Tag Archives: Campbell Award

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.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 8

I’m still struggling to get caught up to where I’d like to be with this project, but I’m also still on track to at least finish it when I originally planned. Sadly, today was not a day for stand-out stories, either bad or good, which made this section a bit of a slog to get through.

Samuel Peralta

Both of Samuel Peralta’s stories are highly conventional and rather cloyingly sweet. “Hereafter” is a time travel romance that may lean towards bittersweet, but it’s overall fairly low drama and ultimately low risk, with very little to say about time travel or the human condition. “Humanity” is interestingly put together, interweaving news clippings with the more personal story of a first responder tasked with rescuing a woman and her robot daughter from a serious car accident. It’s not bad, but the ending is expected, and the slight message doesn’t really justify the gravitas of the story’s title.

All that said, it may be that Peralta’s gifts are more focused on editing; many of the authors in this collection are ones who have had their first work published in Peralta’s ongoing series of SFF anthologies—the Future Chronicles, which is up to fourteen titles now, all available for under $6 each for the Kindle.

Andrea Phillips

Andrea Phillips’s “In Loco Parentis” is a compelling take on the future of parenting, though in a definitely “the more things change, the more they stay the same” way. Still, Phillips has imagined some interesting technology and tells a story that is firmly grounded in current trends in parenting and tech. I went ahead and read the included excerpt from Phillips’s novel, Revision, and then immediately wished I hadn’t; it’s gone straight to my to-read list, but there’s no telling at this point when I’ll get around to it, which is a bummer.

Mark Robert Philps

I didn’t expect to like this novella that much in the beginning, but “Dragonfire is Brighter That the Ten Thousand Stars” is much better than its unwieldy and moderately pretentious title lets on. The real accomplishment here, though, is in the world building. Mark Robert Philps has created a really interesting alternate history that could easily carry a whole series of longer works if he’s of a mind to write them. The plot here is relatively simple, with no particularly surprising twists, but it’s well-paced, highly readable, and overall nicely executed enough that I would be happy to read more by this author.

Monica Enderle Pierce

“Judgement” is a somewhat overlong sort of wild west fantasy, which aligns it with current trends in fiction, Monica Enderle Pierce doesn’t quite manage to pull it off here. I rather like her dragon-as-executor-of-frontier-justice idea, which is a concept I haven’t come across before, but none of the human characters were very interesting and the protagonist, Peregrine, is actively unlikeable. Furthermore, everything is tied up far too neatly at the end, with a surprise revelation of Peregrine’s conveniently useful magical abilities and a too-large infodump that tosses in several hackneyed ideas at the last minute.

Ivan Popov

“The Keresztury TVirs” is the first translated piece (from Bulgarian) in Up and Coming, but it’s unfortunately not that impressive. It’s a story about TV viruses told in the form of a review of a book about the history of their creation and usage as tools of propaganda and mind control. I suppose the story has a moderately interesting retro sensibility, but it just didn’t work for me.

Bill Powell

Due to formatting issues, I had a hard time just reading “The Punctuality Machine, or, A Steampunk Libretto.” It’s written as a short, farcical play, but half of the first word of almost every line was cut off in the epub version of the book that I’m reading on my Nook. Still, I was mostly able to muddle through, and I enjoyed Bill Powell’s clever wordplay and sense of comedic timing.

Stephen S. Power

“Stripped to Zero” is a solidly well-written and timely story about the steady creep of technology into our lives and the ways in which we’re always being watched, analyzed, and advertised to. It’s somewhat pessimistic, but not crushingly so. In “Wire Paladin,” Stephen S. Power continues to examine some of these same big ideas, but with a darkly funny twist at the end. I was glad to have read these two stories together, as they complement each other well. I didn’t like “Automatic Sky”—about a pair of somewhat star-crossed lovers—at all, but I expect your mileage may vary with it.

