Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Adri and Joe Talk About the 2019 Hugo Awards

The winners of the 2019 Hugo Awards were announced and we would like to offer a hearty congratulations to all of the winners. We've listed them at the bottom of this page and for those who don't quite remember who all was nominated (we were!), the previous link also includes the full list of nominees.

Joe: I know the idea is to actually talk about the Hugo Awards, and we will, but you went to Worldcon this year and (along with Phoebe Wagner) represented Nerds of a Feather at the Hugo Awards ceremony. Talk to me. How was it? Was it awesome?

Adri and Phoebe go to the Hugo Awards!
Adri: honestly I am still on a cloud about how awesome it was! I met so many cool folk, from our Phoebe to other fab reviewers and critics, to the crew of booksellers and publicists who make the whole literature thing happen to the actual names on my bookshelf! Apart from a few hiccups (many of which have been extensively documented on Twitter; I won't repeat them here) it was a brilliant experience for me from start to finish. I definitely feel lucky that I was in the right headspace to be able to take advantage as I know not everyone has the same reactions to crowds and strangers and packed schedules with high FOMO probabilities, but my overall feeling is overwhelmingly good.

Of course, the Hugo Ceremony itself was one of the big planned highlights of the weekend. Phoebe and I took representing duties very seriously though my mermaid glitter turned out to be pretty low key by Hugo fashion standards. Plus, getting to watch it all unfold right there was a huge change from usually not even being in the right timezone for the livestream. Of course, I was not too busy soaking in the atmosphere to form some Capital-O opinions!

Joe: That sounds absolutely delightful. I was able to attend last year in San Jose as part of a 3-4 day weekend vacation with my wife (and no kids!), but because of that I only did half of Sunday at Worldcon because the rest of my time was vacationing and touristing in San Francisco and in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park south of San Jose (which I highly recommend as being one of the most sublime experiences I’ve had).

Adri: I've been there too! Those were some good trees.

Joe: But let’s get to some of those opinions!

I know you and I disagreed on The Calculating Stars, but I was delighted to see it win. I think it’s a novel that will have legs in the genre, though perhaps it will never have quite the acclaim as something like The Fifth Season, which I feel confident in saying is an all time great novel. I do think the win was slightly telegraphed by Dr. Jeannette Epps presenting the award. An actual astronaut!

Also, did you get to meet an astronaut? That’s basically my life goal (and to get a picture with an astronaut). They’re the coolest!

Adri: I did not get to "meet" Jeanette Epps but I did sometimes stand very close to her. I did get to meet Geoffrey Landis, who was in front of me in the kaffeeklatsch queue getting super excited for another scientist's work (forgive me, I forget who!) I have no doubt your astronaut moment will come if more Worldcons happen in future, they seem to be becoming quite a fixture...

Joe: My biggest surprise is probably in Novelette. I did not see The Only Harmless Great Thing losing. It wasn’t my favorite, but I thought Bolander had it in a walk. I’d have actually put money on it (not a lot, I don’t gamble, but a little bit of money).

And as lovely as the novellas are, I’m a little tired of Murderbot already in regards to awards. All Systems Red won the Hugo and Nebula last year, Artificial Condition won the Hugo this year (and was a finalist for the Nebula) and, if you looked at the longlist stats, all three of the eligible Murderbot novellas had enough nominations to make the ballot - though an author can only have two stories in the same category, so Wells would have had to decline one. It was extremely gracious (and possibly somewhat strategic) for her to have declined both because that allowed both Nnedi Okorafor and P Djeli Clark on the ballot.

On the other hand, I kind of feel shitty complaining about Murderbot burnout because, until last year, Martha Wells has been functionally ignored by every major award for her entire career. She has more than earned her time in the spotlight and this opportunity to shine.

Adri: Murderbot was part of an interesting category in novella in that three of the finalists were direct sequels, to Hugo winning predecessors no less, and I think that made the category feel less fresh than it might have. I'm not disappointed to see Artificial Condition win, though, and while I might have preferred fewer sequels on the ballot there was nothing on the longlist specifically that I backed. I guess the rest of my favourites were way off...

Joe: I’m torn, because I love Beneath the Sugar Sky so much, but having the same series entries nominated every year leads to that same stagnation we see elsewhere on the ballot. To that point, I’m somewhat surprised to see Lois McMaster Bujold not make the ballot for The Flowers of Vashnoi, but the self published nature of those stories have a smaller reach despite her name and love within genre.

