Welcome to Redheadedfemme's 2016 Hugos recommendations page!
I have a confession to make: until recently, I was an outlier, at best, to this whole Hugo Awards thing. I remember watching the 2013 livestream, bu that was only because I follow John Scalzi's blog, and he was up for Best Novel (which he won). I also watched last year's ceremony, where Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (which is a great book, by the way) took home the trophy. But I had no idea of the consternation those wins caused in some quarters, and had heard nothing of the Sad and Rabid Puppy campaigns, which exploded over this year's awards with all the delicacy of a vomiting canine. (This article is one of the more even-handed treatments of the whole mess, including profiles of the main Puppy leaders.)
After this year's debacle, it's now clear that the only way to avoid another Puppy takeover is to READ and NOMINATE. To that end, I'm establishing this page to list the things I think are award-worthy. I will be adding to this list over the next several months, even after nominations are open next year (it hasn't yet been announced when that will be, but I'm assuming sometime in January). At the end of the nominating period, I will post my own ballot. I intend to include everything I have read and really liked, even if this goes beyond the official 5 nominating slots (which it will, especially in the short fiction categories) because a) I want people to discover as many potentially award-worthy things as possible; and b) I want to avoid even the appearance of suggesting a slate. (After all, that's what got us into this mess in the first place.)
Any of my readers out there who have things they enjoyed are also welcome to list them in comments. Links, especially to shorter fiction, related works, and webcomics, would be helpful. The whole point of this is to SPREAD THE WORD and have discussions about what we as SF/F readers love.
Now: on to the list!
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
This is a tremendously fun steampunk Western romp, with an unforgettable narrative voice, a marvelously diverse cast, and a Jules Verne-inspired submersible that is more badass than the Nautilus.
Uprooted, Naomi Novik (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
This book has generally been praised wherever I've seen it. I am here to add my voice to the chorus. It's something of a rewritten fairy tale, but it's definitely not Disneyfied, and it's not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, it's beautifully written, with a unique magic system and one of the best (non-human) antagonists I've read in a long time.
The Water Knife, Paulo Bacigalupi (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
You could call this book "climatepunk." It's a near-future science-fiction thriller, and it hit home for me because I live in Arizona (a great deal of the book is set in Phoenix), and unfortunately I can see the basic scenario--people and states fighting and killing each other over water rights-- happening in twenty or thirty years when climate change really kicks in. (Although I hope by that time I can actually buy the car the main character drives--a Tesla with a solar skin.)
The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin (full Goodreads review here, with mild spoilers)
I've never read any of Jemisin's work before, but you better believe I will from now on. This book is fantastic. Her worldbuilding is marvelous and her writing is sublime. She writes a great deal of this book in the second person--one of the hardest viewpoints to do well, but she makes it seem easy, and it is perfect for the character. It's marketed as fantasy, but to me it has a strong science-fiction undertone. It is a very dark story, however, so be warned.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson (full Goodreads review here, with mild spoilers)
This book is not for the fainthearted. If you must have optimistic fiction with a happy ending, then give this one a wide berth. The book, and its protagonist, are brutal, ruthless, and unforgettable.
A Borrowed Man, Gene Wolfe (full Goodreads review here, with some spoilers)
I hadn't read Wolfe before now, but the very first pages showed why he's one of the best fiction (not just SFF) authors working today. This book combines simple, effortless prose with gobsmacking science fiction ideas.
The Mechanical, Ian Tregillis (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
Artificial intelligence, alchemy and alternate history, all rolled into one fantastic book. Seriously, this is one of those books that makes you want to tell everyone you know: Read this. This is how mind-blowing science fiction can be.
The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
I've included this because it's the sequel to last year's Best Novel, The Three Body Problem. I didn't much care for Three Body, and in my opinion this book is only marginally better. If you like technobabble and physics lectures, you'll love this book; if you like believable characters, not so much.
Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
The final book in the Imperial Radch series ends the story on a perfect note. It's only now, after reading all three books, that I fully appreciate the weighty themes the author has been weaving into the story all along. To my mind, this book and series ranks among the best science fiction published so far this century.
