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My favorites from last year's Hugo Award shortlist

Started: 2024-01-27 17:43:11

Submitted: 2024-01-28 19:18:38

Visibility: World-readable

Finding interesting works I would have otherwise missed on the Hugo Award shortlist

Many pixels have been spilled over the last week talking about the debacle that was the Chengdu Worldcon nominating stats for the Hugo Award. I don't really have anything else to add that hasn't been said elsewhere, except maybe to footnote that I now have a Bluesky account because it seems like most of the interesting conversations in fandom are moving over there.

I've followed the Hugo Award closely for more than a decade, and in the last decade I picked up supporting memberships to each year's Worldcon so I could participate in the nominating and voting. One thing I appreciate about the award is that I get an excuse to read out of my normal filter bubble. This past year I read all of the nominees in the fiction categories from novel to short story, so I can claim to have a somewhat-informed opinion about these categories. Not everything on the final short-list matches with my taste, but every year I find interesting things I would have missed otherwise, and last year's Hugo Award (presented in 2023, for works published in 2022) was no exception.

Sun rising at Seabright Beach after the solstice
Sun rising at Seabright Beach after the solstice

On the novel category, my favorite was Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher. When I read fantasy I like the stakes high and the fantasy low, and this book had both. The world felt lived-in and always surprising, the quest narrative that dominates the book taking us to weird corners of the world.

Also in the novel category, I took the opportunity provided by reading The Daughter of Doctor Moreau Silvia Moreno-Garcia to launch me into other books written by the same author. I enjoyed her 2023 novel Silver Nitrate about occult Nazi movie magic that goes badly (it's on my short list to nominate for this year's award) and Mexican Gothic, and right now I'm reading her Mexican vampire novel Certain Dark Things. All of her novels focus on a specific time and place in Mexican history and fills it with a specific speculative fiction style.

In the novella category, the prolific Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series is a perennial nominee, and I've found that some of the entries work better for me than others. Last year's entry, Where the Drowned Girls Go, was my favorite in the series. Here the entire story took place in the real world, and was focused less on deconstructing and rebuilding portal fantasy tropes and more interested in highlighting on all the things adults do to children (and convince children to do to themselves) to try to make them conform. It's a clear analogy for gay conversion therapy, and the magical version is just as harmful as the real-world version.

In the novelette category, my favorite was "Murder By Pixel: Crime and Responsibility in the Digital Darkness" by S.L. Huang. It's written like a glossy magazine article, blending fact and fiction (with footnotes referencing real-world events in real news articles) to talk about online harassment and AI, this story seems even more timely now than when it was published in 2022.

My favorite short story was "Rabbit Test" by Samantha Mills, which clearly struck a chord with the rest of the Hugo Award voters because it won the short story category. This was a story about reproductive healthcare inspired by the fall of Roe, a decision which continues to reverberate.

I also read (and nominated) Babel by RF Kuang, an amazing novel about language and magic and imperialism and revolution. I was deeply disappointed to see that it had been excluded from the final ballot with a cryptic "not eligible", which we assume must have been state or state-inspired censorship. (We've shelved our copy of Babel on our shelf dedicated to Hugo Award nominees and winners, which now also includes works improperly censored from the award.) I also took the opportunity to read her 2023 novel Yellowface, an interesting novel about race and cultural appropriation and literary fiction, though I don't think I can claim that it has any speculative fiction elements to fit into the Hugo Awards.