Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Adri and Joe Talk About Books: The Hugo Awards

The Hugo Awards Shortlist is officially out!

Joe: It’s one thing to find out that you are going to be a finalist for a Hugo Award, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to have it be announced and hear your name and see it in print with some of the finest damn writers and artists and commentators this genre has seen. How does it feel, Hugo Award Finalist Adri Joy?

Adri: There have been a few feelings knocking around! And about an hour of my life in which it has been unclear whether I should cry, shout, laugh, breathe, throw up, and indeed if I could do any one of those things without the others happening too.

Also, while I’ve definitely experienced the post-announcement Twitter love before, CoNZealand’s decision to schedule a streamed announcement at a timezone that worked for as many Hugo-voter-heavy countries as possible, and the general enthusiasm for people to get online at the moment and hang out, meant that the announcement feed and stream just felt so full of frenzied excitement and love for everyone. Definitely a very heightened moment and, yeah, I’ll absolutely take that finalist status, even if I was already swanning around Dublin wearing the “Finalist” badge ribbon last year.

Joe: I absolutely enjoyed that youtube sidebar chat during the announcement, even if it ultimately did amount to a bunch of people just mashing their keyboards at the same time in excitement.

Not to bury the lede, but Nerds of a Feather is a Hugo Award finalist for the fourth time and we are all absolutely thrilled and excited and honored. As much as Adri and I would love to just talk about ourselves and how cool this all is, what we’re really here to do is talk about all of the other wonderful finalists we share a ballot with.

Adri: It’s another strong list and I’m really excited by some of the things on it. One thing that came up in the super fast moving Youtube chat: after our last conversation we shared our Best Novel predictions, and by some feat of cosmic synchronisation you managed to predict 100% of this year’s ballot! I officially owe you a beer at a future non-virtual Worldcon.

Joe: I wasn’t going to bring it up (I totally was going to bring it up), but thank you - Best Novel doesn’t quite match my actual ballot, but I was shocked that my overthinking the state of the genre and the tastes of the voters actually nailed the prediction. I will happily accept that future beer.

Adri: I didn’t do quite so brilliantly with my own predictions (I got 67% of the Best Novel and Lodestar ballots and only 50% on series) but I checked out the overlap between my nominations and the finalist list and in most categories I nominated two things that ended up on the ballot, which considering the wealth of amazing stuff out there is a pretty great overlap. It means that in almost every category there’s already a few things (or people) I’m ridiculously excited about and already worrying about trying to separate.

To start with the not-a-Hugos: the Astounding Award lineup looks fantastic this year, and after last year’s strong but mostly returned-for-a-second-year group, it’s awesome to see all the new names here. I’m particularly delighted for Tasha Suri, whose Books of Ambha series is really knocking it out of the park in telling a rather different sort of high-stakes fantasy to the action-packed norm, and Nibedita Sen, whose short fiction I’ve enjoyed in The Dark and Fireside and who also placed a story (that I haven’t read) on the short story ballot.

Joe: This is an exciting lineup. I’ve read both Poppy War novels from Kuang and both of Emily Tesh’s novellas (the second one, Drowned Country, will publish in June). Both Kuang and Tesh are excellent writers. The rest of the Astounding finalists are new to me, though I’ve been meaning to read Jenn Lyons and Tasha Suri for a while now. I’m excited to discover Sam Hawke and Nibedita Sen. I think we’ll be reading some of these writers for years and years.

Adri: Jenn Lyons is a new author to me as well, but based on Paul’s review of her work that’s a series I’m looking forward to checking out. I will note that it’s a very fantasy heavy group of works, but that’s no bad thing.

My reading in other categories has gone pretty well. I have one thing to read on the novel and novella ballots, three on novelette and two on short story: the short story reading from last year really paid off, but I should have made more of an effort to read Ted Chiang's Exhalation before someone else requested it from the library and I had to take it back in. Only one story from each was on my ballot (although I was really hoping "Do Not Look Back, My Lion" would make it anyway) but it's still a strong list with a lot of familiar names.

In best novel, I’m delighted and also utterly unsurprised to see Gideon the Ninth on the list: Tamsyn Muir's novel seemed tailor made for the kind of aesthetic that does well among a significant proportion of Hugo voters. It's the kind of book I want people in twenty years time to look back at and go "oh yeah, wow, the late teens had that whole aesthetic going on". I love it very dearly. I'm also very pleased to see Kameron Hurley in what I think is her first best novel shout.

