For my comments on the 1943 Retro Hugo Awards, go here. Meanwhile, here are my comments on the main event (sorry, long dead authors, filmmakers, artists and fans of 1942), the 2018 Hugo Award finalists.
For other comments on the finalists, see the discussion in the comments at File 770. Also at File 770, JJ has compiled a list of where the find the 2018 Hugo finalists online. Best novel nominee John Scalzi is delighted to be nominated and finds some kind words for his fellow nominees, too. Joel Cunningham weighs in at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, while Andrew Liptak weighs in at The Verge. Newly minted best fanwriter nominee Camestros Felapton shares his thoughts on the 2018 Hugo finalists here. Meanwhile, a certain jerk who managed to get himself kicked out of WorldCon 76 months before the con, attended the public announcement of the Hugo finalists, managed to behave himself enough that he was not kicked out and still feels persecuted. He’s also been saying nasty things about the Hugo finalists on Twitter.
Overall, the 2018 Hugo Award finalists are a very good and diverse ballot with some notable exceptions (more on that later). Best of all, they are completely puppy free – no dinosaur erotica, no Castalia House, no Vox Day, no John C. Wright, no umpteenth take on Appendix N – and contain quite a lot of people that the various puppy groups and offshots hate.
So let’s jump right into the categories, starting off with best novel: It’s a solid ballot: Provenance by Ann Leckie and Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee were both on my ballot as well. And of course, both Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee have had previous nominations for other works in the same worlds. Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is a neat murder mystery on a generation ship that was on my longlist, but didn’t make my shortlist. Plus, Mur Lafferty seems to be popular with Hugo voters. After a few years of absence, John Scalzi is back with The Collapsing Empire, a solid space opera. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin was an obvious nominee, considering that the previous two books in the trilogy won this category in the past two years. The only finalist in this category I don’t care for is New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. I know that Robinson is popular with the Hugo electorate and has been nominated several times, but I have bounced off every book of his that I tried. I also don’t care for Robinson’s public persona as displayed in articles like this recent one from The Guardian. He reminds me of the joyless eco activists with whom I tangled in highschool. My father worked in the waste disposal industry at the time (and not the eco activist approved part thereof), which means I got a lot of backlash and open hatred from radical eco activists. Some of them were classmates, some of them even were my teachers. Ironically, my Dad has probably done more for the environment than any of those people. Of course, none of this is in any way Mr. Robinson’s fault, but I still react badly to his articles and don’t like his fiction. Coincidentally, the best novel category is very science fiction and particularly very space opera heavy this year. Even The Stone Sky, the most fantasy of the finalists, sits on the borderline of science fiction and fantasy.
Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 2 POC, 1 LGBT (as far as I know)
On to best novella: This is another very good list of finalists. All Systems Red by Martha Wells and River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey were both delightful and were also both on my nomination ballot. “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker is another fine novella that was on my longlist, but did not make my personal shortlist. The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor is lovely and besides, Binti: Home is the sequel to a previous winner. I haven’t yet read J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and its sister novella The Red Threads of Fortune, but I have enjoyed other works by J.Y. Yang and the novellas got a lot of positive attention. Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is another novella I haven’t read, but it is a prequel to last year’s winner in this category (which I didn’t particularly care for, so I never read the prequel), so it’s far from a surprise.
Diversity count: 5 women, 1 non-binary, 2 POC, 2 international authors, 1 LGBT (as far as I know)
Let’s take a look at best novelette: “Children of Thorns, Children of Water” by Aliette de Bodard and “Extracurricular Activities” by Yoon Ha Lee are both excellent stories (and tie in to the authors’ respective Xuya Universe and Hexarchate/Heptarchate series). “A Series of Steaks” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad got a lot of positive attention, though the story didn’t quite work for me. I somehow missed “The Secret Life of Bots” by Suzette Palmer, though I have enjoyed other stories by her. I also missed “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” by K.M. Szapara, even though I recognise the title from this year’s Nebula ballot. “Wind Will Rove” by Sarah Pinsker is another story I haven’t read, because I don’t have access to Asimov’s. Coincidentally, this is also the sole nominee to originate in the print magazines.
Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 3 POC, 2 international authors, 2 LGBT (again as far as I know)
On to best short story: “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata is a very good story and coincidentally was also on my ballot. “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience (TM)” by Rebecca Roanhorse and “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon are all lovely stories. I also think Rebecca Roanhorse is the first Native American ever nominated for a Hugo Award. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde didn’t quite work for me, though I have enjoyed other stories by this author. As mentioned in my comments on the 2017 Nebula nominees, “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim also didn’t work for me, though once more I have enjoyed other stories by the author. And while I think the worldbuilding of “Carnival Nine” is interesting and I can see what Caroline M. Yoachim was trying to do, the story carries an IMO problematic subtext (possibly unintended) of “women must take care of sick children, elderly parents and relatives and wayward partners and shouldn’t expect help from anybody” and also “Stay at home and don’t even try to get away, because your place is here”. Worse, whenever the story’s protagonist tries doing something for herself, usually going to the carnival, bad things happen. I probably react stronger to this subtext than others, because as a women with several elderly and ill relatives, I have had to fight against such attitudes.
Diversity count: 6 women, 3 POC, 1 international writer
So let’s take a look at best series. This is the category where my personal tastes are completely out of step with those of the Hugo electorate, since none of my nominees made it. Worse, there are several series here I have never read at all and also have zero interest in. Not sure how and if I will vote in this category. I’ll probably leave the series I don’t know off my ballot altogether. Lois McMaster Bujold is of course a perennial favourite and last year’s winner in this category for the Vorkosigan saga. This year, she is nominated for her World of the Five Gods series, which includes The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt as well as the Penric and Desdemona novellas. And indeed, I nominated one of the Penric and Desdemona novellas this year (as well as in the previous years), though I did not nominate the series as a whole. Still, a fine and worthy nominee and I wouldn’t be surprised, if Lois McMaster Bujold managed to win this category two years in a row. Seanan McGuire is of course another perennial favourite with the Hugo electorate. Last year, she was nominated in this category for her October Daye series, this year she is up for the InCryptid series. I read and enjoyed the first two books in the InCryptid series, though the series had blossomed to seven books since then, largely without me noticing. Nonetheless, this is a fine and worthy finalist. I’m also really happy to see Martha Wells recognised twice on the 2018 Hugo ballot, in best novella and best series, especially since her work has been largely ignored by the various genre awards. I also read and enjoyed The Cloud Roads, the first book in The Books of the Raksura series, which is nominated in this category, but again I haven’t read any of the sequels. With both the Raksura and the InCryptid series, part of the problem is that both are not easy to find in Europe, unless you specifically order them. I read and enjoyed Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court books, but I have to admit that I never read any of her nominated Memoirs of Lady Trent books, largely because dragons aren’t really the catnip for me that they evidently are for many other SFF readers. I do read books about dragons, but I do not seek them out and a dragon on the cover does not mean an instant sale with me. The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett did get a lot of positive buzz and one of the earlier volumes just missed the best novel ballot during one of the puppy years. However, again this is a series I have never read, partly because I tried one of Robert Jackson Bennett’s earlier urban fantasy novels and did not particularly care for it and partly because the description for the Divine Cities series did nothing for me. Brandon Sanderson finally is a hugely popular fantasy author, but so far, none of the works by him that I tried (two Hugo nominated novellas and his novel Steelheart) did much for me. For some reason, I quickly tend to forget Brandon Sanderson’s works after reading them to the point that I had to look up what the novel by him that I tried was called and whether it was part of the nominated Stormlight Archives series (it’s not). So in short, I haven’t read a lot in this category and I have no idea how I will vote or if I will even get to all finalists in time, particularly since some of those books are really long. Interestingly, while science fiction dominated in the best novel category, best series is completely dominated by fantasy.
Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men
As in the past few years, Orbit dominates the best novel category and Tor.com unsurprisingly dominates the best novella category. However, the Tor.com dominance is no longer quite so notable in the other short fiction categories, which is a good thing.
Best Related Work promises to be another category that will be really difficult to judge, if only because the finalists are all so very good, which is a relief, particularly considering what a trashfire this category was during the puppy years. Talking of puppies, Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoe Quinn will absolutely infuriate them. It is also a highly worthy nominee. Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Mimi Mondal, is another highly worthy nominee and coincidentally a book I purchased in the green room at WorldCon 75 from one of the editors herself before it was even officially out. And yes, it was on my ballot as was Sleeping with Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy by Liz Bourke, a collection of her Tor.com columns, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. Paul Kincaid’s critical overview of the works of Iain M. Banks got a lot of positive buzz and the only reason I haven’t yet read it is because I bounced so badly of Banks imitators during the New British Space Opera era of the early 2000s that I could never really bring myself to try the original. I guess I should remedy that some time. The collection No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters by the late Ursula K. Le Guin is a logical nominee in this category, especially since this is probably the last chance to honour one of the true greats of our genre. A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison by Nat Segaloff kind of passed me by, though I will be interested to read it.
