My Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2020


I am so excited! Conzealand announced the 2020 Hugo Award finalists last week and I have feelings! But first of all:

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE FINALISTS!

Let’s go through my reactions category by category and check in on how many books I still have to read in order to catch up. There are some categories about which I have very little or nothing to say, so I’ll leave those out and focus on the ones I’m most interested in.
Warning: This is going to be a long post. Feel free to skip ahead to a certain category or to my general thoughts at the very end.


BEST NOVEL (4/6)

My first reaction was elation that both A Memory Called Empire and The Light Brigadmade it onto the shortlist. I nominated both and now have the terrifying pleasure of having to rank them.
I’m sure nobody is surprised that Gideon the Ninth is on this list as well, although I am one of the very, very few people who did not like that book. I liked some ideas and I liked Gideon as a character but that didn’t excuse the utter lack of plot structure or fleshing out of side characters. Or the messy world building… I truly wish I had loved this book as much as everyone else, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. At least this will be easy to rank.
I love Alix E. Harrow’s short fiction and I loved certain aspects of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but I thought others were very weak, especially for a writer who can accomplish so much in a short story. My super high expectations led to my great disappointment when I discovered that there’s way less magic in this book than I had hoped. But it has grown fonder in my memory over time and I definitely didn’t hate it. I’m glad Harrow is a finalist because I think she has amazing potential and I’ll gladly see her do well here.

I am currently reading Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (who is nominated in a billion categories once again…) and still have to pick up  The City in the Middle of the Night which I’ve had since it came out but never really got to. I have high expectations for both, although Seanan McGuire and I are rather hit or miss. So far, Middlegame is quite good but I am not convinced it’s award material. I can already say that it is not on par with some of the other nominees but I’m only halfway throught he book. We’ll see.


BEST NOVELla (3/6)

  • Rivers Solomon – The Deep
  • Becky Chambers – To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  • Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – This is How You Lose the Time War
  • Seanan McGuire – In an Absent Dream
  • P. Djèlí Clark – The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  • Ted Chiang – Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom

Yay for Becky Chambers. I nominated this one! I also nominated Time War although I have to say that I don’t feel as strongy about it anymore as I did right after reading it. In fact, now that some time has passed, I don’t think it was even that great. I did however love The Deep but I’m not sure if I managed to put it on my ballot in time. Either way, I’m happy it’s here.

I’m looking forward to both Clark and Chiang’s works. To my enormous shame, I still haven’t read anything by Ted Chiang although I really, really want to. Let this be my reason to pick up his collection Exhalation.

I had hoped that after the disastrous mess that was Beneath the Sugar Sky I would be done with the Wayward Children series. This series is based on a great idea whose execution ranges from horrible (Sugar Sky) over okay (Every Heart) to rather good (Sticks and Bones). But since these books are mostly a disappointment, I had planned on discontinuing the series. Alas, I guess I’ll have to read one more. And if Seanan McGuire‘s fans keep up the way the have for the past decade, I’ll probably end up reading the rest of the series as well.


Best Novelette (1/6)

  • Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love
  • Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  • Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye
  • N.K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  •  Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  • Ted Chiang – Omphalos

See, I have to read Ted Chiang! In this category, I’ve read a whopping one book, Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin. I absolutely loved it and I’m thrilled it’s on this list because I read it after the nomination period was over and couldn’t put it on my ballot anymore. Thank you, other nominators!
All the other nominees sound great. I love Sarah Gailey‘s work, I’ve been meaning to read more by Pinsker, and I look forward to checking out the two new-to-me writers, Carroll and Yoachim.


Best series (2/6)

  • James S. A. Corey – The Expanse
  • Katherine Arden – The Winternight Trilogy
  • Ian McDonald – Luna
  • Tade Thompson – The Wormwood Trilogy
  • Seanan McGuire – InCryptid
  • Emma Newman – Planetfall

Oh boy, I have so much to read! This category is particularly difficult because if I don’t know a series at all, I’ll start with the first book (obviously) but depending on the series, that book may be super old and not the reason it’s nominated.

