Here are the 2020 Hugo nominees (for works published in 2019) organized by category. I’m reviewing them as I read/watch them. I probably won’t get through everything, but I’ll give it a good try!
If you see links, especially on images, they generally go to Amazon in case you wish to purchase them. However, the short stories and some novelettes are available to read for free, so the links go to their online publication location. I’ve noted where each image link takes you in the image caption.
Best Dramatic Presentation – Long (Movies)
Best Dramatic Presentation – Short (TV Episodes)
Best Short Story
Best Graphic Story
Lodestar Award for Young Adult
Best Dramatic Presentation – Long (Movies)
Earth’s heroes will finally understand how fragile our reality is—and the sacrifices that must be made to uphold it—in a story of friendship, teamwork and setting aside differences to overcome an impossible obstacle.
I wasn’t quite happy with part 1 because of the massive cliffhanger, but this conclusion was an absolutely perfect ending to the 22 films that made up the journey. It had all the mechanics of a great story, plus plenty of heart to go with it. And though I was sobbing in a few places, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve always felt the Marvel movies have been consistently good, but this one knocks it out of the park.
Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel takes you on a spectacular adventure from the 1990s, tracing the path of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes. When a galactic war reaches Earth, she meets young agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at the center of a maelstrom, leading to her ultimate destiny as an Avenger!
OK, the cat was just awesome! I really enjoyed this story. It’s not as epic as Endgame, but it was definitely entertaining. I also liked seeing a young Nick Fury before he got the scar. Bonus: you find out how that happened.
Good Omens – Winner!
Aziraphale and Crowley, of Heaven and Hell respectively, have grown rather fond of the Earth. So it’s terrible news that it’s about to end. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing. The Four Horsemen are ready to ride. Everything is going according to the Divine Plan…except that someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist. Can our heroes find him and stop Armageddon before it’s too late?
This was a real hoot! I’m a huge David Tenant fan anyway and the humor in this one is awesome. I loved the ending. Great story, great acting, great everything. Note: I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t have any beef with the changes they made. Your mileage may vary.
Hugo note: Neal Gaimon’s Hugo acceptance speech was short and a bit sad as he related how he wasn’t even going to do this until Terry Pratchett implored him to. Sadly, Terry never got to see it come to life on screen.
Russian Doll, Season One (Netflix)
On the night of her 36th birthday, Nadia meets an untimely end … then suddenly finds herself back at the party her friends threw for her.
This starts off like Groundhog Day with a twist – a woman keeps dying and turning to the start of her birthday party. However, it slowly morphs into an interesting puzzle to find out what’s going on and how it can be fixed. It delves into the character’s background and explores her ‘stuckness’ in her own life as well as the life of another person as they realize they are intricately tangled together. I really enjoyed this series of episodes and am happy they’ll do a season two, though who knows whether that will star the same people.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
In STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, the riveting conclusion of the landmark Skywalker saga, new legends will be born—and the final battle for freedom is yet to come. WARNING: SOME FLASHING-LIGHTS SCENES IN THIS FILM MAY AFFECT PHOTOSENSITIVE VIEWERS
I really enjoyed this final wrap. It’s sad that Space Mom died, but they integrated what footage they had very seamlessly. Also, I was really upset with the second movie’s fight choreography, so I was quite happy to see that get nailed in this one. Not only do the fights look good, but they have some fun moments. Rose got sidelined which is a downer, but I liked the development of Kylo and Rey. This is my favorite of the three.
Us (on HBO)
The visionary behind Get Out returns with an original nightmare, pitting an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.
This started off interesting when a family is attacked by their duplicates. But then it got flat out weird. Parts of it made me giggle with glee, other parts left me scratching my head as I tried to figure out a rationale for their behaviors. Then came the twist, which was awesome, but came with more inconsistent character motivation and behavior. The end game of the duplicates was also bizarre. I mean, I get where it came from, but it seemed so underwhelming. There are a few dark humor moments and the movie is in general entertaining, but if you like having a rationale for stuff, this one might give you fits. I really liked Get Out which was directed by the same person, but this one didn’t work quite as well for me. On the plus side, it makes an interesting commentary on how we might be our own worst enemy, and how privilege affects quality of life.
