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The 2024 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot

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Last year I thought it might be a fun thing to post my Hugo ballot here, and give you all a sense of how the sausage of that award gets made and what works from 2022 I thought were worth recognizing. Then the nominations were announced and a few of the things I nominated got on but mostly they didn’t (this is perfectly normal). And then the awards happened and even fewer of the things I voted for won (again: normal). And then the administrators of the award did not release the voting and nomination stats, which usually happens within hours of the Hugos being handed out (starting to get a little abnormal here). And then they dragged out the publication of those stats until the last possible minute (uh, guys). And then all hell broke loose.

If you’ve been following the Hugo debacle over the last six weeks, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you might want to drop out now, because this is an extremely niche scandal that it will just depress you to learn about. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you can check out the two posts I wrote about the situation on my blog. The first, from late January, when we thought the problem was just (“just”) that the administrators had complied in advance with PRC sensibilities and dropped some nominees from the ballot whom they had deemed ideologically suspect. And the second, from last month, when it turned out the problem was even worse. Bottom line: like a lot of volunteer-run organizations the Hugo ultimately runs on trust, and the belief that most people who give their time and energy to run what is ultimately a meaningless contest do not want to debase it. Unfortunately, the people who ran the Hugos last year went another way. They felt perfectly justified in dropping hundreds of nominating ballots, mostly from Chinese voters, and then in compiling dossiers about other nominees to try to suss out their political affiliations. At the end of the day, it seems very likely that the ballot should have looked entirely different from what it ended up being, and that in the fiction categories in particular, none of the eventual winners should have even been nominated.

All of which casts a pall, to say the least, on the project of nominating for the Hugos this year. The good news is that each Worldcon convention has its own separate Hugo team, and the one for the 2024 convention in Glasgow is not only full of people I know and trust, but has made several commitments to making the nomination process more transparent. The bad news is that, well, this system, and the Worldcon’s inability or unwillingness to police bad behavior in individual conventions, are arguably what got us into this mess in the first place. There are a lot of conversations ongoing about how and whether to change the system for administering the Hugos, and hopefully something good will come of them. And perhaps most importantly, the one way to make sure the Hugos don’t survive this calamity is to stop participating in them.

So, consider this post your opportunity for Hugo discussion, if you’d like. Nominations close on March 9th, and anyone who was a member of the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, or the 2023 Worldcon in Chengdu, before January 31st is eligible to nominate. My selections are below.

Best Novel:

This is a category where I’m spoiled for choice, and will probably keep mulling my options until the nomination deadline. The following three books are the ones I’m certain to nominate.

  • The Saint of Bright Doors by Vajra Chandrasekera – I’m not alone in recognizing this novel, a fantasy about a renunciate chosen one who is drawn into the political struggles of multiple groups, as one of the most exciting debuts of 2023. Everyone who has read it, it seems, has been blown away by its elaborate worldbuilding, compelling storytelling, and deft handling of politics. Let’s hope the major genre awards follow suit. (review)
  • The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz – Meat and potatoes SF with a twist. This centuries-long tale of transforming a planet for human habitation riffs on classics like Red Mars while also imagining the role that capitalism, marketing, and social engineering will have on shaping the geography, the social services, and the very people who end up living there. Terraforming, in this novel, turns out to be as much about shaping people to their environment as the other way around. (review)
  • Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh – A novel that distills many of the popular space opera and YA tropes of the last decade into a breathtakingly propulsive story that crams a whole trilogy’s worth of material into a single novel, featuring a deeply unlikable heroine undergoing painful and necessary growth, and playing with time travel and alternate universes with an effortlessness that is hard to credit. Hands-down the most enjoyable read of the year. (review)

And for the final two slots, some subset of the following:

  • In Ascension by Martin MacInnes – Contact for the climate change era. This tale of a scientist whose field of research increasingly resonates with information gleaned from what appears to be evidence of alien life is meditative and introspective, examining the sort of person who dedicates themselves to expanding human knowledge and risks their life for a chance to glimpse the unknown. Along the way, it’s also a thrilling space exploration story. (review)
  • Mad Sisters of Esi by Tashan Mehta – This heady fantasy, made up of nesting stories and set in an ocean that may be a metaphor for outer space and may be a magical world, is hard to pin down in a number of ways. It’s the tale of sisters who lose each other and spend their lives trying to find each other again, the tale of a world trying to make sense of its history and mythology, and the tale of a setting where reality, time, and identity are malleable. (review)
  • HIM by Geoff Ryman – Retellings of the lives of Christ are, it seems, a dime a dozen, and even one that reimagines Jesus as a trans man might not be as unusual as one might at first think. But Ryman’s take on the material is, unsurprisingly, entirely original, whether it’s the depth in which he depicts the period’s Roman-controlled Judean setting, or the SFnal cosmology he builds around Jesus’s powers and the changes that his existence wreaks on life and the afterlife. (review)
  • Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford – I’ll have more on this remarkable novel in the near future, but in the meantime I’ll say that people who loved Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union will be thrilled by this book, which imagines an America in which the city of Cahokia survives into the modern era and Native Americans retain significant political power, and sets a hardboiled Jazz age mystery within it. Both the worldbuilding and the mystery are impeccably wrought.

Best Novella:

  • Walking Practice by Dolki Min, translated by Victoria Caudle – Delightful and deranged, this story follows an alien stranded on Earth, who requires human flesh to survive. With an enthusiasm that borders on manic, they describe their days as they set up hookups, arrange their malleable flesh into suitably attractive forms, and then eat their conquests, all the while worrying about their fate should they be found out. The result is both a queer parable and a thrilling science fiction story. (review)
  • A Theory of Haunting by Sarah Monette – Picking up from her linked story cycle The Bone Key, Monette follows archivist Kyle Murchison Booth on assignment to a renowned murder house, now the home of an occult society. The tropes of Victorian horror are well established, and Monette’s control of the historical voice is exquisite. It’s as much fun to untangle the storied and tragic history of the house as it is to watch Kyle extract himself from the latest expression of its horror.
  • Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden – A 70s-style conspiracy thriller starring an AI journalist is a hell of a concept, and Ogden’s execution doesn’t fail to pay it off. For an added twist, the hero of this story has already been killed by the people they are pursuing, and is now trying to reassemble their missing memory and work out why. Along the way, Ogden gets to create a world where varying degrees of artificial consciousness and personhood exist, but are still rendered un-persons by the law. 
  • The Midas Rain by Adam Roberts – Continuing with the theme of deteriorating labor rights and inequality in the future, this is a heist story in which a no-future prole tries to grab some of the wealth that is just within his reach by swiping an asteroid rich with rare metals out from under the company that has been directing it to Earth. A master of voice, Roberts delivers a pitch-perfect hardboiled, sardonic tone that makes us think we know how this story will play out, then delivers a thrilling last-minute twist.

Best Series:

  • Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie – The thing about Leckie is that she makes it all look easy. It’s been a decade since she kicked off a revolution in the space opera genre, and she keeps serving up perfectly formed adventures in that setting as if were nothing. Her latest, Translation State, is not only a delight in itself, but continues to build out the settings world, and expand on its strangeness.

Best Graphic Story:

  • Why Don’t You Love Me? by Paul B. Rainey – Truly one of the most amazing works of science fiction I read last year, in prose as well as graphic format, and part of the reason it’s so amazing is how cleverly it conceals the fact that it is a science fiction story. To begin with, Why Don’t You Love Me? feels like a familiar tale of suburban and marital ennui. But slowly hints creep in of inexplicable strangeness, and around its midpoint the story changes in an absolutely mind-blowing way, delivering a treatment of a core SFnal trope that is original, thoroughly worked-out, and heartbreaking. (review)

Best Related Work:

  • All These Worlds: Reviews & Essays by Niall Harrison – I’m biased here, of course. Niall is a good friend, and I was along for the ride as he shepherded this book, which collects criticism of science fiction novels and stories from the first decade of the 21st century, to publication. But I think even an unbiased perspective would have to conclude that All These Worlds is a major work of genre criticism, one that conveys the clarity of Niall’s vision and voice, and the breadth of his ideas about what the genre is and could be, and makes a powerful argument for him as one of the field’s premier critics. (review)
  • A Traveller in Timer: The Critical Practice of Maureen Kincaid Speller, edited by Nina Allan – This, too, is a book by a friend, and with the added weight that it is a memorial collection compiled after Maureen’s death in 2022. But here, as well, the wealth and breadth of material can leave no reader in question that Maureen was a major critic, covering everything from television and film to recent novels to deep dives into the work of Alan Garner and other writers of the English pastoral. Most importantly, this collection captures Maureen’s voice–erudite, opinionated, and so much fun to talk to. It’s a worthy tribute, and a great introduction to readers who haven’t yet encountered her.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:

  • Asteroid City – Wes Anderson has always had at least a toe in the fantastic, but his latest movie dives headlong into science fiction with a tale that features aliens, death rays, and atomic era scientific optimism. It’s also a sweet, quietly heartbreaking meditation about the costs of growing up and becoming the adult in the room, not-so-surreptitiously asking the question of what happens to the kid who grew up believing in space exploration and flying cars when they get older. (review)
  • Pantheon, Season 2 – I tend not to like nominating whole TV seasons in this category, and a second season is a real departure for me. But I simply had to stand up and recognize the achievement of this show, which takes the first season’s already world-changing premise–a digital afterlife in which downloaded personalities can control the internet and endanger all human life–and proceeds from it in utterly cosmic directions, including the transformation of the human race into a digital lifeform and an ending that takes us far into deep time. This is big idea science fiction executed with panache, and it deserves the Hugos’ recognition.
  • Poor Things – The reason Barbie isn’t on my ballot is that Poor Things tells basically the same story – an artificial being whose womanhood has been imposed on her goes out into the world to discover what that means – with a similarly stunning visual flair and some amazing performances. And it’s not even that I think Poor Things is that much better than Barbie (it is, but ultimately I like them both a great deal), as that I love the idea of an Alasdair Grey adaptation on the Hugo ballot, and especially at a Glasgow Worldcon.
  • Scavengers Reign – It’s kind of amazing that we got not one but two animated series for adults that touch on deep cut SFnal tropes in 2023. It’s even more amazing that they were both really good. Scavengers Reign follows the survivors of a spaceship crash as they traverse a planet whose natural environment seems almost sapient, and determined to make the humans part of itself. It calls back to work like Solaris and Roadside Picnic, with astonishing animation that brings the alien flora and fauna to dizzying, disorienting life.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse – What even needs to be said about this movie? That it matches the first Spider-Verse film’s astonishing visuals and then goes further? That it deepens and complicates the story of Miles Morales in a way that is both true to the character, and addresses some of the real-world criticisms that stories like his have encountered? That it handles the multiverse concept with a verve and deceptive effortlessness that puts all other attempts to shame? This first movie was great, this one is even greater, and I have no doubt it’ll end up on the Hugo ballot. (review)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

  • Harley Quinn“A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day Special” – No other holiday would better suit a show like Harley Quinn, which is very raunchy but also deeply romantic. The episode features the show’s signature gonzo plotting (sex magic gone wrong is, naturally, the root of the plot), bizarre imagery (the streets of Gotham are menaced by a giant, naked Brett Goldstein), and genuine care with its main characters, as Harley and Ivy navigate the twists and turns of their relationship. It might be the show’s most perfect episode.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks“Caves” – I’ve expressed some skepticism about Lower Decks, and its penchant for mistaking fanservice for storytelling, in the past, but “Caves” is an example of how to do that kind of story right. It’s a riff on the omnipresence of caves as a setting for Star Trek stories that is also a cleverly-constructed story in its own right, and whose references to past episodes of the franchise include some extremely deep cuts. To me, this is the essence of what makes the show great.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” – I suspect other people will nominate Strange New Worlds‘s crossover episodes with Lower Decks (which I liked, but which suffers from a lot of the aforementioned problems) or the musical (which I thought was bad, actually). But to me this episode is the season’s standout. It’s a great time travel story in itself, a clever riff on the classic episode “City on the Edge of Forever”, a great showcase for its main character La’an, and a continuation of the show’s extremely clever handling of a pre-TOS Jim Kirk.