I have read the first book in The Expanse and I liked it quite a lot, but apparently not enough to ever continue the series. I don’t feel equipped to judge the quality of the series based only on its first instalment and I won’t manage to catch up to the latest book in time. But I will try and at least read the second one, despite already having caught some spoilers. I still won’t feel alright raking this series because people nominated it for its most recent volume, I assume, and I can’t judge that by reading only the beginning.
I’ve been meaning to read Rosewater by Tade Thompson and I’m so glad I’ll finally get to it. The same goes for Planetfall by Emma Newman. These books have been on my TBR forever and I just keep neglecting them. Thanks again, fellow nominators, for forcing me to finally pick these up.
I’m not as excited about Luna because it’s just not the kind of book I pounce on, but it sounds really good so I’ll definitely read the first book. Maybe it will sweep me off my feet and I’ll devour the entire trilogy.
I nominated The Winternight Trilogy myself for the last few years, mostly because I thought the first book should have been nominated for Best Novel. Then the second book was just as good and the third managed to stick a beautiful, perfect ending to the trilogy. I really hope this wins because it’s not just a nomination for another instalment in an endless series, this is actually a trilogy that becomes a beautiful whole.
And Seanan McGuire is here again, this time with her one series whose covers really put me off. Don’t worry, I’ll read it, but I can’t help but go into it biased. I’m sorry, I’m not perfect, and there’s a certain type of book cover that just signals it’s not for me – gun-toting cheerleaders leaning sexily on things are it!

What I really like about this category is how much range there is. You have a historical fairy tale trilogy nominated alongside a blockbuster space opera, an Urban Fantasy series, a series about aliens in Nigeria, and one that features mental health issues in space. I may not be thrilled about the amount of pages I have ahead of me, but boy am I impressed with Hugo voters for picking such a great variety of what the field has to offer!


best graphic story (0/6)

  • Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans – Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker
  • Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford – LaGuardia
  • Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda – Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen
  • Wendy Xu, Suzanne Walker – Mooncakes
  • Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang – Paper Girls, Volume 6
  • Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: Okay

Yep, that’s right guys. This is a year without Saga, so it’s a year in which I have read not a single nominee.

I have read the first volumes in the Paper Girls series, The Wicked + The Divine as well as Monstress, and while all of them had a certain appeal, I disliked other parts of these comics and didn’t want to continue the series. Paper Girls is probably the one I’m still most interested in although I’m not sure I want to buy 5 volumes to catch up. The Wicked + the Divine just didn’t work for me at all. It had nice art but I just didn’t care for the story or the characters and I definitely will not read 8 entire volumes of something I’m not interested in.
Monstress was super intriguing but I felt the art – while absolutely gorgeous – was too detailed and too messy for a graphic novel. It kept distracting me from the story because I just wanted to look at the pretty pictures. And while that’s nice, in a way, it is really not helpful when trying to wrap your head around intricate world building.
I’ll read whatever is provided in the Hugo Voter Packet even if that means skipping a few volumes. Maybe these finalists are so good that they’ll make me want to go back and catch up on the entire series.

Two finalists that have been on my radar for a while are LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor – because I love the author and think she just gets better and better with whatever she writes. And Mooncakes because it has one of the cutest covers and looks like it’s a total feel-good book.

The only one I had never heard of is Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker which is written by the same person who writes The Wicked + The Divine (that doesn’t bode well for me). It is, however, described as “Goth Jumanji” and that’s something I’m definitely willing to try.


Lodestar (2/6)

  • Naomi Kritzer – Catfishing on CatNet
  • Yoon Ha Lee – Dragon Pearl
  • T. Kingfisher – Minor Mage
  • Holly Black – The Wicked King
  • Fran Wilde – Riverland
  • Frances Hardinge – Deeplight

I am both so excited and so daunted. I had read quite a few YA books last year and thought I would do better in this category, but apparently no. However, now I have yet another list of probably great books to look forward to.

I am thrilled that Minor Mage made it onto the shortlist. I didn’t nominated it (because my slots were already filled with other books), but T. Kingfisher is a joy and a treasure and her books are the perfect feel-good recommendation for our current time. Minor Mage was charming and heart-warming and lovely and I hope everyone reads it, whether it ends up winning or not.
The one book I nominated that did make the shortlist is The Wicked King, which I still think of as a sort of guilty pleasure. It’s a book I know I probably shouldn’t love but I just do. Kudos for the middle volume of a trilogy making an award ballot! And I stand by my opinion. I don’t care if the relationship in this series is messed up. I love it.

