The 2021 Hugo Award winners have been announced and there is reason to cheer! I actually managed to watch the livestream which was pushed back from 2am my timezone to 3am my timezone and thus took a lot of willpower on my part! My alarm went off and I had a very serious debate inside of my head on whether to get up and do this thing or just check out who won the next day on Twitter. I’m glad I decided to watch it live, because the ceremony was very nice and you kind of had to be there for the slime mould alone (more on that later). It didn’t all go without technical whoopsies but overall it was quite well done and inclusive.
So, on to the winners of my favorite categories, my hopes and predictions and what I think about who ended up with a rocket trophy. Before diving into it, let me say that I am filled with joy, I don’t begrudge anyone their win, I think every winner was absolutely worthy (even if they were not my personal top choice) and that this was a great Hugo Awards year!
BEST NOVEL + BEST SERIES
I’m grouping these two because they both went to Martha Wells for Network Effect and the Murderbot Diaries respectively. Congratulations!
I adore Murderbot and I am thrilled that it took home an award. Would I have preferred these two awards went to two different works? Yes. Do I understand why Muderbot was such a success last year? Also yes. During a time when we were all dealing with negative feelings, with fear and anxiety, with grief and loss, with isolation and self-centered people, it comes as no surprise that a book and series about an AI with anxiety and social awakwardness that is as heartwarming as it is exciting has touched so many of our hearts. So I am more than happy that Muderbot was recognized in this way, even though I really wanted Best Series to go to The Poppy War which cannot be nominated again (the trilogy being finished), unlike the Murderbot Diaries. But as I will be forever grateful for Murderbot and its adventures, I congratulate Martha Wells. Her acceptance speech was particularly moving and I hope this acclaim convinces her to keep writing and make even more great art.
Hooray, my second favorite novella has won! Congratulations to Nghi Vo and The Empress of Salt and Fortune.
I was hoping so very hard Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark would win because that book was such a great ride with layers upon layers, but Vo’s book was a close second for me and I appreciate what it does in terms of storytelling. I am very happy that Vo won and I hope this finally gives me the push to read something else by this new and exciting author. What surprised me about this category’s final tally was that Riot Baby ended up in last place. That novella didn’t work for me but it seemed to be everyone else’s darling so I expected it to come in as a close second. Apparently, that impression was far off because, well, the votes don’t lie.
BEST VIDEO GAME
This new category gives me lots of joy. Not only did I (and my partner) discover two games through it that we otherwise wouldn’t have tried, but we ended up loving them so much that they got my top two votes. Congratulations to Hades for winning the inaugural Best Video Game Hugo Award!
I expected either Hades of Animal Cossing to win, the first because it is crazy beloved among all sorts of fans, the second because it was everyone’s go-to feelgood game when the pandemic really hit and we all needed something to pick us up and give us hope. I didn’t see my boyfriend much once he started playing Hades but that was okay because I was playing Spiritfarer on the PS4 at the same time. I admit I was unsure about this category but I thought it was handled very well (what with getting a code to try some of the finalist games as part of the voter packet) and being able to play most of them enough to rank them. We’ll see what Best Video Game brings in the future, but for now I am glad we have this category and I am super happy Hades was the first to win it.
LODESTAR + BEST SHORT STORY
I’m grouping these two again because they were won by the same author who proved yet again that she is a pure delight and makes any awards ceremony better simply by being there. Congratulations to T. Kingfisher for A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking and “Metal Like Blood in the Dark”.
I had the pleasure of hearing Kingfisher’s acceptance speech in Helsinki in 2017 which was about whale fall. This time, she stayed true to herself and didn’t talk about the book and short story that won either, but rather about slime mould. Yes, that’s right! Everyone who attended or watched the Hugo Awards ceremony online now has some impressive knowlegde about this intriguing organism called slime mould and it makes me love T. Kingfisher all the more. Hers was my favorite short story so I have no complaints there. I did very much want Raybearer to win the Lodestar, especially because Defensive Baking has already won some other awards, but again – it’s understandable that many of us ranked this book high enough to win when sourdough starters gained interest during lockdown, when reading about a decent person trying to do the right thing even when it is hard and winning against the odds – when this book was just pure comfort during a dark time.
