Some More Words about the 2017 Hugo Awards

I already wrote a short 2017 Hugo Awards reaction post on Friday night, but now I’m home here is a longer version:

2017 Hugo Award

A display model of a 2017 Hugo Award in the WorldCon 75 exhibition hall.

This is an unusual Hugo year for me, for even though we had an excellent Hugo shortlist full of very fine works, only five out of eighteen of my first choices won, a much lower hit rate than in previous years. And while there is no Hugo winner this year that I really did not want to see win at all and consequently no awarded (which has happened in previous years – I don’t no award just puppies), quite a few of the eventual winners placed fairly low on my ballot. And when I discussed the winners with my Mom, there were some comments along the lines of “I really loved that one”, but also a lot of “I didn’t much care for that one.” But I guess this is what happens when you have a Hugo ballot full of actual good choices instead of one good choice and a load of puppy poo.

The disconnect between my personal ballot and the rest of the Hugo electorate is most notable in best novel, where I had an unprecendented three favourites that I really couldn’t decide between this year (I kept shuffling them around until the last minute). The eventual winner, however, was not one of these three. That’s not to say that The Obelisk Gate is not a worthy winner, for it absolutely is. However, the Broken Earth trilogy (which has been optioned for television BTW) are books I admire rather than love. And indeed, both my Mom and I enjoyed N.K. Jemisin’s story “The City Born Great”, which was a Hugo finalist in the short story category, a lot more than The Obelisk Gate.

Last I said in my last Hugo post, I did not expect The Obelisk Gate to win, because it was the second book in a trilogy and those rarely win and also because it was competing in a very strong ballot. In fact, I suspected that All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders would win (which also wasn’t one of my three top picks), since it already won the Nebula and Locus Awards (in the end, it came in second). I’ve been wondering how my predictions for this category could have been so totally off and I suspect that we’re seeing an effect at work here we often see with awards of any kind, from genre awards via general literature prizes to the Oscars, namely that more serious works focussed on serious issues tends to trump lighter works. Now both All the Birds in the Sky and A Closed and Common Orbit are lighter and more hopeful works, even though they do tackle serious issues as well. Coincidentally, A Closed and Common Orbit addresses very similar issues as The Obelisk Gate, namely who is viewed as a person and who is viewed as a thing or tool, but it handles these issues in a very different way. And due to a general bias towards more serious works that can be found in pretty much all awards, a darker book like The Obelisk Gate trumped a lighter and more hopeful treatment of the same theme like A Closed and Common Orbit (or the equally lighter and more hopeful All the Birds in the Sky). It was always pretty obvious that Death’s End and Too Like the Lightning were not going to win, since both were love it or hate it books, which leaves Ninefox Gambit as the other darker and more serious work on the ballot.

What is more, the US is going through a dark period of its history right now (which became even darker while WorldCon was going on), so maybe The Obelisk Gate was exactly the book American Hugo voters needed right now, because in many ways it mirrors the issues the US is facing right now. Of course, there were plenty of international fans at WorldCon 75, but I strongly suspect that the majority of Hugo voters were Americans, especially since several international fans I talked to at the con told me that they didn’t bother voting for the Hugos, either because of language issues or because they were unfamiliar with the nominated works. I have no idea how to fix this, since we can’t do more than make the Hugo voter packet available to every WorldCon member, which we already do. But it’s pretty obvious that even in years where WorldCon is outside the US and outside the English speaking world in general, the Hugos will still be determined primarily by US concerns and tastes. We see a couple more examples for this among the 2017 Hugo winners.

