Thursday, April 21, 2022

Adri and Joe Read Books: 2022 Hugo Award Edition

Joe: Hey! The Hugo Award finalists were just announced and I am so excited for everyone! 

This is also a pretentiously ridiculous thing to say that I hope comes across the way it is intended, but it’s weirdly relaxing to not be nominated this year. We’ve been pushing so hard the last five years and then we actually won (!!!) and recused ourselves from consideration this year and I am just so happy to be sitting on the sidelines cheering because this is a really great lineup of finalists. 

Also! Congratulations to Paul Weimer for being a finalist for Fan Writer for the third time! 

Adri: Agreed on all fronts! Congratulations to Paul, and all the finalists, and wow I’m enjoying not being one of them this time around. Being part of the Hugo lineup is such an honour and it’s one I hope I have again, but there’s really something to be said for low stakes enjoyment.

Joe: Low stakes enjoyment is a really excellent way to describe it. I hope to be on the ballot again, would also be beyond honored if a project we’re launching this year is considered for Related Work, and there’s no promise that we’ll ever make another ballot but right now, having the privilege to be able to step back and enjoy the Hugos without actively being a part of it is surprisingly nice. We’ll just ignore the massive stack of book length Related Work finalists that all just came in from the library at the same time. 

We should talk about our predictions, which this year was formally sent to each other via e-mail a day before the announcements.

Adri: Anyway, yes, let’s talk about the predictions, and let’s talk about how I have evidence of you once again predicting 6 out of 6 best novel finalists the day before the ballot was announced. Which is funny, because neither of us were as confident as previous years about how the ballot would turn out, especially with a Nebula list that diverged significantly from our expectations!  How does it feel to be that plugged into the zeitgeist?

Joe: It’s really weird to have predicted all 6 finalists twice in three years. What I’m seeing here as a trend is that I need to fire off last minute predictions rather than sitting down and overthinking the whole thing in an article for Nerds of a Feather. 

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t overthink the whole thing in the months prior to making the last minute prediction, but the quick e-mail method allows me to wave my hands in the air and say “aaaaah, Andy Weir” rather than trying to justify exactly why a Neal Stephenson novel that you haven’t heard of (and which is apparently 700 pages) is going to make the ballot. 

I’m not sure if this is two beers you owe me or if we’re back to one - but either way - what are your initial thoughts on this year’s Best Novel finalists?

Adri: It’s a ballot I like very much, on the whole. When we spoke, I said I couldn’t imagine this ballot without The Galaxy and the Ground Within or A Desolation Called Peace, and I think both are very well placed here. But the books that most excite me are the debuts: Light from Uncommon Stars is an outstanding piece of writing, She Who Became the Sun is one of the most entertaining, thoughtful pieces of historical fantasy out there, and Master of Djinn is pure, brilliant fun from start to finish.

Oh, and Andy Weir is here too. That’s the only one I have to put on the reading list from Best Novel, and as long as it takes more after The Martian than Artemis, I’m sure it will be an enjoyable enough experience.

So, yeah. I can honestly say this best novel list is one of the most exciting categories on the ballot for me this year. I have some… opinions… elsewhere.

Joe: I’ve read three of the Best Novel finalists and it’s the three debuts that will also be new to me - which is a whole lot of fun. I try to be so plugged into the genre that it’s a rare year that I’m not deeply involved in all of the major works - but a consequence of having no attention span last year for new things is that I haven’t read Light from Uncommon Stars, She Who Became the Sun, or A Master of Djinn

I would lament that, but as finally reading Rage of Dragons four years after publication reminds me, discovering a spectacular novel that I had missed is a joy and an opportunity - so I’m thrilled to dive into the debuts. 

Project Hail Mary is much more The Martian than it is Artemis. Had it gone the other way, I don’t think it would have sniffed the ballot even in a less certain year like this is, but so much of what worked in The Martian works here. 

I’ll wave my hand at the Novella finalists. I’ve read 4.75 of them (I’m almost through The Past is Red and will be in the next day, which means it’ll be 5 by the time this goes live). They’re good. I also don’t think we have anything new to say about Tordotcom Publishing’s dominance here that we haven’t said in the past. This is the second straight year of Tordotcom completely sweeping the ballot. They’ve had strong representation each year they’ve been around and fairly consistently publish strong novellas and they are the most prominent novella publisher - but 2020 was fairly refreshing with only two from Tordotcom on the ballot and not the winner. Before that, it was 5 out of 6 for the prior two years. This reminds me that I need to go throw money at Neon Hemlock for this year’s novella series. 