Best Dramatic Presentation – Short (TV Episodes)
All of these series are really good and worth watching. I don’t delve into what they are about since you’ve probably already heard of them. Instead, I give a brief synopsis of the episode and talk about why I liked it.
Doctor Who: “Resolution”
As the New Year begins, a terrifying evil is stirring from across the centuries of Earth’s history. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth?
This was a Christmas special involving a Dalek who got resurrected by archeologists “The Mummy” style (whoops!) and starts off running around in squid form, which is neat because they always hide in their metal casing. I liked this episode because it delved into the Doctor’s side characters, especially the relationship between Ryan and his absent father. His father wants to make amends for not being there, but Ryan and his stepdad are skeptical.
The Expanse: “Cibola Burn”
With the Ring Gates now open to thousands of new planets, a blood-soaked gold rush begins, igniting new conflicts between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Meanwhile, on one unexplored planet, the Rocinante crew gets caught in a violent clash between an Earth mining corporation and desperate Belter settlers as deadly, new threats from the protomolecule emerge.
ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGG!!!! and WAAAAAAHHH!!!!! Although, right now I might be verbalizing a few colorful metaphors that I won’t repeat here and the urge to throw something is quite high. Seasons 3 and 4 are just as binge-worthy as the first two. And yep, I watched em both straight through with a few begrudging moments spared for eating. This episode is a great ending to the season: sad with a major dash of a not very nice cliffhanger to the next season’s arc – hence the throwing urge. Like I needed convincing to watch more! The writing is still exceptional after four seasons. I can’t wait to see what comes next. This is my favorite by far.
The Good Place: “The Answer” – Winner!
In an attempt to plan a better future, Chidi considers his past.
While the judge runs through a multitude of Janets looking for her Earth-reset-clicky-thing, the group realizes that Chidi is the key to saving Earth. They need to figure out how the good and bad places can compromise (yeah, good luck with that! No pressure, Chidi!) This is mostly flashbacks through Chidi’s past and is a solid episode. I especially enjoyed his solution.
Hugo note: I really didn’t know which of these would win the Hugo award since all of the entries are very strong. Honestly, I’d have been happy with any winners, but it’s kind of cool to see a more cerebral-based show take the trophy.
The Mandalorian: “Redemption”
The Mandalorian and his allies come to know their true enemy, who already knows much about them.
This is the final episode of the season and I can’t really say anything because, spoilers, but the fate of Baby Yoda was at stake. I’m sure you’ve seen pics of him(her? it?) even if you haven’t watched the series because Baby Yoda is so cute. Good episode, good finale, and I definitely want to see more seasons!
Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”
Angela’s mysterious past in Vietnam is at last revealed.
This is a flashback to the first time the main character, Detective Angela Abar, meets the blue guy, Doctor Manhattan. Right away, he asks her for a date, and the entire rest of the conversation is about her saying no and him telling her why she should say yes. While you might roll your eyes if this was with a normal guy, it turned out really cute as he tried to explain how he experiences time – he loves her right now because he also loves her in the future right now. There are some serious plot holes, but this conversation was pure genius and is probably my favorite episode.
Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”
Deep under the influence of Nostalgia, Angela gets a firsthand account of her grandfather’s journey.
Angela takes pills that lets her experience her grandfather’s past. In it we finally get to see his vigilante origin story. The series kept so many things a mystery up until this episode, so it was a relief to finally get some answers. Apparently, other people felt that way since this got nominated over the finale which I thought was slightly better. This series was weird in a good way and got me interested in seeing the Watchmen movie. If you like superheroes and haven’t watched this series yet, you should give it a chance. The other great thing about this series is it is sent in part during the Tulsa race massacre, which became very pertinent this year.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
January is a dying planet—divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk. But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.
Sophie, a student and reluctant revolutionary, is supposed to be dead after being exiled into the night. Saved only by forming an unusual bond with the enigmatic beasts who roam the ice, Sophie vows to stay hidden from the world, hoping she can heal. But fate has other plans—and Sophie’s ensuing odyssey and the ragtag family she finds will change the entire world.
