So the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced today. And since the good folks of WorldCon 75 in Helsinki were kind enough to warn us ahead of time that they were planning to announce the Hugo shortlist today, we even had time to prepare for the inevitable discussion and dissection. And so I finished the massive space opera post yesterday, so I could fully focus on the annual Hugo nomination commentary today.
Of course, the Hugos weren’t the only SFF award that announced its finalists today. The 2017 Nommo Awards for African speculative fiction also announced their finalists today and they certainly look worth checking out. Two nominees that will be familiar even beyond the circle of those interested in African speculative fiction are the novel Rosewater by Tade Thompson (who also has a story nominated in the novella category) and Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella Binti. This is the first year for the Nommo Awards, by the way, and I for one will be very interested to see how they develop in the future.
The Hugos, on the other hand, already have a sixty plus year history of recognising usually worthy works. So, without further ado, here are the Hugo finalists for 2017. The link goes to File 770, where there also is a lot of discussion going on in the comments.
At first, second and third glance, this looks like a very fine Hugo shortlist, especially given the shenanigans of the past three years. There is still a bit of residual puppy poo on the shortlist – once that stuff gets stuck under your shoes, it’s very difficult to get rid of it completely. But Vox Day is clearly suffering from Dead Elk attrition and besides, EPH and the six nominees per category rule dealt just fine with his manipulation attempts, so the occasional turd in a category is bearable. File 770 has attempted to measure the rabid puppy impact on the 2017 Hugo shortlist and found that 13 of the finalists were on Vox Day’s (much reduced) rabid puppies slate, while a further three were declared ineligible, the Supreme Dark Lord not being all that great at vetting his nominees. But then, several of the rabid puppy nominees are so-called hostages, works that are generally popular and would probably have made the ballot anyway. China Mieville, Neil Gaiman and Deadpool don’t need Vox Day’s help to make the Hugo ballot.
What is more, in spite of the puppies’ efforts, the diversity count is also great this year. The 2017 Hugo shortlist is full of women, people of colour, LGBT people, international writers and artists and yes, there are straight white men, too. I don’t think there is a single category that is entirely male. Compare that to the almost all male Hugo shortlists of the early to mid 2000s and the puppy-infested shortlists of the past three years.
So let’s take a look at the individual categories:
The best novel category looks excellent. We have the sequels to two previous Hugo winners in the category, Death’s End by Liu Cixin and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin respectively. We have the long awaited and critically acclaimed debut novels by two accomplished short fiction writers, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders and Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee respectively. We have a highly acclaimed debut novel with a very unique voice, Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, as well as the sort of sequel to 2014’s highly acclaimed debut novel with a unique voice, A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers. A Closed and Common Orbit, Too Like the Lightning and Ninefox Gambit were also on my ballot, and I’m looking forward to reading the remaining three. And those who worry that science fiction is about to die out and be swamped by fantasy, which will inevitably lead to the collapse of the West or something, will be pleased that four of the six nominees in this category are unabashedly science fiction. The Obelisk Gate is an edge case, while the only clear fantasy novel is All the Birds in the Sky and even that one has a mad scientist character. Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 3 writers of colour, at least 3 LGBT writers, 1 international writer in translation, 0 puppies.
On to novella: Again, this is a fine set of finalists. A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson and Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold are both fine stories and very different from each other. Both were on my ballot BTW. The two Lovecraft retellings, The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, and the sort of Narnia inspired novella Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire all received a lot of buzz and great reviews last year and coincidentally also made the Nebula shortlist. They will be difficult for my Mom to evaluate (she’s a member of WorldCon 75 and therefore eligible to vote), though, because she isn’t familiar with H.P. Lovecraft beyond a vague idea of what Cthulhu is and hasn’t read the Narnia books either, since those weren’t available in Protestant parts of Germany, when she was a kid. That leaves China Miéville’s novella This Census-Taker, which was a puppy hostage due to China Miéville having the misfortune that Vox Day likes his work. Though China Miéville is a popular author and previous Hugo winner, so This Census-Taker is far from an unreasonable nominee and might well have made it without puppy help. Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 2 writers of colour, at least 1 LGBT writer, probably more, 1 puppy hostage.