Adri: I was surprised in novelette too - I thought The Only Harmless Great Thing was easily going to take it, but Bolander seems to be Marmite to a lot of Hugo voters. I was also taken completely by surprise in short story, where I felt the two Fireside fiction published finalists - "STET" and "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" - had enough strength and momentum to take the category. That said, I've seen a lot of love for Harrow (and Cho!) since the announcement so there's that.

One thing which does strike me across all of these categories is that, compared to the sweeping wins for Jemisin, this feels like a safer set of fiction choices as a whole, and while I loved Zen Cho's unapologetically Asian imugi story and the wins for east and southeast Asian creators across other categories, I was otherwise a bit disappointed by the lack of diverse finalists taking home the very top award. I don't think it's an accident that Black narratives only won in Lodestar, where the environment around publishing is very different and the brilliant, boundary pushing but fundamentally mainstream Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse. The Calculating Stars is a strong book in many ways but it is part of a narrative that centres white responses to the struggles of people of colour, and seeing it win after 3 years of The Broken Earth trilogy does give me some mixed feelings.

Then again, it's so hard to have this conversation without implying that those who did win weren't Hugo worthy creators, which they definitely are! There are more things that could win than things that do, and it's impossible to extrapolate trends from one year alone (as we all keep explaining to the men rolling around on the floor in despair about women getting Hugos these days.) I just hope the recognition of Okorafor and Roanhorse and Jemisin and co wasn't a short-lived thing.

Joe: I did think “The Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” was a favorite for Short Story, but you can’t read too much into nomination stats for most categories. I don’t want to do that thing where you say “it’s just one year” because I do think there is something symptomatic about what sort of story tends to win.

It is part of what you’re seeing with The Calculating Stars. I unabashedly love the novel, and while I don’t agree with your criticisms, I do see how it can be viewed as a safe choice for Best Novel. It’s nostalgic while being modern. Or the other way around. I can’t decide.

The bigger disappointment, I think, is Dirty Computer’s poor showing. It had a small, but dedicated following - but it really wasn’t anybody’s second or third choice. It was first or nothing.

I do wonder if that’s some of what you’re seeing. Enough to nominate, but not enough broad enthusiasm.

Adri: I completely agree with Dirty Computer, which follows two years of Clipping’s entry into the category also being easily on the ballot, but then pushed to the bottom in final voting.

Joe: Speaking of broad support, Archive of Our Own won Related Work fairly handily.

Adri: Yes! That was a moment I wasn’t expecting (though for full disclosure, I personally put it a close second to Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding - yet another thing I voted for which ended up at the bottom of the rankings) but was incredibly well received and well-earned. AO3’s recognition has come through years of dedicated outreach and campaigning from fans (particular shoutout to Renay of Lady Business and Fangirl Happy Hour, without whom I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened!) and the fact that so many voters took it to heart and rewarded a project which has done so much for transformative fandom was wonderful to see. That said, I am ready to start seeing some cool academic-type works win in the category now.

I’ve hinted that a lot of my favourites ended up quite far down in the final rankings, which might not come as a surprise to those following my terrible nominations-to-ballot record this year. I did the maths and found that while I voted for more winners this year than I did in 2018 (3 vs 2, with Monstress involved both times), almost 50% of the stuff that I picked first came either 5th or 6th in the final tally. I’m not sure what that says about my tastes or the finalists, other than that there are nearly always six Hugo worthy things in every category and coming last among the top six of the year isn’t actually a bad position (though, like winning silver at the Olympics, I respect that it’s a placement that comes with mixed emotions for most people). But there is a small piece of me that just wants to gesticulate wildly like that Will Smith meme at these people and institutions doing amazing work who I want to see celebrated with the wild flurries of glitter and trophies instead of being “almost but not quite”.

On the subject of things that kind of were expected, we saw a 4th win in a row for Uncanny Magazine, and a 16th Hugo for Gardner Dozois which felt more like a “career topper” than an award for outstanding editing in 2018 (in a category with some amazing new voices, no less).