Best Short Story
Time Bomb Time, C.C. Finlay, Lightspeed Magazine, May 2015
This is a wonderful little palindromic puzzle of a story, but it's more than a gimmick--it has a plot and characters. The author says it took him years to write this, and I believe it.
Planet Lion, Catherynne M. Valente, Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2015
Trimorphic bright green marsupial lions the size of Clydesdales? That sounds like a joke. Trust me, it's not. It's also one of the best explorations of an alien intelligence I've read in a while.
Elephants and Corpses, Kameron Hurley, Tor.com, May 2015
This is the story of a corpse-jumping body mercenary who exacts his revenge over the death of his pet elephant. This being a Kameron Hurley tale, it also has a fifty-one-year old female sidekick who farts in her sleep. It's not a comedy, though; it goes deeper than that.
Little Fox, Amy Griswold, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, May/June 2015
This is a poignant little tale of a young woman and her clone sisters, and the original helping her clone to be free. It's short, but it'll stick with you.
At the End of Babel, Michael Livingston, Tor.com, July 2015
This story, to me, is scary as hell. "One culture, one country," intones those who would force others to give up their language, their heritage, their way of life. Only it doesn't quite work out that way.
Cat Pictures Please, Naomi Kritzer, Clarkesworld Magazine, January 2015
An AI who will help you get what you want, and only requests cat pictures as payment? Somebody invent this please!
The Great Silence, Ted Chiang/Allora/Calzadilla, E-Flux Journal, May 2015
The other two people mentioned produced a film about the world's largest radio telescope, and Ted Chiang wrote this story as a script for it. I guarantee you will have dusty eyes when you finish reading this.
Damage, David D. Levine, Tor.com, January 2015
There was an ill-conceived BOLO story on this year's Hugo ballot. This is how to do that kind of story right.
Pocosin, Ursula Vernon, Apex Magazine, January 2015
"This is the place where the old god came to die." Ursula Vernon is one of my newer discoveries; she won this year's Nebula Award for her short story Jackalope Wives (and she should have been on the Hugo ballot). This story, to me, is just as good as Jackalope Wives.
Beyond Sapphire Glass, Margaret Killjoy, Strange Horizons Fiction, August 2015
This qualifies as "flash fiction," but wow, for such a short story it carries quite a punch. I love how just a few sentences of dialogue suggests the backstory and world.
Good Girls, Isabel Yap, Shimmer Magazine, May 2015
This is a horror story with a unique monster. Warning: Your tolerance for gore has to be a bit high for this one.
Hic Sunt Monstra, Brian Trent, Galaxy's Edge Magazine, September 2015
I had to read this twice to fully understand it, and it was chilling when the impact of the final line sank in. This is a story of facing death, and memories, and echoes upon echoes. Those things sound like they wouldn't go together at all, but read this story and it will make sense.
(I have been told that link may be temporary. If it stops working, please let me know.)
ETA: Yes, the link did stop working. The particular back issue this story appears in is available here.
In Libre, Elizabeth Bear, Uncanny Magazine Issue Four, May/June 2015
This story is a shivery book-lover's delight. It starts out cute and fluffy, but Bear doesn't write cute and fluffy; there are darker mythological overtones to this library that is an infinite labyrinth. With a spectacle-wearing Book Wyrm librarian at its heart, no less.
Wooden Feathers, Ursula Vernon, Uncanny Magazine November/December 2015
Ursula Vernon is rapidly turning into one of my favorite short story writers. This lovely little story has a surprising edge of horror, and you think it's going to go down the Stephen King trail--but then Ursula turns it into something completely unexpected. Her prose is subtle and masterful.
Hadley Full of Hate, Michael Hernshaw, The Sockdolager, Summer 2015
Writing a very short story (just over eleven hundred words), with a well-defined setting, backstory, and character arc, is one of the most difficult things a writer can do. This story has that in spades.
Eyes I Dare Not Meet In Dreams, Sunny Moraine, Cyborgology, June 2015
There's a TV/movie trope of "fridging" female characters. Perhaps you've heard of it? A female character is killed off ("fridged") specifically to motivate the male (usually straight white) lead. Sunny Moraine takes this trope and rips it to pieces.
