2019 Hugo Finalists: Best Novel

Hugo voting closed on Aug 1st, and we’ll find out the winners at the Hugo Award Ceremony on August 18th.  Let’s take a look at the contenders for Best Novel.

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal has already won the Nebula and the Locus Award for Best SF Novel and was also a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.  “Lady Astronaut of Mars,” a novelette in the same setting, won a Hugo in 2014.  Kowal has three additional Hugo nominations for short fiction with one more win.  In Best Related Work, she’s been a three-time finalist with one win as a co-host of the Writing Excuses podcast.  She was the winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2008.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers is the third novel in the Wayfarers series, which is also a finalist this year.  The first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Society’s Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer.  The second, A Closed and Common Orbit, was a finalist for the Hugo, British Science Fiction Association, and Clarke awards.  This one was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel as well.

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee is the third novel in the Machineries of Empire series.  The previous two novels were also Hugo finalists, and the series itself is a finalist this year as well.  The first book, Ninefox Gambit, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Nebula and Clarke awards.  The second, Raven Stratagem, was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best SF Novel.  This one was also a finalist for the Locus, BSFA, and Clarke awards.  Lee has had short fiction nominated for the Hugo, World Fantasy, Locus, and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial awards as well.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente was also a finalist for the Locus and the Campbell Memorial awards.  Valente has four previous Hugo nominations in the fiction categories, one nomination for Best Semiprozine as editor of Apex Magazine, and two wins in Best Fancast as a co-host of SF Squeecast.  She’s previously won five Locus Awards as well as the Andre Norton, James Tiptree, and Theodore Sturgeon awards.  Her other nominations include the Nebula, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy awards.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik has already won the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and the Mythopoeic Award.  It was also a finalist for the Nebula Award.  Novik has two previous Hugo nominations for Best Novel and one for Best Series.  She’s also received two additional Locus Awards, won the Nebula and British Fantasy awards, and been nominated for the World Fantasy Award.  She was the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2007.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse has already won the Locus Award for Best First Novel, was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and is also currently a finalist for the World Fantasy Award.  Last year her short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM,” won the Hugo and Nebula awards and was nominated for the World Fantasy, Locus, and Sturgeon awards.  She was also the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Four out of the six were my own nominees.  Spinning Silver improved on everything I loved about Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.  Revenant Gun brought Yoon Ha Lee’s trilogy to a very satisfying conclusion.  The Calculating Stars was the first novel-length work I had read by Mary Robinette Kowal.  I was impressed by the characterization and surprised by how well she made a 1950’s setting seem current and relevant.  Rebecca Roanhorse delivered on the promise of her Best New Writer Campbell win with the fascinating and original world building in Trail of Lightning.

The remaining two were both books I had wanted to read but simply hadn’t gotten to yet.  I liked Record of a Spaceborn Few slightly less than Becky Chamber’s first two Wayfarer books, but it was still very good.  Space Opera was entertaining, but Catherynne M. Valente’s dense writing style made it a slower read than expected.  I adore her short fiction, but at novel-length it became overwhelming.

Here’s how it shook out on my final ballot:

  1. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  2. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
  3. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
  4. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
  5. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  6. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Will Kowal complete the Triple Crown of science fiction awards?  Will the Big One go to one of the previous Best Novel finalists instead?  Or does the debut novelist take home her second rocket?  What do you think?

Hugo Award for Best Novel

In my previous post looking at the 2018 Hugo eligible novels, I mentioned that the only change I could see for this category was a slightly higher word count requirement.  However, looking over the minutes from the 2017 Business Meeting reminded me there was actually a proposal to split the category into Best Science Fiction Novel and Best Fantasy Novel.  It was referred to a committee which will be considering all the categories and making suggestions at this year’s Business Meeting during Worldcon 76.

I’m so not a fan of this.  First, I just don’t want the “Big One” becoming the “Big Two.”  Second, I’ve never liked rigidly defining stories as one or the other.  In fact, I often enjoy works that are best described as science fantasy.  Where would you put All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders?  It’s specifically both.  N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is marketed as fantasy, but it deals with geology and advanced technology.  Borne by Jeff VanderMeer is labelled science fiction, but it has a giant flying bear and a character called the Magician.  Finally, with the additions of Best Series and Best Young Adult Book, we’ve got more than enough novel length fiction to read already.  I really hope that other refinements and adjustments to the categories take priority.