Some Thoughts on the 2023 Hugo Finalists

After taking an inordinately long time to tabulate the nominations, the Chengdu Worldcon finally announced the 2023 Hugo finalists last night – after accidentally posting a not quite correct list on their website a few days ago.

Of course, there is no Worldcon without drama, including Hugo drama. That said, this is certainly something new.

The full and correct list of finalists may be found here. And now, let’s delve right into the categories under the cut:

Best Novel

This 2023 Hugo finalists for Best Novel not only have a lot of overlap with my own ballot, it’s also a very good if not overly surprising list.

Every volume in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series so far has been a Hugo finalist, so I’m not at all surprised to see Nona the Ninth on this list. Though this reminds that I’m behind with this series and haven’t read Nona yet.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi just won the Locus Award – to some controversy – and besides John Scalzi is a very popular author, so I’m not surprised to see the novel nominated here. Though this will also piss off a lot of people both on the left and the right.

ETA: John Scalzi shares his reaction to finding himself on the Hugo ballot again and his thoughts on the 2023 Hugo finalists in general.

I enjoyed The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal a whole lot and am happy to see it nominated, though again it’s not a huge surprise. This was also on my ballot BTW.

T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon is a favourite of Hugo voters and has been nominated and won several times before, though this is her first Best Novel nomination, if I’m not mistaken. Besides, Nettle and Bone is a great novel and was also on my ballot.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has had several Nebula nominations and her career has really taken off in the past two years or so. However, The Doctor of Doctor Moreau is her first Hugo nomination. It’s also a fairly rare example of a horror novel getting a Hugo nomination. This was also on my ballot coincidentally.

Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree was one of the breakout SFF success of the past year. Legends & Lattes also started out as self-published, though it was quickly picked up by Tor.  I enjoyed the book a lot and am happy to see it get a Hugo nod, especially since it shows that yes, cozy fantasy is popular and not just a niche subgenre. This is another finalist that was also on my personal ballot, which gives me a four out of five hit rate. The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard is the only one of my personal nominees in this category who did not make it and it’s probably further down on the longlist.

One book that’s notable by its absence is Babel by R.F. Kuang, since it was on a lot of “Best Books of 2022” lists and also won the Nebula and Locus Award. Of course, it may just have missed the ballot by a few votes. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that a Nebula winner for Best Novel did not make the Hugo ballot – two recent examples that come to mind are A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker in 2020 and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award in 2015 and did not make the Hugo ballot. Or maybe R.F. Kuang declined.

Those who worry that men, particularly straight white American cis men, are being shut out of the Hugos will be pleased that we have two white American cis men on the ballot for Best Novel this year. Of course, those same people will probably complain that one of those men is John Scalzi, because lots of people love to hate John Scalzi. And quite a few people have issue with Travis Baldree as well for being too cozy and writing about lesbian orcs. And indeed I have already seen some grumblings online about these two finalists in particular.

Diversity count: 2 men, 4 women, 2 international writers*, 1 writer of colour

Best Novella

Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk won the Nebula Award in this category. It’s a lovely urban fantasy retro-noir story, so I’m glad to see it here. This novella was on my personal longlist.

I’m really, really happy to see Ogres by Adrian Tchaikovsky on the ballot, for while Adrian Tchaikovsky won the Arthur C. Clarke Award a few years ago and frequently shows up on the BSFA ballot, he never got any Hugo love until his nomination for the (excellent) Elder Race last year. Coincidentally, this is the only one of my personal nominees in this category who made it. It’s also the only novella on the ballot not published by an imprint of Tor, though that does not fail to stop the people who complain that all the finalists are published by Tor.

A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow is the sequel to last year’s finalist A Spindle Splintered. I haven’t read this one yet.

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo is a sequel to the 2021 Best Novella Hugo winner The Empress of Salt and Fortune. Again, I’m afraid that I haven’t read this one yet.

The Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire is a longtime favourite with Hugo voters, so I’m not surprised to see the latest installment Where the Drowned Girls Go on the ballot. Coincidentally, this also means that Seanan McGuire has an amazing thirteen-year uninterrupted streak of Hugo nominations.

As I said above, T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon is very popular with Hugo voters and makes another appearance on the 2023 Hugo ballot with What Moves the Dead. The fact that she’s a great writer doesn’t hurt either. This is another 2023 Hugo finalist that is horror (and published by Tor’s Nightfire horror imprint), so the simmering resurgence of the horror genre is breaking into the general SFF sphere by now.

Notable by its absence is A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers, which just won the Nebula Award in this category. Again, it maybe missed the ballot by a few votes or Becky Chambers declined.

ETA: C.L. Polk shares their reaction to finding themselves nominated for a Hugo for the second year in a row and explains why they won’t participate in the Chengdu Worldcon.

