Hugo Awards 2019: A few thoughts on the finalists

Earlier this month, the shortlist for the 2019 Hugo Awards were revealed. There’s generally a massive gap between what I read/watch and what gets nominated, but I thought it would be fun to have a look through some of the nominees.

BEST NOVEL

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee

Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novak

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Okay, so I have read none of these. I have read the first book in Becky Chambers’ series, and it wasn’t really to my tastes. Not much more I can say about this honestly. I also haven’t read any of the novella or short story nominees, so in terms of literature I really have nothing of value to contribute.  The one exception there is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, where I have read one nominee. While I obviously can’t compare it to books I haven’t read, R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War deserves all the praise it’s got so far, and I hope it goes even further here.

The only other award where I am familiar enough with the nominees is Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

The Expanse: Abaddon’s Gate

Dirty Computer (Janelle Monae music video)

The Good Place: Jeremy Bearimy

The Good Place: Janet(s)

Doctor Who: Rosa

Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab

First up, I haven’t quite finished season 3 of the Expanse yet due to its slow arrival in Britain. Nor have I seen Dirty Computer. But I am a big fan of both Doctor Who and The Good Place. I reckon having two episodes from each up for voting might cause problems as far as a majority vote goes, but it’s good to see some recognition. If I were voting, I’d have to go for Janet(s). Not only one of D’Arcy Cordon’s best performances to date, but also an interesting part of the overarching universe of The Good Place.

As for Doctor Who, I’m in two minds about those episodes being finalists. Both are good episodes, but both have their faults. ‘Rosa’ is a great period piece with strong themes and some wonderful acting from the new ensemble cast. But it also suffers from an incredibly weak villain. I can’t even remember the name of the time-travelling racist, but he was one of the least developed villains of the series. No mean feat considering the next episode’s villains were simply giant spiders. As for ‘Demons of the Punjab’, it has all the strengths of ‘Rosa’ with the advantage of a more familiar main cast. But its more science-fictional elements are almost an afterthought, and have no real bearing on the plot. Though the idea of interstellar witnesses is a good one, it’s underused here. Both of these stories have proven divisive among fans, withe accusations of politicisation, and cheers of diversity representation all around. I’m of the opinion that both of these episodes would have worked better as pure historical pieces. But that’s neither here nor there.

Overall, the Hugos show a continuing divergence between my tastes and the tastes of the critics, except for in television, where the commercially popular and the award darling have a lot more crossover.

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