DisCon III: My (Very Short) Ballot

As the robot says, DisCon III – the 79th World Con, which hosts the Hugo Awards – will run from August 25-29th in Washington, D.C., this year. Just like last year, I purchased a “Supporting” membership in the convention, meaning that I can nominate for and vote on the winners of the Hugos. The ballot, which is due today, has tons and tons of categories that I frankly couldn’t hope to think up nominees for. I’m not plugged into the ‘zine and fanzine community, I don’t read many short stories, and I don’t even watch a lot of SFF TV (like, I’m not gonna start Doctor Who just to have something to nominate in the Dramatic Presentation categories).

But I do read plenty of novels, and even the occasional novella. So here’s what’s on my nominating ballot this year. Entries are ordered alphabetically by the author’s last name (for nominations, the order doesn’t matter, so might as well be diplomatic about it!).

BEST NOVEL

If you read my blog at all, this list won’t be surprising. If you don’t read my blog, you might see a couple of noticeable omissions. If you see such an omission, just assume I didn’t read the book, because I probably didn’t! That having been said, I really love everything on my ballot, and want them all to be nominated, even though I know only one of them has a really great shot.

Race the Sands, by Sarah Beth Durst

A long book that’s never once boring, Race the Sands is an action-adventure tale with heart to spare. One of the hardest things for a writer to do is get you immediately invested in a character. Like other books on this list, Durst accomplishes this so smoothly she makes it look easy. (It’s not!) The world created here is certainly an intriguing one, and themes about power and hungry ambition put some meat on the bones of this fun, thrilling story.

The Burning God, by R.F. Kuang

Kuang has become one of my favorite writers working in fantasy today on the basis of this trilogy, which wraps up with The Burning God. The pace is a little rushed from time to time, but for the most part this is an emotional, thrilling, and soul-shattering conclusion to one of the best fantasy series of the past decade or so. I would love for this book to be nominated, especially after Kuang won the Astounding award last year, in recognition of what she’s achieved in the Poppy War series.

Harrow the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow the Ninth is my book of the year. It’s a messy mystery, one that left me bewildered until nearly 400 pages in. But the more I think about it, the more I love it. The characters are indelible. The world is beyond creative, it’s astronomically weird. You will never look at soup the same way again. And by the end, when it becomes clear what Muir is doing and why she’s doing it – there is, frankly, not a book from last year that hit me harder, that was richer, more substantive, more wild, and more creative, than Harrow the Ninth. All that and dad jokes, too.

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

It’s hard to capture just what makes Black Sun so great. It’s relatively short, as epic fantasy goes, but so much is packed in here: great action, compelling characters, and most impressively, a unique, fully lived-in and memorable world. Lots of books have those things, though, and most of them aren’t half as good as Black Sun. As the only nominee on this list that I’m almost positive will make it on the actual Hugo ballot, obviously a lot of people agree with me – this book rules.

The Bone Shard Daughter, by Andrea Stewart

This is another case of “makes it look easy,” another epic fantasy that seems to effortlessly set up the characters, the world, the magic, and the stakes. (We know, of course, that great writing is rarely effortless.) One thing Stewart does exceptionally well is avoid what I call “outline writing,” where characters seem to do things mostly because the writer says they do in the outline. Every choice feels motivated, every turn feels earned. Like Black Sun, this is on the short-ish side for epic fantasy but packs a big punch. There’s a sequel coming out later this year, and I need it NOW.

Best Novella

Okay, I’m tired so we’ll make this quicker! I didn’t read as many novellas that I loved last year, but that’s mostly a function of not having read as many novellas period.

Seven of Infinities, by Aliette de Bodard

Starting off strong! Seven of Infinities is my novella of the year, a hugely imaginative tale featuring a sentient ship and a strange mystery. I loved every page and as soon as I can find the time, I’m going to dive deeper into Universe of Xuya.

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark

A thrilling and emotional tale with some pointed critiques of racism and hate, this deftly plotted tale is certainly one of the best novellas of the year.

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

An angry book that’s liable to make you angry, too. Stunningly written and conceived. I cried twice.

Prosper’s Demon, by K.J. Parker

Decided to go with this at the very last minute, but it feels right. Though I had my problems with this slim volume, it’s one of the most perfectly executed novellas I’ve read, introducing a character, a world, and a conflict, and giving each element its due, in just over a hundred pages.

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain, by Nghi Vo

I suspect the first book in the Singing Hills Cycle is more likely to get nominated, but I actually preferred this one. A richly textured story about stories, about who gets to tell them, and about what gets left out.

Wrap-Up

And that’s my Hugo nominations ballot! All books I enjoyed from last year. Can’t wait to see what’s actually nominated, and to catch up on all the reading I didn’t get to do. When it comes to award shows, I usually offer predictions, but fuck if I know what’s getting nominated at the Hugos. I can guess that N.K. Jemisin’s book, The City We Became, will be nominated, and in fact I’m so sure it will be that I didn’t read it last year, assuming I’d get the chance this year. In the category of “books I hope don’t get nominated,” you can throw in all the third or fourth books of series I haven’t started, because that means I have to do a looooot of work to get caught up (John Scalzi’s The Last Emperox is a good example of this. Sorry, Scalzi!). Alas, I’m also near-certain that the first Murderbot novel, Network Effect, by Martha Wells, will be nominated; I haven’t read any of them, though at least they’re all novellas.

Yes, to be clear, I’m committed to reading everything that’s nominated, even if it’s Part Fifteen in a series where each book is a thousand pages. Not everything may get read very closely, and I don’t plan to review these books individually on the blog, but as a voter I feel it’s my responsibility to read everything before casting my final ballot.

A final note about the Hugos: Last year’s ceremony was a hot mess, and there’s a non-zero chance this year’s will be, too. I don’t want to suggest that I fully endorse the Hugos and everything they do. I’m a bit obsessed with awards shows generally and I obviously love SFF books. Those facts, combined with the fact that I can actually vote on these awards, make it important to me. But if they fuck up, I’ll definitely be writing a sequel post to the one I wrote last year (still the only thing I’ve written to get any traction outside of a few views here and there). So, watch this space.

In the meantime, vote for the Hugos if you’re able and you haven’t already! Pretty sure the deadline is 11:59pm ET tonight (Friday, March 19th), but uh, don’t quote me on that.

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