The novella category is also where the dominance of Tor.com Publishing is the most notable, because four of six nominees were published as part of their novella line. But then, Tor is the only one of the big genre publishers with a dedicated novella line and they’re offerings are usually very good, so that’s not surprise. The remaining two novellas were also standalone publications – there are no magazine novellas in the novella category at all. This also shows how the e-publishing revolution has both led to a resurgence of the novella form (it wasn’t so long ago that finding enough novellas to nominate was very difficult) and also altered the delivery mechanism from magazines to standalone e-books.
Let’s go on to the novelette category: Again we have a fine shortlist, except for the single big turd sitting in the middle of it. “The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan, “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” by Fran Wilde, “The Tomato Thief” by Ursula Vernon, “Touring with the Alien” by Carolyn Ives Gilman and “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” By Alyssa Wong are all acclaimed stories by well regarded and popular writers. Two of them were also on my ballot and I look forward to reading the other three. And then, there is the big turd of puppy poo, namely Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex by Stix Hiscock (not their real name), which you can purchase from Amazon here. Vox Day’s obsession with dinosaur erotica continues to fascinate, but then everybody has the right to explore their kinks. Okay, so they’re really just taking the piss and Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex is the sort of thing that makes puppies giggle like twelve-year-olds (which would explain a lot, come to think of it). I guess that good old workhorse Noah Ward will be getting another outing. Diversity count: 5 women, 1 writer of colour, 1 international writer, at least 1 LGBT writer, 1 puppy. Stix Hiscock, meanwhile, is a complete enigma.
On to the short story category: Again, it’s a very fine category with one exception. “That Game We Played During the War” by Carrie Vaughn and “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander were among my favourite short stories of 2016. Both are excellent in very different ways and both were also on my personal Hugo ballot. “The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin and “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong are two very fine stories as well, though I didn’t nominate them. I have also heard many good things about “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar from the anthology The Starlit Woods, though I haven’t read it. And then there is the puppy nominee, “An Unimaginable Light” by John C. Wright. Now John C. Wright clearly has his fans, but I am not one of them. And unlike his writing and subject matter (because I really don’t like religion in my SFF) has radically improved since the 2015 Hugo ballot with its five Wright nominees, I doubt this one will beat Noah Ward for me. Diversity count: 5 women, 1 man, 3 writers of colour, 2 international writers, 1 puppy.
Let’s take a look at the remaining two fiction awards, the Campbell Award (not a Hugo TM) and the brand-new best series award. The 2017 Campbell Award nominees are Sarah Gailey, Malka Older, Ada Palmer, Laurie Penny, Kelly Robson and J. Mulrooney. Malka Older and Ada Palmer published two highly acclaimed debut novels last year. Laurie Penny has made her name as a journalist and published a delightful short story as well as a fine debut novella. Kelly Robson published a delightful novella last year, while Sarah Gailey has several short fiction credits and also published a series of very fine columns for Tor.com (some of which are nominated in the best related work category). Laurie Penny and Ada Palmer were also on my 2017 ballot, while Kelly Robson was on my 2016 ballot. The lone unknown quantity, to me at any rate, is J. Mulrooney. A bit of googling reveals that he is a Canadian author whose debut novel was published by Vox Day’s Castalia House. According to the blurb, it seems to be yet more of the religiously tinged fantasy that Vox Day loves so much and that isn’t my thing at all. Still, I’ll have to check out Mr. Mulrooney and his work before evaluating him. Diversity count: 5 women, 1 man, 1 Latina writer, at least 1 LGBT writer, 1 puppy.
On to best series: This is the first year (in addition to a one-of best series of all time Hugo in 1965, which was won by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (then) trilogy) that the best series Hugo will be awarded. I initially was supportive of the idea, because speculative fiction has become a lot more series-focussed than back in the 1960s. And a lot of excellent series are continuously overlooked by the Hugos, because by the time a series hits its stride a few books in, casual readers have problems hopping on board. However, when I saw people posting which series they were nominating/planning to nominate, my heart sank, because a lot of those were either series I had never read and had no idea how to evaluate or series where I’d read one book, found it not to my liking, and never went back.
