2020 Hugo Nominations – Impressions, Surprises, Disappointments

Here we are again with my second annual post on the final Hugo ballot! First of all – Congrats to all the nominees! Of course, as nominators, things only rarely go the way we hope, but that doesn’t mean every single work and human on this list isn’t well-deserving of the honor (except Rise of Skywalker – honestly, what a complete turd pile of movie that was). So, on to my personal reactions.

Best Novel

The Nominees:

The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
Middlegame, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)

My Ballot:

The Light Brigade, Kameron Hurley (Gallery/Saga Press)
Tiamat’s Wrath, James S.A. Corey (Orbit)
A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor)
Edges, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press)

Impressions

It’s impossible to look at this list of nominees and not point out that this is the first time the category is made up entirely of novels written by women. This should, of course be contrasted with the fact that the best novel category has fielded a male-only slate of nominees 21 times in the award’s history, as recently as 2009. For those keeping score, an all-woman list needs to happen at least 20 more times for the playing field to be equalized.

I should also point out that the six novels on the list are all quite excellent: unique, diverse, exciting, entertaining and compelling. Overall, a phenomenal group of choices for ConZealand voters to pick from.

Some other firsts:

Though she has been nominated 4 times as Mira Grant, this is the first time Seanan McGuire has been nominated in this category under her own name. I personally feel that Middlegame is her best work under any name, so I’m pleased to see it honored here.

With the additional exception of Anders, who was also nominated for  All the Birds in the Sky in 2017, all the other nominees are Best Novel first-timers. Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion just missed the cut a couple of years ago. As with McGuire’s, I think The Light Brigade is her best-to-date and I’m very excited about the nomination.

The other three first timers – Martine, Muir and Harrow – also happen to be their authors’ debut efforts. Quite a feat for each of them!

Surprises

Maybe Middlegame a little – though it shouldn’t be a surprise considering how popular McGuire is with Hugo voters. Same with Hurley. The Light Brigade is easily my favorite of the bunch, and Hurley has gotten some love from Hugo voters in the past. Perhaps due to my own overwhelming preference for it, I’ve felt that it hasn’t received nearly the attention it deserves. I thought it was on the bubble, so I’m very mildly surprised it got through.

Disappointments

Tiamat’s Wrath, obviously. As much as I’m a fan of The Expanse I haven’t nominated every book – previously, only Abaddon’s Gate and Nemesis Games have made my ballot. I thought this one was especially deserving, possibly the best in the series.

Certainly I was rooting for Edges, too, but its chances were so low it’s hard to classify it as a disappointment. Nagata has her fans among the Hugo crowd so there was definitely a chance, but it was still the longest of long shots. Indie-pubs don’t get as much attention and have never had any traction with Hugo voters. I only put it on the ballot because it was among the most thrilling and imaginative sci-fi novels I’ve read in recent years, and I felt it deserved to be there.

My fave – The Light Brigade, obviously. Fingers crossed.

If I were a betting man – City in the Middle of the Night. One cannot underestimate Anders’ sway with the Hugo crowd. Her debut All the Birds in the Sky came very close to overtaking The Obelisk Gate in 2017, only dropping a smidge behind it on the 6th pass:

2020-04-07 (2)

In a year that, for now, appears to have no clear favorite, I’ll go with the horse that lost her last race by a hair’s breadth.

This is the first time in my personal voting history that more than one of my picks made the final tally, so I hope I’m wrong and one of them takes home the rocket!

Best Novella

The Nominees:

To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager; Hodder & Stoughton)
“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)
In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga)

My Ballot:

“New Atlantis”, Lavie Tidhar (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May/June 2019)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com)

Impressions

Excellent work in this category, and a laudably diverse list to boot. Happy to see old pro Ted Chiang – whose first Hugo nomination dates back nearly 30 years to 1991 – nestled among the more recent Hugo luminaries. Seanan McGuire would otherwise be the godparent of this group: her first nomination/win was for the Not-a-Hugo formerly known as the Campbell, all the way back in 2010, which seems like an eon ago in Hugo time.

Tor.com has dominated this category so thoroughly for the last several cycles. I like seeing other publishers get a slice of the pie.

Surprises

None. Four of the nominees in this category also scored Nebula nods, and the other two – McGuire and Chambers – are well-established Hugo favorites.

Disappoinments

Next to Clark’s story, “New Atlantis” was my favorite of the year in this category. Standalone novellas have been the trend for the last few years, only a handful of magazine-published entries have made the cut recently. This year there were none.

My fave – The Haunting of Tram Car 015, obviously.

If I were a betting man – This is How You Lose the Time War. I don’t even think it’ll be close.

Best Novelette

The Nominees:

“For He Can Creep”, Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com 7/10/19)
“Omphalos”, Ted Chiang (Exhalation)
“Away with the Wolves”, Sarah Gailey (Uncanny 9-10/19)
“Emergency Skin”, N.K. Jemisin (Forward)
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
“The Archronology of Love”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)

My ballot:

“By the Warmth of Their Calculus”, Tobias S. Buckell (Mission Critical; Solaris)
“Sacrid’s Pod”, Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 112, September 2019)
“For He Can Creep” Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com July 10, 2019)

Impressions

Chiang scoring dual nominations is further evidence that he is one of the true SFF luminaries of our time. Very few authors inspire this level of devotion among multiple generations of fans. It is especially impressive for someone whose output is so sparse; he has published only 17 stories in 30 years time, nine of them nominated for Hugos (and there would have been a tenth had he not turned it down for personal reasons).

