Hugo 2019 – I’m not doing Best Series

The past two times I’ve found Best Series intractable but this year I was more hopeful I’d engage constructively with it. I’ve read some of all of each of the nominees, although only a small amount of two of them. Laundry Files, Centenal Cycle, Machineries of Empire and Wayfarers are each series that I’ve read all the novels and some of the shorter texts for. So I’ve done enough reading already to engage with two-thirds of the finalists.

So what’s the hold up? Of the four I can put Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers to one side. I get what people like about it but it’s just not for me. That gets me to three series that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Hoorah! But what’s next? It’s not just that they are each quite different, that is true of most Hugo finalists in most years. It’s that I really can’t find a way in to talk about them.

My gut suggests that the intended purpose of the category was too reward books that collectively do something that wouldn’t be recognised by the Hugo Awards when looked at as individual works. That would suggest to me that The Laundry Files is the obvious choice and to some extent Machineries of Empire is missing the point of the category as a finalist.

On the other side, the books of Machineries of Empire have been strong contenders for Best Novel. It seems absurd to say that a set of books that has won or been finalists for major awards, isn’t collectively Best Series.

And having said all that, I think the Centenal Cycle is much stronger as a set of stories than any one of the individual books. It set me thinking about so many issues and it’s one of those stories that just grows in my estimation the longer I think about it. No one of the novels had quite the mind-blowing impact of something like Ninefox Gambit but collectively this is a powerful series.

Final rankings are hard for any category but here it is more that I’d rank them differently depending on how I think about Best Series. I was even wondering if being a finalist for Best Novel should even be a disqualification for Best Series (i.e. subtracted from the word count) to make the award more distinct from Best Novel…and then I thought that was mean and unfair…and then I rethought that thought because otherwise series of books that had been past finalists will always have an advantage because Hugo voters are more likely to have read at least some of the series, turning Best Series into a consolation prize rather than a thing in its own right. Then Timothy slapped me, not because I was spiralling out of control but just because he’s a violent apex predator in a tiny body.

Centenal Laundry Gambit it is then.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Hugo 2019 – I’m not doing Best Series

  1. Having been a minor member of the committee that brought you Best Series, the original purpose was to recognize that authors today are more focused on series works than on individual works. It was inspired by a blog post from Eric Flint.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. For me, Machineries of Empire is the clear winner — with the caveat that I haven’t read any of the Xuya stories yet. I love the way Lee plays with thoughts about identity and personhood and reality, while telling an exciting adventure story.

    I’ve tried THREE TIMES to get into Infomocracy, and it is just so deadly dull boring that I can’t stand it. The author seems to be so thrilled with the politics that she forgot to tell a story to go along with it. I finally gave up.

    And I’m pretty much like you with the Chambers — I can see that she’s doing something different, taking sf away from needing constant hyped-up drama and focusing on the positive, but her style just isn’t for me. I did finally finish book 3 on my second try, and I liked book 2, but as a whole I find her pretty bland.

    As for Laundry Files, I must admit that I liked them less as I read more of them. Ehhh.

    And although McGuire has undeniable talent, her books just never do quite mesh with my tastes. If I get around to it I’m going to try to actually eyes-on-the-page read the last couple of books in the series rather than listen to them, to see if I get any different impression.

    Like

  3. Last year I wound up ranking the series which I felt I had read enough of to have a sense of the series, and left the others off (I didn’t No Award them, I just left them off). And I decided that my criteria was, did I think the series told a story that was greater than the sum of its parts. Which is very vague. But our votes are always subjective, so…

    Like

  4. Well, dangit, my post seems to have disappeared. If this turns out to be a duplicate, my apologies!

    For me, Machineries of Empire is the clear winner — with the caveat that I haven’t read any of the Xuya stories yet. I love the way Lee plays with thoughts about identity and personhood and reality, while telling an exciting adventure story.

    I’ve tried THREE TIMES to get into Infomocracy, and it is just so deadly dull boring that I can’t stand it. The author seems to be so thrilled with the politics that she forgot to tell a story to go along with it. I finally gave up.

    And I’m pretty much like you with the Chambers — I can see that she’s doing something different, taking sf away from needing constant hyped-up drama and focusing on the positive, but her style just isn’t for me. I did finally finish book 3 on my second try, and I liked book 2, but as a whole I find her pretty bland.

