The Hugo Awards shortlist were recently announced so I thought I'd go back and read a previous winner. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge was the co-winner in 1993.
The Galaxy is inhabited with thousands of civilizations. The farther from the core, the more advanced the technology and the intelligence of each species. This isn't coincidence: the physical laws of the universe cause this. So out on the edge of one of the zones in the galaxy a group of humans try to transcend to the next level and become a Power. Instead, they awaken an ancient evil that destroy all but a few refugees. These remaining few land on a medieval-level planet that is dominated by wolf-like aliens embroiled in their own intrigue. And they aren't very friendly.
Meanwhile, others in the galaxy realize that the refugees may hold the key from preventing the evil from spreading. The race is on to catch them before the evil does.