Over the past almost-year, a top secret group of bloggers and fans has been plotting the most nefarious of plots: to decide, subjectively upon the best genre works of 2020, and then throw rocks at them. By "throw" we mean "lovingly post", and the rocks all have a nice message painted on them, and it's... an award? We suppose?
Yep, it must be time for Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards (SCKA) again!
SCKA last made an appearance on Nerds of a Feather at the longlist stage, when our team of epic jurors (including Adri and Sean) nominated their favourites across the seven categories. Since then, we've read furiously, narrowed each category down to a shortlist of two or three nominees, and then picked our favourite from among them. I'm therefore excited to introduce both our winners and other shortlisted works in this post: all are worthy of your consideration, so go and check them out!
Without further ado, the winners:
Best Short Story
: "You Perfect, Broken Thing" by C.L. Clark (Uncanny Magazine Issue 32)
Our jury said: This is a story about an athlete competing in a Race which forces her to push her sick body to its limits to win a cure. There's a perfect blend of cameraderie between the main character and their training partners, and the desperate, unfair competition they are pushed into to survive; these are characters still fighting in the face of constant, overwhelming struggle and that's a powerful, challenging, necessary thing.
Also Shortlisted: "Yellow and the Perception of Reality" by Maureen McHugh (Tor.com)
Adri says: These two stories rose to the top of a strong, wide-ranging ballot, but there was only ever one choice for me, and that was Clark's Ignyte winning story.
Winner: The Empress of Salt and Fortune
by Nghi Vo (Tor.com Publishing)
Our jury said: The Empress of Salt and Fortune is an epic tale in miniature: a mosaic of moments and manipulations that resolve into a bigger picture of rebellion
Also Shortlisted: Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Adri says: Our SCKA shortlists don't often overlap directly with the Hugo awards, but this pair happen to be the two I am agonising about most on that ballot too. Empress of Salt and Fortune is a well deserved winner, but this really could have gone either way.
Best Debut Novel
by Tracy Deonn (Simon & Schuster)
Our jury said: With a young woman discovering magic at an elite school, Legendborn could have felt like we’d read it all before. Instead, the panel were impressed with how Deonn combined familiar tropes and well-known legends into something different, avoiding the obvious to deliver a tender exploration of grief and Black girl magic in a richly crafted world touching on slavery, privilege and secret societies.
Also Shortlisted: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads); Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (Hot Key Books)
Adri says: We ended up with three excellent books shortlisted from a very YA-heavy new category: I love all of these books, but Legendborn's smart, sideways take on a classic genre story set it apart.
Best Blurred Boundaries Novel
Winner: Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Jo Fletcher Books)
Our jury said: This stylish thriller blends Gothic tropes with 50s noir and body horror. Expect modern themes of prejudice and complicity in an unapologetically creepy tale of controlling families and psychedelic fungus.
Also Shortlisted: Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon Books); The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (Orbit)
Adri says: Blurred boundaries is always a very diverse category, as "blurred" encompasses anything we think crosses lines of genre and/or style. Interior Chinatown was a great literary dark horse, and The Bone Shard Daughter brings really interesting SF elements into a fantasy setting, but it's ultimately fitting that ultra-talented genre-hopper Silvia Moreno-Garcia took this one in the end.
Best Fantasy Novel
Winners(!!) The Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow (Orbit); The Midnight Bargain
by C.L. Polk (Erewhon)
Our jury said: Alix E. Harrow has crafted something truly special with The Once and Future Witches. Her prose is by turns powerful and deft of touch, and blends together fantasy, fairytale and history into a thoroughly modern classic.
The Midnight Bargain is not only a wonderful story about witches in a richly imagined Regency-style setting, but it’s a clever exploration of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. It is a thoroughly modern and political book while masquerading as a gorgeous escapist fantasy, and that makes it a fantastic read.
Adri says: Two winners! Yep, we had a tie in our final round of voting, and while we could have gone to some sort of dramatic internal tiebreaker, instead we decided in true chaotic fashion to give out a second rock. This pair both utterly deserve it.
Best Science Fiction Novel
Winner: The Space Between Worlds
by Micaiah Johnson (Hodder & Staughton)
Our jury said: A beautiful intelligent story exploring the parallel worlds concept but also combining it with issues of racism and classism, with a core of hope running throughout.
Also Shortlisted: Goldilocks by Laura Lam
Adri says: One of my favourite things about SCKA is getting to focus on books that feel like they've been overlooked in the more mainstream awards, and both finalists here certainly fit that bill. The Space Between Worlds really pushed the envelope for me, an excellent dimension-hopping tale in a category full of space and cyberpunk and all sorts of sub-genres.
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (HarperVoyager)
Our jury said: R.F. Kuang's trilogy starts off as an academic fantasy, transforms into a military historical fantasy, and ends as a grimdark narrative. This Asian-inspired series delves into the layers and the consequences of power and warfare.
Also Shortlisted: Dominion of the Fallen by Aliette de Bodard
Adri says: Another powerful pairing - and another underrated gem, in de Bodard's Dominion of the fallen series - but in the end, it felt inevitable that The Poppy War was going to take this home. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.