My Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2022

One of the best surprises is when the Hugo Award Finalists are announced much earlier than expected. It’s true, book people of the world, ChiCon have announced the finalists today and that means it’s time to share first impressions.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE FINALISTS!

Same procedure as every year. 🙂 I’ll go through the categories one by one, see how many books I’ve already read and what I think about the finalists. I will leave out the categories about which I have little to say and/or which I don’t plan to vote in (like Best Editor Long Form) or which don’t really fit this blog (the Dramatic Presentation categories).

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 (5/6)

Five out of six is crazy! Then again, I felt that last year was filled with a lot of very, very good books but almost no standout ones that everyone could get on board with and cheer for. None of these finalists are surprising, as they were all talked about and praised quite a lot, but I also don’t have an immediate winner in mind, despite having read almost all of them already.

I have been looking forward to She Who Became the Sun since it came out and I even own a stunning hardback edition. Don’t know why I haven’t read it yet but I have high hopes. Maybe this is the one that will make me go “Here’s my winner!”

As for the others, my favorite was probably Becky Chambers final Wayfarers novel The Galaxy and the Ground Within (review coming on Monday) because it’s just what I had hoped for, the audiobook version was absolutely wonderful yet again, and there’s just something about Chambers’ writing and characters that works for me.
A close second was a surprise for me because it’s Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I was expecting a bit of lighthearted, sciency fun. A space adventure with a dash of saving the world and great humor. And I got that, but I also got so much more. Granted, I listened to this book during the phase of my pregnancy when it was hardest to concentrate, so I think the audiobook narrator Ray Porter deserves extra praise. But the way the book kept my attention and made me feel for the characters was impressive to say the least.

Now I’d like to see P. Djèlí Clark’s career keep soaring the way it is and I did have fun with A Master of Djinn but I also preferred his shorter works. The novel, while great for many reasons, was lacking in other areas. The murder mystery part of the story fell flat for me, but I did continue to love the world building which was begun in Clark’s short story and novellas set in the same world. I also adored some of the character interactions. So it wasn’t love at first read, but I also wouldn’t begrudge this book a Hugo win.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine had the tough job of following a big favorite of mine and Hugo Best Novel winner in its own right, A Memory Called Empire. I loved many things about this book and I thought Martine did a great job pushing her story further and giving her characters a satisfying plotline while also introducing new ones. But – as unfair as that may be – the novelty of said world is gone and so I didn’t quite love the book as much as its predecessor. I was also under the impression that it’s the middle book of a planned trilogy but I guess that’s wrong and the duology is finished.

Lastly, Light of Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki was another wonderful, not-a-boring-moment science-fantasy novel that stood out mostly for its characters, not so much for its science fictional ideas. It’s wacky and fun and deep, it asks important questions, and it puts a trans character center stage, describes lovely queer relationships, and it’s also a love letter to music! I really have no complaints about this book other than that it didn’t focus all that much on SFF world building/magic system things but rather on characters. That’s not a bad thing at all, but when having to decide between several excellent books, it’s one aspect I’m taking into consideration.


BEST NOVELLA (3/6)

Well look at that, all three of my nominations made the final ballot! I am so proud. Mostly, I am overjoyed that Cat Valente’s beautiful, heartbreaking, eye-opening, lovely novella The Past is Red made it! Although I will read the other finalists, I doubt any of them is going to touch me the way this little book has. Honestly, I still pick up my copy and stroke the cover from time to time, thinking back lovingly to the moments spent with Tetley in Gargabetown. It may be short but this story packs a punch.

Seanan McGuire is back again with her latest Wayward Children novella, Across the Green Grass Fields. I’m not surprised because McGuire getting nominated is just a thing that happens, but I am a little surprised because even fans of the series said that they found this to be a particularly weak instalment and many people didn’t like it, despite being big McGuire fans. So I’ll go into this with very low expectations and hope it will be a happy surprise like the fourth volume in that rather middling series.

