2021 Hugo Award Finalist Follow-up
Posted on April 14, 2021 Posted by John Scalzi 34 Comments
Having now had a day to look at the Hugo Awards Finalist list and to think about it, I’m now ready to share some thoughts. With me for this examination of this year’s edition of science fiction’s premier award is my always reliable Fictional Interlocutor, to feed me leading questions that always make me look witty and wise.
I’m not comfortable with that description of my job.
I don’t care. Say hello to the people!
(sighs) Hello, people!
That’s better. You have questions for me?
Yes, they’re on these cue cards. First, congratulations on your Best Series Finalist placing.
That’s not really a question, though. More of a comment.
I see what you did there.
Here’s an actual question, though: How do you feel about being a finalist this year?
I feel pretty good about it. I’m really proud of the Interdependency series. It’s the first book series of mine that I wrote knowing it was going to be a series before I wrote it, and for which I developed a story intentionally meant to play out over several books. In that regard, getting a Best Series nod feels like huge confirmation of my storytelling skills at the series level. It’s the right Hugo nod for these books, and I’m pleased they’re being considered.
And how do you feel about the competition in the category?
I think it’s pretty awesome, actually. I’m up against friends and their terrific books, and I think the voters are going to positively agonize over how to rank the contenders. As they should! Hugo contenders should be tough to rank. It’s a huge compliment to have the Interdependency considered among these series. I’ve said for years that if you look at a category you’re a finalist in and don’t see anyone you’d be really pissed to lose to, you’ve already won; it means you’re with your peers, and with work that stands with your own. So I feel like I’m winning already.
Nice cover for if you don’t actually win, that.
Oh, hush. To be clear, I would still like to actually win, and I think the Interdependency series is good enough to win, and in fact may win. But if it doesn’t, then that’s all right too. Because that means something else awesome and deserving won instead, and how can you be angry at that.
Lots of people might be angry at that.
I mean, fair. I admit that I come to award contests having won my share of awards and already having a decent amount of success, so I have the luxury of being sanguine. I like to win! I want to win! But not winning will not crush me. And this year I know I will be very happy for whoever does win my category, even if it’s not me. Again, that counts as a win.
What do you think of the rest of the Hugo fiction categories this year?
I think it’s a fairly standard year for them, don’t you?
How do you mean?
Well, for example, take the Best Novel category: It features six novels and authors. Four of those novels (The City We Became, Harrow the Ninth, Network Effect, Pirinesi) are New York Times best sellers. Three of the authors (Jemisin, Kowal, Clarke) have won Best Novel before. Two more of them (Roanhorse, Wells) have won Hugos in other categories, and the remaining author (Muir) was nominated for Best Novel before. That’s a fairly standard distribution for the category.
Likewise the short fiction categories feature a mix of category bestsellers, previous award nominees and winners, and a smattering of new people showing up on the finalist list for the first time. The series category is much the same: Previous winners, bestsellers and some relatively new blood as well. Likewise for the Lodestar YA category. All very standard! Fortunately the quality of the work in each category is very high, so even if the distribution of finalists is something we’ve seen before, and frequently, there’s still quite a lot for voters to argue about before they make their final rankings.
You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you.
There’s a notable dearth of cishet white dudes in the fiction categories!
Is there? Huh. I guess there is. How about that.
Any thoughts about that?
Not really? The work is very good, and particularly in the novel-related categories, as an example, it represents the current commercial and critical sweet spot of the genre. To reiterate: Four of the six Best Novel finalists hit the NYT Bestseller list this year! You know how many did that in 2006, the first year I was nominated for Best Novel? One (it was from George RR Martin)! In fact it’s entirely possible this year represents the greatest proportion of NYT bestsellers in the Best Novel category ever. Add in the Best Series finalists, and you’ll find three of them (Wells, McGuire, me) have New York Times best sellers in them and sometimes more than one. And of course all these books and authors have starred trade reviews and positive press and reader reviews coming out the proverbial wazoo.