Luckily, the actual best series ballot looks pretty good: Lois McMaster Bujold still holds the record for the most Hugo nominations and wins in the fiction categories, pretty much every book in the Vorkosigan series has either been nominated for or won a Hugo and the series is a genre classic on par with the likes of Foundation, Dune, Barsoom, Lensman and Future History. Coincidentally, it’s also excellent, one of the most varied series out there, where every book is not just different, but usually a different genre as well. Both my Mom and I nominated it and it would be a most deserving winner.
Urban fantasy, a subgenre that traditionally doesn’t do well at the Hugos, is nicely represented with Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone. I enjoy both the Peter Grant and October Daye series, though I didn’t nominate either, since there were series I enjoyed more with new books out in 2016. My Mom nominated the Peter Grant books, by the way. She hasn’t read October Daye, yet, but I think she’ll enjoy the series. As for The Craft Sequence, I read the first book years ago, enticed by a stunning Chris McGrath cover, but it didn’t do it for me. I will have to give this one another try. Coincidentally, it’s quite notable that all three urban fantasy series nominated in this category sit on the low to no romance end of the urban fantasy spectrum, whereas excellent and hugely successful series with a higher romance content such as Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series or Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series, both of which I nominated, didn’t make it. I guess the anti-romance bias of Hugo voters is still intact. And of course, the people who freaked out when Seanan McGuire got multiple nominations back in 2013 (definitely one of the low points of Hugo commentary pre-puppies) because of reasons can freak out once again.
The remaining two nominees in the series category are the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik and The Expanse series by James S.A Corey. The first books in both series were nominated for the best novel Hugo, plus Naomi Novik had an unrelated best novel nominee last year. The Temeraire series is also hugely popular and finished last year, while The Expanse profits from a successful TV adaptation. I read the first books in both series back in the day and liked them well enough, but somehow never got around to reading the rest. I also noticed, when The Expanse TV series came out, that I remembered very little of the actual plot of Leviathan Wakes (unusual for me, especially for a book that came out only six years ago). Still, all the nominated series are fine and deserving. Diversity count: 3 women, 4 men (since James S.A. Corey is the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), all white. Coincidentally, this is the most white and male of all the fiction categories.
On to best related work: This category was the worst affected by the puppy interference in the past two years and has been won by our old friend Noah Ward two years in a row. Therefore, I’m delighted to see that after the utter trashfire of the past two years, this year’s best related work shortlist is excellent. We have three non-fiction collections by popular and highly regarded genre authors, namely The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman and Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin. We have a collection of interviews by another highly regarded genre author, namely Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg by Robert Silverberg (duh) and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. We have the autobiography by a beloved actress and genre icon, who also happens to be a very fine and underrated writer, namely The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, and we have a fine series of columns on the women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey. Diversity count: 4 women, 3 men due to dual authorship, 1 Latino author, 0 puppies.
On to best graphic story: Again, this is an excellent shortlist that is evenly divided between creator-owned Image comics and mainstream Marvel superheroes. No DC and sadly, no comics from beyond the US. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is probably the most popular space opera comic out there. It’s a former winner and nominee in this category and also excellent. Brian K. Vaughan is also the writer of Paper Girls with art by Cliff Chiang, which is one of 2016’s most notable comic debuts along with Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda. The three Marvel nominees are Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Takeshi Miyazawa, Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze and The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta, starring respectively a Pakistani-American teenger, the king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda and a crimson-faced android. So much for the claim by Marvel’s vice president of sales David Gabriel that diverse comics with diverse characters don’t sell, which was rebutted by G. Willow Wilson and J.A. Micheline among others. Diversity count (creators, not characters): 4 women, 8 men, 6 creators of colour, 0 puppies.
