Thoughts on the 2020 Hugo Award Ballot

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Hugo time!

The nominations for the 2020 Hugo Awards were announced yesterday, and, as tradition dictates, I have some thoughts.

But, they’re good thoughts! I’ve left my hot takes at home this year. (They were mainly about raisins in cookies, and, well, seemed off topic…)

I gained a reputation in past years for fiery hot takes about the Hugo ballots, but, to be honest, over recent years, I think we’ve seen a push toward an incredibly deep and diverse ballot full of varied creators and works. This list feels like it represents the tone and tenor of SFF in 2019. And that’s the highest compliment I can pay a ballot.

I’m going to skip around the ballot this year and comment on the categories that I have strong opinions about. I didn’t read much short fiction this year, for instance, so I’ll move past those. I always enjoy this time of year, however, when I get to go back and enjoy the best short fiction from the year before, and I’ll be doing that again this year.

The major trend I see here (and one I accept with open arms) is that there are a lot of new names on the ballot, and the first signs of change in the fan categories as we see fan writers and publications from new mediums (like BookTube) begin to appear on the ballot. It’s a wonderful sign of health for the awards. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe how much the Hugos have changed and evolved over the past decade as more and more fans from online SFF fandom have become involved.

So, let’s get started.

Best Novel

  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir ( Publishing)
  • The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
  • A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
  • Middlegame by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)

Starting off with the heavy-hitter list, and, boy what a list it is. I haven’t read every book nominated, but I’ve read most of them, and I legit don’t know how anyone is supposed to pick between them. Gideon the Ninth was probably my favourite book from last year (with the possible exception of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern), so that’s most likely my pick, but Harrow, Anders, and Hurley also wrote phenomenal books—any of which would be a deserving winner. I haven’t read McGuire’s Middlegame or Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, but both come well-recommended and the latter is particularly up my alley.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is a rollicking, dark, and hilarious book with all the feels in the world, and is utterly unlike anything I’ve read before while still managing to hit all my favourite notes from Sword & Sorcery-style fantasy. I still think about it nearly daily, and am eagerly anticipating its sequel, Harrow the Ninth. It’s hard to believe this is Muir’s debut novel—it’s so confident, dripping with style, and sure of itself that you’d be forgiven if you thought Muir had been around for decades. An instant classic.

Read my review of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Charlie Jane Anders’ The City in the Middle of the Night caught me off guard earlier this year. Not because I don’t expect magic from Anders—her work is always unique, driven, and powerful—but because I enjoyed her debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky, so much that I went into her follow-up with guarded expectations. That was foolish. Anders is an accomplished short fiction writer, and she suffered no sophomore slump with her second novel, which is an assured and daring tale about rebellion, confidence, found family, and the fluidity of identity.

Read my review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow is another debut novel from a decorated short fiction writer, and it shows in this beautiful story about stories. Harrow layers many themes across this narrative, calling back to Ursula K. Le Guin’s legendary Earthsea and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, while also establishing itself as something wholly unique and achingly tender.

Read my review of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

God. Where to start with Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade? In typical Hurley fashion, The Light Brigade deconstructs classic military SF like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and builds something glorious out of the rubble. Hurley attacks capitalism, twists her narrative around a complex time-travel mechanic, and wraps everything in a high-paced adventure that’s almost literally impossible to put down.

Read my review of The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  • The Good Place: “The Answer”, written by Daniel Schofield, directed by Valeria Migliassi Collins (Fremulon/3 Arts Entertainment/Universal Television)
  • The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”, written by Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck and Naren Shankar, directed by Breck Eisner (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”, written by Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, directed by Nicole Kassell (HBO)
  • The Mandalorian: “Redemption”, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Taika Waititi (Disney+)
  • Doctor Who: “Resolution”, written by Chris Chibnall, directed by Wayne Yip (BBC)
  • Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”, written by Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, directed by Stephen Williams (HBO)

Is it just me, or is it sort of nice to see a BDP, SF ballot that’s not loaded with Game of Thrones or Doctor Who episodes? I think what sticks out to me the most is that from The Good Place to The Expanse to Watchmen, there’s a huge range of SFF represented here.

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • C.C. Finlay
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Sheila Williams

It’s like the game Guess Who? but with the best and most accomplished short fiction editors working today. This field is so rich and deep that every year several deserving editors are left off the list, and I’d really love to see the FIYAH, Fireside, and Escape Pod editors recognized, but I can’t argue with anyone who’s made the list. It’s like a list I’d jot down while daydreaming about who I want to sell my stories to.

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Sheila E. Gilbert
  • Brit Hvide
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Devi Pillai
  • Miriam Weinberg
  • Navah Wolfe

Likewise, this list could include 20 people and still not be long enough. However, I want to specifically mention how thrilled I am to see Brit Hvide snag a long-deserved nomination. I’m a huge fan of her work, and it’s nice to see new names make the list.

