The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards: 2022 winners

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

We’ve read. We’ve nominated. We’ve voted. We’ve shared some entirely subjective opinions (via public reviews and private discussions). We’ve embraced chaos. We’ve read some more. It’s time to announce the winners of the fifth annual Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards!

The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards are an annual celebration of science fiction, fantasy, and stories that combine speculative elements from multiple genres. A rotating panel of book lovers nominates, reads, debates and votes to award the very best – in our opinion – across a number of categories. For our fifth outing, SCKA is awarding more categories than ever. But who are our winners? Drumroll please…

Best Fantasy

The golden age of modern fantasy continues. Our shortlist was a long list featuring djinn, retellings, sapphic rebellions, magical realism and urban fantasy. Our final round was an epic face-off between The Unbroken by CL Clark, She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova. Our winner is…

WINNER: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina – Zoraida Córdova

Book cover: The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina - Zoraida Cordova

Fantasy was an incredibly tough field, but as one panellist said of our winner [The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina] is what I do SCKA for. Delicate prose and subtle magic illuminate this gorgeous story of family, identity and heritage.

Best SF

Our SF shortlist was a fabulously mixed bag of thrillers, comedies, dystopia and romance. Our final round was a showdown between two big space operas as Adrian Tchaikovsky kicked off an excellent new series with Shards of Earth while Arkady Martine closed out an epic duology with A Desolation Called Peace.

WINNER: A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine

One of those rare occasions where we come to the same conclusion as the Hugos – and the first time we have ever awarded a category to the same author twice. It’s hard to argue with the scope and beauty of Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan, which turns me inside out every time. This category was an incredibly close call as Shards of Earth is also magnificent: you should definitely read both these series.

Book cover: A Desolation Called Peace - Arkady Martine

Best Blurred Boundaries:

Blurred Boundaries can bring anything to the party (and the shortlist was a smorgasbord of genre mash-ups) but our finalists – Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars and TL Huchu’s The Library Of The Dead – shared a certain dark yet hopeful mood.

WINNER: Light From Uncommon Stars – Ryka Aoki

A poetic novel of resilience and individual choices, the panel praised Light From Uncommon Stars for being both reassuringly cosy (who doesn’t like donuts) and at times heartbreakingly realistic. Big themes and its seamless marriage of science fiction and fantasy – aliens and demons – made this the perfect candidate for our Blurred Boundaries category.

Best Debut

A new category for 2021, Best Debut is now a core category – and a fabulous way to make the acquaintance of an array of exciting new authors. With no over-arching genre constraints, our finalists were Xiran Jay Zhao’s giant robot vs alien horde feminist YA epic Iron Widow and Lorraine Wilson’s haunting dystopian thriller This Is Our Undoing.

WINNER: This Is Our Undoing – Lorraine Wilson

This blurred boundaries debut is set in a near-future of climate devastation and fractured authoritarian states, but it won the panel over with its focus on characters, feelings and family. Expect literal and metaphorical ghosts, with the natural world taking centre stage as a force in its own right – whether you believe in gods or not. This has stayed with me ever since I read it; I cannot recommend highly enough.

Book cover: This Is Our Undoing - Lorraine Wilson

Best Young Adult

Having dominated the Debut category last year, our fifth anniversary awards include a new category dedicated to the best of YA. Namina Forna’s high fantasy epic The Gilded Ones and Anna-Marie McLemore’s contemporary retelling The Mirror Season were our finalists.

WINNER: The Mirror Season – Anna-Marie McLemore

Book cover: The Mirror Season - Anna-Marie McLemore

McLemore reimagines aspects of The Snow Queen in this contemporary fantasy about surviving sexual assault. Pastry magic, a secret forest of otherworldly trees and dangerous secrets add magical touches to a hard-hitting if ultimately hopeful tale of trauma that left none of the panel untouched.

Best Series

Series is always a big commitment, and this year was bigger than most with a nine volume space opera on the slate. This category probably occasioned more internal screaming than any other for me, with two huge favourites – The Expanse by James SA Corey and The Kingston Cycle by CL Polk – making the final round.

WINNER: The Kingston Cycle – CL Polk

Come for mystery and queer romance, stay for an unapologetic confrontation of privilege and racism in a world of secret witches and terrifying immortals. The Kingston Cycle is an incredibly neat political fantasy, where the aftermath of a devastating war leads to the exposure of unspeakable acts with consequences across every level of society. I particularly loved the world itself, with its rare-for-fantasy adoption of early 20th century equivalent tech. More bikes in fantasy please!

Book cover: Witchmark - CL Polk

Best Novella

In a chaotic first, we had a shortlist of more than 12 titles, including two titles by the same author. The final round was a victory for small presses, with three out of four of our finalists being from publishers other than the Hugo-dominating juggernaut: Premee Mohamed (These Lifeless Things and The Annual Migration of Clouds) went up against & This Is How To Stay Alive by Shingai Njeri Kagunda and Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard. We all love a Tor novella, but seriously folks – there is some amazing work being done by other presses and I strongly urge you to seek them out.

WINNER: These Lifeless Things – Premee Mohamed

Book cover: These Lifeless Things - Premee Mohamed

Twin epistolary narratives focus on trying to survive the apocalypse vs trying to understand it as an anthropologist tries to make sense of a first hand account of evading aliens to escape an unnamed Ukrainian city. A beautiful, melancholy novella that got under the panel’s skin in the best sort of way.

Best Graphic Novel

Another new category for 2022, graphic novel has had an emotional first outing. With the panel confirming in the final round that our nominees were both too good and too different to choose between, we have once again embraced chaos and are awarding two winners. A huge congratulations to Molly Ostertag’s The Girl From The Sea and Hiromi Goto’s / Ann Xu’s Shadow Life!

JOINT WINNERS: Shadow Life and The Girl From The Sea

Short fiction

Short fiction is the hardest category to nominate for (so much to choose from) and always an absolute joy to read (so many different ways to have your soul stirred). This year, our panel had to choose between two different types of heartbreak in the final round.

WINNER: Homecoming Is Just Another Word For The Sublimation Of Self – Isabel J Kim (Clarkesworld)

Our winner reflects on the way moving to another country splits our soul in two, asking what if this was literal rather than something happening out across the multiverse. When one version of a person returns home and meets up with her other self, they must each confront the realities of that choice and decide anew what they want for their mutual – or separate – futures. A searing, magical tale that resonated deeply. Read the story on Clarkesworld.

SUNRISE BY ALEX RIES from the cover of Clarkesworld 174

That’s it for this year’s Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards. Watch out for announcements of next year’s panel and nominees early in the New Year. In the meantime, if you’ve got thoughts on what 2022 releases we should be nominating, share them in the comments!