The Best Series Hugo Is the Hardest Decision on the Ballot

This week, World Science Fiction Society announced the slate of finalists for the 2017 Hugo Awards. It’s one of the most coveted and prestigious awards in the science fiction and fantasy biz, and this year’s group of nominees is particularly good.

Each year’s committee has the authority to introduce new categories, and fan support lead to this year’s addition of the “Best Series” category, which could be come an official category after a multi-year trial period.One of the last trial awards was for “Best Graphic Story,” in 2009, a category for which Worldcon has given an award in every year since, and we won’t be surprised if this category shows up again, as well.

A Best Series award makes perfect sense: when a book is part of a larger story, no matter how mind-blowing, it can be tough to judge it on its own merits—so why not take a look at series as a whole? After all, we all know SFF loves its trilogies (and its 10- to 14-book epic sagas). This is a great way to recognize a body of work, especially when the nth book of an excellent series generally has little chance of being nominated (let alone winning), but is still worthy of recognition. No one was quite sure how the nminations would shake out (could the entire Star Wars Extended Universe be considered as a singular series?), but there’s no arguing that the books on this inaugural ballot don’t belong there. There’s a wide-range of serious talent on the list, venerable classics alongside burgeoning favorites, all displaying the kind of character- and worldbuilding that can only be accomplished across multiple books.

In fact, for our money, there’s no harder decision on the ballot this year. How do you choose? These nominees offer elements of urban fantasy, alt-history, gritty crime procedural, far-out sci-fi, ghosts, dragons, fairies…you name it. And none of them got here by sticking to convention: each bends the rules as far as they’ll go, and then snaps them in half when a new and more interesting way presents itself.

Is there an all-of-the-above option? No? Well, whoever wins, we’ll still certainly be reading all of them for years to come. Here’s why.

The Craft Sequence, by Max Goldstone
Where to start with this one?

No, really: which book do we start with? This ongoing series began with 2012’s Three Parts Dead…sort of. Each of the five books to-date tells a more-or-less standalone story set in Gladstone’s intricately, thoroughly developed world, each from a different character’s point of view. In this urban (but decidedly fantastical) setting, it’s been 40 years (give or take based on the book) since the end of the God Wars, a conflict in which human sorcerers rose up and destroyed the deities whom they’d once worshipped after having mastered a system of magic that they call the Craft. The series is nominally urban fantasy, but magic and monsters are just part of its workaday world, which operates on the same sort of mundanities that keep ours running, only with more vanquished deities (one book hinges on a dead god’s bankruptcy proceedings). We can’t get enough of this series.

October Daye, by Seanan McGuire
McGuire’s series also touches on elements of urban fantasy and magic—and is, in fact, the rare “traditional” urban fantasy (first person P.I. heroine in a contemporary real-world city setting)—to be recognized by the Hugos in any shape. It’s not hard to see why, McGuire’s immense fanbase and varied bibliography notwithstanding—you don’t become as popular and beloved as any of thease nominees by sticking closely to genre tropes. So, this one’s all about fairies, bringing very old-school ideas of the fae into the modern world. October “Toby” Daye’s fairy mom took a human lover, and then raised Toby in the Summerlands of the fae. Never at home in her mother’s world, she escapes to the human land of San Francisco, but never quite escapes her mother’s influence, or of the dark magic that’s all around her. The setting is frequently the star of a long-running series, but the real draw here is October Daye herself: having survived a cruel childhood, she has gone from mere survival to being a (still) reluctant hero over the course of 10 books…and counting.

Temeraire, by Naomi Novik
Taking us from urban magic and fairies to 19th century aerial combat, Novik’s just-wrapped series is a wild reimagining of history circa the Napoleonic Wars. Like Patrick O’Brian’s nautical Master and Commander books, it focuses on dual leading characters fighting for the British Royal Navy during the 1800s, except this time, the ships have aerial support in the form of giant, intelligent dragons. Captain William Laurence is battling Napoleon’s navy when he encounters a unique egg. When it hatches, the Chinese dragon Temeraire is born. Before long, the psychically linked pair are the best of pals, forming the core of an air force tasked with defending Great Britain. You can’t really go wrong with dragons, but extra points to Novik for taking them out of the expected setting and placing them amidst an alt-history air war between Britain and France. Also, she writes really good dragons.

The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey
This has to be the nominee with the most current buzz, given the much-launded (if less watched) TV adaption currently airing on Syfy. Beginning with Leviathan Wakes in 2012, Corey (the pen name for the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have created an ever-expanding blockbuster space opera that gets more complex and intriguing with every installment (six of a planned nine are available so far). The science fiction is fairly grounded (no faster-than-light travel here) in a near-future story of mankind’s exploration/exploitation of the solar system—it will surprise no one that we take all of our dumb squabbles and politics with us into space. All of which gets even more complicated when a private company uncovers a mysterious, ancient, and quite alien protomolecule that sets mankind off on a new course, for better and worse. The draw here is thoughtful, character-focused sci-fi storytelling with some traditional trappings, but carried off with huge ambition and a ton of style.

Peter Grant/Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch
The series has a slightly lighter touch than some of the other nominees (except when it oh so very much doesn’t), and that’s kinda great, lending a bit of variety to the slate by reminding us that a work can be a little bit fun and funny without being any less brilliant. An extensive, engaging cast and an eye toward the myths and history of London are among the highlights of Aaronovitch’s fantasy police procedural series following Peter Grant, a Metropolitan London cop whose unexpected encounter with a ghost leads to his recruitment by a branch of the police whose job is to handle magic and the supernatural. His cases range from the ridiculous (murderous puppets) to the unusual (magical jazz), often touching on crimes that infect our real world (teen drug overdoses) that turn out to have supernatural causes. And we just can’t say enough about his vision of an alternate London, one in which squabbling gods defend their territories and settle old grudges, with humans as their tools—or innocent victims.

The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
By far the longest-running series nominated, and one that needs no introduction to Hugo voters, considering the fact that its 16 entries to date, along with related short stories, have collected 10 Hugo nominations and four wins. Though Bujold’s output has slowed in recent years, it is also definitely still going strong: she published the first book, Shards of Honor, in 1986; the most recent work, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, came just last year. The books are set in a galaxy in which mankind has expanded across the stars but never encountered other intelligent species. The human diaspora has lead to divergent cultures across dozens of worlds, which, naturally, leads to plenty of conflict to match. Most of the books follow Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, the son of one of the most badass women in the galaxy, Cordelia Nasmith Vorkosigan, and her husband Aral, who happens to govern a world (Cordelia is awesome). Despite suffering the effects of a biological terrorist attack that left him stunted in the womb, Miles aspires to a career in the military, which he pursues, with massive success and monumental failures, even as his mere existence offers a direct challenge to the prejudice of his homeworld. This is big, imaginative science fiction painted across an enormous canvas, with a cast that has spotlighted racially and sexually diverse characters, and characters with disabilities, since way back in the day.

The winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards will be announced World Science Fiction Convention on August 11, 2017.

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