The 2019 Hugo Awards were handed out on Sunday night in Dublin, Ireland, at the 77th World Science Fiction Convention. I was there, and now that I am home and have had a chance to review the detailed voting and nomination statistics, I have some thoughts.
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
This was the first award, and was given to a rather strange mood in the room; Ada Palmer’s serious speech about the role of fantasy in challenging systems of government was constantly interrupted by audience chuckles induced by the automatic speech-to-text captioning, which provided such gems as “Bored of the Rings and Cream of Thrown”. Jeannette Ng was announced as the winner (beating Rivers Solomon by 43 votes) and began her speech by proclaiming that “John W. Campbell was a fucking fascist.” Her full speech can be read here, and if you click one link in this post it should be that one.
Since then there have been a lot of discussions in various places (see, e.g., this File 770 post) about whether the Campbell should be renamed. A few factors to consider:
- The World Science Fiction Society doesn’t own the Campbell. While we administer it, it’s owned by Dell Magazines, publishers of Analog (the magazine that Campbell used to edit). Dell Magazines controls the name of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
- It is mechanically possible for WSFS to stop administering the Campbell and start administering their own award. This could be done either as either a new Not-a-Hugo or a Hugo for Best New Writer. My personal preference would be for the former as I don’t really like the idea of a Hugo with rolling two-year eligibility and I think there are some two-Hugo-for-the-same-work concerns. On the other hand the latter would avoid having to figure out a new award name. Also Analog could take the Campbell somewhere else and keep awarding it.
- The other thing that I haven’t seen discussed is that we’re still actively honoring John W. Campbell. He won the 1944 Retro Hugo for Best Short Form Editor administered by this very convention. Now that’s a very silly award, and I’ll admit I didn’t bother to vote in it; only 425 people did. But this was the most overwhelming win of any category, with 56.8% of first preferences. If we are serious about no longer honoring Campbell, we shouldn’t overlook the Retro Hugos.
Best Related Work
Archive of Our Own beat Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing by 174 votes. Last year 55.3% of Hugo voters voted in this category; this year that increased to 64.4%, easily the largest increase in any category. (And if I’m doing the math right there were 261 voters who just voted for AO3 in this category.)
I’m still not entirely sure I agree that AO3 was eligible here but I’m happy for its win as the existence of AO3 really is important for the fannish community and deserves recognition. (And it’s not like the more serious scholarly books I vote for do well anyway: Astounding came in sixth!) I was particularly moved by the donation of the Hugo trophy to the traveling exhibition, thereby quite literally giving the Hugo back to the fans that make AO3 possible.
Naomi Novik’s acceptance speech can be read here.
Best Art Book
A trial category for this year. I’m extremely “eh” on how the trial turned out, and I say this as somebody who is generally supportive of things that make Related Work a bit less of a grab bag. It got a rather low number of nominations (42 ballots and 13 nominees fewer than the next lowest categories) and two of the top eight were ruled ineligible. On the other hand, it got a very respectable number of final votes (1392, or 44.9% of ballots). The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition won by 282 votes over Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie.
It bears noting that this win both overlapped with the Professional Artist (Charles Vess) winner and appears to have been at least in part a “We Like Earthsea” vote. (Note that Earthsea was the first runner-up in Series nominations, as discussed below.) There were 128 fewer votes for second place in this category. However I’m not sure that it’s possible to have categories that contain professional art without overlapping a Professional Artist category; consider, for instance, Sana Takeda’s and Monstress‘s wins last year. And obviously an art book can contain art that would not be eligible for a given year’s Professional Artist award due to, say, being a retrospective.
Lady Business beat Journey Planet by 132 votes. Their acceptance speech can be read here.
