2020 Hugos: Best Novel

Now that Hugo voting has closed, I’m going to take a look back at the finalists for Best Novel and share my thoughts.  Four out of my five nominations made the ballot, and I only had one left to read after the finalists were announced.  My one nominee which didn’t make the ballot was The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie.  It was a Best Fantasy Novel finalist for the Locus Awards, and I imagine we’ll see it on the Hugo longlist.

The City in the Middle of the Night is Charlie Jane Anders’ second nomination for Best Novel.  It has already won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and is on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.  Anders also appears on the ballot this year as a co-host of the Hugo Award winning fancast Our Opinions Are Correct, and she previously won the Hugo for Best Novelette as well.

I went into this with high hopes that it would be one of my nominees after how much I enjoyed Ander’s previous Best Novel finalist, All the Birds in the Sky.  The world-building is fascinating and ambitious, but I found the characters frustrating.  I wish we had gotten to titular city sooner and focused more on the efforts to bridge the chasm between its inhabitants and the human society.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir has already won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and the William L. Crawford Award, presented by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts for a first book of fantasy fiction.  Muir’s debut novel was also a finalist for the Nebula.

This was the one finalist here that I didn’t bother to read before nominations closed.  I was a little leery of the massive hype, and the promise of skeletons and necromancy didn’t intrigue me.  Of course, it had no trouble making the ballot without me, and I’m happy it did.  It was a hell of a lot of fun, and I look forward to the sequel although I was a little disappointed in the ending.

The Light Brigade is Kameron Hurley’s first Hugo nomination for fiction writing, but she has previously been honored for her non-fiction.  She has won Hugos for both Best Related Work and Best Fan Writer, and she was a finalist for Best Related Work again.  This book was also a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and is on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

One of my own nominees, Hurley levels up with a classic yet fresh take on military science fiction combined with an intricate time travel narrative.  There is a wonderful camaraderie between characters which never loses sight of the fact that they are at different points in their relationships due to the tangled timelines.  A puzzle box of a story that unlocks a satisfying conclusion.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine has already won the Compton Cook Award, presented by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society for the best first novel in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres.  It was also a finalist for the Nebula and the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and it is on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Another of my own nominees, this is, as others have said, in the vein of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee: a space empire as seen from an expert outsider and someone who’s struggling with integrating individual and collective selves.  This stands alone, but I am really looking forward to the next book.

Middlegame is Seanan McGuire’s fifth Best Novel nomination out of twenty total Hugo nominations between her own name and her Mira Grant pseudonym.  This book has already won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.  She is also on the ballot this year for Best Novella and Best Series.  She has three previous Hugo wins: one for Best Novella and two for Best Fancast.  She has definitely lived up to the promise of winning the Campbell Award for Best New Writer (now renamed the Astounding Award).

This one was also on my nomination ballot.  Like Hurley, McGuire is taking her writing to the next level and playing with timelines but in a fantasy setting.  Anecdotally, I’ve seen a few people who are big fans of her ongoing urban fantasy series not as enthusiastic about this one.  On the other hand, those, like me, who know her mostly from the Wayward Children novellas, generally seemed to enjoy it more.  Written to stand alone, I was excited to hear recently that there will be a sequel.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow was also a finalist for the Nebula and the Locus Award for Best First Novel.  It made the shortlists of the Compton Cook, the William L. Crawford, and the Kitschies Golden Tentacle awards for debut novels as well.  She previously won the Hugo for Best Short Story and has been nominated in that category again this year.

This was one of my highly anticipated books after loving Harrow’s Hugo-winning short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape.”  For whatever reason, I almost didn’t get to it in time but immediately had to add this one to my nominating ballot.  It is a beautifully written combination of so many things I adore: portal fantasy, a book within the book, a wonderful dog companion, great characterization and relationships.

We have three experienced novelists taking their writing to new heights and three debut novelists whose work is already award worthy.  My first spot easily goes to my favorite read from 2019.  My other nominees were tough to decide amongst for the next three slots.  It came down to my preference for fantasy over science fiction and seeing a little more polish in experienced versus debut novelist.  The fifth spot went to the one I liked but not as much as my own nominees.  For sixth place, the interesting world-building pulled me through in the face of some frustrating characters.  Here’s how that shook out:

  1. The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
  2. Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
  3. The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK)
  4. A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)
  5. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
  6. The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)

Tell me who you would like to see win or who you expect will win.

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