Here is the second of the long awaited Hugo finalist reaction posts. Part 1 about the finalists for the 1945 Retro Hugos, is here BTW. And yes, it took longer than usual to get these posts up, but since I’m a Hugo finalist myself this year, I took some time off to celebrate, congratulate fellow finalists and update everything that needed updating.
So let’s take a look at the finalists for the 2020 Hugo Award and delve right into the categories:
This is an excellent, if fairly predictable ballot, because all of the nominated novels got a lot of buzz last year. The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow were all among the most popular and critically acclaimed novels of the year.
The only finalist in this category that surprised me a little is Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. For while I like Seanan McGuire’s work, Middlegame sort of passed me by. It’s also the only finalist in this category that I haven’t read. Besides, Seanan McGuire is talented, prolific and hugely popular, so upon second thought this nomination isn’t all that surprising after all.
2019 was an extremely strong year for SFF novel in general, so several novels one might have expected to see on the ballot, e.g. The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker, The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz or even The Testaments by Margaret Atwood or Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, are nowhere in sight, though I suspect that they will sit just under the top six.
The people who worry that fantasy is taking over the Hugos and crowding out science fiction will be pleased that three of six Best Novel finalists are unambiguous science fiction, one is science fantasy and only two are unambiguous fantasy.
Diversity count: 6 women, 1 international writer.
Cue the complaints that women are taking over the Hugos, which – I’ve been told – are already to be found in the usual places. Instead of responding to those complaints, I’ll simply link to this old post again.
Once again, the finalists in this category are very good, if predictable. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone got a huge amount of buzz last year, all of it deserved, because it’s a wonderful story.
Becky Chambers is a highly popular writer as well as previous Hugo finalist and winner, so I’m not at all surprised to see To Be Taught, If Fortunate on the ballot. Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series is hugely popular and all previous installments have been Hugo finalists, one a winner, so the nomination for In an Absent Dream is no surprise either.
Rivers Solomon is one of the most exciting new voices in SFF to emerge in recent years and her novella The Deep is an adaptation of the eponymous song by the band clipping, which was a Hugo finalist in 2018.
P. Djèlí Clark is another exciting new voice who has emerged in recent years. He was a double Hugo finalist last year and his 2020 nominated novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a sequel to his 2016 story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo”.
“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” is the one finalist in the novella category, where I went “Huh? What on Earth is this?” during the Hugo finalist announcement livestream. Then I saw that the author was Ted Chiang and that the novella is from his recent collection Exhalation, which I haven’t read, because Ted Chiang’s work is very hit and miss for me. However, he has long been popular with Hugo voters.
Those who worry (not entirely without reason) about Tor.com’s dominance in the novella category will be pleased that this year, Tor.conm publishing nabbed only two of six finalist slots. Saga Press nabbed another two, Harper Voyager got one and one story was from a collection published by Alfred A. Knopf. Now that Tor.com Publishing has demonstrated that novellas are a viable, other publishers like Saga Press or Harper Voyager are getting into the act, so we’re seeing more variety, which is a good thing.
Diversity count (including the members of clipping): 6 men, 3 women, 1 non-binary, 5 writers of colour, 1 international writer
As I noted in my comments on the 2019 Nebula finalists, my short fiction reading seems to have been out of whack with the genre community last year, because several of the finalists in this and the short story category are stories which never appeared on my radar at all. Some of them were published at a time, when I was otherwise occupied (sick with the flu, doing the July short story challenage, away at Worldcon and Eurocon), so maybe I just missed them. Or maybe my tastes are out of whack with the rest of the Hugo electorate.
“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll is one novelette I have read and that was also on my ballot.
“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim, “Away With the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey and “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker are all stories from magazines (Uncanny and Lightspeed respectively) that I normally read by popular and well regarded authors. Yet for some reason, I have read neither of them.
I also haven’t read “Omphalos” by Ted Chiang for the reasons explained above. Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin is another story I haven’t read, largely because I assumed the stories of the Forward Collection were audiobooks and I have issues with audiobooks. Emergency Skin is also, as far as I can tell, the first ever Hugo nomination for any of Amazon’s publishing ventures, since Marko Kloos, who is published with the Amazon Imprint 47 North, withdrew in 2015.