Surprises

Gailey is no stranger to Hugo nods, but I’m a little surprised to see this particular story here. It’s perfectly fine, but didn’t make that much of an impression on me when I first read it. I am looking forward to revisiting it.

Considering she’s the only Hugo newbie of the bunch, one might classify Carroll’s nomination as a surprise, though after also scoring a Nebula nomination it’s hard to call it that.

Disappointments

I always thought the Castro story was a longshot, but I was really pulling for Buckell to make the list. “By the Warmth of Their Calculus” has all the makings of a modern day classic, and also serves as a welcome rejoinder to Tom Godwin’s excessively cynical Golden-age classic “The Cold Equations”.

My fave: “For He Can Creep”, obviously.

If I were a betting man: This category is a tough one, but I’d put my money on Carroll ftw.

Best Short Story

The Nominees:

“Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19)
“As the Last I May Know”, S.L. Huang (Tor.com 10/23/19)
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island”, Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon (Tor.com 7/24/19)
“A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)

My Ballot:

“Such Thoughts are Unproductive”, Rebecca Campbell (Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 156, December 2019)
“The Message”, Vanessa Fogg (The Future Fire 2019.48)
“The Robots of Eden”, Anil Menon (New Suns; Solaris)
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, Rivers Solomon (Tor.com July 24, 2019)
“A Bird, a Song, a Revolution”, Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed Magazine Issue 112, September 2019)

Impressions

Voting in this category usually finds the widest dispersion among the largest number of works, so it’s hard to be either surprised or disappointed by any of the results. That said…

Surprises

I’m more surprised by what didn’t make it than what did. I really thought the Bolander story was a shoe-in. Shows how much I know.

Disappointments

Again, hard to gauge disappointment in this category. Along with Bolander, I thought “The Message” was a beautiful story and a very relevant one. I can probably count the number of Hugo voters who have even heard of The Future Fire on one hand, so really another longer than long shot there.

My fave – “Blood is Another Word for Hunger”, obviously. Honestly it’s so rare that any of my Short Story picks make the final list, for me it’s already a win.

If I were a betting man – High-concept stories usually grab the most attention from Hugo voters, so for me it’s a toss-up between Sen and Wilde.

Other Categories of Interest (to me, at least)

I only voted in two other categories:

Best Series, where enough of us Expanse fans got together to pull off a nod for the authors Corey. I also drop Cherryh’s Foreigner on my ballot every year, and every year I hang my head in despair.

The other was Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, where there were a few unexpected pleasantries. Us was the only one from my ballot to make it, but I’m happily surprised to see two streaming series – Russian Doll and Good Omens – grab nominations. I hope this trend continues. I also had Claire Denis’ High Life on my ballot, along with two uneven but commendable indie films, Fast Color and Starfish. Personally, I would like to see more films like these make the Hugo Ballot. Marvel and Star Wars are fun (usually) though they hardly represent the best that genre filmmaking has to offer. Yeah, I’m one of those snobs. Big studio franchises get their awards at the box office; Hugos should be for artistic merit. Don’t @ me.

That’s all for now. I look forward to perusing all the remaining works and people on the ballot before casting my final votes.

4 thoughts on “2020 Hugo Nominations – Impressions, Surprises, Disappointments

  1. I would have been very happy for High Life to get a Hugo nod and it was also on my ballot, but smaller indie films rarely make the ballot, especially if they’re up against some of the highest grossing films of all time.

    I also agree on Adam-Troy Castro, a good writer who somehow always passes just under the radar of Hugo voters. I had one of his stories on my ballot, though not the same one as you.

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    1. I do really wish the more serious sci-fi films would get wider attention from Hugo voters. Sadly the Nebula/Bradbury isn’t much better. As for Castro, he snagged a couple of nominations early in his career but I feel he’s so much better now than he was then. But I think that’s just the way the Hugos go; voters seem to go for the hot new writers over the old pros. There’s roughly a ten year period where a trendy writer gets almost automatic nods every year, then nothing. There’s only a handful of writers with long term Hugo staying power. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s just a feature of having a large body of voters spread across a wide selection of works – the shiny new thing gets the most attention.

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  2. Black marks to GR, for their continued shabby treatment of short fiction. Aside from their silly policy of not allowing individual entries for stories — not even award winners or nominees — the magazines themselves get only hit-or-miss listings. I just read “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”
    By: Shiv Ramdas in Strange Horizons, September 2019. No entry at GR!
    FWIW, I didn’t much care for the story, a grim revenge-fantasy from the bad old days of the British Raj. Which really was awful. But I don’t read SF/F for that! 3 stars from me, for the fine, imaginative writing. Then again….
    The content warnings are:
    This page contains:
    Animal cruelty/death
    Disregard for personal autonomy [!]
    Blood
    Body transformation [?]
    Child death
    Death/dying
    Murder
    Racism
    Spiders/insects [!]
    Suicide
    Violence/combat
    Vomit

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