2021 Hugo Awards Celebrate Imagination, Wonder, and an Arms Manufacturer

Featured Image for 2019 Hugo Award

On Saturday the Hugo Awards were presented at DisCon III, the 2021 iteration of the international science fiction and fantasy convention Worldcon. A new set of winners were selected for genre immortality by a voting base of Worldcon members — and another round of debate raged on social media.

Martha Wells’ much-loved Murderbot Diaries series, about a cyborg bodyguard with a fondness for television, demonstrated its popularity once again this year: Best Novel went to the fifth installment, Network Effect, while the saga as a whole won Best Series. Another double-winner was Ursula Vernon, alias T. Kingfisher. Her robot fairy tale “Metal Like Blood in the Dark” won Best Short Story, while the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book — not technically a Hugo award, but part of the same voting process — went to her novel A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking.

Nghi Vo’s story of royal intrigue The Empress of Salt and Fortune won Best Novella, and Sarah Pinsker’s “Two Truths and a Lie” — a quirky tale involving a creepypasta-esque children’s television series — won Best Novelette. Maria Dahvana Headley’s modern vernacular translation of Beowulf was named Best Related Work, while a retelling of a modern classic was honoured when the award for Best Graphic Story went to Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ adaptation of the 1993 Octavia Butler novel Parable of the Sower.

The two Best Dramatic Presentation Hugos went to The Old Guard (based on the comic by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández) for Long Form and the Good Place episode “Whenever You’re Ready” for Short Form. Another award for screen entertainment was the Hugo Award for Best Video Game, a trial category; the winner was Supergiant Games’ Hades.

Other Hugo winners on the night were FIYAH: Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction (Best Semiprozine), nerds of a feather, flock together (Best Fanzine), The Coode Street Podcast (Best Fancast), Ellen Datlow (Best Editor, Short Form), Fiana M. Pho (Best Editor, Long Form), Rovina Cai (Best Professional Artist), Sara Felix (Best Fan Artist) and Elsa Sjunneson (Best Fan Writer). Finally, the Astounding Award for the Best New Writer (which, like the Lodestar, is not technically a Hugo but shares the Hugos’ voting process) went to Emily Tesh, author of Silver in the Wood and its sequel Drowned Country.

It should come as no surprise that there was controversy surrounding the 2021 Hugos: this is, after all, almost as much of an annual event as the awards themselves. The ballot is haunted by the shades of past disputes: Isabel Fall’s Best Novelette runner-up “Helicopter Story” was the centre of a social media storm back in January 2020, while a famous author’s faux pas at last year’s Hugos inspired Natalie Luhrs’ Best Related Work finalist “George R. R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun”. Meanwhile, the nomination statistics show that Baen Books editor Toni Weisskopf received enough votes to become a finalist for Best Editor, Long Form but declined. On February 19, roughly in the middle of the nomination period, DisCon III had announced Weisskopf’s removal as guest of honour following concern over “violent and hostile content found within Baen Books’ forums.”

Still another controversy tied to this year’s Hugos is of more recent vintage. One of DisCon III’s sponsors is Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a segment of the arms manufacturer Raytheon Technologies. Another segment, Raytheon Missles & Defense, is responsible for such redoubtable products as the Paveway laser-guided bomb (“Paveway bombs comprised more than half the air-to-ground, precision-guided weapons used in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Unified Protector” declares the company website). The official DisCon III Twitter account proudly touted this connection, encouraging guests at the Hugo ceremony to have red carpet photos taken by Raytheon’s photographers.

Raytheon’s involvement with the convention sparked a backlash on Twitter, with a number of SF/F authors voicing their objections. “I just…cannot imagine who okayed a Raytheon red carpet at Worldcon”, said Cat Valente. Gretchen Felker-Martin called the Raytheon sponsorship “shameful”, Raquel S. Benedict derided the Hugos as a “Raytheon-sponsored circle jerk” that should “die, as an institution”.

Where this latest controversy shall lead remains to be seen. It is already clear, however, that the Hugos will be mired in debate for years to come: it was recently announced that the 2023 Worldcon will be held in Chengdu, prompting commentators such as Jeannette Ng to express concerns over the Chinese government’s human rights violations.

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.

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