2019 Hugo Nominations Post – Impressions, Surprises, Disappointments

First of all – Congrats to all the nominees! Fandom is a diverse bunch with a wide range of tastes, and as usual the variety and quality of the nominated works is exemplary.

Some quick thoughts before we move on to the categories – one of the things I like about Worldcon’s itinerant ways is that local heroes sometimes find their way onto the ballot. In this case, Irish author Peadar O’Guilin was nominated for his YA novel The Invasion. I expected a larger contingent of UK folks to make the ballot, considering the proximity to Dublin and the likelihood of more attending and supporting members from England and Scotland. Zen Cho, Jeanette Ng and Rivers Solomon are there, though all three authors have a strong fan base on both sides of the pond. Gollancz editor Gillian Redfearn likely received a boost from UK voters, as non-American editors rarely make the cut.

I’m not going to labor through every category on the ballot. Fiction is the main thrust of this blog, so I will stick to the fiction categories.

The opinions expressed below are not intended to divide the nominees up into things that “deserve” to be there and things that don’t. Every work/person on the ballot deserves to be there because their fans were passionate enough to make it happen. Fans are an opinionated bunch: we think some things are better than other things and we like to argue about it. That’s what I’m doing here.

Best Novel

Impressions

Rev Gun 2Only one novel from my nominating ballot made the final ballot: Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee. You can probably guess which work I’m going to rank at the top, and I genuinely hope it wins. The trilogy has now scored a Hugo nom hat trick and the other two recent series to do this – Leckie’s Radch novels and Jemisin’s Broken Earth – have at least one win each to their credit (three in Jemisin’s case). I think the Machineries of Empire deserves to be in such company.

Spinning Silver was on my initial ballot longlist but didn’t quite get my vote. It will place on my final ballot, for sure. Trail of Lightning was a terrific debut novel that has cemented Rebecca Roanhorse’s ascension to the SFF A-list. It will place as well.

The other three novels did not light my fire, but all three authors have very loyal and passionate fan bases and I expected them to be serious contenders. The Calculating Stars is a high quality work: expert plotting, solid characters, good sciencey sci-fi action. But I felt the way I feel when I see one of those “prestige” films that gum up the Oscar nominations every year. Much to admire, but more medicinal than inspiring. Becky Chambers confounds me because if you were to describe her novels to me in precise detail they would sound exactly like everything I could ever want from science fiction, but when I actually read them they just don’t do it for me. Record of a Spaceborn Few did not change my mind. On the other hand, Catherynne Valente is an author I routinely enjoy, but the Douglas Adams-esque Space Opera probably suffered from the fact that I list Douglas Adams as one of the most overrated writers in SF history.

Surprises

head on 3The distinct lack of Scalzi. He had two novels published last year, Head On and The Consuming Fire. Neither made my nominating ballot, but both were very good and considering his Hugo track record the odds were in his favor. Perhaps either or both fell just short, or maybe the Scalzi loyalists split their vote between the two. It will be interesting to see if or where they longlisted on the final report.

Disappointments

I really wanted The Poppy War and/or Witchmark to get a nod, and I thought at least one of them stood a good chance. Both novels were powerful and thrilling and turned genre tropes upside down in unique ways. It’s great to see R.F. Kuang get shortlisted for the Campbell, but I was holding out hope for the Big One.

My Ballot

The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang

Revenant Gun, Yoon Ha Lee

Noumenon Infinity, Marina J. Lostetter

Witchmark, C.L. Polk

Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar

Best Novella

Impressions

tea master 2None of this year’s novella nominees was on my nominating ballot, but all of them were works I enjoyed immensely. I expected Tor.com to run the table like they did last year. Their novella game is strong and their marketing machine is without equal.

Sequels and series entries were popular this year. Artificial Condition was my favorite of the Murderbot sequels so I’m happy it’s the one that got the nod. I think I may have liked Beneath the Sugar Sky even more than Every Heart a DoorwayBinti: The Night Masquerade was a satisfying conclusion to an outstanding trilogy.

As far as my favorite among the six nominees, I’m torn between Bodard’s elegant Xuya tale The Tea Master and the Detective and the two remaining works. The Black God’s Drums and Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach are singular and challenging stories that I may have to re-read before I make a final decision.

Surprises

I fully expected Carolyn Ives Gilman’s “Umbernight” to break through the Tor.com blockade. Gilman has a strong base of Hugo voters, most recently scoring a nod in 2017 for her novelette “Touring with the Alien”. And it was a phenomenal story.

Disappointments

FFR2One in particular. Umbernight Umbernight Umbernight. It was my favorite thing made by a human last year. I really wanted it to shortlist and win and now my heart is crushed and broken. Literally nothing else I picked could have made the ballot and I would have been overjoyed by this one thing.

The lack of Peter Watts’ The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a mild disappointment. It was probably a long shot. Watts most recent nomination was in 2011 for the short story “The Things”, so it’s possible he’s not as favored with the current crop of voters as he used to be. Also, it was in the word count fuzzy zone where the administrators could have moved its votes to either the novel or novella category at their discretion, and that may have affected its final tally.

