In the lead-up to the 2020 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.
I adored Charlie Jane Anders’ first novel, All the Birds in the Sky—not that this puts me in rarefied company; it did win the Nebula Award for Best Novel and was named one of the 10 best novels of 2016 by Time magazine. And beyond its proclivity for genre mashing (the story follows a pair of young protagonists as they come of age, one of them a scientific genius capable of building a wristwatch-sized time machine, the other a budding witch who can speak to animals) or its ripped-from-tomorrow’s headlines plot (which brings us to the brink of the climate apocalypse and beyond), I loved it for its narrative voice. Laden with the author’s understated, wry wit—honed across a decade in the internet trenches as the editor of the science and science-fiction website io9—and littered with sarcasm and pop culture references, it reads like a book written for people who came of age alongside the internet (raises hand).
Anders’ follow-up, The City in the Middle of the Night—her second consecutive novel to earn a Hugo nomination—looks, on paper, like a very different animal indeed. Instead of a near-future Earth, it is set centuries in the future, on an alien world colonized by humans. Instead of mining tropes from both sides of the genre divide, it sits firmly in the camp of New Wave-era, Ursula K. Le Guin-style science fiction. And contemporary pop culture references in this context would certainly be… a choice.