The Lily and the Horn, Catherynne M. Valente, Fantasy Magazine, December 2015
This is from the Queers Destroy Fantasy special issue, and it is gorgeous. The lush prose reminds me of Tanith Lee. This is a kingdom where disputes are settled not by war, but around a dinner table, by poison and who can survive it the longest. "Everything in Floregilium is a beautiful murder waiting to unfold." I would give my eyeteeth to write like this.
At Whatever Are Their Moons, Sunny Moraine, Strange Horizons, December 2015
This is another beautiful story from Sunny Moraine. The author has the habit of layering a hard SF idea in gorgeous, unforgettable prose. My love, I made you to fly. Just lovely.
Today I Am Paul, Martin L. Shoemaker, Clarkesworld August 2015
A lovely story of identity, and consciousness, and an artificial intelligence's awakening that is totally unlike the typical sentient murdering android.
And the Ends of the Earth for Thy Possession, Robert B. Finegold, Giganotosaurus, July 2015
This is a lovely, lyrical, bittersweet alt-history tale, with Jews on an interstellar transport and automatons and deimons. Quietly heartbreaking.
Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande, A.S. Diev, Giganotosaurus, May 2015
Obviously I have to bookmark Giganotosaurus. How did this online magazine publish such excellent stories and I didn't know about it?
This is another winner, a tale of "New Gonzo" journalism about genetically engineered flying cattle and genetically engineered ground-walking bees, wrapped around a murder trial. Excellent worldbuilding and characterization.
The Servant, Emily Devenport, Clarkesworld Magazine, August 2015
This could be described as the French Revolution in space, set aboard the Generation Ship Olympia. I read some of Emily Devenport's novels years ago; it's gratifying to learn that she's still around, and still writing stories as good as this one.
Entanglements, David Gerrold
(Whoops, I had this in the Novella category by mistake. According to the Hugo definitions page, a novella is over 17,500 words.) This was published in the May/June Asimov's Science Fiction, but David has made it available for free here. This is a fantastic story, in the very meta mold of his Hugo-winning The Martian Child, but with an extra kicker at the end. Right now, it's at the top of my
Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus, Mira Grant, Amazon purchase
This comes from one of my favorite authors, set in her Newsflesh zombie universe. As far as I know, it's not available for free anywhere; I purchased this. That said, you can get a feel for the story from the sample. There is an octopus involved, but the title, as you learn, is referring to someone quite different.
Penric's Demon, Lois McMaster Bujold, Amazon purchase
Do I get forty lashes with a wet noodle if I admit I've never read Bujold before? Well, so be it; in my defense, I will try to rectify my ignorance (of her books, at least) in the near future. This novella, however, is an excellent introduction to her work; it's a quiet, compelling story of a young man who gets saddled with a demon quite by accident, and his struggles to accept an entity--with twelve personalities, no less--living inside him he will seemingly never get rid of. Again, it doesn't seem to be available for free anywhere, but I think it's well worth what I paid for it.
The New Mother, Eugene Fischer, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2015
I belong to a group on Facebook called SCOFF that has reading recommendations. This popped up in my newsfeed, and oh my goodness. (The link is to another site.) This story is about a sexually transmitted disease that enables women to reproduce without men, and how that begins to change the world (and not for the better). Very thought-provoking piece.
Binti, Nnedi Okorafor Amazon purchase
This is one of Tor's new series of novellas. The protagonist, Binti, is sixteen, but it's really not a YA story. There are some very adult themes here, of remaining true to yourself, your history, and your people, even as you leave home for the first time and are thrown into a universe you can hardly imagine. It's a chewy kernel wrapped inside a crackling good story of contact with a feared, hated alien race. Again, I bought this, but it's well worth the money.
The Bone Swans of Amandale, C.S.E. Cooney, Mythic Delirium Books
This is a bone-chilling mixture of myth and horror. It was just nominated for the Nebula Award, for good reason.
Best Related Work
I Don't Care About Your MFA: On Writing Vs. Storytelling, Kameron Hurley, Uncanny Magazine Issue Four, May/June 2015
I really like Kameron Hurley's work. I haven't yet read any of her novels (so many books, such a huge TBR pile, so little time), but her nonfiction pieces are straightforward and practical, and reveal facets of the writer's work and craft that aren't much discussed. This article discusses the difference between writing and storytelling, and how all those shiny MFAs young writers are urged to acquire might not be of such great use after all.
