Reading the Lodestars: Not-A-Hugo for Best YA Novel

I’m still reading the nominated works for this year’s Hugo Awards. It’s just that challenges and readathons took preference recently. I won’t be able to finish all the books I intended to read in time but then again, I knew that going in. I have read all of the Lodestar nominees except for one. My top spot was clear very early on and hasn’t changed after catching up on the other nominees.

The Nominees for the Lodestar Award

  1. Rachel Hartman – Tess of the Road
  2. Holly Black – The Cruel Prince
  3. Justina Ireland – Dread Nation
  4. Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone
  5. Peadar O’Guilín – The Invasion
  6. Dhonielle Clayton – The Belles

My top pick by a large margin is Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman. It’s a very special kind of book that takes the reader on a journey both literally with its protagonist and figuratively, while reading. Although it’s a quiet book that focuses on character growth, there’s always something happening. I grew to love Tess fiercely and I also found myself caring for the people she met on her journey. Hartman’s world building is intriguing and as someone who hasn’t read the Seraphina books, made me want to go out and read everything she’s written. The writing is beautiful, the message is amazing, this was really a wonderful book that I can’t recommend enough.

The only bookI had already read when the nominees were announced was The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. I liked that book, especially the way its characters were definitely not black or white, and the world building and complex political intrigues felt like Holly Black trusted her young readers to be smart enough to get it – I always appreciate authors who write YA as if their readers had a brain. 🙂 The only thing it was missing was a plot that could hook me throughout. It was a good book and I’ll continue the series, it just felt like this book mostly set up everything for the rest of the series. That ending, however, had one of the most twisty twists that truly surprised me. And because it’s a book that I have kept thinking about ever since reading it (right when it came out), it gets the second place on my ballot.

The next two books may yet switch places on my ballot because they were both good but not great, they both had certain things really going for them, but others that I felt needed a lot more work. For the moment, my number three is Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. When I think about this book, the first thing that comes to mind is the voice of its wonderful protagonist. She’s a cheeky one, I love how she tells her story, and that made the entire book a joy, even when the plot kind of meandered. Which is also the novel’s biggest flaw. Former slaves, now sort-of-freed (but not really because people are assholes), are trained to fight against the zombie hordes that started rising up during the Civil War. The plot starts one way and made me expect certain things, but then stayed kind of put and focused on a small side quest. I assume, the bigger plot will be the story of the entire series and I’ll probably read the second part to see if I’m right.

My number four is probably lots of people’s number one. Whether it was the massive hype that biased my expectations or the gorgeous cover (I won’t pretend I’m immune), Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone was a bit of a letdown. It was truly a fun ride, a great adventure story with some interesting world building and particularly cool magic, but the story was just so predictable. As soon as the group arrived at a new place, I knew where it was going. And inevitably, the plot did go that way. The same goes for the romances. They were very obvious from the start and while that’s not a bad thing (because they were very well done), I was hoping for something a little more original. With all the rave reviews out there, I thought this would have a plot twist or two, would surprise me. But except for the very ending, I kind of knew the entire story before it happened. It was fun enough, however, for me to continue the series.

The only book I didn’t get to yet, but hopefully will before voting ends, is The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilín. I did read the first part of this duology, so I have some idea of the author’s style and world building. I liked The Call well enough. Mostly, it kept me reading for the sheer horror of what’s happening in this version of Ireland. Sometime during your teenage years, you will be whisked away to the Grey Land (a dark sort of Fairyland) where you’ll have to survive for 24 hours – only a few minutes in our world – or be killed by the fairies hunting you. Even the people who do come back alive are changed, physically and psychologically. It was a thrilling book that could have used a few more pages spent on character development, in my opinion.

My least favorite of the bunch was The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. Here, the supposed plot twists were even more obvious than in Adeyemi’s novel. But it also didn’t have much else going for it. The writing itself was okay, it was a quick read, but I thought the villain was over-the-top, and the story didn’t manage to get me interested. My biggest pet peeve was probably the world building because I’m generally willing to suspend my disbelief (I read mostly fantasy, so obviously) but this world just didn’t make sense. Sure, the protagonist is a Belle and so only sees a certain part of her world that has to do exclusively with beauty and appearance and royalty. But nowhere is it mentioned how this society would even work and I kept asking myself very often where food comes from, how poor people live, and so on. It was not a bad book but it wasn’t a very good one either.

