Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Thoughts on the 2017 Hugo Awards Ballot

It’s that time of year again—the time when the Hugo Award nominees are announced, and we get to share our opinions on whether or not we agree with the choices of the Hugo electorate on what’s good and what’s not. This year is slightly different than usual, in that changes to the awards process mean there are now six nominees in each category (while each voter could nominate five works per category) and that this year’s Worldcon is trialling a Hugo Award for Best Series.

This year is a historic one for the Hugo Awards in more ways than one. In addition to the changes to the awards process, this is the first year in which the Best Novel nominees have been so completely devoid in white men. It may also be the first year in which more than one out trans author received a Best Novel nomination for their work.

Look at this list of Best Novel contenders:

  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor Books / Titan Books)
  • A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton / Harper Voyager US)
  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu (Tor Books / Head of Zeus)
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris Books)
  • The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit Books)
  • Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Tor Books)

Look at it! I’ve found Jemisin’s recent work a little too grim, and I never managed to get into All the Birds in the Sky or Liu’s work the way some people have, but there’s no denying that they’re seriously good contenders. And the list as a whole is half people of colour, which—well. About damn time.

On a personal level, at least three of these novels mean a very great deal to me. A Closed and Common Orbit, Ninefox Gambit, and Too Like the Lightning are all books that, if you’re paying attention, have really queer orientations towards their worlds. Too Like the Lightning is determined to play self-conscious games with gender and sexuality in its consciously archaising voice, while both A Closed and Common Orbit and Ninefox Gambit take queerness as an unremarkable default, the baseline state of their worlds. And A Closed and Common Orbit is such a book about queer families and queer bodies, it really is.

From an intersectional and feminist point of view, this is a Best Novel list that demonstrates that the SFF field is finally making more than mere gestures towards progress and inclusiveness. While the John W. Campbell Award list of nominees for Best New Writer is not quite so inclusive, it includes among its number queer voices and female ones.

This is the first time, I think, that the Best Novel list has been more inclusive along more axes of diversity than any of the shorter fiction lists. (Which are, to be fair, full of really pretty awesome work, with a couple of notable exceptions.) As a queer woman, it’s amazing to me to see so many queer stories and queer voices represented. As someone who’s invested in seeing a much more inclusive genre, it’s really wonderful to see that the fiction nominees this year in the traditional categories, and especially in the headline category of Best Novel, are definitely stepping up to show that the inclusive view of the genre is gaining ground.

I’m tempted to claim this year as a triumph for queer SFF, and the voices of out queer writers within SFF. I really want to claim this year as a triumph for inclusive SFF in general.

I think, though, that we still probably have some ways to go on that.

PS: Is anyone else going to be really torn about what to vote for? Because I am. Really really torn. So much is just so good.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.


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