Rhiannon Rasmussen

I vaguely remember reading “The Hymn of Ordeal, No. 23” in Women Destroy Science Fiction, but only vaguely, and it didn’t make much more of an impression on me this time around. My love for second person point of view is well-known, but I just didn’t connect with this story the way I feel is intended. On the bright side, Rhiannon Rasmussen makes up for this by offering two more stories that I loved. “Charge! Love Heart!” is a kind of great, somewhat meta teen rom-com, and “How to Survive the Apocalypse” is a definitely great, very meta piece that pokes fun at a lot of zombie apocalypse tropes.

Chris Reher

From Chris Reher comes “The Kasant Objective,” about a crew hired to find a lost research team, only to find out that they are really being asked to aid in an alien invasion. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s frankly more than can be really effectively dealt with in a short story. The basic idea is moderately interesting, but this treatment of it was just too shallow to be good.

Ethan Reid

This excerpt from Ethan Reid’s sequel to his first novel seems fine, but I have basically negative interest in post-apocalyptic horror of this kind. For the right reader, I’m sure this is very good, but for me it’s a hard pass.

Final Verdict

Overall, today’s bunch was just average, but I do look forward to reading more in the future by Andrea Phillips and Rhiannon Rasmussen. I also think I might have to start buying some of the anthologies Samuel Peralta puts out, even if his own writing isn’t really my jam.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 7

So, I’m not behind, exactly, since I’m still well on track to finish this project by March 30th, but the last couple of days have not been particularly productive ones. Bad news always puts me in a bit of a funk, and it hasn’t helped that my partner has been home sick for a couple of days, which is a huge distraction. In any case, by the end of day on Monday, I was about a full day ahead of my reading schedule, and I don’t expect to be fully caught up until probably the end of day tomorrow. That said, I plan to finish the reading part of this project by Sunday evening and have the final few parts up by Wednesday afternoon.

On the bright side, today’s group of writers are some of my favorites yet, and there are several very strong possible nominees for Best Short Story in addition to at least one author that I can already tell you is likely to make my list of Campbell nominees.

Wendy Nikel

“Rain Like Diamonds” is a slightly underwhelming fairy tale, with an ending that is just a little too expected to be truly clever or particularly impactful. However, I adored “The Tea-Space Continuum,” which has a delightfully funny time travel paradox. Unfortunately, “The Book of Futures” was another miss for me. I like short detective stories, and I found the steampunk-ish setting intriguing, but the story just didn’t work. It actually had two endings; one was pedestrian, and both were trite.

George Nikolopoulos

I rather liked “Arise to the Surface” at first, even if it was obvious very early on what the story’s “twist” was, but it lost me when it had an alien woman with sexualized breasts. Randomly mammalian space people, seemingly for the sole purpose of describing sexualized breasts, is a major pet peeve of mine, and the rest of the story wasn’t good enough to overcome my distaste for that uncreative nonsense. “Razor Bill vs. Pistol Anne” is a very short, mildly amusing post-apocalyptic gladiator story, but it’s not particularly memorable.

Megan E. O’Keefe

“Of Blood and Brine” is a superb example of short fiction world building, and Megan E. O’Keefe backs it up by telling a compelling story as well. This one is eligible for the Best Short Story Hugo Award as well, and it’s definitely one to consider. I did skip her novel excerpt, however, as I’d like to read the whole book, though I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it.

Malka Older

“Tear Tracks” is a very good, but not great, first contact story. Malka Older does an amazing job with her world building, and I love the alien culture she’s conceived here, but the actual story is fairly slight and it gets a bit info-dumpy at the end, which makes it slightly insincere feeling. A+ ideas, but C+ execution.

Emma Osborne

“The Box Wife” was hard to read as it features one of my all-time least favorite sci-fi tropes: a sexbot. Even when it’s used in the best possible way, even when it’s done to interrogate or subvert as it is here, I find this trope viscerally upsetting. Still, it was promising enough for me to move on to Emma Osborne’s other stories. I rather liked “Zip” which is reminiscent of good Star Trek, but “Clean Hands, Dirty Hands” was another fairly dark and unpleasant story to read; I liked its Australian gold rush setting, which is pretty unique, but it’s an extremely grim tale, and I increasingly find these days that I’m simply not in the market for that kind of bleak grimness.