Diversity count: 1 man, 4 women, 1 non-binary, 2 international writers, 2 writers of colour

Best Novelette

“If You Find Yourself Speaking to God, Address God with the Informal You” by John Chu is not just a lovely gay superhero romance, but also the 2023 Nebula and Locus Award winner for Best Novelette. This was also on my personal ballot.

I have been enjoying Marie Vibbert’s short fiction as well as her debut novel for a while now, so I’m thrilled that her novelette “We Built This City” made the ballot. Coincidentally, this was another of my nominees.

“Murder By Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness” by S.L. Huang is a novelette I liked a lot and I’m happy to see that others agree with me. It was on my personal longlist, though in the end it did not make my ballot, because there are a lot of good novelettes published in any given year.

“A Dream of Electric Mothers” by Wole Talabi was also a Nebula and Locus finalist in this category, plus it’s a very good story. Coincidentally, Wole Talabi is only the second black African-born Hugo finalist after Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (who is also on the ballot again in the Best Editor category) last year. There were three other African-born Hugo finalists (Manly Wade Wellman, J.R.R Tolkien and Dave Freer), but they were all white. The increased visibility of African SFF in the West is also reflected on the Hugo and other award ballots by now.

I haven’t yet read either “The Difference Between Love and Time” by Catherynne M. Valente nor “The Space-Time Painter” by Hai Ya. That said, I usually enjoy Catherynne M. Valente’s work and look forward to reading this story. I am unfamiliar with Hai Ya and couldn’t find out anything about him, not even on the website of Galaxy’s Edge magazine, but I’m looking forward to reading his work.

We have our first Chinese finalist, Hai Ya, in this category. There will be more the further we move down the ballot.

We also have a nice range of sources in this category. Two finalists appeared in Clarkesworld, one in Uncanny, one in Galaxy’s Edge (this is not the US magazine Galaxy’s Edge, but its Chinese counterpart) and two appeared in anthologies. So much for “It’s just Tor/”.

ETA: This is one category where we know that there has been a withdrawal by S.B. Divya who explains her reasons here.

Diversity count: 3 men, 3 women, 2 international writers, 4 writers of colour

Best Short Story

John Wiswell is one of the most exciting new voices in our genre to emerge in recent years and I am happy to see him on the ballot again with “D.I.Y.”

I’m afraid I still haven’t read “Rabbit Test” by Samantha Mills, though considering it already won the Nebula and Locus Award in this category and has now made the Hugo ballot as well, I really should.

ETA: Samantha Mills shares her reaction to winning the Locus Award and being nominated for a Hugo and explainy why she won’t participate in the 2023 Worldcon.

The remaining four finalists in this category are all Chinese stories and don’t seem to be currently available in English – at any rate, I couldn’t find anything online. That said, Regina Kanyu Wang is a name that’s familiar as a writer and tireless champion of Chinese science fiction. There’s a great interview with her in English on the website of the Literaturherbst festival in Heidelberg, Germany, which also mentions her Hugo-nominated story “Zhurong on Mars” (you have to scroll down past a lot of other interviews). According to ErsatzCulture, the story will appear in this anthology in November, though I hope an English translation will be available via the Hugo voter packet before then.

I’m not familiar with the works of Jiang Bo, Ren Qing or Lu Ban so far, though I look forward to checking them out. Lu Ban and Jiang Bo have both had stories published in Clarkesworld or the Sinopticon anthology, but I wasn’t able to find out anything about Ren Qing, who has the misfortune of sharing a name of several other people as well as a common Chinese phrase. Though his story “Resurrection” is available in English in this anthology, translated by Blake Stone-Banks. The Chinese Science Fiction Database also has some more info on Ren Qing.

With regards to sources, we again have a nice variety. Three finalists were published in Science Fiction World (well, it is the biggest science fiction magazine on the planet) and one each in Uncanny, and Frontiers, which appears to be another Chinese mag.

ETA: John Wiswell shares his reaction to being nominated for a Hugo and also announces that he will not attend nor participate in the 2023 Chengdu Worldcon.

Diversity count: 4 men, 2 women, 4 international writers, 4 writers of colour

Best Series

The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir has been popular with Hugo voters with every volume so far getting nominated, so it’s not surprising to see the series as a whole get a Hugo nod as well. That said, the final volume is supposed to come out this year, so I expected that nominators would wait until the series was complete before nominating it.

October Daye by Seanan McGuire and Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch are two popular and very good urban fantasy series, that we’ve seen on the Hugo ballot before. Coincidentally, both are also exactly the sort of books the Best Series Hugo was created for, series, where individual books don’t necessarily stand alone well enough to be nominated in Best Novel, but where the series as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Adrian Tchaikovsky shows up on the 2023 Hugo ballot again with his very good Children of Time trilogy, the first volume of which won the Clarke Award back in 2016. So it really seems as if Hugo nominators have finally discovered the greatness of Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Robert Jackson Bennett was nominated in this category for his Divine Cities trilogy back in 2019 and is now back with the Founders trilogy, which I’m afraid I haven’t read.

