Previous posts in this series:
Best Related Work:
This is the category that I always feel most guilty about not nominating more widely in. There's a lot of great non-fiction being written in genre right now, on- and off-line, but since my threshold for substantiveness excludes most individual blog posts, I often end up with very little that I want to nominate here. The solution, obviously, is to read more long-form non-fiction--UIP's Modern Masters of Science Fiction is a great source that I somehow never get around to--but happily this year has been a good one for long-form online essays and blog series.
(Not listed in this ballot, because he's asked people not to nominate it, but still very much worth reading and remembering, is Jonathan McCalmont's "Nothing Beside Remains: A History of the New Weird", which delves into the short half-life of this genre, and the critical conversation that surrounded it.)
- A People's History of the Marvel Universe by Steven Attewell - The only criticism I can make of Attewell's series is that it seems to be on permanent hiatus, just when we could use an independent history of this corner of pop culture, told from a decidedly leftist perspective. Attewell delves into the origins of several key Marvel characters and concepts, from Magneto's background as a Holocaust survivor, to the infamous "mutant metaphor". He describes both the evolution of ideas we've come to take for granted, and the pitfalls the Marvel writers fell into as they tried to grapple with social upheaval and the need to reflect it in their world of heroes and villains. With superheroes currently one of the dominant forms in our pop culture, a perspective like Attewell's is invaluable.
- Boucher, Backbone, and Blake - the Legacy of Blakes 7 by Erin Horakova - One of the many remarkable things about Erin's essay is how accessible and thought-provoking it is even to someone like myself, who has been hearing about Blakes 7 for years, but has seen almost nothing of it. This is by no means an introductory piece or a guide to newbies. Its focus is specific, one might almost say deliberately fannish. And yet, by turning her eye on some very particular aspects of the show, and the people who were instrumental in achieving them, Erin builds a larger argument about the intersection between art and politics, about the capacity of popular entertainment to grapple with difficult, even radical ideas, and about the specific circumstances on the set of Blakes 7 that allowed it to do so, and how modern work would struggle to achieve the same effect. It's a brilliant piece of cultural commentary (as already acknowledged by the voters for the BSFA award's non-fiction category) and one that absolutely belongs on this year's Hugo ballot.
Best Graphic Story:
- Clean Room (Volume 1: Immaculate Conception) by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt - I didn't expect much from this series, which after all has a rather shopworn premise--spurred by the death of a loved one, an ordinary person begins investigating a secretive organization and falls through the trapdoor of reality. But Simone executes this story incredibly well, starting with the organization at its center, a Scientology-esque cult that just happens to be humanity's last line of defense against body-snatching demons. Davis-Hunt's artwork perfectly captures the horror of Simone's creatures, but the heart of this story is not the gore, but the two women at its center--plucky, no-nonsense journalist Chloe, and tough-as-nails cult leader Astrid, who quickly become fast frenemies, and allies in the war to come.
- Paper Girls (Volume 1, Volume 2) by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang - Given all the excitement surrounding Stranger Things (which I have no doubt will be gracing this year's Best Dramatic Presentation nominations) it's a little surprising that Saga didn't use the Netflix juggernaut to promote Vaughan's new series, which tells a very similar story, but addresses the main complaint that a lot of fans had against it. Paper Girls is Stranger Things starring four Barbs, the less-popular, slightly weird girls who just happen to be the only ones left standing when reality takes a break on one ordinary fall day in 1988. In addition to being a weird science fiction mystery, it's also a story about the relationships between women--between friends, between the girls and their mothers, and, in the second volume, between one of the heroines and her future self.
- Monsterss (Volume 1: Awakening) by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda - The story of Monstress is, frankly, a little on the familiar side--fantasy world, promised ones, looming apocalypses--but it's more than made up for by the richness of its world. I've already written about Takeda's stunning art, but it would be nothing without Liu's work in building a complicated, multifaceted fantasy society divided between various races, castes, and guilds. The fact that nearly every character in the story is a woman, and that disability is a common fact of life in the story's cruel, war-torn world, makes Monstress an interesting twist on its type, no matter how familiar.
- My Life as a Background Slytherin by Emily McGovern - With her hilarious web-series, McGovern has done the seemingly impossible--found a new corner of humor in the seemingly exhausted field of Harry Potter fanfic and fan-art. As the title indicates, the strip follows the adventures of Emily, a member of house Slytherin during the events of the Potter books (though background Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor characters also make guest appearances). It uses her perspective to poke fun at the book's characters, as well as the more questionable qualities of Hogwarts as an educational institution, and a house system that relegates a quarter of its students to the "evil" house at the age of eleven.
- The Vision (Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man, Volume 2: Little Better Than a Beast) by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Michael Walsh - I've written about this comic several times already, including selecting it as one of the best books I read in 2016, so it's probably not a surprise to find it on this ballot. But what feels particularly right about nominating King's run of The Vision for a Hugo is that, while most superhero stories are considered at least SF-adjacent, this is just a plain old science fiction story, about a robot who tries to be human, and the disastrous, tragic results that follow. That the Vision is also a former superhero plays into the story (and allows King to make some interesting observations about the rights and duties of a person who has saved the Earth multiple times), but not as much as you might expect. Walta and Walsh's art perfectly complements the chilling, compelling story, which manages to surprise you at every turn, even when you know how it's going to end.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
- A Midsummer Night's Dream (adapted by Russell T. Davies, directed by David Kerr) (review) - It might sound strange to say that Davies stages Shakespeare's play as an episode of Doctor Who, but that is exactly what he does, complete with a minimally-conceived yet surprisingly-coherent alternate world setting, a looming menace who seeks to stamp out freedom and creativity, and trickster figures who save the day by refusing to play by the rules. The result is one of the best things Davies has done in a while, and one of the freshest approaches to the play I've ever seen.
