I’m not going to post my voting order and certainly not before voting even opens but having read them all, here are my thoughts. I am thinking of the novels in two groups as far as my vote goes. Group A: I may vote these number 1. Group B: decent winners but I’m not going to vote number 1 for them.
- Arkady Martine A Desolation Called Peace Tor Books
- A solid sequel to the 2020 winner and an entertaining space empire story in its own right. It doesn’t have the same punch as A Memory Called Empire but that’s the nature of sequels. Group B for me. Chance of winning? Sequels to winners are a bit of a paradox. It’s unusual for sequels to win but the previous win is positive evidence that Hugo voters like the author, the setting and the characters.
- Becky Chambers The Galaxy, and the Ground Within Harper Voyager/Hodder & Stoughton
- I feel that lowering the stakes and pushing the story into what might be called a “bottle episode” if it was a TV show made this a stronger entry in the Wayfarers series. Still a group B for me though. Chance of winning? Chambers is popular with Hugo voters and this is the last chance for the Wayfarers series to get the Best Novel win but I suspect that many people who really liked this one are also likely to put Ryka Aoki’s novel number 1.
- Ryka Aoki Light From Uncommon Stars Tor Books/St Martin’s Press
- A surprising novel that rarely goes where you expect it to go and feels like a much bigger novel (in a good way). A definite group A for me. Chance of winning? It has flaws and so many elements to it that not all of them pull together but in a tight set of finalists, it is the one most unlike anything that has won before (again in a good way). As I suggested above, I think this will get a lot of the Becky Chambers vote and it will be interesting to see how the preferences play out.
- P. Djèlí Clark A Master of Djinn Tor.com Publishing/Orbit UK
- An atmospheric early 20th-century setting provides the vibes of pre-WW2 detective and horror fiction by re-appropriating orientalist elements and reflecting them back onto their origins. With a different set of finalists then I might put this one higher but it is a year of tough choices and it is in my group B. Chance of winning? Another set of paradoxes! Does a Nebula win make it more or less likely to win? The Hugos and Nebulas often head off in different directions and yet surely winning one award is evidence that the novel can win! Last year’s Murderbot win is also evidence that a popular novella series can segue into a Best Novel win.
- Andy Weir Project Hail Mary Ballantine Books/Del Rey Books
- Heroic engineering space rocket adventure makes a come back to the Hugo Awards…except, heroic engineering space rocket adventure won in 2019, so not such a long break. Even so, I really enjoyed this novel and the way it took a few fantastical premises (sun eating microbes) and escalated them into an otherwise plausible contemporary interstellar adventure. It’s all big on the science and short on the characterisation but I was more moved by the end of this novel than the rest. So a controversial group A for me for a novel that does something old in a new way. Chance of winning? Who knows! It seems unlikely but Hugo voters nominated it and the past decade of winners have tended towards stories with big, planetary (or bigger) stakes. I’ll be mildly surprised rather than shocked if it won.
- Shelley Parker-Chan She Who Became the Sun Tor Books/Mantle Books
- Chinese history as a backdrop for magic-lite epic fantasy is a great idea and very well executed. What is very original for the genre is a central character who is Machiavellian while being sympathetic and even likeable. Zhu Chongba’s rise to power seems implausible but the reader also finds themselves taken in by the character’s charm and ambition. A definite group A for me. Chance of winning? I really don’t know. There’s not been an alternative history winner since 2008. We can generalise and say that epic fantasy doesn’t win Hugo awards…except for all the times that it does. I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel wins and it would deserve it.
It’s a tough set to choose from and I don’t think there is a clear novel-to-beat this year. If I had to make a prediction then I think Light From Uncommon Stars has the edge.
I also think we can draw a rough spectrum from Becky Chambers to Andy Weir & Arkady Martine that works on multiple elements. On the one hand, we have a low stakes setting with multiple character arcs and a focus on solving personal/emotional problems. On the other hand, we have high stakes (the survival of intelligent life on multiple planets), with a limited set of characters and a focus on immediate practical problems of survival.