The one novel on the Best Novel ballot I haven't read yet is Middlegame, just because I filled up my Seanan McGuire quotient with other Seanan McGuire books last year. I did in fact pick up a copy the other day, so that and Deeplight by Frances Hardinge are now staring at me particularly reproachfully from the physical TBR pile. I’m expecting to enjoy them both very much.

Joe: Gideon the Ninth was probably the closest thing to a lock to make the Hugo ballot as anything published in 2019 (this is different, of course, from being a locked tomb). It was such a splashy debut that I couldn’t see how it would miss. The Ten Thousand Doors of January would probably be my second choice for likely novels, but after that - everything was a toss up. I would not have been surprised to see Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Night slide in there, nor The Raven Tower - though Leckie’s novel was published fairly early in the year and didn’t seem to have the conversational legs to get on the ballot.

I’ve read four of the novels on the ballot, missing only The Ten Thousand Doors of January and A Memory Called Empire. I’m not here to make predictions yet for the eventual winner, but this is a can’t miss Best Novel ballot filled with excellence. Any one of them would be worthy winners.

Adri: I think you’re going to very much enjoy A Memory Called Empire when you get to it: it’s another one that was published quite early in the year (I think it was one of the first things I reviewed in 2019) and I’m really pleased that it’s stuck around in people’s minds. It feels like a natural continuation of the brand of space opera we’re getting with people like Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee, where cross-cultural interactions take centre stage in a particular alien-but-very-recognisably human way. I know that’s not a new concept for space opera, but there’s a particular feel about some of the recent works, if that makes sense...

Joe: We’ve talked about The Light Brigade before and how we think it stands among the all time great military science fiction novels - both as one of them as well as in conversation and in continued evolution of the genre. The novel is a bit contentious, but I loved it.

Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite writers and I’ll read anything she writes, but Middlegame is in a class of its own among her work - it is so ambitious and McGuire leveled up her considerable skills to write it.

The City in the Middle of the Night, while not as flashy as All the Birds in the Sky, reminded me of nothing less than peak career Ursula K. Le Guin.

Adri: The City in the Middle of the Night was one of the books we differered on in our predictions, as I must have missed some of the buzz around it. I read it earlier this year and really enjoyed it - certainly more than I enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky - and it’s nice to see it here.

Joe: I don’t know if I saw the full hype for the novel, and I thought it should have received more, but it just had *something*.

You know, I’ve read all of the novellas on the ballot this year.  I’m a little surprised, but there it is.
My controversial opinion, which probably isn’t all that controversial, is that I didn’t love This is How You Lose the Time War. I admire it. I enjoyed it, but I don’t love it.

Adri: I would have if Chiang hadn’t eluded me! And it’s not available on the online library apps I have access to, so I’m going to have to quietly fume at myself over not getting to it when I had the chance.

You aren’t the only person I know who didn’t fall for Time War, but I’m definitely in team Time War this year. I do just think its something special as a relationship story, and as something that uses the novella format to pull together a certain type of worldbuilding and wider plot in service to a really interesting interpersonal relationship. Then again, nothing works for everyone, so that’s a thing.

Is there anything else you’re particularly excited to see in novella? I gave a little fist pump (or, I guess, a keyboard smash) about The Haunting of Tram Car 015. I don’t think I’ve spoken about that story much but I did really love the style and atmosphere of the whole thing.

Joe: I’m a noted fan of Seanan McGuire in general and her Wayward Children series in particular, so I’m very happy to see In an Absent Dream on the ballot, but the novella I am most excited to see on the ballot is The Deep. Written by Rivers Solomon and expanding the song by clipping, The Deep is an incredible piece of fiction. I both called it early on as something I fully expect to see on the ballot and was equally nervous that it would end up being overlooked due to how grim it was. The buzz that you missed for The City in the Middle of the Night - I missed seeing for The Deep.

Adri: I was optimistic about The Deep seeing as how the Clipping nomination already tied the story to the Hugos - but it’s one thing to hope for something, and another to see it on the screen. A very well deserved nomination and I’m excited to see what Solomon does next.