Diversity count: 1 man, 5 women, 3 authors of colour
Best Short Story:
Another mix of stories I read and liked and stories that passed me by.
“As the Last I My Know” by S.L. Huang is a great story and was also on my ballot. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen is a fine story that was on my personal longlist, but didn’t make the shortlist in the end. It’s also a Nebula finalist.
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas is another 2019 Nebula finalist that I wasn’t even aware of before the Nebula finalists were announced. It is a fine story, though. Along with Nibedita Sen’s nomination in this category as well as for the Astounding (formerly Campbell) Award, 2019 was a good year for SFF writers from India.
“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde is yet another 2019 Nebula finalist as well as a story that initially passed me by. I have since read it, though it didn’t do as much for me as it evidently did for many others.
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon and “Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow are two stories that passed me by completely, even though I normally follow the venues where they appeared. But Rivers Solomon and Alix E. Harrow are both fine and popular writers whose work also appears elsewhere on the ballot. Alix E. Harrow is also last year’s winner in this category.
Diversity count: 1 man, 4 women, 1 non-binary, 4 writers of colour, 3 international writers
As I said last year, I was initially in favour of the Best Series category, because there are a lot of popular and good long-running series, that are rarely honoured by the Hugos (or Nebulas, for that matter), because the whole is more than the sum of its parts and individual books often don’t stand alone very well.
Examples I’m thinking of are The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Kate Daniels by Ilona Andrews, In Death by J.D. Robb, Alliance-Union by C.J. Cherryh, The Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter by Nalini Singh, the 1632 series by Eric Flint, etc… That is, series that are extremely popular and yet overlooked by the Hugos. And yes, I’m aware that several of these series did not have new instalments out in 2019.
However, in practice the Best Series Hugo often still overlooks those long-running popular series in favour of trilogies (who usually have no problems hitting the Best Novel shortlist) and works that happen to be set in the same universe, but are only loosely connected. Quite often, there also is a lot of overlap with authors whose work appears/appeared elsewhere on the ballot and who are clearly popular with Hugo voters. So maybe the majority of Hugo voters just aren’t series readers. The fact that the glory days of the long-running SFF series, particularly urban fantasy and epic fantasy series, ended before the Best Series Hugo existed, doesn’t help either, since a lot of series that should have been finalists have ended or at least have not had new books coming out in a while. Though I suspect that even if there had been a Best Series Hugo in 2008 or 2010, when urban fantasy series ruled the bookstores, we would still have seen a similar pattern.
That said, this year’s Best Series finalists are closer to what I envision the award should recognise than last year’s. There is also less overlap with the other categories and there is only one series that I haven’t read at all. Furthermore, I have always been satisfied with the Best Series Hugo winners so far.
The Expanse by James S.A Corey (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) and InCryptid by Seanan McGuire come closest to my idea of what a Best Series finalist should be, namely a long-running and popular series where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Both are also repeat finalists in this category, which has caused some grumbling, particularly since Seanan McGuire has been nominated with alternating series in this category since its inception in 2017. However, October Daye and InCryptid are both very good series and deserving finalists.
I haven’t read all of Emma Newman’s Planetfall books, but I liked the ones I did read. And while Emma Newman is a previous Hugo winner, she and her husband Peter Newman won for their excellent podcast Tea and Jeopardy and Emma Newman (and Peter Newman, for that matter) have never been nominated for their fiction.
I read the first of the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden, when she was first up for the Campbell Award in 2018. It was well written, too, but fairytale retellings aren’t really my thing, so I never read the rest of the series. With the Luna series by Ian McDonald, I also read the first book, but wasn’t interested enough to read further. Ian McDonald is popular with Hugo voters, though, and had several nominations in the past.
I haven’t read the Wormwood trilogy by Tade Thompson at all, though again it is a popular and acclaimed trilogy and Rosewater, the first book, won the Arthur C. Clarke award last year. Also, the fact that Rosewater had a small press publication in 2016 made it ineligible for the 2019 Best Novel Hugo, so this is a good way of honouring the series.
It’s also notable that three of the Best Series finalists are by British authors, so it’s quite possible that the strong contingent of British and Irish Hugo voters who still had nominating rights from last year’s Worldcon, had an influence here.
