On April 4, 2017, Worldcon 75 announced the finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (and they did it in video form, in one of the most fun ballot unveilings in recent memory).
In case you aren't familiar with them, the Hugo Awards are among the most prestigious in the science fiction and fantasy realm—nominees and finalists are decided upon by the thousands of members of the World Science Fiction Convention, comprising authors, creators, and fans. It’s an award by the people, for the people. The past two years’ final ballots have been tinged with (ok, overrun by) controversy; block-voting tactics, organized by members of a conservative movement (the sad puppies) and their more extreme, virulently bigoted counterparts (the rabid puppies). Not to worry—neither of the puppy party nominees actually won awards, as Worldcon voting members opted to vote No Award instead of bequeathing awards to canine candidates.
With that recent historical context in mind, this is why the 2017 Hugo Awards are so important: the ballot is almost blissfully free of puppy-like shenanigans!
This year’s nominees include some truly fantastic (and diverse!) novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories—amongst the crop of nominated writers, artists, films/shows, and publications (and I’m not just saying that because The Book Smugglers was nominated for Best Semiprozine). To help you get all your ducks in a row by August 11, here's a breakdown of the novel ballot.
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers. Becky Chambers’ first novel, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was originally self-published but then scooped up by an eagle-eyed editor at UK SFF publisher, Hodder & Stoughton in 2015. From there, the book became discovered and beloved by basically everyone who read it. Like its predecessor, standalone sequel A Closed and Common Orbit is an optimistic view of an extraordinary future, but featuring real people as characters. In this novel, the old ship’s AI has been downloaded into a single, limited human body, and an engineer who also happens to be an escaped clone—together, the two characters will navigate a universe that is both smaller and larger than they ever could have comprehended. The best thing about this series, and about Becky Chambers’ writing, is that it is hopeful for the future—while people are capable of terrible things, A Closed and Common Orbit reflects on the profundity of connection and an inherent optimism that is awesome to behold. In Hugo Award context: this book sends a statement against the fear and isolationism that seems to tinge so much of our world today.
Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. If A Closed and Common Orbit is the case for Optimism, historian Ada Palmer’s debut, Too Like the Lightning is one for the Corruption of the Ruling Class. In a future year 2454, the concepts of country, religion, and belief are radically overhauled in the form of various ideologically differentiated Hives, to which people ally themselves. Those who run the Hives, the political elite, are (of course) corrupt in the extreme, with their own agendas and strategems. And at the heart of it all is Mycroft Canner—a former mass-murderer and torturer, who now serves at the behest of the elites, and who is our narrator and protagonist…Complex, dense, and linguistically charged, Too Like the Lightning is a world-building junkie’s dream. In Hugo Award context: this is classic, sprawling fantastical speculative fiction at its very best, drawing heavily on analysis of historical context, concepts of gender, economic principles, and sociology.
The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin. If you haven’t read Nora Jemisin’s work, stop reading this right now and grab a copy of The Fifth Season, or The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, or my personal favorite, The Killing Moon. Jemisin is the fantasy author you have been craving your entire life—replete with wholly flawed and powerful characters, stunning plot-lines, and world-building that varies wildly from series to series, Jemisin is a multiple award-winning and nominated author for good reason. The Obelisk Gate is the second book in the Broken Earth series and the follow-up to 2015’s Hugo Award-winning best novel The Fifth Season—a book that follows alternating narrators on a supercontinent, called the Stillness. This novel builds upon the spoiler-filled revelations of the first book—the season of ending grows ever darker, and Alabaster Tenring and Essun are drawn together to seal the fate of their broken world… perhaps. In Hugo Award context: the award-winning series continues with a more intimate but equally powerful novel about relationships, the nature of power, and the end of the world; it wouldn’t surprise us for Jemisin to win again for this phenomenal work.
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders. We’ve been fans of Charlie Jane’s for years (and Annalee Newitz), especially for her painstaking work in creating io9 and making it a prominent destination for lovers of SFF and science. It comes as no surprise, then, that her debut adult novel is nuanced, academic, and full of both science and magic. All the Birds in the Sky examines the devastating and perhaps irreversible effects of climate change, bad policy decisions, famine, disease, and the looming apocalypse—all through the lens of two misfit protagonists, wielding both magic and science as tools. It’s a damned fine novel, and an important one for today’s day and age. In Hugo Award Context: All the Birds in the Sky is a novel that boldly faces a bleak existential human future with verve, wit, and hope—and a healthy dose of geekery.
Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. I saved my favorite two books for last—including this stunner from Yoon Ha Lee, about a far future society governed with absolute control by the hexarchate (six groups of people divided by speciality and function), dictated by a calendrical system that defines reality. There is a war between the hexarchate’s hegemony and the radicals who abhor the system and employ calendrical rot, which alters and redefines reality with the end goal of ripping away the control the hexarchate imposes upon its citizens. Enter a woman who fights wars (with math!), a ghost who she willingly is possessed by (for lack of a better word), and secrets upon secrets, lies upon lies. Ninefox Gambit is one of the most ambitious science fiction novels I’ve ever read and one of my favorite books of 2016. In Hugo Award Context: THIS is the natural inheritor to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice series. I daresay… it might even be better, in this reviewer’s mind. You want to challenge conventions but still provide a character-driven science fiction space opera at heart? Ninefox Gambit is the book to win it.
Death’s End, by Cixin Liu. With Ninefox Gambit a very close runner-up, Death’s End was my favorite book of 2016. This is the third and final novel in the Three-Body Problem trilogy (translated from the original Chinese by Ken Liu), in which the Trisolaran fleet is nearing Earth and the future of humanity lies in the balance. Though a detente exists between Trisolaris and Humanity, thanks to the threat of mutually assured destruction following The Dark Forest (book 2), Death’s End takes several completely unpredictable turns—yielding the best conclusion to what has become one of my favorite science fiction series’ ever. In Hugo Award Context: the winner of the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel is back and better than ever in this sprawling, eon-spanning epic saga of the end of all things. This is science fiction at its absolute finest—and if you haven’t read the series yet, I urge every single one of you to go forth and start with The Three-Body Problemright now.
The Hugo Awards will be presented (and almost certainly livestreamed) on Friday, August 11th, in Helsinki at Worldcon75. For more information about the Hugo Awards and the voting process, check out the official Hugo Awards website and Worldcon 75.