So this is the current state of my Lodestar ballot. Depending on how good The Invasion is, places may change yet. The last category I’m tackling (and won’t finish) is the Best Series nominees. There will be one series of which I haven’t read a single book, but with the others, I have at least read one book or novella. I honestly don’t think that’s enough to form a proper opinion on the entire series, but  it’s the only thing I have to go on. And I have the suspicion that if The Laundry Files or the October Daye series don’t win this year, they will be back next year. At least I’ll have a head start for then.

Eurovision in Space: Catherynne M. Valente – Space Opera

I read this book in July 2018 and I adored every page. But – as with many of Cat Valente’s books – I find it very difficult to write a coherent review. Some of my Valente reviews are gushing, fangirly, quote-filled posts that I hope will convince some people to pick up her books. But I would understand if you guys just think: “That girl is crazy, but good for her for liking this book, I guess.” and moving on with your lives. With Space Opera, Valente garnered a much-deserved Hugo Award nomination (although I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times before: She should have been nominated and won for her novel Radiance!), so I’m giving this reviewing thing another try.

SPACE OPERA
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Saga Press, 2018
Hardcover: 294 pages
Standalone
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Once upon a time on a small, watery, excitable planet called Earth, in a small, watery, excitable country called Italy, a soft-spoken, rather nice-looking gentleman by the name of Enrico Fermi was born into a family so overprotective that he felt compelled to invent the atomic bomb.

A century ago, the Sentience Wars tore the galaxy apart and nearly ended the entire concept of intelligent space-faring life. In the aftermath, a curious tradition was invented—something to cheer up everyone who was left and bring the shattered worlds together in the spirit of peace, unity, and understanding.
Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.
This year, though, humankind has discovered the enormous universe. And while they expected to discover a grand drama of diplomacy, gunships, wormholes, and stoic councils of aliens, they have instead found glitter, lipstick, and electric guitars. Mankind will not get to fight for its destiny—they must sing.
A band of human musicians, dancers, and roadies have been chosen to represent Earth on the greatest stage in the galaxy. And the fate of their species lies in their ability to rock.

Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes are a has-been glam rock band, currently in sort-of-retirement. But when alien life pops up on Earth – all over the place, all at once, I might add – and informs us that we have to compete in an intergalactic music competition to prove our sentience and, therefore, our right to continue living on as a species, Decibel is ripped right out of his stupor and has to make music again.

There is a reason why this book has been compared to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and that reason is very simple (and if you read the first sentence above, you’ll know it). The style is similar, it has a silliness to it that will remind anyone of Douglas Adams’ hilarious trilogy of five, and it is filled to the brim with ideas, with original alien species, with deep thoughts about life and what makes humanity worthy of living. But like any comparison, it’s not exactly the same. Any book by Cat Valente will feature her signature style, although I admit she departed quite far from it for this novel. But you’ll still get flowery descriptions, long sentences,  clever inside jokes, and references to real-world things. Except, you know, with a wink and a smile.

Do not expect a very plot-heavy book. Stuff happens at the beginning and at the end. In the middle, the time where Decibel and the Absolute Zeroes prepare their intergalactic musical number, is spent mostly with character development, world-building, and ruminations about what makes life worthwhile. That could go either way for you, but I personally loved it. I don’t need big epic things to happen on every page, or at least not in every book I read. Discovering all the crazy aliens Valente came up with felt pretty epic to me. While some of them are just weird creatures – like giant, talking flamingoes – others are not corporeal at all. I don’t want to spoil the fun for you, but rest assured that there are a lot of aliens to be discovered  and that some of them are absolutely hilarious, especially if you remember Microsoft Word from The Olden Days. 😉

But despite the humor, this book also has depth. Decibel Jones is a Bowie-esque has-been rock star and that alone would make him an interesting enough character study. But the band is missing a member and figuring out what exactly happened and why is a nice sub-plot to the main story that may help readers who want more plot get over that rather quiet middle part. I  loved getting to know Decibel and slowly finding out why there is so much tension between the band members and what went wrong in their past.

As this is marketed as “Eurovision in Space”, you can be sure that there will be an epic competition of music (in its broadest definition) at the end. If you go in knowing that the song contest only happens at the very end of the book, maybe I can keep you from being disappointed. The way I read this book, I loved the journey to the ultimate plot climax as much as the ending itself. Even if I hadn’t, the ending would make it all worthwhile.

Because it is nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novel, let me say that it’s at the top of my ballot (I know, shocking, right?). I don’t think it will win because as with any humorous book (especially humorous science fiction or fantasy), it’s polarising. People either love it or bounce off it hard. And I get it. I came to this book totally biased because Cat Valente is my favorite author of all time. All I can do is recommend it to you and give you a heads-up of what to expect. If you’re in the mood for something funny but with depth, a wild ride through space (with red pandas!) or if you liked the “SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOOOOOT” episode of Rick and Morty, then you should give Space Opera  a shot. And then, of course, go on to read everything else by Cat Valente.