The Big Thing that people are talking about in this category is that Fanzine only got votes on 26.9% of Hugo ballots, leaving it dangerously close to an automatic No Award. (At least 25% of all of the valid final Hugo ballots must have a non-No Award first place vote in a category for it to be awarded.) Frustratingly, this category isn’t obviously broken from a definitional perspective. There might need to be a bit more voter education in terms of what’s eligible (as in, a lot of online stuff—I think Acrophilia might be technically eligible even though I will laugh at anybody who nominates me) but Pro/Fan Artist this is not.
Even more interestingly, there’s a huge drop-off from last year. Here’s a look at the fan categories over the last decade:
If you ignore the 2015-16 Puppy spike Fanzine has been chugging along fairly steadily until this year when it drops from 38.0% to 26.9%. In actual voter numbers, that’s 1075 voters last year to 833 this year. (Note that we picked up 269 additional Hugo voters this year.) The biggest change in the ballot this year is File 770 (permanently) declining nomination; File 770 was second in nominations anyway, with 52, and as best I can tell 252 people voted for File 770 last year on the final ballot and then left the rest of the category blank.
Again, I’m not really sure what the solution is here other than getting the word out about good fanzines that you should be reading. (Although my probably-unpopular opinion is that community sites such as AO3 or r/fantasy are a better fit here than in Related Work.) Aidan Moher suggested merging Fanzine and Fancast but I tend to agree with Claire Rousseau‘s and Renay‘s dissents that the two are actually quite different and should be considered separately.
Our Opinions Are Correct was the only winner to break 50% in less than six rounds of voting, beating The Skiffy and Fanty Show by 220 votes.
I don’t vote in this category because I can’t focus on audio-only for any period of time without getting distracted. However I was pleased to note the appearance of BookTube on the longlist, represented by Kalanadi and Books and Pieces. Remember, folks, YouTube channels are eligible in this category!
Best Fan Writer
Foz Meadows beat Bogi Takács by 81 votes. Her acceptance speech can be read here.
Fan Writer is a good example of a category that used to be kind of stale and has more recently done a very good job of honoring a bunch of different, worthy people.
Best Fan Artist
Likhain (Mia Serrano) beat Grace P. Fong by 90 votes. Her acceptance speech can be read here.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse beat Black Panther by 247 votes. Notably the top three places on the final ballot all went to Marvel Comics-related movies, which suggests that we’re not going to see an end to the superhero domination of this category any time soon. (I had Spider-Verse second on my ballot, voting first for Sorry to Bother You which placed sixth. They’re really, really different things and honestly kind of hard to compare.)
Of interest to the potential Games Hugo category, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch made the longlist with 53 nominations.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
The Good Place: “Janet(s)” beat The Expanse: “Abaddon’s Gate” by 144 votes, the second year in a row for a Good Place win in this category.
Dirty Computer placed sixth, which is a bit disappointing but honestly unsurprising. The last few years have seen one kind of off-beat (i.e. “not a television episode”) finalist that is kind of exciting but ultimately does poorly in the voting. The rest of the longlist is also TV episodes.
The Good Place sent a video acceptance and I’d just like to say that it was really exciting to actually have real acceptances from both Dramatic Presentation winners this year instead of the typical “the convention accepts this on behalf of Hollywood people who don’t know we exist”.
Best Professional Editor, Short Form
Gardner Dozois beat Neil Clarke by 98 votes. This was the first time that a finalist placed on the ballot by E Pluribus Hugo effects won the Hugo; under the old nomination system, he would have been displaced by Jonathan Strahan.
That being said, Didi Chanoch had a good Twitter thread about how this is really more of a lifetime achievement award for an editor who (very deservedly) had already been well-recognized by the Hugos.
Thought experiment: if we changed this category into Best Anthology and Best Magazine, would The Book of Magic have won for Anthology? (The Locus results actually suggest yes, although the Locus and Hugo electorates aren’t the same.)
Written Fiction Categories
Not particularly close, with The Calculating Stars beating Spinning Silver by 302 votes. It was pretty cool to see the award for a Lady Astronaut novel being presented by an actual lady astronaut. Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech can be read here.