Guided By the Beauty of Their Weapons: Notes On Science Fiction and Culture In the Year of Angry Dogs, Philip K. Sandifer, Amazon purchase
After this year's Puppy nonsense surrounding the Hugos, I'm sure most of us would as soon never hear Theodore Beale's name mentioned again. However, this evil genius isn't going away, and I have no doubt he will try to weasel his execrable e-book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police on next year's ballot. (Not linking because, well, who wants to read a badly-written book with two Chapter Fives?) There have been thousands, nay, millions of words written about this year's Hugo spectacle, a small percentage of which was even my own. If we're going to have one piece about the whole mess on the ballot--and we probably will--it should be this one: Philip Sandifer's lengthy treatise on Mr Beale and his fascism.
(Note: This has changed. The original essay has now been expanded, and many other essays added, to make it a full-fledged book. Some of the pieces are pretty dense, but there's far more here, fortunately, than ruminating on some fascist.)
Invisible 2, edited by Jim Hines (Smashwords purchase)
This is an excellent collection of essays about representation in science fiction and fantasy. From the introduction: "In this book you will find personal essays from a variety of people on the margins, talking about their childhoods and what stories meant to them; how they found (or did not find) themselves in those stories; how stories set up expectations and (not always good) archetypes; and about the sometimes wide gap between how they see themselves and how others see them."
Best Fan Writer
Eric Flint, for his even-handed, sensible posts about the whole Sad Puppies mess. His blog is here; click on the category "Hugo controversy."
Rachael Acks, who writes a lot of movie reviews, commentaries on the state of science fiction today, and general other bloggy goodness. She can also let fly with some awesome righteous indignation when the situation calls for it, as this post demonstrates.
James Davis Nicoll, for his excellent ongoing series of book reviews. He reviews old books and new ones--an outstanding series in particular is "50 Nortons in 50 Weeks"--and if you subscribe to his Livejournal, as I do, make sure you read the comments to his posts. His commentariat is informed and intelligent, and adds greatly to the conversation.
Abigail Nussbaum writes wonderful long-form essays on all sorts of subjects. (Just one recent example here.) She delves deeply indeed, and her insights are unique and thought-provoking. She also would have been on this year's Hugo ballot were it not for the Puppy kerpupple; hopefully I can help remedy that next year.
Mike Glyer, for curating all the wonderful content found on File 770, and also for his evenhanded coverage of the Puppy kerfluffle. I can't imagine doing what he does; he must never sleep. Both Mike and the fanzine have won Hugos before, but hell, they're due again, I think.
Philip Sandifer, for his treatise on Theodore Beale and other essays, mentioned above. His blog is here.
Foz Meadows, for analysis of both SFF books and movies. This entry is an excellent example of her approach--unfortunately, this particular article, published 1/4/16, isn't eligible for this year's Hugos, but I will certainly keep it in mind for next year.
I will admit my bias; I hang out on this site a lot. It's an intelligent, well-read commentariat that has great fun, from our Science Fiction and Fantasy Brackets to the Rev. Bob's Immortal Words. Come on over and check us out! We really don't have canines for breakfast!
This fanzine was on the Hugo Puppy-fied ballot this year, and ended up withdrawing from consideration. I hope this state of affairs can be remedied next year, as it's certainly worthy of an award.
This is another site that got knocked off the ballot by the Impacted Canines. There's book reviews, TV reviews, fanworks, and everything in between, viewed with a feminist lens.
Rocket Stack Rank
This site is entirely devoted to reviews, with a special emphasis on short fiction and looking forward to the 2016 Hugo awards. The only drawback I see is that many of the stories are drawn from the Old Vanguard of Print Magazines (Asimov's, Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction) which of course you can't read for free. (I have now subscribed to the print versions of the first and third on that list to alleviate that problem, but not everyone can afford to do that.)
I participated in Uncanny's Year Two Kickstarter, and I'm glad to have done so. The editors have very good taste in stories--several of the stories on this list are from Uncanny--and in nonfiction articles as well.
