Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Adri and Joe Talk About the 2020 Hugo Awards

Joe: Where do we even begin after this year’s Hugo Awards? The winners were across the board wonderful, the finalists were one of the best ballots we’ve had, and the ceremony...well, the ceremony sure happened. 

Adri: I’m not convinced it’s not still happening. Have we escaped? Is it finally done?

Joe: You know, when I joked about Hugo Season being eternal, I didn’t mean the ceremony itself!

Adri: A lot of important stuff has already been said about the scheduling, content, the tone and particularly the highly disrespectful mistakes made towards some of the most fantastic individuals and organisations in this field. I suspect a lot is going to continue to be said about that ceremony, for a long time. But for now, let’s focus on the people who are relevant to our actual interests?

Also, I’m officially a Hugo loser!

Joe: Congratulations! Am I imagining things, or did we lose by 4 VOTES?

: That is a thing that happened as well! Losing to The Book Smugglers, with their extraordinary work, is not at all a bad place to be! Massive congratulations to Ana (first Brazilian Hugo Winner!) and Thea on their win - and I’m really honoured that so many people were thinking of us when they were filling out their ballots. (And - I see you, 22 people in fan writer nominations. THANK YOU.)

There were some great results elsewhere in the fan categories too - in particular, while we are sorry not to have a Hugo-winning Paul Weimer on our team (how did ANYONE make choices in fan writer category?), Bogi Takács is an amazing voice in genre and I definitely recommend anyone not familiar with eir review work checks it out. Also, Paul got the joint most nominations alongside (also very cool) Alasdair Stuart, so GO PAUL.


This really was a wonderful year for Hugo Award finalists. This was such a strong ballot and so many categories were absolutely stacked with excellence. For example, there was no bad choice for Novel. They were all spectacular works of fiction and shining examples of what the genre looks like today and where it is going, and they were all different from each other.

I didn’t post my ballot this year. I’m not sure if I will again or not, but A Memory Called Empire wasn’t my first pick - but in almost any other year it would have been. Heck, any one of the novels could have and would have been my pick for Best Novel in just about any year. I am awed by how good these books were.

: As much as I loved and would have been happy to see basically anything on this year’s novel ballot win, I have had a special place in my heart for A Memory Called Empire and I was delighted to see it take the win. I was equally happy to see This is How You Lose the Time War win novella, and Emergency Skin take novelette, and while I didn’t have S.L. Huang's “As The Last I May Know” at the top of my short story ballot (that honour went to Shiv Ramdas’ “And Now His Lordship is Laughing”), I loved it too.

In fact, compared to last year - when almost 50% of my favourites ended up in 5th or 6th position overall - this year only two things that I ranked first ended up coming in near the bottom in the overall rankings. I am taking this as a sign that Hugo Voters’ tastes are overall moving in the right direction, although we need to sit down and have a conversation about The Folk of the Air, Booktube, and also the lack of love for The Deep, which in any non-Time War year would have been my runaway choice for best novella.

: I am also shocked by the lack of votes for The Deep. First, because I didn’t really connect with Time War the way so many people did - though I recognize the massive popularity of Time War and I probably would have been surprised had it not won. Even so, The Deep was a spectacular achievement and I had thought its origins in the 2018 Hugo finalist song from Clipping might help give it a boost - but then again voting was not kind to Clipping either of their time on the ballot. There’s a much longer conversation to be had there, but I’m not sure we’re quite ready to have it.

Adri: Elsewhere in fiction, Best Series is always an interesting category to watch, and this year we had the rather odd scenario of The Expanse coming up eligible and on the ballot with eight of its projected nine volumes complete. I think it’s a great winner, and I voted it second (because Emma Newman’s Planetfall will always have my heart), but it does put the pressure on to stick the landing. Funnily enough, Wayfarers is in a similar situation now that a final book is due next year, although arguably the series was never “incomplete” in the way the overarching story of the Expanse currently is.

I hesitate to ever be the person who says that people shouldn’t vote for a series at a time when it is eligible because you’ve got to take the opportunity when it’s there. The Expanse is a fantastic series, getting better as it goes on, and as I mentioned in previous conversations - I think the right place to recognize it was when the final book was published because it will be a closed series at that point.

On the other hand, there’s only a limited time to recognize a Series - even ongoing series like Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid or October Daye. We don’t know how many more novels there will be in either and tastes and the nominating population changes. What if this *was* the last real chance for those series? How many shots will a series get? Hugo windows don’t stay open forever.

I think about that with our own mortality as a fanzine - we’ve been on the ballot four years in a row now and that’s been absolutely wonderful and a dream that I didn’t dare dream. It won’t last forever.

