Hugos · Year in Review

Way Too Early 2022 Hugo Nomination Draft

This will be my second year nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards, and while I have a ton of reading to get to in the couple of months before nominations are due, I thought it was a good time to go ahead and share the works on my radar for potential nomination. This can double as a solicitation for recommendations. If there’s something that you thing is worthy of a nomination that I really need to get to in the next couple months, go ahead and share! I can’t promise I’ll get to it, because the TBR is, as always, much longer than the amount of available reading time. But I am trying to prioritize award-eligible reading–as much as I can between readalongs and Bingo and SPSFC judging–in the upcoming weeks, and I’ll do what I can. But first, let’s look at what I already have, works that I think are award-worthy and justify my high recommendation.

Best Novel

Locks for My Nomination

The Fall of Babel by Josiah Bancroft

The Fall of Babel wasn’t a perfect book, but it has easily been my favorite 2021-published novel to date, and it was enough to put The Books of Babel on my all-time favorites list. There’s some structural weirdness that comes from having 1.5 books of story to cram into one book, but the prose is timeless and beautiful, the setting is weird and wonderful, and the characters, plot, and themes have gotten better and better as the series progressed. I don’t foresee anything topping this for my Best Series nomination, but while there’s still room for other individual novels to surpass it, I feel pretty confident in saying that it won’t be passed by enough other works to knock it off a five-long nominating ballot.

Still Under Consideration

Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson

Far From the Light of Heaven has the setup of a locked room murder mystery, but it grows into something much more, with compelling prose, interesting characters, a thrilling fight for survival, and a scope expansion that touches on injustice and leaves room for things getting messy. This one hasn’t necessarily stuck in my head as much as some other books–even books I may have rated lower–but it’s still an excellent read that checks so many boxes as I look toward annual favorites.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The Echo Wife didn’t quite stick the landing, but it was a stunning character study of an unsympathetic lead–dressed in sci-fi/domestic thriller clothing–complete with fantastic reflections on personhood and abuse. There’s a lot that’s absolutely exemplary here, and even having the complaint I do about the ending isn’t enough to prevent me from giving it a serious look for award nomination.

Best Novella

Locks for My Nomination

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Elder Race has immediately become my all-time favorite novella, and the combination of stylistic experimentation–shifting subgenres every other chapter, with matching shifts in prose style–exploration of heavy topics, and excellent characterization and storytelling in such a short space is going to make it tough to beat.

Still Under Consideration

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City delivers a handful of heavy and beautiful stories in a frame that really brings them together. Not every story is exceptional, but the whole is still very much worth reading, and Lu is an author to be excited about–and an author I’ll almost certainly be nominating for the Astounding Award.

One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky (ADDED 3/12/22)

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s One Day All This Will Be Yours delivers a dark comedy with a whole lot of social commentary behind its time travel premise. Not every joke lands perfectly, but it’s a really fun read, and it makes some pretty incisive points underneath all the fun.

Best Novelette

Locks for My Nomination

The Incident at Veniaminov” by Mathilda Zeller.

An intense and enthralling tale of mermaids, family, and colonialism. It gets dark, but it’s never bleak or hopeless. I can’t imagine reading five more novelettes in the next few weeks that I’d put ahead of this one.

Still Under Consideration

A Compilation of Accounts Concerning the Distal Brook Flood” by Thomas Ha

An experimental novelette consisting in deposition transcripts from a trial following a disaster that destroyed a mining community on another planet. It’s clear enough for those who like straightforward stories, and it still hits the emotional notes hard, but I also think the found document format adds something.

That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell

More intense than I expect from Wiswell, but cathartic as always, with horror tropes in the setup of a story that’s really about recovering from trauma and abuse. Very strong work, probably my favorite of the several 2021 works I’ve read of his.

(emet)” by Lauren Ring

A story about golems and the surveillance state and complicity, engaging throughout and increasingly powerful as it progresses. The link goes to a temporary copy available for free only during award nomination season, so if this intrigues you, don’t wait to give it a read!

The Language Birds Speak” by Rebecca Campbell

This story about a family with unusual linguistic development doesn’t necessarily go anywhere I didn’t expect, but it’s well-told, with a sense of foreboding building to an intense ending. My hit rate for novelettes this year has been extremely high, so I wouldn’t get surprised to see this squeezed out of my actual ballot, but it’s certainly good enough to go on my first draft list.

