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My 2020 Hugo Ballot

I have finished my Hugo reading for the year. My eyes are so blurry, but I am brimming with happiness. Here are my choices along with a brief word on each category: 

Best Novel 

  1. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir ( Publishing)
  2. The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
  3. Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
I read all 6 of the novels this year, and they were all spectacular. I would not argue against a vote for any of the others: the polar locked (both the planet and two characters) The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor;Titan), the Leguinian dispossessing A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK), or the lyrical The Ten Thousand Doors of January (Redhook; Orbit UK), by Alix E. Harrow.

One reason I chose Gideon the Ninth is because of its original voice. The protagonist is Gideon, the adopted cavalier of the Ninth House, who sees the world through a lens of sarcasm, tempered by humor, understandable in that she serves Harrowhark (who despises her), the Ninth House necromancer intent on reclaiming her house's greatness by becoming the Emperor's all-powerful lyctor (a kind of a necro-saint). It is also a locked door mystery where people keep getting bumped off (like Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians), secrets, betrayals... honestly, so much going on my head was spinning. It is a brilliant debut novel by Kiwi author Muir and also the first of a promising series.

The Light Brigade and Middlegame both treat one of my favorite science fiction topics, how time can be parsed and edited, recursively even, in very different ways. The protagonists or settings could not be more different: Hurley's Private/Corporal Dietz comes from a dystopic São Paulo in a world where corporations literally own you and McGuire's two protagonists Roger & Dodger who grow up in a world like America in the 80s with a group of sinister alchemists pulling strings behind the curtain. They both do an impressive job in dealing with narratives where truth is not revealed linearly. Hurley's book is beyond grim, but McGuire's villains are evil people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

Best Novella 
  1. “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
  2. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire ( Publishing)
  3. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga Press/Gallery)
The novella category was a lot easier for me. Ted Chiang's story deals with a future where there are devices people can use to communicate with others (even themselves) in parallel worlds. There is an entire Silicon-Valley like industry and even a recovery program for people who get too hooked. I loved the premise as well as the moral play Chiang tells against the backdrop. It is also such a well-executed story, drawing you in, and leaving you thinking for days, which is what good science fiction should do.

McGuire's engaging story is a fairy tale where a lonely girl discovers a movable portal to an enchanting goblin market with wonder, adventure, and friends, along with barbed hooks and exorbitant costs. This author's ability to create young believable characters always impresses me. We both fear and understand her choices.

Guess what happened to all those pregnant women seized by slavers and dumped into the Atlantic on their journey to America. Well, in Solomon's world, they became a type of merfolk, a society consumed by history and consuming of its historians. Also, the merfolk are not very happy when they are forced to remember their origins, so there will be a reckoning. I have something of a fetish for these reworkings of old fantasy and horror archetypes (The Vampire Chronicles, IT, etc), so this was an easy choice, but it is also, without a doubt, a great story for 2020 and the first summer of #BlackLivesMatter. My only negative is that the story seemed a bit truncated, but something that leaves you wanting more is never bad.

Best Novelette 

  1. “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
  2. “For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (, 10 July 2019)
  3. Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))
"Blur" is a brilliant tale of self-discovery for an author with a Watson-like assistant. It speaks to me on many levels, especially about reaching that state of creativity when the world disappears and there are only words. It also packs a hook out of nowhere that will leave you staggering. Siobhan Carroll's "Creep" is fun with the Devil that teaches the true power of the kitty cat. Jemisin's "Skin" is about another kind of devil, where the superior Randites must come home for a recharge to a world they left behind, because of all its problems. It turns out the problems left with the *superior* beings.

Best Short Story 

  1. “Blood Is Another Word for Hunger”, by Rivers Solomon (, 24 July 2019)
  2. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing”, by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons, 9 September 2019)
  3. “Do Not Look Back, My Lion”, by Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019)
Hugo award preference does not necessarily mean how the story appeals to me. Case in point: I did not choose my favorite nominated short story "A Catalog of Storms," an adroit execution of a pretty difficult concept for storytelling. Instead I chose a dark Rivers Solomon story about death, rebirth, and revenge, because it spoke to me about race relations, and I read it when the media was covering the violent suppression of the marches. "Laughing" is a great portrayal of the human cost of Churchill's war against the people of the Indian subcontinent. "Lion" is about escaping a bellicose society that uses its people for its war machine, a beautiful story through and through, and (again) perfectly captures today's mood for me.