That’s a tough question to think about when we’re directly affected by it and, like anyone else in this situation, we would quite like to pick up those extra four votes one day. Taking my own ego out of it, though, I very much hope we are replaced in the not-TOO-distant future: one of the big lessons from this year is about recognising when to step aside and celebrate the rise of newer, greater things. I hope when I’m a fandom gran I’m out there cheering on the world of future fanzines, in whatever cool cyberpunk form they come in in 40 years time, even if I have to get the youth to show me how to access them.

Joe: It’s difficult to decide to recuse when you haven’t won, but I do appreciate the slight tradition in the fan categories to recuse at least for one year after winning. It’s a new tradition, because the history of the Hugo Awards is also littered with “let me win as many as possible” - consider the 19 Hugos David Langford won for Fan Writer in a row (and a few more on top of that, including Fanzine) - though at least with Fan Writer there has not been a repeat winner since Langford’s last win.

Adri: On a related note, one of the least surprising results of the ceremony was Uncanny Magazine picking up their fifth win. On the one hand, I’m delighted that it means a first Hugo for Chimedum Ohaegbu, and recognition for the editors of Disabled People Destroy Fantasy, Nicolette Barischoff, Lisa M. Bradley, & Katharine Duckett (although this recognition was bizarrely left out of the award acceptance speech). On the other, I don’t think Uncanny’s dominance in this category does justice to the extraordinary work of other publications, especially FIYAH and (I’m biased but) Strange Horizons.

: Yeah, I have conflicting feelings about Uncanny’s dominance of Semiprozine. I don’t think it can be disputed that they are one of the preeminent publishers of short fiction today. I pay attention to Uncanny because I know their stories are going to be among the best. They’ve built a well earned reputation.

And yet - what does their dominance say about the health of the category when “best” is subjective anyway? It isn’t as bad as, say, Tor winning every Best Publisher Category for the Locus Award since 1988 or even Locus’s Hugo history in Semiprozine (they won the first nine in the category’s existence, missed three years, and then another twelve in the next thirteen years), but it speaks more to the familiarity of voters than it does the inherent excellence of Uncanny.

We know how hard it is to win a Hugo and that nobody is “owed” a Hugo - but there are so many semiprozines doing excellent work that are not receiving the same sort of recognition that Uncanny is. The Wikipedia entry for the category notes that only 8 different magazines have won in the 37 year history of the category (and only 38 magazines have even been nominated).

: I also question the fact that FIYAH has now come second twice, but that for the second year running no FIYAH stories even made the longlist in the shorter fiction categories. My own novelette nominations were 40% from FIYAH and I really question the extent to which their stories are getting overlooked when it comes to individual nominations. Maybe there’s nothing weird going on here, but given that every year multiple people start a “why no print zine stories?” conversation in the short fiction categories, I feel justified in starting a “why no FIYAH stories?” conversation for every year in which this happens.

Joe: It continues the larger conversation about who is nominating in each category - technically it’s much of the same population, but I think there’s enough of a segment that values FIYAH (and Fireside) as ‘zines but less of one that has a consensus on individual stories. I’m uncertain about this year’s longlist, but I don’t *think* any of them are from Fireside. Last year’s Short Story, notably, had two selections from Fireside - though one of them was one of the most buzzed about stories of the year (“STET”). The short fiction field is so diffuse it’s difficult to make the ballot.

I’m digressing. I do that a lot.

I sort of want to digress into a separate conversation about race and Hugo voting, but since that would require all sorts of research I don’t have the headspace to do and it would functionally turn this conversation into a lecture, so maybe another time. As was said at a convention I went to once, that’s another panel.

Adri: Agreed - it is a topic I have a lot of thoughts about, but which deserves much more careful analysis in place of my random white girl opinions.

Joe: This is probably as good a place as any to start wrapping, so let me close with this. There is a clear delineation between the Hugo Ceremony and the Hugo Awards themselves this year. The Ceremony was a hot mess that did nothing to honor neither the winners nor the other finalists.

The awards themselves, though? This was a beautiful lineup of finalists from top to bottom and the winners are, across the board, absolutely spectacular and as true a representation of where our genre is and where it is going as it possibly can be - and for that, this year’s Hugo Awards were a wonderful and beautiful thing. I am beyond thrilled for the winners and I am honored to be in their company.

Adri: Likewise - I’ve said this on Twitter too, but as awful as that ceremony was, it also made me realise exactly what and who I value in this wild, varied, ridiculous space that is SFF fandom. It’s such an honour to be part of this awesome community in the company of the works that made the Hugo ballot the undistilled coolness it was this year. Long may it continue!

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.

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