2020 Hugos: Best Novelette

Today I’m looking back at the Best Novelette finalists for the 2020 Hugos.  Two of my five nominations made the ballot, and I had two more I needed to read after the finalists were announced.

“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim was also nominated for the Nebula and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial awards.  Yoachim was previously a Hugo finalist for Best Short Story.

This was on my longlist.  The protagonist leads a team on an investigation into the deaths of a group of colonists which included her own life partner.  They do so with a technology which allows them to physically enter a record of the past events.  I found the story very touching with an intriguing concept.

“Away With the Wolves” is Sarah Gailey’s third Hugo nomination for her short fiction.  They previously won a Hugo for Best Fan Writer, and they were a finalist for Best Related Work as well.  Gailey was also a past finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly known as the John W. Campbell Award).

This was one of my own nominees.  The main character is a werewolf who deals with chronic pain while in human form.  But in her wolf form, she’s causing problems that the other villagers are getting tired of dealing with.  What I really loved here was the beautiful depiction of friendship between the protagonist and her best friend, between the friend and the protagonist in wolf form, and finally between two wolves.

“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker was also nominated for the Nebula, the Locus, and the World Fantasy awards.  Pinsker has three previous Hugo nominations for her short fiction.

When this showed up on the Nebula list, I was surprised I had forgotten about it because Pinsker’s stories are often favorites.  I had to skim back over this one to remember how it went.  A mystery writer stumbles onto a murder mystery while in a remote location trying to avoid distractions from finishing her next book.  The atmosphere is impressively creepy, but I found the resolution unsatisfying because it was so unexpected.

Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin was also a finalist for the Locus Award.  This is Jemisin’s seventh Hugo nomination including her historical three consecutive wins for Best Novel.

This was one of the two I still needed to read after the finalists came out.  I borrowed it through Kindle Unlimited which gives you access to both the ebook and audio narration by Jason Isaacs.  Written in second person, you are on a mission to retrieve a resource from Earth guided by an AI implanted in your brain.  The AI is astonished to see that Earth is recovered from the ruin that was left behind and is especially disgusted by the people of diverse races, genders, and abilities.  The second person point of view was enhanced by listening to the audio version, but I was more than ready to get that obnoxious AI out of my head long before it was over.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll was also nominated for the Nebula, the Locus, and the World Fantasy awards.  This is Carroll’s first Hugo nomination.

This was the other one of my own nominees that made the ballot.  A cat living in asylum is determined to protect a poet from the Devil and his demons.  The characterization of our main cat character is an absolute delight.  I love the story even more after finding out it’s inspired by the real life of the poet Christopher Smart.

“Omphalos” by Ted Chiang is one of eleven total Hugo nominations including three wins that Chiang has received for his short fiction.  It has already won the Locus Award and is a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.  He is a previous winner of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer and is on the ballot this year in the Best Novella category as well.

This was the other novelette finalist that I had yet to read when the finalists were announced.  In a world where there is significant empirical evidence for divine creation only a few thousand years ago, an expert in these studies comes into knowledge of an astronomical discovery which shakes her faith in God.  I liked this one more than Chiang’s nominated novella, but I wasn’t really wowed.

The first two spots went to my own nominees.  I loved both of them, but the wolves edged out the cats.  I enjoyed the concepts in the next two.  But the first of them didn’t quite make my ballot, and the second wouldn’t have either if I had read it in time.  Surprisingly two of my favorite authors wind up in the last two places with stories that just didn’t work for me this time.  Here’s how I ranked them:

  1. “Away With the Wolves”, by Sarah Gailey (Uncanny Magazine: Disabled People Destroy Fantasy Special Issue, September/October 2019)
  2. “For He Can Creep”, by Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com, 10 July 2019)
  3. “The Archronology of Love”, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed, April 2019)
  4. “Omphalos”, by Ted Chiang (Exhalation (Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf; Picador))
  5. “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye”, by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, July-August 2019)
  6. Emergency Skin, by N.K. Jemisin (Forward Collection (Amazon))

Will the first time finalist creep in on little cat feet and win this one over names more familiar to Hugo voters?


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