Adri: Do! The Neon Hemlock novellas are consistently a highlight of my reading and I am already very hyped for their 2022 lineup. They also put in a great showing on the Nebula Ballot, although I would have liked to see & This is How to Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda sneak on there, as it was my favourite of the year.

Beyond publisher politics, though, these feel like three very safe short fiction categories, with a lot of the same names from previous years and across different categories in the ballot (Catherynne M. Valente is represented three times, in novella, novelette, and short story, and Seanan McGuire is a finalist in novella, novelette, series and, somehow, fanzine). There are important exceptions: Blue Neustifter’s awesome, medium-busting "Unknown Number" is here, placing another trans woman in the Hugo canon (alongside Ryka Aoki in the novel ballot, and I’m sure others too!) Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki picks up his first nomination - and the first for an African author in Best Novelette - for "O2 Arena", which is also an excellent story. I’m excited to see José Pablo Iriarte’s "Proof By Induction", and I think this is their first nomination too? But on the whole, this is not an exciting ballot for me, and I think it’s especially light on outstanding stories by authors of colour in general, and Black authors specifically. We gave FIYAH an entire Hugo but none of their stories were the best of the year, again? Come on.

This isn’t intended as a criticism of any specific authors: we’ve been returning entries on the ballot too, in a category which has also had valid critique of  “well this isn’t anything new” thrown at it, and I know that it kind of stings! Lack of diversity or freshness isn’t something any individual finalist can fix, or should feel obliged to take into account when accepting their nomination, and being recognised for multiple stories makes sense when you’re an author at the top of your game. But the overall effect, over 18 mostly repeated and returning white nominees, is one that I don’t think does justice to the full excellence and diversity of genre right now. 

But, this isn’t the first time I’ve been uninspired by a Hugo ballot and I suspect it won’t be the last - so let’s move on! I think you have some feelings about Best Related Work?

Joe: I do want to talk a little bit about Related Work! I love the variety of work that has been on the ballot over the years (and I remain super happy that the work you did with the ConZealand Fringe was recognized with a nomination) but I’m a fairly basic person and I really appreciate when more non-fiction books are on the ballot in Related Work. 

As such, this year’s Related Work is fairly stacked. I’m not prepared to do a Related Work predictions competition next year, but I’m not at all surprised to see work from Elsa Sjunneson or Charlie Jane Anders on the ballot - they are significant works from writers very popular with Worldcon. I’ve started reading the essay collection Dangerous Visions and New Worlds - which seems like exactly the sort of thing this category is built to recognize. 

If anything surprised me (and that only a little), it was Camestros Felapton epic series of articles detailing the culture wars inside and outside of fandom centered on the Sad and Rabid Puppy years - and that surprise is only that I wasn’t sure how widely it was read by nominators. It’s also 1000 pages on my Kobo. 

I’ve only read one of the Related Work finalists (the Vox article “How Twitter Can Ruin a Life”) - so this is a fantastic opportunity to read a bunch of genre related non-fiction.

Adri: I think this looks like a great set of finalists, but I’m disappointed that it’s shaken out so traditionally this year and I can’t help feeling that this is a backlash to how varied the category was last year in particular. My big hopes in this category (alongside Our Arturo, who I am sad to not see here!) were FIYAHCON 2021 (an amazing event) and the Magical Readathon, a wide-scale annual event which last year transitioned from a Harry Potter theme to all original content with a ton of thought and detail put into creating an experience that everyone can feel welcome participating in. There’s no point making predictions about trends from just one year, but I hope this isn’t a permanent swing towards the “traditional”.

There’s lots I’m keen to read in this category, though the amount of reading will make it challenging to get through it all (particularly the 1,000 page Debarkle!) Similarly, I’ve probably got too much to get through in the dramatic presentation categories, seeing as how I’ve only seen Encanto in long form and nothing in short form. Perhaps this is the year I catch up on the Expanse, finally?

Joe: I also hope it’s not a permanent swing, despite appreciating the bookishness of it all. I wonder if, for the conventions, that you’re only going to get something new and significant. Like - the first FIYAHCON was significant, but I don’t know if you will (or should) see sustained nominations year over year in the category. Fringe was a singular event. The Magical Readathon sounds like maybe that’s something that could have been considered if there was any sort of sustained community conversation around it (I have no idea, maybe it placed 7th in voting). I’m sure there will be some sort of documentary next year - whether theatrical or a youtube doc. I’m sure our upcoming blog series will be very well respected and will receive more nominations than any work in this category ever. Never mind, I can’t type that with a straight face.

