Hugo Nomination Thoughts, 2020
Here’s my annual look at potential Hugo nominees. This will be short – not much discussion, and mostly about the short fiction.
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.
I’ve not read as many of this year’s novellas as I should, so I don’t think this is really terribly representative. But here’s a list of novellas I really did like:
“New Atlantis”, by Lavie Tidhar (F&SF, May-June)
Desdemona and the Deep, by C. S. E. Cooney (Tor.com Publishing)
The Menace from Farside, by Ian McDonald (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Savannah Problem”, by Adam-Troy Castro (Analog, January-February)
Perihelion Summer, by Greg Egan (Tor.com Publishing)
“Glass Cannon”, by Yoon Ha Lee (Hexarchate Stories)
Alice Payne Arrives, Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
“Waterlines”, by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s, July-August)
“How Sere Looked for a Pair of Boots”, by Alexander Jablokov (Asimov’s, January-February)
The novella that got the most buzz this year, This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, though well-written, just didn’t ignite for me. And there are other novellas that I ought to read but haven’t gotten too.
The top candidates for my ballot are: (and the order below is not my final order!)
"The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear", Kelly Link (Tin House, Summer)
"The Ocean Between the Leaves", Ray Nayler (Asimov’s, July-August)
"At the Fall", Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog, May-June)
"Cloud Born", by Gregory Feeley (Clarkesworld, November)
"Anosognosia", John Crowley (And Go Like This)
"Secret Stories of Doors", Sofia Rhei (Everything is Made of Letters)
"A Country Called Winter", Theodora Goss (Snow White Learns Witchcraft)
“Contagion’s Eve at the House Noctambulus”, Rich Larson (F&SF, March-April)
“Ink, and Breath, and Spring”, by Frances Rowat (LCRW, November)
Here are the stories I’m strongly considering:
“Green Glass: A Love Story”, E. Lily Yu (If This Goes On)
“Mighty are the Meek and the Myriad”, Cassandra Khaw (F&SF, July-August)
“Shucked”, by Sam J. Miller (F&SF, Nov-Dec)
“The Visible Frontier”, by Grace Seybold (Clarkesworld, July)
“The Death of Fire Station 10”, by Ray Nayler (Lightspeed, October)
“Tick Tock”, Xia Jia (Clarkesworld, May)
“A Catalog of Storms”, Fran Wilde (Uncanny, January-February)
“Vis Delendi”, Marie Brennan (Uncanny, March-April)
“The Fine Print”, Chinelo Onwualu (New Suns)
"Cloud", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's, November-December)
"Cloud", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's, November-December)
Every year I mention that I haven’t read a lot of novels. More so than ever this year! There are only a couple that I got too, and I’ll mention them while acknowledging that there are tons more great novels out there. But, anyway, I was quite impressed by A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine; and by The Future of Another Timeline, by Annalee Newitz.
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: http://galacticjourney.org/tag/john-boston/.
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 “Golden Age Reviews”.
I should also mention Charles Payseur, a very worthy Fan Writer nominee the last two years, 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 (rrhorton.blogspot.com) (and often linked from Black Gate.) The other thing I did this year at my blog was a set of “Golden Age Reviews” of my own, inspired by Steven’s series, in which I covered the works that won awards in 1973, the year I turned 13.
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.
Finally, I’ll mention the other SF-oriented site I read and enjoy regularly – File 770 (http://file770.com/ ), which is (deservedly) very well known, having been nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo numerous times and having won some as well.
The newly renamed award for Best New WriterThis is given to the best writer whose first professional publication in the SF or Fantasy field appeared in the past two years (2018 or 2019). The best lists now are at Rocket Stack Rank (for short fiction) and the Astounding Award site itself (for novels.)
I went through those lists and came up with the following writers who have done something that impressed me:
P. H. Lee