On to the two dramatic presentation categories: Dramatic presentation long looks pretty good. Arrival is this year’s serious SF movie (TM), highly acclaimed and also pretty good (but sorry, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis still doesn’t work that way). Hidden Figures is an inspirational tale about the space race and three black women overcoming racism and sexism to do science. Oh yeah, and it’s also a great movie. Some people are grumbling that it’s historical fiction rather than SF, but then so were Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, which were also nominated in thius category. And the moon landing wasn’t even fiction. Rogue One is Star Wars – ’nuff said. The irreverent Deadpool was a breath of fresh air in the crowded superhero genre and Ghostbusters, which I’m really happy to see here, was the rare example of a remake of a beloved classic that brought something new to the idea. Plus, this one will make the heads of misogynists everywhere explode.
The only real unknown quantity for me in this category is season 1 of Stranger Things. I know that the series got a lot of love and acclaim, though the combination of a 1980s setting, a plot that might have come from a Stephen King novel of that era and a cast that looks as if they stepped right out of The Goonies or Stand by Me is a bit too much nostalgia for me, especially since it looks as if it was rather cynically aimed at the childhood memories of my generation. Plus, Stranger Things is a Netflix series and I don’t do streaming services. So unless I can find a way to watch this without a Netflix subscription, I have no idea how to evaluate this.
I’m a bit surprised not to see Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange on the ballot, but then Captain America: Civil War is a good, but not exactly a happy movie. And while Doctor Strange was visually stunning, the plot wasn’t all that great and then there was that whole whitewashing controversy regarding the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.
Dramatic presentation short form, on the other hand, once again drives home the point that my tastes in TV are very out of touch with those of the Hugo electorate and US TV viewers in general, since I haven’t seen/listened to any of the nominated works. There is the usual Doctor Who episode, in this case the 2016 Christmas Special, and there are two Game of Thrones episodes. I used to watch both shows, but I’ve been over them for several years now. An episode of The Expanse has also been nominated, unsurprisingly, since The Expanse is the most discussed new SFF show of last year along with the conspicuously absent Westworld. I wouldn’t even be averse to watching The Expanse, but so far it hasn’t had a DVD or a TV release in Germany, because one of the streaming services is sitting on the rights. And I don’t do streaming services. San Junipero, an episode of the BBC anthology series Black Mirror, is something of a surprise nominee. It’s another 1980s nostalgia piece (guess whose generation is dominating the Hugos by now) with a mixed-race lesbian love story (yeah) and a plot that sounds actually pretty good. On the other hand, it was written by Charlie Brooker whom I vehemently dislike since his time as The Guardian‘s TV critic. I will have to see if I can track this one down. The final nominee in this category is even more surprising, since it is not a film or a TV episode, but a music album named Splendor & Misery by a band called Clipping. I’m afraid I’ve never heard of them, but I will give it a listen. Coincidentally, dramatic presentation short is the only category that is all male, whereas dramatic presentation long has two female screenwriters.
Let’s take a look at the two editing categories: The nominees in the short form category are John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, Lynn and Michael Thomas and Sheila Williams. All very fine editors with good track records. Diversity count. 3 women, 4 men, 0 puppies.
The long form category consists of five fine and highly deserving nominees, namely Sheila E. Gilbert, Liz Gorinsky, Devi Pillai, Miriam Weinberg and Navah Wolfe, and one big pile of puppy poo, namely Vox Day who apparently still isn’t tired of losing to Noah Ward. Diversity count: 5 women, 1 men, 2 editors of colour (since Vox Day self-defines as mixed race), 1 puppy.
The semiprozine category is a nice mix of established mags such as Uncanny, Strange Horizons and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, the semi-established The Book Smugglers (who were nominated in the fanzine category back in 2015 and have graduated to semiprozine by now) and newcomers like GigaNotoSaurus and Cirsova. Cirsova, which focusses on sword and sorcery and heroic fantasy, is the puppy pick. Though it’s possible that Cirsova appeals beyond the puppy ranks, especially since fans of sword and sorcery don’t really have a lot of choice where to get their fix.
