by Helen Lowe
When I first began reading SciFi-Fantasy and started looking beyond the The Lord of the Rings and Dune (ok, so there wasn’t a lot else in genre in my high school library), I soon decided that winning a Hugo Award meant something—simply because so many of the books I was really enjoying came with the tag “winner of the Hugo Award” on the cover. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, CJ Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, the wonderful The Snow Queen by Joan Vingt that somehow managed to bridge the gap between Science Fiction and Fantasy—to me they were all more than worthy winners of any award. And were quickly followed as “top reads” by David Brin’s Startide Rising and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. (Just to correct what I realize might have looked like a gender imbalance in terms of reading preference!)
But I didn’t really know what a Hugo Award was, or how the awards were given. I didn’t think much about awards at all in those days; I just wanted more good stories and it seemed that the tag “Hugo” meant I had a fair chance of getting one. As you have probably picked up already, my focus was very much on “novels” and stayed that way until a few years back. By that time, I had read a LOT of books and pretty much knew the “what and how” of the Hugo Awards: loosely speaking, that they are nominated and decided on annually by members of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) and are amongst—and some might argue—the most prestigious award given for speculative fiction. Yet although I had been writing for a number of years myself by then, and remained an avid SFF reader (of novels, anyway), the thought never occurred that I might participate in the Hugo nomination and voting process. The Hugos were still something that happened “out there”, in a world far removed from me in space-time.
2005 and a novella called “Sergeant Chip” by Bradley Denton (F&SF, 2004) changed all that. I was—and am—a great website lurker, and F&SF was a site I dropped by from time to time. “Sergeant Chip” had already been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella at that stage and was available to read in electronic format on the website. And I loved that story, so much so that I drove every other SFF reader I knew to distraction telling them that they absolutely had to go to the F&SF site and read it (many of them did and also loved it). For the first time ever, I also forgot about the novels. By hook or by crook, I wanted to vote for “Sergeant Chip” to win the Hugo Award for Best Novella.
Sadly, I didn’t manage that as voting had already closed by the time I had worked out what I needed to do (i.e. join Worldcon as a supporting member) and equally sadly (for me) “Sergeant Chip” didn’t win the Hugo for Best Novella. But I had definitely become more keenly aware that the Hugo Awards encompassed a far wider field than just novels, or even novellas. In professional fiction, the awards also encompass Best Novelette, Short Story, Related Book, Graphic Story, and Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short forms), as well as awards for professional editors and artists, and also fan writers, journals and artists. And there’s also the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. So this year’s Hugo Award administrators were not joking when they wrote on the website: “The deadline for voting in this year’s final ballot is 31 July 2010 23:59 PDT. You’ll want to sign up well before then because there’s a lot of reading material in that Packet.”So why am I so excited about it? Well, this year, for the first time ever, I’ve registered for Worldcon and am going to be voting. Probably not in every category (it’s a BIG list, guys), but definitely in most of the fiction categories. I have already reading all the short stories and novelettes, and–because leopards do not change their spots—am determined to read all of the novels (I’m currently three down, with three to go). These are (in alphabetical order by author):
* Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl, (Night Shade)
* China Miéville, The City & The City, (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
* Cherie Priest, Boneshaker, (Tor)
* Robert J. Sawyer, Wake, (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
* Robert Charles Wilson, Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, (Tor)
* Catherynne M. Valente, Palimpsest, (Bantam Spectra)
Interestingly, half of this list have recently been winners in the Locus Awards:
* Best SF Novel: Cherie Priest, Boneshaker, (Tor)
* Best Fantasy Novel: China Miéville, The City & The City, (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
* Best First Novel: Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl, (Night Shade)
So, no easy guide there to help me shortcut the “reading them all for myself” approach—not that I would. Before I vote in any category, I must read all the entrants: anything less “would just be wrong” (to paraphrase Buffy—or was that Faith, mocking Buffy? Never mind, you get the idea!)
OK, still very much focusing on the novel here. But, in recognition of “Sergeant Chip”, I really do want to get through all the novellas as well, and so far have already read one. (No, I’m not saying which one, not until I’ve read them all!) And as with the novels, I will not be swayed by the fact that the Locus Awards winner in the Novella category, Kage Baker’s The Women of Nell Gwynne’s (Subterranean) is also a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. But there is one other category that’s going to be getting some serious attention from me. I am a HUGE fan of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius series of graphic novels, but more recently I’ve also got into Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary and LOVED “The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse” sequence. This means I’m working hard to come up to speed with the other “best graphic story” contenders, too—fantastic for the expansion of my genre knowledge, but not so good for the time management pie-graph [grins.]
Speaking of which, given voting does close on 31 July and that’s not terribly far away, it could be time to stop blogging and get down to some more Hugo reading! But I’ll be back before the 31st to let you know how it’s all gone.
Helen Lowe is a New Zealand based speculative fiction writer. Her first novel Thornspell (Knopf, 2008) won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel: Young Adult” 2009, and Helen won the Award for “Best New Talent” in the same year. Helen’s second novel, The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night, Book One) is being published by Eos on 1 October. She also blogs on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground and every day on her own Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog.