Monday, March 28, 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Best Novel and Campbell Award

There are three whole days left before the Hugo nominating deadline, but I'm traveling starting tomorrow, so the final post in the series listing my Hugo nominees goes up today.  As tends to be the case, the best novel category is the one I put the least effort into.  I don't tend to read most books in the year of their publication, so I'm only rarely sufficiently up to date that I have a full slate of nominees in this category.  There are, in fact, more books that I would have liked to get to before the nominating deadline than there are on my ballot--books like Aliette de Bodard's The House of Shattered Wings (which I may yet finish before the deadline), Ian McDonald's Luna: New Moon, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora.  Meanwhile, the always-interesting Campbell award is one that I tend to dedicate to short story writers--usually those who have impressed me over the year even if their stories didn't quite cross the bar to make it onto my ballot.

Looking back on my Hugo reading and preparation this year, I'd class 2015 as solid but not spectacular (2014 was much stronger, which makes it all the more unfortunate that its Hugo nominations were hijacked by the puppies).  I enjoy the process of reading and considering in preparation for my nominations, but I'm always a little relieved when it's over--bring on the nominees, and let's hope that this year they give off light as well as heat.

Previous posts in this series:
Best Novel:
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (review) - Cho's pastiche of Georgette Heyer's regency romances, crossed with a reconsideration of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is laudable first for being able to carry both of those antecedents without being crushed by the weight of reference.  On the contrary, Cho manages to infuse her story and setting with its own unique flavor, drawing on Malaysian mythology as well as the less savory aspects of empire that the novels she's drawing on are prone to ignore.  Sorcerer to the Crown is not without its flaws, chiefly a less-than-engrossing plot and an occasionally too-passive lead, but it's never less than a lot of fun--and frequently quite funny--to read, and its handling of issues of race and gender is nuanced and interesting.

  • The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (review) - As I wrote in my review of The Lie Tree, I prefer Hardinge in full-on secondary world fantasy mode, but there's no denying that she draws the Victorian setting of this supernatural mystery as impeccably as she does any of her invented worlds.  Her heroine, a troubled, emotionally repressed young woman who finds an outlet for her frustrated intelligence in spreading malicious lies, is also a typically vivid and compelling creation, and the fevered pitch that The Lie Tree builds up to as her manipulations take hold of a small community is everything we've come to expect from a Hardinge novel--psychologically astute, perfectly drawn, and quietly horrifying.

  • Persona by Genevieve Valentine (review) - It's been nearly a year since I read Persona, and since then I've found that the novel has a surprising staying power.  Partly it's just that nobody in genre is doing what Valentine is doing--telling a political thriller story in which power is rooted not just in appearance, but in looks, charisma, and fashion choices.  That Valentine takes these subjects--which tend to be dismissed as trivial or (gasp!) girlish--and makes them deadly serious is an unusual and refreshing choice, and in addition Persona has two memorable, savvy protagonists to root for, as they make ruthless choices but also long for human contact.
Campbell Award:
  • Kelly Robson - Robson made a big splash this year with her novella "The Waters of Versailles", which has been nominated for a Nebula award, and takes an unusual but fascinating approach to its setting of the pre-Revolutionary French court.  I also enjoyed her Clarkesworld story "The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill", which offers an interesting twist on its body-snatching premise.  First year of eligibility.

  • Iona Sharma - I enjoyed Sharma's novella "Quarter Days" (from GigaNotoSaurus), about magician-lawyers in post-WWI England, whose protagonists include people of color trying to find a place for themselves in that society.  Her Strange Horizons story "Nine Thousand Hours" takes place in the same universe, and this time revolves around an enlisted magician whose war-spell has had a terrible, unforeseen consequence.  First year of eligibility.

  • Alyssa Wong - Sometimes a single story is enough to put a writer on the map, and Wong's "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (already nominated for the Nebula) is one such story.  It has a simple premise--a vampire trying not to be--but complicates it first by changing the rules of how vampires function, and second by introducing several complex relationships between older and younger women, none of whom are exactly what they seem.  Second year of eligibility.

  • JY Yang - Yang has had several interesting stories in the first few years of her career, each completely different from the others.  "Tiger Baby" (Lackington's) is a slipstreamy fantasy about a girl chafing against a restrictive life, who believes she has a beast within her.  "Storytelling for the Night Clerk" (Strange Horizons), is a cyberpunk-ish heist story.  And "Patterns of a Murmuration, in Billions of Data Points" (Clarkesworld), is also a cyberpunk story, but with a much more mournful tone.  Second year of eligibility.

