Hugos 2023: Best Novel

6) Nona the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Nona didn’t want to be just good-looking and dumb; she wanted to be useful. She was dimly aware that she was not what anyone had wanted. This was why she had gone out and got herself a job, even though it wasn’t a paying one.

I completely bounced off the previous two books in this series, both of which were Hugo finalists. But to my surprise, I started off really enjoying this one, as the title character tries to put together her lost memories in a dangerous and violent society not too far from our own. But it lost me again at the end; once she returns to the world of Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, it became boring and confusing, and also there’s a parallel narrative thread which wasn’t integrated into the plot at all, as far as I could see. You can get it here.

5) The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The offices for KPS the name of the organization on the card Tom gave me were on Thirty-seventh, in the same building as the Costa Rican consulate, on the fifth floor. The office apparently shared a waiting room with a small medical practice. I had been in the waiting room for less than a minute when Avella came to get me to take me to her personal office. There was no one else in the KPS office. I guess they, like most everyone else, were working from home.

Very readable and engaging story which I read to the end, a parallel universe with Godzillas; but as usual with Scalzi, all of the characters sound exactly the same (and indeed exactly like Scalzi himself in real life) and the social commentary is paper thin. You can get it here.

4) Legends & Lattes, Travis Baldree

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The hob hauled in his box of tools and placed it inside the big doorway.

By a well-known gaming figure, this is about an Orc warrior who decides that she will set up a coffee shop in a fantasy city. There are hilarious capers as she encounters jealous enemies, magical interference with the brewing process (both positive and negative) and love. I honestly don’t think it’s very deep but it’s good fun. You can get it here.

3) The Spare Man, Mary Robinette Kowal

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her grandmother had taught her that, when Tesla’s rage turned a room incandescent red, the best thing to do was to stay very, very still. The time her elementary school science teacher had marked her correct answer anout the most recent supernova as wrong “because it wasn’t in the textbook” had impressed in Tesla’s mind how effective that stillness could be. It was also the first time she used any version of “I want to speak to the manager” when she asked to go to the principal’s office in a voice that was, in hindsight, too cold and flat for a ten-year-old.

This was very interesting – a detective novel set on an Earth to Mars space cruise. Intricate plotting, lots of good stuff about gender diversity and invisible disabilities, and a very cute dog. And cocktail recipes. I was not quite sure about the ending, though. You can get it here.

2) Nettle and Bone, T. Kingfisher

Second paragraph of third chapter:

“I saw you,” said the voice. She squinted against the light and saw the speaker. A man. Perfectly ordinary looking, in the gray-brown garb that everyone wore, here on the edge of the desert. There was nothing that stood out about him, except that he was shouting at her.

As usual with Ursula Vernon, a cracking good read: it’s about a discarded princess who goes on an epic fantasy quest with a gang of unlikely henchbeings. Lots of funny lines and social commentary. Very enjoyable. You can get it here.

1) The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Melquiades claimed the mere thought such a thing might be possible was sacrilege: holiness could not reside in a flower or a drop of rain. Offerings to spirits were the devil’s work.

I thought this was really interesting, a reframing of H.G. Wells in the context of the historical Maya resistance to Mexican rule in the Yucatan. There was a twist three quarters of the way through that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. Not especially excited about any of these, but this one gets my vote. You can get it here.

2023 Hugos:
Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Series | Best Graphic Story or Comic | Best Related Work | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist | Lodestar Award for Best YA Book | Astounding Award for Best New Writer

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (brief note)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Her grandmother had taught her that, when Tesla’s rage turned a room incandescent red, the best thing to do was to stay very, very still. The time her elementary school science teacher had marked her correct answer anout the most recent supernova as wrong “because it wasn’t in the textbook” had impressed in Tesla’s mind how effective that stillness could be. It was also the first time she used any version of “I want to speak to the manager” when she asked to go to the principal’s office in a voice that was, in hindsight, too cold and flat for a ten-year-old.