Diversity count: 5 women, 2 men, 1 POC, 1 LGBT (again as far as I know)
Best graphic story is another really strong category this year. Monstress, Saga and Paper Girls are all previous nominees in this category and also really great comics. A previous volume of Bitch Planet just missed the ballot during the puppy years, so I’m glad to see it recognised this year. Now I have never particularly cared about Marvel’s Inhumans – they were always some of the weirder characters in the Marvel canon – Volume 1 of Saladin Ahmed’s and Christian Ward’s Black Bolt comic, which dumps Black Bolt, a normally not very likeable character, into a space prison, was excellent. Okay, so I have something of a weakness for prison stories, particularly space prison stories. They are catnip for me, just like dragons are catnip for other SFF readers. And the best graphic story ballot this year has two space prison stories with Black Bolt and Bitch Planet (and Saga and Monstress may well have had prison scenes, too, I can’t remember right now), so I’m pretty happy right now. The final nominee in this category, My Favourite Thing Is Monsters, is the only one I don’t know.
No diversity count, too many people are involved in making comics.
On to best dramatic presentation long form: The two best picture Oscar nominated SFF films of 2017, The Shape of Water and Get Out!, both unsurprisingly made the Hugo ballot. They are both worthy nominees as well, though I find that the backlash after The Shape of Water won the best picture and best director Oscars, while Get Out! took best screenplay, has slightly soured me on Get Out!. Thor: Ragnarok was the best superhero film of 2017 and I’m very glad to see it nominated here. Wonder Woman was another hugely popular superhero film, though I have to admit I don’t love it quite as much as many others do. It’s a perfectly fine film and definitely the best of DC’s recent superhero movies and Gal Gadot is wonderful, but I don’t quite get the intense love for this movie. I guess a lot of people were just really desperate for a decent superheroine movie that it overshadowed the flaws. Coincidentally, I rewatched both Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman only a few days ago, since both are now out on DVD and TV is crap during the Easter weekend, and found that Thor: Ragnarok has become better the second time around, while Wonder Woman got weaker. My parents, both of whom are long term Wonder Woman fans going back to a stack of Golden Age comics with my Dad and to the Lynda Carter series of the 1970s with my Mom, were also underwhelmed by the film, because it was basically a WWI film with a bit of the Wonder Woman they remember thrown in the final half hour. Star Wars: The Last Jedi may have been divisive – and its nomination will almost certainly piss off the puppies – but it was also a movie that a lot of people loved (my own feelings were somewhat mixed, as chronicled here) and besides, it is Star Wars and Star Wars always gets nominated. The Hugo nomination for Blade Runner 2049 somewhat surprised me, because while the film was visually stunning, it was still an unnecessary sequel to a movie that didn’t really need one. And it didn’t even answer the questions left open by the original all that well. The overall reception also wasn’t that positive – unlike with almost every other movie on the ballot – so I’m surprised that enough people nominated it.
Again no diversity count, since there are too many people involved in making movies. Though I’m pleased that we have a female director and two male directors of colour nominated in this category.
Let’s take a look at dramatic presentation short form: This is usually the category where my personal tastes are most out of step with those of the broader Hugo electorate and this year is no exception. Though at least one of my nominees made it, the excellent Black Mirror episode “USS Callister”, which I discuss in greater depth here. Star Trek Discovery may have been a mess of a show, but it did have a handful of really good episodes and the best of those, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” won a Hugo nomination. And while I may have been pretty harsh on the show overall, I have absolutely no beef with this nomination, because it was a really good episode that gave the cast and characters a chance to shine and – more importantly – it actually felt like proper Star Trek rather than grimdark mirror Star Trek. Besides, Gabriel Lorca gets killed 47 times in a row, so what’s not to enjoy? Perennial Hugo favourite Doctor Who is represented by the 2017 Christmas Special Twice Upon a Time, which was a multi Doctor and a regeneration episode and also pretty good. Last year’s surprise nominees Clipping managed to score another nomination with their song “The Deep”. Considering how dominated this category is by various Hollywood and BBC juggernauts, I’m really happy for them.