    As for Laundry Files, I must admit that I liked them less as I read more of them. Ehhh.

    And although McGuire has undeniable talent, her books just never do quite mesh with my tastes. If I get around to it I’m going to try to actually eyes-on-the-page read the last couple of books in the series rather than listen to them, to see if I get any different impression.

    Like

    1. I like the Chambers a bit more than either you or OGH but for me it really doesn’t fit well in Series just because I feel like the whole is pretty much exactly equal to the sum of its parts. I don’t feel like I really got anything more out of Record of a Spaceborn Few from reading the prior books.

      Like

      1. That’s a good point and raises a relevant quality. How much are the works enhanced by being a series? Wayfarers? Not so much at all. Minor tweaks to the books and it’s not a series.

        Like

  5. Best Series is one of those categories where I just vote No Award and nothing else to signal that I think the category shouldn’t exist. I’d feel differently if it were for best new work in an ongoing series.

    Best Editor (Long Form) is the one where I really wish everyone would vote No Award because it’s virtually impossible either to nominate for or to vote for.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yeah, I’m with the crowd that thinks Best Series should go to series that work better as a whole than individual works. So last year for example, The Books of the Raksura was a perfect nominee, and I was hoping it’d win. The same could also be said of last year’s nomination of The Memoirs of Lady Trent, which I’d missed originally and loved when I read the books so that I could get a better handle on my vote. These are each series where the characters and setting grow over each book, forming a greater whole – so as someone noted above, Wayfarers doesn’t really fit despite my love of the series.

    I’m not against the award existing – and it has meant that the hugo voters packet has had so much extra material I’m really grateful for – but it has definitely been a category with some inconsistent nominations in terms of how the series’ work. In addition to the above problems, I complained last year that some series seem to be nominated for Maxiseries while others are for individual series within a larger universe: so for example, Bujold’s “World of the 5 Gods” was nominated as a whole instead of just the Penric Novellas (which threw in the three original books in this universe) but Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive was nominated instead of his whole Cosmere multiverse. There’s no consistency.

    Laundry Files will probably win this year – IIRC, Stross asked his fans NOT to nominate it last year so it could have a better shot at winning due to the location of Worldcon, and I bet that’s right. Alas, I’m not going to have time to read more than the first book in that series, so my ballot is going to feel incomplete.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. In general, I also believe that Best Series is not working as intended, since I also viewed it as an award intended to honour series, which are hugely popular, but whose individual books never make the ballot, because they just don’t stand alone well enough. Instead, we get more or less the same books and authors we see elsewhere on the ballot, even if some of those works can only very loosely be defined as a series.

    But at least, this year, I already had read all of the nominated series at least in part. I read all three of the Machineries of Empire and Wayfarer books, several Xuya Universe stories and enough of October Daye to make a judgment. I also bounced off Infomocracy, when Malka Older was up for the Campbell. Like Contrarius, I found the book deadly dull and besides, Too Like the Lightning was published the same year, featured a similar political system and had an actual plot. As for The Laundry, I’ve bounced hard off everything by Charles Stross I tried to read and know he just isn’t an author for me, so I don’t need to bother with this at all.

    Machineries of Empire is in first place for me, because it’s a great trilogy that had the misfortune of coming out at the same time as N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, so the individual books never won. I really hope the trilogy wins. I also hope that The Laundry doesn’t win. I’d even prefer the Centenal Cycle to that.

    Like

  8. This started out as a reply to Cora’s comment, and then it got long and involved enough that I’m just posting it as a top-level comment. Cora’s far from the first person I’ve seen arguing that Best Series isn’t functioning as intended because it’s just recognizing the same works that are getting recognized elsewhere on the ballot. As regards the past two years’ winners, that criticism is absolutely spot on. But as regards the past two years’ finalists, I disagree. And then this year’s finalists I think are more of a mixed bag.

    Here’s the breakdown of the Best Series finalists and a bit of commentary. Corrections very welcome; I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that if I’ve missed some names or neglected to count some works.

    Year 1
    1) The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold – Contains 10 previously nominated works, 4 of them previous winners.
    2) The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author (though he was a not-a-Hugo Campbell nominee two years).
    3) The Expanse by James S. A. Corey – Contains 1 previously nominated work.
    4) October Daye by Seanan McGuire – Contains 0 previously nominated works.
    5) Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author.
    6) Temeraire by Naomi Novik – Contains 1 previously nominated work.

