Category Archives: Hugo Awards

It’s Hugo Ballot Time!

Today is the last day to nominate works for this year’s Hugo Awards to be presented at Worldcon in Helsinki in August.

With the E Pluribus Hugo system in place and after a couple years of being highly mocked public failures (I mean, yikes! How embarrassing!) the Sad Puppies seem to have finally given up this time around. Almost-Nazi and actual garbage monster Vox Day has got a Rabid Puppies list that is exactly the mix of laughably poor taste, feeble attempts at trolling and self-serving picks that I’ve come to expect from him. The Rabids always were more successful than the Sads in affecting the Hugo finalist list, but in light of the rules change–which makes it slightly mathematically advantageous to nominate fewer titles/people–their list this year focuses on just one or two slots per category with the goal of having a “seat at the table.”

Whatever. That doesn’t seem nearly as fun as participating in lively discussions with other fans about what they liked this past year and then nominating a ballot full of work they genuinely enjoyed, but different strokes. Some people just really like paying $50+ to participate in a groupthink exercise they think is gonna piss off liberals, I guess.

In the interest of lively discussion, here’s what I’m nominating:

John W. Campbell Award (Not a Hugo)

Ada Palmer
Too Like the Lightning is an incredible book, unlike almost anything else being written right now to the degree that I’m honestly kind of amazed that it got published by a major publisher (thanks, Tor!). It’s a book that I know, rationally, isn’t for everybody; almost no one seems to love it as well as I did, but it’s something really special.

Cae Hawksmoor
I discovered Cae Hawksmoor’s stuff when I did that huge read-through of fiction by all of last year’s Campbell-eligible writers, and they’ve quickly become one of my favorite writers of long-ish short fiction. Check out their stories “Y Brenin” and “The Stone Garden” at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Sarah Gailey
Sarah Gailey is awesome in every way, and her Tor.com novella about feral hippos in America is one of my most-anticipated new releases this year. Before that, however, she also wrote the excellently funny “Bargain” and “Haunted.” This is her last year of eligibility for the Campbell, but I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Best Series

This is a new Hugo category being tested this year, and I’m not totally on board with it, to be honest. It seems likely to end up awarding series work that wouldn’t normally be considered Hugo-worthy, and I’d much rather see a new category for anthologies and story collections instead. We’ll see how this goes, though.

Xuya by Aliette de Bodard
This has been confirmed by the author to be eligible for nomination, which is great because this is the part of De Bodard’s work I’ve always liked best. You can find an introduction to and full bibliography for the series on the author’s website if you haven’t heard of it before.

Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
This series was actually my first exposure to Valente’s work years ago when I picked up The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making to read to my daughter at bedtimes. Unfortunately, Sylvia finally quit letting me read aloud to her a couple of years ago, but I basically credit with Catherynne Valente with getting story time to last until Sylvia was 11. The most recent and final installment of the series is last year’s The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, and if it’s not as wonderful as the first book it’s still a perfect ending to the series.

Best Fan Artist

Sadly, I just don’t follow enough art anymore to have strong opinions about who to nominate, but I’m looking forward to seeing who shows up on the final ballot this year.

Best Fan Writer

Sarah Gailey
It turns out I just really like Sarah Gailey, okay? Check out “In Defense of Villainesses” and “Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF” at Tor.com. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, also don’t miss her series on the Women of Harry Potter.

Bogi Takács
Bogi reviews books and writes about diversity and other stuff at Bogi Reads the World.

Foz Meadows
Foz blogs at Shattersnipe: Malcontents & Rainbows.

Best Fancast

I’m not a huge listener of podcasts, but when I do it’s one of these.

Fangirl Happy Hour

Cabbages & Kings

Midnight in Karachi

Best Fanzine

Lady Business

nerds of a feather, flock together

Black Girl Nerds

The Fandomentals

Best Semiprozine

This category is packed with amazing publications, but here’s what I’ve been mostly reading in the last year. All of these publications offer at least some free content on their websites, and they are all great in their own way. Whether they are on your ballot or not, I can’t recommend each of these enough.

Uncanny Magazine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Fireside Fiction

The Book Smugglers

Shimmer

Best Professional Artist

Richard Anderson
While he doesn’t always do covers for my favorite books, Richard Anderson’s cover art is always gorgeous.

Tommy Arnold
Did the covers for A Taste of Honey and Cloudbound last year. Amazing work.

Best Professional Editor, Long Form

Navah Wolfe at Saga Press
Edited Borderline, which is an amazing find, and A Criminal Magic, another excellent pick. Plus, she co-edited The Starlit Wood, which is a really superb anthology that there isn’t a category for.

Best Professional Editor, Short Form

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas
This husband and wife team is consistently finding and publishing some of the freshest new sci-fi and fantasy around at Uncanny.  Their commitment to literary excellence, diversity in the genre, and progressive ideals is evident in every issue they publish, and several of my favorite stories of the year first appeared in Uncanny.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Black Mirror “San Junipero” – Netflix
I finally watched Black Mirror in 2016 when the new season came out on Netflix, and this is hands down the show’s best episode. In fact, this story of two women finding love with the aid of a technological marvel in the near future is the finest episode of anything I watched in 2016.

The X-Files “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” – Fox
The best episode of an otherwise mediocre season of one of my favorite shows ever, this one is funny and smart in the mode of some of my most-loved episodes from the original run of the show.

iZombie “Salivation Army” – The CW
iZombie is a pretty solidly written show in general, and the season two finale was fantastic.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Hidden Figures
Not technically science fiction, but if Apollo 13 can be nominated, then this much more worthy and well-written story ought to be, too. It’s a great movie about a part of history that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This may be my all-time favorite Star Wars movie despite its flaws.

Arrival
Based on a story by Ted Chiang, Arrival is a memorable first contact story.