Then finally, there is the Hugo finalist which had me literally screaming in frustration, namely The Good Place. Now I mentioned in my 2017 Nebula reaction post that I had zero interest in The Good Place, because I don’t care for US style sitcoms, don’t care for afterlife stories and don’t care for religious “heaven, hell and all that jazz” stories. Whereupon people urged me to give The Good Place a try anyway, because it was really, really good. So I did. More precisely, while channel-surfing, I came across The Good Place (which I didn’t even know was airing in Germany until that point) on a fairly obscure channel. “Hey, it’s that Good Place show the Americans are all into these days”, I said, “Let’s give it a try.” So we watched about five minutes, until we looked at each other and said as one, “What the fuck is this shit?” and changed the channel. About a week later, I chanced to come across The Good Place again while channel surfing, managed to watch another five minutes or so, before I had to switch the show off, because the show was literally painful for me to watch. Now part of that may be due to the German dubbing – sitcoms are often dubbed in a screechy, hysterical style that I can’t stand. But considering that I hated both the new Battlestar Galactica and Orphan Black (and no awarded the latter, when it was up for a Hugo), I nonetheless managed to watch three whole episodes of the new Galactica and one whole episode of Orphan Black. Of Fringe, which I also did not like, I still managed to watch the whole first season. The Good Place, however, grates so much on my nerves that I cannot abide watching even a whole episode (and these episodes are short, only 25 minutes). It’s everything about it – the characters, the actors (and I usually like Ted Danson), the screechy dubbing, the sitcom suburb sets (yes, American suburbs are literally hell. We get it by now, so why do US films and TV shows have to repeat that point). And this show which is literally painful for me to watch gets not just one but two Hugo nominations at a time where there is a lot of very good SFF TV out there. The Handmaid’s Tale, undoubtedly the standout SFF show of 2017, which won both the Emmy and the Golden Globe, doesn’t even get a single nomination and The Bloody Good Place gets two. Lucifer (which actually does something interesting with this whole heaven and hell thing), Preacher (ditto), Outlander, The Expanse, The Orville (which occasionally falls into the sitcom trap, but manages to balance the SF and sitcom elements so much better), Game of Thrones, the various DC Arrowverse superhero shows, Gotham, The Defenders, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stranger Things and lots of other decent to good SFF shows didn’t make the ballot and the bloody Good Place does. Hell, if you want afterlife stories, why not watch Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, two very good interconnected series, which used the “Welcome to the afterlife” so much better (it’s not longer a spoiler more than ten years on, is it?), and never even won a single Hugo nomination over five seasons. I may give The Good Place one more try, but frankly I suspect I will be no awarding this and I will absolutely not feel sorry about it. Luckily, we have four good nominees and only two dreadful ones in this category.
Again no diversity count, too many people are involved in making TV shows and music.
So now I’ve ranted enough, let’s go on to the two editing categories. Best editor is a fine ballot of highly worthy nominees. The finalists are largely the same as last year, though Joe Monti and Diana M. Pho are new.
Diversity count: 5 women, 1 man, 2 POC
The best editor short form category is also largely the same as last year. Lee Harris is new to this category, though he was nominated in the long form editing category a few years ago.
Diversity count: 2 women, 5 men
So let’s take a look at the two art categories. Best pro artist is a mixture of returning favourites such as WorldCon 76 guest of honour John Picacio, Sana Takeda, Galen Dara and Victo Ngai and new names such as Kathleen Jennings and Bastien Lecouffe Deharme. I suspect that the latter profited a bit from Terry Goodkind behaving like an arsehole and saying unkind things about Lecouffe Deharme’s cover for his latest novel. Though Lecouffe Deharme does some really great work as well.
Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, at least 3 POC, 3 international artists.
Best fan artist is another mix of returning favourites such as Likhain a.k.a M. Serreno, Spring Schoenhuth and Steve Stiles and new names such as Geneva Benton, Grace P. Fong and Maya Hahto (who designed the WorldCon 75 mascot Major Ursa among others).
Diversity count: 5 women, 1 man, at least 3 POC, at least 2 international artists.
The best semiprozine category again looks very similar to last year’s. Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons and The Book Smugglers are all returning favourites. The two new nominees are Fireside Magazine, which has been doing some very good work these past two years, and Escape Pod. It’s also nice to see an audio magazine nominated in this category.
No diversity count, too many people are involved in editing and publishing semiprozines.
Best fanzine is another mix and longtime favourites and new names. File 770 has been nominated and winning in this category for more than thirty years now and also holds up the traditional fanzine flag together with Journey Planet, another longtime nominee and previous winner. Chris Gracia introduces Journey Planet and the team behind it in this post at File 770, BTW. nerds of a feather, Rocket Stack Rank and SF Bluestocking are all returning nominees from last year and they all continue to do good work in their respective niches. Newcomer Galactic Journey is a fanzine with a twist, since it reviews all SF magazines, films, novels, etc… – from 55 years in the past, because for Galactic Journey, it’s 1963 and they’re probably very surprised to be nominated for a Hugo in the far off future of 2018. It’s a great site and seeing reviews of vintage SFF mags in context – with the good, the bad and the ugly – is fascinating. It was one of my nominees these past two years and I’m really glad that it made it this year.
