An Analysis of the Hugo Novels, 2020

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Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

This year’s slate of Hugo nominated novels was high on variety, and distinctly low on, well. Men. All six of the nominated novels were written by women (yes, including the one with a male sounding name). Of course, certain people who like to compare themselves to young dogs probably think this is some kind of backlash against male authors.

Personally, I think it just so happened that the standout works of the year were written by women. Because every single one of these books belonged on the list, in their own way. Even the ones I didn’t much like.

Im going to do a fairly quick analysis here, and I’m doing it in what I believe is reverse order by votes:

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

(Alix E. Harrow)

I believe this book was hampered in the final voting by the fact that Redhook only provided an excerpt. In fact, I’ve yet to track it down and finish it (my to be read pile is tragic).

It’s a portal fantasy of sorts (and if you like Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children, check it out, there are a lot of similar ideas). I say of sorts because rather than being about Narnia or Fillory, it’s about the doors themselves. The writing style is rich, and I wish I could say more but, again, I haven’t had the chance to find it and finish it.

The City in the Middle of the Night

(Charlie Jane Anders)

Only one author has done a better job of creating truly alien aliens than Anders achieves in this book, and that would be Vernor Vinge.

This is a gorgeous and truly weird book that is all about concepts of time, authoritarianism versus anarchy, and how we deal with the other. It is also about monsters. Anders describes life on a tidally-locked planet and how it might affect humanity with authenticity; she has clearly studied her science and then followed through with the sociological implications.

Anything else I said would be a spoiler, but I recommend this book to one set of people specifically:

Doctor Who fans.

Just trust me on this one.

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Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

The Light Brigade

(Kameron Hurley)

This was my least favorite of the nominated books; it was perhaps a little too obvious a homage to Forever War for my taste.

It’s another book that explores the nature of time, but in a more mystical sense. Is this a time travel book or not?

I would definitely recommend this book to people who like the kind of military science fiction that engages in the nature of, and need for, war. Not the rah rah mil SF that’s often written and enjoyed by veterans, but very much in the tradition of the afore-mentioned Forever War.

Again, it’s my least favorite, but that’s a reflection of me, not the book.

Gideon the Ninth

(Tamsyn Muir)

I don’t quite understand how this book didn’t win, given it’s probably the most hyped novel of 2019. All my friends loved it.

It’s lesbian necromancers in space.

It’s also a British style locked door mystery.

I suspect it lost because its dark body horror feel did not appeal to as many readers as it appeared to…but rather appealed to some very loud readers who had to tell everyone about it. Including my husband!

It’s not my favorite, partly because of that and partly because I’m kind of picky about mysteries. But if you perk up at lesbian necromancers in space or British style locked door mystery, you need to read this book.

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Photo by Riho Kroll on Unsplash


(Seanan McGuire)

Seanan McGuire is perhaps the mistress of fairy tales, an awesome author (although she loooves her long series). Which makes Middlegame stand out from her oeuvre as a standalone.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to be her best work. It involves some very interesting concepts and is essentially the kind of fantastic alternate history that really good urban fantasy can turn into. It’s just that it was not nearly as good as her series and because I was comparing it to that, I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I otherwise would have.

Greek philosophy doesn’t often enter into fantasy, though. And I did enjoy this book. Maybe McGuire is just better at long series?

I recommend this one to fans of Orphan Black (you’ll see why) and anyone who finds pop culture quantum mechanics entertaining.

A Memory Called Empire

(Arkady Martine)

Martine’s debut novel was the novel from 2019 that blew me away. I cannot, cannot say too much about this book.

I wasn’t expecting it to win. I was so thrilled when it did. This is space opera in the deeply political tradition of C.J. Cherryh, this is the kind of diplomatic fiction I wish I could write.

This book is in conversation with every piece of rah rah military science fiction out there; it’s a book written by a woman who understands that Rome expanded through trade and culture not, ultimately, the boots of the Legions.

Except her “Rome” is actually space…Aztecs. Well, not entirely, but that’s a very strong influence. And…I could go on for hours about this book.

Read it.

There will be a sequel.

Read it and meet one of the best young authors of our time.

So, there you have it. Six books by six amazingly talented women, all very different, and all worth reading. Even the ones I didn’t like.

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Freelance writer, freelance editor, novelist and short story writer. Jack of many trades.

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