Additional Thoughts on the 2022 Hugo Award Finalists

I was pretty damn excited about this year’s Hugo finalists and so, of course, I had to get my initial reaction out there as fast as possible. Now that I’ve had some time to think about certain aspects of the ballot, read other people’s reactions, and do a bit more research on those Best Series candidates, I have additional thoughts. I didn’t want to add them to my existing post because that beast is already way too long, but I do want to throw this out there anyway.

Works I Missed Among the Finalists

The finalists are really nothing to complain about and because of that, I didn’t even think about some of the works I nominated which didn’t make it. I am mostly happy about the finalists this year but I do want to mention a few books I think would have been equally as deserving.

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife was one of my top reads of 2021 and Gailey is not unpopular with Hugo voters. I would be surprised if they didn’t show up on the longlist!
I believe (honestly can’t remember right now) that I also nominated A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, plus Freya Marske for the Astounding Award, because that book surprised me in all the best ways. It is more of a romance than a fantasy – although there’s plenty of magic in it – so I’m not very surprised it didn’t make Best Novel but I also think I wasn’t alone in nominating it and the series as well as the author might make an appearance on future ballots with one of the sequels.
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor came out in November and there wasn’t a lot of buzz surrounding that book. What little I heard from other people led me to believe that most of them weren’t as impressed as I was. But I don’t care, I adored that short novel.

For the Lodestar I would have loved, loved, loved to see Little Thieves by Margaret Owen among the finalists, but that book came out rather late in 2021 (October) so it makes sense that, even though it’s well liked, not enough people read it before the nomination period was over. And Owen isn’t exactly a household name for the Hugos like, say, Charlie Jane Anders.
Another YA book I would have loved to be a finalist is The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He. I think it garnered a lot of cover love when it came out but I guess many of the people who read and loved it aren’t Hugo voters. Joan He is one of the most exciting YA authors I’ve discovered in recent years so I hope she keeps up the brilliant work and if so, I’ll keep nominating her.

What I found a little surprising – although good surprising – was that it wasn’t Catherynne M. Valente’s Comfort Me With Apples that became a finalist but rather The Past is Red. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them both, but I much preferred The Past is Red. But from what I saw on the interwebs, I felt that more people flocked to her wonderfully creepy novella about the perfect neighborhood rather than her futuristic post-climate apocalypse one. I fully expect to see Apples on the nominations list, and not too far underneath the cutoff point. September will tell.

About the Best Novella category

In all my joy about Cat Valente’s brilliant novella being on this list, I missed that the entire category is dominated by Tordotcom yet again. And I also have to be honest with myself and admit that I am once more part of that problem. I nominated three novellas, all from Tordotcom, all on the final ballot.

It’s still quite rare that other publishers put out novellas, at least in the quality and quantity that the people at Tordotcom do. You’ll get a prequel novella to a successful YA trilogy or series every once in a while but I don’t think those are the usual Hugo candidates.

There are great publishers, like Subterranean Press, who sometimes do novellas, but their limited releases make it hard for a big enough audience to consume what they publish and thus for enough people to nominate it for a Hugo. I remember Tamsyn Muir published a fairy tale novella a few years ago and one would think that during the height of the Gideon the Ninth hype, she would have had an easy time getting nominated for Best Novella as well. But the overlap in Subterranean readers and Hugo voters seems to be just a bit smaller.

In my search for other publishers, I came across Neon Hemlock Press. Two of their 2021 novellas are nominated for a Nebula Award, so I am now vowing to read at least one of their novella publications of 2022 in order to make my own pool for nominating next year a little bit bigger. And if I pick a good book, I can just throw in a second one. 🙂

About that Naomi Novik Lodestar nomination (again!?)

When I wrote my initial reaction to the finalists, I must have been in a particularly gracious mood, giving Novik the benefit of the (still very much existing) doubt and just accepting that the Scholomance series is, apparently, YA. But the more I think about it, the more my original anger at last year’s finalist, A Deadly Education, and Novik’s handling of these nominations is coming back.

But before I start ranting, what we must all remember is that YA is not tangible, not objective, not something that can be classified easily. That’s why we keep returning to the same stupid discussions over and over again. A young protagonist doesn’t guarantee a book is YA (see The Poppy War), a school setting doesn’t mean it’s automatically YA (see Ninth House), even coming of age as a theme doesn’t mean it’s YA (see Mexican Gothic). So there is no real right or wrong when it comes to what falls under the mantle of YA fiction. With some books, you just know, with others, you rely on the only information you have which is one or more of the following:

  • the author says it’s YA
  • the publisher says it’s YA
  • booksellser and libraries say it’s YA
  • the marketing campaign tells us it’s YA
  • the book isn’t an Alex Award nominee

Here is the definition of books eligible for the Alex Award:

The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year’s publishing. 

Alex Award

Naomi Novik accepted the nomination for that award in 2021 and, by doing so, classified her book as written for adults. If it weren’t, she couldn’t have, in good conscience, accepted the Alex Award nomination, right? Right!
So what other info do we have that helps us classify whether A Deadly Education and the entire Scholomance series is YA or not?

  • To repeat the most important point: Naomi Novik, the author herself, agreed that it’s an adult novel by accepting an award nomination for adult novels
  • The publisher, Del Rey, marketed this series as adult from the very start
  • Booksellers list it as adult Fantasy/Horror/Genre Fiction
    • To be fair, the one single mention of “Childrens & YA” I have found was for the German edition of the audiobook, so German publishers are going a different way, it seems.