This story follows two women as they make their own way in this very unique world of two cities, both decaying remnants of better times. One is a smuggler who gets caught up in trouble she didn’t want. The other is a student who is changed by her exile. Sophie, the exile, has an unrequited love + abusive relationship with her school roommate which dominates her choices throughout the book. Even when you can see the trainwreck happening, she’s still got that hope that she can mend things between them. That part was difficult since I wanted her to break that much sooner, but it felt very real in how love can make us do crazy stuff. I liked the world building and the different cultures. I felt the story dragged a bit near the end before we got back into the action climax bit. The ending was too abrupt and made me moan. I wanted an epilogue, dangit! There wasn’t too much science-y mumbo jumbo since the humans don’t know any of that anymore anyway. I consider this to be like a dystopian on another planet type story. I definitely recommend it.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
The writing is quirky and sometimes pretentious. You should probably read the sample to make up your own mind about the style if you consider buying this (assuming you haven’t already). It alternates between two women’s stories. The first is about a girl who finds a door to Elsewhere, writes about it in her journal and then is discovered by her guardian who destroys everything. Then she finds The Book. In her point of view chapters, she writes it as an adult looking back on her past. It has some amusing observations and reflections in this autobiographical recounting. The second story comes from The Book that the first woman found which is about another woman who found a door, lost it, and went on adventures searching for others. However, it’s written from the point of view of a nameless scholar who tracked down her history and basically wrote a biography which can be a bit dry to read. I only received an excerpt in the Hugo packet, so I don’t know how this ends. While both stories are interesting – I would like to know the ending – and have some very good descriptive writing, it’s not quite rocking my boat enough to purchase. Oh, and the dang packet cut off mid-chapter. Not cool!
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief–no matter what actually happens during combat.
Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is. Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero–or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.
This is like reading Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” at the beginning, just with some gender swapping and timeline order shifts. It starts off with a self-absorbed kid trying to prove themselves and earn citizenship. Instead of the government though, various corporate entities are the ones in charge and limiting who gains citizenship. Also, there’s a girl who wants to be in intelligence, a team mate who gets her head blown off (though this time it isn’t really the main character’s fault), a drill sergeant missing limbs, and a city that gets wiped off the map which spurs the kid to join the military. Sound familiar-ish? I don’t think it’s as good as Starship Troopers as far as the politics, at least in the beginning, but that’s OK because after you get past the Troopers-like start, it transforms into an “Edge of Tomorrow” like story where Deitz experiences non-linear time during the light jumps. Deitz doesn’t die like in Edge, but instead has to figure stuff out while staying off the psych radar to keep fighting. Will this change the course of war or is our fate sealed? I really enjoyed this story and the ending was very satisfying.
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine – Winner!
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
My first impression upon reading the beginning was holy smokes the names! Some are quite ‘fun’ to try and pronounce with consecutive consonants jammed most inconveniently together. Also, the writing is a bit quirky. This is another one you might want to read a sample of before purchasing. So far, I like the whole concept of memories of your ancestors embedded in your brain. I also like Mahit, the main character and want to see the end of her story. The writing is dense or perhaps exhausting is the better word to describe how I feel trying to get through this. I will finish it, but it’s not a fast read.
Hugo note: I’m not surprised this won the Hugo with its seriously deep world building, interesting ancestor memory implant concept, and told from the point of view of an outsider trying to solve a murder among people who may not want it solved. A lot of effort went into creating this world and it showed.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.
Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.
Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.
Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.
Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.
This starts off really weird with a fairy tale story spliced into the real story. It doesn’t make sense for a long while and when it finally does, I’m not sure if it was really necessary. Fortunately, they are brief snippets so we can get back to the action which gets riveting as the story progresses. The world is an interesting blend of alchemy, science, and a dash of religion about this holy city the bad dude is trying to manifest in his creations which will supposedly give him godlike power. It starts off fairly tame since the kids are young and only accidentally get an interesting connection with each other, but as time goes on, things get worse when the bad guy’s thugs try to keep them under control. When the s- really hits the fan, things take a timey wimey reset time turn, which seems to be the common theme with a lot of the Hugo nominees this year. It’s both a strange story and quite addictive. I definitely recommend reading it.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense. Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die. Of course, some things are better left dead.