Because I watch a lot of movies and stay up on particular things, the only Long Form finalist I’m missing is Space Sweepers - which had been on my radar for a fair while and I’ll probably watch it in the next couple of weeks. Short Form is a longer shot for me because I never got around to watching For All Mankind when I had Apple+ (though I’m getting a new Apple TV 4K as a reward from work so  I wonder if activating that will give me another 3 months of free content) and right now I’m just not going to pay for more, so I will probably miss that episode, I’ve never seen Star Trek Lower Decks and likely won’t start now. I’ve heard really good things about Arcane, so maybe this is a good time to start. Plus, it’s on Netflix so that’s easy enough. 

I have seen Loki and frankly I didn’t like the show or think much of it, but I LOVED The Wheel of Time. I actually re-watched the full first season and could probably talk myself into doing that a third time before Season 2 airs presumably later this year. There’s no question that’s the top of my ballot. I do like The Expanse, but it’s never been essential / appointment watching for some reason (despite the novels being appointment reading) - so I’m chipping away at Season 6. 

But where you say you might have too much to get through on the Dramatic Presentation - I’m doing fairly well on Best Series. I’m complete on The Kingston Cycle, Merchant Princes, and Wayward Children. I have the last Green Bone novel out from the library right now (and I was always going to read that). T. Kingfisher’s World of the White Rat is new to me, so that’s exciting to have a new series to discover. I didn’t much get into Too Like the Lightning, so I’m going to call that a loss and not try again. It’s a category where if you haven’t already read some of the finalists that can be incredibly daunting. 

Adri: Best Series isn’t too bad for me, with 3 series finished and Wayward Children almost finished (and I’ll have to read the sixth book for the novella category anyway). Merchant Princes and World of the White Rat are slightly tricky because they’re both series formed of multiple works, without a single obvious entry point. Merchant Princes has 6 older volumes and than a much newer trilogy, which is where I intend to start reading: I dislike the Laundry Files so I’m not expecting to be particularly keen on this one, hence why I’m making it as straightforward as possible for myself. World of the White Rat consists of a duology (The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine) which I’ve read, and a standalone (Swordheart) and a trilogy (the Paladin books) which I haven’t, but I’ve seen the most love for the Paladin trilogy so that’s the reading I’m hoping to get done during the award period.

I’ve also got three books to read for the Lodestar: Chaos on Catnet is on my immediate TBR pile, A Snake Falls To Earth looks fantastic and I can’t wait to get hold of it, and I am both indifferent to The Last Graduate and irritated about this series continuing to take a place on the Young Adult award ballot. Yes, fine, it has crossover appeal, but the book is emphatically not categorised as YA by the publisher or the author and I wish that the administrators had been more hardline, or Novik had been more altruistic, while the Lodestar category is finding its feet with WSFS voters.

Joe: I’ve just begun both Chaos on Catnet and Iron Widow, so I know there’s good reading ahead. I generally enjoyed A Deadly Education, but I fully agree that this is not a YA series and I would have liked to have seen Novik decline the nomination. Though - I suppose if I’m feeling gracious I’d go with how the Hugo administrators tend to act in other situations - if the voters feel a work belongs in X category, then that’s the category in which it belongs (excluding hard word count limits for the prose categories). That’s how we had the entirety of The Wheel of Time show up in Best Novel (that’s a year I really wish Best Series existed because the category was absolutely made for that and despite my love for The Wheel of Time I’m not convinced the nomination should have happened the way it did and this ignores that I’m currently re-reading the series in a single volume omnibus ebook edition) and other very much edge case nominations that I’m not sure there is value in re-litigating. 

Do you have anything else you want to get into regarding this year’s finalists? If not, I’d like to close by saying just how great of a Hugo ballot we have this year and that I’m super excited to read and watch and listen to all the things. Congratulations to all of the finalists, especially the first time finalists! This is such a cool thing to get to be a part of. And - I’d like to offer a bonus extra congrats to my friends at the Hugo, Girl podcast! I’m so thrilled to see them on the ballot!

Adri: Yes, congratulations to all of the nominees - especially Hugo, Girl, The Full Lid and all our other buddies on the ballot this year. It’s going to be another great season of Hugo reading!

Posted by: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him

Adri (she/her), 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