Becky Chambers’ A Psalm for the Wild-Built was just what I expected but also quite different. It was quieter and had less plot than I had anticipated, but that doesn’t mean I liked it any less. I felt so damn understood and I loved the philosophical questions the story posed. It wasn’t as much of an emotional gut punch as the Valente, but I’m glad it made the final ballot (I nominated it, after all).

Similarly, Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered was just my jam even though I think it’s not in the same league as my other two nominations. This was more of a fun exploration of fairy tales, a feminist kick in the trope-butt, a book that made me giggle at all its references. It has an emotional core and its premise isn’t funny at all, but I think despite Harrow being a Hugo favorite, she will have a hard time winning this category.

I generally like Aliette de Bodard and Fireheart Tiger has been on my TBR for a while. Adrian Tchaikovsky is an author I keep wanting to try but I haven’t found a good (read: non-threatening because 7-book epic saga) entry point yet. This Elder Race novella looks like my perfect opportunity.


BEST NOVELETTE (1/6)

There’s almost nothing new to see here. All of the finalist authors are well-established Hugo contenders, with the exception of Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, who is a Nommo and Otherwise winner and a Nebula finalist but hasn’t been on the Hugo ballot so far. I look forward to his novelette. In with the new stuff!

Obviously, I am thrilled to see Cat Valente‘s novelette on here. Her take on Orpheus and Eurydice and what comes after the aventure we all know felt like a slap in the face, but what a beautiful, gorgeously written slap it was.

As for the others, I look forward to reading all of them. Most of the authors I’ve read and liked before so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this category. Also, Uncanny magazine has such pretty covers. I could stare at them for hours.


BEST SHORT STORY (1/6)

It is not the Valente story that I’ve read but “Mr. Death” by Alix Harrow! I rarely read short fiction and I pretty much never actively look up short stories. I lean more toward novels and novellas, but this I couldn’t miss after reading Andreas’ review. I thought I knew where this story was going when I really didn’t, and then my heart got wrenched and my eyes somehow went glassy and the short story landed on my nomination ballot…

A Cat Valente short story is always a good thing, especially since I totally missed that she published one. Many heaps of shame upon my head but also yay for something to really, really look forward to. (Narrator voice: Later that day…) I have read the story now and, damn, it’s atmospheric and gut-punchy, alright. But! I didn’t love it as much as “Mr. Death”.

There’s a short story that has been entirely published on Twitter on here which is about as 2020ies as things can get. I have no idea what the story is about but I am intrigued. Also, more Uncanny Magazine. They’re just really good.


BEST SERIES (3ish/6)

  • Fonda Lee – The Geen Bone Saga
  • C. L. Polk – The Kingston ycle
  • Seanan McGuire – Wayward Children
  • Charles Stross – Merchant Princes
    • The Family Trade
    • The Hidden FAmily
    • The Clan Corporate
    • The Merchant’s War
    • The Revolution Business
    • The Trade of Queens
  • Ada Palmer – Terra Ignota
    • Too Like the Lightning
    • Seven Surrenders
    • The Will to Battle
    • Perhaps the Stars
  • T. Kingfisher – The World of the White Rat
    • Clocktaur War
      • Clockwork Boys
      • The Wonder Engine
    • Swordheart
    • The Saint of Steel
      • Paladin’s Grace
      • Paladin’s Strength
      • Paladin’s Hope

I was afraid last year that InCryptid would be back in 2022, so I am now counting myself lucky that it was McGuire’s Wayward Children series that once again made the ballot. I have to read the latest book for the Novella category anyway, so I’m glad I can get away with that one short book. That’s a definite win. I already know that series will at best make the middle of my ballot because, overall, I don’t find it partiularly strong, but we’ll see how I like this latest addition.

Why I haven’t already devoured Jade Legacy is anyone’s guess. Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga is one of those series that have made a real impact on SFF by doing something fresh and new even though she may be playing with well-known tropes and ideas. It doesn’t hurt that her writing is just brilliant. So yeah, can’t wait to finish the series and see if the Kaul family gets out of this mafia-esque clan war unscathed.