The last finalist in this category is Naomi Novik with her Scholomance series. The series is clearly popular with Hugo voters, since all three volumes to date were nominated for the  Lodestar Award and the second volume won last year.  However, I’m afraid the series doesn’t really work for me, probably because I don’t care for school settings and so-called dark academia at all.

Personally, I’m sad that Elric by Melniboné by Michael Moorcock did not make the ballot, because not only is it a seminal sword and sorcery series, it’s also the longest running series written by a single author ever, as far as I know. The first Elric story “The Dreaming City” appeared in 1961,  The Citadel of Forgotten Myths in 2022, i.e. the series has been going for a whopping 61 years. Plus, Michael Moorcock has never won a Hugo due to the longstanding anti-fantasy bias of the Hugos and the undeserved dominance of John W. Campbell’s Analog in the 1960s, when he was editing New Worlds. That said, a new Elric story will appear later this year in New Edge Sword and Sorcery No. 1, so maybe we can rectify this oversight next year.

Diversity count: 3 men, 3 women, 3 international authors

Best Graphic Story

This category is a mix of the expected and unexpected. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow and volume 10 of Saga are excellent comics and were both on my ballot. I did not nominated volume 7 of Monstress and volume 4 of Once & Future this time, though I’m not surprised to see them on the ballot, because they’re both popular and well regarded series.

The remaining two finalists, however, came as something of a surprise to me, because I certainly did not expect to see either the videogame tie-in Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams or Dune: The Official Movie Graphic Novel on the Hugo ballot. And while vaguely knew that there are Cyberpunk 2077 tie-in comics, I had no idea that there even was a Dune graphic novel adaptation.

Now media tie-in comics are not necessarily bad – indeed there have been some very good ones. Marvel’s ROM the Space Knight and The Micronauts comics of the 1980s transcended and outlived the forgotten toylines they were based upon, Dark Horse has published some very good Star Wars, Alien and Predator comics over the years and the 2012 DC Comics Masters of the Universe run was remarkably good, as was the Masters of the Multiverse mini-series. So the two tie-in comics might very well be good.

However, tie-in comics on the Hugo ballot were a phenomenon in the early years of the Best Graphic Story Hugo, because a lot of Hugo nominators were not necessarily comic readers, but they did read and nominate tie-in comics to something else they already liked. In recent years, Hugo nominators are more likely to nominate a few popular and good comic series not affiliated with any other media, though the Hugos are less good at recognising new talent than the Eisners, because they are not a pure comic award.

ErsatzCulture has dug up a Hugo recommendation list posted on a Chinese website, which includes the Dune graphic novel and Cyberpunk 2077: Big City, which would explain these two unexpected finalists.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make comics. That said, the nomination for Cyberpunk 2077: Big City may well have given Poland its first ever Hugo finalists.

Best Related Work

The good news first: The 2023 Hugo finalists for Best Related Work are almost entirely the sort of serious and well-researched non-fiction I prefer to see in this category. There’s only one edge case finalist and that finalist is less edgy than some other finalists we have seen in this category in recent years.

Alas, not a single of the many 2023 SFF-related non-fiction books I featured as part of my Non-Fiction Spotlight project made the ballot this year. Still, it’s good to see a Best Related Work ballot that actually contains mostly non-fiction.

So let’s take a look at the finalists:

Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan is a chronicle of the making of a very popular SFF movie, that was also a Hugo finalists in its own right. I wanted to feature this book and also had requests to feature it, but I couldn’t contact the author.

Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins is a biography of a hugely beloved writer of our genre, written by his former assistant. Again, I would have loved to feature this one, but had no way of contacting the author.

Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton is exactly what it says on the tin. In this case, I didn’t even try to contact the author, since I suspect Wil Wheaton has better things to do than answer the questions of a small fry blogger.

ETA: Wil Wheaton shares this charming post about his joy to be nominated for a Hugo.

Chinese Science Fiction, An Oral History, Volume 1 by Yang Feng is absolutely the sort of book that I love to see in this category, though I was not aware of it until today. There’s some info about it in English on the website of the Chengdu Worldcon.

“The Ghost of Workshops Past” by S.L. Huang is an extensive non-fiction article about the origins of the so-called Milford creative writing workshop model (i.e. the model that most of us who ever took a creative writing workshop in a western country will be familiar with), its connections with the Cold War and the CIA, how the Milford model can be harmful, particularly to marginalised writers, and how writing workshops can do better. It’s a great article.

Now we come to the edge case finalist in this category, namely the Buffalito World Outreach Project by Lawrence M. Schoen. So what is the Buffalito World Outreach Project? It’s the same short story translated into more than thirty different languages, so that people all over the world can enjoy it. Some of the translations may be found on Lawrence M. Schoen’s website and there also is a book version available. So yes, it’s definitely an edge case finalist, but one that I as a translator and linguist have a lot of sympathy for. Plus, this appears to be Lawrence M. Schoen’s first Hugo nomination, though he’s had several Nebula nominations.