The only Frances Hardinge book I’ve read was brilliant and I honestly can’t tell you why I never read more by her. But I am super excited to pick up Deeplight. That woman has crazy cool ideas in her head and I can’t wait to see what she did here.
Yoon Ha Lee took everyone’s breath away with The Machineries of Empire. It will be interesting to see what they do with the YA genre. The only reason I haven’t read this yet is time. But I’ve heard excellent things about it and can’t wait to dive in.
Now Fran Wilde I actively avoided because I really didn’t like Updraft. But every author gets at least a second chance with me, so I’ll pick this one up and see where it leads.
Naomi Kritzer‘s short story “Cat Pictures, Please” was lovely and I think I ranked it as my number one spot when it was nominated (and ended up winning) so I’m curious to see how she does with a full length novel. For some reason, I don’t have very high expectations however. It feels like she’s just trying to repeat what she did with that short story and I’m not sure it will work. But I’ll keep an open mind and hope I end up liking it.


Astounding award for best new writer (1/6)

  • Sam Hawke 
  • R.F. Kuang 
  • Jenn Lyons 
  • Nibedita Sen 
  • Tasha Suri
  • Emily Tesh 

Again, I have read works by only one author here because I suck. But the one I did read – R. F. Kuang – I also nominated. What she did in The Poppy War was as amazing as it was uncomfortable. If I have the time, I’ll dive into the sequel because I suspect she is an author who grows visibly with every book.

I have Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri and Silver in the Woods by Emily Tesh on my TBR already, I just didn’t get to them yet. Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings) and Sam Hawke (City of Lies) I’m less excited about but I will give them a try. Lyons especially felt like an author that got a gigantic push from the publisher but I didn’t read too many reviews by people I follow and trust, so I worried that it might be just marketing and not much else. But I’ll check it out and make up my own mind, of course. The only author I’ve never heard of is Nibedita Sen but I look forward to any short fiction in the Hugo Voters Packet.


Best fancast (5/6)

  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube Channel
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia
  • Be the Serpent

Well, here’s a category where I have almost no catching up to do. I have listened to or watched all of these fancasters with the exception of Be the Serpent.
I love The Coode Street Podcast, even though my reading tastes aren’t exactly in line with Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan’s. But they talk about books with so much knowledge, they are fun to listen to and I always feel a little bit smarter about SFF after listening to an episode.
I am super stoked that Claire Rousseau made this list! Her Genrewise SFF updates are my favorite and her reading taste is actually quite similar to mine (with a few exceptions, of course). She’s always good for recommendations and I appreciate that she doesn’t just ramble but instead always talks throughtfully about the books she reviews.
Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz’s Our Opinions Are Correct is also a great podcast that I only discovered last year. They always do some research before diving into a topic and I just love listening to them.
The Skiffy and Fanty Show is more hit or miss for me. Some episodes are great, others just feel a bit messy. Depending on the topic and guests, things feel unstructured and a bit too hectic. I like them well enough, but they probably won’t be on the top of my ballot.
Galactic Suburbia, as much as I like the presenters, just doesn’t interest me very much. It’s been nominated many years in a row and, every year, I try to listen to a few episodes again. It’s just not for me.


General thoughts

I am very happy with this year’s finalists. There are not too many surprises among them, especially in the Best Novel category. I did expect to find Ann Leckie there but as I haven’t read her eligible book, this expectation is based mostly on her previous awards record. It may just not have been that good. All the other books received a lot of hype and whether I agree with the rave reviews or not, they all deserve their spot on the shortlist.

The most surprising to me was probably the YA category (Lodestar = not a Hugo). I actually didn’t think The Wicked King would make it because although it was buzzed about like crazy and Holly Black has a ton of fans, it is not the kind of book that’s usually up for a Hugo. The only finalist I saw coming was Naomi Kritzer’s book. Not that the others aren’t worthy (I honestly can’t tell, not having read most of them yet) but either I thought not enough people had read them or they would be pushed off the ballot by more popular choices.

Another happy development is that the novella category is not as dominated by Tor.com as it was in the last few years. I love Tor.com to pieces and I think they are one of the finest publishers of SFF fiction out there, but it’s good to have some more variety on an awards ballot. Too much of the same thing, even if it’s a good thing, is just not healthy! So I’m really glad that other publishers managed to publish novellas that got enough buzz to be read by people and that those novellas were good enough to become finalists.

Side note: Much like Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis (both excellent writes whose work I adore), Seanan McGuire seems to get nominated just for having written something. I really, really do not like that. I understand being a loyal fan and wanting your favorite author to win things, but even the most hardcore fan can’t honestly tell me that everything Seanan writes is award-worthy. Not even everything Neil Gaiman writes is award-worthy!
The fact that McGuire is  nominated in all her eligible categories pretty much every year makes me actually want to rank her lower than she possibly deserves, just because I don’t like the practice of pushing a writer that hard. It feels like her fans are begging for a prize. And it makes me annoyed and spiteful and angry with myself for being annoyed and spiteful.