MY RATING: 9/10 – Nearly perfect!

Reading the Hugos: Best Novel

What a ballot! When the nominees were announced, I had already read four of the six nominated novels and I thought I was doomed. How was I supposed to choose my favorites among these excellent books? Couldn’t there at least be two or three that weren’t as good? Well, I’m all caught up and while the ballot is still filled with fantastic books, at least I know somewhat how to arrange my list now.

The nominees for Best Novel

  1. Catherynne M. Valente – Space Opera
  2. Naomi Novik – Spinning Silver
  3. Yoon Ha Lee – Revenant Gun
  4. Mary Robinette Kowal – The Calculating Stars
  5. Rebecca Roanhorse – Trail of Lightning
  6. Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few

At this moment, I’m certain about my number one spot and the bottom two spots. But the three books in between could switch places a hundred times before the voting period ends. Because I just don’t know! They are incredibly difficult  to compare, they did such different things, they were all brilliant, and I really don’t know at this point what my final ballot will look like.

Cat Valente’s Space Opera is my number one for several reasons. First, I have adored Valente’s writing for years, she has never let me down, and while I think she should have won a Hugo already for Radiance, I believe this book is just as deserving. Humorous science fiction is rarely taken into consideration for awards so I don’t believe it will win. But when you pick up a book that everybody has compared to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and it doesn’t let you down? That’s already a winner for me. I mean, who could stand up to that comparison and come out not just with “yeah it was okay” but with a nominateion for a Hugo Award?  Valente not only made me laugh out loud with the premise – Eurovision In Space – and the hilarious invasion scene as well as many silly moments, she also showed her originality with the alien species she invented. And, most of all, the story is full of heart and a deep love of humanity, warts and all. I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh and feel all warm and fuzzy inside like this. If Redshirts can win, than Space Opera should have a chance as well! I sincerely hope it does.

Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver was a beautiful book. It suffered from too many unorganized POV characters and it wasn’t quite as good as Uprooted but that’s about all the negative things I can say about it now. I adore fairy tale retellings (as you may have guessed if you stop by here occasionally), so I’m putting it in second place for now. Novik turned a Rumpelstiltskin retelling into an epic fantasy, which is already a feat, but she also created memorable characters and great romances – I know many people didn’t like them, but I stand by my minority opinion.

Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun concludes the Machineries of War series. In order to read this, I had to first catch up on the second volume, which suffered from middle-book-syndrome a lot. This, however, was a worthy and exciting finale to an epic series. It started with a bang, made me think I knew where it was going, turned the other way, then swerved around yet again. It was clever, had great characters (Jedao must be one of my top ten characters ever!) and a satisfying ending. Seriously well done. I can’t wait for whatever Yoon Ha Lee publishes next.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars is easily the best novel of hers I’ve read. It was thrilling, despite being so character-focused and lacking in space battles. It made me uncomfortable and excitied and angry all at the same time. I loved that the protagonist lived in a stable, happy marriage, I loved how the book dealt with mental health issues. There were so many things I loved about it. And seeing how it won a Nebula Award, I wasn’t the only one. As I’m having such a hard time ranking these books, I’m going to use that win as an excuse to rank it a bit lower. It’s already won an award, after all, and while there have been several books that won both Hugo and Nebal awards in the same year, I didn’t think this book was quite amazing enough for that.

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning was on the bottom spot of my ballot for a long time. Not because it’s bad but because it was too ordinary for an award. A fun Urban Fantasy story in an original setting may be entertaining to read, and I did enjoy how Native American mythology gets woven into the plot, but I still don’t think this book deserves an award. Many, many other books are published every year that do the same thing: sassy, kick-ass heroine solves mystery while working through her dark past, meeting potential love interest, betrayal, battles, magic, etc. etc. Neither the writing nor the characters were good enough for me to want to give this an award.

However, Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few, which I expected to love, goes even below that (for now). In reality, this book was better written than Trail of Lightning, but it had absolutely no plot for such a long time that I kept asking myself why I was even reading it. It’s the equivalent of a married couple discussing who’s going to do the dishes tonight… except in space. For a few hundred pages! Although once the plot does start (very late in the novel), the book becomes really, really good, by then I was too fed up already with the hours I’ve spent reading about nothing (in space).

