I’ve finished marking up my Hugo ballot for 2017, and I’m satisfied with where my votes have gone. That doesn’t mean I have finished reading everything that’s on the ballot — far from it — but I have done enough in each work that I am going to read to have a sense of how it compares with the others in its category, and that is enough for me to order my preferences.
Voting for the Hugo award has been a very gratifying process. I’ve been aware of the award lo these 30 years and more; fantasy and science fiction are my native genres, and many works that have won the award have meant a lot to me as a reader. I’ve used lists of both winners and finalists as guides to good reading, and been rewarded far more often than disappointed. I count it a privilege to be a part, however small, of selecting this year’s winners. It connects me to the larger community, and I am pleased to have a voice in recognizing excellent work. Technically, the process has worked perfectly. Kudos to the Helsinki Worldcon team, and to this year’s Hugo Administrator, who is a blogfriend. I’m also glad for the community aspect. There are definitely categories I know more about than others, categories where I feel my ballot was better informed than in others. I’m doing my part, but I am also counting on the community to exercise aggregated judgement, and for that I am grateful.
It’s been a big commitment: six novels, six novellas, six novelettes, five book-length related works, many many hundreds of pages of graphic storytelling. Then there are the more nebulous categories such as fancast, semiprozine, and dramatic presentation both long and short. Then there’s this year’s special Best Series category, of which more later. That’s a reasonable chunk of my annual reading, compressed into a little more than three months. As much as I have enjoyed doing it this year, I am not sure I would want to do it every year. (Worldcon is in California next year, so it is very unlikely that I will be going. Dublin in 2019 looks much more probable. And then there’s the possibility of New Zealand in 2020 — Worldcon in Middle Earth?) Some of the works I would have read this year anyway; some others I would have read on my own schedule, when all three parts of a trilogy are available, for example; some I would not have picked up at all. I definitely would not have read everything on the list of finalists by this summer. I am grateful to people who do make the commitment every year. They are honorable custodians of the tradition.
The best part of being a Hugo voter has been encountering new work that I would not otherwise have read. Some of those I’ve written about already, and others I will soon write about as my reviewing catches up up, more or less, with my reading. To name some names:
* Kai Ashante Wilson, whose novella A Taste of Honey has my top vote in that category. I have added The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps to my to-buy list, and I am looking forward to returning to that world.
* Yoon Ha Lee, whose Ninefox Gambit folded my brain in interesting ways. I’ve already torn through Raven Strategem. Moar plz.
* Victor LaValle, whose Ballad of Black Tom had made it onto my Kindle thanks to some friendly soul’s recommendation, but which I hadn’t felt an urgent need to read until it turned up on the Hugo list. Silly me!
* G. Willow Wilson. Ms Marvel is nominated for volume 5, so I am obviously late to the party, but I was totally charmed. Time to catch up with the story.
Not every tale is for every reader, and some of this year’s nominees were not for me. Two years ago, I bounced off of The Three-Body Problem; this year, Death’s End never called me enough to dive in. The Obelisk Gate is a very strong book, possibly even a great book; my reaction to a scene about two-thirds of the way through pushed me out of it, and I have not returned. I am still thinking about how to write about it.
In a separate vein, the Rabid Puppies were present on this year’s finalist list again. If I thought a work was only on the ballot because of the slate’s backing, I did not read it. Lie down with Rabid Puppies, wake up below No Award.
For many of the categories, I leaned very heavily on the works that were included in the reader’s packet. The packet is a great tradition, and I am glad that it continues. Artists, editors, fan writers, all of these and more shaped my vote by what they chose to include in the packet. It’s tough enough for someone who is not an absolute insider to evaluate Best Editor, Short Form; without the packet it would be well-nigh impossible. The packet has also already sold works in my case. Thanks to my Hugo reading, I have bought several more Ms Marvel compilations and Yoon Ha Lee’s second book. I will be buying more from Kai Ashante Wilson, Kij Johnson, Victor LaValle, Seanan McGuire, and probably several others.
Best Series is an experimental category for this year’s Worldcon. It’s a good idea, given the importance of series work in fantasy and science fiction. It’s also tough to implement. I think that Helsinki has made a good run at the problem, and I am interested in seeing how the award turns out. It’s also a category where I am unabashedly leaning on the collective wisdom of the voters to make a good choice. I had only read all of one of the six nominated series, and a little bit of another. (Given that the “little bit” was the Vorkosigan Saga, it’s very little indeed compared with the size of the whole series.) Given that the nominees encompass many dozens of books, anyone who hadn’t been reading them all along wasn’t going to manage to read everything between April and July anyway. I don’t know that there’s an optimal way to structure a series award, but I am glad that Worldcon is trying.
Now that my ballot is in, I am looking forward to finishing Too Like the Lightning (maybe moving right into its sequel, Seven Surrenders) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s amazing collection of essays, Words are My Matter. So much to savor.