Lucifer – Season 1
Without having any particular standout episodes that I wanted to nominate for short form, Lucifer was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me in television. It’s a very loose adaptation of the Lucifer comics, re-imagined as something like a police procedural with cosmic familial drama, and it’s a concept that doesn’t sound all that appealing. However, it’s for the most part smartly written and genuinely funny with a great cast. Tom Ellis, in particular, is a perfect fit for the titular role, with his good looks and charm making up for the show’s few stumbles in the first season. It’s by far the most fun thing I regularly watch.

The Expanse – Season 1
This is the best sci-fi show since Battlestar Galactica. It’s well-written, based on a popular book series, and has a great cast and excellent production values.

Best Graphic Story

Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine
I’m not usually into superhero comics, but I loved this one.

Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening
Monstress is the most beautiful comic I’ve read in years. Brutal and poignant.

ODY-C, Volume 2: Sons of the Wolf
I don’t know anyone else who likes this book as much as I do, but I adore it.

Best Related Work

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
Obviously.

#BlackSpecFic
Fireside’s report on the state of black authors in SF is a must-read.

For the Love of Spock
I miss Leonard Nimoy.

Best Short Story

“The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest” by Charlie Jane Anders
I guarantee this is a very long shot, but this retelling of “The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage” might be my personal favorite story of 2016. Honestly, I just love knowing that it exists at all. You can read it in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar
First published in The Starlit Wood and reprinted in Uncanny, this is a wonderful fairy tale romance.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander
This story has been pretty universally acclaimed, and it fully deserves all the hype. Also, I get a kick out of how much they hated it over at Rocket Stack Rank. LOL.

“Red Dirt Witch” by N.K. Jemisin
People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy was an issue full of superb fiction, and this story was the best of the lot. I literally wept through the ending, and it’s a story that’s stuck with me ever since.

“Black, Their Regalia” by Darcie Little Badger
Also from People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy, this one is about a group of Native youth surviving in the midst of an apocalyptic plague.

Best Novelette

“Coral Bones” by Foz Meadows
Part of a series of novelettes and novellas based on the works of Shakespeare, “Coral Bones” is about Miranda from The Tempest.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik
Novik rehabilitates the story of Rumplestiltskin, re-centering the old vaguely anti-Semitic story around a clever and interesting Jewish heroine.

Best Novella

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
I’m not totally loving the current trend of endless Lovecraftian retellings in mainstream publishing, but I loved this title. “The Horror at Red Hook” is one of Lovecraft’s more famously racist stories (spoiler: the “horror” is black and brown people and immigrants), and LaValle has responded by basically retelling the story from the point of view of one of the othered people that Lovecraft had such a pathological fear of. It’s a great story in its own right that has plenty to say in conversation with the work of a such a well-known and vile racist.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson
Gorgeously imagined story from start to finish.

The Convergence of Fairy Tales by Octavia Cade
The first novella published by The Book Smugglers, and they and Cade hit one out of the park. It’s a rage-filled and viscerally disturbing examination of the roles of women in several classic fairy tales (Sleeping Beauty, the Snow Queen, Snow White, the Frog Prince, and Rapunzel) by weaving the stories together as the tale of a single woman who is raped, impregnated, and abandoned to survive on her own.

Runtime by S.B. Divya
A tightly plotted and fast-paced story of a young woman participating in a harrowing cyborgs-only race in the hope of securing her future and that of her family.

Lustlocked by Matt Wallace
Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour novellas are always a joy, and this one is nearly perfect. The Sin du Jour crew is catering a goblin wedding when things go hilariously and disastrously awry. It’s heavily implied that David Bowie is actual goblin royalty, which sounds legit. I read this book the day I found out about David Bowie’s death, and it has a special place in my heart because of that association, but it’s also a great book in its own right.

Best Novel

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
This isn’t the book I had the most fun reading in 2016, but it’s the 2016 book that makes me most excited for the future of the genre. It’s bold and fresh and full of challenging ideas.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky was one of the first books I read last year, and I said at the time that I didn’t think anything else would top it before the end of the year. While this didn’t quite turn out to be the case–frankly, you just can’t predict a debut novel like Too Like the Lightning–it’s still easily among my favorite reads of the year.

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate is at least as good as its predecessor, The Fifth Season, which I’ve said many times ought to, if there’s any justice in the world, achieve Tolkienesque levels of influence on the fantasy genre. On the one hand, N.K. Jemisin seems intent on earning a rocket or two every year from now on, and I can’t say she doesn’t deserve every one. On the other hand, I like to see these types of awards spread the love around a little. Plus, I think The Stone Sky is going to be a masterpiece when in comes out later this year, so I fully expect Jemisin to be at the top of my nomination list this time next year.

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu
This novel was a pleasant surprise, the rare second installment in a series that is unequivocally a far better book than the first in its series. I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot, but The Wall of Storms is next level amazing. Whereas the former had a unique and interesting setting, this second foray into it is compelling and unconventional in ways that its predecessor was not.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
I fell in love with Yoon Ha Lee’s work several years ago when I read his short story collection, Conservation of Shadows, and “The Battle of Candle Arc” was one of that book’s most memorable stories. I was thrilled when I heard that Lee was revisiting that setting and the character Shuos Jedao in novel length, and Ninefox Gambit was everything I hoped it would be.

Hugo Reactions Roundup and Thoughts

Well, it’s been a full week now since the announcement of this year’s Hugo Awards finalists, and we’ve all had some time to process the fact that allegedly human trash fire Vox Day and his Rabid Puppies slate fucked the whole process up and ruined a lot of fun for a lot of people for the second year in a row. The Rabid Puppy slate placed 64 of its 81 candidates on the ballot, at least one in every single Hugo category, sweeping six categories entirely, and securing all but one slot in an additional four categories. In terms of how this measures up to last year’s fiasco, it’s a sort of good news, bad news situation.