- Arrival (written by Eric Heisserer, directed by Denis Villeneuve) (review) - For all my reservations about the changes that Arrival makes to Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", there's no denying that taken on its own, it's a powerful, moving film, one that proves that there is room and an audience for thoughtful, cerebral SF movies that center women, soft sciences, and emotional connections.
- Deadpool (written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, directed by Tim Miller) - I expect at least one MCU movie, if not two, to make it onto this year's ballot, but I'd much rather see a nomination for Deadpool. Deeply imperfect and not nearly as funny as it clearly thinks it is, it is nevertheless the only superhero work from 2016 that recognizes the inherent ridiculousness, and fundamental flaws, of the concept, and treats it accordingly. For that, it deserves to be rewarded.
- Hidden Figures (written by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, directed by Theodore Melfi) - I can't think of a movie that came out in 2016 that seems more calculated to appeal to Hugo voters, with their space program fannishness and love of everything that is geeky and science-y. The fact that Hidden Figures sheds light on a part of the space program's history that had remained relatively unheralded for years makes it even more perfect for this category--it's about time Hugo voters gave these women their due along with everyone else.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
- Black Mirror, "San Junipero" (written by Charlie Brooker, directed by Owen Harris) - There's been some discussion over what it means that the hands-down best episode of Black Mirror is also the one that abandons the show's trademark cynicism and brutality, and tells a sweet love story with a happy ending. I think a better way of putting it is that "San Junipero" shows us Black Mirror at its best, as a show that imagines how technology can change us in ways that not everyone is ready for, and which are not seen as a universal good, but which can be embraced precisely by those people for whom the old system didn't always work--though the episode doesn't sensationalize it, it's no accident that the love story at its center is between two women (one of whom is bisexual, and spent years happily and faithfully married to a man). Whether that's something the show wants to continue exploring is up to Brooker, but in the meantime, "San Junipero" is too fine an accomplishment not to recognize. (Bubbling under is the episode "Nosedive", whose execution just gets more perfect the further I move away from it. I don't think it's a coincidence that this story, too, is less bleak than the typical Black Mirror episode.)
- Gravity Falls, "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls" (written by Shion Takeuchi, Mark Rizzo, Jeff Rowe, Josh Weinstein, and Alex Hirsch, directed by Stephen Sandoval) - My last chance to get Hugo voters to recognize one of the best genre stories of the last few years. "Weirdmageddon 3" is the final part of Gravity Falls's explosive and completely satisfying series finale, in which the titular town must ban together to defeat the incursion of Cthulhu-esque demons who plan to take over our reality. It's an episode that gives all of the show's wide and wonderfully drawn cast of characters their moment to shine, and gives the evil villain Bill Cipher his well-deserved trouncing. And it features the show's trademark weirdness and horror, both of which are achieved at a pitch that is astonishing in a work of children's entertainment.
- Person of Interest, "The Day the World Went Away" (written by Andy Callahan and Melissa Scrivner-Love, directed by Fred Toye) - Person of Interest's final season was hit-and-miss, and I wasn't overjoyed by the neatness of its ending. But in its best moments, such as this episode, it remained a show that challenged its audience to imagine how an all-powerful AI would see the world, and how such a creature could be a person without being in any way human. "The Day the World Went Away" introduces some truly dizzying ideas about the meaning of life in a world in which we can all be modeled in a computer--"We're all simulations now", one character concludes, and therefore "we never die". It's a reminder that at its best, Person of Interest was one of the most purely SFnal shows on TV. (Bubbling under is the episode "6,741", which explores how an AI can play with, and even destroy, our perception of reality. It's probably not a coincidence that the two standout episodes of the season are the ones that most heavily feature the Root/Shaw romance.)
- Supergirl, "Falling" (written by Robert Rovner and Jessica Queller, directed by Larry Teng) - Supergirl has been extremely hit-and-miss, especially in its approach to political issues such as feminism or (in its current season) immigration. But this first season episode shows off what the show can do when it gets its concepts just right. It takes a well-worn comics trope, red kryptonite, and explores the true horror of its implications, for Kara herself as well as the people around her. And it's an episode that dives straight into the show's feminist underpinnings, as going evil, for Kara, means trying on various "bad girl" personas modeled by the women in her life. The result is a surprisingly resonant episode with a great deal to say about how women end up performing goodness and badness (it's no coincidence that every personality change Kara experiences comes with a wardrobe change), and how those roles can end up driving them literally insane.
- The Good Place, "Pilot" (written by Michael Schur, directed by Drew Goddard) - I would have liked to nominate The Good Place's entire first season, but alas, the brilliant ending that takes a smart and interesting comedy and turns it into one of the most shocking and delightful series I've seen in a long time aired in 2017. The show still deserves to be recognized by the Hugos, however, and the pilot is a good choice because of the way it lays out the show's fantasy worldbuilding. The Good Place is a comedy whose laughs are derived in no small part from its ability to construct an internally consistent fantasy world, and the fact that it does this so well makes it one of the best genre shows of 2016.