My beloved Raybearer sadly came in last and even though Jordan Ifueko will probably never read this, I want her to know that her books are among my favorites and have touched me deeply and given me so much hope during this terrible time.
Both surprising and a little disheartening is the fact that A Deadly Education came in second when it shouldn’t even have been in this category in the first place. It also received some nominations in the Best Novel category, but not nearly enough to make the final ballot. Let me reiterate: I really enjoyed this book! But I sincerely hope that, in the future, authors have the decency to refuse a nomination when it is in the wrong category. You can’t have it both ways. Either write YA and accept the unfortunate stigma that still comes with that (which, btw, we should really work on getting rid of) or write for adults but then remain unable to win awards for YA fiction.
If Naomi Novik had done that, a book that was actually written and published as a YA novel would have made the ballot, and that is When We Were Magic by the amazing Sarah Gailey. Now I adored that book but also find it quite problematic in some ways, but at least it is and always was meant for young readers and thus would have fit perfectly into this category.
The boundaries between YA and adult are blurry and arbitrary, I know. But we do need some kind of boundary to set this category apart from others. I hope that this kind of mishap will stay in the past, that readers and nominators and Hugo Awards administrators will learn from our/their mistakes and make sure this category honors the books and people it was meant to.
BEST GRAPHIC STORY
This was both a surprise and not a surprise at all. The winner of this category is Parable of the Sower, the Graphic Novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s novel by Damian Duffy with art by John Jennings. Congratulations!
Again, my number two spot has taken home the Hugo Award and I am both happy and positively surprised. On the one hand, it is a feat to win against an instalment of Marjorie Lu’s Monstress in any given year, on the other, the events of the past years have drawn more attention to Octavia E. Butler’s amazing body of work. This Graphic Novel adaptation is incredibly well done and it likely helped how pescient Butler’s story is. So considering all that, it isn’t surprising that this book won.
But what is surprising is that it differs so very much from other winners in tone. Where we went with hopeful, heartwarming, feelgood things in many categories, here we embraced the dystopian setting and chose a story that is gruesome and tough to read and where not very many good things happen to good people. But there is that tiny glimmer of hope and sometimes, that’s all it takes.
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
Yay, this Hugo Award went to the inimitable Rovina Cai and her stunningly beautiful art! Congratulations!
I don’t begrudge John Picacio his 386 Hugo Awards, but it has been getting rather boring, watching him win this category over and over again. You’d get the impression there are no other artists out there who do anything worth mentioning when, in fact, the very opposite is the case. I would have been happy with either Rovina Cai, Tommy Arnold, or Galen Dara winning this year, but Rovina Cai’s art has been more present, at least in my reading (chaper art for Elatsoe, covers for various books I bought, and so on) and I am overjoyed to see her win this one. Her art is beautiful, instantly recognizable and enriches any book that features it.
About Seanan McGuire’s many Hugo nominations
- In Best Novella, she had the most 1st place votes but ended up in third place overall.
- In Best Series, she had the second most 1st place votes (which were just a little over half of what Murderbot got so it was not a close race) and ended up in third place overall.
- In Best Graphic Story, she had the most 1st place votes (albeit only 18 more than Parable of the Sower) and ended up in second place overall.
So the tradition of the past years seems to continue. McGuire has a loyal fan base that will always get her easily onto the final ballot and will just as loyally vote for her as their number one spot, but when all ballots are counted and all voices are heard, her work remains middle-of-the-ballot.
Maybe when the October Daye series ends in a few years, this will give readers a push to finally give the series a Hugo Award or maybe the sequel to her highly successful Middlegame will blow us all away and garner her another Best Novel nomination? Either way, I am sure we will keep seeing McGuire on the ballot in whichever category she has published things. My only hope is that some of those things will grab me enough to vote for them as my 1st choice as well. The McGuire burnout is already knocking on my doors…
Overall, this was a spectacular year of Hugo Awards and I can look back on the SFF works published in 2020 with a big happy smile. My own personal hopes weren’t met perfectly, but enough of my favorites or second-favorites won that I feel joyful, and the favorite works that didn’t win are by authors who are still writing and creating and publishing, so I have high hopes for the future – go Rebecca Kuang, go Jordan Ifueko, go P. Djèlí Clark, I believe in you!
Now, it’s time to catch up on some 2021 publications so we can do this all over next year. I’ll see you then. 🙂