The bad news, of course, is that this is still a thing that is happening, at all and that the Rabid slate was, if anything, more successful than last year’s in spite of nearly double the number of nominating voters participating in the process. The good news is that these results indicate several of things:

  1. As suggested by last year’s No Award votes, the vast majority of the influx of new voters are anti-Puppy.
  2. BUT, when it comes to nominations, those new voters are honest ones who continued the Hugo tradition of nominating things that they actually like and want to see win, and there is no evidence of competing slates or any other attempts to “fight fire with fire.”
  3. While the new voters’ lack of slate or bloc voting makes for a very fractured pool of potential nominees, allowing the Puppy slate a low bar for success, there’s no evidence that the Puppy bloc saw any significant increase in numbers.
  4. While the Puppy slate did succeed in getting a lot of nominations, the slate this year was not (quite) as irredeemably bad and transparently Vox Day/Castalia-serving as it was last year. In order to make some kind of statement about something or other, it includes quite a bit of work that looks to be worth at least attempting to consider.
  5. It appears that the Sad Puppies (yes, they’re still around, kind of) had no measurable effect on anything at all with their recommended reading lists. I think we can safely ignore them forever now and deal with the actual menace that is Vox Day.

Followup bad news to this good news, though, is that with such a mixed bag of nominees–everything from obviously trolling picks like Chuck Tingle’s “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” to the apparently unironic Rabid nominations for Best Related Work to several picks that almost certainly would have made the ballot regardless like Daniel Polansky’s The Builders, Neal Stephenson’s popular Seveneves, and Hollywood blockbuster The Martian–there’s not clear answer on how to respond to the slate. Sure, there are some obvious categories for a No Award and several nominees that are clearly out of place in other categories, but things are definitely not as cut and dried as they were last year, when it was very reasonable to deny the legitimacy of all slate picks. This is something that I will address more fully at a later date, however. I will likely blog my way through the voter packet when it arrives in a couple of weeks and talk some more then about how terribly wrong and mistaken I was in my own predictions for this year’s awards, which were based on my clearly very incorrect theory that the Rabid Puppies would have lost a significant amount of interest in the Hugos after last year.

I didn’t write a hot take of my own last week, though I did read plenty that were various degrees of useful, informative, and insightful. The best early-ish posts on the matter that I came across:

The Puppies themselves had typically asinine responses:

  • Vox Day posts about “Making the Hugos Great Again” in which he spends a couple of thousand words wallowing in schadenfreude and mocking John Scalzi because Vox really, really hates John Scalzi. It gets weird.
  • The Sad Puppies apparently have no official opinion, judging by the lack of updates on their site.
  • However, Kate Paulk has some mouth noises to make about how all the finalists “earned” their nominations, but also that as long as everyone follows the rules–the letter of, obv, not the spirit of, because respecting social contracts is for liberal wimps or something–people can pervert the process as much as they can get away with. A+ principles, Kate Paulk.
  • Brad Torgersen is predictably incoherent and rambling. Something, something CHORFs. Something something Brad Torgersen’s persecution complex. Something something Dragon Awards.
  • Larry Correia says we should have negotiated with him when we had the chance and so we are getting what we deserve. Okay, but I’m still not sure what Larry Correia ever wanted except to win a Campbell because he’s a sad little pissbaby who never learned to be a gracious loser or appreciate the honor of even being nominated for a major award. Also, I guess he wants everyone else to have the same low brow, trashy “literary” tastes as he has, but just saying that sounds unreasonable and stupid because you can’t just dictate to everyone else what they ought to like.
  • Puppy darling John C. Wright has a ton of bloviating opinions if you care to try and decipher his writing style, which I would describe as mid-19th century douchebag eats an SAT vocab study guide. He accuses GRRM of not even reading the nominees, which GRRM responded to the other day.

Several of the slated writers and publications have had responses as well:

In more big picture stuff:

I’m not sure how much I’ll be writing about the Hugos after this. I certainly intended to blog my way through the voter packet when that comes out, but at this point I’m going to just wait and see what that entails. Some of the Puppy picks I have already read. The Best Related Work shortlist, for example, I have read parts of and think it would be an absolute punishment (probably the Puppy intention) to read much more of. So, we’ll see. I may have thoughts on it, I may not.

While I didn’t want to clutter up this last week’s Weekend Links with Hugos stuff, probably further links of interest will show up there unless there’s another sudden, large influx of stuff that I want to share.

As far as my own reaction to another year of Puppy garbage–I was angry as hell last week, but after a few days to think about it I just feel sad and drained by the whole thing. It’s exhausting and disappointing and not much fun in spite of the occasional mock-able Puppy post on the topic. I’d much rather be talking about books I loved last year and discovering the work that other people loved enough to nominate than responding to the petty, childish antics of a bunch of people whose only goal seems to be to shit all over the things that other people love.

My Final Hugo Ballot and a Bunch of More or Less Wild Speculations

Now that the Hugo nomination period is over (or will be in a couple of hours) it’s time for sharing ballots and wildly speculating about what we think is going to make the cut for the finalist list. My nominations and speculations about the categories I’m most interested in are below; I’d love to see yours in the comments.

Best Novel

  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
    I knew as soon as I finished The Fifth Season that it was going to be the best book I read in 2015, and nothing else really came close to it. It’s just a superb book, one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years, and one that I think is likely to be influential in years to come, especially if the rest of the series holds to the same high standard as this first installment. I’ve seen this book getting a good amount of buzz among people who I usually agree with about these sorts of things, but that probably doesn’t mean much.
  • Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen
    Sadly, I think this title is a long shot even for the Hugo shortlist, in spite of its making the Nebula shortlist, which is actually what triggered my reading it. Because it was released so late in the year (12/28, I believe), I had actually been thinking of it as one of the first 2016 books, not a part of 2015 at all, and I suspect that a lot of other folks were under the same misconception.
  • The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
    Ken Liu’s first novel is equal parts very familiar and very fresh. It’s an epic fantasy, but it’s far more influenced by literary epics than by mainstream fantasy, which seems to have prevented it from having the type of broad appeal I think it deserves. In an age where heavily character driven stories are extremely popular, The Grace of Kings isn’t, really, but it makes up for any failures of character development by having an excelling plot and superb worldbuilding.
  • The Just City by Jo Walton
    This little book has, I think, almost the opposite problem that Barsk has to overcome. The Just City came out early last year, and it’s such a sort of understated masterpiece that it might be very easy for it to be overlooked in favor of something more commercially popular, and I don’t expect to see it on the finalist list in a couple of months.
  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson
    Sorcerer of the Wildeeps was published of part of Tor.com’s novella line, but it’s over the word count for that category and I haven’t seen any official word on its eligibility. My understanding, though, is that the folks who tally the votes will shift stuff like this into the proper category if necessary. Unfortunately, I don’t see this being competetive in the Best Novel category if that’s where it ultimately ends up, but there was no way I was going to leave it off my ballot.

Best Novella

  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
    This one is a story that grew on me; I like it better and better the more I think about it, and just the fact that I find myself thinking about it so much after so long speaks to it being something very special.
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky
    I think The Builders is going to be hugely popular when the first round of votes are counted. It’s highly entertaining, just great fun to read, in addition to be extremely well-written.
  • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Djinn by Usman T. Malik
    I adored this novella, but it may be a little too grounded in the real world for a majority of Hugo voters to agree. Judging by the number of recommendation lists I saw it on, I expect it to have a good chance of making the final ballot, but I doubt it will win.
  • Speak Easy by Catherynne M. Valente
    Catherynne M. Valente is probably my favorite writer working today, and Speak Easy is marvelous from its gorgeous cover to every word on its pages.
  • The Citadel of Weeping Pearls by Aliette de Bodard
    Definitely my choices generally skew pretty heavily towards fantasy, but Aliette de Bodard writes some of the most beautiful space opera I’ve ever read. This may be a common nominee from the loves-Asimov’s-hates-Tor.com crowd, but I expect it’s a little cerebral for the folks who prefer books that are mostly full of spaceships and square-jawed Kirk-types. That said, I know the author was giving the story away for awards consideration, and that might have a big enough impact to ensure her a spot as a finalist. Alternatively, Tor.com’s new novellas could split the vote enough that it lowers the threshhold for finalists. With a dozen possible entries from Tor.com, it’s going to be an interesting year in this category.

Best Novelette

  • “The Oiran’s Song” by Isabel Yap
  • “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • “Another Word for World” by Ann Leckie
    This is the only story in this group that I think is a shoe-in for the category. Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy was well-liked and a solid finish to her trilogy, but I think it’s unlikely that it will get much traction for Best Novel. “Another Word for World”, however, is in a relatively sparse category to begin with (not many folks writing at novelette length), is by a popular author, and is available in a free anthology of mostly hard sci-fi.
  • “Follow Me Down” by Nicolette Barischoff
  • “Y Brenin” by C.A. Hawksmoor

Best Short Story

  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
    I will be very surprised if this story doesn’t make the finalist list considering the amount of buzz it’s gotten, especially with Alyssa Wong also on a lot of short lists (mine included) for the Campbell.
  • “The Lily and the Horn” by Catherynne M. Valente
    I just really love Cat Valente, okay?
  • “Of Blood and Brine” by Megan E. O’Keefe
  • “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” by Sunil Patel
    This one’s a bit of a tearjerker, but I could see it having broad appeal, being at the intersection of human interest and hard sci-fi concepts. If it makes the finalist list, I’d say this would be a smart bet to win.
  • “Archana and Chandni” by Iona Sharma

Best Graphic Story

  • ODY-C Vol. 1: Off to Far Ithacaa
    I feel like basically no one else “got” this book, but I loved it almost beyond words. Probably it’s a long shot, but I’m not into super hero comics, so it’s not like it’s knocking something else off my list.
  • Nimona
    I only read this because my daughter did. She couldn’t put it down at the bookstore, and she finished it in an afternoon. I read it at least as quickly, and probably love it even more than she does.
  • Rat Queens Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth
    Obv.
  • Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
    This is the badass feminist sci-fi comic I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m not sure I think it will have enough mainstream appeal to win a Hugo, but it definitely deserves a nomination.
  • Monstress #1
    This little book is stunningly beautiful, but again isn’t a mainstream choice. I have a feeling only one of my choices in this category will make the finalist list, and this isn’t it. (It’s Rat Queens. Calling that now.)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

  • Crimson Peak
    There’s no way this will make the finalist list, but it’s probably my favorite movie of 2015, and I figured The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens don’t need my help. 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
    This is an obvious choice, and if it wasn’t for The Martian, I’d give good odds on Fury Road taking home a rocket.
  • Advantageous
    I’m guessing it’s very unlikely that this will even make finalist, but I just want everyone to go watch it on Netflix ASAP.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
    I’m not a huge fan of book-to-television adaptations in general, but this one is remarkably good, true to the novel without being a slave to its source material.
  • Jessica Jones Season 1
    I know I’ve said I’m not into super heroes, but I am into Jessica Jones.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

  • Into the Badlands “The Hand of Five Poisons”
    I almost nominated the whole first season of Into the Badlands in the Long Form category, but I don’t know if I can forgive it for ending on a cliffhanger and making me wait until 2017 for season two. That said, the episode in question is excellent, and the show in general has some of the best martial arts fight scenes ever put on television.
  • Minority Report “The American Dream”
    Sadly, Minority Report is dead, but it’s a show that I rather liked, and this episode came closest to living up to the show’s potential.
  • The Expanse “CQB”
    I’m not certain, but I think it’s highly likely that this is going to be this year’s winner in this category. Anyone who isn’t terrible loves this show, and this is almost certainly the best episode of the ones that aired in 2015.
  • Jessica Jones “AKA Smile”
    Best episode of the series, for sure.
  • Doctor Who “The Husbands of River Song”
    I was as surprised as anyone to like last year’s Christmas special, as I’ve long been a critic of Moffat-era Who, but it was quite good.

Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Becky Chambers
    The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet was the only book I read twice last year, and Becky Chambers would probably be my first choice for the Campbell, but I would be thrilled for any of the authors I nominated to win.
  • Sunil Patel
  • Alyssa Wong
  • Iona Sharma
  • Isabel Yap

 

 

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 12

Reading Up and Coming, even though I feel like it’s been a frantic and sometimes frustrating pace, has been totally worth it. This final group of authors has produced some of my favorite stories in the collection, and made for an altogether pleasant last day of reading.

Nicolas Wilson

Nicolas Wilson starts things off with “Trials,” which I mostly liked very well. It’s a very Star Trek-ish novelette with some fascinating aliens and a mostly compelling plot in which a man travels to a dangerous ice planet and has to negotiate a treaty with the people there. Though it’s somewhat (if not entirely) corrected by the ending of the story, the only serious issue I had with “Trials” was the narrator’s motivation being “earning” a woman’s love so he could steal her away from someone else. It’s not romantic or interesting; it’s infantilizing and unattractively obsessive, and that he transfers his affections so easily to the alien woman he meets only serves to reinforce that the narrator sees women as interchangeable objects rather than as people with agency of their own.

Wilson follows this up with “Multiply,” a cute piece of odd couple romantic comedy about a pair of AIs traveling together. It’s not bad, but it’s a fairly pedestrian premise with an execution that doesn’t really rise above workmanlike. I chuckled a couple of times, but the banter between the characters became grating about halfway through the story.

Alyssa Wong

I read and loved Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” last year when it first came out, and if anything I loved it more the second time around. It’s definitely a story with several shades of meaning and multiple layers of genius to explore. “The Fisher Queen” is a similarly marvelous story about a young woman who finds out that her mother might be a mermaid of the sort that her people usually eat as fish, and in “Santos de Sampaquitas,” a young woman must deal with a god in order to protect her family. The beauty of Alyssa Wong’s language makes all three of these stories compulsively readable and highly enjoyable without distracting from the richness of her settings and the resonance of the themes she explores. Going into this project, Alyssa Wong was one of the writers I was almost certain I would nominate for the Campbell, on the strength of “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” alone, and her other stories here only made me more sure of that choice.

Eleanor R. Wood

“Fibonacci” has an interesting structure and a lovely cadence to its storytelling, but very little plot and not much in particular to say about its subject matter. Still, I liked it the best of the three stories Eleanor R. Wood offered here. “Pawprints in the Aeolian Dust” has a premise that I enjoyed at first, but it moved along so slowly and methodically that I found myself bored and losing focus about halfway through. “Daddy’s Girl,” about a woman whose father is an android in need of repairs, is fine, but nothing particularly special, and its sweetness turned cloying at the end.

Frank Wu

I wanted to love Frank Wu’s “Season of the Ants in a Timeless Land,” but it’s another story that I, sadly, just found my mind wandering throughout. The romance, such as it was, was unconvincing, and none of the characters were compelling enough to keep my attention very long. I also found the religious allusions and the mysticism of the ending off-putting.

Jeff Xilon

From Jeff Xilon come “H,” a very short stream of consciousness in which a drug is used to make soldiers into a sort of hive mind and “All of Our Days,” about a man who misses out on a chance at immortality when he takes too long enjoying having a body. Neither of these were awful, but neither one stands out as very accomplished either.

J.Y. Yang

I loved “A House of Anxious Spiders” so, so much. J.Y. Yang’s imagery of people fighting with spiders that live in their mouths and then losing their voice until a new one hatches is clever and powerful, but never cutesy, and Yang doesn’t shy away from an insightful examination of the ways in which even people who love each other can hurt each other deeply. Sook Yee’s and Kathy’s cruelties to each other will feel almost too familiar to anyone who has argued about something real with a person who knows you well. In “Temporary Saints,” a woman prepares the bodies of children who were briefly able to perform miracles, and “Song of the Krakenmaid” finds a woman dealing with an interesting cryptid and a cheating girlfriend.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I’ve never come across any of J.Y. Yang’s stories before since they are relevant to basically all of my interests, but you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out for them in the future.

Isabel Yap

I didn’t love “Milagroso” in spite of its interesting ideas, and “Good Girls” was at times actually unappealing to me, but I love “The Oiran’s Song” passionately. It’s brutal and sad, but it’s also remarkably beautifully written, and Isabel Yap has a distinctive voice that I look forward to reading more of.

Jo Zebedee

I read just enough of this excerpt from Inish Carraig to send me over to Goodreads to find out more about the book, which confirmed that it is not one for me. However, though it only has a few reviews, they all seem to be very positive so far. If you like post-alien invasion stories, this one might be one to pick up.

Jon F. Zeigler

On the one hand, I love an original fairy tale, and “Galen and the Golden-Coat Hare” is a well-conceived and nicely written one. On the other hand, I dislike the deeply conservative message of this one, which frames poverty as a virtue that should be preserved and justice as the upholding of a fundamentally unjust status quo. Zeigler plays with some interesting fairy tale conventions, and there’s a clever conclusion to the story, but I just can’t bring myself to consider the ending a happy one.

Anna Zumbro

I know it’s only a quirk of alphabetical chance, but I was a little disappointed that the last two stories in Up and Coming weren’t more impactful. “The Pixie Game” and “The Cur of County Road Six” are both extremely short stories about kids being kind of awful to each other, and “The Cur” is a particularly ugly.

Final Verdict:

Alyssa Wong, of course, is definitely on my Campbell ballot, but Isabel Yap and J.Y. Yang are strong contenders for the couple of slots that I still haven’t sorted out yet.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 11

Second group of authors of the day!