I was pleased to see Blackfish City and Foundryside, which I nominated, on the longlist. There’s a pretty wide gap in terms of nomination count between the finalist novels and everything else.
This was actually slightly closer than the last couple years, although still not very: Artificial Condition beat The Tea Master and the Detective by 323 votes. The other two Murderbot novellas also received enough nominations to qualify for the final ballot, but Martha Wells graciously declined nomination for them. (The limit on how many works by the same author can appear in a category is two.)
I’m glad The Freeze-Frame Revolution and “Umbernight” both made the longlist although I’d have liked to see them a bit higher. One of the two main flaws that tends to afflict Hugo ballots is voters’ tendencies to read in their comfort zone and nominate accordingly; much of the longlist is series work.
“Umbernight” was also the only entry on the longlist that was published as part of a periodical, not as a separate book.
One of the closest results on the ballot and the closest in this category since 2010: “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again” beat “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by 9 votes.
The other big issue that we’ve seen on recent Hugo ballots is the tendency to avoid nominating stories from the print magazines. This year’s longlist isn’t entirely fiction that’s available for free online; “An Agent of Utopia” is there and that’s from an anthology. But that’s it; everything else on that list is free online. Now, novelette was a strong category this year so it’s not obviously weakening the category but I can’t help but wonder what great stories we might be missing.
Best Short Story
This is one I thought would be closer, with “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” beating “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by 342 votes. Alix E. Harrow’s acceptance speech can be read here.
The longlist follows the pattern I noted above of being predominantly from the free online magazines. “Mother Tongues” (which I nominated!) is the notable exception, being originally published in Asimov’s but then subsequently reprinted in Clarkesworld prior to the nomination deadline.
Wayfarers beat The Laundry Files by 218 votes. I voted for Machineries of Empire, which is a completed trilogy (with some short-fiction add-ons) and likely won’t be eligible here again. However I will note that Wayfarers, as a “shared-setting” series, doesn’t really have any of the incompleteness problems I’ve complained about before. (On the other hand, to me that makes it a better fit in Best Novel than in Series, whereas the likes of Machineries of Empire is the reverse; you can jump into Record of a Spaceborn Few without having read anything else while you’d likely be totally lost if you just read Revenant Gun in isolation.)
The longlist shows that we’re still dealing with some eligibility issues in this category. The first non-finalist was Earthsea, which was very technically eligible due to a newly published short story; while Earthsea is of course great, to me it’s very hard to argue that we should be honoring it with an award for 2019 fiction. This award should be for current series, not classic series we all love that have technical hooks. The second non-finalist was The Murderbot Diaries, which was not eligible due to insufficient word count.
I was a bit disappointed in this year’s Series shortlist because I had read most of it already. Fortunately there are some series down in the longlist that I’m not particularly familiar with that I might have to check out.
Becky Chambers’s acceptance speech can be read here.
Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
Children of Blood and Bone beat Dread Nation by 64 votes.
The main issue with this award is participation; only 34.3% of Hugo voters voted for the Lodestar, which is more in line with a fan category than a written fiction category. Otherwise it seems to be working well.
Best Graphic Story
Monstress, Volume 3 beat Black Panther: Long Live the King by 8 votes, the closest result on the ballot. My taste in comics is irreparably lowbrow so I tend not to vote in this category but I’m still a bit annoyed how much of it is dominated by the latest volume in series that have a regular finalist spot. This is the third year in a row that Monstress won.
Uncanny Magazine beat Strange Horizons by 122 votes. This is Uncanny‘s fourth win in a row, although this year’s win includes the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction special issue edited by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien, who have not won Hugos before.
Best Professional Editor, Long Form
Navah Wolfe (Saga Press) beat Sheila E. Gilbert, last year’s winner, by 86 votes.
Best Professional Artist
Charles Vess beat Galen Dara by 50 votes. See above comments on the Art Book category.
This post has been updated on 23 August to include a link to Becky Chambers’s acceptance speech.