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 women, 2 international writers, 2 writers of colour

Best Dramatic Presentation Long

This is the one category I have mixed feelings about, because I don’t particularly care for several of the finalists and find one outright unworthy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is probably the least unexpected Hugo finalist on the entire ballot. I also strongly suspect that it will win, since it has already won every other award under the sun. But since it’s also a really good movie, I don’t mind.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is one of the best Marvel movies in the rather lacklustre phase IV to date and I’m happy to see it on the ballot.

I still haven’t gotten around to watching Severance, because I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV and I also have problems connecting with office workplace dramas, because I have never worked in anything even remotely like a US-style cubicle open plan office. About the only office-set workplace drama I ever had any interest in was Mad Men and what drew me to Mad Men was the 1960s period setting as well as the behind the scenes look at the advertising industry. I couldn’t care less about all the soap opera antics of who’s sleeping with whom this week. And most office dramas pay little to no attention to the actual work these people do and focus instead on petty office politics, rivalries and affairs, which I have zero interest in, neither in fiction nor in real life. So in short, I didn’t watch Severance, because it looks superficially like a genre I dislike. Still, I guess I’ll have to watch it now. Who knows, maybe I’ll even enjoy it?

Nope is another movie I haven’t yet gotten around to watching, probably because Jordan Peele’s films are hit and miss for me. I liked Get Out!, didn’t care for Us at all. Nope also seems to have gotten less attention than eithe Get Out! or Us, so I’m a little surprised to see it here.

At first glance, Turning Red is another surprise, even though Disney/Pixar animated movies have won quite a few Hugo nominations over the years. Plus, Turning Red was very popular with Chinese viewers, because of it’s set in the Chinese ex-pat in Toronto and the director is Chinese-Canadian. Ironically, this is the reason why (white male) western critics disliked the film and claimed they couldn’t connect with it (probably because they’re not the target audience) and were made uncomfortable by the fact that it’s about puberty and periods and teenage crushes. Because obviously, every movie must speak to the white male experience. I haven’t yet watched Turning Red either, because I’m not the target audience for an animated fantasy movie cum puberty metaphor either, though I remember being a teen girl well enough.

Finally, we get to the finalist whose presence on the ballot really irks me, namely Avatar: The Way of Water. Now I don’t like James Cameron and think he has made exactly three good and one decent film, all of them thirty or more years ago. Everything he made since then has been downhill, but inexplicably popular. That said, I can understand why people flocked to the theatres to see the original Avatar in 2009, because of the sheer visual spectacle and novelty of the whole thing. However, the original Avatar has long since become the butt of jokes, the once spectacular visuals are a lot more commonplace and the last thing it needed was a sequel thirteen years later. However, Cameron can basically do whatever he likes by now and if that means foisting Avatar sequels on the public, then so be it. However, that thing isn’t even remotely Hugo worthy and it annoys me that this thing made the ballot when films like Prey, Neptune Frost, The Northman, Three Thousand Years of Longing or You Won’t Be Alone didn’t.  Avatar: The Way of Water was also slammed by critics and didn’t seem to garner a lot of audience love either. However, it apparently was extremely popular in China, which probably explains why it made the ballot.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short

This is normally a category I’m not very happy with, since my tastes in SFF TV seems to be wildly out of step with those of the majority of the Hugo electorate. That said, this year’s Best Dramatic Presentation Short ballot looks pretty good, even though only two of my personal picks made it.

Of the three Star Wars shows that streamed in 2022, Andor was the best (though I did have some issues with it) and is rightfully represented with two episodes on the Hugo ballot, “One Way Out” a.k.a. the prison break episode (which was also one of my nominees) and “Rix Road”, the season finale.

I enjoyed She-Hulk: Attorney at Law a whole lot, partly for personal reasons, because She-Hulk has been a favourite superheroine of mine since the 1980s. Therefore, I am really happy to see the fourth wall breaking season finale “Whose Show Is This?” on the ballot. This was also one of my nominees.

When I saw an episode of The Expanse on the ballot, my initial thought was, “Huh, this has to be a mistake, because The Expanse ended in 2021.” However, two episodes of season 6, including the series finale “Babylon’s Ashes”, aired in early January 2022, so The Expanse got onto the Hugo ballot again by the skin of its teeth. Which I’m fine with, because The Expanse was a very good science fiction series that got less Hugo love than it would have deserved due to being overshadowed by the inexplicably popular Good Place for much of its run.

Stranger Things is another hugely popular SFF TV series that got less Hugo love than one would expect for such a beloved show – only one nomination for season 1 in 2017, where it lost out to Arrival. So I’m happy to see it on the ballot again with the season 4 episode “Dear Billy”.

I’m afraid that I continue to have zero interest in For All Mankind and don’t quite get its popularity with Hugo voters, especially given the absolute riches of good SFF television out there. Though at least it is better than The Good Place.

