Thursday, March 14, 2019

The 2019 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Novel, Series, and Campbell Categories

As the Hugo nominating period winds to a close, I find myself a bit out of sorts with this final batch of categories.  For one thing, I was hoping to read Rachel Hartman's Tess of the Road before the nominating period ended, so that I could consider it for the Lodestar award for YA novels.  For another, I'm even more than confused than usual about Campbell eligibility--the Writertopia site remains an invaluable resource, but this year they've also linked to Rocket Stack Rank's list of eligible short fiction writers.  On the other hand, this year I actually have things to nominate in the best series category, which I hadn't thought would happen since I don't usually read more than the first volume of any series.

Previous posts in this series:


Best Novel:

  • The Breath of the Sun by Isaac R. Fellman (review) - In my review of The Breath of the Sun I compared it to Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria, and one of the reasons for that is that it has the same quality of broadening our understanding of what fantasy can do and how it can show us its world.  Fellman's mountain-climbing narrative touches on magic, religion, history, and technology.  It is a Nabokovian conversation between its author and her intended reader, the person to whom she is trying to explain her past.  But it is also a meditation on extreme pursuits, and what they mean and symbolize to different people.  It's a rich, hard-to-pin-down novel that is, despite the comparisons I found myself reaching for, unlike just about anything else I've read.

    (Note: I reviewed The Breath of the Sun using Fellman's previous name and pronoun.  As he's written on twitter, he has contacted the Hugo administrators and informed them about the change in his circumstances, and they will consider nominations under both his current and former name as referring to the same person.)

  • The Overstory by Richard Powers (review) - The genius of this novel--and the reason it deserves to be nominated for a Hugo despite being published and discussed as a mainstream work--is how it makes us see our own world as an alien planet.  How it makes us understand an alien species that we walk past every day and give very little thought to.  Powers constructs an alternate history of Earth as seen through the eyes of trees, and that history is, unsurprisingly, one of loss and calamity.  The conceptual shift is essential to The Overstory's environmental project.  By opening our eyes to the notion that the creatures we share our planet with are not dumb and senseless, and that even plants deserve consideration as equal participants in our environment, the novel leaves us space to imagine a different way of living--one of the core aims of science fiction.

Best Series:

  • The Fractured Europe Sequence by Dave Hutchinson - I haven't quite finished Europe at Dawn, the concluding (?) volume of Hutchinson's strange, China-Miéville-meets-John-le-Carré spy saga.  But whatever those final chapters deliver, the work as a whole is one of the most distinctive, unusual series to come out of science fiction in years.  Hutchinson's near-future Europe is fragmented into hundreds of independent polities, and his main characters make their living by flouting the constantly-shifting borders to transport goods and people.  Into that relatively-comprehensible world, Hutchinson introduces an entirely new spin on the concepts of "border" and "territory", in the form of a European player that exists in its own pocket universe, and whose agents are trying to manipulate the existing world order.  Coupled with some top-notch spy antics and winning characters, the result is one of the most unusual SF works of the last decade.

  • The Centennal Cycle by Malka Older - As I observed in my write-up of State Tectonics, no series did more to inspire A Political History of the Future than Older's thought-provoking meditation on how democracy and news media might change.  The Centennal Cycle does something that science fiction should always be interested in and doesn't do nearly enough of--poke at the core assumptions of how we order our society and ask whether they could be changed, and if so, what might happen.  Older's "micro-democracy", in which political parties both nationalistic, ideological, and corporate vie for non-contiguous territory all over the world, and all news is vetted and fact-checked by a central authority, is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, but simply different.  More importantly, it allows Older to ask questions about what we want from democracy and how it may be failing to achieve those goals, which feels like a vitally important question in the current moment.

Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

  • Isaac R. Fellman - With The Breath of the Sun, Fellman delivered one of the most remarkable debuts of the last few years, immediately staking a claim as a major new voice in fantasy who could push the genre in fascinating new directions.  First year of eligibility.

  • Jeannette Ng - I nominated Ng last year for her remarkable, utterly unique debut Under the Pendulum Sun, and she remains more than worthy of this nomination.  Pendulum was a weird, Gothic novel about fairies, religion, and finding your identity in the most unexpected places.  It took elements that I had never thought to see combined in a work of fiction and fused them together almost effortlessly.  I can't wait to see what Ng does next.  Second year of eligibility.

  • Rivers Solomon - Another author who is being nominated again on the strength of a remarkable debut novel.  Solomon's An Unkindness of Ghosts poked holes not only in the generation ship trope but in the prevailing assumption of a lot of SF, that things like prejudice and white supremacy will simply get better with time.  It created a challenging setting, and placed within it remarkable characters set on an exhilarating adventure.  It's been great watching Solomon spend 2018 exploring new opportunities, and I'm looking forward to reading The Deep, their collaboration with Clipping. Second year of eligibility.

  • Emma Törzs - It's actually a little unusual for me to nominate so many novelists in this category, so I'm glad to have encountered Törzs's short fiction, which is certainly worth highlighting.  "From the Root" in Lightspeed is not only unusual for dealing with female reproduction, but has a winning, inquisitive female lead.  And "Like a River Loves the Sky" in Uncanny has an unusual heroine and a refreshing focus on friendship that is not (and doesn't need to be) anything more.  First year of eligibility.

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