The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk started out very nicely with Witchmark. Unfortunately, I never continued the series (because I suck) but I very much look foward to reading the other stories set in that universe. I also like that this is more of a charming kind of story, very different in tone and setting from the other finalists.

Although my first thought upon looking up The World of the White Rat by the inimitable T. Kingfisher was “holy shit, this is a lot” I am super excited about this finalist. I mean, it’s not like all of these books aren’t on my TBR anyway, it’s just that this particular world has several series set in it and I’m not quite sure where to start. I suppose I’ll let my mood decide. There’s Steampunk, fantasy romance (yay), and there’s a standalone that sounds hilarious.

I am also happy that I will finally have to read Terra Ignota by Ada Palmer. I’ve had my eye on that series for ages but somehow it always slipped through the cracks. If this year is anything like last year, I am in for happy surprises and great new series discoveries.

The wild card on the ballot is Charles Stross’ Marchant Princes. I had honestly never even heard of this series before (Stross is more famous for his Laundry Files, I guess) and it sounds like a strange amalgamation of rather old-timey tropes. Modern woman, portal fantasy, scheming rival clans, knights on horseback… there seems to be a bit of everything here and it could go either way. I’ll be honest and say the covers aren’t encouraging, but I will definitely give it a try. It wouldn’t be the first time my fellow Hugo nominators lead me to discover unexpected favorites.


BEST GRAPHIC STORY (0.5/6)

  • Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans – DIE, vol. 4: Bleed
  • N. K. Jemisin, Jamal Campbell – Far Sector
  • Rachel Smythe – Lore Olympus, vol. 1
  • Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda – Monstress, vol. 6: The Vow
  • Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora, Tamra Bonvillain – Once & Future vol. 3: The Parliament of Magpies
  • Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Evan “Doc” Shaner – Strange Adventures

Well, as per usual, I haven’t caught up on most of the series that are perennial Hugo favorites but I look forward to it. I have read some of Lore Olympus online (as this started as a webcomic before it was published traditionally) and I found it cute and all but I wasn’t hooked enough to continue. Maybe it was also reading on my phone that turned me off… We’ll see how I like it when I read it on the iPad.

DIE vol. 4, Once & Future vol. 3, and Monstress vol. 6 are all continuations of series that have previously been nominated. Some of them I find more promising than others but what’s interesting here is the speed with which Kieron Gillen seems to put out his work. Last year, we got volume 1 of Once & Future and volume 2 of DIE, this year we’ve “skipped” a volume each. I hope the missing volumes are included in the voter packet so we can form an opinion on the series as a whole so far as well as the latest instalment. I will also do a re-read of the first volumes because my bain is useless and remembers almost nothing.

Seeing N. K. Jemisin on a Hugo finalist list is no surprise, although I previously knew nothing about this comic Far Sector. It’s apparently a Green Lantern story and the synopsis honestly doesn’t sound that great to me. But it’s Jemisin, so I’m sure she turned a small idea into something amazing.

Strange Adventure seems to be a reinvention of old-timey pulpy superhero science fiction and I’m keeping an open mind. I guess I’ll end up either loving or hating it. If it’s funny and I like the art, yay. If the content reads like it’s from the 50ies, I will have to pass.


LODESTAR (1/6)

  • Jordan Ifueko – Redemptor
  • Naomi Kritzer – Chaos on CatNet
  • Xiran Jay Zaho – Iron Widow
  • Charlie Jane Anders – Victories Greater Than Death
  • Darcie Little Badger – A Snake Falls to Earth
  • Naomi Novik – The Last Graduate

Looks like we have a lot of sequels on our hands, as well as some returning Hugo or Lodestar finalist authors. The exception – and the book I’m most excited for – is Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow. As with many other finalists this year, I’ve owned the book for quite some time. It’s the actual reading that seems to take me forever. 🙂

I very much look forward to the second Naomi Kritzer book, Chaos on CatNet as the first one totally unexpectedly stole my heart! Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth looks very pretty but sounds like it’s mostly a repeat of the themes and structure we got in Elatsoe which I liked fine, but which read much, much younger than I was led to believe from the synopsis and marketing. But I’m curious to see how the author has grown and developed and what this new story has to offer.

