Hugo 2020 Ranking Novellas

I’ve read and reviewed all the 2020 Hugo Award novellas.

I thought I might try ranking them along different criteria. There is at least one I loved and at least one I hated but there are several here that had some very notable qualities that I was less than enamoured with. Splitting these impression into different criteria doesn’t make those criteria objective but it lets me think about how my different feelings/impressions play out between them.

Cohesion: How well did the story hold together as a single piece. Did the multiple parts all work in concert? Lower ranked stories had parts that I liked but which worked less well when taken as a whole.

  1. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  2. In an Absent Dream
  3. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  4. This Is How You Lose the Time War [this feels a little unfair as some of the lack of cohesion was intentional]
  5. The Deep
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Characters: How well did I feel I know and care about the characters in the story by the end of it? I was surprised that Time War ended up sixth but looking at it this way made me appreciate some aspects of To Be Taught

  1. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  2. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  3. In an Absent Dream
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate [I found them annoying in places]
  5. The Deep [Perhaps a little unfair also as the central character was struggling with a loss of identity]
  6. This Is How You Lose the Time War

Prose: Pure word-smithing. Which ones show how to put a sentence together.

  1. In an Absent Dream
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  4. The Deep
  5. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Engaging Plot: How much did I want to know what happens next! Possibly this overlaps too much with cohesion but pacing and characters also play a role. Time War does better as a result.

  1. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. In an Absent Dream
  4. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  5. The Deep
  6. To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Boldness: Which story tries to push envelopes and be inventive! A story can do well on some of the above criteria by playing it safe but the spirit of science fiction is to boldly go where no story has gone before or at least not as often! This is a tough criterion because they each really do push some boundaries.

  1. The Deep
  2. This Is How You Lose the Time War
  3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  5. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  6. In an Absent Dream

Intangible sfnalness: I want to give a boost to fantastical ideas here! But this is a tough category. They each emit large amounts of fantastical energy.

  1. This Is How You Lose the Time War: Crammed full of time hopping weirdness
  2. The Haunting of Tram Car 015: Steam punk djinn 1910s Cairo
  3. The Deep: Hundreds of years of a deep sea history mixing magic, trauma and tragedy and the history of a people
  4. To Be Taught, If Fortunate: multiple planets and exotic life forms richly imagined
  5. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom: a classic of taking a single science fictional idea and exploring the social and human ramifications
  6. In an Absent Dream: The intricacies of the Goblin Market and its cruel/not-cruel rules

Scores! In alphabetical order.

  • Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (1,2,3,4,3,5)
  • In an Absent Dream (2,3,1,3,6,6)
  • The Deep (5,5,4,5,1,3)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (3,1,5,1,5,2)
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War (4,6,2,2,2,1)
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate (6,4,6,6,4,4)

Oh but I have painted myself into a mathematical corner! Multiple rankings on different dimensions! A point system would be better but we’d still need to think about how to weight each category! Oh no!

What I could do is treat each criterion as the preferences of a different voter where each voter is part of my fractured taste in stories. However, it’s a cold morning and implementing instant run-off voting on a spreadsheet is to much like hard work and I’m not sure the numbers would work (To Be Taught… would get eliminated first but without changing anything). One method that uses a simple calculation rather than an iterative process is a Borda Count. Each ranking generates points based on how many candidates are ranked lower. Add them all up and the candidate with the most points wins! The results aren’t very different than averaging the rankings but statisticians don’t ask you why you think you could possibly go around averaging that set of numbers if you shout “voting system!” at them. Of course you then get psephologists shouting “violations of the Condorcet!” at you.

Borda’s method gives me this ranking which I think is almost right in terms of how I’d rank them holistically — Time War should be lower, The Deep should be higher I think.

TitlePoints
The Haunting of Tram Car 01519
This Is How You Lose the Time War 19
Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom18
In an Absent Dream15
The Deep13
To Be Taught, If Fortunate6

2 thoughts on “Hugo 2020 Ranking Novellas

  1. My ranking is in three pairs: 1-2) loved and nominated, 3-4) liked but not enough to nominate, 5-6) didn’t work for me

    1. To Be Taught, If Fortunate
    2. In an Absent Dream
    3. The Deep
    4. The Haunting of Tram Car 015
    5. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom
    6. This Is How You Lose the Time War

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  2. My rankings are:

    1. This Is How You Lose the Time War
    2. The Ranking of Tram Car 015
    3. To Be Taught, If Fortunate
    4. In an Absent Dream
    5. The Deep
    6. Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom

    4 and 5 might still switch places.

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