So this is it, my Best Novel ballot. I may yet switch the bottom two novels around, depending on how my feelings change in the next month or so. I may also change my mind about my slots 2 through 4, but for now, I’m okay with the way I ranked these books.

I’m sure everyone has their own way of deciding how to rank a certain book. As I’m not a professional critic, all I have to go on is my own enjoyment of any given book. And – as was the case here – if I enjoyed many of the books, I try and find other criteria such as originality, writing style, potential for rereading, etc. For example, I’ll probably never reread The Calculating Stars because although it was a very good book, it was not exactly a fun book, but I may give Spinning Silver another go and I will most definitely reread Space Opera someday. It’s a total comfort read.

How about you guys? Are you voting for the Hugos this year? Do you agree/disagree with my list? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments! 🙂

Reading the Hugos: Novelette

Just like the short story category, the nominees for Best Novelette are almost universally excellent. Again, there was only one story that didn’t resonate with me at all, but I enjoyed the other five. Some more than others, with two that clearly stood out to me.

The nominees for Best Novelette

  1. Brooke Bolander – The Only Harmless Great Thing
  2. Daryl Gregory – Nine Last Days on Planet Earth
  3. Zen Cho – If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again
  4. Tina Connolly – The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections
  5. Naomi Kritzer – The Thing About Ghost Stories
  6. Simone Heller – When We Were Starless

It was a close call to pick Brooke Bolander‘s story for my first place because my top three are all wonderful, ambitious pieces of fiction. What took The Only Harmless Great Thing over the top for me was its basis in reality. It’s the story of one of the Radium Girls, women hired to paint all sorts of equipment so it would glow in the dark. The paint they used – and the fact that they had to lick their brushes to keep them nice and sharp – caused severe physical damage (and I mean gruesome stuff!)  and a very early death. Bolander adds elephants as characters who come with their own mythology and gave the whole story a lovely fantasy vibe. As tough as it was to read, this was my favorite story of the bunch.

Daryl Gregory follows closely with his tale of alien seeds crashing to Earth, messing up the planet with new and unusual plant life. It’s both an intimate tale, following one character as they grow up, have children and grandchildren of their own, but also tells the broader story of the alien plants. I loved everything about this story, the narrative voice, the pacing, the plot, and most of all the characters.

I had read some of Zen Cho‘s fiction before, so I knew I was in for something good. Her story about an imugi trying to ascent to heaven to become a proper dragon, was at the same time tragic and funny. Waiting a thousand years for even a chance is already a sign of great patience. But when the protagonist imugi fails – and not once, but many times – even they have trouble keeping up hope. It takes trying out a different life for them to find the will to keep going, and this is that story.

Tina Connolly‘s story is what it says in the title. A banquet of temporal confections. A baker who can infuse his confections with memories serves a banquet of them to the evil Duke. While there are lovely descriptions in this story, both of food and the memories it evokes, I found this story to be too predictable and a little bit too safe to make one of my top spots. The story unfolds with each course, but you can see from very early on where it is going. So the ending, while technically satisfying, left me thinking: so that was it?

Another story that gives you exactly what you’d expect was Naomi Kritzer‘s novelette about ghost stories. The protagonist researches ghost stories and the people who tell and who believe them, all the while kind of living through her own ghost story. It’s without a doubt an accomplished story well told, but again it lacked that certain something. The protagonist hid her feelings a little too well for me, as a reader, to get involved enough in her story for the ending to resonate. I think I should have felt more than I did.

The only story I didn’t like at all was the one by Simone Heller. I’m still not sure what exactly it is about. A tribe of post-apocalypse (maybe post-Earth) creatures is trying to survive in a hostile environment. There are “ghosts”, there are weavers, none of which are described or introduced properly. Some of what’s going on I figured out by the end, but as I spent most of the story trying to puzzle out what’s going on, who the protagonist was in relation to the others, what they were even doing, and where the hell everything took place, I can’t really say I enjoyed this. Maybe that’s my own fault for not reading carefully enough, for missing some key explanation or hint, but I didn’t like this enough to give it a second try.

I hope to have finished all the nominees for Best Novel by next week and then follow that with the Lodestar finalists. The novellas will have to wait a bit longer because I’m just not in the mood for them right now and I’m trying to keep up with my reading challenges this year. You know how it is: So many books, so little time…

Reading the Hugos: Short Story

This seems to be a really good year for me when it comes to keeping up and catching up on books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The fact that the Hugo nominees are stellar this year doesn’t hurt. While I’m currently making my way through the novelette nominees, I’m already done with the short stories and I’m pretty sure I’ve settled on the way I’m going to rank them on my ballot.