For the second year in a row, there is no episode of Doctor Who on the Hugo ballot, even though three Doctor Who specials aired in 2022. I guess this means that the era of the guaranteed Doctor Who spot on the ballot is over, which I for one am glad about. Not that mind Doctor Who, but if it makes the Hugo ballot, it should at least be good and not just nominated out of habit.

Also notable by its absence is Star Trek, even though Discovery, Picard and Strange New Worlds all aired in 2022. And while season 4 of Discovery was uneven, it did have a few good episodes – and indeed one of them was on my personal ballot. Season 2 of Picard was uneven as well, but also a lot of fun, and Strange New Worlds was actually really good. Still, Star Trek clearly isn’t the Hugo ballot draw it once was.

It’s also notable that the two duelling mega-budget epic fantasy series Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon are completely absent from the ballot. Of course, nobody seems to have liked The Rings of Power very much, but House of the Dragon seemed to be quite popular. The third epic fantasy series of 2022 (and the one I actually liked best) Willow is also absent from the ballot, but then it was hampered by airing over the Christmas/New Year period.

In the past few years, we’ve seen several animated series on the Hugo ballot, but sadly not a single animated series made the ballot this year in spite of some very good and popular animated series such as Primal, The Dragon Prince, Dragon Age Absolution, The Owl House and the CGI He-Man and the Masters of the Universe being eligible.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make TV shows.

Best Editor Long‘s Lee Harris and Ruoxi Chen have both been nominated in this category before. Lindsey Hall, also from Tor, and Sarah Peed from Del Rey are first time finalists.

We also have two Chinese editors, Huan Yan and Haijun Yao, nominated in this category. Haijun Yao is an important name in Chinese science fiction and highly worthy finalist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out anything about Huan Yan, since they share a name with a prominent Chinese chemist. According to ISFDB, they have edited the Chinese editions of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut novels.

Diversity count: 2 men, 3 women, 1 unknown, 3 international editors, 3 editors of colour.

Best Editor Short

Scott H. Andrews, Neil Clarke, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and Sheree Renée Thomas are all returning finalists and most excellent choices. Plus, of these four, only Neil Clarke has ever won the Hugo.

We also have two Chinese finalists in this category, Xu Wang and Fen Yang. Again, I had some problems finding out more information about them, because both have several namesakes, including some who edit scientific journals. According to ISFDB, Xu Wang has edited a number of science fiction anthologies. I also found a profile of a Chinese editor named Feng Yang, so maybe her name has been misspelled on the announcement.

Diversity count: 3 men, 2 women, 1 unknown, 3 international editors, 4 editors of colour

Best Professional Artist

Alyssa Winans is a friend and a great artist and I’m really happy to see her on the ballot again.

Paul Lewin’s name was new to me, though his stunning artwork wasn’t and I’m happy to see his work recognised.

Sija Hong is another artist I wasn’t familiar with, though once again her work is beautiful.

I have admired Kuri Huang’s beautiful artwork on book covers, though again I wasn’t familiar with her name so far.

Jian Zhang is another artist I wasn’t familiar with at all. Interestingly, in a category that is mostly dominated by illustrators, cover artists and comic artists, here we have a painter of surreal still lives.

ETA: Apparently, I got the wrong Jian Zhang and the Hugo finalist is actually this gentleman, who also goes by Mark Zhang and has created some cool spaceship artwork as well as beach scenes.

Enzhe Zhao is a Chinese concept and game artist who does absolutely stunning space artwork. Again, I wasn’t familiar with their work, but I like what I see very much.

Diversity count: 3 women, 2 men, 1 unknown, 5 international artists, 6 artists of colour

Best Semiprozine

We have a lot of returning favourites in this category, since Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, FIYAH, Escape Pod and PodCastle are all finalists we’ve seen before. They’re all very good choices, too.

khoréo (sorry for butchering the title, but WordPress’ well-known issues with diacritics strike again), a magazine dedicated to speculative fiction by immigrant and diaspora writers, is the one new finalist in this category and another fine choice.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make magazines.

Best Fanzine

We have four returning favourites in this category, namely Galactic Journey, Journey Planet, The Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog and nerds of a feather. All four are great fanzines and friends, besides. Furthermore, I have contributed to two of them in the past year, namely Galactic Journey and Journey Planet.

The remaining two finalists are two Chinese fanzines, Chinese Academic SF Express and Zero Gravity Newspaper, that I’m not familiar with. I look forward to exploring their work.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make fanzines.

Best Fancast

This category is full of great podcasts that also happen to be friends.

Worldbuilding for Masochists, Hugo Girl! and Octothorpe are all great podcasts and good friends and I’m thrilled to see them on the ballot again. I’m also thrilled to see my friend Seth Heasley make the ballot with his Hugos There podcast.