    So, the Vorkosigan Saga had obviously received tons of recognition even before its Best Series nomination and win. The other finalists, though, not so much. The Expanse and the Temeraire series had each gotten nominated just once before, for the first books in their series; by the time of their Best Series noms, those series were six and nine books long, respectively. Seanan McGuire practically lives on the Hugo ballot, but she’s never made it onto the Best Novel category under that name, for the October Daye books or any others–her only Best Novel noms have been under her Mira Grant pseud. And Ben Aaronovitch and Max Gladstone wouldn’t have been recognized at all without the Best Series category.

    Year 2
    1) World of the Five Gods by Lois McMaster Bujold – Contains 4 previously Hugo nominated works, 1 of them a previous winner.
    2) Books of the Raksura by Martha Wells – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author. Author appeared on the ballot concurrently for an unrelated work.
    3) The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author.
    4) InCryptid by Seanan McGuire – Contains 0 previously nominated works.
    5) The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author.
    6) The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson – Contains 0 previously nominated works.

    Again, the nom and win for World of the Five Gods was just painting the lily. But none of the other finalists had received noms for individual works in their series, and half of the authors had never even appeared on the Hugo ballot before this year. (City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, the first book in the Divine Cities series, would’ve been a Best Novel finalist if the puppies hadn’t trashed the ballot. But they did, so it wasn’t.)

    Year 3
    1) The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older – Contains 0 previously nominated works. First year on the Hugo ballot for the author (though she was a Campbell nominee one year).
    2) The Laundry Files by Charles Stross – Contains 3 previously nominated works, 2 of them previous winners.
    3) Machineries of Empire by Yoon Ha Lee – Contains 3 previously nominated works and 1 concurrently nominated work.
    4) The October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire – Second time this series was nominated.
    5) The Universe of Xuya by Aliette de Bodard – Contains 2 previously nominated works and 1 concurrently nominated work.
    6) Wayfarers by Becky Chambers – Contains 2 previously nominated works and 1 concurrently nominated work.

    Yeah, okay, this is a very samey year, though not quite as bad as the above numbers make it appear. The Centenal Cycle is obviously fine. (Some Hugo voters would have read Infomocracy when Older was a Campbell nominee, but 1) not-a-Hugo, 2) that’s just one book out of the trilogy, 3) the book was never explicitly recognized on the ballot, and 4) Older had published eligible short fiction as well, so even people voting on the Campbells two years ago might well have skipped her novel.) Meanwhile, the Laundry Files’s previous noms were for novellas–one of them later expanded into a novel–and a novelette, while the nominated series contains nine books and a number of shorter works. The Universe of Xuya likewise has been recognized for a couple of novellas and a novelette, but the series as a whole comprises dozens of stories. So in both of those cases, the nominated series is a lot more expansive and ambitious than the previously/concurrently nominated works.

    This is in contrast to Machineries of Empire, October Daye, and Wayfarers, which have all gotten recognition in previous years and/or elsewhere on the ballot for pretty much the exact same lineup of stories that are getting recognized in the Best Series category. (Though in defense of Machineries of Empire, I’ll argue that the series as a whole is much better than any individual novel or novelette within the series, and I’m happy to place the series at the top of my ballot, whereas each of the individual works ended up towards the middle of my rankings. But October Daye and Wayfarers are indefensible, imo.)

    tl;dr;

    In the category’s first two years, Best Series nominators did quite a good job of honouring finalists that weren’t being recognized elsewhere on the ballot, though you couldn’t tell by looking at those years’ winners. This year, Best Series is a lot more boring and samey, and the ballot would arguably be better if up to three of the nominated series were replaced with something else.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Extremely good point. I would suggest that the Bujold *wins* are almost outliers – they represent as much the affection of voters as a whole for her great work as they do appreciation for the specific series. That said, I think the Vorkosigan/Naismith books are well within the spirit of the award, as they represent a wonderful sequence of character growth across the series that individual books don’t get across. I thought the second win for Five Gods was less justifiable, despite loving the books.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I’ve “no awarded” this category every year I voted on the Hugos. It shouldn’t exist as a category, for multiple reasons, many of which have already been laid out in this thread already.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.