Diversity count: 4 men, 3 women, since James S.A. Corey is two people, 2 writers of colour, 3 international writers.
Best Related Work:
This is another category, which I like in theory, but where I’m often not all that happy with the actual finalists and winners. In this category, I have a strong preference for well-researched non-fiction books, whether academic or popular. However, in practice Best Related Work has become something of a catch-all category with anything from filk CDs via podcasts and fanfiction archives to single essays/articles getting nominated and occasionally winning.
This year, however, I’m largely happy with the Best Related Work finalists. Joanna Russ by Gwyneth Jones, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara and The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, by Farah Mendlesohn are exactly the sort of finalists I want to see in this category. All three were also on my longlist, two of them were on my ballot.
Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski was not on my ballot, but is a highly deserving finalist, since autobiographies of people of genre relevance have always been a part of Best Related Work – see also the recent nominations for Carrie Fisher’s and Zoe Quinn’s respective autobiographies.
I still feel that documentaries belong in Dramatic Presentation rather than in Best Related Work, but a small documentary most likely would be drowned out by Hollywood movies and popular TV shows there. And since documentaries are the filmic equivalents of non-fiction books, they do fit in this category and probably have a higher chance of getting nominated and winning here than in the Dramatic Presentation categories. Besides, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin is a highly deserving finalist, which portrays one of the greats of our genre.
Jeannette Ng’s 2019 Campbell Award acceptance speech is the lone finalist in this category I’m not happy with. It’s not the first time that an Hugo/Campbell acceptance speech was nominated for a Hugo the following year. The 2011 acceptance speech for Best Fanzine winner The Drink Tank by James Bacon and Christopher J. Garcia was also nominated the following year in the Best Dramatic Presentation Short category, largely due to Christopher Garcia’s epic outburst. And before anybody complains, I was not happy with that nomination either at the time.
Jeannette Ng’s speech clearly had a big impact – after all, the former Campbell Award is now called the Astounding Award. I also don’t disagree with her points, neither that John W. Campbell was a problematic figure nor regarding the political activists in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, I don’t think that a 90 second acceptance speech (maybe 100 seconds, since I think she slightly overran) that is not quite an A4 page long in written form (the acceptance speech for Galactic Journey last year, which would have been slightly under 90 seconds, came in at half an A4 page in large type) is in any way the equivalent to non-fiction books that are hundreds of pages long each or a 68 minute documentary. Never mind that Alec Nevala-Lee made the same point, namely that John W. Campbell was as problematic as he was influential, last year in the Best Related Work finalist Astounding, which finished dead last, most likely because a lot of Hugo voters never bothered reading it.
Diversity count: 1 man, 5 women, 1 writer of colour, 2 international writers
Best Graphic Story or Comic:
This category is a mix of repeat and new finalists. The previous volumes of Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda have won three years running, so it’s no surprise that volume 4 is nominated as well. Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang is another repeat finalist, though it has never won so far. And Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is only absent this year, because the series is currently on hiatus.
The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie feels like a repeat finalist, because the series has been often honoured by various awards. However, it has never actually been a Hugo finalist so far. I also thought that it had been nominated before, but it turns out that I had it confused with the similarly named The Divine, which was a finalist in 2016.
LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford is a new series and a new finalist in this category. It’s also highly enjoyable.
Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans and Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker are two new finalists I’m not familiar with at all. A cursory glance reveals that both are very different works – dark vs. sweet – and that both look interesting.
It’s interesting that Marvel and DC have no finalists this year and that no traditional superhero comic was nominated at all. LaGuardia probably comes closest.
Diversity count: 11 men, 8 women, at least 5 creators of colour, at least 4 international finalists
Best Dramatic Presentation Long:
Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are both the grand finale and culmination of hugely popular and beloved movie franchises. No matter how you feel about the movies themselves (personally, I enjoyed both, even though they are flawed), it’s absolutely no surprise to see them here.
Captain Marvel was one of the highest grossing movies of 2019 as well as one of the better Marvel movies of recent years. Unlike Avengers: Endgame, it also stands alone. So again it’s no surprise that it got nominated.
