Monday, April 8, 2019

Adri and Joe Talk About Books: 2019 Hugo Awards Finalists

Joe: Hey! The Hugo Award finalists have been announced. Where would you like to start?

Adri: Well, I’d like to start by marching around the room, banging a pan and chanting “Nerds are going to the Hugos” to the tune of Seven Nation Army. But I feel like our integrity as a finalist is dependent on me giving you a bit more than that, so!

Joe: Yeah, maybe that’s not the most dignified response to Nerds of a Feather making the Hugo ballot. But let’s just go with it as written that our hearts are filled with banging pans and a pastiche of The White Stripes.

Excluding the fact that we’re on the ballot, what immediately jumps out at you?

Adri: My reactions on watching the announcement were a combination of delighted nodding and thinking to myself “hmm, I don’t have a whole lot I need to read this summer”. There’s a lot of usual suspects across the fiction categories and while there’s very little I’m not excited to see recognised, it does all feel slightly… safe?

Joe: Safe is an interesting word. I didn’t read quite as much new stuff as I had wanted last year, but I think I did a solid job staying up on most of the major novels of the year.

I wonder if it is a function of what the Hugo Awards are and how they work - it’s difficult to be truly daring when building a broader consensus for a final ballot. Isaac Fellman’s The Breath of the Sun was an excellent novel and would have been a daring choice, but that might be easier to get through with a jury. I would have liked to have see Fellman recognized for the Campbell.

Adri: Yes, that’s true - and it’s worth bearing in mind that this position in which brilliant, diverse nominees get recognised as a matter of course in the Hugo ballot is one which was hard won and defended only recently. I feel similarly about the nominees in novella - Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones would have been great to see here, but tricky to see getting the consensus vote. But then, I don’t want to take away from any of the six great nominees who are on the ballot.

Joe: We might be a little bit spoiled for excellence.

Adri: So, new excellence: FIYAH getting a nod for semiprozine is very exciting, and while it’s bittersweet to have recognition for Shimmer in its final year, I’m looking forward to having a reason to dig into their backlist (too late, I know!) Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya universe has been a fixture on my series nominations for the last three years on the strength of the stories from it that I have read, and now that it’s a finalist I’m really looking forward to tracking down the rest (hopefully the packet will give me a hand in that regard). And Rebecca Kuang’s position on the Campbell Ballot for The Poppy War is extremely well-deserved.

Joe: Semiprozine is a super exciting category this year. I had been hoping to see both FIYAH and Fireside break through and the final tip of the hat to Shimmer is nice to see. Years and years ago I had applied to be one of Shimmer’s slush readers. I didn’t get it, and that’s probably for the best, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Shimmer even though I haven’t been reading them as much as I should have.

Xuya seems like one of the bigger surprises is Best Series given that it is built on shorter fiction and some novellas. de Bodard is well known, but I didn’t know if Xuya had the reach to make it. I’m with you, though. I’m hoping the Voter Packet will give us On a Red Station Drifting and The Citadel of Weeping Pearls.

I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised, but has five of the six finalists for Novella, much as it did last year (and four of the six the year before that). It has similarly dominated this same category for the Nebula Awards.

Adri: Not only that, but there are three sequels in the category, all from previous winning series (on a side note, I'm fascinated to see how the three Murderbot novellas stacked up against each other in the longlist, as I'd put money on both Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy being in the mix). That's an observation rather than a complaint, but it certainly goes to show there are some firm favourites out there. On the subject of, they also published three out of six novelette works: The Only Harmless Great Thing, which was published in the novella line but just falls short of category length, and The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections and Nine Last Days on Planet Earth, which were both published online.

Do any categories stand out as particularly had to choose in (I mean, the right answer is ”all of them”, but you know what I mean)?

Joe: All of them, of course, but I think deciding on the Campbell for Best New Writer this year will be extra difficult even though four of the finalists were also on the ballot last year and I’ve read some / most / all of their work over the course of last year’s Hugo reading.

