The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards: 2021 finalists

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

2020 was challenging in many ways, but one thing it had in spades was a glut of really damn good SFF releases. The brave panellists for the 2021 Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards have been screaming through the summer as we winnowed down our epic shortlists to find our finalists. Drumroll, please…

This year, we invited a bigger panel, introduced a(nother) new category and split the workload: none of us have read all the categories in this first round, although many of us plan to read all the finalists to weigh in on the winners (the least chaotic tenet of our Kind of Awards is that you don’t get to vote if you didn’t read all the nominees in a category). Did it make the decisions easier so far? Ahahaha, no.

Best Fantasy

The fantasy shortlist was a dream reading list (and I still plan to read them all), but first round voting quickly clustered around two favourites: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow and The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk. I can’t wait to dive into this category for round two.

Best SF

SF was more of a spread field – it took every vote to be cast before it was clear who our finalists would be (and whether we would have two, three or even four finalists, it was so tight). I may have to reread Goldilocks by Laura Lam as it’s been 18 months since I first read it, and I’m looking forward to Micaiah Johnson‘s multiverse debut The Space Between Worlds.

Best Blurred Boundaries

Blurred Boundaries has a history of being the toughest category to select and this year was no different – no surprise, perhaps, given the brilliance and diversity of the shortlist (who would have thought necromancy would be the most common theme?). Our panel agonised their way to three finalists: Andrea Stewart‘s debut The Bone Shard Daughter, Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu. I’ve read two out of three recently, so I’ll be snagging a copy of Interior Chinatown to help select a winner.

Best Debut

Yes, it’s Best Debut not Best YA, but woah 2020 was a gift of YA releases. While favourites quickly emerged here, this is another category where three (very different) titles go forward: Legendborn by Tracey Deonn, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. I won’t be reading for this category, but I’m stocking up on popcorn to watch my fellow panellists try to make a decision.

Best Novella

This has been the strongest year in novella yet, with six superb nominees that delighted, horrified and challenged me. I can’t speak for how my fellow panellists made their decision, but I eventually went with a purely subjective vote for the novellas I enjoyed the most in the first round, because objectively every title here deserves recognition and I urge you to read them all. Our finalists are The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo and Ring Shout by P Djèlí Clark.

Best Series

Ah, series: the category that nominated four of my favourites from the past few years and then muddied the waters further with two more. I’ve been screaming since February and I don’t expect to stop until we’re done, as picking between our finalists will be agony (which both authors and the series’ characters would no doubt appreciate). Come for the acerbic commentaries on power and empire, stay for the treachery and otherworldly antagonists: our finalists are the Dominion of the Fallen by Aliette de Bodard and The Poppy War by RF Kuang. Here I go: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH…

Short fiction

Arguably the most subjective category we have as there are so many short stories published by so many great venues each year, and our shortlists can only reflect the panel’s reading. Nominees this year came from anthologies, podcasts and short fiction powerhouses. Our finalists are: You Perfect, Broken Thing by CL Clark (Uncanny Magazine) and Yellow and the Perception of Reality by Maureen McHugh (

Artists: Nilah Magruder (Uncanny magazine) and Mary Haasdyk (for

Now what?

The reading continues! We will be reading and considering our finalists for the next 6-7 weeks to confirm our winners. Watch out for the big announcement at the end of October.