Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

The Hugo Nominee Ballot, Part 1

Yesterday was the deadline for voting on this year’s Hugo nominee ballot. I bought a copy of the Nominee Packet as soon as it became available in mid-May, and devoured the contents over the next few weeks, so I’m going to discuss my choices behind which nominees I voted for.

Note: This post and a following one will be a discussion of the five main fiction categories only: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, and the John W. Campbell Award.

Update: The follow-up post is now live.

Best Short Story

My choice: Movement by Nancy Fulda – I’ve written about Nancy Fulda’s short stories before, but I was blown away by this one when I first encountered it, and continue to be when I re-read it. The throughline is consistent, and the metaphors sprinkled throughout the story all serve to complement the main story thread: Hannah’s gradual decision that she does not want to sacrifice her unique traits and become neurotypical, even if it means a lifetime of continual isolation and misunderstanding. Plus, the dialogue that ends the story is wrenching; you hope against hope that Hannah’s mother will understand what she’s truly trying to say.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • The Homecoming by Mike Resnick – Not a bad story by any means, but the final reconciliation between father and son was too sudden to be believable. Plus, the narrator relied on the word “Dammit” too much to convey his frustration with his son. Ultimately, I feel the pathos that the ending tried to evoke wasn’t supported by the events that preceded it.
  • The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu – If Movement weren’t on the ballot, I would probably have voted for this one instead. It’s definitely the most inventive/fantastic of the nominee slate, and the imperialistic tone of the negotiation between the wasps and the bees was spot-on. My only quibble was that the ending was too abrupt, but I’m willing to concede that this is a matter of taste on my part rather than poor narrative structure on the author’s.
  • The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu – You know what? I’m just going to swipe quote from a comment I posted on Jim C. Hines’ blog about the short stories category. Here we go:

    I’m the odd one out in that I didn’t like this one very much. Like The Homecoming, I thought it tried too hard to reach heights of emotion it didn’t earn. I was okay with the story until we read the mother’s letter to her son – that brought it to a screeching halt for a few reasons:

    1. The story says that the mother’s letter to her son was written on the same paper that she had used to create the paper tiger. Yet it also says that this same piece of paper was torn apart and taped back together. Could she really have written a letter of that length on an origami-sized piece of paper in such poor condition?

    2. The mother mentions she grew up among farmers and other peasants, and then became an undocumented worker in Hong Kong. This would indicate a low level of literacy – yet the letter she’s left behind is skillfully written, and there aren’t any odd/broken turns of phrase you might expect from someone with her level of schooling. Granted, the letter was spoken out loud by an interpreter, so we can’t know if the interpreter was smoothing out some of the language, but I still found it jarring.

  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue by John Scalzi – This one was a wickedly fun satire of fantasy cliches, but I found it didn’t have enough substance to compare with the other nominees on the ballot. Plus, Scalzi was pretty shameless about soliciting votes for this story in other competitions, even if said shamelessness was hilarious.

Best Novelette

My choice: Fields of Gold by Rachel Swirsky – Of the Novelette nominees, this story stuck in my memory the most. Perhaps it’s because I read this nominee first, but I also like to think that it’s because the main characters were so believably drawn. Who hasn’t known a man like Dennis, who wants the rewards of adulthood without the responsibility it entails, or a woman like Karen, a born problem-solver filled with contempt for her husband? In the end, it became a moving commentary on life, the afterlife, and failed expectations.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders – This was the one I enjoyed most after Fields of Gold. An interesting exploration of toxic relationships and whether the bad things that happen to us happen because they are inevitable, or because we refuse to believe that any positive alternatives exist. However, it’s also a real downer. Read at your own risk if you’re just getting over a nasty breakup.
  • What We Found by Geoff Ryman – This won the Nebula for Best Novelette, but I have to admit I don’t understand why. Ostensibly, it’s about the terror that a Nigerian scientist feels over his impending wedding, and the fear that he will pass on his family’s history of dysfunction to his future children. However, I got the sense that while the novelette strove for a deeper, more philosophical meaning, that meaning was never made fully apparent – the story was too disjointed to allow anything to cohere. Considering the recognition this story has gotten in other circles, I’m not sure if the problem lies in it or in me.
  • The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell – Apparently, this novelette is part of a series, a previous installment of which was also nominated for a Hugo award. It’s an alternate history involving… what, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset when I read it, or maybe I would have understood it more if I had read the other installments, but on the whole, I found it nigh incomprehensible.
  • Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen – A nice, solid, SF story that imagines what would happen if humanity’s last remnants had to start living on the ocean floor to avoid the effects of massive surface glaciation. I particularly liked the idea of a generation of teenagers who grew up without experiencing sunlight, and so decorated an abandoned ocean habitat to look like a beach. However, the main character’s quest for his missing daughter, as well as his discovery of the true state of the planet’s surface – Hey, it’s actually livable up here after all, but we adults were just too complacent to find out for ourselves! – was too pat.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

My choice: Karen Lord – Honestly, just read my review of Redemption in Indigo. That review alone will tell you why I chose Lord’s story over the others. And for the love of God, don’t stop there, but read the book itself too.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • Mur Lafferty – Ah, Mur Lafferty. I love her as a podcasting personality, and I know that she’s tried her hardest to make a name for herself in the publishing industry for nearly a decade, but I was unimpressed by what she contributed to the Nomination Packet. For one thing, it was a single short story while the other nominees contributed much more. For another, the story she did contribute felt hollow at the centre, like it was missing some important bit of plot or information that would have tied the whole thing together.
  • E. Lily Yu – The works she contributed to the Nomination Packet were very strong, including her Hugo-nominated short story The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees (above). I don’t think she’s award-ready yet, but she’s certainly one to watch.
  • Brad R.Torgersen – Of the nominees in this category, Torgersen’s work hews most closely to the “golden age” concept of science fiction. I give Torgersen credit for writing good prose and fleshing out his ideas, but the ideas themselves aren’t that new. Even more troubling, the three stories of Torgersen’s included in the Nominee Packet all seemed to share the same broad strokes: Humanity is on the brink of collapse, and it is up to a straight white man in an isolated environment to battle loneliness and despair in preparation for some event that will drastically change his circumstances. Ultimately, I felt his work, while skillful, didn’t take speculative fiction writing in any new directions.
  • Stina Leicht – I didn’t get very far into Of Blood and Honey, the novel Leicht included in the Nomination Packet. The first chapter contained some extremely clumsy infodumping, so I stopped out of frustration. This review in Strange Horizons didn’t encourage me to give it a second chance, either.

That’s it for now. Come back in a few days to read Part 2 of this post, where I discuss the Best Novella and Best Novel categories!