Apparently, Naomi Novik is writing YA after all. And there I was, thinking all those articles did her wrong, automatically classifying a work by a female fantasy writer as YA just because it happens to have a school setting. I am still not convinced this was meant to be YA, but it looks like declining an awards nomination is just a bit too hard – but okay, if this is how it is, I hope the author doesn’t complain when people call her books YA. You can’t have it both ways. I am not un-excited to read The Last Graduate but it will have to up the game in comparison to A Deadly Education.

Reading Charlie Jane Anders is always intriguing and her first foray into YA has me positively giddy with excitement. Victories Greater Than Death also got optioned for a TV series, so that makes me expect quite a bit of action and a compelling plot. Anders always has great ideas, diverse characters, and complicated world building. I cannot wait!

The one book I have read (and nominated) is Jordan Ifueko’s Redemptor. I didn’t love it quite as much as Raybearer but it was a fantastic ending to a duology, it wrapped the story up neatly, raised the stakes, offered some great twists, and I adored its complex romantic as well as found family relationships. It’s too early to say where it will land on my ballot, though. The competition is stiff!


ASTOUNDING AWARD (3/6)

I nominated Micaiah Johnson, just like last year, because The Space Between Worlds is one hell of a debut and makes me highly anticipate the author’s next work. (I also nominated Freya Marske who may not have been eligible due to some shorter work published earlier? Anyway, she’s great, just had to meantion this here!)

Everina Maxwell‘s debut was fun and well written but didn’t leave too much of an impression on me. I’m happy to see the author nominated and I’ll be on the lokout for her next work but it wasn’t an instant author crush for me.

Shelley Parker-Chan and Xiran Jay Zhao are nominated in two categories each, one Best Novel/Lodestar, the other the Astounding Award. So they both made quite an impact, it seems, which only makes me more excited to read their novels. Again, I find it very nice that I can cover several categories with a single book. Gives me more of a chance to catch up on those Best Series!

A.K. Larkwood is back from last year. I still haven’t read The Unspoken Name but I hope to get to it this year. By now, the second book in that series is also out.
Tracy Deonn‘s sequel to Legendborn only comes out in November which is too late for reading it within the voting period. But I’ve read and enjoyed her first book and will rank her in this list as best as I can.


GENERAL THOUGHTS

Most of the categories are not surprising at all. There’s plenty of Hugo favorites, either authors who have been nominated or won before, or direct sequels to works that have been finalists.

Obviously, my biggest joy is seeing Catherynne M. Valente in three categories! My favorite of last year, The Past is Red, wasn’t all that surprising because lots of people liked it. But I didn’t expect her novelette “L’Esprit de L’Escalier” to make it (even though I nominated it because, obviously, it’s brilliant) and then to see her nominated for Best Short Story as well. Can you see me jumping up and down like a crazy person? Because I totally am.

I’m so, so happy that T. Kingfisher is becoming a Hugo fixture. I’ve been reading her indie works for years but seeing how fandom has caught on and is appreciating her genius is just wonderful. Plus, her acceptance speeches are THE BEST! I also hope this makes it easier for her to keep writing and publishing because I selfishly just want more T. Kingfisher books!

My Seanan McGuire rant is cancelled this year. Really, I’m fine with it. I don’t think this year’s novella contender will be good but hey, at least it’s only one novella and a short story. And I have loved some of McGuire’s short stories so there’s that.

Only a handful of works came out of left field for me and they are, first of all, the Charles Stross series that I’d never even heard mentioned before and, secondly, the Strange Adventures comic. Then again, I’m not as in the loop about graphic novels and comics as other people so that may just be my fault.

What do you think about the finalists? Did your nominees make it? Are you going to read the finalists and if yes, are you voting?

2 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2022

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