Thoughts on the 2018 Hugo Award Finalists

The Hugo Awards were announced on the weekend! (This was a problem for a lot of reasons, but, well, here we are, on Monday, so, let’s move on and hope WorldCon corrects in future years.)

I’m sure by this point, you’re familiar with the ballot—but, if not, check it out on I’m not going to reprint it here, because, let’s just get to the point. I *always* have thoughts on the Hugos. So, let’s go.

In general: Holy shit. Yes. Yes. Yeppity. Yep. Yep. Yep. Please sir, can I have some more?

This ballot rocks. From top-to-bottom, it’s filled with incredible authors, artists, editors, publications, books, films, etc. Nearly every category is going to be difficult to narrow down when it comes time to vote—but that’s the way we want it. I don’t know how many readers realized it, but we’re in a new golden age of SFF, and this ballot is further proof of that. The works honoured here are powerful, transformative, precedent-setting, and brilliant. *This* is what the future of SFF looks like, and it’s beautiful.


(Actually, I’ll get to the “but” later.)

I’ve only read one book in the Best Novel category, so I can’t comment too thoroughly, but, Raven Stratagem is brilliant, so if the other novels come close in quality, holy smokes am I in for a treat. Particularly thrilled to see Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes on the list. Mur’s a tour-de-force, and if her novel is as good as everything else she does, well, damn…

The Best Novella category is bananas. It’s not even fair that an author can debut with something as good as River of Teeth, but that’s Sarah Gailey for you. Okorafor, Wells, Pinsker, Yang, and McGuire is an impressive line-up behind Gailey, and, like most years, this looks to be one of the most competitive and high-quality categories on the entire ballot. (Also, if this is where 17776belonged, it was robbed.

I… haven’t read enough of the Best Novelette and Best Short Story categories to comment. None of my nominees made it, but I’ll do some catch up over the next several weeks, as I usually do in spring. I was really pulling for Max Gladstone’s “The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom” to make the list. Alas.

In a category close to my heart, Best Related Work runs the gamut (as it usually does.) I’m thrilled to see Liz Bourke’s collected non-fiction on the list. Bourke is one of the best critics working in SFF these days, and her work deserves every opportunity to reach a wider audience. I’m also eager to read Zoe Quinn’s Crash Override. I’ve recently finished Felicia Day’s memoir, in which she spends a chapter discussing her experience with Gamergate, and Quinn’s book is an even deeper dive into the subject. I’m surprised and disappointed that Fireside Magazine and Cecily Kane’s “The 2016 #BlackSpecFic Report” missed the ballot. It’s amazing and important work.

All I’ve got to say about Best Graphic Story is: Paper Girls = ????????????.

I’ll abstain from commenting on Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form, because I don’t watch a lot of television these days. Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form is solid. I’m a big fan of The Last Jedi, so I’m happy there. Get Out, The Shape of Water, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman, and Blade Runner: 2049 are all proof of SFF’s utter resurgence and dominance in Hollywood. Wonderful stuff all around.

Best Editor – Short Form and Best Editor – Long Form are both bursting with talent. I *love* what Lynne & Michael Damian Thomas are doing with Uncanny Magazine, but they’re surrounded by a lot of great names. I can’t even begin to guess where Long Form is going to go, but I’d love to see Saga Press’ work acknowledged, so I’d be pleased to see Navah Wolfe or Joe Monti win.

Bastien Deharme getting a nod in Best Professional Artist is hilarious but also well deserved. It’s a well-balanced list, and I’m super pleased to have been introduced to Kathleen Jenning’s art. Any one of these artists could win, and I’d be happy.

The Best Semiprozine category is straight ????????????. Flip a six-sided coin. They’re all amazing. That said, I’m super happy to see Escape Pod get on the list. Escape Artists has been doing a ton of great work for *years* and their success is due to an incredible amount of hard work and barrier smashing.

Ahh! The fan categories! My bread and butter. If you missed it, I had a big Twitter thread explaining why it’s super important to recognize the fan community for all its hard work and talent.

First up, we’ve got Best Fanzine. I love Bridget McKinney’s SF Bluestocking, but my vote will go to Nerds of a Feather every year until they win. They’ve got an impressive group of writers, cover *every* aspect of SFF, and consistently produce interesting fan writing. They’re everything I want from a fanzine.

