In year’s past I have been exceptionally hyperbolic about the Hugo Awards. I still they’re broken, but I just don’t have the energy to engage in a rehashed pissing match between the old guard, the new guard, and the guard that just doesn’t give a shit about the Hugo. This year, rather than spending copious amounts of time currating a public ballot, I’m just going to highlight a few things that I think are essential for 2014.
I’ll note, that I’ve got some stuff eligible this year. Rocket Talk should be eligible in Best Related Work and probably isn’t in Best Fancast. Staffer’s Book Review, despite its now defunct status, is eligible as Best Fanzine. And I am eligible for Best Fan Writer. I finished sixth last year in Best Fan Writer, just off the short list ballot. Curse Kameron Hurley!
In any case, here are the few items I believe passionately about from 2014.
- City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
Full disclosure: RJB and I are homies. He made brisket for me once. I ate it. It was delicious. This fact in no way colors my perception that he has written one of the five best novels in each of the last three years. From The Troupe , to American Elsewhere , to this year’s City of Stairs , Bennett’s novels have a unique, but oft reached for, ability to straddle the line between commercial and literary. City of Stairs manages to be a little more commercial than his previous works, combining John le Carré like tone to an epic fantasy post-colonialism milieu. His protagonist is a woman with a past and a side-kick that satisfies the epic fantasy need for a bad-ass. It’s one of the two finest fantasy novels of the year.
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Full disclosure: I have never met Katherine Addison (aka: Sarah Monette). She did, however, write the other finest fantasy novel of the year, The Goblin Emperor . In a world of grimdarky dark dark, Addison wrote a novel predicated on goodness. Bad stuff happens, but the protagonist, a soft spoken and abused half-goblin forced onto the throne by the untimely death of his estranged father, is committed to making the right choices.
This is a bold novel, particularly at this time and place in the history of our genre. It’s beautifully written, lacks demonstrable violence, and puts a male character in situations that are not traditionally masculine. It’s an epic fantasy type narrative with a deep appreciation for politics that detaches itself from the tropes that the genre has relied on for a generation. For me that’s innovation and in many ways Goblin Emperor is the most innovative genre novel of 2014.
- The Things We Do For Love by KJ Parker
KJ Parker hasn’t won a Hugo yet. That’s dumb. Really dumb.
Best Related Work
I know recognizing Tor.com is like giving Meryl Streep an Oscar, except at one point Meryl Streep hadn’t won any Oscars and it seemed pretty stupid. Such is the case with Tor.com, which has quickly become ground zero for science fiction and fantasy discussion online. From their exceptional columns like Sleeps with Monsters and in-depth rereads, to their world class short fiction, Tor.com has managed to provide a venue for just about every great writer in the field on both sides of the fan and professional paradigm. And it’s only getting better.
The SFF community would be poorer without Tor.com and I think we should probably give them some recognition for it. At least once.
- Speculative Fiction 2013: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary , ed. Thea James and Ana Grilo
I’m a bit biased on this one since (a) I was the editor of last year’s book and pretty much came up with the idea and (b) I’m in this year’s collection with an article. Nevertheless, I believe strongly that the SpecFic franchise is vitally important to the future of our community of fans and critics and creators. It’s a time capsule of what was important to us today for future generations. How amazing would it be to look back to the 1960s and have something like this to reference?
Invaluable I say. And Thea James and Ana Grilo did an amazing job with it this year.
Best Editor Short Form
- William Schafer
A lot of fans will probably say, who? But, everyone in the science fiction and fantasy publishing industry knows Bill. He’s the front man behind Subterranean Press. He’s the man who has been keeping the novella alive almost single handedly as the internet and online magazines tried to kill it. He has published novellas from Robert Jackson Bennett, KJ Parker, Kat Howard, Maria Dahvana Headley, John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Cherie Priest and dozens of others. He’s published collections from Rachel Swirsky, Caitlin Kiernan, Robert McCammon, and Lucius Shepard (to name a few). In other words, through Schafer, Subterranean Press has become the destination spot for short fiction that has a life beyond the quick clicks of the internet. It’s a place where short fiction is given an opportunity to be lionized in an era where most of it is only relevant as long as it’s at the top of the feed.
Editor categories are always impossible to judge. How do we know what Bill Schafer did with a manuscript to make it better? We don’t. Just as we have no idea what Neil Clarke, or Ellen Datlow, or Jonathan Strahan have done for theirs. What we do know is that Subterranean Press, through Schafer, has cultivated an amazing list of short fiction, particularly among novellas. If the novella is a sorority, Bill Schafer is its house-mother. And anyone who has sold one anywhere owes him a debt of gratitude for helping to keep the market alive. That’s worth recognizing with a Hugo.
- Natalie Luhrs
She’s fearless and she’s smart, which as far as I’m concerned is all that needs to be said. But, I think it bears mentioning that unlike a lot of writers in the fan space Natalie is, perhaps, the truest to the fan writer tradition. Once a reviewer she hardly reviews anymore. Nor does she write about the kinds of universally applicable issues that Kameron Hurley often does. No, most of what Luhrs writes is about fandom. It’s about how sexism and racism and idiocy intersect with our fannish spaces. She talks about how the literature we consume influences our opinions and conduct in those spaces. She talks about how we can be better in those spaces. And she does it in a way that’s unique and honest and, always, powerful.
There are lots of deserving writers in this space, most of whom have been nominated before. Natalie Luhrs hasn’t. We should change that.
- Nerds of a Feather
Like Luhrs, Nerds of a Feather feels close to what the Fanzine used to be, a group of writers coming together to talk about the things they love. Where A Dribble of Ink or The Book Smugglers or wherever can feel more monolithic sometimes, with a distinct and continuous point of view, Nerds of a Feather is more eclectic because it’s a group of writers coming together for a single purpose. You might say they flock together.
It’s hard to try to capture what about Nerds of a Feather is so great, but it’s really about the effort as much as it is about the content. The effort of pulling together a group of voices to talk about the field. I can’t stress how hard that is over the long term. And not just reviews, which a lot of places do. They do commentary and roundtables and interviews and reviews. They do books and fandom and film and video games. They are the quintessential FANZINE.
Get to it.
Best Professional Artist
- Jeffrey Alan Love
- Victo Ngai
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
- Wesley Chu
- Brian McClellan
- ML Brennan
- Isabel Yap
- SL Huang
This is a very personal award. Whose work did you like? In a relatively small class of debut writers in 2015, it seems like there’s less to choose from for this year’s Campbell. But, here are five names I love and suggest you love too.
The rest? Well, I care about the other stuff, but if you’re only going to listen to me a little bit, I’d prefer it if you listened to these recommendations.