2018 Hugo Awards Celebrate Apocalypse, Robotics and Social Satire

The Hugo Awards have been and gone once again. Another years’ worth of science fiction and fantasy has been mulled over by Worldcon’s voting base, and another batch of the prized shiny rockets have been presented to the creators deemed most deserving

For the third year in a row, Best Novel went to an instalment of N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series: this time it was the concluding volume of the post-apocalyptic fantasy, The Stone Sky, which won the honour.

The Stone Sky

Martha Wells’ All Systems Red, a story of a deadly cyborg striving to co-exist with humans, took Best Novella; this short book already has two sequels, so the cybernetic protagonist will likely turn up on next year’s Hugo ballot as well. A cuter variety of mechanoid took the prize in Best Novelette, as Suzanne Palmer’s “The Secret Life of Bots” was named the top story in the category. In Best Short Story the winner was Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™” a satirical study of cultural commodification.

The award for Best Series, a category introduced last year, again went to Lois McMaster Bujold—this time for her fantasy series World of the Five Gods, as opposed to her space operas that took the prize in 2017.

In the two Dramatic Presentation Categories, Wonder Woman took the Long Form award, while The Good Place won in Short Form for its episode “The Trolley Problem”.

The second volume of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s comic series Monstress won Best Graphic Story, while illustrator Takeda was named Best Professional Artist. Geneva Benton won the award for Best Fan Artist.

The award for Best Related Work went to No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin that was published the month before her passing. Mike Glyer’s daily round-ups at File 770 earned his publication its eighth Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, while Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace’s Ditch Diggers was named Best Fancast. The award for Best Fan Writer went to Sarah Gailey, who regularly writes for Tor.com and The Book Smugglers.

The Best Editor awards went to DAW Books’ Sheila E. Gilbert for Long Form and Uncanny Magazine editors Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas for Short Form. Uncanny was also named this year’s Best Semiprozine.

Presented alongside the Hugos were two associated awards: the long-established John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and the brand new World Science Fiction Society Award for Best Young Adult Book. The Campbell went to Rebecca Roanhorse–author of this year’s winning short story–while Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor won the inaugural young adult prize.

Akata Warrior, Nnedi Okorafor, Viking Books, 2017

This year also saw the 1943 Retro Hugos, giving voters a chance to honour works from a bygone era. Robert E. Heinlein won Best Novel for Beyond This Horizon and Best Novella for “Waldo”. The original short-form incarnation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation was named Best Novelette. C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner’s “Twonky” was named Best Short Story. Disney’s 70-minute Bambi took Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), with no equivalent Long form award being presented due to a lack of nominees. John W. Campbell won Best Editor, while Virgil Finlay was named Best Artist. In the fan categories Arthur Wilson “Bob” Tucker’s Le Zombie won Best Fanzine, and Forrest J. Ackerman won Best Fan Writer.

The Sad and Rabid Puppies campaigns are over, but the 2018 Hugos nonetheless bear a few marks from the culture wars. Crash Override, an autobiographical volume by Gamergate target Zoe Quinn, was amongst the Best Related Work finalists. Camestros Felapton, a runner-up for Best Fan writer, is known primarily for his in-depth reportage on the Puppy campaigns; this January he was the subject of a botched doxing attempt by multiple Sad Puppy authors.

Amongst the Best Fanzine finalists, meanwhile, is Rocket Stack Rank, which was the centre of a controversy late last year over perceived insensitivity regarding transgender and non-binary topics. Given that two of the blog’s most outspoken critics on this front–JY Yang and Bogi Takács–are also represented on the ballot, in Best Novella and Best Fan Writer respectively, the Hugos can hardly be said to have taken a side in the debate.

The Rocket Stack rumpus turned out to prefigure a Worldcon controversy that occurred in July. The tip of the iceberg came into view when Bogi Takács, who is non-binary and prefers gender-neutral pronouns, was identified in an official Worldcon profile as “he”. Takács publicly objected; in the resultant discussion, other authors expressed dissatisfaction–to put it mildly–with how Worldcon had been shaping up behind the scenes.

JY Yang revealed that an author friend (who turned out to be Nibedita Sen) had communicated with Worldcon’s programming on the topic of diversity amongst convention panellists. The response from Worldcon spoke dismissively of “Hugo finalists who represent a set of voices that is exciting to nominators, but will be completely unfamiliar to many folks who will be attending,” and stated that the #Ownvoices panel suggested by Sen would be of limited appeal to the Worldcon attendees.

Yang said on Twitter that Worldcon had treated them disrespectfully: “And not just me, but also my POC and queer community.” Multiple authors and other industry figures expressed intentions to pull out of Worldcon’s programming in protest, amongst them N. K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. Things finally got back on track, however, when author Mary Robinette Kowal offered to step in and help guide Worldcon’s programming on a more satisfactory course.

Controversies and kerfuffles are part and parcel of the science fiction convention scene. As seen at this year’s Worldcon, they sometimes serve as an opportunity for development and evolution.


Doris V. Sutherland

Doris V. Sutherland

Horror historian, animation addict and tubular transdudette. Catch me on Twitter @dorvsutherland, or view my site at dorisvsutherland.com. If you like my writing enough to fling money my way, then please visit patreon.com/dorvsutherland or ko-fi.com/dorvsutherland.