By now, if you care about these things you’ve probably heard about The Stone Sky‘s Hugo win for Best Novel, and the unprecedented threepeat for N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The series is well-deserving of its accolades and if you haven’t read it you should really get around to it sooner rather than later. (With the caveat that the series deals with multigenerational slavery and oppression—all of the content warnings you’d think apply, do.) Also, if you haven’t watched Jemisin’s acceptance speech (I got to watch it live!), now probably isn’t a bad time to fix that.
This is where I confess that I didn’t put The Stone Sky first on my ballot this year.
And the reason I didn’t do so is simple: One of the factors I consider for “Best Novel” is whether a work stands by itself. Being in a series is and of itself not a flaw, but I felt that there were other novels on the ballot that were better if you hadn’t read anything else.
But this isn’t a one-novel issue. Of the five other novels on this year’s ballot:
- New York 2140 and Six Wakes are completely standalone.
- Provenance is in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy but is disconnected from the above. It stands alone fine.
- Raven Stratagem is the second book in a trilogy. I personally think it would work well enough even if you haven’t read Ninefox Gambit, but YMMV. (And read Ninefox Gambit.)
- The Collapsing Empire is the first book in a series of at least two books.
I downranked The Collapsing Empire on my ballot for being almost entirely setup and deferring most of the resolution to the next book. Given that it placed second in the voting, I’m going to guess that most voters don’t share my complaints about incomplete works. (But I will still make them.)
Last year was similar:
- All the Birds in the Sky is completely standalone.
- A Closed and Common Orbit is a sequel, but you don’t need to have read A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet first. (Although it spoils what happens to one of the latter’s characters.)
- Ninefox Gambit is the first in a trilogy.
- Death’s End is the third in a trilogy.
- The Obelisk Gate is, of course, the second in a trilogy.
- Too Like the Lightning is the first in a four-book series, but more importantly, it’s almost inseparable from Seven Surrenders.
I think the Terra Ignota universe is definitely worthy of being Hugo-nominated, but I would have much rather seen Too Like the Lightning / Seven Surrenders been nominated as one work under Subsection 3.2.4 of the WSFS Constitution. However, with a couple notable exceptions (Blackout / All Clear, The Wheel of Time), most books are nominated as novels and not as “works appearing in a number of parts”, and I can’t blame people for doing the thing that makes intuitive sense. Heck, I could go back to the 1980s and argue that Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun should have been nominated similarly (setting aside that this may only have been possible since 1998, depending on interpretation).
Of course, starting last year we have a Best Series Award! But so far that has mostly posed its own problems. N. K. Jemisin declined a nomination for The Broken Earth on the grounds that it wasn’t really fair to have multiple shots at an award for the same work, and while I would have happily voted for it, I do think she’s got a fair point that we shouldn’t just be using Best Series to award works we’ve already awarded. Indeed, the first two winners of Best Series have been Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and World of the Five Gods. Both of these awards felt to some extent more about recognizing the past than the present; Vorkosigan won Hugos in 1990 (“The Mountains of Mourning”), 1991 (The Vor Game), 1992 (Barrayar), and 1995 (Mirror Dance), while Five Gods won a Hugo in 2004 (Paladin of Souls). Obviously the more recent eligibility hooks exist (hey, I voted for Vorkosigan too) but I’m hoping that going forward we recognize series that haven’t been already recognized.
This year’s Series longlist also suggests that the rule about not nominating series that were just nominated (specifically, you need at least two new installments and 240,000 new words) isn’t clearly understood yet, given that all four Series finalists from last year that saw a new installment in 2017 made the longlist despite not being eligible. As far as I can tell, none of these finalists, except for October Daye, will be eligible next year either. I think the re-eligibility requirements are strict enough that it will prevent series coming back in alternating years, which would be bad for the award even if it would make voting in the category a lot easier. But I worry that we’ll have to dig pretty deep down the longlist to find six eligible series next year. (On the other hand, last year’s longlist only has one series that made the ballot this year. So we’ll see.)
I didn’t do so great in my desire for complete series, either, given that InCryptid placed second. I did find it interesting that it did significantly better than Seanan McGuire’s other big series, October Daye, which placed sixth last year, even though I feel (and I don’t think it’s just me) that the latter is generally stronger work. I don’t know whether to ascribe this to stronger competition last year, a different voting base, or just me having opinions that are out-of-step with everybody else again.
The Best Series award will face re-ratification at the 2021 Worldcon. As you can probably tell, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this award. I have concerns about its functionality but I’m also glad it led me to the likes of Martha Wells’s Books of the Raksura that deserve recognition and that I may not have ever encountered otherwise . I am really interested in seeing how it plays out over the next couple years.
Some other quick notes:
- E Pluribus Hugo impacted this year’s Novel ballot by replacing The Stars Are Legion and Autonomous (which got more raw nominations) with New York 2140 and The Collapsing Empire. I liked Autonomous better than the latter two (I haven’t read The Stars Are Legion yet), but I’m not going to object: besides defending against slates, one of the benefits of E Pluribus Hugo is that it ensures that more strains of fandom (at least, WSFS/Worldcon fandom) are represented and both novels have their strong supporters. (And as noted, Collapsing Empire ultimately placed second.) As I noted in a File 770 comment, one thing I found interesting is that if Raven Stratagem had received 2.58 more EPH points (and the status quo held elsewhere, which is admittedly unlikely), The Stars Are Legion would have been nominated over New York 2140.
- The Hugo and Nebula winners this year converged in Novel, Novella, and Short Story. Meanwhile, the respective Novelette winners weren’t even on the other’s shortlist. I believe the last time the awards recognized the same winner in three of the four categories was 2012 (Among Others, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, “The Paper Menagerie”).
- In light of Uncanny‘s well-deserved wins, I’ve seen some discussion about how the Editor – Short Form and Semiprozine categories allow two shots at Hugos for the same work. I’ve mentioned Series above, but I haven’t seen much talk about how this is also a potential issue in the Graphic Story and Professional Artist categories, where Monstress won the former and Sana Takada, artist of the same, won the latter. I don’t think this is anything worth addressing right now (Professional Artist is not frequently understood as a proxy award in the same way that the Editor awards are) but bears monitoring going forward.
- This year’s WSFS Business Meeting didn’t make any major changes to the Hugos. The YA Award is finally named the Lodestar.
- Judging by the longlist, the alt-right attack on the Hugos is finally over, other than their little Saturday protest. Way to protest people donating blood, dumbasses.
- File 770 took home a well-deserved award for Best Fanzine. File 770 and its commentariat played a nontrivial role in my decision to attend Worldcon this year and it was a great pleasure to meet everybody that was at the Thursday and Friday meetups. Even if Thursday’s musical experience was an unexpected horror.
- As may be obvious from the above comment, I had a great time at Worldcon this year. Over the course of the convention I went from “eh there is probably no way I will be able to afford to go to another one until 2021” to “… I really want to make Dublin happen.” I don’t know if I will, but I’m already starting to glance at flight prices….
If you’re interested in nominating and voting for the 2019 Hugo Awards, you can purchase a supporting membership in the 2019 Worldcon for €40 (~47 USD).