The nominees for Best Short Story

  1. Alix E. Harrow – A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Pratctical Compendium of Portal Fantasies
  2. T. Kingfisher – The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society
  3. Sarah Gailey – STET
  4. Sarah Pinsker – The Court Magician
  5. Brooke Bolander – The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat
  6. P. Djèlí Clark – The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington

The only short story I had read before the nominee were announced also turned out to be my favorite – if only by a small margin. Alix E. Harrow‘s tale of a witch who works at a library (where else?) and who tries to improve the life of a young boy by putting just the right book in front of him when he seems to need it was moving and beautifully written. It made me remember those early reading days when I first discovered The Neverending Story or got Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a present. Books have the power to change lives and Harrow uses that knowledge to weave a wonderful tale with just the right amount of magic.

My second favorite – and no surprise to me – was T. Kingfisher‘s tale of a group of  magical beings gathering to tell their woeful tales of a human girl who didn’t behave like she should. We all know when a handsome elf comes your way and makes you fall in love with him, the human should do the pining once he’s gone. But pesky Rose MacGregor won’t have any of it but flips fairy tale tropes on their head. This story was hilarious, refreshing, and features one of Kingfisher’s trademark practical heroines. I adored every single line, some of which made me laugh out loud.

Sarah Gailey’s STET is probably the shortest of the nominated stories but those few pages pack a punch! The story’s form is almost as interesting as its content, written as an academic paper handed in for review. The actual story comes to life in the footnotes (I love footnotes!). Whether this wins or not, I urge you all to read it. On just a few pages, this story made me gasp, think, sent me through so many emotions… Even though it’s not in my top spot, I’d be happy if it took home the Hugo.

Sarah Pinsker’s story was a strange one. I loved the atmosphere it created right from the get go, when a young boy, desperate to learn magic, is recruited to be the Court Magician – a job that takes much more than sleight of hand card tricks. The deeper this new Court Magician sinks into his job, the darker this story becomes. I really enjoyed it, sinister as it was, but while the ending definitely works, I felt there was something missing. So it’s only number 4 in my list.

Brooke Bolander wrote an impressive novelette (also nominated and currently on my number one ballot spot) but while this story was fun and cleverly written, it didn’t resonate with me as much as the others. You get what it says on the tin. The story of three raptor sisters, a stupid prince, a clever princess, some carnage, and a big adventure. I can’t say much more than I liked the story but didn’t love it.

The only story I really didn’t enjoy was P. Djèlí Clark‘s tale. I see what he was trying to do, telling a tale for each of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, but few of those tales were interesting to me, some of them were quite boring, and there wasn’t any payoff at the end of the story. I look forward to reading his nominated novella but this short story just didn’t do it for me.

Much like the nominees for Best Novel, this is a ballot filled with dramatically different stories, which makes it all the harder to choose a favorite. All of these tales are well written, so my judgement is based much more on personal enjoyment and taste than on quality. Had I read them at a different time in my life, in a different mood, I might have ranked them differently, but for now, I’m happy with my choice. I’d be really happy for either of my top 3 to win the award, but I also wouldn’t mind for my numbers 4 or 5 to take it home. A ballot with only a single undeserving story (according to my personal tastes, I know lots of people love Clark’s story!) is definitely a great one.

I’ll continue to read the nominees and let you know what I think of them. I’m almost done with the novels (one and a half books to go, yay!),  the Lodestar finalists (3 books to go), and the novelettes – 5 to go, but they are quick reads, so you’ll probably hear about them next.

My thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2019

I AM SO EXCITED!!!! Every year, when the Hugo Award finalists are announced, I get all giddy and excited to see what I’ve already read and what I have to catch up on. Ever since I started voting in the awards myself, I have seen a mix of books I loved, books I didn’t much care for and books I hadn’t even had on my radar. This year looks absolutely fantastic and I already have no idea how I’m going to rank these books on my ballot…

Here are my thoughts on some of the categories.

Best Novel

I have read four out of the six nominees, which is much more than I’d ever read when the finalists were announced. I read the first book in both Yoon Ha Lee‘s trilogy and Becky Chambers‘ series and I loved both of them. So it’s time to catch up. As I heard the nominated Chambers book is only loosely tied to the first two books, I’ll probably leave out the second one and go straight to Record of a Spaceborn Few. Chambers’ feel-good characters and optimistic style make me really look forward to the experience. I will also read Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun because if they’re anything as good as the first novel, I want to know. Even though it will make ranking these books even more difficult.