So, do you want the Hugos to be representing the best, commercially and critically, that the genre has to offer? If you do, well, guess what? This is that year! Take a bow, Hugo Award nominators, you nailed the shit out of your remit in 2021.
Now, this doesn’t mean that other people than the ones who hit the finalist list this year did not produce award-caliber work; obviously they did. You could swap out all the authors and works in the fiction categories with others and still have a top-caliber Hugo Award year. But looking at what we do have on the lists? It’s all good, and it all deserves to be there. It’s a very good year for fiction, Hugo-wise.
Yeah, okay, but you know some dudes out there are going to say you’re just on this year’s Hugo ballot because you’re the woke matriarchy’s craven pet.
Those dudes can go fuck themselves with a slotted spoon.
So they can feel something for once in their sad and pathetic lives.
So for the record: You are saying you are not the pet of the woke matriarchy.
I’m not, but it sounds like a terrific gig. I’ll be happy to apply and I’m ready to learn!
Aside from the written fiction categories, other thoughts on this year’s finalists?
They’re also to me the usual mix of people and works — some established, some new — and there’s the usual clutch of finalist works that will give Hugo observers things to chew on and fight over during this year’s unusually long finalist season. I don’t have too much to say about those at the moment; I don’t know that it was obvious from the outside but I spent a lot of 2020 hunkered down with my own concerns and sat out a lot of things because I didn’t have the time or focus for them. Weirdly, the science fiction world went on without me.
You made mention of this year having an unusually long finalist period. Want to explain that?
Worldcons are usually held either in mid-late August or early September, but this year, thanks to various reasons, it’s going to be held mid-December, in Washington DC. So instead of a four-to-five month period where one is a finalist, this year it’ll be an eight month period. Which is a long time! I’m very curious to see if (and if, then how) this affects how people end up voting for the Hugos this year, and also what if any effect it will have on next year’s ballots. Could be good! Could be bad! Could be both! Or neither! We’ll find out!
That said, I’m kind of digging on the idea of a holiday-adjacent Worldcon. It will be different from all other Worldcons because of it, that’s for sure.
Okay, I’ve got other places to be, so wrap it up.
What do you mean you have other places to be?
I have a life outside of being your Fictional Interlocutor, you know.
No you don’t!
Look, just wrap it up anyway, all right?
Fine. First, if folks are interested in voting for the Hugos this year, they can get memberships at DisCon III, which is this year’s Worldcon. Memberships start at $50, which is good for an associate membership (which allows one to vote for the Hugos), and if you’d like to attend the event, they’re offering a special rate for first-time Worldcon attendees. Which is cool.
Second, congratulations again to all the Hugo finalists this year. I’m happy to be among you. Let’s enjoy this weird and exciting Hugo year.
Yeah, I’m done.
Good. You’re long winded, you know.
That’s a comment, not a question.
Reminder: You don’t need to tell me if you’re voting for someone else in my category. It’s fine if you do! Just feel free not to tell me about it here, thanks.
The Fan Writer category in particular is going to be especially difficult for me this year – all the nominees did really excellent work in 2020 and it’s going to be incredibly hard to rank them.
As it should be!
John, I can’t tell you the number of times that my head was spinning with disgust or rage or despair, and coming to read your take on what was upsetting me stabilized my brain and allowed me to think about it, think past it, and get on with things on a relatively even keel.
I also love your self-interview posts like this. The line “Yes, they’re on these cue cards.” made me laugh out loud.
Thanks for the update. Congratulations on the nomination! Looks like there’s more stuff of yours I should check out.
Also congratulations on the new guitars, and good luck with the music room! Looking forward to those posts and unboxing videos and whatnot.
The long lead time this year should at least reduce the excuses that voters didn’t have time to read all the nominated work.
By and large, I’m delighted with the ballot! I don’t typically see final ballots where much of what I nominated makes the cut. This year, I actually did better than the typical three-five nominees.