I also want to comment on the fact that, after a few years of this category being almost totally dominated by Tor.com Publishing, we’re now seeing a greater range of publishers get in on the act (although I think both of the Saga Press entries here were edited by Navah Wolfe, who has since been let go). That is, of course, not taking into account the fact that Tor.com has two novel entries this year, and three in the shorter fiction categories - so they do still have their finger on the pulse of the Hugo aesthetic overall.

Joe: Hopefully Saga stays in the novella game. They haven’t published much (in terms of novellas), but what they have published has been top notch. Having more notable novella publishers is important, though I’m curious if this broadening of the category will help push Hugo readers to the other publishers who have been doing novellas for a long time. I’m thinking of Subterranean Press, Tachyon, and PS Publishing. Navah Wolfe, I believe, is now at Subterranean.

I can’t speak much about the shorter fiction categories. There are some familiar names and others I’m excited to read more from.

I would like to talk a little bit about Best Series, though. It’s weird to be disappointed in the nomination of one of my favorite series, but I kind of wish voters held off on nominating The Expanse this year and just waited until the last book was published later this year or next year (I assume).

Adri: I had the same reaction to this - although I’m not surprised that it happened and I think The Expanse has a pretty good chance of taking the award this year (and I don’t think James S. A. Corey are the kind of people to recuse themselves on a gamble on having a “better” nomination the next time around.)

Joe: Nor should they. And let’s be clear - I love The Expanse. I just think it would have been nice to honor the series at its very near conclusion. It’ll be a little weird to think of The Expanse as a series that never won the Hugo (and I think you’re right), but I’m pulling for Incryptid.

Adri: My biggest excitement in Best Series - and I need to talk about these books a lot more than I do - is the Planetfall novels. I’ve been nominating it consistently and I’m so glad it’s made it through! I think there’s going to be a break in the novels now, too, so it’s hopefully a good point for people to jump on and learn how great these books are.

I’m also happy to see the Wormwood trilogy on here, although I feel a bit odd saying that as I didn’t get on super well with the novels myself. It’s such an undeniably interesting and important work though.

Joe: I’ve read the first and fourth Planetfall novels and have been meaning to read the middle two for a while, so what better time than this. Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bear and the Nightingale when Arden was a Campbell (now Astounding) finalist. Might as well read the rest.

I’ve seen a lot of love for Tade Thomson’s Wormwood novels, though I think I remember you not quite loving them. Brian reviewed two of them for us and was higher on them, which is fair. This is an interesting comparison, but Wormwood is similar to urban fantasy in that Best Series may be the best category to honor the work.

I also bounced off of Ian McDonald’s Luna the first time I tried reading it, so I’m not sure how high my excitement level is to give that another go. I had assumed I dodged that series, but no.

Adri: It’s also on the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards ballot, so at least I have two reasons to try it out now.

Any disappointments from the fiction categories or elsewhere on the ballot? My biggest one is the lack of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance in Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form. Were people sleeping on that series or something? Because it was hands down the best thing I watched in 2019. (To be fair, I looked at my nominees and I am complicit in the Rise of Skywalker finalist spot, which does not seem like a thing past me would have done based on my opinions of that movie and yet here we are, so… sorry, friends.)

Joe: I don’t have a significant disappointment this year, if we’re not counting Nerds of a Feather missing out on getting our Hugo Initiative up on Related Work, but that is a rock solid category this year with other major works likes Nnedi Okorafor’s memoir and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’ The Dark Fantastic also missing out.

I would have loved to see Sword and Laser back on the ballot for fancast. That’s one of my favorites even if I did awkwardly and accidently snub Tom Merritt when I met him and Veronica Belmont at the Hugo Losers Party in San Diego - and by snub, I mean that I recognized Veronica, introduced myself, said hi and how much I enjoyed her podcast and HAD NO IDEA that was Tom standing next to her. I’m still mildly embarrassed. My wife is the one with social graces. She’d have had both of their life stories out in ten minutes if she had the chance.

Adri: I'm sure he appreciated your love for the podcast more than he was offended by you talking to his co-host!

Joe: Anyway. I had Isaac Fellman on my nominating ballot for the Astounding Award. I thought The Breath of the Sun was an absolutely lovely novel and this was their second year of eligibility. Alas. Also, Anne Ursu’s The Lost Girl was on my Lodestar ballot - we could have had more Minnesotans on the final ballot.

Adri: I’m vaguely in favour of that, I suppose.