And now, a couple of episodes that I am trying hard to convince myself actually belong on the Hugo ballot even though they’re technically not genre:

  • Blue Eye Samurai“The Tale of the Ronin and the Bride” – Look, this animated revenge drama set in Tokugawa-era Japan is not fantastical in any way. It’s just really great, and this episode, which reveals genderbending heroine Mizu’s tragic backstory, sees it operating at the highest level. But it’s also an episode that takes advantage of folklore, fantastic storytelling, and traditional theatrical forms to deliver its story and complicate the narrative we thought we had been watching. Which makes it, to me, at least fantasy-adjacent.
  • Poker Face“The Orpheus Syndrome” – Again, this installment in Rian Johnson’s delightful latter-day Columbo riff is fantasy-adjacent at best. It sees Natasha Lyonne’s Charlie (whose ability to discern whether people are lying is, come to think of it, at least a little fantastical) befriending a Ray Harryhausen expy, whose murder she must then solve. And it features some absolutely top-notch stop action animation that is fully rooted in the fantastic.

Best Fancast:

  • Going Rogue: Going Solo, presented by Tansy Gardam – The first season of this podcast, Going Rogue, examined the beleaguered production of Star Wars: Rogue One through the different stages of the production process, offering an insightful behind the scenes look at Hollywood’s current dysfunctions. The follow-up season offers a similar in-depth look at Star Wars: Solo, this time through the lens of the different personalities who put their stamp on the film, leading to its being a misbegotten mess. For fans who would like to know more about how the sausage gets made (and mishandled) this podcast is a must.
  • Octothorpe, presented by John Coxon, Liz Batty, and Alison Scott – Once again, I am nominating my friends’ work. But if you care about goings-on in the SFF community, about the business of running conventions, and about in-depth discussion of fandom clusterfucks, Octothorpe offers incisive and measured commentary. With a great rapport between the three hosts that doesn’t preclude healthy disagreement, this is your one-stop shop for fandom news.

Note: last year I nominated Michael Lutz and Cameron Kunzelman’s Just King Things, in which they read and discuss the works of Stephen King. This year they have also started the podcast Shelved by Genre, which discusses various genre works (in 2023, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun). These are both great podcasts, but my understanding of the Hugo rules is that neither one is eligible in this category because their hosts are paid by Patreon subscribers to their publisher, Ranged Touch. If anyone knows better, I’ll be glad to hear it.

Best Fan Writer:

  • Jake Casella Brookins – Jake has published several excellent articles in the last year, perhaps none so intriguing, and necessary, as “An Anti-Defense of Science Fiction”, which attempts to answer the question, when so many people are trying to create the torment nexus, what does that say about science fiction? 
  • Dan Hartland – For the better part of a decade, Dan’s work in fandom has been behind the scenes, as the tireless co-editor of the Strange Horizons reviews department. Last year he returned to the spotlight with a new column at AncillarySnap! Criticism, which discusses recent SFF works in conjunction with academic works of criticism. It’s a fascinating project that has already yielded some excellent discussions.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer:

  • Sunyi Dean – Carrying over this nomination from last year, Dean is the author of The Book Eaters, an engaging twist on the vampire story that is also a tale of one woman’s escape from a repressive patriarchal society. Second year of eligibility.
  • Em X. Liu – Liu’s debut, The Death I Gave Him, retells Hamlet as a tale of infighting in a technology company, and examines, among other things, the boundary between human and machine intelligence. First year of eligibility.
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