I’m not even remotely certain how I’ll vote, particularly in Series, all of which I’ve followed. I love them all.
One or two nominees in Related Work are head scratchers and one reminds me (sadly) that we live in a graceless age. Otherwise, I love the ballot!
It’s gonna be haaaaaaaard to select a winner among this year’s finalists.
Which,I think, is the only fan whining that’s acceptable.
I loved the list, as I do most years, as it gives me great things to read. In the best novel category it turns out I have already read one of the novels and have read books by five of the six nominees. They all strike me as incredibly worthy.
Now to order some books and get reading!
That was so much fun to read. I don’t really care if you win, although the Interdependency Series is excellent. Now I’m going to add all the other nominees, whose series I haven’t read, to my list.
Congratulations on your nomination!
With regard to the dearth of cishet white dudes:
It occurs to me that in general I don’t know whether an author is white or not, dude or not, cishet or not. I don’t usually think about the author when I am reading the book. After I have read it, and if I liked it, I will look to see if that author has written other books. I may or may not do further research about the author.
Ever since I found out that Andre Norton wasn’t male (as I had thought when quite young ) I realized that the author’s gender, race, preferences didn’t matter to me or affect my enjoyment of the book.
Now having said that, in recent years I HAVE come to care whether the author is racist, sexist, misogynist or some other sort of “ist” that I object to. If I know that about an author I choose to not support that person by reading their books.
If nothing else, no one will be able to complain about not having time to read all the nominees!
This is an agonizing set to choose among. Interdependency, Lady Astronaut, and Murderbot all did something unusual in providing me not only compelling stories but nifty new concepts and points of view in sci-fi. A good year of nominees indeed.
I have purchased the contributing membership for a couple of the conventions now. I believe I have only cast a first place vote for the winner in one fiction category, my 2nd and 3rd place votes may have contributed to some of the wins. So far, my reaction has always been that I can see why people thought the work that won was the best, even if it wasn’t my first choice. I honestly have been overwhelmed by the fan categories – I have sampled them a bit and came away impressed, but didn’t feel I had read enough of them to form a valid opinion to cast a vote – perhaps with a longer time I will. However, it is also likely If I follow the sites, I will end up reading the post nomination output, and it will be hard not to be influenced by that.
This year’s Hugo list will have an influence on at least one future Hugo list. Because there will be fan art (based on this particular blog squib, which is entirely appropriate given one finalist for this year’s Related Work):
“So for the record: You are saying you are not the pet of the woke matriarchy.
“I’m not, but it sounds like a terrific gig. I’ll be happy to apply and I’m ready to learn!”
I must be doing something right, because I’ve read a bunch of the nominees in all the longer-form categories this year. This may be the year I get off my butt, get a membership, and vote. And yes, it will be haaaarrrrdddd.
Scalzi, I hope you have plans for a short story or something featuring your Fictional Interlocutor. I want them to star in something besides your interviews.
A look at the video game category and something is amiss. Good but not great. Well anyway we all know what’s really happened and this strange attempt to keep pounding on sand produced nothing.
Being ON a holiday weekend was the norm for Worldcon for many years, at least for those of us in the US. Admittedly the holiday was Labor Day, which isn’t quite as big a deal as Christmas and isn’t celebrated on the same date everywhere in the world. ALL of the Worldcons in North America from 1949 until 1997 were held on that weekend. BucConeer (Baltimore in 1998) broke from that pattern, but after that Worldcons in North America returned to Labor Day weekend until Denvention 3 (Denver in 2008).
Even farther back, four of the first six were held on Independence Day weekend. Since 2008, the majority have been held well away from the Labor Day weekend, with the two Chicago conventions (2012 and the upcoming 2022) and San Antonio (2013) being exceptions.
Worldcons outside North America have had more variable dates. Some have been on Labor Day weekend, some on the weekend before or after, and some in July or August.