Us is a movie that didn’t work for me, in spite of a great and Oscar worthy (worthier than for what she actually got an Oscar) performance by Lupita Nyong’o. It is very much a movie aimed at American sensibilities, such as the charity human chain/mass handholding thing, which was hugely iconic according to the director, but that I’d never heard of. There’s nothing wrong with a movie aimed at American sensibilities and I’m not surprised to see it nominated, since it was very popular. It just isn’t for me.
The remaining two finalists are seasons of streaming video series (I still refuse to call it television when it’s not actually on TV). Good Omens was a lovely adaptation of a beloved book with some excellent acting and is a highly deserving finalist. An episode was also on my ballot in Best Dramatic Presentation Short.
The nomination for Russian Doll surprised me a little, since I had no idea it was that well regarded. I haven’t seen the series, but from the trailer it seems to be Groundhog Day – The Series with the protagonist attempting (and failing) to avoid her death at a party. Not a bad idea, but not exactly original either 27 years after Groundhog Day. Much of the coverage of Russian Doll also seemed to focus on star and co-creator Natasha Lyonne and her rather colourful life.
No diversity count, too many people are involved in making movies and TV series.
Best Dramatic Presentation Short:
The Mandalorian was clearly the breakout streaming video show of 2019, largely due to featuring the cutest co-star ever, so I’m very happy to see it nominated. This is also the only of my Best Dramatic Presentation Short nominees to make the ballot in this category (plus Good Omens in Best Dramatic Presentation Long).
I’m way behind with The Expanse, so I haven’t seen season 4 or the nominated episode “Cibola Burn” yet. It’s a solid and well made science fiction series, though, and usually winds up quite high on my ballot, whenever it’s nominated.
A nomination for the 2019 Doctor Who New Year’s special “Resolution” was probably inevitable, as was a nomination for The Good Place, which I still think is awful and most likely the worst thing ever to win a Hugo (I haven’t read They’d Rather Be Right, though). At least, both shows have only one finalist each this year. And The Good Place ended in February, so they have at most one more year, whereas we’ll be stuck with Doctor Who until the BBC tires of the show. At least the Jodie Whittaker episodes are mostly pretty good.
The HBO adaptation of Watchmen gained two finalist slots this year. I haven’t watched the show yet, because I intensely dislike Watchmen and always have. I know it’s a classic of graphic storytelling, but I have always hated Watchmen to the point that I avoided Alan Moore’s work for years, even though I subsequently liked many other things he has done. Just not Watchmen. Apparently, the TV series departs quite liberally from the original comic, largely because the comic was so much a work of its time that you cannot adapt it in 2019 as anything other than a period piece. And maybe I will like the TV series more than the comic.
No diversity count, too many people are involved in making TV series.
Best Editor Short:
Not a lot of surprises in this category. Neil Clarke, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, Lynne M. and Michael Damien Thomas and Sheila Williams have all been nominated in this category before and are all highly deserving finalists. C.C. Finlay, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, has not been nominated in this category so far, so I’m very happy to see him honoured.
Diversity count: 4 men, 3 women
Best Editor Long:
Sheila E. Gilbert, Diana M. Pho, Devi Pillai, Miriam Weinberg and Navah Wolfe have all been nominated (and sometimes won) in this category before. Brit Hvide is the only new name. All six are highly deserving finalists.
Diversity count: 6 women, 2 editors of colour
Best Professional Artist:
John Picacio, Galen Dara and Yuko Shimizu have all been nominated in this category before. Tommy Arnold has never been a finalist, which is a terrible oversight. Rovina Cai and Alyssa Winans were completely new to me. All six make amazing art and it’s going to be very hard to rank them.
Diversity count: 2 men, 4 women, at least 3 artists of colour, at least 2 international artists.
Another category with a lot of excellent and worthy finalists who’ve all been nominated before. But then, Best Semiprozine is one of the most static categories, because there are only so many eligible magazines.
No diversity count, it takes too many people to publish a magazine.
I’m really happy to see Galactic Journey nominated for the third year running and not just because I’m a regular contributor. I’m also very happy to see my friends of nerds of a feather and The Book Smugglers on the ballot, because both sites do very good work. Journey Planet is anothe perennial finalist in this category and holds up the flag for the traditional print fanzine. Quick Sip Reviews is a repeat finalist as well and does good work reviewing short fiction. The Rec Center is new to me, though I have long enjoyed Gavia Baker-Whitelaw’s articles and reviews for The Daily Dot.