Joseph Tomaras

I actually have no idea where to start with any substantial analysis or review of Joseph Tomaras’s work. All I can say is that, without being an expert on critical theory and being white myself, it seems as if Tomaras chooses to write about a lot of experiences that aren’t his in a way that seems appropriative and voyeuristic. “Bonfires in Anacostia” was fine, if somewhat pessimistic, but “Thirty-Eight Observations on the Nature of the Self” asks the reader to empathize with a pedophile, which I just don’t have it in me to do today. “The Joy of Sects” is Tomaras’s weirdest story in this collection, and follows a trans woman as she infiltrates a sex cult as part of a Marxist conspiracy to suppress religion, another thing that my splitting allergy-induced headache prevented me from entirely wrapping my head around.

Vincent Trigili

Vincent Trigili’s “The Storymaster” is a bland, derivative piece with a long, dialogue infodump for an ending, which is my least favorite type of story. There are a lot of dragon story tropes strung together here, but not in an interesting way, and the infodump at the end neatly dispelled anything like mystery or tension within the story.

P.K. Tyler

Whereas Joseph Tomaras’s work was mildly troubling, P.K. Tyler’s novelette, “Moon Dust” just made me absolutely fucking furious. It’s a truly disgusting piece of internalized misogyny that only made me feel progressively enraged the more I read. Reading about a young woman being kidnapped, raped, impregnated, escaped, punished by her family and society, and then being expected to read her decision to keep and love the baby that is a product of her rape as a positive, edifying thing, made me want to vomit. That P.K. Tyler went to some lengths to frame Nilafay’s rape as consensual sex is just the cherry on top of this sundae of awfulness. I skipped Tyler’s second story altogether.

Tamara Vardomskaya

Both “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus” and “Acrobat Duality” were technically excellent stories that I just didn’t care for. “Acrobatic Duality” was somewhat the better of the two, but most of what turned me off was the author’s seeming disdain for fine art in “The Metamorphoses of Narcissus,” which framed art as frivolous and wasteful in contrast to the main character’s work as a nurse during a war and the fulfillment she finds as a wife.

Leo Vladimirsky

I’m always surprised that late stage capitalism isn’t more fertile ground for SF authors, but I was glad to see Leo Vladimirsky making use of it as a dystopian backdrop for the story in “Collar.” Unfortunately, “Dandelion,” about a couple who don’t share the gene for immortality, doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the previous tale.

Nancy S.M. Waldman

In a group of mediocre writers, Nancy S.M. Waldman stands out as the most consistently excellent, and I loved all three of the stories that she submitted for this anthology. “ReMemories” is a little scattered in terms of what ideas it wants to focus on, but it’s a strong piece with a good amount of emotional impact, some interesting technology ideas, and a hopeful ending. “And Always, Murder” has a fantastic cast of uplifted animals who have integrated themselves into human society with varying levels of success. “Sound of Chartreuse” is a little fussy and high-mindedly intellectual to be purely enjoyable, but it’s a smart bit of family history and the ideas about synesthesia and communication could stand to have even more development. I would definitely read a book about Carinth.

Thomas M. Waldroon

“Sinseerly a Friend & Yr. Obed’t” dealt with some country-ish folks and a lake full of alien sea monsters. It might be fine for the right reader, but I found it dull and uninspired.

Jo Lindsay Walton

I expected “It’s OK to Say if You Went Back in Time and Killed Baby Hitler” to be a funnier story than it was, just based on the title. However, I wasn’t disappointed with it, and Jo Lindsay Walton’s story of competing time travel companies is clever enough to deserve its title after all.

Kim Wells

Kim Wells’s “The Book of Safkhet: Chronicler of the Journey, Mistress of the House of Books” is a very weird mashup of science fiction (space ships), fantasy (dragons), and biblical allusions that just did not work for me at all. Sometimes an unlikely mix of story influences can fuse together into something great; this time, it’s just a big old confused mess.

Alison Wilgus

“King Tide” takes us into a relatively near future in which coastal areas have flooded due to climate change and gives the reader a peek into the life of a young couple living in the aftermath of it all. It’s a quietly reflective tale that, at the same time never gets too bogged down in sentiment. Alison Wilgus follows this up with “Noise Pollution,” which is an excellent piece of world building in which music provides the magic to combat noise. I love this idea and think it’s plenty good enough to carry a much longer work, but as a short story it feels a little overstuffed and underbaked.

Final Verdict:

My favorites of this group are Leo Vladimirsky and Nancy S.M. Waldman, by far, but Alison Wilgus is also an author who I’ll be keeping an eye out for, especially if she ever decides to expand upon the ideas she put forward in “Noise Pollution.”

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 10

This is only the first of two posts for today, now that I’m finally caught up on reading. I had considered doing all twenty of today’s authors in one post, but decided it would just run far too long; I think most of these posts have run in the 1.5-2k word range and I think breaking it up into groups of ten has so far worked really well. This first group of the day has some stellar pieces that stand out against a backdrop of general mediocrity.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

“Edge of the Unknown” is a very silly story about how the girls at a finishing school for young witches react to Arthur Conan Doyle killing off Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem.” I didn’t hate it, but I’m just not enough of a Sherlock Holmes fan to care that much about a story with this premise.

Daniel Arthur Smith

Daniel Arthur Smith’s first story, “The Diatomic Quantum Flop,” opens with four stoner college dudes, which I found immediately off-putting. I literally can’t think of a cast of characters whose stories could be less interesting to me, but I have a feeling this story is fine for people who can identify with its characters. Smith follows this up with “Tower,” a story that reads a bit like a disaster action film concept. The point of view character in this one is a war veteran who reads like exactly the sort of square-jawed action hero who bores me to tears just thinking about him. Again, the story itself is fine, I guess, but not at all the sort of thing I would ever pick up to read on purpose. I skipped Smith’s novella excerpt, which for some reason starts with chapter four.