The Burning Girl” by Carrie Vaughn (ADDED 1/16/22)

In some ways, “The Burning Girl” calls to mind The Poppy War, but taken in a noblebright direction. A small, tight-knit group with strange and devastating powers is caught in a war between a side that hates them and a side that tolerates them. It’s very well-done, and it’s hopeful without being naive in the slightest.

Questions Asked in the Belly of the World” by A.T. Greenblatt (ADDED 1/16/22)

An even darker story that still has that sliver of hope, with a creative and oppressive world and two leads pushing against all they’d been taught. There are a couple places where it’s hard to keep track of flashbacks compared to present day storyline, but I think this is an issue with the web formatting and not the story itself, which is excellent.

Ina’s Spark” by Mary Robinette Kowal (ADDED 2/5/22)

A deadly competition that a wizard must enter to escape a lifetime ban on performing magic, told in a fairly straightforward narrative–starting as the competition opens, ending when it closes–but with the excellent storytelling and outstanding handling of traumatized leads that I’ve come to expect from Kowal.

The Last Civilian” by R.P. Sand (ADDED 3/12/22)

Another “everything is clearly not what it seems” dystopia told largely in second-person, “The Last Civilian” tells a gripping tale of a soldier beginning to doubt his role as a cog in the war machine, and from there doubting the machine itself. There’s a lot of darkness in the setup, but the novelette is written with a constant eye toward hope.

Best Short Story

Locks for My Nomination

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker

Pinsker won the Hugo for Best Novelette last year, and it’s going to take a lot to unseat her experimental “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” from my top spot this year. She expertly weaves a creepy, atmospheric tale entirely using comments from a fictional lyrics interpretation website, under the entry for the titular (and also fictional) ballad “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather.” It’s outstanding, and I’ll be very disappointed if it doesn’t make the finals.

Still Under Consideration

Man vs Bomb” by M. Shaw

A fascinating and unsettling story about a future where deer rule the world and humans are forced to compete in survival games. I do have a weakness for survival game stories, but this one is particularly good.

Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow

Harrow knows how to tell a beautiful and touching story, and this piece about a reaper who just can’t bring himself to usher one of his charges into the afterlife is no exception. I’ve heard a lot of other people excited about this story, and with a popular author with a Hugo win to her name already, I’ll be a little surprised if this isn’t one of the finalists.

For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell

More Wiswell, more leading with horror tropes and twisting them in a wholesome direction, this time in a story about chronic pain. I’ve read a lot of Wiswell’s short stories in 2021, but this one stands out from the crowd.

Homecoming is Just Another Word for Sublimation of Self” by Isabel J. Kim

This poignant reflection on emigration hits hard emotionally, offers no easy answers, and does an absolutely incredible job worldbuilding in such a small space. I have a lot of excellent short stories to sort through this year, but it’s going to be hard to leave this one off my ballot.

Amber Dark and Sickly Sweet” by Lulu Kadhim

If “dark but beautiful” is your cup of tea, do not miss Kadhim’s gorgeous piece about women forced to sell their bodies not only for sex, but as literal containers for honeycombs on bee farms. It’s heavy, but extremely well told. Last year’s Hugo finalists were much lighter than what I expect from award contenders, and if this year returns to form, “Amber Dark and Sickly Sweet” would fit in perfectly.

My Sister is a Scorpion” by Isabel Cañas.

This is another story that’s beautiful but heart-wrenching, a short form (bordering on flash fiction) reflection on loss with a flavor of magical realism. If there were a category for flash fiction, I’m not sure this story (at about 1500 words) would qualify, but I do feel like the pieces under 2500 words or so tend to get lost in the shuffle, and I’d like to see a spotlight on them. At any rate, “My Sister is a Scorpion” is well-worthy of my initial draft post, whether or not it ends up on my nominating ballot.

A Better Way of Saying” by Sarah Pinsker

I doubt “A Better Way of Saying” makes the final ballot, because it’s not Pinsker’s best story of the year, and I don’t know how much energy there is for loading up nominating ballots with the same author, but it’s such a well-executed slice-of-life period piece that just absolutely nails the narrative voice. It may not be an all-timer like “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather,” but neither should it be forgotten.

Paper Suns” by Kemi Ashing-Giwa (ADDED 2/5/22)

A fight for survival in a storm on an ice planet becomes a fight for something much more. The insistence on icy prefixes for what should be everyday items (e.g. “snowskiff” and “sleetmoss”) is a bit of a pet peeve, but that aside, it’s a really well-told story that had me on the edge of my seat and really hammered home its message at the end.