No diversity count, it takes too many people to publish a magazine.
I’m very happy that my friends of The Skiffy and Fanty Show made the ballot once again. Galactic Suburbia and The Coode Street Podcast are frequent finalists in this category. Both are very good, if very different. Be the Serpent and Our Opinions Are Correct were both first time finalists last year (and Our Opinions Are Correct won right out of the gate). I was impressed with both, so I’m glad to see them back. Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel is a new finalist in this category and highly deserved, too, because Claire has been doing good work for years.
No diversity count, it takes too many people to make a fancast.
Best Fan Writer:
We have a set of excellent finalists in this category this year. I may be biassed, because I’m one of them, but I’m really happy to see James Davis Nicoll, Alasdair Stuart, Adam Whitehead, Bogi Takács and particularly my good friend Paul Weimer nominated. It would be an honour to lose to any of them, though as far as I’m concerned, we’re all winners.
Diversity count: 4 men, 1 woman, 1 non-binary, a whopping 5 international writers
Best Fan Artist:
A good mix of previous and new finalists, which also shows the large scope of what fan art is these days, for we have traditional illustration, jewellery design, sculpture and even calligraphy represented.
Diversity count: 1 man, 5 women, at least 1 artist of colour, at least 1 international artist.
I’m not a huge YA reader, but I was quite happy with the first year finalists of the then still unnamed Lodestar, less happy with the second year finalists, which struck me as very similar to each other. Year 3 seems to be a return to form.
I’m a big fan of Naomi Kritzer’s and Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher’s work, so I’m very happy to see Catfishing on CatNet and Minor Mage respectively nominated here. Yoon Ha Lee is another writer I really like, so I’m happy to see Dragon Pearl on the ballot. The Wicked King by Holly Black is the sequel to last year’s finalist The Cruel Prince. I haven’t read Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, but I know that she is a popular and well regarded YA writer. Riverland by Fran Wilde is a book I wasn’t aware of at all, but Fran Wilde is a fine and popular writer.
Diversity count: 1 man, 5 women, 1 writer of colour, 1 international writer
Astounding Award (formerly Campbell Award):
Another fine ballot and one with lots of new names. R.F. Kuang is the only repeat finalist in this category. The Poppy War didn’t really work for me, but she is a promising writer and I look forward to seeing what she’ll write next.
I enjoyed Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri a lot, so I’m happy to see her nominated. And while I haven’t yet read The Ruin of Kings and its sequel by Jenn Lyons, it was probably the biggest debut of last year. Nibedita Sen made a splash with her short fiction and is also a finalist in the short story category. I haven’t read City of Lies and its sequel by Sam Hawke, but people I trust have enjoyed them. Emily Tesh wasn’t really on my radar, though her debut novel Silver in the Wood has gotten good reviews.
Diversity count: 6 women (yes, Sam Hawke is female), 3 writers of colour, 4 international writers
That’s it for my analysis of the finalists. So now let’s take a look at some reactions from around the web. Though reactions seem to be somewhat muted this time, probably because many people have other things on their mind. The puppies have also stopped barking, which is something to be grateful for, at least.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve already seen my “Squee, I’m a Hugo finalist” post.
The team behind the Best Fanzine finalist Journey Planet says thank you to their contributors and everybody who nominated them. The team behind Best Fanzine finalist nerds of a feather also thank their contributors and nominators.
Camestros Felapton shares his thoughts on the 2020 Hugo finalists. There is also some discussion in the comments. Ditto for File 770, where things get a bit heated.
Lela E. Buis also shares her thoughts on the 2020 Hugo finalists and notes that there is a lot of overlap with the Nebulas this year.
ETA III: Former Sad/Rabid Puppy Brian Niemeier weighs in on the 2020 Hugo finalists in the fiction categories, mostly to point out that he and his commenters have never heard of any of those authors or books, so they can’t possibly be any good. In short, the usual.
There is quite a bit of discussion about the 2020 Hugo finalists going on in the r/fantasy subreddit. Mostly positive, but there are also some folks who feel that the finalists are too political, that there are too many women and that the Goodreads Choice Awards and/or Dragon Awards (which still haven’t updated their website) are better. In short, the usual.