Chris Ovenden

“Upgrade” has a moderately interesting premise, but it reminds me far too much of last year’s film Advantageous, which explored similar ideas much more effectively. “Peace for Our Times” has got to be at least the third or fourth “deal with the devil” story in this collection, and it’s one that doesn’t manage to be either very insightful or fun. “Behind Grey Eyes” does manage to be fun, but I’m unfortunately just not a fan of zombies-as-metaphor in general. I’m not super impressed by any of Chris Ovenden’s stories here, but he’s objectively talented and I feel like he’s an author who is going to publish something any day now that I’m going to love. In the meantime, I could easily imagine any of these stories being someone else’s favorite even if they aren’t for me.

Steve Pantazis

Steve Pantazis’s novelette, “Switch,” would make an excellent episode or two for a futuristic cop show that I might enjoy watching, but it’s of a genre that I find unreadably boring. I can tell that it’s well-written and nicely structured and paced, but there’s no more boring protagonist for me to read about than a slightly dirty, but essentially decent policeman.

Carrie Patel

Carrie Patel is an author who has gotten a good amount of buzz in the last year, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to read any of her stuff. I don’t know what I was waiting for. “Here Be Monsters” is a shipwrecked story that is fantastic and horrific in turns, with a wonderfully ambiguous ending. I’m not always into unreliable narrators, but I enjoyed this one. Also, the abyssus is a great creepy monster. “The Color of Regret” is a total change of pace, and its speculative elements aren’t as central to the story—in fact, Nasrin’s ability to see auras is almost incidental to the plot—but the tale straddles the worlds of family drama and revolutionary intrigue in a compelling fashion. The Buried Life is a novel that’s been on my to-read list for ages, so I skipped the excerpt from it here.

Sunil Patel

Sunil Patel’s first contact tale, “The Merger,” is one of the funniest stories so far in Up and Coming, and I laughed out loud more than once while reading it. Paresh is lovable, and his wife Sita is a constant delight. Plus, there’s very little that I find funnier than unconventional contract negotiations. Especially with aliens. In contrast, “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” had me in tears well before the end. It’s nice to see an author with this sort of range in their writing, and this is further highlighted by Patel’s third story, “The Attic of Memories,” which I didn’t like as well as the first two but which is something entirely different again. The only thing that all of these stories have in common is a professionally polished quality that is often lacking in work by writers at the beginning of their careers. I can’t wait to see what Sunil Patel does next.

Laura Pearlman

From Laura Pearlman, we get a trio of very amusing stories that made me laugh even more than “The Merger.” First up, “I am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Destroyer of Galaxies, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything” is exactly what it sounds like—an AMA with the leader of an army of radish-loving alien invaders. “A Dozen Frogs, a Bakery, and a Thing That Didn’t Happen” is a fabulous and very clever modern fairy tale. I wasn’t sure at first about “In the End You Get Clarity,” but it’s not like other superhero stories, and by the end I loved it.

Final Verdict

Carrie Patel and Laura Pearlman are both in their final year of eligibility for the Campbell, and either could be a strong choice, but the sheer versatility of Sunil Patel is what I found most exciting in today’s reading. I wouldn’t pick Megan E. O’Keefe and Malka Older for this year’s award, but they’re both writers to watch for, each with a first novel being published this year.

Let’s Read! Up and Coming: Part 6

This group of authors is sort of a love it or hate it group for me. The stories I didn’t like, I really disliked, but the ones I liked, I loved. There’s not much here that I have lukewarm feelings about.

S Lynn

S Lynn’s “Ffydd (Faith)” is a strange story to be included in this collection because it doesn’t seem to have any actual speculative elements. Instead, as far as I could tell it’s a fairly straightforward piece of historical fiction, perhaps leaning a little towards magical realism. Which is fine, but I generally expect a little more of the magical than exists here before I consider a story to fall under the speculative fiction umbrella.

Jack Hollis Marr

“into the waters I rode down” is an interestingly experimental stream of consciousness sci-fi story told from the point of view of a deaf, disabled woman who seems to be being used against her will for spying during a war. While the story at times becomes almost incoherent, I think this is by design, and it’s a story that I intend to come back to when I have more time to really spend mulling this one over.