This was very interesting – a detective novel set on an Earth to Mars space cruise. Intricate plotting, lots of good stuff about gender diversity and invisible disabilities, and a very cute dog. And cocktail recipes. I was not quite sure about the ending, though. You can get it here.

Eastercon 2022: Reclamation

Back in January 2020, before the world ended, I was attending a planning meeting for the bid to host the 2024 WorldCon in Glasgow, when two of the committee literally grabbed me and said they needed a word. One of them was Phil Dyson, and he revealed that he and his team were planning to bid for the 2022 Eastercon, the UK’s National Science Fiction Convention; and that they were formally inviting me to be the Fan Guest of Honour.

I was stunned into silence. (A rare occurrence.) If you look at the list of Guests of Honour for previous Eastercons, there are some pretty prestigious names there as both pro and fan guests, including some who I have slavishly admired since my teenage years. At the same time, I am very aware that you and I could easily name at least a dozen people who have put more years and work into fandom than I have, who have not yet been recognised in that way. So I had a really vivid moment of impostor syndrome.

And yet, it did not take me many seconds to say yes to Phil. I came late to Eastercon – my first was as recently as 2012 – but I have loved the atmosphere each time I attended in person, and felt more and more that this is an accepting community; my tribe. I accepted Phil’s proposal, and he looked relieved. So that was January 2020.

And then, as you know. the world ended.

The 2020 Eastercon, ConCentric, which would have been in Birmingham, was simply cancelled in all respects apart from an online bid session, at which the 2021 team presented their plans – and were given the community’s approval to proceed – and Phil presented his intention to bid for 2022, but declared that it was too early to seek formal approval. Eastercons do not reveal their Guests of Honour until they have won the selection vote. I was in the tantalising situation where I had hoped that the 2022 committee would go public, but of course they decided not to.

The 2021 Eastercon, Confusion, took place entirely virtually. This had its pluses and minuses (as reported in detail by Jo van Ekeren). The biggest plus was that at least it actually happened, and from my spare bedroom in Belgium I moderated one panel, spoke on two others and participated in several more. In particular, I learned a lot about Chinese SF from a panel about Jin Yong. The downside was that the technology was raw; many of the early panels and discussions were not streamed live, and the organisers seemed disturbingly nonchalant about the negative experiences of some participants.

There was, again, a bid session, held virtually. The 2021 team asked for another chance in 2023, and a challenger arose and advocated instead that the 2023 decision should be postponed. The session agreed. It also agreed, with little dissent, to approve Phil’s bid for the 2022 Eastercon, to be called “Reclamation”. At that point my own involvement became public, and so were my fellow Guests of Honour: Zen Cho, Mary Robinette Kowal and Philip Reeve. People in general were very kind about this, and if there was a negative comment on my role, I missed it completely. (If you did see any such thing, don’t feel that you need to enlighten me.)

Zen Cho had unfortunately had to withdraw for family reasons, but I’m glad to say that she will be one of the Guests of Honour at next year’s Eastercon instead. My father and both of her parents were born in what is now Malaysia, which is probably three more Malaysian-born GoH parents than in the previous history of Eastercon.

By the time the announcement was made, I had rather unexpectedly taken on the role of WSFS Division Head for the 2021 WorldCon, DisCon III to be held in Washington DC. I relinquished that role in late June, and shortly thereafter the Chair of the convention also resigned, to be replaced by one Mary Robinette Kowal, my fellow Eastercon 2022 Guest of Honour. The first thing I said to her when I saw her last weekend was to apologise for my role in thrusting that particular burden on her shoulders. I will not report her response.

Anyway, time passed, the plague receded to an extent, and last Thursday I set off to Heathrow (after a couple of days working in London), arriving in time for a lovely dinner with my wife and son and the Committee (and, in theory, the other Guests of Honour; but they all arrived on Friday).

Zen’s replacement was Tasha Suri, whose work I’m ashamed to say I was unfamiliar with, though in my 2020 Hugo administration role I had sent her a finalist pin for being on the inaugural Astounding Award ballot. Tasha was a bit distracted by domestic events during the weekend, but I instinctively liked her as a person and have now bought some of her work to enjoy.