Best Professional Artist

  • Tommy Arnold
  • Rovina Cai
  • Galen Dara
  • John Picacio
  • Yuko Shimizu
  • Alyssa Winans

Some mainstays here, like Dara and Picacio, but it’s thrilling to see artists like Tommy Arnold and Rovina Cai, whom I’ve admired for years, get recognized. This category has a tendency to dip its pen into the same inkwell over and over, so I’m always happy to see new names appear. I was unfamiliar with Alyssa Winans’ work… until I visited her website and recognized so many pieces. An all around talent-stacked ballot.

Best Semiprozine

  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor Scott H. Andrews
  • Escape Pod, editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, assistant editor Benjamin C. Kinney, audio producers Adam Pracht and Summer Brooks, hosts Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart
  • Fireside Magazine, editor Julia Rios, managing editor Elsa Sjunneson, copyeditor Chelle Parker, social coordinator Meg Frank, publisher & art director Pablo Defendini, founding editor Brian White
  • FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editor Troy L. Wiggins, editors Eboni Dunbar, Brent Lambert, L.D. Lewis, Danny Lore, Brandon O’Brien and Kaleb Russell
  • Strange Horizons, Vanessa Rose Phin, Catherine Krahe, AJ Odasso, Dan Hartland, Joyce Chng, Dante Luiz and the Strange Horizons staff
  • Uncanny Magazine, editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, nonfiction/managing editor Michi Trota, managing editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

The major theme I see here are publications that are pushing the SFF boundaries both in how we approach our stories, like Fireside, and what SFF means across its whole spectrum. From Escape Pod to FIYAH to Strange Horizons, these are publications that want stories that are unfettered and free to explore all of humanity’s infinite intricacies through SFF’s lens.

Best Fanzine

  • The Book Smugglers, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus, senior writers Rosemary Benton, Lorelei Marcus and Victoria Silverwolf
  • Journey Planet, editors James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Alissa McKersie, Ann Gry, Chuck Serface, John Coxon and Steven H Silver
  • nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla, and The G
  • Quick Sip Reviews, editor Charles Payseur
  • The Rec Center, editors Elizabeth Minkel and Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

I’m so, so happy to see The Book Smugglers nominated! Back during my blogging days, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James pushed me harder than anyone else to improve my work, and reach further toward rich, inclusive, and interesting content. I was sure they were going to win in 2014, and I’d love to see them walk away with the rocket they’ve earned over the years.

That being said, I’m also a huge, huge fan of nerds of a feather, and feel like the work being done there deserves wider recognition. They’ve been nominated multiple years in a row, and I’d be very happy to see them ultimately rewarded for running one of the most energetic, thoughtful, and diverse blogs in SFF.

I wasn’t aware of The Rec Center before this, but I am now and gladly signed up for the newsletter. The SFF landscape is rapidly changing as readers are consuming content in new ways (which I’ll expand on in a moment), and it’s great to see a newsletter represented here on the ballot. In many ways, it feels like a coming together of the blogosphere and the old style of SFF fanzine that dominated these ballots for so long.

Best Fancast

  • Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced & presented by Claire Rousseau
  • The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia, presented by Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce and Tansy Rayner Roberts, producer Andrew Finch
  • Our Opinions Are Correct, presented by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show, presented by Jen Zink and Shaun Duke

Lots of excellent stuff her, as usual, but the big standout here is the nomination for Claire Rousseau and her excellent YouTube channel. I’ve been enjoying Claire’s work for a while now, and am glad to see her rewarded in such a way. Claire is riding the wave of change in SFF, and I think this is the first sign of how the fan categories are going to be changing over the next couple of years. BookTube (the community of book-based content creators on YouTube) has been largely separate from traditional SFF fandoms for a while, at least in terms of recognition on major award ballots, but Claire’s Hugo nod is the first sign that those days are over. BookTube is responsible for some of the best, smartest, and most energetic SFF content being produced right now, and my guess is that it’s going to dominate the fan categories within the next 3-5 years. If you’re not already watching BookTube, you’re behind the curve.

Best Fan Writer

  • Cora Buhlert
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Alasdair Stuart
  • Bogi Takács
  • Paul Weimer
  • Adam Whitehead

Some terrific returnees this year from Takács to Nicoll to Stuart, but, like many of the categories above, it’s the newcomers that really have me excited. Cora Buhlert is a wonderfully incisive writer. Paul Weimer and Adam Whitehead (whom I’ve long been advocating for a spot on the ballot) have been involved as writers in the fan community for as long as I can remember, and, like the others on the ballot, both strike me as the epitome of fan writers who produce wonderful content for the sake of contributing to the overall community conversation. From top-to-bottom, this ballot is filled with winners.

Astounding Award for the Best New Science Fiction Writer

  • Sam Hawke (2nd year of eligibility)
  • R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Jenn Lyons (1st year of eligibility)
  • Nibedita Sen (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Tasha Suri (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Emily Tesh (1st year of eligibility)

“Astounding” is right. This is always one of my favourite ballots, because it represents the future of the genre. All the women represented here are bright voices with endless potential, and as I read this list, I’m filled with hope that SFF will continue to thrive and grow into the future.