This story dumps you into a decaying world populated by necromancers. It’s very unique and well done, but can be a bit confusing since there’s no explaining. Good news though: stuff is revealed over time. Bad news: there are a nine different house necromancers with their cavaliers, so eighteen people to try and keep straight! That might not be so bad except this story kept me awake well past bedtime a few evenings. Tired mind equals ‘whosethatagain?’ The relationship between Harrow and Gideon starts off as each hating the other, which is fun when the sparks fly. It also adds a great deal of difficulty to Harrow’s mission. But as they are forced to work together, that relationship evolves and you eventually find out why they are like they are. That was a really cool moment. I love the whole mystery exploration necromancer secret aspect paired with a who-dunnit murder mystery as they race the other houses to find out the secrets of ultimate power while also trying to figure out who or what is killing them off one or two at a time. I did figure out a few twists ahead of time, but there were plenty more surprises. I enjoyed this world and story so much that I immediately pre-ordered book 2. And good news is that I now have it!
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in subzero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to journey to neighboring exoplanets long known to harbor life.
A team of these explorers, Ariadne O’Neill and her three crewmates, are hard at work in a planetary system fifteen light-years from Sol, on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds. But as Ariadne shifts through both form and time, the culture back on Earth has also been transformed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the story of the wonders and dangers of her mission, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.
This is a lot like Becky Chamber’s entry last year in that there is no tension in the story. This is a docudrama of what happened during this space exploration mission, complete with a lot of side trips that drove me batty at times. I wasn’t happy with the decision made at the end – it felt like a cop out. The things I do like about Becky’s writing is she puts a LOT of time and research into world building and what space travel might be like. There are also very science-y delvings into the biology of the organisms they find. Definitely not for those who only enjoy ‘soft science’, but if you enjoy a well crafted world filled with science and exploration, you’ll love this book.
“Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” by Ted Chiang
In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine.
In “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.
The people in this future society use prisms (sort of like our tablets) to contact their paraself via a quantum mechanics-based invention. Aside from the point of view swaps that weren’t clear at first between a few people who are eventually linked together (probably because of the formatting in the Hugo packet), this was an intriguing discussion of whether our decisions matter when we can see what our other selves choose and the impacts resulting from that. Very intriguing story and not too science-y. It was more philisophical.
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark
Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities — handling a possessed tram car.
Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.
This is a pretty cool alternate timeline with a fun story about how to deal with a pretty angry whatever this thing is. At first the two agents think it’s one thing, but the results of that are quite disastrous with a twist of humor. Definitely a fun story to read.
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – Winner!
In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked “Burn before reading. Signed, Blue.” So begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents in a war that stretches through the vast reaches of time and space.
Red belongs to the Agency, a post-singularity technotopia. Blue belongs to Garden, a single vast consciousness embedded in all organic matter. Their pasts are bloody and their futures mutually exclusive. They have nothing in common—save that they’re the best, and they’re alone. Now what began as a battlefield boast grows into a dangerous game, one both Red and Blue are determined to win. Because winning’s what you do in war. Isn’t it?
This is flat out my favorite. It was quite fun to see how creative each of the operatives could get in both altering the timeline to suit their own side plus leave a hidden message for the other to find. The back and forth is great and you can see their growing respect and admiration and even love. The way it all circles around in the end to create a seamless time stream satisfies my inner geeky timey wimey sense of rules.
Hugo note: Yes! I was rooting for this one to win during the ceremony. The other entries were all very solid, but this was just over the top cool.
In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire
This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.
When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.
You don’t have to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. It only connects to the earlier books at the very end with the person responsible for all the wayward children. I have mixed feelings about this story. I liked the world building with the Goblin market and I thought I had a handle on the rules until the very end which threw me for a loop. I’m still not sure what happened there or why she wasn’t warned. Aside from the ending, I liked this story.