I’ve been thinking about reading S.A. Chakraborty this year anyway, so I’ll take the nudge to read City of Brass sooner rather than later. You mentioned R.F. Kuang earlier and I share your excitement to see her on the ballot. The Poppy War was an exceptional debut. As an aside and not that it really matters, but is Kuang the youngest Campbell Award finalist?

Adri: Good question, and one that I will definitely do more than zero minutes of research on before we go to publication (narrator: she did, but it is still a mystery). I have to say, while it's nice to see the Campbell list full of the same level of excellence as last year, it's a little bizarre that that’s because it’s literally filled with the same excellence as last year. Surely there are some debut authors who bring the same degree of awesomeness as last year's returnees? Again, this is one where I'll be interested to see the longlist.

Joe: Equally interesting, Jeannette Ng and Rivers Solomon didn’t have new work published in 2018. Katherine Arden didn’t either, but was a finalist on the back of two 2017 novels, and did publish a third in January 2019 (which doesn’t count, but might have kept her name fresh in memory). Prasad had a single story last year in Uncanny. They are all excellent, but it does feel a little lazy. I’d have to do some research, but it also felt unusual to have had as many first year eligible finalists last year. Of course, next year will give us an almost entirely new lineup of finalists just due to attrition.

Adri: Jeanette Ng did have at least one 2018 short story that I know of, in David Thomas Moore’s Not So Stories anthology, but it wasn’t at the same notability as Under the Pendulum Sun. I know I’m quite bad at finding and signal boosting Campbell-eligible authors, so that’s probably a factor in seeing the same names again in their second year. One that I did nominate was Y.M. Pang, who wrote “The Palace of the Silver Dragon” for Strange Horizons, which I liked a lot.

While we’re on the subject of missed opportunities: despite having several on my ballot and in our longlist, it’s another year where Booktube - the thriving community of Youtube book reviewers - has failed to place in the Fancast category. There’s some amazing stuff going on in that sphere - Claire Rousseau, Kalanadi and Books and Pieces are all channels to watch - and I have to keep hoping that one year that’ll be recognised to the same degree as the equally interesting podcasters who fill this category.

Joe: I won’t be surprised if the first Booktubers break through in the next couple of years. I remember how long and difficult of a road it was for blogs to make it for fanzine and while I don’t think Booktube has as uphill of a road against an entrenched institution, it is battling some of the same forces as we are in fanzine.

This is only the eighth year of Fancast as a category and there is already a strong tradition of nominating many of the same podcasts (which are all excellent) each year - likely because the Worldcon members who take the time to nominate are mostly listening to the same podcasts and not enough of them are watching Booktubes. To be fair, I’m not.

Adri: You’re right. Of all the categories, I keep getting drawn to short story as a counterexample to the notes of repetition - because, without getting too needlessly deep, it’s one which feels like the most promising sign of what the Hugos, and this SFF community, are engaged by. All the stories here contain, in some way, a subversion of who and what stories get to be about: who gets to control the narrative, and what power does that really give them? Most are stories which stretch the boundaries of what stories can be - especially our mutual favourite, "STET" - and while the convergence is on a relatively small number of beloved authors, the fact that stories which broaden stories is what we collectively alight on is a promising sign of openness to change.

Joe: That’s an interesting point regarding Short Story, because there is a sense of repetition in who gets nominated but the type of nominated story continues to evolve. Of course, you’ll never see me complain about too much Sarah Pinsker on the ballot. Pinsker is truly the best.

Related Work continues to be a fascinating category. Jo Walton’s Informal History of the Hugos is the exact sort of navel gazing we so love do engage in. That’s not snark, by the way, I love some genre navel gazing and Related Work is the perfect category for it. I remember when Walton first published those articles on and eagerly followed along.

There’s the traditional Ursula K. Le Guin nomination, Alec Nevala-Lee’s well regarded biography, and three other very interesting and completely different finalists: Archive Of Our Own, The Mexicanx Initiative Experience, and The Hobbit Duology documentary which I have never heard of.