The Coode Street Podcast is the veteran in this category, since they have been on the ballot almost every year (excluding the puppy unpleasantness of 2015/16) since the inception of the category in 2012. Kalanadi, which also was a finalist in 2021, holds up the flag for the BookTubers.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make podcasts.

Best Fan Writer

Nope, I’m not nominated this year. Nor did I expect to be, because I have a shiny rocket and I think other people should have the chance to win one as well. Besides, we have some really great finalists in this category.

Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford have both been ballot before. They are highly deserving finalists and friends as well. Jason’s Genre Grapevine columns are must-reads for anybody even remotely interested in SFF publishing. And I always enjoy Chris’ insightful columns at File 770. In his latest column, he talks about his reactions to finding himself on the Hugo ballot for the second time.

2023 is also turning out to be a great year for Twitter fiction with returning finalist Bitter Karella, the mastermind behind the fun Midnight Society account, and first time finalist Örjan Westin, whose MicroSFF stories on Twitter I have been enjoying for years.

I wasn’t familiar with the two Chinese finalists RiverFlow and Arthur Liu before, though we’ve since met online and I look forward to checking out their work. Arthur Liu was involved in the Chinese Science Fiction issue of Journey Planet and is also part of the team behind the Chinese Science Fiction Database, China’s counterpart to ISFDB.

RiverFlow penned this article about Chinese fan and prozines by RiverFlow at Strange Horizons (translated by Emily Jin) and also shares his feelings upon learning that he was a double Hugo finalist in this letter published on Twitter. At only nineteen, he is also one of the youngest Hugo finalists ever.

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, 3 international writers, 3 writers of colour

Best Fan Artist

This category is once again a mix of returned favourites and new faces.

We’ve seen the beautiful artwork of Iain J. Clark and Laya Rose on the Hugo ballot before. Alison Scott is another familiar name as part of the Octothorpe podcast as well as a Hugo winner for Plokta, but we haven’t seen her as an artist on the ballot before.

España Sheriff has been a Hugo finalist as part of Team Journey Planet, but not in her own right so far.

Orion Smith is an artist whose work is new to me, though I like what I see.

Richard Man is a photographer who has documented cons and portrayed many SFF writers, artists, fans, etc… I think he may be the first portrait photographer to be nominated for a Hugo, though we did have a Finnish toy photographer on the ballot a few years ago.

Diversity count: 2 men, 3 women, 1 non-binary, 4 international artists, 1 artist of colour


This category is full of familiar names, many of whom we’ve seen in this category before.

Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor is the sequel to the inaugural Lodestar winner (back in 2018, before the Lodestar Award officially had its name). I enjoyed the previous book, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one as well.

Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn is the sequel to the 2021 Lodestar finalist Legendborn. I haven’t read this book yet, but I liked the previous book in the series, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one as well.

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders is the sequel to last year’s Lodestar finalist Victories Greater Than Death, which I liked a whole lot.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik is the latest instalment in her Scholomance series, which is also nominated for Best Series. As I said above, the Scholomance don’t work for me, because I’m very much over school settings and dark academia. There’s also some grumbling, because the Scholomance books are not explicitly published as YA. I suspect a lot of people view them as YA because of the school setting.

In the Serpent’s Wake by Rachel Hartman is the sequel to the 2019 Lodestar finalist Tess of the Road. I remember that I did not like Tess of the Road all that much, but that was probably because it was the last thing I read for the 2019 Hugos (I usually leave the Lodestar finalists for last) and also the third of three Lodestar finalists with very similar plots, so my eagerness to be done probably influenced my view of the book. Perhaps I’ll enjoy the sequel more.

Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods by Catherynne M. Valente wasn’t on my radar at all, though I know that Catherynne M. Valente does write for young readers on occasion. This one appears to be middle grade rather than YA and certainly looks cute.

Diversity count: 6 women, 2 writers of colour


Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes was definitely one of the breakout SFF books of 2023, so I’m happy to see him on the Astounding ballot.

Everina Maxwell was an Astounding finalist last year as well. I enjoyed her novels Winter’s Orbit and Ocean’s Echo very much and am happy to see her back.

Naseem Jamnia burst onto the scene this year with The Bruising of Qilwa, which I haven’t read yet, but look forward to.

I’ve enjoyed several of Isabel J. Kim’s stories in various SFF mags and am happy to see her on the ballot.

Weimu Xin is a Chinese writer and translator whose work I’m not yet familiar with. Once again, I look forward to checking it out.

I haven’t been able to find out much about Maijia Liu, though I suspect they are the author of this book. Unfortunately, Google returns a lot of hits for the Chinese spy fiction author Mai Jia, who is a different person with a similar name.

Diversity count: 1 man, 3 women, 1 non-binary, 1 unknown, 3 international authors, 4 authors of colour


Many thanks to Best Fan Writer finalists RiverFlow and Arthur Liu for supplying information on some of the Chinese finalists about whom it was difficult to find information. If anybody knows more about the finalists about whom I couldn’t find any information, please let me know.