The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes
Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.
Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.
Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.
This is a story inspired by the song that was Hugo nominated last year. It goes into some really interesting world building for these water descendants and focuses on Yetu’s struggle to deal with the painful memories the others dumped into her. While she doesn’t handle it well at first, she finds a way and a love! I enjoyed this one.
“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll
Nineteenth century poet Christopher Smart has been committed to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics believing God has commissioned him to write The Divine Poem. But years earlier, he made a bargain with Satan and the devil has come to collect his due–a poem that will bring about the apocalypse.
Saving Smart’s soul, and the rest of the world, falls to Jeoffry, the poet’s demon-fighting cat and a creature of cunning Satan would be a fool to underestimate…
This is actually based on a real poet who owned a cat and happened to spend some time in an insane asylum. The story adds a ‘few’ embellishments, but who doesn’t love a cat as hero story? This is absolutely FUN, awesome, and a must read!
“Omphalos” by Ted Chiang
This story didn’t have it’s own blurb, so I wrote one for it. This is one of two new pieces included in “Exhalation”.
Omphalos means center of the world. In an alternative world to ours, people have proof that God exists and the universe revolves around Earth. But a shocking discovery is about to shake their foundation.
In this world, primordial (direct from the hand of God) humans, plants, and animals are the only ones that exist. There are no rings on trees, no rings in bones, no ancient sedimentary layers in canyons, and no navels on humans because God made them instantly at full growth. The story focuses on an archeologist who reads an astronomy paper soon to be published about a star that is actually stationary to the ether, unlike Earth’s system. She has a crisis of faith because if this is true, then humans aren’t God’s main focus. This is a clever refutation of creationism since our world is nothing like theirs. Even so, these people with absolute faith still ask some of the same questions we do about our purpose in life. It was a fascinating read. When searching for a possible blurb, I came across an in depth interview that talks about how this is actually a refutation of a book published long ago and goes into great depth discussing the religions ramifications. You can read it here.
“Away with the Wolves” by Sarah Gailey
The September/October 2019 Disabled People Destroy Fantasy special issue of Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine.
“Away with the Wolves” is one story in this collection.
A shapeshifter suffers great pain when in human form, but does bad things in the village when in wolf form. Something has to give, but what?
This is a good story about the struggle to fit in where you aren’t exactly wanted.
“Emergency Skin” by N.K. Jemisin – Winner!
What will become of our self-destructed planet? The answer shatters all expectations in this subversive speculation from the Hugo Award–winning author of the Broken Earth trilogy.
An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind—hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out ages ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved. Steel yourself, soldier. Get in. Get out. And try not to stare.
I always like stories with a twist and boy is this poor scout in for a surprise! Definitely a good read.
Hugo note: I really thought the cat story would win because cats are awesome. However, I’ll forgive this story for beating out the cat one because it’s really quite cool even if I didn’t say much because of spoilers.
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker
A murder mystery author encounters a dead body when going to ask the neighbor for a fuse and discovers a little too much.
This is a nice slow building murder mystery with a sci fi twist that takes quite the surprising turn. Very good story.
“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim
“This is a love story, the last of a series of moments when we meet.”
Dr. Saki Jones arrives at the colony planet New Mars to find that a mysterious plague has destroyed everyone who lived there–including her lifelove, M.J. To find out what happened, Saki must dig through layers of time, slowly revealing the past. The result is a bittersweet story of aliens and human exploration; mystery and memory; and, of course, love.
I liked the concept of time archeology. In this story, technology has advanced to where you can explore the past or the future. But the longer you stay and the more you move around, the more you wipe out that snapshot in time. There are two mysteries in this story: what happened to the outpost and why is there a person-shaped data corruption shadow in all the time streams Saki is looking at. I wanted a different ending, but the story was good despite that.
Best Short Story
All of these are free to read – just follow the links.