The fanzine nominees are a nice mix of different online zines, namely Lady Business, SF Bluestocking, nerds of a feather and Rocket Stack Rank, a traditional print zine, namely Journey Planet, and a puppy pick, namely the Castalia House blog. Though at least there is quite a lot of actual genre discussion going on at the Castalia House blog these days, so it could have been worse.
Best fancast was one of two categories that were no awarded last year (unfairly IMO, since there were one or two decent choices). Luckily, this year’s shortist is much better. Galactic Suburbia, the Fangirl Happy Hour and Tea and Jeopardy are all fine podcasts and were among my own nominees. The Coode Street Podcast is another good choice and while I’m not familiar with Ditch Diggers, the involvement of Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace sounds promising. The Rageaholic is the puppy pick. I bounced hard off this one last year, when I tried it.
Best fan writer offers another fine set of nominees. Natalie Luhrs, Foz Meadows and Abigail Nussbaum are three smart and insightful genre commentators, who were pushed off the ballot by the puppy shenangigans these past two years, so I’m glad to see them nominated here. Mike Glyer is a 13 time Hugo winner and many more times nominee as well as the mastermind behind File 770. Jeffro Johnson is the puppy pick in this category, but – as I’ve said before – he is one of the better puppy fan writers and focusses mainly on reviews of classic SFF. If only he’d lose the strident rhetoric, he might even beat Noah one day. The estimable Dr. Chuck Tingle, finally, proves that love is real and that he doesn’t need any devilman help to make the Hugo ballot. Diversity count: 3 women, 2 men, 1 puppy and the enigma that is Dr. Chuck Tingle.
Let’s take a look at the two art categories: Pro artist looks very good with Julie Dillon, Galen Dara, Chris McGrath, John Picacio, Victo Ngai and Sana Takeda. Diversity count: 4 women, 2 men, 3 artists of colour, 0 puppies.
Fan artist, on the other hand, has a couple of “Who?” nominees. Likhain a.k.a. M. Sereno, Spring Schoenhuth and Ninni Aalto are all known quantities and two of them have been nominated before in this category. Vesa Lehtimäki was new to me, but a bit of googling revealed that they specialise in photoshopped photos of Star Wars toys. The two puppy picks, Alex Garner and Mansik Yang, were unknown to me as well. Alex Garner mainly specialises in superhero and movie inspired art, while Mansik Yang makes fantasy and horror art. Both do nice work, puppy picked or not. The diversity of media and styles is also good, since this category covers everything from traditional drawing and painting via altered photography to jewelery design. Finally, I’m also pleased to see two Finnish artists nominated in this category.
Notable trends this year are a tendency towards retellings of genre classics such as Lovecraft’s works, Narnia and fairy tales, which I also noted in my comments on the 2016 Nebula nominees. The trend towards strong and unique narrative voices that we’ve noticed in the non-puppy nominees of the past few years (and even in some puppies, i.e. John C. Wright has a very recognisable voice, even if it is not to my taste at all) continues this year. Though unlike previous years, I don’t see a notable trend towards certain themes and subjects. Tor.com continues to dominate the short fiction categories, particularly the novella category (to be fair, they do publish a lot of excellent works), whereas the “big three” print magazines don’t have a single nominee in the fiction categories this year and only one in the editing categories. Another thing that I found really notable this year is how many of the finalists are women, people of colour, LGBT people or a combination thereof. In quite a few categories, the lone male nominee was the puppy pick.
So in short, after two off years due to canine interference, the Hugos are back on track.
I’ll probably do a follow-up post collecting reactions and commentary from around the web, but for now, this is my take on the 2017 Hugo nominees. My Mom thinks the shortlist looks pretty good, insofar as she is familiar with the works, and is looking forward to trying those she isn’t familiar with. She’s not overly keen on fairy tale and Lovecraft retellings and Game of Thrones episodes, though. She also wishes to make known that she is definitely not Chuck Tingle. Yes, she really said that.
Comments are off – puppies poop elsewhere.