Two of those examples are Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El Mohtar, the winners in the best novella and best short story category respectively. Neither win was a surprise, since they also won the Nebula and Locus Award in the respective categories. What is more, both are worthy winners, but neither was my first or even my second or third choice in the respective category. Both stories are examples of the trend towards metafictional works that was really notable on this year’s Hugo shortlist, where we had plenty of works that were references to, reworkings or retelling of other works. Now these metafictional stories have one huge drawback, namely that they work a lot better, when you are familiar with the source material. Coincidentally, I was surprised that my Mom ranked The Ballad of Black Tom and The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe fairly high, since both IMO hinge a lot more on H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction (which to my knowledge she hasn’t read) than Every Heart a Doorway hinges on Narnia or Oz or Neverland.

Every Heart a Doorway is Seanan McGuire’s take on portal fantasies. And indeed, I like the central idea of what happens to kids who went through a portal into a fantastic realm after they return. However, while Anglo-American children’s literature is full of portal fantasies, they are comparatively rare in German children’s literature. Not that the protagonists of German and North European children’s fantasy don’t have fantastical adventures – they absolutely do. They just rarely travel through magical portals to have them. Instead, the protagonists of continental European children’s literature are far more likely to come across a magical world that exists in parallel with our world (and coincidentally, my very first attempts at fantasy writing featured just such a scenario – a magical world that exists in parallel with our own, only that we can’t see it). The Neverending Story by Michael Ende is the only German example for outright portal fantasy I can think of. If you look a bit further afield, you could also include The Brothers Lionheart (where the alternate world is the afterlife, i.e. that’s one trip to a magical realm you don’t return from) and Mio, My Mio by Astrid Lindgren. However, regarding the big names of Anglo-American portal fantasies, I have never read either the Narnia or Oz books (though I did see the movie) nor The Bridge to Terabithia. I have read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, but I read them at university as a classic of English literature, when the effect is very different. Ditto for Peter Pan, though I loved the Disney movie as a kid. So for me, a novella about what happens to the kids who went through a magical portal after they return naturally has less resonance than it has for someone who grew up with portal fantasies. This does not make Every Heart a Doorway a bad story, quite the contrary, and I’m happy that Seanan McGuire finally got to take home a Hugo after so many nominations. I just didn’t love the story as much as many others obviously did.

This year’s Hugo winner for best short story, “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar, belongs to the subgenre of fairytale retellings and new fairytales, which has been very popular in recent years. It’s not a trend I particularly like, as detailed here, especially when it’s paired with a blanket dismissal of the original tales as irrelevant and hopelessly old-fashioned (well, you’re looking at at least two hundred years old orally narrated message fiction and cautionary tales, so of course they don’t address our current concerns, but those of a different time). Many fairytale retellings are also a lot less groundbreaking and subversive than their authors think. I can’t even count the times I’ve seen an author proclaim that they have written the first truly feminist fairytale retelling, which usually makes me roll my eyes and think, “It’s been done before, plenty of times, in anything from forty year old Czech children’s TV shows to Angela Carter novels”. Now “Seasons of Glass and Iron” is one of the better fairytale retellings and Amal El-Mohtar is a fine writer. Nonetheless, the story is highly predictable to the point that I could tell where it was headed from the blurb and I have no idea why this particular story is so beloved and why so many people claimed that it knocked their socks off.

Meanwhile, the Hugo winner for best novelette, “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon, was actually my first choice (and my Mom’s as well, though we didn’t have all that much overlap on our Hugo ballots) and a very fine story it is, too. The folk tales motifs of the US Southwest found in “The Tomato Thief” and “You’ll Surely Drown Here, If You Stay” by Alyssa Wong, another nominee in the novelette category, also worked a lot better for me than retellings of European folk and fairytales often do.