Writers generally have a hard time finding homes for novellas (as I've experienced myself). This magazine, under the capable helming of Rashida J. Smith, publishes one long story per month. Two stories on my Best Novelette list came from this magazine.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Mad Max: Fury Road
Charlize Theron takes no prisoners. I put her first because even though this movie is titled "Mad Max," Tom Hardy's Max Rockatansky isn't the one who the story is about--he's the observer. The story belongs to Theron's Imperator Furiosa. This is also one of the best movies I have seen recently for showing and not telling, and trusting its audience to follow what is going on. There is a lot of feminist subtext here if you're into that sort of thing; if not, you can enjoy the incredible, mostly non-CGI action sequences. "Oh, what a lovely day."
Mars, NASA, science, and potatoes--what's not to like? I haven't read the book, and I don't know if it's better going into this movie cold, as it were. It certainly didn't subtract from my enjoyment of this terrific survival story, and the awesome supporting cast back on Earth, with the hundreds of people necessary to pull this off. And may I give kudos to the movie for the nice diversity of that supporting cast? Jessica Chastain's Commander Lewis, with her disco music that drives the left-behind astronaut Mark Watney crazy, is particularly notable. The standout line, at least to me: "I'm going to science the shit out of this."
Wow. This creepy little sci-fi thriller isn't quite up to the lofty standards of the first two films, I think, but it definitely deserves to be on the ballot. This is the story of Caleb Smith, a computer programmer who wins a contest sponsored by Nathan, the reclusive, mad-genius head of his company, to administer a Turing test to Nathan's artificial intelligence, a robot named Ava. Only nothing is as it seems, and rather than administering the Turing test, Caleb is the test. Alicia Vikander gives an excellent performance as Ava.
This is the film version of Robert Heinlein's classic time-travel story "All You Zombies" (which I bought from Amazon and read afterwards). The movie sticks closely to the story, which it would have to, except for one added-on and rather pointless scene at the end. (As a matter of fact, there is a voiceover in the very last scene, of Ethan Hawke reading the last few lines of the story. Creepy and effective as heck.) Ethan Hawke is quite good here, but Sarah Snook is outstanding. She should have been nominated for an Oscar for this performance. (Yes, the movie is from 2014, but there was a special dispensation granted it at the Hugos which allows for the voters' consideration this year.)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
This, of course, is the Eight Hundred Pound Elephant in the Best Dramatic Presentation room. I can't imagine any scenario where it isn't on the ballot, and I'm sure it's heavily favored to take the award as well. But on the other hand, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian were just nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars...
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
The Expanse, Dulcinea
This is the first episode of SyFy's new series. It does everything a pilot should do: sets up the characters and the world, with a minimum of telling, and it does it exceptionally well. I was immediately drawn in. From a purely technical point of view, it also has a great long (CGI) tracking shot into the heart of one of the show's main settings, Ceres Station.
The Expanse, CQB
This series is just getting better and better. This was a tense, tautly structured episode that had some excellent character moments as well.
Hybrids, a short film by Patrick Kalyn (YouTube)
This is a terrific little alien-invasion film that packs a helluva punch for seven minutes and 48 seconds. Great special effects.
The Man in the High Castle, A Way Out
This is Amazon's first foray into original programming. You can only watch it if you're a Prime member, but it's well worth it. It's based on Philip K. Dick's Hugo-winning Best Novel in 1962. I've never read the book myself, so I don't know how faithful this adaptation is. I will say it is quite absorbing, and this last episode (especially the final scene) is a complete mind****.
Best Graphic Novel
The Sculptor, Scott McCloud (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
I loved this. I'm admittedly a graphics novel newbie, but this seems like a story that fits the medium perfectly, and even the odd blue-black-white color palette grows on you after a while.
Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
This was an utter delight. Maybe it was written for younger teens, but adults can find a helluva lot to enjoy here as well.
Rat Queens Vol. 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth, Kurtis J. Wieve, Roc Upchurch, Stjephan Sejic (full Goodreads review here, with spoilers)
This second volume continues the adventures of my favorite swearing, joking, unapologetically sexual female mercenary band. Some great character development in this installment.