As far as I can tell, Seanan herself has nothing to do with this and her fans act on their own which is totally fine! Again, if you really did love every single word McGuire puts on a page, then by all means nominate it – and if that’s what her fans did, then I guess I should just shut up and stop complaining. It is simply my hope that people try to read more than one author and even if they do read everything by one author, to judge their works fairly and not nominate blindly. Maybe I’m totally wrong and it’s a huge coincidence that this happens every year, but maybe it’s not. There’s nothing I can do about it either way, so this is how I deal with it. I vent about it on here.

As someone who tries to read everything that’s nominated, it gets pretty tired and boring having to go through one single author’s entire back catalogue. Especially an author who has been nominated years and years on end, winning very few awards compared to the amount of nominations (14 nominations total, among them 3 wins, and  two of those for the SF Squeecast, only one for actual writing).
Please don’t hate me if you’re a McGuire fan – I’m just starting to like her writing, too – this is simply my reaction to having to read at least three books by the same author if I want to judge the categories fairly. It’s exhausting, especially because this happens every single year.

But hey, maybe I’ll end up agreeing with her fans and think all of the nominated works are actually worthy of a Hugo Award. I’ll keep you updated and will post my final rankings at the end of the voting period.

As I mentioned above, the Best Series finalists make me super happy because they encompass many aspects of science fiction and fantasy and they force me out of my comfort zone a little.

And I love that the Best Fancast category added a YouTuber to an otherwise podcast-dominated ballot. I hope this is only the first in many years to come where Hugo voters realize that a fancast can be all sorts of things.

10 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2020

  1. Heather says:

    The Seanan McGuire books are delightful. I love them. The Expanse series is excellent — I’m just waiting for the last book in the series to come out now. Looking at the other finalists, I have a lot of reading to catch up on. Hahaha!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    I love the Lodestar list! Both because I’m just happy the Lodestar exists, and because I have read only one of those books and consequently now have a bunch of awesome books to check out. Most of these were already on my list, but it’s good to have the nudge to get to them — especially the Yoon Ha Lee one, given how much I love his writing!

    I am the teeniest bit disappointed in the Best Novel nominations though. Several of those books are by authors I don’t ever seem to get along with, and I’m sad they’re all by white people (unless I missed something). But yeah, overall a great list of nominations this year!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina says:

      I kind of hoped Black Leopard, Red Wolf would make it but the fans have spoken. All the Best Novel nominees are white women, yes, but I guess it was just a good year for them. There’s more diverse representation in the other categories, so I’m okay with that. 🙂
      I also look forward to the Lodestar books. It’s going to be a tough decision this year, for sure.

      Like

  3. JonBob says:

    I’m kinda disappointed in how few of these I’ve actually got round to reading. I always feel unqualified to vote in awards if I haven’t read all the books up for nomination and I’d really like to be more up to date with current releases. Problem being there’s nearly 400 books on my TBR already haha. I’d really like to challenge myself to keep more up to date though.

    I loved this post btw Dina, lots of interesting and insightful stuff here =)

    Like

    • Dina says:

      Thank you so much!
      I know how you feel. Up until a few years ago, the shortlist always bummed me out because I had read maybe one of the nominated works. But the more I pay attention throughout the year about which books are talked about, the easier it is to keep up.
      Of course, that comes at the cost of neglecting older books which is also a shame. I try to find some sort of balance between older works and new releases but I still have a ton to read every year when the finalists are announced. All we can really do is read as much as we can and do our best to vote fairly. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. styleonfile says:

    I love this beautifully structured post and your ambition to read and review in all the categories! It feels like we are kindred spirits although I will be happy if I get through the novels and the novellas. Then again, I read through all the categories last year so why not this year too?! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Regarding the book series, I really liked the Planetfall books and although I LOVE The Expanse, they might be eligible next year again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina says:

      Thank you. I plan to do a separate post for each category once I’ve read all the finalists. I’ve only read the novels so far but I’m a bit surprised how my ranking turned out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • gehmeyr says:

        Last year, it’s been a reading slump for me. So, no novels yet. I‘m more into short stories anyways (want to check out my blog?) and working my way slowly from short to long. Currently, I’m in the novelettes.

        Like

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