2022 HUGO WINNERS AT THE FIELD

Once again the Hugo Awards have been given to well-deserving writers and works, and once again The Field Library has its share of winners and finalists, so if you’re interested in what the experts in the field consider to be the best in speculative fiction, give these works a look.

The Field Library is especially rich in the area of novellas.  Not only do we have the winner of Best Novella, A Psalm for the Wild Built, by Becky Chambers (reviewed here), but we also have all of the finalists: Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire (reviewed here), Elder Race, by Adrian Tchiakovsky, Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard, The Past is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente, and A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow (reviewed here).  The last few years have been a golden age for novellas, which the Hugos define as being between 17,500 and 40,000 words.  If you’re interested in testing the speculative fiction waters but aren’t sure you have the time or energy to devote to a full length book (and, to be fair, some speculative fiction novels are huge), try one of the finalist novellas, including this year’s winner.

I was personally delighted to see that Seanan McGuire won the Hugo for Best Series for her Wayward Children series.  The series, the books of which I’ve reviewed in this blog (here, here, here, here, here and here), involves children who left this world for another one, with different rules, and then were forcibly returned to this world.  The complex worldbuilding, the variety of characters and situations, the compassion McGuire shows for these damaged children, all adds up to a series that deserves the best series award, and more power to her (she has another book in the series coming out in January, just FYI).

The Field Library also has on its shelves The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik, which won the award for Best Young Adult, though I’m not entirely sure it qualifies as a Young Adult Book, and most of the libraries in our system don’t treat it as such.  Still, Novik is an excellent writer, and this book, the second in a trilogy that began with A Deadly Education (which the library also has), takes the reader deeper into the world of the Scholomance, a dark school of magic that devours its students.  The third book (for people like me who don’t like reading series that aren’t finished) should be coming out this month.

Finally, what used to be the John Campbell Award for new writers, which has been renamed The Astounding Award for Best New Writer, went to Shelley Parker Chan for her novel, She Who Became the Sun, a book which reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty in China after the Mongol invasion.  While I’m delighted to see the Hugo voters recognizing the value of stories set in other parts of the world than Europe and North America, I’m a little sorry that one of the other finalists didn’t win.  Micaiah Johnson, who wrote the excellent The Space Between Worlds  (reviewed here), was up for the award but didn’t get it, deserving as she was.

So here you have it. Come to The Field Library and check out our Hugo winners and the finalists who didn’t quite make it, and immerse yourself in the best of speculative fiction.

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE CHOOSE THE BEST

I love awards season.  It’s always interesting to find out what experts think of as the best in a particular field, whether it’s the Grammys or the Emmys or the Oscars, or, in this case, the National Book Critics Circle Awards.  The latter are given out every March by an organization of book critics throughout the country, voting on the best books in a variety of categories published in the past year.  If you’d like to see what critics believe were the best novels, nonfiction, biographies and works of criticism for 2021, you can easily find the winners here at The Field Library. 

The Love Songs of W.E. B. Du Bois, by Honoree Fannon Jeffers, won the award for fiction this year, and it’s not surprising, considering all the Best of the Year lists it featured in, and all the longlists for other awards it’s been on this year.  The debut novel of a well-respected poet, this epic novel is about a young African American woman who finds her own identity and resilience by going deeply into her family’s past, slavery and oppression, resistance and independence, cruelty and courage, a uniquely American story.

The winner for nonfiction also turns on African American lives: How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith.  The author takes the unusual angle of looking at monuments throughout America, the ones that are honest about our past and the ones that aren’t, to illustrate how deeply slavery impacted our history, and how some of the most important stories of American history are hiding in plain sight, in monuments, in institutions, in neighborhoods where you would least expect to see them.  The book is a study of how historical memory can be distorted and how it can be reclaimed to be more honest and inclusive.

The best biography, according to the National Book Critics Circle, is one that focuses on World War II. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: the True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner, tells the extraordinary story of Mildred Harnack, an ordinary young American woman from Milwaukee who happened to be studying for her PhD in Germany when the Nazis rose to power, and who became a leader in the resistance to Hitler, helping Jews escape, creating and circulating anti-Nazi literature in Berlin, and couriering special intelligence to the Allies.  Her exploits and adventures would be the stuff of great historical fiction, but they’re even more amazing because they’re true, and Harnack was, until this book, almost unknown.

While the Field Library categorizes Girlhood, by Melissa Febos, as biography (that’s where you’re going to find it in this library), the National Book Critics Circle chose it as the best book of criticism, rather than seeing it in the biography field.  It’s the sort of book that’s hard to categorize, as Febos (an excellent writer, by the way; I’m reading Body Work, another book of hers, and it’s terrific) talks about her own experiences growing up female in America, the stories she was given about what it means to be female and how those stories shaped her sense of herself, as well as the work she had to do in order to see herself and other women in ways not limited by the social conventions of femininity. 

So if you like to know what other people think are the best of the best books, check out these winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards here at The Field Library.

ANOTHER REASON TO LOVE MARTHA WELLS (AND MURDERBOT)

As you know if you’re a fan of Murderbot and its author, Martha Wells, that series has been winning accolades and awards of all kinds for years, well-deserved accolades and awards, in my fangirl opinion (though it’s nice to have my opinion confirmed by other people).  In case you were wondering whether it was possible for Martha Wells to be a cooler person, here’s your answer.  

Fugitive Telemetry, the most recent Murderbot installment, was due to be nominated for a Nebula Award this year, but Martha Wells “graciously” declined the nomination.  Her reason was that the Murderbot series had already received a great deal of attention and praise from her peers in the speculative fiction community, and she wanted to open the floor to the many other wonderful works in the field.

Talk about class.  Thanks, Martha.  Murderbot would approve.

THE BEST FACT CRIME WRITING IN 2021: EDGAR NOMINEES FOR NONFICTION

If you’re a mystery reader, you’ve probably heard of the Edgar Awards, which are awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America.  Books that get Edgar nominations have been vetted and are often (not always; I hit a clunker which was an Edgar nominee not long ago) well worth reading.  You’re probably aware that there are awards for Best Novel, Best Short Story, Best First Novel, Best Y. A. Novel and the like, but are you aware that the Mystery Writers of America also award Edgars for nonfiction that’s crime related?  And are you aware that five of the nominees for Best Fact Crime books are available right here at the Field Library?  If you want to get a hint of what mystery writers consider to be the best nonfiction in their field, you should come on in to The Field Library and check these out.  The winners in all categories will be announced on April 28.

The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History, by Margalit Fox, is one of those books you probably wouldn’t believe if it were fiction, which makes it a terrific subject for nonfiction.  During World War II, two British officers imprisoned in a remote Turkish camp figured out a way to bamboozle their captors and ultimately escape the prison using a ouija board, fake seances and a healthy dose of psychology.  What makes this wild story even better is that the two officers in question were utterly different in background and personality, one a sheep farmer from Australia and the other a son of a lord, educated in Oxford.  Nothing short of their shared experience in this hellish camp could have brought them together, let alone got a lawyer and a magician to combine their talents in a brilliant con like this.  The book also made various “Best of the year” lists in 2021.

Turning to the more recent past, there’s Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York, by Elon Green, which is the story of the Last Call Killer, a serial killer who stalked the New York City gay community in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but, because he only preyed on gay men, and did so when the murder rate in general was extraordinarily high and the death rate among gay men from AIDS was also high, hardly anyone has even heard of him and his crime spree.  Whether you think serial killers are given too much publicity and attention in general or you’re fascinated by them, the story of a community preyed on by a serial killer without the wider world’s so much as noticing has to be intriguing. The book investigates the murders and the decades long efforts to bring the killer to justice, but also focuses on the community he victimized, bringing it and its resilient denizens to life.

If you’re more interested in spies and the Cold War, or perhaps are a fan of the television series, The Americans, you’ll want to check out Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America who Got Away, by Ann Hagedorn, also nominated for an Edgar.  It tells the incredible story of George Koval, an American born to emigrees from the Soviet Union who was recruited by the KGB and ended up working on the Manhattan Project, both in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Dayton, Ohio (where the polonium was assembled into triggers for the atomic bombs).  He had security clearances and access to some of the most top secret aspects of our atomic program, which he fed back to the Soviet Union.  Even after some of his contacts were exposed after the war, nobody suspected him, and he ended up back in the Soviet Union, never having been caught or charged with espionage. An eye-opener of a look at how someone was able to infiltrate our most secret programs without raising an eyebrow.

The subtitle of Two Truths and A Lie: A Murder, a Private Investigator and Her Search for Justice, by Ellen McGarrahan, makes the book sound like your classic thriller, but sometimes truth is stranger and more interesting than fiction could be.  McGarrahan witnessed the execution of a man for the murder of two police officers, but began to believe that he might have been innocent of the crime, as his co-defendant and supposed partner was released from jail and someone else confessed to the crime.  Haunted by the question, she used her skills as a private investigator to dig into this case for years, trying to get at the truth of the matter, only to discover that truth is slipperier than she ever believed.  More than just your usual true crime story of the crime and the investigation into the criminals, the book shows the emotional cost of delving into the heart of darkness like this.

Murder is a terrible thing at any time, but when it’s done by groups of people with what they believe is social approval, it’s worse.  When Evil Lived in Laurel: the “White Knights” and the Murder of Vernon Dahmer, by Curtis Wilkie, deals with a particularly violent subgroup of the KKK in south Mississippi and its murder of a young black man who was president of the local chapter of the NAACP an an outspoken advocate for voting rights for African Americans. At the time, Tom Landrum joined the Klan as an FBI informant, risking his life as he climbed higher and higher into the inner circles of the organization, taking copious notes about the group’s planning of  the murder.  Those insider notes give Wilkie primary sources for the vivid and detailed portrait of the early period of the Civil Rights movement, and of the KKK in its most heinous and powerful period.

If you’re interested in crime, whether institutionalized by the KKK or high level crimes against the United States, and you want to sample some of the best nonfiction writing on the broad subject, check out these books from The Field Library.