On August 18, the Hugo Awards were handed out. This is a big deal mostly in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, but, this year it should be a big deal to everyone who values inclusive writing, especially the voices of women and more particularly women of color.
For years, Science Fiction and Fantasy were predominantly the province of men, mainly white men. There have always been women and people of color writing in the genre (or genres, if you want to view them as separate), but the most vocal and visible of fans and writers and, consequently, those recognized by major awards have been men. That has started to shift in the last few years and the shift has brought out the worst in a certain segment of the fan community. There were concerted attempts by some to game the awards to ensure that their sacred white male writers were still the only ones invited to the party. The quality of the work was less important to these vocal (and often toxic) “fans” than that their closed community stayed closed. They didn’t want change. They didn’t want to fling the doors open wide and welcome voices that didn’t conform to their narrow view of what was acceptable. For a couple of years, they got enough support to get books and stories and authors on the ballots, but they didn’t get the awards because the community is smart. The larger community saw their ploy for what it was–the sad attempt of the narrow-minded few to try in vain to maintain the status quo.
In 2014, Ann Leckie won the Best Novel Hugo for her debut novel, Ancillary Justice. This was a fairly remarkable achievement for a number of reasons. It was a debut novel. By a woman. It used “she” as the default pronoun for the world Leckie had created. Think about that last for a moment. Think about how challenging it would be for you to default to “she” for just a single day. Leckie did it for 400+ pages and made it feel natural and effortless. Leckie won the same award the next year for the second book in the trilogy, Ancillary Sword. She would have likely made it a three-peat, except for one not-so-small thing–N.K. Jemisin published The Fifth Season.
Before we go any further, I have to confess that I have a bit of an author crush on Jemisin. I first discovered her writing when I was given an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy, for any laypersons who may be reading this) of her first novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and have waited desperately impatiently for each subsequent book. I luuuurrrrve her (in a totally platonic, non-creepy way) but if I lapse into fangirl squee, now you know why.
Not only did The Fifth Season win a Best Novel Hugo, but each of the subsequent volumes in the series (The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky) did so as well. She was the first(!) African-American writer to win the Best Novel Hugo and she was the first author, period, to win a Best Novel Hugo three years in a row, not to mention for all three volumes of a trilogy. (I will confess to being a bit teary as I type this both because this is an amazing accomplishment and because it should not have taken until 2016 for an African-American author to win a Best Novel Hugo. Why did it take so long? Whither Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor and countless others? Oh, yeah. Old white guy gatekeepers.)
And, in 2018, the doors were blown off the hinges at the Hugos. Not only was the list of winners dominated by women, but the nominee list was very light on white men. (The full list of winners and nominees can be found here.) The winners are as follows:
Best Novel–The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Best Novella–All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Best Novellette–The Secret Life of Bots by Suzanne Palmer
Best Short Story–“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience” by Rebecca Roanhorse
Best Series–World of the Five Gods by Lois McMaster Bujold
Best Related Work–No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. LeGuin
Best Graphic Story–Monstress Volume 2 by Marjorie M. Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda
There are also a number of awards for movies and TV and editors and artists and a lot of other things, many of which were also won by women. And there are two awards administered by Worldcon (the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention) but that are not, technically, Hugos: the Award for Best Young Adult Book (Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor) and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (Rebecca Roanhorse).
I want all of us to acknowledge what an extraordinary, historical year this was. And I want everyone to watch N.K. Jemisin’s heartbreaking, inspiring acceptance speech and recognize how far we still have to go.