Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Adri Joins the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards! Introduction and Nominations

Greetings, nerds! It's Adri here, with something a little bit different. As those who follow me on Twitter may know, this year I've joined the jury of the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards (SCKA for short): a crew of motley bloggers, podcasters and booktempters (don't ask) coming together in the name of strong bookish opinions and the handing out of beautifully painted rocks. SCKA is in its third year of running, and this year the other jurors are:

You can check out some more about the background to the awards, the people involved, and the initial rules here. The short version: the jurors have come together to select one nominee each in 6 categories from the 2019 books we read last year, thus creating a list of books that's both highly selective and still long enough for us all to go "huh, this is quite a lot of books, what have I gotten myself into?" We'll each be reading and judging in a selection of the categories over a next few months, before whittling each one down to two finalists. Finally, after a period of final catch-up and decisionmaking, we'll crown a winner, who is then bestowed with one of the most carefully crafted awards in SFF history: one of these rocks.

I though I'd done a reasonably good job of keeping up with 2019 releases, but my fellow jurors have come up with some great picks, including things that dropped off my TBR and some stuff I'd just never heard of. So, here's the shortlist, and how I'm feeling about each of the categories (if you want more list and less chat, check out KJ's post here)

Best Science Fiction

  • All City by Alex DiFrancesco
  • Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
  • Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
  • The Outside by Ada Hoffman
  • Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner
  • Velocity Weapon by Megan O'Keefe
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Ouch, what a place to start. I have read just two of these books, A Memory Called Empire and Ancestral Night, and both of those are on my Hugo shortlist, so there's already a pretty high bar to clear here. I've been intrigued by both The Outside and Velocity Weapon, for a while, and am looking forward to jumping in to both of those soon, and Wanderers has obviously had plenty of buzz as well, although every time I've thought about it, I've looked at the size of it and gone "nope" - this time, I will need to read at least 100 pages for the sake of fairness, and I have no reason to think that I won't want to read further.

Steel Frame, Fleet of Knives and All City are more or less new to me, although I've heard bits and pieces about Gareth L. Powell's series and its position on the Locus list is an excellent sign. Of these, All City, a small press dystopian ecopunk novel about New York after a superstorm, is the one that's particularly calling out to me, and its one of the first things on my reading list for February. Because of the number of unread books, this is the category I'm most likely to drop in the first round if I don't think I'm going to be able to read the entire nomination list, but I'm excited enough about everything that I hope I'll make it.

Best Fantasy

  • The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker
  • Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
  • The True Queen by Zen Cho
  • Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
  • Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron
I'm relieved to say that I don't have so much work to do here: five of these nominees are things I've read, and all of those are things I've rated pretty highly (I'd expect no less from this gang of miscreants esteemed panel, of course). I've already raved about The True Queen here, and I have similar great feelings about Gods of Jade and Shadow and Realm of Ash. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which I read much more recently, is right up there for me as well, and Kingdom of Souls is a fascinating and inventive book. What I also love is that all four of those books are by women of colour, and all five feature PoC women leads, making this a great showcase of diverse recent fantasy which goes well beyond just shaking up medieval Europe and adding some dragons.

What does that leave for me to read? The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi will be my first experience with the author's work, though she's been on my radar for a while and I'm very much looking forward to picking this one up. My reading buddies will probably be shocked to learn I haven't read R.J. Barker yet either (unless Twitter counts), but I'm intrigued by The Bone Ships as nautical dragons are very much in my wheelhouse. This is going to be a very tough category to rank.

