Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Reading the Hugos: Novel

Today we are going to take a look at the six finalists for Best Novel. This is an absolutely stacked ballot. Recent Best Novel ballots have been as good as we could hope for, but the 2020 Hugo Awards takes it to another level. From Top to Bottom (and there is no bottom to this category), this is as good of a list of finalists and I've seen.

Which really goes to say that the six finalists for Best Novel appeal to my personal taste. Four out of the five novels I nominated are on the ballot here. The only novel missing from my nominations is Sarah Pinsker's excellent A Song for a New Day (also nominated for a Nebula Award) and I will not be surprised to learn that it was either seventh or eighth in the nominating tally when the statistics are released in August.

Tamsyn Muir and Arkady Martine are new to Hugo, but the other four finalists are very well known to Hugo voters. Kameron Hurley is a three time Hugo Award finalist for her nonfiction, winning twice in 2014 for "We Have Always Fought" (Related Work) and as a Fan Writer. She was on the ballot again in 2017 for The Geek Feminist Revolution (Related Work). Alix E. Harrow's short story "A Witch's Guide to Escape" won the Hugo Award last year for Best Short Story. Charlie Jane Anders is a previous winner for Best Novelette ("Six Month, Three Days") and won for Fancast last year.

Seanan McGuire is the Hugo outlier in this conversation, having been a 20 time finalist (14 times as Seanan McGuire, 6 times as Mira Grant). McGuire's novella Every Heart a Doorway won the Hugo in 2017, and she is also a two time Fancast winner.  The clear delineation for Seanan McGuire is that until this year, it was only under her Mira Grant pseudonym that she has been on the Best Novel ballot. Her longer series fiction have been recognized under Best Series, but no Seanan McGuire novel has been up for Beset Novel.

Suffice it to say that this an impossible ballot and that's a beautiful thing. I would be happy with any of these novels to win the Hugo for Best Novel. Every one of these novels are excellent and truly among the best of the year and may well be remembered and read for decades to come.

It's a sad thing to have to rack and stack these Hugo Award finalists. Any one of them could win, should win. It's a damn shame for any of them to be low on my ballot, but I can't rank them all at #1. That's not how this works, unfortunately.

Let's take a look at the finalists:

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

The City in the Middle of the Night: If somebody told me that 2019 would bring us a novel that has the strongest resemblance and feeling to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels, I’d have been more than skeptical – but The City in the Middle of the Night is so very much that novel. Several times, I had to check the cover to remind myself that this wasn’t Le Guin. It’s not, but The City in the Middle of the Night is a worthy successor to Le Guin’s work while still very much being a Charlie Jane Anders novel and its own thing. There is a tidally locked planet, fascinating characters, absolutely original and creative alien creatures, and a conversation about morality. The City in the Middle of the Night is a novel of big ideas and just as important, it’s a book you don’t want to put down. Anders is doing the work here. This is an absolutely compelling novel that I cannot recommend highly enough.(Paul's review)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Oh, what a lovely, lovely novel Alix Harrow has written. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story about stories, or perhaps about the power of stories. It is also a portal fantasy - which automatically hits a lot of my buttons (it's more than one button). The Ten Thousand Doors is a love story, a story of pain and escape and of longing. It is a story of hope and of magic, of friendship and evil secret societies. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the story of everything and the deepest feelings of the heart. It is absolutely beautiful. (Paul's review)

Middlegame: Middlegame is perhaps the most ambitious novels from Seanan McGuire and is a showcase for her skill at telling a good and complex story. Twins, math, alchemy, murder, time-bending, family, secret organizations, impossible powers, and just about everything McGuire can throw into this wonderous novel. Seanan McGuire has blended together as much as she possibly could stuff into one novel and she makes the whole thing work. It’s impressive. McGuire goes big with Middlegame. Doubt Seanan McGuire at your peril. (my review)

A Memory Called Empire: Sometimes you finish reading a novel and one of the emotions you feel is anger that you waited so long to read it, even if "so long" equals "approximately twelve months", which is ridiculous, but A Memory Called Empire was so good that not only did I not want to put the book down, not want the book to end, but I was legitimately upset that I could have read this more than a year ago. Martine's novel is a wonderful melange of a minority outsider in a dominant culture, spectacular worldbuilding, almost diplomacy, colonization, empire, looming threats, politics, and quick witted smart people. A Memory Called Empire is a god damned delight. (Adri's Review)

Gideon the Ninth: The tag line I’ve seen all year long is “Lesbian Necromancers in Space” and while that is technically correct and was absolutely a selling point for the novel (as was the spot on cover art from Tommy Arnold) that’s not really what Gideon the Ninth is. This is a love story. This is a hate story. This is a locked room mystery (locked citadel on an abandoned planet mystery?). There is beautiful swordfighting, necromancy, magic, absolutely foul mouthed characters, and it’s all a friggin delight. In her review, Adri wrote about the claustrophobic atmosphere and that’s an apt description – which is why the “in space” part doesn’t really apply. The “Lesbian Necromancers” – yeah, it’s very much that and it’s pretty spectacular. One of the most impressive aspects to Gideon the Ninth is that it lives up to the massive hype. Gideon the Ninth is a brutal, sharp, nasty, wonderful novel. Tamsyn Muir will gut you. (Adri's review)

The Light Brigade: The Light Brigade is a bold novel in the tradition of Starship Troopers, The Forever War, and Old Man’s War. I don’t use this as an opportunity to list the titles of three significant military science fiction novels I’ve read. I view this more as a recognition of where The Light Brigade should be considered in the larger science fiction conversation about canon (as if there is a singular canon) and of which novels get to be held up as classics of the genre which revitalize and engage with the genre’s past. That’s a bold statement to make about a novel that was published less within the last twelve months, but there it is all the same. The Light Brigade does all of that while telling a strong story about a soldier in the middle of an absolutely messed up war (is there another kind?) that is messed up even further when her combat drops sometimes place her in the wrong battle at the wrong time – the wrong “when”. Hurley ties together all of the complicated timelines and fits it together perfectly. The Light Brigade is a gem of a novel.  (Paul's review)

My Vote
1. The Light Brigade
2. Gideon the Ninth
3. A Memory Called Empire
4. Middlegame
5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January
6. The City in the Middle of the Night

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