Stack ranking Hugo best novella finalists

Last night I finished reading the Hugo finalists for Best Novella. Now it’s time to stack rank them. I figured I’d blog my thoughts and see where that gets me.

My current ranking:

  1. The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
  2. The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
  3. Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
  4. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
  5. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  6. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Let me start by saying this is all me trying to rate these books relative to each other. I really enjoyed them all. There’s not a “bad” book in the bunch, as you might expect from a batch of Hugo finalists.

That said, I definitely enjoyed some more than others. For example, I really enjoyed the Binti series. The Night Masquerade was the final novella in the trilogy, but it was the one that I liked the least, unfortunately. I also think the Every Heart a Doorway series by Seanan McGuire is awesome. But, Beneath the Sugar Sky was my least favorite of the three that have been released so far. So, that’s how those two novellas ended up in the bottom two slots. They’re both still really good. I just liked the others better.

Along the lines of follow-up novellas in a series, Artificial Condition is the second novella in the Murderbot series. I loved All Systems Red, the first book in that series, but didn’t really feel the need to continue with the series after it was over. The first novella ends with a satisfying conclusion, even if it leaves things open for more adventures. But, I wasn’t convinced that I needed more. So, I didn’t expect much from Artificial Condition.  I expected more of the same — a character I loved going on a new adventure. That’s pretty much what I got, but it was still a joy returning to that world and the “voice” of Murderbot. So, I stuck this one in the middle slot. It edged out the next novella on a technicality which I will discuss next.

For the first two thirds or three quarters of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, I was fairly certain that this one was going to be in the top three. I liked the structure of the novella and the characters. There was a clear story arc and character development along the way. The author did a great job of depicting a complicated new world in a relatively short story. But, the ending didn’t work for me. I don’t think it stuck the landing. So freaking close, though. If I thought about this more and applied the “Writing Excuses” concept of how elements of the MICE quotient were introduced and then closed out, I’d probably be able to pinpoint the exact bit that didn’t work for me, but I haven’t taken the time to do that yet. I have too many more books to read. I suspect if I did that I’d find that the closing of the parenthesis got out of order at some point. That, and something about the antagonist character (Fabian) that didn’t work for me. Now that I’ve said all that, I think I may have to flip this with #5 on my list above and boost The Night Masquerade up to #4.

That leaves the two novellas I put at the top of my list. I read The Tea Master and the Detective before I read The Black God’s Drums, so there may be a little bit of recency bias in my ranking. While I thought The Tea Master and the Detective was a solid novella and a creative re-telling of the classic Sherlock Holmes detective stories, The Black God’s Drums was an equally solid novella in terms of storytelling mechanics, but took me to a completely new world I’d never seen before. I’m always going to give extra points to imagination and world-building. Ultimately, the thing that made The Tea Master and the Detective endearing and enjoyable (the fact that it was a Sherlock Holmes re-telling, and I love Sherlock Holmes and have since I was a kid), was the thing that held it back from taking the top slot.

I’m going to sit with this for a while and think about it some more, but those are my initial thoughts. As of right now, The Black God’s Drums wins in this category for me.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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