After a thread from Seanan McGuire earlier this year, I decided to get myself a supporting membership for Worldcon. It’s in DC this year so it’s safe to say I’m not going, I likely wouldn’t even go if there weren’t a pandemic on – but the supporting membership gives you votes in the Hugos (for a much much lower price than an attendance membership/ticket) and that means the voter packet.
The voter packet is all the works the authors and publishers agree to give you access to, for free, so that you have a chance to read them and vote fairly. This year, since Worldcon is in mid-December, there’s still some time to vote, and I’ve been working my way through the nominated works. This month I’ve focused first on reading all the novellas, since I heard a lot of good things about most of them.
I honestly don’t have a marked preference at this point, so I’m not telling you which I think is best, just sharing some thoughts! They’re in the nomination page order.
Come Tumbling Down,
by Seanan McGuire
This one’s a bit different from the other nominations, because it’s #5 in a series. It’s also MG/YA (I’m honestly not fully sure what I’d classify it as) while the others are pretty adult. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, but it’s hard to judge it on its own merits. It comes after book 3 in chronological order, with 4 being a standalone. But this one is very much part of the series and I had to look up the plot of the previous ones to have a refresher… It’s strongly focused on identity, who makes us who we are, can you be a “good” monster, etc. I found it really good but it’s so different from the others that I find it hard to compare.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo
I quite enjoyed this book when I read it back in… March? It’s one of two in this list (with Upright Women Wanted) that I’d read before its nomination, and I even wrote a full review for it back then (alongside the second in the duology). I still think the second book was much stronger, and it was also eligible. But sometimes things happen during nominations, who knows. I’d have preferred to see the second book, but it’s still a very strong contender. It’s very… soft? allegorical? those aren’t quite the right words but it’s full of symbolism and stories within stories.
Finna, by Nino Cipri
Last year around spooky season I read Horrorstor, which is a story set in an alternate-Ikea where eldrich things happen. This is a similar concept, but queerer, more adventure than horror (although with its fair dose of horrifying things too), and with the same level of “corporations and capitalism suck your soul” commentary. I really enjoyed it! Worth also noting one of the main characters is trans/nonbinary, and so is the writer. I still find it rare enough to see nonbinary rep, it’s good to see them represented in the ballot also (Empress of Salt and Fortune also has a nonbinary MC, though idk how Nghi Vo identifies).
Ring Shout, by P. Djéli Clark
I’ve enjoyed everything I read of P. Djéli Clark so far (both Dead Djinn universe novellas, and… I think a short story somewhere?) but I was hesitant to read this one for a while because the KKK isn’t exactly a light subject, and I didn’t know if I was ready to read more about that (a privilege I know!) even in a fantasy universe. This novella, however, is an absolute delight. Black people – especially Black women, queer Black women at that – just taking back the narrative and kicking KKK ass, with magic and eldritch horrors… I did not expect it to be funny, or joyful, but it really is! Again, not a topic I’d have thought I’d enjoy reading about but I was proven wrong!
Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi
Now, that’s a name that’s been all over SFF in the last couple years, I feel like. And I’d been wanting to read this ever since it came out, without quite knowing what it was about. It turns out to be a bit too much real-life for my liking, and I struggled to finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely fantasy, but it deals mainly with (systemic) racism, police brutality, and the prison industry… which weren’t themes I was really ready to take on at that point in time. You know, I know about it, I’m outraged by it, but I do read for escapism mainly, while this is more a political novella, without the utter joy that there was in Ring Shout. There’s nothing bad about it, it’s actually really good, it just is not for me.
Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey
So this is one of the books I received round Christmas last year, and I absolutely loved it (but also I’m biased towards paper books so it helps). I wrote a full review back in January, but the gist of it is Western, Queer, Librarian women. It’s one of the strongest books on this list, for me. Like Ring Shout, it takes a bleak subject – here a military, totalitarian, anti-queer and anti-women regime over the US (worse than the past 5 years, I mean) and does something joyful with it.
Honestly my vote is split on this one, they’re all very strong, although I do have my favourites – and I think most of them are doing something important one way or another. It’s a good thing the ballot lets you put a #2, #3, etc. but even then it’ll be tough to choose.