What finally led to the change was school opening dates drifting earlier in a lot of places. It used to be the norm that schools didn’t open until after that weekend, in part to avoid holding classes on hot summer days in schools with no air conditioning. But now a large percentage of schools open earlier, making travel to a convention on Labor Day weekend less appealing for parents and their children. School openings moving earlier have also made that weekend MORE appealing for business conventions, increasing competition for sites from them.
Last year’s Worldcon (nominally in New Zealand) is the only one to be held online. The rescheduled Worldcon this year will be the first one that will be held in a season other than northern hemisphere summer. The four in Australia and the one in New Zealand were in northern hemisphere summer and therefore local winter.
Post-pandemic, the landscape for scheduling conventions may be radically different. We don’t know what will happen with business conventions; it’s possible that some will be replaced or supplemented by virtual gatherings and never fully recover. Business travel in general may also drop. If those things happen, convention venues could become more interested in our business and offer dates that haven’t normally been available to fan conventions and/or offer better rates overall. (One reason that so many fan conventions are on holiday weekends is that business conventions don’t want those dates.) Or some convention venues may be forced to close (some hotels already have and appear to be unlikely to reopen), shrinking the supply of space and making it harder to schedule cons. We won’t know the complete answer for years.
Most of the authors I’ve read lately have not been white dudes, and all of the nominated novels and series (the only categories I know anything about) are great, but…
I do think it’s a little….odd…that the ballot went from being 99% white dudes to 99% not white dudes in the course of a few years. The fact that no men are nominated for best author is something. If being inclusive means excluding certain identities, that kind of stinks and sets up an unnecessary zero-sum game. And a lot of the explanations reek of the same excuses we used to explain why there were only white men on the list – well, they just write better books!
Fictional Interlocutor is getting nicely developed as a character.
Watch out, John. At some point FI looks to muscle in on your novel writing process.
Which… might be kinda fun, actually, in a Redshirts-esque context.
I keep wondering if the Fictional Interlocutor is one of those bitter, sarcastic clones you had around the house several years ago.
It will be a tough year to choose, but that’s a good thing. 5-way ties, anyone?
@ Mr. T:
“If being inclusive means excluding certain identities, that kind of stinks and sets up an unnecessary zero-sum game.”
Anyone you might point to as being unjustly excluded on the basis of belonging to a “certain identity”?
“And a lot of the explanations reek of the same excuses we used to explain why there were only white men on the list – well, they just write better books!”
Out of “a lot of explanations”, would you care to provide, say, one?
This is the first year that I’ve read so many of the nominees for Best Novel: five, and I’ve now purchased the sixth. Ditto for series; I’ve already read and enjoyed four. I have no complaints about the demography, cishet white male though I be. Obvious, or I wouldn’t have read so many.
This year is an interesting slate to me; in previous years, I’ve looked at the Hugo nominees and not seen many of the works I’ve enjoyed. This year, not only have I read two novels on the best novel list but I already had two others in my To Be Read pile. I’ve also read four of the series, as well as being familiar with a majority of the television nominees and two of the movies (I did turn off The Old Guard halfway through, but preferences vary). This list suggests several things to me:
1) The intersection between critically acclaimed and widely popular is increasing, which is good, I think. Certainly we want people to have more access to the best of the genre
2) The number of works with cross-discipline appeal (I’m not sure if there’s a better way to put this) is also growing. I found my way to at least 6 of these works through — of all things — a romance novel review website
3) The fact that many of these were popular and well-known by definition may partially be explained by the fact of the 2020 dumpster fire and the boredom of quarantine, but it also means people are seeking out healthy forms of escapism. Which is good for SF and speculative fiction as a whole
4) There may be fewer straight, white guy works on the slate simply because the pandemic and associated events have done a number on output. I’m thinking of some long form movies which haven’t been properly released due to theater/streaming issues (Black Widow being one example). So any skew one way or another may skew the other way next year as stuff in the pipeline gets released later. Maybe not! We’ll see! I am hopeful that quality will remain high in either case, since that seems to be what the public demands. All in all, not a bad thing
There are plenty of straight white guys writing good stuff. A lot of them don’t get much notice here because their works aren’t widely distributed and/or they aren’t getting published in the US. Paul McAuley, Lavie Tidhar, M. John Harrison, and Adam Roberts hardly get noticed here at all, and the truly great Christopher Priest can’t seem to find a US publisher.