As mentioned above, I knew Mary Robinette best of the other GoHs. We had some good rehashing of recent events, which again will not be further reported. She and Ian Whates did a breezy and enjoyable BSFA Awards ceremony. (Though I had only voted for one winner.) Her interests are gratifyingly eclectic, and I hoped but failed to go to a couple of her panels on historical topics. She flew out a little early to go to Kjell Lindgren’s next space launch.

Philip Reeve was a real discovery. Famous for Mortal Engines, of course, the only other book of his that I had read was a Fourth Doctor / Leela story from 2013 which I greatly enjoyed. Anne, F and I dined with him in the hotel on the Saturday and then took him out with a larger group including Mary Robinette on the Sunday. A charming, modest and reserved chap, who I hope we will see again.

Phil Dyson introduces the Guests of Honour – me, Tasha Suri, Philip Reeve and Mary Robinette Kowal

Badly backlit after-dinner photo on Sunday night

Apart from the opening and closing ceremonies, I had four panels, a Kaffeeklatsch and a formal stage interview during the weekend. When I say I had four panels, one of them was simply introducing Wendy Aldiss presenting her lovely book, My Father’s Things, in a discussion with Brian Aldiss’s publisher Scott Pack, and then sitting back in the audience and enjoying the illustrated narration.

The other three were two on politics and one on Doctor Who, which seems about right. They were front-loaded so that on Sunday all I had to worry about was the GoH interview, or so I thought. My Kaffeeklatsch was first thing on Saturday, and only two people came, both of whom I already knew well (Hi, Shana! Hi, Colette!); I wonder if there would have been more if it had been scheduled after my GoH interview rather than before?

All praise to Vincent Doherty, who carefully managed a delightful interview, much of which was summarised by the BSFA scribe Emily (click on the tweet for her full account):

These were the slides that Vince assembled from the photos I had sent in advance:

Two other things happened on the Sunday. The first was the hotly contested bid for the 2023 Eastercon, where I was called in to read aloud the (newly finalised) rules. The choice between the two contenders was resolved by a lobby vote, with each of the two bids assigned a door and supporters asked to leave the room by one or the other. Virtual votes, and votes from the less mobile, were tallied in parallel and added in. The winning bid had almost exactly 60% of support, which is comfortable but not crushing. Apparently this was the closest vote since the revolutionary year of 1989.

The other significant thing on Sunday was the new Doctor Who episode, a swashbuckling bit of Chinese pirate fun along with Sea Devils. (They call humans “Land Parasites”.) I won’t analyse it in depth, yet; I loved the deepening of the Doctor / Yasmin relationship and I loved even more the imminent return of Tegan and Ace.

Incidentally, and I should have posted this in February, I got a pic with Mandip Gill, who plays Yasmin, at Gallifrey One in February, and the green-screen effect means that the Tardis appears to be visible through my torso. They offered me another photo-op, but I quite like it.

Yesterday was much more relaxed, for me anyway. I attended the live recording of the Octothorpe podcast, where I was roundly mocked for predicting that they would win a BSFA Award, my attempts at camouflage proving strangely ineffective. (Note F, sitting beside me, wishing he was anywhere else.)

My attempt to hide from the scorn of Octothorpe

It was fantastic to be back with real people again, and I loved seeing all of you. You made my family very welcome as well, and that makes a big difference. Many thanks to Phil and all of his committee, and congratulations to James Shields on winning the Doc Weir Award. And I do hope to come again next year, though it does depend a bit on the venue.

A number of people inevitably came away with COVID as a souvenir of the convention. So far the numbers seem to be barely into double figures, out of 700 attendees, and I myself have tested negative. (Having caught my own dose at Novacon in November.) Fingers crossed that nobody is too badly affected.

Fannish friends will forgive my closing with our dear H, our guest for many Christmases, who cycled many miles to come and see us on Friday evening and Saturday morning. I hope that it will not be too long before we see any of you again.