Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reviewing the 2019 Hugo Nominees: The John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Hugo Award voting just opened at the start of May and continues through the end of July.  For those of you new to the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre, the Hugo Award is one of the most prominent awards for works in the genre, with the Award being given based upon voting by those who have paid for at least a Supporting Membership in this year's WorldCon.  As I did the last two years, I'm going to be posting reviews/my-picks for the award in the various categories I feel qualified in, but feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Other Hugo Award Looks:
My Picks for Best Novel:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Novella:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Novelette:  See HERE.
My Picks for Best Short Story: See HERE.

The John W Campbell Award is given to a writer who has written their first SciFi or Fantasy work in the past two years.  It is technically not a "Hugo" award, but given that it's awarded in the same ceremony, no one really cares too much about that.  Of this year's nominees, four were also nominated last year, and one of the other two is also in her second year of eligibility.  As such, we're in for a pretty brand new Campbell ballot next year....but what we have this year is a bunch of pretty deserving authors.

A quick note before I get to my rankings, I came up with a system for tiebreakers last year for my ballot.  First, I prefer long fiction writers to short fiction writers unless they've written a ton of it (this is my preference and may not match others).  Second, and it doesn't matter much this year, but I will put nominees who are in their last year of eligibility over newer authors, since they'll get another shot last year.  Even with these tiebreakers, the competition is stiff and I have four authors that I have a hard time deciding between.

Note:  For Authors who appeared on last year's ballot and haven't written substantially more, I may simply copy and paste my last year comments, as I haven't reread those authors' works since last year.  

6th Place on my Ballot.   Katherine Arden - (Nominated for the Winternight Trilogy)

Works Read: The Bear and the Nightingale (Review Here).

Thoughts:  I've only read one of Arden's three works that earned her this nomination, the first in the trilogy, and I was a lot cooler on it than others, with the book basically fizzling out after a very promising start.  Unfortunately, I never managed to get around to the book's sequel, so I can't say if the second book improves upon the first so much.  But as the only author here with a book I didn't really love, Arden winds up last on my list by default -  not a knock on her, to be clear.  Arden was also on the ballot last year, where she also wound up in this spot on my ballot.

5th Place on my Ballot: Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Works Read: A Series of Steaks, Fandom for Robots, Pistol Grip, Portrait of Skull With Man.

My Thoughts:  Vina Jie-Min Prasad is on the ballot for the second straight year, again for works of short fiction.  Her Hugo Packet selection includes two extra works in addition to last year's works - both of which picked up nominations last year for short fiction Hugo Awards.  All of the stories are excellent, although I think the two newer stories (Pistol Grip, Portrait of Skull With Man) are weaker than the original two.  Still, as I noted above, I tend to rank short fiction writers in this category lower than the novelists due to my own personal preferences - so this is where Prasad falls on my ballot.

4th Place on my Ballot: R.F. Kuang

Works Read: The Poppy War (Review Here)

My Thoughts:  I was stunned that Kuang's novel that got her on the ballot didn't earn her a Best Novel nomination - in fact, I was so certain she'd make the ballot that I purposely didn't nominate The Poppy War myself to try and get another favorite of mine onto the ballot.  Oops.  The Poppy War is honestly incredible, with a truly devastating turn towards the book's end.  It's also a brutal book, based upon some of history's greatest horrors in war, so it certainly won't be for everyone.  I'd give serious consideration to putting The Poppy War first on my ballot....except this is Kuang's first year on the ballot, and she'll get another shot next year.  So while I'd be very happy to see her win, by my own tiebreakers she comes up 4th for me.

3rd Place on my Ballot: S.A. Chakraborty

Works Read: The City of Brass (Review Here), The Kingdom of Copper (Review Here)*

*Technically The Kingdom of Copper is not part of the eligibility period, but I'm human and can't ignore it when I'm talking this nomination.  Sorry.*

My Thoughts:  Chakraborty is the only author on this list who is both in her 2nd year of eligibility and wasn't nominated last year.  But the nomination is well deserved, as her Daevabad trilogy books are excellent, featuring some really incredibly strong characters who I love so damn much in a setting that is very different from the normal western European fantasies people often think of in Epic Fantasy.  I've recommended the series highly to people who liked Game of Thrones before the last season, as it's filled with loads of gray characters, and conflicts in a kingdom that are far from Black and White - and so far it has not disappointed.  Despite the above, these are the most fun works of my top 4 books on the ballot, which is very much appreciated, although I do think they're slightly below the works of the two higher ranked authors on my list.

2nd Place on my Ballot:  Jeannette Ng 

Works Read: Under the Pendulum Sun - (Review HERE)

My Thoughts:  My top two authors on the ballot are still nominated for the same works as last year, so my order of them on my ballot remains the same.  Coming up in second place on my ballot (up from third last year) is Jeannette Ng, who wrote the phenomenal Gothic Fae fantasy/horror novel, Under the Pendulum Sun.  It's telling that I absolutely loved this book, despite it featuring a good amount of Christian Theological references that I (being not Christian) definitely missed.  If the book has a fault, its a slow beginning, but otherwise it is a fantastic example of great worldbuilding and a twisty plot that will leave you guessing until the end.  If this is Ng's first novel, I can't wait to read more from her, as her plotting is absolutely pristine.

1st Place on my Ballot:  Rivers Solomon

Works Read: An Unkindness of Ghosts:  (Review HERE)

My Thoughts:  Last year I thought Rivers Solomon was probably the favorite for this award so I'm not surprised to see her nominated again, and I gave her my top spot on my ballot this year.   Her book, An Unkindness of Ghosts is again my highest rated book for any author on this ballot (I gave it a 9.5 out of 10).  It's a terrific novel - never mind first novel - but a powerfully depressing one - the basic setup for the book is that the story takes place on a Generation Ship which is structured like a Plantation, with the lower class (and more colored) individuals on the lower levels of the ship oppressed by those on the higher levels. It is not a fun book in any way - our main heroine and her friends endure horrific abuse - and the ending is hardly one that gives off much hope, although it avoids being grimdark at the same time.  Especially in today's world - where those in power are espousing racism more openly than in years (not that said racism ever went away mind you), it's a book that probably should be more well-read than one would've thought three years ago.

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