As for the books I’ve already read: I am beyond happy that Cat Valente’s excellent, heart-warming, and hilarious Space Opera made the cut. It was quite a departure from what Valente usually writes, although she does stay true to her style, even if it’s tuned down a bit. I am in no way surprised this book pleased so many people. It is highly original, super funny (I’m still giggling about the alien “invasion” chapter) and full of love and hope and all things good.
The Calculating Stars was a surprise hit for me. I didn’t really expect to like it all that much, and it was definitely not a comfortable book to read, but it no doubt deserves to be on this list. It had great characters, a super interesting setting (alternate 1950ies and 60ies) and dealt with so many themes that make the story exciting even without space battles. Sexism, racism, anti-semitism, mental health issues – it’s all there but it doesn’t bog the story down and it all feels so organic. Which is probably why reading this book was so uncomfortable.
I adored Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and that is why I wasn’t quite so in love with Spinning Silver. That may be slightly unfair because this is a fantastic book with minor structural problems, but it simply can’t  keep up with its predecessor. I loved the protagonists, the love stories, the fairy tale feel of it, but the POV changes (and randomly added POV characters) diminished my reading pleasure quite a bit. And with an author that excellent, I have to nitpick like this.
Now for my slightly more unpopular opion. Trail of Lightning was a lot of fun. I am already looking forward to reading the sequel, but I don’t think that this book is worthy of an award. The only thing that made it stand out for me was the setting and mythology – using Native American myths as a basis is something new to me and I found it refreshing and exciting. But the plot and the characters were very generic. It’s like reading a cozy mystery. You know what you’re going to get and you’re totally happy with that. But I personally wouldn’t throw an award at this book.

Best Novella

  • Martha Wells – Artificial Condition
  • Seanan McGuire – Beneath the Sugar Sky
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: The Night Masquerade
  • P. Djèlí Clark – The Black God’s Drums
  • Kelly Robson – Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
  • Aliette de Bodard – The Tea Master and the Detective

I’ve read only two of these novellas. Artificial Condition is at the top of my list at this moment. While I loved the first two Binti novellas, I thought the third one was the weakest in the triloy and therefore didn’t nominate it. It was a nice ending to the story but nowhere near as good as the first two books.
As for Seanon McGuires series, I’ve read the two previous instalments. I really disliked the first book, Every Heart a Doorway, but felt the second one, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, told a much stronger and engaging story. So I’m curious to see what the third one holds in store.

I’ve heard of the other three books but don’t know any of them yet. The first to catch up on will probably be The Black God’s Drums, simply because I like the sound of it most.

The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

  • Dhonielle Clayton – The Belles
  • Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone
  • Holly Black – The Cruel Prince
  • Justina Ireland – Dread Nation
  • Peadar O’Guilin – The Invasion
  • Rachel Hartman – Tess of the Road

I have read a whopping single book of this list. The Cruel Prince was quite good and I will read the sequels, but I get the distinct feeling that I will prefer some of the other nominees. I’m currently reading Tess of the Road and (at about 10%) I already know I love this story! Children of Blood and Bone has been on my TBR ever since it came out but since then, I have read some really scathing reviews that make me a little hesitant to finally pick the book up. As a good voter, I will definitely read it, but my high expectations have been lowered considerably. I once read a teaser excerpt of Peadar O’Guilin’s book The Calling – to which The Invasion is the sequel – and remember liking it. I hope I’ll find the time to read both books before voting ends.
As for Dread Nation and The Belles, neither book really spoke to me when it came out but I trust my fellow nominators and will check them both out. A great book you didn’t expect is always a good thing.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Katherine Arden 
  • S.A. Chakraborty 
  • R.F. Kuang 
  • Jeannette Ng
  • Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  • Rivers Solomon

KATHERINE ARDEN!!! Ahem… So, you may have guessed who I’ll be voting for. I nominated Arden because she absolutely blew me away with The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower. With one book, she became an author whose books I’ll buy witout looking at the synopsis and that’s saying something.
I was also really impressed with R. F. Kuang‘s novel The Poppy War, so she’ll be high on my list as well. My current read is The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty and I’m loving it so far. Which only makes my decision harder.
I have Jeannette Ng’Under the Pendulum Sun and Rivers Solomon‘s An Unkindness of Ghosts on my TBR and look forward to reading them. Vina Jie-Min Prasad is the only author of whom I’ve heard nothing before, probably because (as far as a quick interwebs search goes) she writes mostly short fiction and I’m always behind on short fition.