Adri: Archive of our Own (“AO3” to its friends) is a pretty intimidating prospect to put into context as a single “Related Work” nominee, but I do love that it’s up there after some pretty dedicated advocacy. Transformative fanwork has always been a cornerstone of fandom in general, but it’s generally been sidelined - no doubt because it’s disproportionately women who tend to be involved in transformative stuff. AO3 is a site that does so much more than just provide a home for all those extra scenes and alternative universes you never knew you needed from your favourite characters - they’ve gone above and beyond to develop functionality of that platform, as well as being instrumental in cementing the validity and advocating for the legal and creative space for fanwriters to work in. As I’ve already read the novel, novella and Campbell works this year, I guess that means I have no excuse not to go on a deep dive into fanfic this summer...

Joe: Moreso than other years, I’m not sure how to compare the Related Work finalists for purposes of voting. AO3 absolutely deserves its recognition, but how does it compare to an accomplished biography, a beloved essay series, a documentary, a major initiative at last year’s Worldcon, and a series of conversations with Ursula K Le Guin?

Adri: If nothing else, those sorts of decisions are really hard to then write sensible, defensible blog posts about afterwards… so good luck with that.

Given our collective love of all the words, we’ve spent surprisingly little time talking about the category at the top of the ballot - Best Novel. I noted in our earlier conversation that I wasn’t expecting much overlap between my ballot and the finalists, and in the end just one thing I nominated made it - Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun, the strong end to the Machineries of Empire series. The finalists have collectively had a lot of love from our team, though, and there’s not one that I’m sorry to see here: I’m particularly happy that Space Opera lived up to our predictions as “a Hugo book”, and it’s nice to see Rebecca Roanhorse’s urban fantasy break in despite the lack of traditional recognition for that subgenre.

Joe: You think I write sensible, defensible blog posts? I’m touched.

Three of the novels I had nominated made the final ballot: The Calculating Stars, Spinning Silver, and Trail of Lightning. All are absolutely wonderful, though I’m not sure we should read too much into what Roanhorse making the ballot says about urban fantasy and how it might be accepted by Hugo nominators in the future. Roanhorse tapped into the genre zeitgeist in a stunning way with “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” and I think that got her a lot of readers who might have otherwise overlooked Trail of Lightning if it was pushed as “just” an urban fantasy novel. It’s not “just” anything, but that lack of traditional recognition exists and will likely continue to exist.

We were also right that Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City was more of a Nebula novel than a Hugo novel. I finally read it after our last conversation and it is excellent. It might have fought for a spot on my Hugo ballot if we weren’t past the deadline, but having read the novel, it still feels like a Nebula novel.

What I’m more surprised by is the lack of Kim Stanley Robinson with Red Moon. There’s nothing I would really push off the ballot, but I’m very curious to see how close it got and what would have missed out with just a couple of ballots swinging another way.

Adri: The lack of both Kim Stanley Robinson and John Scalzi surprised me, as I was expecting at least one of the two based on past performance. Scalzi’s books were both sequels to previously Hugo-nominated works, but perhaps they split the vote between them? I’m not a big KSR fan, so I can’t say I’ve been following the conversation around Red Moon, but it seems to have been at least as prominent as New York 2312.

Joe: The buzz on Red Moon seemed slightly less than that for New York 2312, but seemed enough to garner a nomination. KSR tends to write books beloved by enough of the Hugo nominating crowd that he seemed like a semi-lock for the 4th through 6th spot. I’m not as surprised by the lack of Scalzi, though, for no good reason other than this didn’t feel like the year.

Adri: Best Series also feels like an interesting category this year, with two overlaps from best novel (Wayfarers and Machineries of Empire) and one returnee in October Daye. It also feels like it reflects the diversity of the ballot as a whole this year, whereas the previous two years it has felt disproportionately white and male compared to what’s being nominated elsewhere. And, of course, now there’s no Lois McMaster Bujold to hand the trophy over to, it’s going to be a particularly interesting category to watch. I’m still enjoying watching this one develop although I’m not sure if it’s at full potential yet (or even what that would look like)?