Best Series 

  1. The Wormwood Trilogy, by Tade Thompson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  2. The Expanse, by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  3. Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden (Del Rey; Del Rey UK)

This is the first group where I have not read all of the entries. I do not know the Luna series by Ian McDonald, nor Planetfall by Emma Newman, and I have only read a couple of the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire (they were excellent stories.) I have no problem with my choices though. 

The Wormwood Trilogy (Rosewater, Rosewater Insurrection, & Rosewater Redemption) tells about a unique alien invasion where their presence attracts humans like moths to a flame for healing, along with a presence in a psychic field called the xenosphere. Much of Earth's defense takes place there, but Thompson is subversive, and at a certain point in the story, I swear I hated humans so much I would have switched sides. He also plays with the dynamics of tension and release like he is conducting a symphony. It is simply great writing in every way, and the story switches protagonists from Kaaro to Aminat, giving the story a very different feel. These are incredible heroes, ones with flaws, making it easy to identify with them. Anyway, Wormwood is brilliant. 

I am only part-way through The Expanse (it will be 9 books and I am on Cibola Burn) and have only watched the first season, which means I am lucky to have so much to look forward to. :-) The worldbuilding is sensational. I love the characters too, even the ones I despise. It is space opera but feels proximate, because much is rooted in familiar: the corruption, the conflicts, and the backstabbing. Anyway, I love it.

I chose Winternight (The Bear and the Nightingale (2017), The Girl in the Tower (2017), and The Winter of the Witch (2019)) for several reasons. I love the borderline air of fantasy/reality Arden creates, a Faerie setting reminiscent of Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver and Uprooted. Winternight is also about the church's repression of women, which also struck a chord. Mostly, though, I just love her writing, how she transports you into a cold world infused with wonder.

Best Related Work

  1. Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, produced and directed by Arwen Curry
  2. The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square)
  3. Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood, by J. Michael Straczynski (Harper Voyager US)

Arwen Curry's film includes interviews of Le Guin showing her humanity and has some great clips from previous conventions. Curry does a spectacular job integrating her energetic presence together with her history, so we understand how she crafted the worlds we so love. This is the best related work by far. I also loved reading O'Meara's story of making monsters in Hollywood (a place where there are already plenty of monsters for a woman trying to make monsters). J. Michael Straczynski's story is a great immigrant story that sounds like a response to evil in many forms, especially from some in power. I also liked Gwyneth Jones's book biography about Joanna Russ, but I can only vote for three. Farah Mendlesohn's Heinlein book was great too, but stories about Heinlein's efforts to include POC by removing descriptions of them and picking suggestive last names (all to get past Southern US book censors) is no longer perceived as valiant. I read this at a time when police were busting people's heads in the street, so... Also, I recognize Celeste Ng's napkin-scrawled speech actually had tremendous impact (ha!), but I cannot in good faith rate it above my other choices. 

Best Graphic Story or Comic

  1. LaGuardia, written by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford, colours by James Devlin (Berger Books; Dark Horse)
  2. Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker, by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)
  3. The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: “Okay”, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, colours by Matt Wilson, letters by Clayton Cowles (Image)

LaGuardia is another story that hits both immigration (ok, alien immigration) and racism notes. It is a story with uncommon heroism and Okorafor does a great job with characters and pacing. The art is exceptional and helps set the atmosphere. I love the weird D&D-themed Die, which reeks of IT, in that the horrors of teenage years haunts the characters when they are older (and both well-equipped in some ways and definitely deficient in other ways to deal with the danger.) I also chose the final volume of The Wicked + The Divine to celebrate this incredible series. Of course all the other entries were strong too. I loved Paper Girls so much, but you can only vote for three. Grrrrrrr...

