Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hugo Nomination Thoughts, 2019: Summary Post

Hugo Nomination Thoughts, 2019

Here’s my summary of my thoughts about potential Hugo nominees. This year I’ll be a lot briefer than the past couple of years, primarily because I haven’t read as many novels as in past years. Indeed, these are mostly looks at the short fiction. I make a few remarks about other categories, but for the most part (Fan Writer, Short Form Editor, and Campbell perhaps excepted), I don't have terribly strong opinions on most of them.

First, my obligatory “Philosophy” disclaimer – though I participate with a lot of enjoyment in Hugo nomination and voting every year, I am philosophically convinced that there is no such thing as the “best” story – “best” piece of art, period. This doesn’t mean I don’t think some art is better than other art – I absolutely do think that. But I think that at the top, there is no way to draw fine distinctions, to insist on rankings. Different stories do different things, all worthwhile. I can readily change my own mind about which stories I prefer – it might depend on how important to me that “thing” they do is (and of course most stories do multiple different things!) – it might depend on my mood that day – it might depend on something new I’ve read that makes me think differently about a certain subject. And one more thing – I claim no special authority of my own. I have my own tastes, and indeed my own prejudices. So too does everyone else. I have blind spots, and I have things that affect me more profoundly than they might affect others. I’ve also read a lot of SF – and that changes my reactions to stories as well – and not in a way that need be considered privileged.

Anway, as ever, in the lists below, I’ll suggest somewhere between 3 and 8 or so items that might be on my final ballot. Those will be in no particular order. And the other stories I list will all really be about as good – and I might change my mind before my ballot goes in.

I've alread made posts about Novella, Novelette, and Short Story -- below are links to those posts.



Short Story

Other Categories:

Best Novel
Every year I mention that I haven’t read a lot of novels. I’m going to mention these novels as reasonable candidates, and then admit that I really truly haven’t read enough novels to make a strong recommendation. Two of these are first novels that I really like – but while certainly strong indicators of the talents of their writers, may not be quite Hugo material.

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee
Pride and Prometheus, by John Kessel
European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewomen, by Theodora Goss
The Calculating Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Robots of Gotham, by Todd McAulty
The Quantum Magician, by Derek Künsken

The Nebula nomination list includes Kowal’s novel and several I haven’t gotten to: The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang, Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, Blackfish City, by Sam Miller, Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse; and Witchmark, by C. L. Polk. The Novik and Miller novels at least have been on my TBR list for some time – the Kuang novel also seems impressive. I have to admit I haven’t even heard of the Polk novel (my bad, I suppose, but there are so many …), and reviews of Roanhorse’s novel seemed to suggest “Promising first novel, but not really award material”, but obviously, not having read it, I can’t say more.

Best Series

Here’s JJ’s list of eligible series posted at File 770: Much props to JJ for the tireless work of maintain this list, but … I think the list itself speaks to problems with the whole concept of this award.

I was skeptical about this award from the start, and I don’t think its history helps it. I’m really bothered by the way adding one short story to a very old series, for example, makes it again eligible (as with Earthsea, objectively by far the most worthy and influential eligible series, but does “Firelight”, beautiful as it absolutely is, really mean we should give it an award now?) Also, the endless parsing of “series” vs. “sub-series”. The way an award can be for, really, semi-random assemblages of related works. I could go on and on.

Best YA Novel

This is the first official year for this new award, I believe. (Wasn’t last year a trial run, that is to say, a Special Convention Award, not part of the official process? [Martin informs me in the comments that in fact last year was the first year for the official award, but that it now has a name, the Lodestar.) It is not a Hugo, but it will be administered and awarded by the World Science Fiction Society using essentially the same process as for the Hugos (and the Campbell). I can only suggest a look at the YA category in the Locus Recommended Reading list: I do think this award is worthwhile, but I quite honestly have read no YA work from 2018.

Best Graphic Story

I don't read much in this category, but I thought I should mention a shorter piece I liked a great deal, "Resolution", by Clifford V. Johnson, from the MIT Press anthology Twelve Tomorrows.

Dramatic Presentation

Long Form

I don’t think there’s much suspense about what will win the Hugo this year, and I think Black Panther is a fine film that might very well be the right choice. Beyond that, I saw Annihilation, which was impressive but didn’t quite hold together for me. I’d say it’s worthy of a nomination. I saw Solo, which I enjoyed, but which I can’t call all that great. Perhaps Black Mirror: Bandersnatch? I haven’t seen enough of its permutations yet. And that’s about all I saw this year.

Short Form

As for Short Form, I watch relatively little TV. And that that I did watch was either non-SF, or not from 2018 (such as Black Mirror Season 4, which came out December 29, 2017).

Fan Categories

In the remaining categories (as, really, with all the categories except short fiction) I do want to emphasize what may be obvious – these are people and things that I personally enjoyed, but I know there’s a lot of excellent work I’ve missed. I’ll be nominating things that impressed me, but I’ll be glad to check out the stuff other people nominate.

