Novel: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
None of the books I nominated made it to the final ballot in this category. Of the books that did, Jemisin's The Fifth Season is by far my favorite. My main complaint about it was that it did not seem to have enough, in its 450-ish pages, to justify that length. My fear is that one novel's worth of character development, plot revelation, and world-building has been padded out to meet the now-seemingly-inescapable requirement in fantasy and science fiction for a trilogy. I hope the second and third books in the series prove that fear wrong, because within those 450 pages there was nevertheless much that I loved. The last four years of open atrocities and legal indifference have forced Black Americans--and anyone else who pays attention and recognizes their humanity--into states of intermittent public grief. The world created by Jemisin brings forward truths that apply as well, albeit less self-evidently, in the world we live in: that the system hates and fears the power of the oppressed, not the madness into which they are forced; that it depends far more upon their forbearance to survive than on their weaknesses. This novel taps into subterranean magmatic flows of rage. In that respect, I would compare it to several other books published in the last year, such as Tananarive Due's Ghost Summer collection, Paul Beatty's The Sellout, and T. Geronimo Johnson's Welcome to Braggsville. Of those, it resembles Beatty in that the novel did not live up, in execution, to the high hopes raised by its conceit and opening chapters. (In most other respects, the two works are as near to polar opposites as one can imagine.)
Novella: "The New Mother" by Eugene Fischer
In this category, two of my nominees made the final ballot. Ultimately I chose Fischer's piece over Usman T. Malik's "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn". It was a tight call. Overall, I thought "The New Mother" better maintained narrative tension over its full span. It also did one of the things I love about science fiction, the accurate depiction of scientists as characters with motivations that might at times seem a bit odd to a lay-person without much opportunity to interact with them.
Novelette: "Our Lady of the Open Road" by Sarah Pinsker
I read all of the pieces that made it to the ballot; some of them had caught my attention and I liked several. But this was the only one I loved. It is the only one of which I can honestly say, in multiple senses, "That rocked."
Short Story: "Today I Am Paul" by Martin L. Shoemaker
Many amazing short stories were published this year, but none of the ones I nominated made it to the final ballot, probably because I leaned more toward print anthologies than to the electronic periodicals that now dominate this category. The Shoemaker put me in mind a bit of George Saunders, but if you didn't leave the milk out to curdle first.