That said, it’s still the case that most of what I’m reading and enjoying these days is by writers who don’t fit the classic mold.
I think Joe Abercrombie is one of the best writers out there, period, so him not being nominated is a thing but whatever, or maybe he wasn’t even eligible or maybe his kind of book isn’t the kind of stuff the hugos usually like, or maybe they are over him. I like Mark Lawrence a lot, although I don’t know if he is better than any of the writers nominated. But looking at who wrote the best selling/most discussed books of the last two years, at least the ones I enjoyed and was interested in, there are a dearth of white dudes. Certainly my reading of contemporary books has skewed away from white dudes, with a few exceptions, and I’m a white dude myself. To the point that if there had been more than one or two nominated in any of the main categories they would have been over represented. Huh.
I would be grateful if you would share the romance review site: I have been looking for some new suggestions, and given this year’s slate and my reading therof, that seems like a great source.
@ Mr T:
“I think Joe Abercrombie is one of the best writers out there, period, so him not being nominated is a thing but whatever, or maybe he wasn’t even eligible or maybe his kind of book isn’t the kind of stuff the hugos usually like, or maybe they are over him.”
Abercrombie would have been eligible. His 2020 book isn’t necessarily standard Hugo fare, but it wouldn’t have been out of place either. Be that as it may, one white dude of (approximate) Hugo-caliber missing from a ballot of six hardly indicates “exclusion”, IMO.
@ Katherine E Douglas
Not sure what sites was meant, and there are lots. I look in at Smart B*****s, Trashy Books a good deal. (The asterisks are mine; you probably know what they stand for.)
Sorry! Autocorrect attacked your name!
Yeah, I know, once I looked at the best selling, most buzzed about books from the last year, as well as what I actually read, there were only two male writers (that I can tell – I don’t know everyone’s ethnicity or gender). Which is still odd, but whatever.
@Kathy Turner – Re Andre Norton; I recall finding out that she wasn’t a man about 50 years ago, and that was after reading a non-SF book!
And for John, it was out of the the Ben Lomond library.
“Ben Lomond” is the name of one of my elementary schools!
When I was young, and people kept mentioning the same few big sf writers, I would mentally add Andre Norton. Partly because as a boy I liked when folks wrote a lot.
As a librarian she would have known that kids love a series but, like Heinlein, she resisted the urge. Maybe a few sequels, but that was all. Say, The Beastmaster (little relation to the Hollywood version) was partly about racism.
My all-time favourite of hers was The Time Traders, (1958) which I think was the first novel to use time agents in disguise. Favourite line (paraphrased) “I can’t take out a piece of my head and give it to you.”
Ms Vinge, sf writer, said that novel got her interested in (anthropology, I think) because of the tribes in the Bronze Age.
Interestingly (to me at least) one of your competitors for best series only came to my attention b/c of your site.
I rarely look closely at the monthly post of new books/ ARCs that you put out, but this month’s, I saw the top of the stack was from an author with a ‘history’ at this site. I thought I’d check out the comments (which again, I probably only have done for those post types once or twice in several years regular readership); there were a couple of comments about that work/author (and mostly in the vein I expected) but many more very positive ones about the Murderbot series, which I had never heard of before. I downloaded a sample of the first novella, and purchased all 5 of the volumes available- now awaiting the 6th installment later this month.
I think that helping promote other authors is one of the goals of this site, in this case it definitely worked for me.
Thankfully, I don’t plan to get a membership for WorldCon, so will be spared the agonizing choice of whether to vote for the Bot vs Interdependency