  • Isabel Yap - Yap came to my attention relatively late in this year's Hugo reading period, but once she did it was clear that she was an author to watch.  "The Oiran's Song" (Uncanny) is a brutal, punishing horror story about powerless people trying to survive in a hellish situation.  It's hard to believe that it comes from the same author who wrote "Milagroso" (, a gentle story about tradition and family relations that explores an interesting SFnal concept in a setting that is full of fascinating local detail.  Second year of eligibility.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Media Categories

We are now five days away from the Hugo nominating deadline, and moving on to a group of categories that can be a lot of fun, but also a bit frustrating.  Fun, because these are the categories where the Hugo steps away from the somewhat insular focus of its fiction and publishing categories and engages with the larger world of pop culture, and frustrating, because we're still so resistant to defining these categories in such a way as to make the nominations in them mean anything.  Should we, for example, nominate single essays in the Best Related Work category?  We've started to, in recent years, and I can even see the argument for it--a blog post can have a reach and an immediacy that a scholarly work could never hope to achieve.  But personally, I like having the related work category dedicated to book-length works (and I also think it's a little unfair to both kinds of nominees to force them into this sort of apples-and-oranges comparison).

Similarly, it's been years now since nominating whole seasons of TV shows in the Best Related Work: Long Form category has been normalized, but I don't care for that practice at all.  I think a season is a chapter in a greater work, made up of elements that are (if the writers have done their job right) self-contained stories in their own right.  Pitting something like that against a movie just doesn't make sense to me--though, in fairness, I'm perfectly happy nominating miniseries in this category, so I'd be the first to admit that my preferences don't exactly have scientific rigor.  (These preferences, by the way, are the reason you won't find shows like Galavant, Agent Carter, Sense8, and Humans on my ballot, because none of them, to my mind, had standout episodes in 2015, even though I liked the shows as a whole.)

Until that kind of formalization happens, however, I'll just have to keep plugging along with the definitions that seem right to me, and enjoy the added pleasure of disagreeing with everyone else's.  (As usual, I am skipping the Best Fancast category, because I don't listen to podcasts.)

Previous posts in this series:
Best Related Work:

Every year, I chastise myself for not reading enough in this field to nominated properly (yet another reason why nominating essays might make sense, but I still can't convince myself to do that).  This year, I wish I'd gotten around to Edward James's Lois McMaster Bujold, part of the University of Illinois Press's Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, and Twelfth Planet Press's Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Alexandra Pierce.  I will, however, be nominating Adam Roberts's Rave and Let Die, a collection of his reviews from the blog Sibilant Fricative, published in 2014 and 2015.  Roberts is long overdue for a Hugo in several categories, and this collection of his witty, effortlessly insightful reviews is the perfect opportunity to correct that oversight.

Best Graphic Story:

This is one of those categories where I have to castigate myself for not being as well- or as widely-read as I'd like, especially since several of my nominees are continuing volumes in series I've nominated in previous years.  If you're looking for some less predictable choices from someone with a broader view of the field, Barry Deutsch has been collecting recommendations at Alas! A Blog.
  • Bitch Planet, Book 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro - I was a little hesitant picking up this volume, despite the rapturous reviews that DeConnick's new series had received, because the premise--in a world where women can be criminalized for being "non-conforming," a group of female prisoners are given the chance to fight the system by participating in a sports tournament--sounded a little schlocky.  Turns out, it's a lot schlocky, and therein lies the power of this comic, which doesn't apologize for the over-the-top depiction of its misogynistic world, and through that willingness to go to extremes manages to touch on some painful truths.  The story is only getting warmed up in this volume, but the characters--most of whom are women of color--are instantly engaging, and I'm very much looking forward to their future adventures.

  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky - Hugo voters didn't seem to connect to the first volume of this series when it was nominated last year--it came dead last, as I recall.  Which is a shame, because Sex Criminals is, to my mind, one of the smartest and funniest comics I'm reading, and a genuinely compassionate and non-judgmental look at relationships, living with mental health issues, and, of course, sex.  In this volume, lovers Jon and Suzie start to explore the wider community of people who, like them, stop time when they climax, and also deal with Jon's descent into depression, and Suzie's difficulties coping with his emotional issues.  Like all the best love stories, this is one in which the two lovers are just as interesting on their own as they are together, and in which their problems are real enough that you can understand why they might have trouble making it work, even though you really want them to.

  • The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III - As I already wrote when I crowned this book one of my best reads of 2015, I went into Overture expecting it to be a pointless nostalgia tour of what is still Gaiman's greatest achievement.  Instead it not only tells a wonderful story in its own right, but expands the world of the original Sandman, revealing new layers to a character who had seemed fully-explored.  Williams's art, meanwhile, is gorgeous and hallucinatory, jumping from style to style and busting through the limitations of panel and page orientation to establish the chaos that Dream unleashes when he allows a Dream Vortex to go unchecked.  It's an important addition to the Sandman story, and a beautiful work of art in its own right.