All in all, this is a very good Hugo ballot. It’s a lot more international and less white than recent ballots, which is a very good thing. Because I for one found it depressing that there wasn’t a single Japanese finalist on the ballot, when Worldcon was in Japan in 2007. I’m thrilled to see many friends and also many new faces on the ballot. And of course I’m looking forward to checking out the authors and works I don’t know.

There have been some complaints, of course, though thankfully in walled gardens like Discord and not in public where the finalists can see them. In fact, I already got into an argument with some dudes (and they were all dudes) who felt the need to declare that they had never heard of those books and authors, that the Hugos were irrelevant anyway and that those books don’t sell. In sort, the usual sour grapes by people who can’t be bothered to participate and yet feel the need to complain about the results.

We also have the usual complaints that Tor and its imprints dominates the Hugos. However, as John Scalzi points out in this very good Reddit post, Tor dominates the Novel and Novella categories because they publish a lot of books, pay well and their editorial team has a good eye for books that tend to win both critical and commercial acclaim. And for novellas, is the biggest publisher. Yes, there are plenty of small press and self-published novellas, but they can’t compete with Tor’s market penetration and advertising dollars. Besides, it’s notable that Tor and its imprints only dominate the Novel and Novella categories, but are just one publisher among many in Best Series, Best Novelette, Best Short Story and for the Lodestar.

ETA: Former Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte also shares his thoughts on the 2023 Hugo finalists and also addresses some conspiracy theories regarding alleged Chinese government interference and that it’s unlikely.

ETA 2: Adri Joy and Joe Sherry of 2023 Best Fanzine finalist nerds of a feather share their thoughts on the 2023 Hugo ballot.

Like last year, I don’t see a lot of strong themes on this ballot. We do have a couple of retellings on the ballot, but they’re not as prominent as they were a few years ago. There also are several works with horror and gothic vibes. Another mini-trend are science fiction mysteries and crime stories. Unlike what certain people claim, the ballot is not actually full of lighter feel-good works, though there are a few. There are also some very dark works.

Who’ll win? We’ll see in October.

ETA: A Weibo (Chinese Twitter equivalent) account named Sci Fi Lightyears has linked to this post and there is some discussion.

I’ll keep the comments open for now, but if things get rude or people start fighting each other, I reserve the right to close them.

*I define “international” as a writer/creator living outside the US. If we include writers who are first or second generation immigrants, there would be several more. I’ve also stopped counting LGBTQ+ finalists for the diversity count, because it’s very difficult to tell, since not everybody is out.

Finally, apologies if I have accidentally misgendered or otherwise misidentified someone.

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19 Responses to Some Thoughts on the 2023 Hugo Finalists

  1. StefanB says:

    Just a few comments about nominees that you have not read or consumed:

    The Difference Between Love and Time is imho quite a strange story about a relationship with the space/time continuum as a partner. Definitly worth reading even if I am not sure, what to think about it afterwords, but I have to say Catherynne M. Valente doesn’t always work for me, but definitly a worthy nominee.

    “Rabbit Test” A very dark story and a very political one, but unfortunatly probably necessary in this times. It’s about unwanted pregnancys and destroyed lifes. One of the hardest storys to read and I am happy that Germany hasn’t got the problem with legislation now. Worthy nominee hell yes, and I am suprised that certain people are not attacking that nominee.

    Severance may suprise you. The plot that the people working there have no memories about there life outside work chances a lot of thinks. The soup-operasaspekts are not very prominant, even if the work those people do is also not an aspekt, but neither we nor the workers can understand it. I needed a few episodes to get in, but this was way better than exspected.

    I am very happy that Doctor Who is not a finalist this year, because Who is at the moment not a very good show. I hope the new showrunner gives us better stories at the end of the year.

    Star Trek is somethink that could have been, I am also suprised that Sandman (I know you are not a fan) wasn’t nominated in either dramatic presantationcategories.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the added information. I did read two very powerful “After Roe vs. Wade” stories last year and nominated one – the other wasn’t eligible – but somehow “Rabbit Test” completely past me by, though I usually read Uncanny. It came out in November/December, when I was very busy, so I probably skipped right over it.

      I’ll definitely check out Severance, especially since I need Apple Plus to watch Foundation anyway. And I might actually enjoy it.

      I liked Jody Whitaker a lot, but Doctor Who hasn’t been good in a while now and I’m glad it’s no longer getting nominated out of habit and takes away slots from actually good TV.

      You’re right that Sandman is another notable omission. I don’t mind Sandman at all, though I’ve never been a huge fan. With regard to the TV series, I wish they would have kept Tom Ellis as Lucifer, because he was so amazing in the role in the Lucifer series (which never got a Hugo nomination either). Nothing against Gwendoline Christie, but for me Tom Ellis is Lucifer now.

  2. Nick Eden says:

    Rabbit Test: it’s on the Uncanny podcast feed, with an excellent and increasingly furious reading by Erika Ensign, should you have more time to listen than to read.