Regarding the new best series Hugo (which has passed the business meeting and is now a permanent fixture), the inaugural winner was – unsurprisingly and highly deserved – the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. The Expanse by James S.A. Corey (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) came in second, probably boosted by the eponymous TV show. On the other hand, I was surprised to see the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire come in last, since it’s a good series by a writer who’s popular with Hugo voters (and coincidentally, I voted the October Daye series a lot higher in its respective category than Every Heart a Doorway). But I guess that the twin anti-urban-fantasy and anti-romance biasses of the Hugo electorate struck again here, since October Daye is the most romancey of the three urban fantasy series on the Hugo ballot, though still less romancey than e.g. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Ilona Andrews’ Magic series, both of which are hugely popular, were eligible and did not even make the longlist. Coincidentally, looking at the longlist for best series, I see a lot of bullets dodged in the form of series I either really don’t like such as the Laundry Files by Charles Stross or have neither read nor any intention to try. I’m also still not sure if the best series Hugo is really such a good idea, though the first year had a fine ballot and a most deserving winner.

The 2017 John W. Campbell Award goes, once again highly deserved, to Ada Palmer. I’m really, really pleased about this result and indeed Ada Palmer was also number one on my Campbell ballot. 2017 has been a very strong year for the Campbell Award in general, particularly after the shitshow of the past two years. Yes, there is a puppy on the ballot, but J. Mulrooney show more promise than many of the puppy nominees of the past two years and the rest of the ballot contains some excellent up and coming writers. However, Ada Palmer really stood out among those nominees, for even though Too Like the Lightning was flawed and also hampered by its rather abrupt ending (which is probably why it didn’t win the best novel Hugo, even though it was one of my personal top three), it was still so much more ambitious in style and scope than anything else on the Campbell ballot this year (even though Laurie Penny, Sarah Gailey, Kelly Robson and Malka Older are all very fine writers).

The Hugo Award for best related work goes, once more highly deserved, to Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin. Ursula K. Le Guin is clearly the grande dame of our genre plus the first woman to win a Hugo Award in the best novel category and this may well be the last chance to honour her work, so I’m highly satisfied by this result. The Princess Diarist by the late Carrie Fisher came in second, probably because it was the last chance to honour another beloved figure of our genre.

The winner in the best graphic story is volume 1 of Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda and an excellent choice it is, too, even though my personal top pick was Saga. But then, fan favourites Saga and Ms. Marvel both already won Hugos, so it’s good to see a new comic series winning. I’m surprised that Black Panther finished so high, since I felt that while it was an ambitious work, it did not work very well and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ inexperience as a comics writer really showed at times.

On to the two best dramatic presentation categories. The Hugo for best dramatic presentation long form goes – unsurprisingly – to Arrival. Arrival really was the favourite to win in this category, since it is exactly the sort of serious science fiction movie, based on a beloved story at that, which Hugo voters tend to love. Though at the Alien Language in Science Fiction panel (which you can see here BTW), we all had our reservations about the movie, ranging from, “Well, it’s wonderful to see a linguist heroine, but linguistics don’t work that way, sorry.” to “Jeremy Renner’s character is an arsehole.” But then the vast majority of Hugo voters are not linguists (and apparently not annoyed by Jeremy Renner’s character) and Arrival is certainly a deserving winner. Coincidentally, the best dramatic presentation category long form also once more shows very clearly that there is a bias against comedic content, since the two comedic entries on the ballot, Deadpool and Ghostbusters respectively, both finished last, even though both movie do contain serious themes, cancer and what people will do to beat it in the case of Deadpool and how highly qualified women will still be dismissed and see less qualified men promoted ahead of them in the case of Ghostbusters. Interestingly, Hidden Figures, which tackles almost the same theme as Ghostbusters, though with an added racial dimension (on the other hand, there is Leslie Jones’ Patty in Ghostbusters who faces even more dismissal and discrimnation than her white teammates), but does so in a more serious manner, finished in second place.

The Hugo for dramatic presentation short form went to the “Leviathan Wakes” episode of The Expanse. Again, this was not an unexpected win, since The Expanse is a well regarded TV show and – unlike fan favourites Game of Thrones and Doctor Who – has never been nominated for a Hugo before, let alone won. Though my personal favourite in this category was the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, which was a surprisingly touching story and a pleasant surprise, considering how much I normally dislike Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker. I’m a bit sad to see the album Splendor & Misery by clipping finish in last place, but then it was up against three juggernauts in a category where anything that is not a TV episode usually doesn’t even get nominated.