Okay, so even though this research isn’t super scientific and the results are not 100% conclusive, it still paints a rather clear picture of the Scholomance Trilogy having been written and intended for adults. The fact that they can be enjoyed by younger readers is meaningless when it comes to the Lodestar Award. The Lord of the Rings is also read and loved by teenagers all over the world, but that doesn’t make it a YA book by any means!

The Lodestar Award is meant specifically for Young Adult SFF books. Not adult books that young people enjoy, not non-SFF books that mention a UFO sighting once, not novelettes, not TV shows. It’s really very simple. If all things point to a book being YA and enough people nominate it, it should become a finalist. If people nominated a book that doesn’t qualify, it should not become a finalist. Would a YA movie have made the ballot if it had gotten enough votes? I should hope not! So why does an adult novel?

The problem, in my opinion, is threefold.

Number one: Nominators seem to be confused or not to care whether it’s YA or not. As a quick Google search will tell you, it was never meant to be YA but, having read the first book, I can see where the confusion comes from. It ticks a lot of the usual YA boxes. So I’ll assume most people nominated in good faith and chose the category they thought the book belonged in.

Number two: The Hugo administrators, both for 2021 and 2022, did not disqualify a book that was nominated in the wrong category. Please, future Hugo administrations, do better! Mistakes can happen and that’s okay, but making the same mistake a previous administration has already made is embarrassing. Doing it three times in a row is just incompetent.
Disqualify works if they are in the wrong category and – because the fans’ votes should still count, obviously! – count them in the correct category. So The Last Gradute should have its nominations transferred to the Best Novel category and if it manages to get among the top six choices, then it’s a well-deserved finalist in that category.

Number three: The failsafe for the previous two problems, and an option any author can take any time should they deem it advisable, is the fact that you do not have to accept a nomination. You can decline, for whatever reason. Many authors and creators do so after winning an award, recusing themselves in order to let other people shine next year (I don’t think anybody ever thought that this wasn’t a classy move). Others decline their earned spot on the finalist ballot for various reasons (Terry Pratchett said that he really doesn’t need a Hugo, he’s quite famous enough and wanted someone else to have a chance (man, I miss that man!). Ann Leckie declined for The Raven Tower after having garnered tons of nominations for her Imperial Radch books.)
Naomi Novik, now two years in a row, actively accepted nominations for the Lodestar award. Let’s not forget, she also accepted the Alex Award nomination last year. So no matter how you turn it, she is trying to have it both ways and wants to maximize her chances of winning an award, any award.
And even if she can’t bring herself to decline a nomination meant for other works, she should at least have the decency to clarify whether this series she’s writing is YA or adult. Her utter silence on the topic since ever last year’s nomination and the controversy that came with it has been pretty telling.

Look, none of us can see inside Naomi Novik’s head or heart, so we’ll never know her true reasons. But her behaviour does paint a certain picture and it is not exactly flattering. I have copious amounts of love for her novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver but my respect for her as a person has shrunk significantly since last year. This year just makes things worse. It’s no longer just in bad taste, it appears desperate and ruthless.

A fair and gracious person would have declined either the nomination for the Alex Award or the one for the Lodestar. Novik wanted to have both, no matter that her book is taking up a spot on the ballot meant for a qualified work of fiction.
Last year, it was Sarah Gailey‘s actual, meant-for-younger-audiences YA debut, When We Were Magic about queer teenage witches. I wonder whose book it will turn out to be this year? A newer, more unknow author whose career could change entirely due to a Lodestar nomination? A BIPOC author? We’ll find out in September but I fully expect to be outraged.

About the Charles Stross Best Series Finalist

I was super confused when I saw a series name I had never even heard of on the final ballot. Charlie Stross is a name I’m familiar with, I read his novella Equoid years ago and found it delightfully creepy. Never got into the Laundry Files, though. But his nomination for Best Series still came out of nowhere for me when I googled it, and now, after some additional research, I realize why.

The Hugo administration was a bit unclear when it comes to the exact series title. Because the series Merchant Princes (Goodreads) actually contains only six works, the latest of which came out in 2010.

I should have realized I was missing something when there was no recent work listed in that series. What is, in fact, nominated this year, is the Merchant Princes Universe (Goodreads) which contains the above mentioned series as well as a newer series, called Empire Games.

Once you’ve found the right series, familiar looking covers start popping up and the nomination doesn’t feel quite so out of the blue as it did. The newer sub-series which qualified the larger fictional universe, contains only three novels (so far):

Judging only from the covers, I’d say this will be quite different in setting from the older Merchant Princes series. I am a little bit torn on where to start reading the series now. As I doubt I’ll make it through all nine (!) volumes, I’ll probably go only with the newer trilogy because (a) fewer books to read and (b) I get the stuff that made people nominate the series, not books from almost 20 years ago. I also think my chances of liking this series/universe are much higher if I stick to the newer ones.

I still find it a very strange choice as there was very little buzz around these books in the last years and Stross is much more well-known for his Laundry Files series. It could either be his fans doing a Seanan McGuire (nominating whatever is eligible by their favorite author) or this series really is a hidden gem that deserves more recognition. I am curious and will, of course, report back once I’ve read the first, or technically seventh, book.

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