Should ‘Riot Baby’ win a Hugo?

This book does not give a fuck about my review.

This book does not care about the Hugos, or the Nebulas, or the Locus (although it might nod its head in recognition at the Ignyte awards).

This book is a feeling.

Not a chip implanted in the thumb to suppress emotions when things begin getting too hard to bear, but the raw, untempered, pain and anguish of continued brutality.

This book is a reason to start googling atrocities.

It’s our past, present, and could-be-if-we’re-not-careful future.

It’s laser focused outrage.

Riot Baby is a book I would recommend to (almost) anyone, but I know it will not be for everyone. It is certainly feels like the most prescient, insightful, and powerful work of any I’ve read in preparation for Hugo voting (it is only the first work I’ve read in the novella category), but I’m honestly not sure if that will translate into a victory or not.

People come to these awards with many different ideals for what a hugo winner is. From some of the comments I’ve seen, people seem to feel that its dark tone and vignette style narration detract from its cohesion as a story. Then again, one reviewer enjoyed it so much they wished it was longer.

Personally, I enjoyed Riot Baby (as is) and would be perfectly happy if it won the award. Considering I have not yet read any of the other candidates, I can’t say for sure what my overall verdict will be, but this was a strong first venture for me.

Aside from its raw emotion, I appreciated the novella’s forecast into the future. The world Ella and Kev live in at the end of the story is different from the one they started in, technology advancing and becoming part of their lives in new and interesting (horrifying) ways. Of course, the systematic racism they’ve endured the entire novella has advanced with the tech (or used the tech to advance) and so in many respects it is still the same world they started in.

Also, the ‘Chosen One’ trope, will be familiar — if not beaten to death — to most SFF readers but I appreciated Onyebuchi’s take on this well worn clichĂ©. In an interview with NPR, Tochi Onyebuchi talks about his use of the ‘Chosen One’ in the story:

“. . . it’s interesting to look at Ella through the lens of a Chosen One or Anointed One. Ella comes to believe that she was prayed for, that she is the answer to a beseeching, that she is the vehicle for her people’s deliverance. Which begs the question, whose Chosen One is she?”

Even her own brother, Kev, seems to view her in this light a few times, asking her — when he’s incarcerated for years in a prison — to simply burn it all down, because he knows she could. It brings up interesting questions. Could the nuclear option be the right answer? Could we really change by starting over? Does the injustice of such an option outweigh what’s currently being perpetrated?

Finally, from a craft perspective, I really enjoyed Onyebuchi’s ability to create living breathing characters. For the two main characters, the author is able to create distinct voices which allow us to differentiate between them despite the constant jumping back and forth between perspectives. Just their manner of speaking is enough to separate them, but we also see the differences between their thoughts and actions. Definitely something to take note of if not study (steal) outright.

And this clarity is not limited to Riot Baby‘s main characters either. The side-characters also seem to carry an individuality all their own, whether it be the slap of someone’s fist against their palm while they speak, or just the hunch of their shoulders, everyone seemed distinct. Considering the page count, this was dually impressive to me.

So . . . Hugo?

Right now (10/20/2021), after only reading this one entry, I would pick this one for my choice. However, given the negative reviews I’ve seen, I’m not optimistic that the rest of the voters are in alignment. I understand the complaints about the tone, and the jumbled nature of the narration, but ultimately for me, I felt this piece had everything a Hugo winner would need. It’s prescient, insightful, and powerful. It’s a reminder of what we’re already experiencing, how it could continue, and it considers deeply our options. Riot Baby does all of this through some of the most vivid and well realized characters I’ve read in a long time.

It also probably does not give a fuck that I think any of that . . .

Welp that’s all for now. Have you read this one yet? What are your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments. See you all next time!

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