My Ballot

“Umbernight”, Carolyn Ives Gilman

“We Ragged Few”, Kate Alice Marshall

“The Emotionless, In Love”, Jason Sanford

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Peter Watts

Best Novelette

Impressions

nine last 2Score! Daryl Gregory’s “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” was one of my Desert Island Picks in my Epic Three Part Recommended Reading List. I was disappointed when it missed out on the Nebula, but for some reason I still had faith in its Hugo chances and yay! This almost-but-doesn’t-quite make up for the Umbernight snub.

The other five nominees are a solid bunch, though Gregory’s story is the only one of the six I nominated. “The Thing About Ghost Stories” may only be my third favorite Naomi Kritzer story published last year, but it’s still excellent in all the ways that make her writing special: it’s probing and whip-smart, wickedly funny and deeply felt. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” and “When We Were Starless” are both good works. I love Brooke Bolander’s prose. I wasn’t as excited about The Only Harmless Great Thing as many others were, but her writing can rip through you like a serrated knife so she always gets my attention.

It’s been a few years since there was a nominated work I hadn’t already read, but that’s true of “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”. I’m a huge fan of Zen Cho’s Sorcerer Royal novels so I’m thrilled to have it on my plate.

Surprises

I was surprised when “When We Were Starless” grabbed a Sturgeon nod earlier this year, and surprised again now that it listed for the Hugo. Looks like I may be the only person surprised by this. I appreciated it on my first read but it didn’t strike me as award-caliber stuff. Now it’s number one on my “must re-read” list. It’s possible I missed out on its greatness the first time and a revisit will yield a different response.

Disappointments

Several, though Will McIntosh’s “What Is Eve?” was one I was holding out hope for. It’s so damn smart and hilarious and incisive about the triumphs and drawbacks of being one of the smart kids. Again, it was probably a longshot, and it may be one of those things that spoke to my sensibilities more than anyone else’s.

My Ballot

“Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”, Daryl Gregory

“Fleeing Oslyge”, Sally Gwylan

“The Privilege of the Happy Ending”, Kij Johnson

“What Is Eve?” Will McIntosh

“The Sweetness of Honey and Rot”, A. Merc Rustad

Best Short Story

Impressions

fireside 52-2Of all the fiction categories this might be the hardest one to handicap. The vote tends to spread thin among a wide number of works and the results are often a complete surprise to everyone.

When I started working on my nominating ballot I had twenty-four stories to narrow down to five. None of my final five made the shortlist, and only one of the initial twenty-four did: P. Djèlí Clark’s “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”. That and Sarah Bailey’s “STET” are great examples of the boundary pushing, formally innovative fiction that Fireside publishes. I’m really glad to see both stories there. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) and “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander are fun stories from two Hugo fan favorites. Alex E. Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” has been one of the most talked about stories of the year since its publication so I’m not surprised to see it here. I’m a huge Sarah Pinsker fan, but “The Court Magician” didn’t make much of an impression on me when it first appeared last January. Now that it has both Hugo and Nebula nods under its belt it may be another story ripe for revisiting.

My favorite here is “Secret Lives”. It’s a shoe-in for the top slot on my final ballot, and I will have to ponder where to place the other five.

Surprises

With a category this hard to predict, there’s not much room for surprise. There were a lot of quality short stories this year, with the favorites maybe being Clark’s and Harrow’s stories and possibly Pinsker’s. The rest were a craps shoot.

Disappointments

Twenty-three of them, to be exact. My two favorite short stories – Nibedita Sen’s “Leviathan Sings to Me In the Deep” and James Beamon’s “A Song of Home, the Organ Grinds” – both failed to make the cut. “Leviathan” is a horror story, and for one of those to score a Hugo nod is the exception not the rule. Beamon’s military steampunk adventure seems to be more in the Hugo wheelhouse – I thought it had a lot of the same appeal as Caroline M. Yoachim’s “Carnival Nine”, but I guess it just wasn’t as popular as I hoped it would be.

Vanessa Fogg’s “Traces of Us” was another longshot I was really rooting for. I fell in love with it right away and that never changed after multiple re-reads. Hugo voters aren’t all that familiar with Fogg, possibly because she publishes in venues – GigaNotoSaurus, Kaleidotrope, The Future Fire – that are off the beaten path. Her most recent story, “The Message“, is my reigning favorite of 2019 so far, so I hope next year’s voters have a chance to read it.

My Ballot

“A Song of Home, The Organ Grinds”, James Beamon

“Traces of Us”, Vanessa Fogg

“Field Biology of the Wee Fairies”, Naomi Kritzer

“Sour Milk Girls”, Erin Roberts

“Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep”, Nibedita Sen

My Stats

Not good. I did not have my finger on the pulse this year. Only two of my picks – one novel and one novelette – were nominated. This is a far cry from last year, when I had two novels, two novellas, three novelettes, and two short stories on the final ballot.

The Locus finalists are a few weeks away from being announced, and since they do ten per category I like my odds a little more. I’ll check back in then.

 

4 thoughts on “2019 Hugo Nominations Post – Impressions, Surprises, Disappointments

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