cho’s If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, a cute, funny and somewhat bittersweet f/f story about an imugi and the woman who falls in love with it; but I loved Tina Connolly’s novelette about resistance through magical pastries as well.

I didn’t much care about Daryl Gregory’s, even though “tree apocalypse with gays” sounded interesting; The Only Harmless Great Thing was really well-written but not something I felt strongly about, apart from one quote. This line-up also has the first Naomi Kritzer story I actually felt something about (finally!) and a story I DNFed: fantasy writers usually get this, but I’ve noticed that many adult sci-fi authors don’t understand that it doesn’t make sense to cram a novel’s worth of worldbuilding in so few pages. When We Were Starless was a particularly bad case of that.

Predicted winner: The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander
What I want to see win: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho

Complete reviews of some of these novelettes will be in my upcoming “short fiction reviews” post

Best Short Story

  • The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker – read, no rating
  • The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher – read, ★★★
  • The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark – read, ★★★★
  • STET by Sarah Gailey – read, ★
  • The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander –  DNF
  • A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow – read,

The only line-up I don’t like. As you can see, there are no five stars in here, and it’s also very white and repetitive (two of the authors here were also in other categories). There’s even a DNF because I didn’t manage to get into the writing style (in a short story!)

But that’s not what I don’t like about it. What I don’t like about it the most is that I rarely hate short stories, and this list managed to have two short stories I hated in it.

I won’t talk about why I was disgusted by STET in this post, as I have written a whole rant review already in my upcoming post about recently read short fiction, but I will say that I need to remember to never read anything by Sarah Gailey again because she never gets it right for me. The other story I hated, A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies, is one I struggled with for reasons that I don’t really know how to explain. It’s that kind of… tone that I can’t stand. Also, for unrelated reasons, I would like to see a black short fiction reviewers’ opinion on it, since I was unsure about some things but they’re not my lane. (Anyway, Do Not Look Back, My Lion by Alix E. Harrow is a much better story, I recommend that one instead.)

The other short stories were mostly fine, but I don’t really get what about them was Hugo-worthy.

Predicted winner: A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow
What I want to see win: The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark

Complete reviews of some of these short stories will be in my upcoming “short fiction reviews” post

Also: The Machineries of Empire has been nominated for best series! It’s probably not going to win, but that’s a notable thing anyway.

Have you read any of these? What do you think of them?