The 2014 Hugo Awards were presented in London on Sunday, August 17th. This year’s winner for Best Novel went to Ann Leckie for Ancillary Justice, which tells the story of One Esk – an electronic artificial intelligence – who once commanded an entire starship, the formidable Justice of Tore. Now confined to a mortal body cobbled together from interchangeable human parts as the entity called “Breq,” the AI must survive as a multi-segmented, ancillary humanoid being in a galactic empire ruled by an oppressive government — without disobeying the law that forbids AIs from harming their creators. I will definitely put this down on my reading list!
In fact, I’ve always strived to read as many Hugo-winning books as possible. When you’re as avid a reader as I am, it’s always exciting to discover a new author, along with her or his body of work. I thought I would share some of my favourite Hugo winners, in the hopes that you might also find someone new!
Redshirts, by John Scalzi, won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. While familiar with the author, I’d never read any of his works previously. Redshirts was a great introduction – definitely recommended for any classic Star Trek fan! Follow Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned to the Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union, as he works in the xenobiology lab. He and the other new ensigns notice something weird about life aboard the Intrepid — on any away mission, at least one crew member dies. And each away mission seems to follow a bizarre set of rules. The crew of the Intrepid has become very superstitious and fearful about getting involved in the bridge crew’s missions. After meeting with a lost crewmember, the ensigns learn that they are characters in a TV show. As the new ensigns understand their lot, the story is similar to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where the story tells what happens when its characters find out they are not in the “real” storyline. In what I see as inspired genius, Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook version.
Saga, Volume 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. Not only that, but the series also won the three Eisner Awards it was nominated for in 2013 (Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer), and won six 2013 Harvey Awards (Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Color, Best New Series, Best Continuing or Limited Series, and Best Single Issue or Story). Brian K. Vaughan is one of my favourite comic writers – Pride of Baghdad holding a special place in my heart – so I was quite excited when this new series was announced. Not familiar with Fiona Staples’ work, I found myself blown away! In this first volume (collecting issues of Saga #1-6) bits of sf space opera and classic fantasy mesh in setting a sprawling stage for an intensely personal story of two lovers, cleverly narrated by their newborn daughter. Though recently soldiers from opposite sides of a massive intergalactic war, moth-winged Alana and ram-horned Marko simply want peace and anonymity to raise their daughter (an abomination to the powers that be) away from conflict and hatred. Action, adventure, love, sex, grief, and joy combine in one amazing book!
Among Others, by Jo Walton, won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the British Fantasy Award, and was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Set in 1979 and 1980, this book tells the story of 15-year-old Morwenna. After engaging in a classic good-magic-versus-bad-magic battle with her mother that fatally wounds her twin sister, Morwenna leaves Wales and attempts to reconnect with her estranged father. Sent to a boarding school in England, her riveting backstory unfolds gradually as she records her thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a series of journal entries. An ominous sense of disquiet permeates the nonlinear plot as Morwenna attempts to avoid a final clash with her mother. In addition to casting an irresistible narrative spell, Walton also pays tribute to a host of science-fiction masters as she peppers Morwenna’s journal with the titles of the novels she devours in her book-fueled quest for self-discovery.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi, won the 2010 Nebula Award and the 2010 Hugo Award (tied with The City & the City by China Miéville), both for best novel. This book also won the 2010 Compton Crook Award and the 2010 Locus Award for best first novel. This novel is set in a future Thailand where calories are the greatest commodity. Anderson is a calorie-man whose true objective is to discover new food sources that his company can exploit. His secretary, Hock Seng, is a refugee from China seeking to ensure his future. Jaidee is an officer of the Environmental Ministry known for upholding regulations rather than accepting bribes. His partner, Kanya, is torn between respect for Jaidee and hatred for the agency that destroyed her childhood home. Emiko is a windup, an engineered and despised creation, discarded by her master and now subject to brutality by her patron. The actions of these characters set in motion events that could destroy the country. Bacigalupi has created a compelling, if bleak, society in which corruption, betrayal, and despair are commonplace, and more positive behavior and emotions such as hope and love are regarded with great suspicion.
Digger, Volumes 1-6 by Ursula Vernon, was nominated for the Eisner Award and won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2012. Originally a webcomic, it has been released in 6 volumes, and features an anthropomorphic, no-nonsense wombat named Digger who finds herself stuck on the wrong end of a one-way tunnel in a strange land where nonsense seems to be the specialty. Now, with the help of a talking statue of a god, an outcast hyena, a shadow-being of indeterminate origin, and an oracular slug she seeks to find out where she is and how to go about getting back to her Warren. Vernon’s black and white illustrations are fantastic, and the story will stay with you for days after reading.
To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last, by Connie Willis, won both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999, and was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1998. This funny romp through time from 2057 back to Victorian England, with a few side excursions into World War II and medieval Britain, will have you glued to the pages. Rich dowager Lady Schrapnell has invaded Oxford University’s time travel research project in 2057, promising to endow it if they help her rebuild Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by a Nazi air raid in 1940. In effect, she dragoons almost everyone in the program to make trips back in time to locate items–in particular, the bishop’s bird stump, an especially ghastly example of Victorian decorative excess. Time traveler Ned Henry is suffering from advanced time lag and has been sent, he thinks, for rest and relaxation to 1888, where he connects with fellow time traveler Verity Kindle and discovers that he is actually there to correct an incongruity created when Verity inadvertently brought something forward from the past. Take an excursion through time, add chaos theory, romance, plenty of humor, a dollop of mystery, and a spoof of the Victorian novel, and you end up with what seems like a comedy of errors but is actually a grand scheme “involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and pen wipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork.”
If you’re looking for more Hugo magic, please visit our catalogue for a listing of past winners.