“Do Not Look Back, My Lion” by Alix E. Harrow
This is a story about a couple. One always goes off to war, the other stays at home and is becoming increasingly disillusioned about their bloodthirsty society. She can’t stomach raising another child to be thrown into battle and probably killed. This is a story of sacrifice, duty, honor, and choice. It wound up being fairly emotional for such a short work. I definitely liked it. One interesting aspect of the world building is the concept of ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ are no longer gender-based but rather role-based. This gives it a unique feel.
“As the Last I May Know” by S.L. Huang – Winner!
To prevent nuclear war, this society picks an innocent child and embeds a nuke code in them. If you want to use the nuke, you have to kill the child and cut out the code. Rather brutal, but effective. This was actually suggested by someone in 1981. Here’s a good review that delves into that more.
Hugo note: All of these shorts were super good and I had a hard time ranking them for the vote. Although this wasn’t my #1, it is well worth the reading.
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas
The governor of Bengal tries to force a native woman to make a doll for his daughter. They can move and speak via the magic she weaves into them, so he’s really quite insistent. But when she finally capitulates, things don’t go quite as he expected! This is an awesome revenge story and is probably something every subjugated person wished they could do to an overbearing tyrant.
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen
Things don’t go so well when British visit a native island. Things still don’t go well when they take three surviving girls into their own society. This is dark horror story told as biography reference snippets. So, you don’t get a complete story, just snapshots of the ensuing carnage. It’s a cool way to tell a story but I was a bit whiny that I didn’t get more details! I could definitely read a whole novel about this, but getting only snapshots increases the horror level, rather like not being able to see the monster coming for you.
“Blood Is Another Word for Hunger” by Rivers Solomon
Anger is an energy. A young girl, a slave in the South, is presented with a moment where she can grasp for freedom, for change, for life. She grabs it with both hands, fiercely and intensely, and the spirit world is shaken. This had some cool concepts and is pretty bloodthirsty, but it didn’t go anywhere major. I felt kind of meh about this one.
“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde
A village besieged by storms learns to control them magically by naming them. But there’s a price to be paid. This is about the youngest daughter wanting to be a weatherman but her mom not wanting her to do that because of the consequences. While an interesting premise, I felt like the story kind of drizzled along. (Terrible pun intended!)
Winternight by Katherine Arden
Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
The writing is very descriptive and flows on the page. And in true Russian fairy tale style, it gets dark in a hurry! It’s nice to have a straight up fantasy series in the lineup. I really like this one.
The Expanse by James S.A. Corey – Winner!
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
I love the Amazon series, but hadn’t read the books. I’ve only looked at the first one but it has everything in text form that I loved about watching it – the world building is incredible, the characters are fully fleshed out and vibrant, and the writing is solid. This is a work of art.
Hugo note: Yes!!! I was hardcore rooting for this one to win. I may have an unhealthy obsession with the TV series. One of the panelists in the ‘SF in shows’ panel told the author, Daniel ‘James S.A. Corey’, that they didn’t want to pick up the books until after the show was finished because they didn’t want to ruin it with spoilers. I know the feeling. The author confirmed that the ninth book, coming out soon (as in probably this year), will be the end of the series.
Luna by Ian McDonald
The Moon wants to kill you. Whether it’s being unable to pay your per diem for your allotted food, water, and air, or you just get caught up in a fight between the Moon’s ruling corporations, the Five Dragons. You must fight for every inch you want to gain in the Moon’s near feudal society. And that is just what Adriana Corta did.
As the leader of the Moon’s newest “dragon,” Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds her corporation, Corta Helio, surrounded by the many enemies she made during her meteoric rise. If the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.
Short choppy repetitive sentences is like nails scratching a chalkboard to me, so sadly I had to skip this one. Read the sample and judge for yourself. The intro scene is pretty intense and I think the whole gangsters on the moon concept is a good one if you can get past the style. I checked out the sample for book 3 and while it’s not as bad, it still has enough to turn me away.
InCryptid by Seanan McGuire
The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them.
Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she’d rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right?
It would be, if it weren’t for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family’s old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed.
To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone’s spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city…
A friend of mine tried to get me to read these a few years ago, but I took one look at the ballet dancing that was mentioned and passed. I never got back to these until now. Seems like the universe is trying to tell me something! While I could do without the silly mice or the dancing, this story is a pretty standard urban fantasy with a snarky main hero. Fun, light entertainment. A big plus to this series is there are sooooo many. This series is broken down into sub-series based on the main characters since it follows the Price family across generations. I got a lot of reading material from the Hugo packet for this one. Thank you, Seanan McGuire!
Planetfall by Emma Newman
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
The first book had several mysteries that made me stay up all night reading it. First there’s the alien city mystery that the main character is haunted by and keeps trying to figure out. Then there’s the main character’s own personal issues due to the losses in her life. She can’t open up to anyone even though she longs for more meaningful relationships. Trapped in her past, she has super anxiety and other problems. It all felt really believable as we go through her downward spiral. Then there’s a huge secret that only she and one other knows about. If that got out it would destroy the colony. It takes a wicked amount of time for that secret to be revealed. I really loved this story but the end of the book is the end of this character’s journey. The next books are standalones in this universe which I was disappointed about since I really wanted more about the first character. The fourth book shifts to GameLit and sounds pretty cool – people in game look similar to people the main character knows and when she kills them in game, they die in real life! Oh yeah, I’ll be reading that one, but the others in between – maybe not.
The Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson
Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumored healing powers.
Kaaro is a government agent with a criminal past. He has seen inside the biodome, and doesn’t care to again — but when something begins killing off others like himself, Kaaro must defy his masters to search for an answer, facing his dark history and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
This is written in first person present which can be done well enough that I don’t notice it, or it can be done like this book: filled with ‘I I I I’. It also has too many short, choppy sentences which are my Achilles heel. To top that off, it’s almost stream of consciousness boring as the narrator flits from one random thought to the next at the start of book 1. It does look better at the beginning of book 3, and clearly other people enjoy reading it, but it’s not my thing. Your mileage may vary. Definitely read the sample before diving in.
Best Graphic Story or Comic
Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Stephanie Hans
DIE is a pitch-black fantasy where a group of forty-something adults have to deal with the returning, unearthly horror they only just survived as teenage role-players.
A game of Dungeons & Dragons teleports teens into an alternate world with real life repercussions. Many years later, they have to face the dreadful secret from their past. And they might be stuck in the fantasy world forever! This is like a grim, dark, evil Jumanji where everyone might die.
The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: “Okay”, Kieron Gillen, illustrated by Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson
FINAL STORY ARC! After five years, we reach the final volume. We do not go gentle into that good night, but go driving a converted tank, covered in glitter and spangles, with a sound system audible from Mars blaring nothing but bangers. Gods, pop stars, an ending. We’ll miss you. Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #40-45
I wasn’t really into the story or the artwork, but your mileage may vary.
Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen, Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
Maika and Corvin make their way through a warped and lethal land in search of Kippa, who is faced with her own terrible monsters. But when Maika comes face-to-face with a stranger from her deep past, startling truths are uncovered, and at the center of it all lurks a dangerous conspiracy that threatens the Known World. Maika is finally close to getting all the answers she ever wanted, but at what price? With war on the horizon—a war no one wants to stop—whose side will Maika choose? Collects MONSTRESS #19-24
I always enjoy Monstress, but I had a hard time getting into this one. It seemed less action-y than normal. I think my main problem is that I’m feeling rather done with the world. I get that way after a few books in a series. I guess the same holds true for comics. The artwork is beautiful as always.
LaGuardia, Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin – Winner!
In an alternate world where aliens have integrated with society, pregnant Nigerian- American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has just smuggled an illegal alien plant named Letme Live through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport… and that’s not the only thing she’s hiding.
She and Letme become part of a community of human and alien immigrants; but as their crusade for equality continues and the birth of her child nears, Future– and her entire world– begins to change.
This is a great story about alien immigration. It ties in very well with the current immigration mess we have in the US and around the world. The artwork is both colorful and really detailed. This was a fun read.
Hugo note: I wasn’t surprised this won the Hugo. Nnedi is on a roll with hot topics and great writing.
