Hugo Award 2021: Best Novel Signum Roundtable (Sat, Dec 18th, 6pm Eastern)

As I announced in my “Blogging the Hugos 2021” series launch, I am once again joining Signum University’s Hugo Award Best Novel Roundtable. In a gala zoom event that no doubt will rival the Worldcon ceremony in DC, I will join six Signum friends to discuss The 2020 Hugo Novel nominations. Here is the recent event announcement, followed by some of my own reflections:

Hugo Award 2021: Best Novel Roundtable 

If the answer is always reading good Science Fiction and fantasy, then the question must always be “How can I best spend my time and escape the normal confines of our day?”

Join us at 6pm Eastern on December 18th for our non-affiliated Hugo Awards evening, when a panel of Science-fiction and Fantasy readers will each talk about one of the shortlisted titles in the Best Novel category of the 2021 Hugo Awards!

Each reviewer will take five minutes to introduce their novel and talk about what they liked or didn’t like about it. We will then open up for a wider discussion, taking questions and comments from the audience.

The audience will then vote on which novel they most want to read, and which they think should win the prestigious Best Novel Hugo Award. The actual winner will be announced at DisCon III, shortly after our event!

It will be a journey of discovery, exploration, mind expansion and just plain good fun.

About the Hugo Award

The Hugo Award is an annual literary award for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year, given at the World Science Fiction Convention and chosen by its members. It was first delivered in 1953.

Click here to register!

Brenton’s Pre-Roundtable Reflections on the Blogging the Hugos Series

I must admit to being somewhat naive when I decided a “Blogging the Hugos 2021” series was a good idea.

As in 2021, the award shortlist includes six highly influential and productive women sf writers. Five of the novels are part of book series, though the outlier–Susanna Clarke’s long-awaited novel, Piranesi, has its own complexities as novel referencing other work. Moreover, I felt I needed to finally read her vivid, game-changing 2004 Regency-era fantasy, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, to discern any links that may be there. While I was able to enjoy Martha Wells’ Network Effect without reading the other stories, it was absolutely essential to read Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth before this year’s nomination, Harrow the Ninth. And though it is possible to read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Relentless Moon, without the two preceding novels in the series, The Calculating Stars was a refreshing discovery. With The Fated Sky, I was able to read Kowal’s newest Hugo nomination with a full sense of the Lady Astronaut Universe. 

I was also, frankly, early in my fall reading when I set out to read not just the six nominees but a package of ten novels (though the longest, Strange & Norell, I had completed earlier in the year). While Kowal’s space trilogy and Wells’ murderbot novel were quick and fun reads, they were none of them short. With an Ursula K. Le Guin class in full swing, I must admit that I struggled to keep up with the reading–especially with novels of great complexity and sophistication by Susanna Clarke, Rebecca Roanhorse, N.K. Jemisin, and Tamsyn Muir. Indeed, I just finished Muir’s pair of necromantic space operas on the weekend, and my response to Jemisin’s urban apocalypse, The City We Became, was a week late and a two-part affair (part 1, part 2). 

And of the book that I was assigned, Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi?

I only have 30 pages of this evocative tale left to read and, frankly, while I understand everything that is happening, I am still entirely confused as to what the novel means. Clarke’s Strange & Norell was the perfect combination of influences for out-of-the-closet Jane Austen slash sf lover like myself. Crossing the genre and literary fiction divide, it was longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and won the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel–as well as the World Fantasy Award, the Locus, and the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Lit. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one of the books that defined the decade of fiction.

Piranesi is a completely different kind of novel. On Thursday I will publish a response, question whether the much shorter and more experimental Piranesi captures that unique, world-opening, character-centred dynamic that made Strange & Norrell so important.

As a standalone novel, Clarke’s Piranesi is an outlier. In terms of literary skill within these six authors, however, there are no outliers.  

This is the second year in a row where women have dominated the list.

And, once again, though there is a bit of genre-bending, science fiction has a strong showing, with Tor/Solaris leading the pack as publishers. This is not unusual, as SciFi books have dominated through the decades, except, perhaps, during the first decade of this century, where the Harry Potter effect saw a shift in focus. As fantasists, Rowling was joined then by folks like George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and, as noted, Susanna Clarke.

Of this year’s novels, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun is most clearly in the realm of legendary fantasy, while Mary Robinette Kowal and Martha Wells are writing in classical SciFi modes. The other three books are literary blends, so that N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became is an urban apocalypse in allegorical form, Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series luxuriously combines a handful of fantastic, romantic, and science fiction genres, and Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi is … well, I’m not quite sure yet what. As a philosophical novel, it has mythic, fantastic, and science fiction elements–though the reader must make some choices about what is fantasy and what is science fiction.

Susanna Clarke is not the only veteran in the crowd. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning was nominated in 2019, and Tamsyn Muir’s previous novel in the same series, Gideon the Ninth, was nominated last year. Famously, N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy won in three successive years (2015, 2016, 2017)—making her the only author to have an entire trilogy win, the only author to win three years in a row, and one of only five writers who have three or more wins. The City We Became is Jemisin’s fifth nomination in the novel category. It has already won the Locus award, so it is definitely a novel to watch.

However, even with Jemison—certainly a giant in the field of Science Fiction writing today—it would be unfortunate to count out Mary Robinette Kowal, whose The Calculating Stars kicked off the Lady Astronaut series with a Hugo win in 2019. Fellow SciFi writer Martha Wells has been publishing for decades, including a Nebula nomination in 1999 for The Death of the Necromancer and Hugo nominations and wins for novellas and book series. She has carefully shaped the Murderbot Diaries series that includes this year’s nominee, Network Effect—and has had the entire series nominated. On top of this, Network Effect is the novel that won the Nebula award earlier this year.

It really is a fantastic set of books, if you can forgive the stellar pun.

Thus, I hope you can join us for the roundtable ahead of the 2021 Hugo Awards ceremonies. Our roundtable begins on Sat, Dec 18th at 6pm Eastern, and will be finished before the awards are livestreamed from DisCon III in Washington, DC. You can register for the free Signum event here. Below you can find my articles in the Blogging the Hugos 2021 series thus far–with a response to Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series due out tomorrow, and a response of some kind to Piranesi on Thursday. And feel free to check out our 2020 panel (linked below) if you are looking for some great reading recommendations.

Blogging the Hugos 2021 (Tentative Schedule)


About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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13 Responses to Hugo Award 2021: Best Novel Signum Roundtable (Sat, Dec 18th, 6pm Eastern)

  1. Ives Digory says:

    I just finished rereading Piranesi this afternoon. It’s bound to be one of my favorite novels, I think. I recently shared it with one of my high school students, and she was similarly enthralled.


  2. I have asked my family to buy Piranesi for me this Christmas and very much look forward to reading it over the dark days that follow when at least part of each day should be spent snuggled up under a warm blanket while reading a good book. Please do comment on it again after you have finished it.


  3. Pingback: The Heroic Gideon and Harrowing Features of Living in the Ninth: Thoughts on Tamsyn Muir’s Necromantic Dream Vision (Blogging the Hugos 2021) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  4. Lisa says:

    Wow! Good for you, Brenton. I am in awe that you managed to read all these and their associated works. You put my struggles to get reading done to shame. I loved The Calculating Stars but I struggled to finish Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – I wanted to love that one so badly but I got bogged down. I want to try again, though. I’m not sure I have the bandwidth to tackle Piranesi. I have the first of the Martha Wells books on my Kindle, but haven’t got to it, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lisa, Piranesi I short and not hard, but I had doubts with Strange & Norell. In the end though, I was glad that I powered through and it turned out to be a really rewarding story. But I did get into trouble reading this year and so if I’m going to do this next year I will start in the winter as the lists come out!


  6. Pingback: Thoughts on Classic and Contemporary SF vs. Fantasy Hugo Best Novel Award Winners while Failing to Write a Review of a Great Book that was not Nominated | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  7. Pingback: 2022: My Year in Books: The Infographic | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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