I’d never paid very much attention to prize lists before, but I have several friends who regularly read the entire Women’s Prize List, so these book prizes slowly started becoming ingrained into my psyche. This year, very much on a casual whim, I decided that I would read the all Hugo novel finalists. Partly, it was because when I saw the Hugo list I realized I’d already read two of them and planned to read two more, but also because it’s kind of fun to read the entire list and make guesses as to which one will win!
And also, you know, SFF is my genre. It’s what I write and mainly what I read, so it certainly behooves me to be aware of what is popular in the community. This is a particularly salient point for the Hugos, because unlike, say, the Women’s Prize books, which are selected by a panel of judges, the Hugo finalists are based on votes by members of Worldcon, so it really is an indication of the community’s current inclinations. When I say “the community,” of course, that’s a complicated word – most lay readers are probably not members of Worldcon, nor are they voting in the Hugos, so these nominations likely reflect people who are in the industry – writers, editors, reviewers, artists, etc.
I only committed to read the adult novels, because short stories and novellas and novelletes usually aren’t my thing.
Anyway, read on for my thoughts!
- The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders (★★★☆☆) [review]
- Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (★★★☆☆) [review]
- The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (★★★☆☆) [review]
- Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (★★☆☆☆) [review]
- The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (★★★☆☆) [review]
- A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (★★★★☆) [review]
While I didn’t find any new favorites off this list, for the most part I enjoyed all of them, or at least appreciated aspects of them all. These books’ inclusion on this list makes sense, because all of them are doing something different or innovative in some form or fashion, exploring new ideas and broadening their horizons. All of them are a breath of fresh air. I’m really, really pleased that I managed to read the entire list, especially since I don’t normally read science fiction (I’m more of a fantasy reader), but I feel like my horizons have been greatly expanded.
Strictly speaking, my favorite of the six was A Memory Called Empire, which, though not the easiest of these to read, I connected to the most in terms of character and theme. I very much enjoyed the aesthetic of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but I struggled a lot with the pacing. Middlegame had a fantastic concept, but I was a little underwhelmed by the execution. The City in the Middle of the Night had a strange, compelling quality and utterly wonderful, vibrant characters, but I never got the right details to properly picture the setting. The Light Brigade was bleak and mind-bending and I hated reading it but I do think it was clever and intriguing.
And finally, Gideon the Ninth, which frustrated me to no end because of its shoddy plot and awful pacing, even as I loved its humor and aesthetic. Gideon the Ninth is the book I expect will win the Hugo, not just because of its popularity, but because it is the book on this list that feels freshest; that is, it introduces something never before seen in SFF. It is an incredibly ambitious book, and I can appreciate its brilliance even if I struggled with the story.
So, while I would personally like to see A Memory Called Empire win, I would hedge my bets behind Gideon the Ninth.
Other Hugo Finalists
Of the novellas, I’ve read The Deep (it was fine), DNF’d This Is How You Lose the Time War, and I really want to read The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
I’ve read none of the novelettes.
Of the short stories, I’ve only read “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” which was absolutely incredible and I would be so happy to see it win, even though I haven’t read a single other short story on that list.
Of the series, I’ve only read The Winternight Trilogy and would be very happy to see it win, as I think it’s a gorgeously written and plotted series. But again, I’m comparing it against nothing.
The only other award I’m interested in is the Astounding Award for the Best New Science Fiction Writer, and there are some truly excellent nominees, and all of them women and half of them women of color! They are:
- Sam Hawke (2nd year of eligibility)
- R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)
- Jenn Lyons (1st year of eligibility)
- Nibedita Sen (2nd year of eligibility)
- Tasha Suri (2nd year of eligibility)
- Emily Tesh (1st year of eligibility)
All of these are folks I’ve read or have been meaning to read. Sam Hawke‘s high fantasy debut is sitting on my shelf. I have of course read R.F. Kuang‘s book. Jenn Lyons‘ high fantasy debut is on my Kindle. I’ve read one Nibedita Sen short story and one work of non-fiction. I’ve read and loved both of Tasha Suri‘s high fantasy novels, which were quieter than most fantasy, so I’m very pleased to see her nominated! And I’ve kind of been toying with reading Emily Tesh‘s stuff; it might lean a bit too much into magical realism for me but I’d like to at least try. Everyone here is amazing and brilliant, but I’m pulling for either Tasha Suri or R.F. Kuang, mainly just because I’ve read their work and I love their online presence.
This year, Worldcon will take place from the 29th of July to the 2nd of August, and the Hugo Awards will announce their winners then!
2 thoughts on “Hugo Finalists 2020”
Love how we both said “I’d choose A Memory Called Empire to win but it’s probably going to be Gideon” and then…
I’m a little surprised, but it makes sense – as you said, the voters don’t completely overlap with SFF reviewers nor necessarily reflect the popular opinion among reviewers/bloggers. But reviewers’ opinions are the ones we’re more likely to see over and over, so in the end our perception is skewed that way.
I don’t know the non-reviewing part of the community well, but maybe the very non-serious nature of Gideon isn’t as appreciated there? Something I am noticing is that most reviewers I interact with by far prefer fantasy over SF but SF arrives to the finalist stage of the Hugo Best Novel more easily than fantasy for some reason.
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I was genuinely surprised by the win! Pleasantly surprised, but still!
I think I agree with you re: the cerebral nature of most respected SFF. I see this a lot with short stories too; often the winning ones are not the most entertaining or fun or even enjoyable, but the smartest. I don’t know how I feel about that.
And that’s a great point re: the ubiquity of science fiction as opposed to fantasy on the Hugo list, despite fantasy being more popular with most readers. I think it definitely has to do with science fiction being seen as smarter, more original, more forward-thinking, etc.
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