Again no diversity count, too many people.
The best fancast finalists also include plenty of returning favourites such as Galactic Suburbia, The Fangirl Happy Hour, Ditch Diggers and The Coode Street Podcast. Verity! wasn’t nominated last year, though it has definitely been nominated in the past, because I remember listening to it. Sword and Laser is new to this category, though the podcast has been around for a while and is usually good. All are fine nominees, though I’m a bit sad that my pals of the Skiffy and Fanty Show didn’t make it this year.
Diversity count. 13 women (some of them nominated twice), 5 men
While a lot of the other categories have plenty of returning nominees, the best fanwriter category has plenty of new names. Mike Glyer is of course a multiple nominee and winner in this category. Foz Meadows has been nominated a few times as well, but hasn’t won so far. Camestros Felapton is a new name and one I’m really happy to see here, because I always enjoy his blog, even when it has been taken over by cats and dinosaurs. A highly deserved nomination. Charles Payseur of nerds of a feather and Quick Sip Reviews is another fanwriter who does good work, but hasn’t been recognised before, at least not individually. I follow Bogi Takács on Twitter, but I haven’t read all that much of their fanwriting so far, though I’m looking forward to remedying that. Sarah Gailey is a curious case, because I love her fiction (River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow were personal favourites), but her non-fiction writing doesn’t do nearly as much for me. Still a very worthy nominee. Coincidentally, I suspect that both Foz Meadows and Camestros Felapton profited indirectly from recent puppy attempts to smear both of them (follow the whole silly and sordid saga here), since some people are apparently unable to imagine that Australia is a big place and that more than two people live there. Because the smear attempts exposed a lot of people to Foz Meadows’ and Camestros’ respective blogs and several of them probably liked what they saw there.
Diversity count: 2 women, 3 men, 1 non-binary, 3 international writers
Now we get to the two “no a Hugo” categories. The first is the John W. Campbell Award for the best new writer. The nominees are all excellent choices. Vina Jie-Min Prasad and Rebecca Roanhorse wrote some excellent short fiction last year, Rivers Solomon’s debut novel An Unkindness of Ghosts got a lot of attention, as did Jeanette Ng’s debut novel Under the Pendulum Sun. I haven’t read Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale and its sequel The Girl in the Tower, but a lot of people seem to like them. Sarah Kuhn had a self-published or small-press published novel a few years ago, which doesn’t count for the Campbell, and is now nominated for her fun superhero novels Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship.
Diversity count: 6 women, 4 POC, 2 international authors.
The final “not a Hugo” category is the new YA Award, which will eventually be called the Lodestar Award. The inaugural ballot is very strong indeed. Philip Pullman’s return to the world of the His Dark Materials trilogy in La Belle Sauvage was one of the biggest YA books of the year. Frances Hardinge, who is nominated for A Skinful of Shadows, is another highly acclaimed YA author, though I have to admit that I have never read anything by her so far. I adore Sam J. Miller’s short fiction, so I am very happy to see his debut novel The Art of Starving nominated. Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon was lovely (and coincidentally, the only indie published work on the whole Hugo ballot) and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor was another very good YA SFF book. And while I have enjoyed previous books by Sarah Rees Brennan, I haven’t yet read In Other Lands, the book for which she is nominated. Still, it’s a strong ballot and – more importantly – these are the sort of books that actual teens read rather than adult SFF author’s ventures into YA, which are often nominated for the Andre Norton Award.
Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 1 POC, 1 LGBT
Finally, let’s take a look at my hit rate: I got 35 nominees out of 114, i.e. 30.7%. My Mom, who did not nominate in every category, got 9 out of 114, i.e. 7.8%.
I can’t see any notable themes this year. Space opera is clearly popular in several categories, while the fairytale trend of the past few years has abated somewhat. The 1980s nostalgia trend also seems to have abated a bit. 2017 has also been a really strong year for Asian writers and artists. Finally, I’m also really happy to see several trans writers recognised, particularly since March 31 is Trans Day of Visibility.
All in all, this is a very good Hugo ballot. A lot of things I liked, some I don’t care for, but where I can see why other people like them, a few things I don’t know, but look forward to trying and only three nominees I really, really don’t like (New York 2140 and The Good Place times two). Compared to the puppy years, where you were often happy to have one decent nominee in a category, this is great. Looks like the Hugos are back on track.