  3. A warning about Severance. The show is about the work situation. One of the things of the show is no one knows what the characters are doing. They have to move things around on a computer screen. What moving these things do is not know to the audience or the characters.

    • Cora says:

      It almost sounds as if Severance is a kind of subversion of the usual office workplace show, so I may well enjoy it. And yes, this whole “We don’t really focus on what these people actually do” is one of the things that have always annoyed me about office shows.

  4. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 7/8/23 If It Wasn’t For Pixel Scroll, I Wouldn’t Have No Scroll At All | File 770

  5. Dave Hook says:

    Cora, thank you very much for a detailed and insightful summary. I share your excitement at the diversity of some of the finalists and their works. I’m waiting to see what we’ll see in the voter packet, assuming there is one. I am not fluent in Chinese at all, so I am really hoping that some of the works that appear to have been written in Chinese have English translations I have not found so far. I second the comments on “Rabbit Test” and “The Difference Between Love and Time”, both of which I found to be quite outstanding and worthy of being finalists.

    • Cora says:

      Glad you enjoyed my post. I do hope that we will get English translations of the Chinese finalists, since only one and a half have one so far. I also really hope for human made translations, because machine translation is barely good enough for an e-mail or a website, but for literature it is actually harmful, because it tends to be terminally clunky and misses nuance.

      I’m definitely looking forward to reading “Rabbit Test” and “The Difference Between Love and Time”. Indeed, one of my favourite things about the Hugos is discovering great stories and other works I might otherwise have missed.

      • Dave Hook says:

        I agree wholeheartedly. I can envision that machine translation might eventually get good enough, but I am not optimistic now or in the foreseeable future.

        • Cora says:

          Machine translation is barely good enough for routine e-mails, products descriptions, etc… You can understand the meaning, but for such mundane tasks it produced a lot of nonsense. It will be a very long time, if ever, before machine translation is good enough for literature.

  6. I just read Resurrection, the story by Qing Ren which appears in translation in the Galaxy Awards anthology. I don’t read enough short fiction to be a qualified judge, but it was quite pleasant.

    I was reminded quite a lot of Paul McAuley’s “The Man”, insofar as both stories are about an older Chinese woman and her relationship with an amnesiac synthetic human that looks like a particular real person. That’s a slightly unfair comparison, as the details are quite different; in Resurrection, the synthetic human is (a replication of) her son who was killed in a war.

    BTW#1, Ren Qing uses the western name Channing Ren; that’s how he’s credited in that anthology.

    BTW#2, that story is actually from 2020, and is only eligible for a Hugo due to the 2022 translation by Blake Stone-Banks. I pointed this out in a comment on File 770, and – maybe coincidence, maybe not – SF Light Years picked up on it. The Chengdu site list of finalists has now been updated to include him – but the version hasn’t, sigh. Per , it was translated whilst he was under lockdown, so that addition is surely well deserved.

    BTW#3, the exact link to the Weibo repost of this page is – it’s worth updating the link in your article, as whilst Weibo is actually much more usable than Twitter if you’re not logged it, it only shows you around ~20 posts on any page. As SF Light Years is a fairly prolific poster, that post has already scrolled off his main feed page.

    BTW#4, whilst you’re absolutely correct about machine translation for fiction – or anything that you want quality for – I have found it incredibly useful in the past week for finding out what Chinese fans are thinking and saying. Earlier today, I belatedly discovered a discussion from when it was announced that the finalist announcement would be delayed, and it is fair to say that opinions were pretty much the same as what you’d see as on somewhere like File 770.

  7. CN says:

    Thank you for mentioning the badness that is Avatar: Way of Water. For 40 minutes or so it was visually interesting, then for an hour it was boring, then for another hour and a half it was just unpleasant. In particular Three thousand years of Longing would have been a much better choice.

    • Cora says:

      Three Thousand Years of Longing was on my ballot, but I guess it got too little promotion and attention to make the ballot. A pity, because it’s a very good movie.

  8. CN says:

    Yes, didn’t like Nope either- except for the homicidal monkey. Everything Everywhere was the third best movie of the year, behind only Triangle of Sadness and Banshees of Insherin.

    • Cora says:

      I strongly suspect that Everything Everywhere All At Once will win, if only because it has won every other award it was eligible for. And a most worthy winner it would be, too.

      • CN says:

        Yes absolutely. Terrifically inventive, I enjoyed the Daniel’s first movie as well- Swiss Army Knife. There were a couple of dark horror movies from last year- Smile and Alex Garfield’s Men- which I really liked. I have been meaning to watch Neptune Frost.

        As for the fiction – I am way behind. I have read a couple of John Chu stories which I enjoyed. In particular I have enjoyed everything I have read by John Wiswell. Here’s hoping do a panel with Seth Heasley again this year!

  9. Pingback: Some Comments on the 2023 Hugo Winners | Cora Buhlert

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