Best Fan Writer

I’ll reiterate my admiration for John Boston and John O’Neill. John Boston’s most publicly available recent stuff is at Galactic Journey, where he reviews issues of Amazing from 55 years ago, month by month. (It will be noted, perhaps, that I also review issues of Amazing from the same period, at Black Gate.) John’s work there is linked by this tag:

As for John O’Neill, of course his central contribution is as editor of Black Gate, for which he writes a great deal of the content, often about, “vintage” books he’s found on Ebay or at conventions, and also about upcoming fantasy books.

Another Black Gate writer, and fan writer in general, who did great work last year was Steven Silver, particularly his “Birthday Reviews”.

I should also mention Charles Payseur, a very worthy Fan Writer nominee last year, whose Quick Sip reviews of short fiction should not be missed.

And as for myself, I too am a fan writer (at least my blog writing and my stuff for Black Gate qualifies, if perhaps not my work for Locus, which I guess is now officially professional). I was pretty proud of my writing last year. I would note in particular my reviews of old magazines at Black Gate, particularly Amazing and Fantastic in the Cele Goldsmith Lalli era, and my various reviews of Ace Doubles (and other SF) at my blog Strange at Ecbatan ( (and often linked from Black Gate.) The other thing I did this year at my blog was a set of “Birthday Reviews” of my own, inspired by Steven’s series, in which I tried to honor SF writers on their birthdays, either with reviews of their novels, or, particularly, with reviews of their short fiction.

Best Fanzine

As I did last year, I plan to nominate Black Gate, Galactic Journey, and Rocket Stack Rank for the Best Fanzine Hugo. I’m particularly partial in this context to Black Gate, primarily of course because I have been a contributor since the print days (issue #2 and most of the subsequent issues). Black Gate is notable for publishing a lot of content on a very wide variety of topics, from promoting new book releases to publishing occasional original and reprinted fiction to reviewing old issues of Galaxy (Matthew Wuertz) and Amazing/Fantastic/etc. (me) to intriguing posts about travel and architecture by Sean MacLachlan. Rocket Stack Rank and Galactic Journey are a bit more tightly focused: the former primarily reviews and rates short fiction, as well as assembling statistics about other reviewers (myself included) and their reactions to the stories; while the latter, as I mentioned above, is reviewing old SF magazines from 55 years past.

(Incidentally, Black Gate failed to get a Hugo nomination last year because of the new EPH algorithm for ranking nomination votes. I would suggest that possibly this was not an example of the algorithm really doing what it was designed for.)

Finally, I’ll mention the other SF-oriented site I read and enjoy regularly – File 770 ( ), which is (deservedly) very well known, having been nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo numerous times and having won some as well. 2018 was their 40th Anniversary! 

Best Editor

For this year, I’d mainly like to suggest that Jonathan Strahan really deserves a Hugo. His work has been consistently excellent for years, and this year in particular is a significant year, as the last book in his “Infinity” series of original anthologies came out: Infinity’s End. And this book was particularly impressive, a really remarkable original anthology. He also does some editing for, and among his many impressive acquisitions, Ian McDonald’s outstanding novella Time Was stands out. (This should not be taken as denying the excellent work of many others, such as John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke, Sheila Williams, and C. C. Finlay, who will probably fill out the rest of my ballot – there are several more. (I am giving some precedence to editors whose magazines don’t have their own category, such as Adams, Williams, Clarke, and Finlay, or who do a lot of work in anthologies or other places (like which also don’t have categories. Semiprozine editors, excellent as many of them are, kind of get two bites at the apple.)

Best Related Work

I have two books to recommend. Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding is a really remarkable work, detailing the intersecting lives and careers of John W. Campbell, Jr., L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. Exceptionally well researched, very well written – a tremendous contribution to the field. The other book is one I have a personal stake in – but I think it’s a very worthy nominee anyway. This is Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos, which covers the history of the Hugos from 1953 through the end of the 20th Century. Jo writes intelligently and charmingly about all the awards, particularly novel, and goes into detail about a number of the novels. She also included extended comments from the original online posts, with many contributors – but the main contributors, I say immodestly, were the late great Gardner Dozois and myself – both of us mostly discussing the short fiction. I was inordinately proud and thrilled to be a co-dedicatee with Gardner and with Kevin Standlee.


The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, also “Not a Hugo”. This is given to the best writer whose first professional publication in the SF or Fantasy field appeared in the past two years (2017 or 2018). Writertopia has a page, not guaranteed to be complete, with a list of eligible authors: .

I went through that list and came up with the following writers who have done something that impressed me:

L. X. Beckett
R. S. Benedict
J. R. Dawson
Giovanni di Feo
Tonya Liburd
Vina Jie-Min Prasad
Cadwell Turnbull
D. A. Xiaolin Spires

Many of these were on my list last year – only Beckett and Turnbull are new to my list. Both published very impressive stories this year, as did Dawson and Benedict and Liburd. Prasad was my top choice last year, and while I thought her one story in 2018 not quite as strong as her 2017 stuff, her body of work is absolutely Campbell-worthy. As usual, I haven’t read novels by any of these – I know there are other writers with strong novels that I just haven’t read (Katherine Arden and Rivers Solomon, most obviously).


  1. Regarding the YA Award: Last year was its first official year, but this will be the first year it has a name (Lodestar).

    1. The SF Awards Database lists it as a Special Convention award in 2018, which is why I thought it was still in the ratification phase ... But I am probably wrong.