The winners in the two editor categories are Liz Gorinsky and Ellen Datlow respectively, both highly deserved. Meanwhile, everybody’s least favourite puppy lost to “No Award” for the fourth year in a row, also highly deserved. The Hugo for best professional artist went to Julie Dillon, while Elizabeth Leggett won in the best fan artist category, once again both excellent choices. Uncanny Magazine takes best semiprozine for the second year in a row and Lady Business wins in the best fanzine category. Both were my top picks in their categories BTW. The Hugo for best fanwriter goes to Abigail Nussbaum, while the delightful Tea and Jeopardy wins in the best fancast category, both again highly deserved.

That’s it for my reactions to the 2017 Hugo winners, so let’s take a look around the web at what others have to say:

Let’s start with the winners: Campbell Award winner and best novel nominee Ada Palmer shares her acceptance speech and talks about living, working and writing with an invisible disability, which flared up on Hugo night of all times. Meanwhile, best fanwriter winner Abigail Nussbaum shares her acceptance speech at Asking the Wrong Questions. The editors of Lady Business, winner in the best fanzine category, also share their acceptance speech.

2017 Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte shares his experiences and all the work (from counting nominations and votes to physically assembling Hugo Awards) that went into making the 2017 Hugo Awards run smoothly in a two part post. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of the Hugo Awards. Nicholas Whyte has also put up more Hugo reports detailing the decisions he made as administrator during the nomination stage, the final rounds of counting nominations and how the points were distributed as well as measuring the impact of the EPH and the possible impact of the EPH+ nomination system. Coincidentally, I was on a panel with Nicholas Whyte and Kristina Knaving about how to adapt the Hugos to an increasingly digital world, which you can watch on YouTube here. Though I forgot MicroSFF (who shows up on the best fanwriter longlist under their passport name O. Westin) as an example for something that does not comfortably fit into any of the current Hugo categories.

ETA: Nicholas Whyte also shares this report from Hugo packet coordinator Jo Van Ekeren in which she details the challenges of putting the Hugo voter packet together. Again it shows how much behind the scenes work the WorldCon 75 team put into making WorldCon 75 and the Hugos a success.

At the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, Joel Cunningham points out something that I already noticed in my previous Hugo post, namely that the 2017 Hugo Awards were dominated by women. Women and writers of colour already dominated the Hugo shortlist (which caused some people to worry about the poor white men who were being shut out) and with the exception of the two dramatic presentation categories, all 2017 Hugos as well as the Campbell Award went to women or – in the case of best fancast and best semiprozine – to husband and wife teams. This is truly remarkable and also mirrors a trend that we have seen at the Nebula Awards the past two or three years, namely that both nominees and winners skew strongly female. This has some of the usual suspects upset. However, Joel Cunningham also correctly points out that the Hugos took until 1968 until a woman (Anne McCaffrey for “Weyr Search”) finally won in one of the fiction categories and she had to share her win with Philip José Farmer, too. And even as late as 2007, the finalists in the fiction categories were almost entirely male with Naomi Novik the lone token woman, though there also were a few woman artists and editors nominated and a woman actually won in the best related work category. So we have one female dominated year at the Hugos (or two, considering that in 2016 the winners in all four fiction categories were women) against more than sixty male dominated ones.

I went into why we celebrate that so many women won Hugos in a separate post back in 2016, when the issue last came up, so I’ll simply link to that post here and say that everything I said back then still applies one year later.

ETA: At Scroll.in, Mimi Mondal also takes a look at the many women writers who won Hugos in 2017 and shares some recommendations what to read by them. There are also some nice photos of the 2017 Hugo winners and presenters included.