Joe: If we’re talking about things I’m shocked came in last, Alec Nevala-Lee’s is exactly the thing the Hugo voters traditionally love and despite the ranging support of AO3, I can’t imagine an awards year where Astounding isn’t ranked 1 or 2 on almost every ballot. I suspect you’ll have some thoughts on Jeannette Ng’s Campbell speech, but in that light, maybe the same people angry about Ng’s statement on John W. Campbell are the same ones who could not see past Nevala-Lee’s honest and unblinking look at who Campbell was to recognize how foundational a biography Astounding is for our genre.

One thing I wonder about is the idea of recusal as a matter of Hugo tradition. I’m not going to dig them out, but there have been instances of finalists recusing themselves from consideration in a category in a particular year going back to the early days of the Hugo Awards. I appreciate that recusal is a tradition down the ballot in the fan categories where we live. I appreciate that in recent years we’ve seen recusal from Lady Business immediately following their first win and File 770’s permanent recusal following Mike Glyer’s win in 2018. That with Glyer’s 12th Hugo Award on 57 nominations.

The other end of that forked trail is David Langford’s 29 Hugo Awards across 55 nominations. There was a time when Best Fan Writer might as well have been named Best David Langford, and that’s not good for the health of a category regardless of the quality of Langford’s writing. There is a sense of institutional stagnation in some of the down ballot categories where you’ll see the same names nominated over and over again. Obviously, Nerds of a Feather has been a beneficiary of this over the last three years. Another beneficiary of this is Uncanny Magazine, which has now won Best Semiprozine four years running.

I’m not here to say that Uncanny should recuse themselves permanently, but at some point a question should be asked about what dominance means to the health of the category and Semiprozine moves on from one time being the Hugo Award for Best Locus and now becomes the Hugo Award for Best Uncanny.

Adri: While I’ve vacillated on this a bit, I now feel quite strongly that there shouldn’t be pressure on Uncanny to recuse, temporarily or permanently. While their back-to-back wins do make the category feel a bit stale, Uncanny isn’t just the Thomases and Michi Trota, but a magazine that’s made up of staff who change year on year, some of whom (for example the Disabled People Destroy SF team) were up for the first time in 2018. Likewise, next year, I assume the Disabled People Destroy Fantasy team will be on their list if nominated (as I expect them to be!) I completely respect that those editors are considering the recognition of their team over a more nebulous “health of the category” argument - not that I’m not very sympathetic to that, but I think it’s on voters to decide whether to take it into account, not the finalists themselves (and the fact that voters, as a collective, aren’t doing that means that maybe the staleness isn’t a problem to many people?)

Joe: I think it’s obvious that staleness isn’t a problem to most voters - and to a point it makes sense because people read what they read and in the case of magazines, may not continue to seek out new stuff. Hey, Uncanny is probably the best damn magazine in the field right now, it has more than earned its reputation, and if you’ve got limited time to read all the books AND all the stories, maybe you’re not picking up FIYAH (which you should) - but if we’re in the practice of giving out legacy awards, maybe this would have been a nice year for Shimmer (which I’ve read in the past, but not recently).

But if the voters *were* taking the health of the category into account, we wouldn’t have these side conversations and it wouldn’t be necessary to recuse or even discuss it. What we get, though, is the Best Locus and the Best Dave Langford and the Best Tor over at the Locus Awards, which has won Best Publisher for I don’t know how many years in a row now.

Adri: I didn’t even know who Dave Langford was until I looked him up about ten minutes ago, so there’s that…

I do agree with you on a personal level that it’s nice to see variety in winners, even in categories like Semiprozine where there’s a relatively small pool and/or little year-on-year change in the finalists. I will point out that “could this amazing magazine be… a little too good?” is a fantastic problem for the Hugos to have gone back to after recent events, though!

Joe: No argument. There are worse problems to have than excellence.

The only photo I took in the ceremony
Adri: Going back to Jeannette Ng’s speech - and to the reactions to the awards in general (can I just point out again that it was so amazing to be there) - I fully expect that that moment is what these awards are going to be remembered for, and that it’s going to spark off a full conversation about what exactly the new writer award should look like going forward. I was in a section of the audience where the excitement over her words and their delivery was totally universal - most of my row started crying at that point and didn’t stop until we were out of the auditorium - and it’s been interesting, though unfortunately not surprising, to see the backlash and the attempts to reseat the “authority” in the conversation among largely white male commentators who get to argue over the exact definition of “fucking fascist”. From where I was sitting (which was very very close) every word of that speech - up to and including the hat thing - was perfect and while I’m sorry that Ng is now going to have to deal with an unfortunate subset of the community, I’m very pleased that the conversation has been sparked by someone who I think represents the best of the genre now.