Best Series

  • The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older
  • The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
  • Machineries of Empire by Yoon Ha Lee
  • The October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire
  • The Universe of Xuya by Aliette de Bodard
  • Wayfarers by Becky Chambers

This is the category that I find the most daunting because if you’re not already familiar with a series, that means a lot of reading! I have read the first books in the Machineries of Empire series and Wayfarers but since books in both of these series are also nominated for Best Novel, I will read the sequel(s) as well.
Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle is the next series I’ll tackle after that because I’ve been dying to read Infomocracy anyway. I don’t know how long the first October Daye book has been on my TBR and I’m not sure I’ll manage to read much more than that first book. The Laundry Files have also been on my radar for a while but the only book I’ve read from that series was the novella Equoid which was excellent (book #2.9 according to Goodreads). So I’ll probably also give the first in the series a try. For the Xuya Universe, I’ll kill two birds with one stone by reading the nominated novella The Tea Master and the Detective.

I do follow the other categories, I’ll listen to the nominated podcasts and already watched (almost) all of the movies, but I don’t have that much to say about them. The long fiction categories are the ones that have my heart so I’ll spend my time reading as much of them as I can. But I have to say, this year looks absolutely spectacular in terms of what got nominated. If the books I haven’t read yet are as good as the ones I have, choosing favorites will be difficult. Once I’m all caught up, I may do another post with my ranking. Whether you guys are also voting in the Hugos or not, rest assured that the nominees are an excellent source for recommended reads.

(Some of) my 2016 Hugo ballot

This is my third time participating in the Hugo Awards and, despite last year’s… you know… I am enjoying it a great deal. Having a voice, even a tiny one among many, getting recommendations from like-minded people who have their own favorite sub-genres, and because of that, their own favorite books, is just wonderful. The Hugos are always a treasure trove full of book recs (with the exception of last year), and because I think it’s more important to nominate now than maybe ever before, I filled out my ballot with All The Stuff I Loved Last Year.
I always leave some categories blank, because I don’t know how to pick a best editor, or I haven’t read enough/anything for that category, or I just didn’t like anything enough to think it should get a Hugo.

But I will tell you about a few of the categories I did fill out this year – if there are things on there that can be read or listened to online, I’ll link to them. If you’re still looking for something to read or check out before nominating ends, maybe you want to take a look at these. They are my favorites, after all, and therefore the bestest.

Best Novel

  1. Naomi Novik – Uprooted
  2. Catherynne M. Valente – Radiance
  3. Laura Ruby – Bone Gap
  4. N. K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season
  5. V. E. Schwab – A Darker Shade of Magic

Uprooted was a no-brainer. There is a reason everyone adored this book. It swept me off my feet and charmed me with its language, characters, and fairy tale vibe. Valente’s Radiance is ambitious and epic and all sorts of other things I don’t have words for. It’s a book that can’t easily be described, it has to be tasted. Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap has no chance of getting on the shortlist, let alone winning. I know this for many reasons. It’s YA (WHEN WILL WE GET A YA CATEGORY?), it is heavy on non-SFF elements, and it just hasn’t got that “Hugo feel” to it. But I loved it so very much that if I didn’t put it on my ballot I would be lying. It was one of my favorite books of last year and that’s what this is about, right?
Here’s a confession: I’m still reading The Fifth Season but, my gods, that book is so brilliant!! I’ll be able to finish it before nominating ends, so if Jemisin somehow messed up the ending (which I very much doubt), I can take it off my ballot. But even the two thirds I’ve read are so amazing that I want to throw Hugos at N.K. Jemisin.  A Darker Shade of Magic is the one book I’m going to swap if something better comes along in the next two weeks. I loved every page, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a Hugo-winner.

Best Novella

  1. Catherynne M. Valente – Speak Easy
  2. Nnedi Okorafor – Binti
  3. Paul Cornell – Witches of Lychford
  4. Angela Slatter – Of Sorrow and Such
  5. Matt Wallace – Envy of Angels

I have a full novella ballot! This has never happened before. My first year nominating, I left this category empty, the second year I put one, maybe two novellas on there, but last year, I read enough novellas to fill my ballot and have some to spare.
As can be easily deduced, this is mostly due to Tor.com’s awesome line-up of fantastic, varied, wonderful novellas. Speak Easy didn’t get much hype (it should have!) but it is one of Valente’s strongest stories, set during the Prohibition in the Hotel Artemisia, with its very own underworld. Binti is my favorite thing by Nnedi Okorafor since Who Fears Death and combines a fun space adventure with important themes such as leaving home, becoming someone new while holding on to your cultural heritage. It was beautiful. Angela Slatter is my author crush of last year and her novella Of Sorrow and Such came out just at the right time. It hit all my happy buttons and made me warm and fuzzy inside. Witches, women working together, getting over their past, there’s all sorts of awesome here. Matt Wallace’s Envy of Angels is pure fun. Funny books are often ignored because they come across as light or easy reads, but the Sin du Jour series gave me so much enjoyment and made me giggle non-stop, and in my book, that deserves recognition. Witches of Lychford surprised me. I’m not big on urban (or rural) fantasy and I only like a handful of witches (Granny Weatherwax, anyone?) but Paul Cornell’s story was lovely, just lovely.