Best Blurred Boundaries Novel

  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
  • The Institute by Stephen King
  • The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
  • The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw
  • The Migration by Helen Marshall
  • The Strawberry Thief by Joanna Harris
Blurred boundaries is the place for things that either don't fit elsewhere or are too weird to be tied down! And it's another category with a lot of new things for me, including several that were barely on my radar at all. The things I have read are Suyi Davies Okungbowa's David Mogo, Godhunter, and Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth. Of the remainder, I'm particularly interested in checking out The Infinite Noise, which is apparently a tie-in with a podcast about a superhero therapist; and The Migration by Helen Marshall, which looks like intriguing biological horror. Unfortunately, I gave up on the Rupert Wong trilogy by Cassandra Khaw after the first novella, and I find her writing challenging to get into in general, but I'm ready to give it another go for the sake of Team Chaos. Likewise, I'll be diving into my second-ever Stephen King and my first-ever Joanne Harris for the sake of this category, which, if nothing else, took me into some sections of my local library that I don't usually venture into (you know, the books for normal people).

Best Series

  • Children of Time/Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky 
  • Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks
  • Empires of Dust by Anna Smith Spark
  • Luna by Ian McDonald
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson
  • Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso
  • The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
  • The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden
Although the Best Series Hugo is only three years old, it already feels like no awards commitment would be complete without some 9 book sagas to sink one's teeth into. For SCKA, the rule for this category is that nominators should keep series under 1000 pages across all volumes to avoid disapproving emojis from grumpy fellow jurors. That means that while most of these nominations technically fail that test, there's nothing longer than a quartet to tackle here (though it's still more novels than the last three categories put together).

That doesn't mean that there isn't a lot for me to get through here: three of these series (Luna, Empires of Dust, and Swords and Fire) are completely new-to-me, and only two (Elemental Logic and Winternight) are series that I've read in their entirety. Children of Ruin, the sequel to Adrian Tchaikovsky's Clarke-winning Children of Time, was already very high on my TBR and I hope to be reading it within the next couple of weeks, and I'm also glad to have the kick up the butt to catch up on the last two volumes Jen Williams' Winnowing Flame trilogy. I've honestly not enjoyed Tade Thompson's Rosewater trilogy as per the first two volumes (and in theory, I'm allowed to DNF the series as a whole at this point and still vote on the category) but depending on how the rest of the reading goes, I'll hopefully be able to finish it as well and see if the close of the trilogy changes my mind on the thing in its entirety.

Best Novella

  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon
  • Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi
  • Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
  • This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
  • To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers
  • Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner
Four things in this category were familiar to me on nomination, and I have a strong suspicion this is going to be one of the biggest points of overlap between our nomination list and the Hugo Awards. The two Saga press entries in particular, are spectacular pieces of work: This is How You Lose the Time War is a gorgeous emotional journey of a book, and The Deep an exploration of a fascinating mythology with a great core of community strength and suffering. Wole Talabi's "Incompleteness Theories" is the highlight of his 2019 collection, an original novella that looks at a scientific research project to develop teleportation that goes horribly wrong and becomes financially non-viable. To Be Taught, if Fortunate by Becky Chambers, didn't work as well for me, but it's still an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

To get ahead of the game, I've already caught up on the three remaining novellas: We Are Made of Diamond Stuff is a wildcard of a story, a surrealist small press publication exploring queerness and class that's getting some literary attention in the UK. Silver in the Wood and Walking to Aldebaran are more "traditional" experiences, and while I enjoyed both, I'm particularly pleased that I got the chance to read Emily Tesh's queer rural fantasy before Hugo nominations close, as it's definitely up there with the best novellas I've read this year.

Best Short Fiction
Unlike the other categories, each jurist choosing in this category nominated two things, and the result is a really varied shortlist. I have less to say about this category than the others because even the stories I've read, I want to re-engage with before making decisions on the shortlist. However, I'm particularly happy to have two Psuedopod stories on this list, as I haven't read any of their material before, and what are awards for if not to discover cool new stuff?

So that's what I'll be doing for the next few months! I'll likely be checking in with reviews of some of the things I'm reading, and you can no doubt follow along with me and the other jurors on Twitter as we make our way through the nominees and start making the tough decisions about shortlisting...

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, 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. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.