Joe: I am ready for that conversation, though probably as an outsider who doesn’t write fiction. I think Campbell is ripe to have his legacy wrestled with, and as in Alec Nevala-Lee’s excellent biography, it’s not going to end well. Campbell was a massive figure in the history of the genre, an important one, but he was a really shitty person and in celebrating new writers, we’re also celebrating his name. There are two friggin awards named after Campbell. We can maybe make it one. (Note: we had this conversation before THEY DID!)

Adri: My personal policy is that no awards should be named after people unless they’re Tamora Pierce, but I’m happy to take that under advisement.

Joe: The Octavia E. Butler Award has a nice ring to it.

Adri: With “So be it, see to it” inscribed on the trophy. That would be AMAZING.

Any final thoughts on this year’s winners, or near-misses? I’m happy to see not one but two Booktubers coming up through the longlist ranks in fancast - and of course our very own Paul Weimer broke into the longlist for fan writer (congrats again, Paul!)

Joe: I was so happy to see Paul’s name on the longlist!

Let’s start with the obvious, Nerds of a Feather took a tightly contested second place in Fanzine - our best showing yet! I was thrilled to see how well we did.

The Poppy War was the next runner up on Best Novel. That book is so good that my wife, who doesn’t read much secondary world fantasy read it and LOVED it. Oh, and a little bit out of the running but right behind The Poppy War was Blackfish City! I remember we decided earlier this year that Blackfish City was absolutely a Nebula novel but not a Hugo novel. It was closer to the ballot than I expected (and good on Sam J. Miller!)

I’ve been banging the drum for Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series since I read Envy of Angels (People! Read those books!) and I was excited on Matt’s behalf that Sin du Jour made the long list for Best Series. I don’t think the books have received the sales or acclaim they deserve, so this was a small victory.

My one small bit of disappointment was that Feminist Futures didn’t crack the long list for Related Work. I remain so proud of the work the team did on that project. I think it is one of the best things we’ve done on Nerds of a Feather. I tried so hard to get the word out for Feminist Futures, but we didn’t even get on 20 ballots for the long list. Alas.

Adri: Luckily for everyone who missed out on reading us in time for a Hugo nomination, that series is still all available to appreciate. And chances are there will be more projects from us in future… (rubs hands together in slightly manic glee)

As you note, though, there’s just so much excellence out there at all stages. If that’s how good the longlist is, imagine the quality of the long long list! And, once again, getting those juicy juicy statistics was almost as exciting as watching the winners be announced (though less so this year because, as I might have mentioned, I got to go to the ceremony. Did you know that?)

Joe: It is a really cool thing to go to the ceremony. Getting to go last year was amazing and a delight and I was there for N.K. Jemisin’s speech - which was *also* amazing.

Adri: So exciting! Thanks as always for the conversation. Next stop, the 2020 nominations...

Joe: The Hugo Awards are eternal. I have always been thinking about the Hugo Awards.


The Winners in Full:

Best Novel: The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

Best Novella: Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells ( Publishing)

Best Novelette: "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again", by Zen Cho (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, 29 November 2018)

Best Short Story: "A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies". by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2018)

Best Series: Wayfarers, by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager)

Best Related Work: Archive of Our Own, a project of the Organization of Transformative Works

Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 3: Haven, written by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda (Image Comics)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (Sony)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Good Place: “Janet(s),” written by Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan, directed by Morgan Sackett (NBC)

Best Editor, Short Form: Gardner Dozois

Best Editor, Long Form: Navah Wolfe

Best Professional Artist: Charles Vess

Best SemiprozineUncanny Magazine, publishers/editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, managing editor Michi Trota, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue editors-in-chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien

Best Fanzine: Lady Business, editors Ira, Jodie, KJ, Renay, & Susan

Best FancastOur Opinions Are Correct, hosted by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders

Best Fan Writer: Foz Meadows

Best Fan Artist: Likhain (Mia Sereno)

Best Art Book
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition, illustrated by Charles Vess, written by Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga Press /Gollancz)

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book: Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt / Macmillan Children’s Books)

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Jeannette Ng

Posted by:

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. 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.