Best Related Work

  1. Renee Williams, Shaun Duke – Speculative Fiction 2014
  2. Adam Whitehead – A History of Epic Fantasy (The Wertzone)
  3. Mahvesh Murad – Midnight in Karachi (Podcast)
  4. Justin Landon – Rocket Talk (Podcast)

I only have four nominations for this category. Speculative Fiction 2014 was wonderful, if heavy on the Captain America stuff. But – as someone who didn’t appreciate the Captain enough – it has given me great insight into parts of fandom that I otherwise am not active in. The two Tor.com podcasts Midnight in Karachi and Rocket Talk are very different, and I like them for different reasons. I generally prefer Mahvesh Murad’s interviews (and her voice is so soothing), but Justin also gets awesome guests and makes them talk about great stuff. The History of Epic Fantasy was my commute read for a while and I enjoyed every single post. I’d actually like a more in-depth approach to the subject but for the quick overview it was trying to give, it was pretty damn excellent.

Best Graphic Story

  1. Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples – Saga Volume 5
  2. Noelle Stevens – Nimona

I failed in this category this year. First of all, I read fewer comics in 2015 than I did before, secondly, some comics I did read just didn’t work for me. A lot of people love The Wicked + The Divine but I really couldn’t connect with that story on any level. But Saga continues to be the absolute best and Noelle Stevens’ Nimona surprised me in every way. I didn’t expect to like it and ended up almost crying, so there. I did like Rat Queens Volume 2 but compared to volume 1 it was much weaker and the change in artist – despite doing a good job – took me out of the narration a bit.

Best Semi-Prozine

  1. The Book Smugglers
  2. Uncanny Magazine

The Book Smugglers have been phenomenal for years but now that they are also publishers, they have taken their awesome up to eleven. And Uncanny always has a story or two that I really like plus podcasts and interviews with people that I love reading about. They also have the best covers of any magazine I can think of.

Best Fanzine

  1. Ladybusiness
  2. Chaos Horizon
  3. Fantasy Literature

I know Chaos Horizon’s Brandon Kempner doesn’t want a Hugo and will recuse himself should he be nominated. But I’m still giving him a vote because, hey, a turned-down nomination is still a sign that people love what he does. And what he does is statistics! About SFF awards. And it’s really exciting (really, I swear)!
Ladybusiness continues to be great and makes my wishlist grow like crazy. I both love them and hate them for i – but mostly love. Fantasy Literature puts out reviews of books that I’m interested in and I mostly agree with their reviewers (I have a few favorites). So while it’s not doing anything super-inventive or new, it’s a great source for me personally that I can rely on when hunting for new books.

Best Fancast

  1. The Writer and the Critic
  2. Fangirl Happy Hour
  3. The Coode Street Podcast
  4. Cooking the Books

I’ve been nominating The Writer and the Critic for ever and until they stop doing brilliant, entertaining, insightful podcasts, I will continue to do so. Fangirl Happy Hour is Renay and Ana (of Book Smugglers fame) talking to each other and – without knowing me – totally getting me. How could I not love them?
Cooking the Books is another podcast I love partly for voice reasons. I could listen to Fran Wilde for hours and hours. And since she also does cool interviews, I’m really happy her podcast exists.
The Coode Street Podcast is one I don’t always listen to, but when I do, I really enjoy it. I mostly tune in for topics that interest me.

That’s all I’m willing to share for now. Maybe when I have some time I’ll let you in on my picks for Best Dramatic Presentation and the art categories.

One thing I want to say to anyone who stumbles across my little place on the internet:
If you’ve only read one book last year that you loved and you hold a supporting membership to last year’s, this year’s, or next year’s WorldCon – PLEASE NOMINATE. If you think your favorite novel has no chance of winning, nominate it anyway. If you only read short stories or only watched movies, nominate them and leave the rest blank. Every combination of blank/empty categories is allowed but every honest nomination helps make the Hugos a bit better and more representative of genre fandom. If you can, nominate!