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

  1. Avengers: Endgame, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Marvel Studios)
  2. Captain Marvel, screenplay by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios/Animal Logic (Australia))
  3. Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele (Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures)

During the Pandemic, thanks to my son's Disney Plus subscription, we have been watching all the Marvel films. Of course I already saw them a few times because I am a Marvel addict. Endgame is peak stuff, but Captain Marvel's story is also incredible, telling about the Kree-Skrull war (from the early 70s comics), and revealing a nuanced truth about how dangerous it is to be so certain. My last choice, Us, is a great horror film, and I also want to give a shout out to Universal Studios's Halloween Horror Nights for the maze. I'll never look at rabbits the same way again.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

  1. Watchmen: “A God Walks into Abar”, written by Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, directed by Nicole Kassell (HBO)
  2. The Mandalorian: “Redemption”, written by Jon Favreau, directed by Taika Waititi (Disney+)
  3. Watchmen: “This Extraordinary Being”, written by Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson, directed by Stephen Williams (HBO)

Two of my favorite Watchmen episodes (which will no doubt split the vote) and the only Mandalorian episode nominated. Easy choice for me.

Best Editor, Short Form

  1. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
  2. Jonathan Strahan
  3. Sheila Williams

This is so hard. I went with the editors of Uncanny (one of my favorites), Strahan (who lives and breathes short stories), and Sheila Williams from Asimov. All great choices, but to be honest, I cannot choose between them.

Best Editor, Long Form

  1. Sheila E. Gilbert
  2. Navah Wolfe
  3. Brit Hvide

Sheila E. Gilbert is editor and co-owner of DAW, which publishes so many great books, including the InCryptid series of Seanan McGuire I mentioned before. Navah Wolfe is from Simon & Schuster's science fiction imprint Saga (remember The Light Brigade?), and Brit Hvide is from Orbit (The Ten Thousand Doors of January).

Best Professional Artist

  1. Tommy Arnold
  2. Galen Dara
  3. John Picacio
Tommy Arnold's Gideon cover.

Galen Dara (cover of best of sff)

John Picacio's cover of a Wild Cards story.

Best Semiprozine

  1. Uncanny Magazine, editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, nonfiction/managing editor Michi Trota, managing editor Chimedum Ohaegbu, podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky
  2. Beneath Ceaseless Skies, editor Scott H. Andrews
  3. FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, executive editor Troy L. Wiggins, editors Eboni Dunbar, Brent Lambert, L.D. Lewis, Danny Lore, Brandon O’Brien and Kaleb Russell

I subscribe to Uncanny & BCS. I read two FIYAHs as well. These have great stories. 

Best Fanzine

  1. The Book Smugglers, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James
  2. Galactic Journey, founder Gideon Marcus, editor Janice Marcus, senior writers Rosemary Benton, Lorelei Marcus and Victoria Silverwolf
  3. nerds of a feather, flock together, editors Adri Joy, Joe Sherry, Vance Kotrla, and The G

I know these less. I did go to the sites and tried to judge what I liked best, but my vote here is somewhat uninformed.

Best Fancast

  1. Be The Serpent, presented by Alexandra Rowland, Freya Marske and Jennifer Mace
  2. The Coode Street Podcast, presented by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  3. Claire Rousseau’s YouTube channel, produced & presented by Claire Rousseau

All the Fancasts nominated are great, but I liked the content in 2019 of Serpent. Coode Street was also great, and this year Strahan is doing short interviews during the pandemic. Rousseau's YouTube channel is both informative and entertaining. 

Best Fan Writer

  1. Adam Whitehead
  2. James Davis Nicoll
  3. Cora Buhlert

I was delighted to find Whitehead & Nicoll nominated. I have found myself on their blogs in the past. The information is great. Mostly there are book reviews but there are wide ranging pieces too. Great stuff. I chose Buhlert after reading one of her stories. I did not know the other nominees.

Best Fan Artist

  1. Iain Clark
  2. Ariela Housman
  3. Grace P. Fong

Iain Clark's stuff is amazing!

I loved this image with the calligraphy in the center by Ariela Housman:

I loved this Fong image too: 

Astounding Award for Best New Writer, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo)

  1. Emily Tesh (1st year of eligibility)
  2. Tasha Suri (2nd year of eligibility)
  3. R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)
Of these Kuang is likely the most famous (because of the excellent, but tragic Poppy Wars), but I also loved the first book in Tesh's series (Silver in the Wood), and Suri's Empire of Sand is awesome. Tesh's sequel, Drowned Country, is out in August.


Well that's it. I wish I had more time to delve into these deeper, but I have to write a Shakespeare paper about Merchant of Venice and cutting and opening. Careful with that knife, Shylock.


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