Lesley Smith

Lesley Smith’s “The Soulless: A History of Zombieism in Chiitai and Mihari Culture” is an imaginative and moderately interesting meta examination of pop cultural zombie mythology. I like the idea of looking at zombies from the perspective of an entirely different and alien race, and Smith has produced a workmanlike piece that doesn’t overstay its welcome or overwork its concept.

William Squirrell

I didn’t care that much for either “Götterdämmerung” or “Fighting in the Streets of the City of Time,” though neither was particularly bad, just unmemorable. However, I adore “I am Problem Solving Astronaut: How to Write Hard SF,” a very funny—I laughed aloud more than once—piece that takes aim and fires at some of the more common hard SF tropes. It contains the wonderful line: “The future is a perfect meritocracy in which everyone is measured against the same standard: Problem Solving Astronaut.”

Dan Stout

Dan Stout’s “Outpatient” is one of my favorite kind of sci-fi stories, the kind that deal with scientific fuck-ups, and this one is a doozy that is also a nice bit of psychological horror. “The Curious Case of Alpha-7 DE11” deals with an entirely different kind of scientific fuck-up, and it’s told in a very clever fashion, as a voicemail complaint from a mad scientist who is having a problem with a golem that he purchased. What I appreciate most about this story is that it was smart and funny, but not self-consciously so. There’s very little that I dislike more than a clever story that is obsessed with its own cleverness, as it distracts from the actual story and often ruins the joke. Not so here.

Naru Dames Sundar

All of Naru Dames Sundar’s three stories are deeply powerful in their own ways. “A Revolution in Four Courses” deals with the destruction of culture in the wake of imperialism, and it ends on a bittersweet note with an act of resistance that may or may not be futile but still makes for a compelling story. Sundar’s descriptions of food are wonderfully evocative and help to bring his fantasy world to life. In “Infinite Skeins,” a bereft mother searches through numerous parallel universes for her lost daughter, unmindful of what else she might lose in the process. And “Broken-Winged Love” examines some of the often complicated feelings of a mother for a child that isn’t exactly what she expected or hoped for.

Will Swardstrom

“Uncle Allen” isn’t the worst, but it’s too short a story to have the kind of inconsistencies I noticed while reading it, and it ends with a long info-dumping piece of dialogue that reveals information that isn’t particularly hinted at or supported by the story up to that point. Will Swardstrom’s other novelette, “The Control,” is only slightly better. Bek’s long journey through history is told, not shown, and “The Control” focuses on what, to me, is one of the least interesting parts of Bek’s story.

Jeremy Szal

I rather liked Jeremy Szal’s first story, “Daega’s Test,” a very short piece about advanced AIs testing each other, but things were downhill from there. “Last Age of Kings” is a ho-hum piece of sword and sorcery about a guy with a fridged wife, and “Skin Game” has something to say about government surveillance being bad, but it doesn’t do so very memorably.

Lauren C. Teffeau

Lauren C. Teffeau’s “Forge and Fledge” is a nicely written piece about a boy born on a penal colony in space, but I couldn’t for the life of me get into “Jump Cut.” There was some kind of sci-fi motocross and lots of cyberpunk-ish implanted technology, but the story just read like the plot of some kind of straight-to-Netflix space sports flick.

Natalia Theodoridou

Along with Naru Dames Sundar, Natalia Theodoridou is my favorite of this group of writers. “The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul” is a sort of castaway story that finds a man alone on a barren-seeming planet building robot animals in order to keep himself company after the death of the other people he was traveling with. “On Post-Mortem Birds” is a much shorter and significantly more fanciful story about the birds that have to be freed from the dead, and it’s lovely and charming in every way. “Android Whores Can’t Cry” is a total change of pace again, and deals with some relatively well-trod storytelling ground in a compelling way. Theodoridou’s idea of android nacre is fascinating, and it’s a wonderful symbol that she interweaves deftly throughout the narrative.

Final Verdict:

Obviously the standout writers of this bunch of Natalia Theodoridou and Naru Dames Sundar, and I’m definitely considering a Campbell nomination for Theodoridou, who is in her second and last year of eligibility. Lesley Smith, William Squirrell and Dan Stout also turned in some well-worth-reading pieces.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 9

So, the good news is that I still have time to finish this project by the end of the day on Wednesday. The bad news, of course, is that I had about a two-day-long funk last week that has put me pretty far behind where I’d intended to be by this point. This was compounded over the weekend by family obligations and the fatigue brought on by my allergies when I’m pretty sure literally every tree in my town bloomed at once. It’s pretty, and the whole town smells like flowers, but it makes me feel like I’m going to die. However, today I’ve got some non-drowsy allergy meds in me and I’m feeling productive, so I expect to get, well, not caught up, quite, but close.

I think my favorite thing about this project so far—though it makes it hard to really compare these authors to each other—has been that Up and Coming showcases an incredible number of ways of being good. There’s really no way that any reader is going to universally enjoy the stories on offer, and every group I’ve written about has been a mixed bag, but it’s always interesting.

Kelly Robson

I only read a page or two of the excerpt from The Waters of Versailles before I switched over to Some of the Best from Tor.com 2015 in order to read all of Kelly Robson’s novella. It didn’t turn out to be as superlatively excellent as I’d hoped, but it is a great read, perhaps enhanced by my having recently watched A Little Chaos, about a totally different project at Versailles, which had the setting fresh in my mind. Kelly Robson does a much better job than that film, though, of utilizing Versailles, and Sylvain de Guilherand is a much more interesting fictional character than Kate Winslet was, even if the stories do both deal with people who feel somewhat unhappy and displaced at the French court.

“The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” is a weird story. It’s beautifully written and powerful, but it also includes an extremely brutal and graphic rape/murder that I wasn’t prepared for and it touches specifically on the sadly still-timely issue of the disappearance of First Nations women in Canada. On the author’s website, she does warn that the story is extremely violent, but it doesn’t seem to have been published with any kind of warning elsewhere, and I think that this is a case where a trigger warning might be necessary to give readers some advance warning.