Joe: The return of October Daye is one of the more interesting things about the category. Seanan McGuire is super popular (we both love her stuff) and even though I might have appreciated another year in between Toby Daye getting back on the ballot, it’s an opportunity to press on with her series.

I’m not sure Series has been as male as you think, at worst it has been a 50/50 split. White? Absolutely.

I’m with you on watching to see where the category goes in the future. It’s the sort of place you’d almost expect to see The Dresden Files pop up (speaking of white / male) because an individual novel may not be the best, but the series as a whole is beloved.

That said, I’m excited to see Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle pick up a nomination.

Adri: After getting into the series based on its nomination in 2017, I love October Daye so much that I 1) embarrassed myself by gushing to the sales assistant at length about the series when I discovered Night and Silence on the shelves at my local bookshop earlier than expected and 2) cried two days ago when learning what Seanan McGuire’s new Patreon story was about. That’s the kind of discovery that is the best thing about the Hugos for me, and while I have fewer opportunities to have that experience this year, I have to take comfort in the fact that it’s because of the excellent community I’ve become part of around the Hugos that I’ve already read so much of the work being recognised, and also that those fab titles are going to provide that experience to someone else in the Lucky 10,000.

Joe: If it isn’t too spoilery, what’s Seanan’s new Patreon story about?

Adri: Tybalt leaves London. I haven’t even read it yet but I’m sure it’s going to hurt in the best way.

Joe: I plan to read a lot more October Daye this summer, so that’ll probably mean more to me later.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on Art Book (new category alert!), but I think it’s very interesting that the Illustrated Edition of The Books of Earthsea is on the ballot. I know there is a substantial amount of new art, but I don’t think I’d have ever considered it an “Art Book” and I’m not sure it’s a fair use of the category.

Adri: Yes, it’s a weird one. I have to admit, I didn’t engage with the Art Book categories at nomination stage and while there’s some interesting stuff on there (I backed Julie Dillon’s Kickstarter for her art book although I only went for art prints for the physical reward) I suspect it’s going to be blank on my final ballot too. I’m keen to engage more heavily in the Semiprozine and Fancast categories this year than I have previously, and even without lots of novel reading, I don’t think I’m going to have the energy for giving those titles the full attention they deserve to judge.

Joe: Is there anything you’d like to touch on before we start wrapping this up? Personally and selfishly, I’m very curious how close we we able to get Feminist Futures to the Related Work ballot. I’m mildly disappointed that it didn’t get on, but I knew it was always a long shot. I’m so proud of the work that everyone did on it, and I would have loved to have had the opportunity for you and the other writers to get some of that sweet, sweet Hugo recognition.

Adri: I’m not saying that wouldn’t have been nice, but despite not having my name up on the ballot, I’m absolutely overjoyed at the recognition for Nerds of a Feather this year (especially as I’m not a jaded third-timer like some of you!) and very grateful for the recognition our little corner of the internet has got, in such fantastic company, even if total Nerd domination may still be a pipe dream...

I feel like we’ve covered a lot, but obviously it would be remiss of me not to mention that Tess of the Road is up for Lodestar - like last year, my biggest lock-in of the entire ballot is in this category (last year it was In Other Lands) and while, yes, the other things are fine and well and good, I have a lot of hopes riding on this lovely book.

Joe: I’m so happy to see Quick Sip Reviews on the ballot for fanzine. Charles was a finalist last year for Fan Writer and made it in that category again this year, but he puts in so much work and is such a positive part of the community that I am just thrilled for the extra recognition he is getting.

Charles had been a member of the flock here at Nerds of a Feather for a number of years, all the while running Quick Sip Reviews, and yeah - I’m just so happy for him.

Adri: Yes! I could spend another ten thousand words gushing about all the wonderful people recognised here - and about thirty thousand on those who aren’t, but should be - but maybe that’s a cue for us to wrap up and get on with some reading instead...

Joe: I think that’s probably a good idea. I’m done with Novel and Novella, but there’s still plenty to catch up on.

Happy reading!


Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine (2017-2019). Minnesotan.

Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke.