Subjective Chaos: our 2020 award winners

Black and white photo of some pebbles, each painted with text: Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards

It’s 2020, so it has taken longer than usual for the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards panel to read our way through another stellar shortlist. But the reading and the debates are done at last: it’s time to reveal our 2020 award winners! Who will be getting a pebble in the post?

There are two things I love about being being part of the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards (this isn’t true: there are far more than two. I’m just going to talk about two right now). Firstly, how eclectic the reading ends up being. From nominees to finalists, I always feel I have travelled the length and breadth of a genre, regularly given space to consider books I might not otherwise have encountered. I tip my hat to all our nominees; 2019 produced a great reading list.

Secondly, it’s the passion and the respect with which we fight for our faves. I never know who our winners are going to be, and it’s always an interesting journey. 2020 is no exception, and I’m secretly glad it took a little longer than usual because it has meant more time interacting with a panel of readers who I admire and adore.

So before we celebrate our winners, I just want to take a slushy moment to celebrate the people who have picked them: Sol of The Middle Shelf, Adri of Nerds of a Feather, Matt the Runalong Womble, Kris Hammard of Cloaked Creators, KJ of Worlds in Ink, Jane of Dumpy Little Unicorn and Sara of The Fantasy Inn. Thank you for being such a pleasure to argue with and for always being ready with a kind word when 2020 has felt like a Lot.

Now, let’s get to it! Time to reveal our winners. Drumroll, please….

Best Short Story

A new category for 2020, and one I thoroughly delighted in reading for. In an unexpected twist, both our finalists had glorious cover art by the amazing Julie Dillon – watch this space to see if that becomes a recurring theme in future…

Magazine cover: Uncanny - July/August 2019 issueWINNER: The Migration Suite – Maurice Broaddus

A short story in multiple movements – figurative and literal – with themes of culture, oppression and endurance across generations of a black family. Broaddus packs a lot into a short format, ending on a hopeful note as he looks to a future beyond the confines of Earth’s inequalities.


Best Novella

Oh the decisions we back ourselves into. The shortlist for the novella category was full of books I adored; the finalists were both lyrical, deeply-felt tales of unexpected rebellion, questioning imposed identities. But a choice had to be made, and in the end we have chosen to defy other genre awards (oh hai, chaos).

Book cover: The Deep - Rivers SolomonWINNER: The Deep – Rivers Solomon

It’s happened, folks – we have a two-time Subjective Chaos Kind of Award winner! Solomon expands a collaborative world with an appropriately lyrical tale of responsibility as Yetu tries to entangle who she is – and who she can bear to be – vs who her people expect (and need) her to be. One to inhale in a single sitting if you can.


A heartfelt nod goes to our runner-up This Is How You Lose The Time War. Trying to pick between these two novellas was the most difficult decision of this year’s awards.


Best Novel: Fantasy

As usual, fantasy was an incredibly tough call. We had three finalists that spanned continents, bridged worlds and set our hearts alight.

Book cover: Realm of Ash - Tasha SuriWINNER: Realm of Ash – Tasha Suri

Our winner is a gorgeous fantasy of identity, memory and grief in a Mughal inspired world. A deeply moving personal journey, both magical and romantic, and I adored its defiant heroine Arwa. It can stand alone or be enjoyed as a loose sequel to Empire of Sand.


Best Novel: Science Fiction

Our two SF finalists were poles apart: a near-future cli-fi so recognisable you could taste it vs a grand political space opera. It’s enough to give a reader whiplash, but in the best possible way.

Book title: A Memory Called Empire - Arkady MartineWINNER: A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine

A satisfying dish of intrigue and ambiguous allegiances with the ambassador of a league of independent space stations trying to avoid being consumed by an empire she is irresistibly drawn to – and to discover why her predecessor was murdered. I was delighted to see it take the Hugo, and happy to say we agree.


Best Novel: Blurred Boundaries

Always our Most Chaotic Category, our finalists here were as eclectic as ever. Vibrant, imaginative narratives collided with deeply-felt personal stories; apocalyptic themes with necromantic snark.

WINNER: David Mogo, Godhunter – Suyi Davies Okungbowa

As a demigod, David Mogo is uniquely suited to dealing with invading godlings. But as ever more powerful gods seek to tear their way through Lagos, David must grapple who and what he is if he is to master his powers and protect his adopted human family. Okungbowa side-steps urban fantasy tropes to deliver a rattling adventure soaked in Nigerian mythos.


Best Series

In a small nod to keep chaos within bounds (ha), we only consider series that were completed the previous year – no works in progress, unless authors are as chaotic as we are and add to them later (fair play). This year’s finalists pitched fantasy against scifi in a battle of the genres.

Book cover: Rosewater - Tade ThompsonWINNER: Rosewater – Tade Thompson

Let’s hear it for our second two-time Subjective Chaos Kind of Award winner! Rosewater was narrowly defeated for Best SF last year; but the trilogy surged to triumph in 2020. Thompson injects new energy into familiar narratives of alien invasion through the lens of colonisation, devising a vividly original conflict.


So what next?

Looking through our winners, it strikes me that we’ve been drawn to narratives about identity this year, expressed in so many different ways. We certainly didn’t intend to have an over-arching theme, so I’m amused – and curious. I wonder what next year will bring?

I’ll be diving into an array of 2020 releases and some backlist gems between now and Christmas. But if you’ve got some recommendations of what I should be reading before I have to nominate for next year’s Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards, now is a good time to tell me about them…