Leaving aside categories like Fanwriter, where there are about fifty people I’d like to see get a spot (though, while I’m here, HUGE congratulations to our Paul for his first nomination in the category!) I think my other disappointments, out of things I thought had a chance, are the Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks and Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. I’m hoping Elemental Logic might be a Mythopoeic sort of series? Time will tell. I’m also still hoping C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series lands on the ballot at some point, so I have a reason to binge all 16 books I have left to read.

On a different topic: in Lodestar, once again there’s a pretty big overlap between what’s nominated and prior nominees in some of the adult categories, including T. Kingfisher, Fran Wilde, Yoon Ha Lee and Naomi Kritzer. I’ve read and enjoyed all of those books - and nominated two of them -  so I’m not opposed to the direction of this category at all, but it's notable that the ballot is pretty distant from what actually seems to be buzzy in YA circles at the moment, with the exception of Holly Black. Comparing the Hugos to the Goodreads Choice awards is always a blunt instrument given the huge differences between their methods, but I will note that only 2 out of 6 Lodestar nominees appear in their respective categories on the GC shortlist (Dragon Pearl is a Middle Grade), compared to all six of the Hugo nominees. It’s inevitable that the Lodestar is going to develop its own character somewhere in the “YA that a significant proportion of adult SFF fans read and enjoy”, but I guess if I were able to bend the universe to my will I’d want it a little more skewed towards bringing YA SFF recs into the limelight that might not otherwise have been on adult fans’ radars.

Also, this is the first year I don’t have an overwhelmingly strong 10/10 favourite in the category, so that makes life more difficult...

Joe: I am absolutely with you on getting C.J. Cherryh on that Hugo ballot. She’s a relatively recent SFWA Grandmaster (and well deserved), but she hasn’t been recognized by Hugo since 1989 when she won Best Novel for Cyteen. She has since published all twenty (so far) Foreigner novels. I really need to read some Foreigner.

I do think what we’re seeing with the Lodestar is functionally what the category is going to be. Finalists are going to be those writers who more directly connect with this side of science fiction and fantasy fandom and not necessarily those who are engaging with the wider YA community. You are absolutely right that the category’s character is going to be “YA that a significant proportion of adult SFF fans ready and enjoy”. I don’t see a way around it.

Adri: Any thoughts on the other categories before we wrap this up?

Three closing thoughts: I’m beyond thrilled that Paul Weimer is being recognized for his contributions to fandom and his excellent fan writing. Besides Paul, though, I think it’s really cool that Adam Whitehead also is up for Fan Writer. I’ve been reading The Wertzone from the beginning. He launched his blog back in 2006, two years after I started up Adventures in Reading, and was a major part what was (at the time) called the blogosphere. There’s not as many of us still doing the work all these years later and fewer still doing it on their own blogs. Adam has held the line and this recognition is long overdue.

I think that Claire Rousseau’s Youtube Channel is the first proper booktuber to make the Hugo ballot in fancast and that’s pretty cool. There has been a previous youtube based finalist during the puppy years, but that also wasn’t booktube. That guy was kind of his own thing.

Not that I’m holding this up to the same level as predicting the full Best Novel ballot, but I did pretty much call the Le Guin documentary making Related Work at the end of our Locus chat and look, there’s Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin up for Best Related Work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good documentary, but I do wonder what Le Guin themed work will be published this year in order to make the ballot next year. Is there an Earthsea calendar in the works at all?

Adri: I will note that there's still a lot of book blogging out there! But Adam's work is something I've been meaning to check out properly for a while and I'm very happy for him making the ballot after all this time! I also think Cora Buhlert does fantastic work, especially around more retro works, and her nomination is very well deserved also.

I've been a big fan of booktube for a while and I could not be happier for Claire! She is a national treasure of genre and I hope her nomination opens people to a whole new world of great news and analysis going on in the video world.

Oh, and speaking of Best Related Work: I am so happy to see Jeannette Ng's acceptance speech here, both because it was an incredible moment for the awards and had a huge impact on the award itself, and because the tears of the kind of people who got huffy about it are delicious to me. I'm sorry your hero was a bigot, boys, but *shrug emoji*.

I don't have any other final thoughts to add, except that I'm still smiling to myself every time I think about our nomination. Looking forward to being insufferable about it for months and years to come!


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.

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

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