In recent years, it seems like this category has been finding a healthy balance between traditional fanzines and online fanzines. This is a good place for the category.

Though, with all of Rocket Stack Rank’s issues in 2017 and 2018, I’m discouraged to see them on the list. I’d much prefer Charles Payseur’s Quick Sip Reviews, which covers a similar niche, but in a much healthier and more positive manner.

Also, what’s it gonna take to get Adam Whitehead and The Wertzone on the ballot? He’s an institution at this point.

I’m beyond thrilled with the Best Fancast category for so many reasons. I’ll admit that historically it’s one that I generally don’t pay much mind to, but seeing Ditch Diggers, Fan Girl Happy Hour, and Sword & Laser on the ballot is just too much. I consider all of those podcasters friends, and they, along with all the other podcasts on the ballot, do a wonderful job covering the diverse landscape of SFF. Sword & Laser should have been on the ballot years ago.

Like, I don’t even wanna think about Best Fan Writer this year. Can I just vote for Sarah Gailey (Have I mentioned before that she’s a goddamn phenom that inspires me beyond words?), Charles Payseur, Foz Meadows, and Bogi Takács all at once and send them each home with a rocket? This might be the most difficult choice for me overall.

(The only thing I know about Camestros Felapton is that they’re not Foz Meadow’s husband.)

Best Fan Artist is solid, too. I can’t say I’m familiar with a lot of the finalists, besides Stiles and Likhain, but this is the case every year, and provides an opportunity to find new artists to obsess over.

It’s a good list all around, but I’ve gotta give Best Series to Robert Jackson Bennet’s The Divine Cities or Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods. They’re both wonderful in their own ways. I also admire Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, but it’s so far from being done that I don’t feel like now is the right time to award it.

And now for the Not-a-Hugo-but-totally-a-Hugo categories:

I’m not familiar with many of the authors on the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer ballot, and none of my nominees made it. That said Ng, Arden, and Solomon are all on my radar and look to have impressive libraries.

It’s hard to believe that Okorafor and Pullman wouldn’t be favourites for the inaugural World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) Award for Best Young Adult Book, but Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving is waaaaay too good to ignore. A thoughtful, incisive, terrifying, and touching bleeding heart of a novel. It’s up for a YA award, but it wouldn’t look amiss on the Best Novel ballot. Highly recommended.

So, this ballot is super, duper awesome. Unlike the past few years, there are no glaring wholes, not speckles of vomit. Actually, scratch that, no bucketfuls of vomit. It’s a vibrant, brilliant list from top-to-bottom featuring many (but not all) of the best and brightest that SFF has to offer. This is a ballot we should be proud of as a community.


(Here it comes.)

There are a lot of repeat nominees.

That’s not to say that in a vacuum each of these finalists are worth honouring—they are, it’s a great collection—but as a whole, it’s starting to feel a little over familiar, and I’ve never been shy about my opinion that the Hugo ballots are best when they are filled with new names. I’ve been critical of this in the past, and things seemed to be changing for the better. More variety on the lists from year to year, long-entrenched regular finalists being unseated by new and exciting names. This was the case for several years, pre-dating and running through the SP/RP days, but now the dust is settling, and it looks like we’re heading back into familiar territory.

The difference this time around is that a lot of the people on the ballot are those I’d consider friends, or at least professional acquaintances. So, at once I’m happy and excited for them, but that other part of me recognizes the same trends that frustrated me several years ago. (Warning some of my opinions in that post hold up better than others—I was laughably wrong about Seanan McGuire.) This sort of behaviour can be alienating for new fans, and can often make the SFF fan community feel like it’s filled with already-established social groups that are difficult to break into.

On the flip side, the ballot is representing a wider and more inclusive swathe of the SFF community than ever before. It’s a wonderful and heartening opportunity to see people like JY Yang, Bogi Takács, Yoon Ha Lee, Sam J. Miller and other writers from the LGBTQ community recognized across the ballot. Women and work created by women dominate almost all categories. There are writers from a huge variety of ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. So, while some names are repeating year-after-year—which I’m coming to accept is an inevitability for an award that is voted on by a small community—overall it’s a terrific endorsement of the SFF community and its endlessly diverse and interesting members.

With this in mind, as I’m reviewing the ballot before the voting, and giving attention to the things I’ve missed throughout the year, I’ll be paying particular attention to the new names on the list.