Arkady Martine

From Arkady Martine, we get two lovely stories and a third one that is so arcane as to be incomprehensible. “City of Salt” is a gorgeous piece of what I usually think of as highbrow sword and sorcery, and it has a fantastic amount of mythology crammed into very few words that demonstrates Martine’s facility with language and an almost fairy tale sensibility that reminds me a little of Catherynne Valente. In “When the Fall is All That’s Left” Martine switches gears completely to tell a sci-fi story about a pair of friends who have just flown through a star. While there’s no particularly remarkable elements here, the story pieces that Martine has chosen are well-picked and artfully put together. For contrast, however, she’s included “Adjuva,” a story so arcane as to be incomprehensible and which I could barely make it through at all, much less enjoy.

Kim May

“Blood Moon Carnival” is a punctuation atrocity visited on what might otherwise have been a halfway decent story idea. Unfortunately, the absurd number of exclamation points just destroy any sense of suspension of disbelief or immersion in the story I might have felt. Drama has to come from the events that are unfolding, not from a half dozen paragraphs in a row ending with an exclamation that doesn’t actually convey any shock or surprise or urgency.

I almost didn’t read “The Void Around the Sword’s Edge,” and I wish I had followed that instinct. It’s riddled with copy editing issues, misspellings, and poor word choice, but it’s also a very silly story with an ending that can be seen coming a mile away and that is far too easy to be at all interesting.

Alison McBain

I’m of two minds about Alison McBain’s work. On the one hand, I kind of love that it’s a throwback to the sort of very old fairy tales that don’t always have any positive moral or message. My favorite old fairy tales have always been the ones about amoral tricksters or wicked witches who don’t actually get vanquished or where magical things just happen without necessarily meaning anything at all except maybe something about our collective id or whatever. All three of McBain’s stories here capture something of those qualities. At the same time, however, there’s a certain sense of smug, postmodern nihilism as well that is almost unpleasant to read and makes me feel a little bad about enjoying these stories so much.

Rati Mehrotra

Both “Charaid Dreams” and “Ghosts of Englehart” deal with children who have been changed by exposure to aliens. The first is a sort of frontier story about a family living on a remote planet that is largely inhospitable to human life, while the second is an alien invasion story, but they otherwise have a lot in common. Both are family dramas, both involve aliens who only seem to interact with children, and both have very little to actually say for themselves that isn’t something relatively platitudinous about how children are the future.

Lia Swope Mitchell

“Slow” is a marvelous little horror story about a sculpture that is sucking the life out of its artist. I don’t think Lia Swope Mitchell’s current, very small body of work is quite enough for a Campbell nomination, but she’s only in her first year of eligibility. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her stuff over the rest of 2016.

Allison Mulder

I loved “Decay.” This story about body-snatching tooth fairies was delightfully unexpected. It’s good and creepy, with a surprise ending that is actually legitimately scary. Allison Mulder is another first year author who I hope publishes a few more things in time for me to consider her for next year’s awards.

Ian Muneshwar

Ian Muneshwar’s “Ossuary” is a wonderfully unique take on the AI-searching-for-a-body trope that seems to keep popping up in this collection. It’s also just beautifully written, the kind of story I want to read over and over again to search for all its shades of meaning. Also, to just admire Muneshwar’s consistently excellent word choice and structures. “Ossuary” isn’t a very long story at 2570 words, but Muneshwar makes every one of those words count.

Brian Niemeier

“Strange Matter” is a more science-y, more cynical version of Groundhog Day, but I adored the ending of it, which surprised me by turning out to be something funny and sweet. I would love to have time to actually read all of Brian Niemeier’s novel, Nethereal, but I won’t be getting to it in the next week.

Final Verdict:

None of today’s authors have published enough notable work for me to really get excited for them as Campbell prospects for this year, but Arkady Martine, Lia Swope Mitchell, Allison Mulder, and Ian Muneshwar are all on my list of authors to follow for the rest of 2016 and see if that changes.