Last year I gave myself a fun little project: to make a Pokémon theme team based off the finalists for the Hugo Award for the Best Novel. I did the same thing this year, though so far the team hasn’t had a lot of success when it comes to battles. Still, with the Hugo Winners being announced later today, now seems like a good time to talk about the finalists all in one place. And to talk about Pokémon, because I can related everything in life back to Pokémon. Everything.
The Stone Sky – N. K. Jemisin
“… so much of the people’s attention is directed towards the ground, not the sky. They notice what’s there: stars and the sun and the occasional comet or falling star. They do not notice what’s missing.
But then, how could they? Who misses what they have never, ever imagined?”
– The Fifth Season
The moon has always been an important part of the Broken Earth trilogy. It is the keystone of the worldbuilding, which in turn is the driving force for so much of the characterisation. In Stone Sky, we see just how important the moon is to everything in this series.
Given the role the moon plays in Stone Sky, it was obvious which Pokémon I wanted to use to represent this story. Though technically, Lunatone is a meteorite that gains power from the moon…, but I think the connection is obvious enough for this theme team. Just look at it.
The first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season, won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2016. The sequel, The Obelisk Gate won the same prize in 2017, making Jemisin the third author to win the award in back to back years, after Orson Scott Card and Lois McMaster Bujold. If The Stone Sky wins today, Jemisin will be the first author to win the award for Best Novel three times in a row. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’ll be the first author to win any of the written fiction awards three times in a row.
I think it could happen too. The Stone Sky has already won this year’s Nebula Award, and it’s hard to imagine it missing the Hugo when both previous books got it. The Stone Sky was a huge, powerful conclusion to a very emotional journey. Don’t bother trying to read it as a stand alone: if you are unfamiliar with the series, pick up The Fifth Season and catch up.
The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi
Just because I think The Stone Sky is the likely winner, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love the other finalists. Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire was a book that I kept putting off reading, but when I finally got around to it I was so happy. The Collapsing Empire is exciting, action-packed space opera, and the start of what is looking to be a really fun series.
I ended up choosing Absol, the disaster Pokémon, to represent The Collapsing Empire. Absol is known to predict disasters and appear before humans to warn of the disaster. Unfortunately, it’s habit of appearing just before disasters has led people to assume it causes disasters, and it is unfairly seen as a bringer of doom.
In The Collapsing Empire, a huge disaster is coming and people are ignoring all the warnings. A series of tunnels through space called The Flow are about to change direction, cutting all the worlds of the Interdependancy off from each other. As the name of this space empire suggests, all the worlds are interdependent, and only one is able to survive being cut off from the rest of civilisation. Many people within the Interdependancy have known about the impending disaster for years, but no-one has made any public announcements or plans. The last Emperox to try to prevent a Flow-related disaster was accused of fear mongering, and her warnings went unheeded.
It should be pretty obvious the parallels between the dangers facing the Interdependancy, and our own issues with not acting on climate change. I love that even though The Collapsing Empire is an accessible, fun read, it still manages to tackle such a huge theme.
Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
I couldn’t get a copy of Six Wakes until after I’d already read the other finalists and raised Pokémon for each one. I was tossing up between two different Pokémon for this final spot on the team: Cofagrigus the coffin Pokémon, as a representation of the cloning tanks the character’s bodies are kept in, or Crustle, the hermit crab. Cofagrigus would have worked better on the team, but in the end, I felt Crustle fit the theme better.
Six Wakes is about more than just a murder mystery in space with clones. In a world where the human mind can be turned to data and transferred into new bodies or digital storage devices, it can be hacked and modified as easily as computer data. Lafferty does an excellent job at exploring all the implications for this technology. Characters can have their personalities altered, memories deleted, or their mind copied.
One particularly nightmarish and plot relevant hack is called Yadokari, which is Japanese for Hermit Crab. Crustle, the Stone Home Pokémon, is the closest we have to a hermit crab.
Provenance – Ann Leckie
Provenance was pretty much impossible to compare to a Pokémon. There are no Pokémon that can easily represent coming of age stories or comedy of manner tales. There isn’t any obvious Pokémon that matches this story.
I thought of choosing a Pokémon that could resemble the Geck, and alien species who view Humans as near incomprehensible. I really enjoyed learning about the Geck in this story. Ditto, a Pokémon able to transform into anything, would make a good representation of the Geck mechs, which are able to shapeshift into just about anything.
But Provenance isn’t a story about Humans interacting with aliens. It’s a story about Ingray Aughskold’s quest to secure the status she sees as her rightful inheritance. Ingray is such a loveable character. She wears big skirts and hairpins, is plagued with anxiety and makes her fair share of bad decisions, but she is also smart and resourceful, as well as brave. Her quest starts with her busting a thief out of a high security prison so he can help her retrieve stolen artefacts that will ensure Ingray inherits her mother’s name. The story then finds itself shifting to heist, then to family drama, then political drama.
At every turn, we come back to the artefacts. Ingray’s culture places enormous value on artefacts and mementos. These artefacts are used not only as symbols of the culture, but also as signs of status and important parts of personal identity. In the Pokémon world, there are a few mons that are based on items, but I chose Bronzong, a Pokémon based on ancient Japanese dotaku bells. There is kinda a bell in Provenance, though it’s actually a bowl that was struck like a bell. Close enough.
Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee
Wow, I really seem to have an issue with getting through my posts without a Yoon Ha Lee reference lately. I’ll keep this brief. The Machineries of Empire series can be described as:
“The story of the raven general who sacrificed a thousand thousand of his soldiers to build a spirit-bridge of birds to assault the heavens.”
– Raven Stratagem
I probably shouldn’t provide more context or explanation, as that could lead to spoilers. There aren’t any raven Pokémon, but there are crow Pokémon, which I feel is close enough for this team.
If there’s one thing the above quote should convey, this is a series that deals heavily with military ethics. It’s also a very hard world to just dive into, with some very complicated worldbuilding. Raven Stratagem explained more things than Ninefox Gambit, but being the second book in the series it will make no sense if you start with it.
New York 2140 – Kim Stanley Robinson
I’ve wanted to make a team with a Dhelmise for ages, but because the anchor, I mean, the sea creeper, is so hard to catch I never really got around to it until I decided that Dhelmise would be the New York 2140 of my team. We’re talking about a submerged New York, so I figured a rusty anchor would get the point across. Even better, there is a ship wreck mentioned in the story.
There were other Pokémon I thought of for this role. Beartic the polar bear would have fit. One character’s story involves transferring polar bears from Alaska to Antartica, as that is seen as the only long term hope for the species survival. Polar bears, like everything else in Robinson’s world, have been deeply affected by climate change.
Where’s Scalzi talks about climate change with a comfortable space-empire metaphor, Robinson bluntly tells us exactly how the world will be now that we’ve screwed up so much. And damn, he makes this flooded New York feel so real. We see the natural disasters, the orphans, the too-little-too-late attempts to fix things, and the unrecognisable coastlines.
This is a long read, weighed down with Robinson’s trademark fascinating infodumps. Okay, that may have been an anchor pun, sorry. Bottom line is, New York 2140 is really engaging, and I’ve named my Dhelmise NY2140.
Speaking of Dhelmise, this thing is four meters tall and preys on Wailord, the blue whales of the Pokémon world. Damn.
I don’t think I’ll be able to say much about the winners later. The ceremony will begin at 1pm local time, and I’ll have to go to work right after. Worldcon76 has plans to live stream the ceremony here. The Hugo Awards website will also offer text-based coverage here, which was a lifesaver last year when I stayed up until 4am only to have the video fail on me.
I haven’t had time to write much about the Retro Hugo’s, but the winners were announced a couple of days ago, and can be found here.
I better go do all my normal day to day stuff before the ceremony. If anyone is interested in battling my theme team, let me know. They could do with some attention.