The Revolution Will Not Be Served with Fries” by Meg Elison (ADDED 2/5/22)

A corporate dystopia with machines put in charge of everyday decisions is nothing new in science fiction, but Elison makes it feel so real that I forget how well-trod some of these tropes can be. And then she adds her own twist that turns them on their heads. Excellent work.

Undercurrency” by Sam Beckbessinger (ADDED 2/18/22)

Explicitly written as a parable about sustainable investing, but with a deeply compelling human story at the center, it never feels preachy. Add in an ending that resists the impetus toward simple solutions and invites the audience to sit with some uncertainty, and you have an excellent short story in “Undercurrency.”

Masquerade Season” by ‘Pemi Aguda (ADDED 2/18/22)

The magic never gets explained, and there’s a time where that would’ve bothered me. But the writing is gorgeous, the narrative is engrossing, and “Masquerade Season” addresses a whole lot in such a short space.

Shelter” by Mbozi Haimbe (ADDED 2/24/22)

“Shelter” is a small-scale disaster story–it’s not the world at risk (at least not today), it’s a mother and her son–but the tension starts high and does not let up for an instant. It’s probably one of the more straightforward stories on my list, but don’t underestimate the rarity of a piece that manages to be so gripping from start-to-finish.

Best Series

Locks for My Nomination

The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft

I already talked about this a bit in the Best Novel section, but The Books of Babel may be my favorite non-Broken Earth series of the last decade. The world is weird and wondrous, and the fish-out-of-water Everyman lead grows immensely throughout the series, as the cast simultaneously grows from a single-POV to a true ensemble. The prose is timeless and beautiful, the adventure is fun, and it all pulls together in the finale. The Books of Babel are a masterpiece, and while I’m not sure they have the popular recognition to garner a spot on the Finalist list, there is no doubt they’re getting a nomination from me. I still have The Green Bone Saga and The Dandelion Dynasty–two series that I expect to get some momentum here–on my TBR, but it’s hard to imagine I find something that supplants The Books of Babel atop my 2021 list. And I’m 100% certain that I won’t do so between now and March.

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Novel

Still Under Consideration

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

I’ve only read five 2021-published YA or MG novels, and none of them really blew me away, but The Last Graduate was a lot of fun and took a step forward from the Lodestar-nominated first book of the series. Given the series’ popularity, I’d be a little surprised if this didn’t make the finals, but while it’s the best of the five I read this year and is good enough for the draft post, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that there’s better that I haven’t gotten to yet.

A Chorus Rises by Bethany C Morrow (ADDED 2/23/22)

A Chorus Rises is a sequel to 2020’s A Song Below Water–which tells a story of magic that closely mirrors injustices in real-world society and which was the first book below the 2021 Lodestar Award cutoff. It makes a fascinating perspective switch to an antagonist from the first book, before carrying out a generally excellent character study of a morally complex lead. It’s the best 2021-published young adult fantasy that I’ve read so far, and given less than three weeks before the nomination deadline, it’s hard to imagine it misses my ballot.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer

Locks for My Nomination

Micaiah Johnson

Micaiah Johnson finished second-place in the voting for last year’s Astounding Award, garnering the most first-place votes in the process–including my own. I don’t believe she’s published in 2021, but The Space Between Worlds was an excellent debut and remains immensely worthy of recognition, even without any buttress from other work. In Johnson’s last of two years of eligibility for this award, I couldn’t justify leaving her off my ballot.

Tracy Deonn

Tracy Deonn had my vote for last year’s Lodestar Award for the outstanding Legendborn, and like Johnson, is in the final year of her eligibility. She did not make the Astounding Award finals last year, but she did make the long list, and I hope that her Lodestar nomination got enough eyes on her work to carry her to an Astounding Award nomination this year.

Still Under Consideration

S. Qiouyi Lu

As evidenced by its place on my Best Novella list, In the Watchful City showed extraordinary promise, with some excellent storytelling and absolutely gorgeous prose. This is Lu’s first year of eligibility, and I suppose I could find another three final-year authors I’d prefer to nominate, but it seems unlikely. Lu’s debut establishes ær as an author to watch moving forward, and I’d be surprised if æ doesn’t end up on my nominating ballot.

This can be a bit of a tricky category to research, because sometimes it’s hard to tell whether an author is in their first two years of professional publication. But an afternoon of Googling indicates that several of my long list for Best Novelette or Best Short Story–Mathilda Zeller, Thomas Ha, Lauren Ring, and Isabel J. Kim–remain eligible for nomination. The latter three have multiple publications in the last year or two, so I’d like to read more than one before I put them on my ballot, but it’s safe to say that they’re on my radar at this point.










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