At The Guardian, Alison Flood also points out that the 2017 Hugo winners are overwhelmingly female and that the Sad and Rabid Puppies seem to have been vanquished for good. Meanwhile, the CBC article about the Hugos focusses mainly on the Canadian winners, namely Amal El-Mohtar and Denis Villeneuve, director of Arrival.

At Kirkus, Thea James, Hugo finalist in the best semiprozine category for The Book Smugglers, declares that after two years of puppy shenangigans, the 2017 Hugos sent a message of empathy, tolerance and hope, which is more important than ever today. I can only agree with her.

At the Kaedrin Weblog, Mark Ciocco has mixed feelings about the 2017 Hugo results, particularly since he is not a fan of the Broken Earth trilogy and not happy with the direction towards more literary works that Hugo Awards have taken in the past few years. He also wonders whether the second win in a row for N.K. Jemisin is not a reaction against the puppy activities of the past two years. As pointed out above, I think larger political forces than a few disgruntled rightwing fans play a role here and explain why the Broken Earth trilogy resonates with so many fans.

So how decisively did the puppies lose anyway? All of the blatant slate picks were no awarded, while “hostages” such as China Mieville, Neil Gaiman an the Deadpool movie easily cleared the “No Award” hurdle. Jason Sanford has now set himself the task of analysing the slow death of the rabid puppies. As noted before, they had around 80 votes at the nominating stage and around 30 during the voting stage.

ETA: Aaron Pound also analyses the 2017 Hugo Award longlist and the nomination data and also comes to the conclusion that the rabid puppies had between 70 and 80 nominators this year and fewer voters.

ETA: At Women Write About Comics, Doris V. Sutherland offers a write-up of the 2017 Hugo Awards winners and also reports about the state of the puppy campaigns, including the complete disintegration due to infighting of the sad puppies. Doris V. Sutherland also has a further Hugo post at her personal blog.

Camestros Felapton also dedicated himself to analysing the Hugo short- and longlist and particularly the effect the new EPH system has on the finalists, using the best fanwriter category, where Camestros Felapton are on the longlist themselves (as am I), as an example. It’s a good analysis and well worth reading. Coincidentally, Camestros also comes to the conclusion that the rabbid puppies had around 80 votes, maybe less (since not all of them voted consistently and the occasional puppy nominee might have picked up an organic vote or two), at the nomination stage and 32 at most at the voting stage. So not much of a menace anymore, besides EPH did its job. BTW Camestros Felapton would make an excellent fanwriter nominee for 2017 – hint, hint.

Steve J. Wright also offers a detailed analysis of the Hugo winners as well as the long- and shotlist at his blog, including the final ranking of the finalists.

At The Beat, Torsten Adair also analyses the Hugo finalists as well as the longlist, using the best graphic story category as an example, since The Beat is a comics site.

So what about the puppies themselves? The sad puppies have largely disintegrated and most of both puppy groups and their offshoots such as superversive science fiction and pulp revolution seem to have moved on to the Dragon Awards who are welcome to them. Though the claims from the puppy camp that the Dragon Awards represent the true voice of fandom, unlike the Hugos, are hilarious, considering that at this point in time, all the Dragon Awards represent are authors eagerly campaigning for a nomination with a few generally popular choices thrown in, many of whom don’t want to be there.

As a result, we get resounding silence from the major puppies as well as the minor ones I bothered to check (I can take only so many puppy blogs before I need brain bleach), which confirms that we seem to have shoved that particular genie back into its bottle. However, rabid puppy in chief Vox Day cannot resist offering his commentary on the 2017 Hugo Award winners. Apparently, destroying science fiction, WorldCon and the Hugos by making sure that a lot of awesome women writers and writers of colour, including N.K. Jemisin, win Hugos was his great plan all along.

In that case, mission accomplished. And now go and play with Dragons, while we enjoy the current awesomeness of SFF.

Comments are off, in case any stray puppies feel like pooping here.

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