I don’t think I quite get “Two-Year Man” as it’s a story with some weird messaging. It’s just as nicely written as the other Robson pieces included here, but the main character is very unsettling. While I finished the story, I found it to be a largely unpleasant read that left me with more questions than I like to have at the end of a short story. There’s something to be said, I suppose, for not tying everything up too neatly, but I don’t like it when I have questions about everything from world building issues to thematic concerns to character motivations.

Andy Rogers

Andy Rogers’ “The Doom of Sallee” is, I guess, a time travel story, or maybe some kind of alternate universe? It wasn’t terribly clear, and it wasn’t interesting enough for me to keep reading and rereading it to try and figure it out. I tried to read his novella, Brothers in Arms, but got about three pages into it before I couldn’t take anymore sci-fi soldier talk. That said, I don’t have anything bad to say about Andy Rogers. His work seems fine, just decidedly not for me.

Lauren M. Roy

“The Eleventh Hour” contemplates what one might do if given an hour—a literal, physical hour in this case, which is a moderately cool idea—to save the world. It’s a clever story, but not especially impactful or memorable aside from the idea of a physical representation of an hour that the main character has to decide how to spend.

Steve Ruskin

“Grand Tour” is a nicely structured piece with an interesting speculative element. Steve Ruskin’s story of a widowed artist with a magical camera lucida makes for an entertaining read, and it’s smartly bookended with complementary scenes that have unifying motifs. Séances (really, Spiritualism in general) don’t appear enough in fantasy, to be honest, and it’s good to see an author utilizing some of that history in a compelling way.

K.B. Rylander

“We Fly” by K.B. Rylander is a story with some interesting ideas, and Rylander speculates on an interesting possible dilemma related to the mind-uploading technology that she’s writing about. However, the devil is always in details, and there were some small things that I didn’t like, just casual mentions of unsettlingly authoritarian policies in the world of the story that make it feel dystopian in way that is both frightening and largely unexplored in the narrative. I did like Natasha’s gesture of resistance at the end, but I’m not sure if it matters. Then again, that could be the point. I would love to give this story to a classroom full of eighth graders and ask them what they think; it seems like a perfect story for that kind of analysis.

Hope Erica Schultz

Hope Erica Schultz leads with “Mr. Reilly’s Tattoo,” which I didn’t hate, though it was a bit too saccharine for me to truly like it. “The Princess in the Basement” is similarly sweet, and a little too heavy-handed with its messaging right at the end, but it’s a decent enough modern fairy tale.

Effie Seiberg

I vaguely remember something about the story Effie Seiberg had in Women Destroy Science Fiction! a couple of years ago, but I’m pretty sure that the three newer stories she’s included in Up and Coming are going to stick with me much longer. “Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” is a story about corporate evil (and the apocalypse) told in the form of an internal email chain. It’s smart and funny, but not too precious. “Thundergod in Therapy” tells the story of a retired Zeus, and I liked it well enough that I can forgive it for not really delivering on the “in Therapy” part of its title.

The best of Seiberg’s three stories here, however, is hands down “Rocket Surgery.” Of these selections, it deals with the biggest ideas and has the most ambitious themes. It’s also the timeliest and most insightful as a piece of science fiction that can be read as a commentary on current trends in technology and society. Most importantly, when looking at Seiberg as a contender for a major award, “Rocket Surgery” works to show that the author has more range as a writer and depth as a thinker than is exhibited in her more humorous pieces. I’m not sure where Seiberg will ultimately end up when I make my final decisions on who to nominate for the Campbell Award, but “Rocket Surgery” is an early addition to my longlist for next year’s Best Short Story Hugo.

Tahmeed Shafiq

I’m very sad about the 2014 publication date for “The Djinn Who Sought to Kill the Sun.” If it had been published in 2015, it would definitely be a shoe-in for a Best Novelette Hugo nomination. It works wonderfully as a fairy tale and as a gorgeously imagined story about healing from grief and trauma by finding purpose and a way forward into the future instead of dwelling in the past. I can’t find that Tahmeed Shafiq has published anything else since this story, but if this is the quality of work he was producing at age sixteen(!), I am very excited to see what he might produce in the future.

Iona Sharma

This is the first time I’ve read anything by Iona Sharma, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to find her. “Archana and Chandni” is the sci-fi lesbian wedding family dramedy I never knew I desperately wanted to read. It’s seriously a kind of perfect story. I didn’t love “Alnwick” quite so much, but it’s a well-executed blend of relationship drama and hard sci-fi that manages to do all of its ideas justice, even if it doesn’t have the sheer charm that “Archana and Chandni” possesses in spades.

Anthea Sharp

“Ice in D Minor” is a beautifully melancholy (though ultimately hopeful) piece about a composer tasked with writing music that will help to cool the warming planet. “The Sun Never Sets” is a first contact story set in Victorian England, which I was predisposed to love—especially when it opened with a young woman who is an amateur astronomer. Unfortunately, the story takes a weird, imperialist turn that, in hindsight, is telegraphed by the title, and isn’t as clever or amusing as I think it is intended to be. Sadly, my overall opinion of Anthea Sharp’s work isn’t improved by her final piece, “Fae Horse,” which starts with a young woman trying to escape being burned as a witch and finishes with that young woman sacrificing her identity and humanity in order to rescue a man. It’s finely written, but I would have liked it better if Eileen didn’t get such a raw deal in the end.

Final Verdict:

Iona Sharma and Effie Seiberg are new favorites, for sure, and I was disappointed that Tahmeed Shafiq doesn’t seem to have published anything in the last two years, but the majority of authors in this group were only okay. I’m sure I’ll be happy to read some of them again if I come across them in the future, but I doubt I’ll be seeking them out particularly.