Paper Girls, Volume 6, Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang & Matt Wilson
THE END IS HERE! After surviving adventures in their past, present, and future, the Paper Girls of 1988 embark on one last journey—a five-part epic that includes the emotional double-sized series finale. Featuring a new wraparound cover from Eisner Award-winning co-creator CLIFF CHIANG, which can be combined with the covers of all five previous volumes to form one complete mega-image! Collects PAPER GIRLS #26-30
This was my favorite because it ends so well: sad but with a bit of hope.
Mooncakes, Wendy Xu & Suzanne Walker
“Mooncakes transported me to a gorgeous magical realm that I never want to leave, and introduced me to lovable characters who stuck with me long after I finished reading. This graphic novel is the joyful fantasy romance we all need right now, and it might just restore your faith in magic.”” —Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
A family of witches encounters a werewolf who is in danger of turning into a demon. I liked this story and the graphics. Best of all: it’s a standalone.
Lodestar for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo)
I ran out of time, so I had to evaluate these books by reading the samples and skimming through reviews. I’m quite pleased that all of these made it on my want to read list.
The Wicked King by Holly Black
After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
Fae political machinations aren’t really my thing, but there’s something about the first book that intrigued me. I only read the sample, but the writing is well done and the world is nicely fleshed out.
Deeplight by Frances Hardinge
The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?
I only had time to read the sample, but it was very interesting. The only complaint from a review was how the relationship between the two kids could have been more detailed. I love the world building and the whole farming for god parts aspect of the society. I look forward to finishing this one and definitely recommend trying it out.
Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher
Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day. He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.
He was a very minor mage. Unfortunately, he was all they had.
The writing is well done. However, I tend to agree with one reviewer about how unlikely it is that an entire village would toss out such a young kid to travel by himself to a dangerous place to save their skin. On the other hand, after seeing some of the selfish and dumb right now, perhaps that’s not so unlikely, just disappointing (in the villagers, not the story!) The world building seems solid and I like the story idea enough to put this on my list of books to finish reading when I have spare time.
Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer – Winner!
Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.
When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.
Reading about sentient AI is one of my weaknesses, so this jumped to a possible favorite right away. Toss in the ambiguity of whether her mom is actually fleeing from a threat or suffering from mental illness and I’m hopelessly captivated. I particularly enjoyed what happened when the AI tried to help and it blew up because of Steph’s fears of stalking and catfishing. It’s a good reminder of the risks of over-sharing on social media. Of all the YA books I sampled, this one was number one on my must finish list.
Hugo note: I’m not surprised this won. It has a depth to it from the possible mental trauma coupled with the budding friendship between human and AI.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Rick Riordan Presents Yoon Ha Lee’s space opera about thirteen-year-old Min, who comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds. When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name. Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.
The writing is good but I agree with one reviewer that said it seemed Min used her never-before-used fox magic a lot more than expected right off the bat. However, I’m a sucker for strong heroines plus coming of age so I plan to finish it.
Riverland by Fran Wilde
When things go bad at home, sisters Eleanor and Mike hide in a secret place under Eleanor’s bed, telling monster stories. Often, it seems those stories and their mother’s house magic are all that keep them safe from both busybodies and their dad’s temper. But when their father breaks a family heirloom, a glass witch ball, a river suddenly appears beneath the bed, and Eleanor and Mike fall into a world where dreams are born, nightmares struggle to break into the real world, and secrets have big consequences. Full of both adventure and heart, Riverland is a story about the bond between two sisters and how they must make their own magic to protect each other and save the ones they love.
Wow. This is a really chilling story in some respects as the two kids have to deal with an abusive father. Their mother can do house magic, but it only works if everyone obeys the sometimes very weird rules. Broken furniture and other signs of anger are reset to normal the next day from the magic. Unfortunately the magic can’t fix their father’s temper problem. The sisters’ only escape from grim home life is telling stories under the bed. I really liked how real it felt – the fear of going home, the problem of peer pressure at that age, and the vivid imagery of the writing. This is definitely a book I’m going to finish and recommend reading.