The Hugo awards are consider the most prestigious sci-fi awards, but it has been marred by controversy for the past two years. Two regressive groups exploited the weaknesses of the voting system to dominate the majority of the nominees despite commanding less then 15% of the total votes (you can read more on George R.R. Martin blogpost [here]). This year only the most extreme of the two groups used slating, but their nominations still dominated the finalist list, and their picks include their favorite stories, as well as stories added to vilify the award (including erotic stories and my little pony TV episodes). They also added a couple of already popular stories that would have made it anyway, so that they could claim they made it only because they were included in their slate. As a result of the controversy some authors declined their nomination and new one were added in their place.
This post is intended to help you navigate this mess, and I will constantly update it to reflect the current nominees. I wrote this post over time as I was reading the various books, and it has evolved into my personal Hugo vote entry. I hope you’ll find it useful. Comments are welcomed, but please keep it civil!
These are the finalist, in my personal order of preference.
The Fifth Season
by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
This is the best story I have read in years. It is very rare to find a book that have it all: exquisite writing, moving, intriguing, and enticing story, memorable characters, astounding and original world building. The Fifth Season is at the same time impossible to put down, and deep. It is the kind of book it will stay with you and make you think.
The book has three subplots adroitly waved together. The first is the story of Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. The second is the story of Damaya, a young girl that is discovered to be a powerful orogenes, and as such kept in a barn as a beast by her parents, to soon be given away. The third is the story of Damaya, growing locked up and used as a de-humanized weapon by the fulcrum.
This is an ambitious trilogy, that while set in a world so different from ours, it succeed like no other to explore issues like slavery, oppression, discrimination, and taboos.
A strongly recommended read.
Hugo worthy? YES! It is the most amazing book I have read in a long long while. This is by far the best (and Ancillary Mercy is an amazing book to compete with).
Was it part of a slate? No
by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
This is the latest and final installment of one of my favorite sci-fi space operas. At the end of the previous book things seemed to be under control for Breq, formerly the AI of the battleship Justice of Torren. Then, a search of Atheok Station’s slums turns up someone who shouldn’t exist, someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that’s been hiding beyond the empire’s reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq’s enemy, the divided Anaander Mianaai, ruler of an empire at war with itself. Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren’t good, but that’s never stopped her before.
Hugo worthy? Yes, it is so far my #2 preference.
Was it part of a slate? No
Seveneves: A Novel
by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
In a very near future an unknown agent hits the moon breaking it to pieces, turning Earth into a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space. But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, and the future of human race.
The book is an excellent example of hard science-fiction, where the author went the extra mile to ensure to get his fact straights (even if he admits to have taken a couple of small liberties in a couple of places where it was necessary). It is not interesting for character exploration and development, but for the breath-taking, quite scientifically accurate, and entertaining exploration of a possible future. The book is divided into three parts. The first two are very fast paced, and draw inspiration from the author work for Bezos’s space mining company. The third part is very different in tones and themes, and was heavily based on the author screenplay for a video-game he is working on. It also explore some eugenic themes that are quite problematic. The abrupt change in style and themes of the last part, makes the book less cohesive. I really wish the third part was not included.
Hugo worthy? Yes, it is so far my #3 preference.
Was it part of a slate? Yes. Many would argue that it would have made it anyway, and that it had support of the entire fandom anyway.
by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Naomi Novik has already established herself as a talented author with her Temeraire series, and her latest fairy tale / coming-of-age novel does not disappoint. The story is told from the point of view of Agnieszka, a young 17 year old that, growing up in the land of the Dragon, a powerful wizard constantly fighting the evil wood. Every 10 year a young girl is selected by the Dragon, and kept in his tower. Everybody expects Kasia, Agnieszka’s best friend, to be the choose one, but hings do not always go as expected…
While the plot is, from many point of view, the one of a typical classical fairy tale, there are many modern elements, including the gender dynamics. What makes this book special though, is how entertaining and impossible to put down it is.
Hugo worthy? Yes, it is so far my #4 preference.
Was it part of a slate? No
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass
by Jim Butcher (Roc)
As it is often the case with Jim Butcher’s novel, this book is a light and enjoyable read, the characters are colorful, yet flat, and there is nothing to blow you away. It is probably telling that the most memorable characters are the talking cats. The fictional world is interesting, but a lot is left unsaid, to be covered in one of the planned 20+ books of the series.
The plot is relatively simple: since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace. Captain Grimm commands a merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion, to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory. And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come.
Hugo worthy? Not really. While it is an enjoyable read, this book pales in comparison with all the other finalist in the category.
Was it part of a slate? Yes
- Official Hugo Awards 2016 announcement: [hugo awards official page]
- Official Hugo Awards 2016 voting page [MidAmeriCon II page]
- The Hugo finalists: why the sad puppies can’t take credit for Neil Gaiman’s success [Los Angeles Times]
- Four Things About the Hugo [Scalzi’s Whatever Blog]
- The Puppy Wars Resume [George R.R. Martin Blog]
- Hugo Withdrawal [George R.R. Martin Blog]
- 2016 Hugo Finalist Review Roundup [File 770]
- Happy Kittens voting guide [SFKittens]