  • Saga, Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples - I was a little underwhelmed by the previous volume in Vaughan and Staples's far-ranging, gonzo space opera, about a pair of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a galactic war and their forbidden child.  It seemed to be at the stage where, instead of starting to tie plotlines together and gear up towards the stories ending, the writers were merely proliferating entities and complications in order to stave off that ending.  Volume 5 doesn't exactly address that concern--on the contrary, it introduces several new players to the game in which Marko and Alana are merely pawns, and ends with a huge cliffhanger that takes them even farther than they were from their desired happy ending--but it's also a reminder that in the hands of good enough writers, this doesn't have to be a problem.  Saga's bright, complicated, endlessly fascinating world continues to be its most appealing quality, but close behind is the comic's serious handling of issues like PTSD and the responsibility of citizens for wars fought in their name.  This volume's conclusion, in which Marko and Alana realize that they can never overcome the damage wrought by the war that brought them together, but that being together gives them the chance to be better people, is both clear-eyed and hopeful.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:
  • Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland - I have some problems with Garland's fable about artificial intelligence and gender relations, which I might yet write about, and I think that on the whole it is perhaps less thoughtful and intelligent than it thinks it is.  But that is still pretty thoughtful and intelligent.  It's a pleasure to watch a movie whose characters seriously discuss what intelligence and personhood actually mean, and which then turns around and suggests that these high-minded discussions are meaningless so long as the people having them are incapable of recognizing the humanity of women.  That the film has the courage of its convictions, and takes its story to its predictably awful ending, is yet another point in its favor.

  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, written by Peter Harness, directed by Toby Haynes - Like Ex Machina, the BBC's adaptation of Susanna Clarke's novel is imperfect.  In particular, it underserves the character of Stephen Black, and the significance of the novel's ending for him (in fact, one might argue that it misses a lot of the significance of the novel's ending).  That misstep aside, however, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell captures a lot of what made the original novel so special and inimitable, particularly the numinous, subtle quality of its magic.  Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan are both perfect in the roles of Strange and Norrell, and the latter in particular manages to imbue a character who on page can seem a bit like a caricature with a great deal of humanity, making him sympathetic even as he does the most selfish, cowardly, destructive things.  We're about to see several other important genre novels adapted into miniseries, including American Gods and Red Mars, and one can only hope that their treatment will be as thoughtful and respectful as Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell's.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road, written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris, directed by George Miller (review) - Much as I enjoyed it on a first viewing, it took a while for me to fully realize just how special and accomplished Fury Road is.  It certainly didn't hurt that it came very early in the year, and that every genre movie that followed it--even relative successes like The Martian or Star Wars: The Force Awakens--only threw into sharper relief how incredibly smart and well-made Fury Road is.  That this is also a movie that is almost effortlessly feminist--all it takes is treating its female characters like people, not sidekicks to the men, whose exploitation and sexual abuse doesn't need to be put on display--makes it even more of a delight.  This is one of the best movies I saw in 2015 in any genre, and it definitely deserves to win a Hugo.
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:
  • Gravity Falls, "Northwest Mansion Mystery" (written by Alex Hirsch, Mark Rizzo, and Jeff Rowe, directed by Matt Braly) and "Weirdmageddon: Part 1" (written by Alex Hirsch, Josh Weinstein, and Jeff Rowe, directed by Sunil Hall) - In its final stretch of episode (though technically the season finale aired in 2016), Gravity Falls more than held on to its crown as one of (if not the) smartest and best-made genre TV series.  The continuing adventures of twins Dipper and Mabel, who investigate strange happenings in the the weird town of Gravity Falls, combine humor, smart writing, strongly-felt emotional beats, and a willingness to get absolutely batshit weird.  "Northwest Mansion Mystery" is one of the show's best standalone mysteries, in which Dipper is recruited by town mean girl Pacifica to discover why her family's mansion is being haunted.  "Weirdmaggedon: Part 1" is the first part of the series's final story, in which Lovecraftian horror is unleashed on the town and the rules of reality are suspended.  It's frankly astonishing that a show aimed at children is willing and able to depict material that delves so deeply into the unheimlich, but "Weirdmaggedon" is also a fantastic adventure story, and one that also builds up to the even greater adventure to come.

  • Jessica Jones, "AKA Ladies Night", written by Melissa Rosenberg, directed by S.J. Clarkson - On the whole I found Jessica Jones a little forgettable on the episode level, but its pilot episode is one of the most perfect hours of television I've seen in some time (certainly one of the most perfect hours of television delivered by Marvel TV, which tends to produce weak episodes even in otherwise strong shows).  It introduces the characters, the predicament, the villain, and ends with a complication that is as shocking as it is galvanizing.  As a pilot episode, it does exactly what it was meant to do--get us invested in this story and its protagonists, and rooting for their victory.  In a genre landscape that is increasingly forgetting how to do things like this, Jessica Jones's ability to do so feels like something that should be rewarded.

  • Orphan Black, "Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method", written by Graeme Manson and Chris Roberts, directed by Aaron Morton - Orphan Black is another show that has never been particularly strong on the episode level, but I thought its third season stepped up its storytelling in several ways (though I seem to have been alone in this).  It found a suitably imposing enemy for Sarah and her clone sisters, figured out a way to use some of the show's weakest and most inconsistently-written characters, and best of all, it finally delivered a single, self-contained episode that works as its own bit of storytelling while still paying off the threads of plot built up throughout the season.  In "Ruthless in Purpose, and Insidious in Method," Sarah tries to manipulate her enemy-clone Rachel into giving her the research that went into creating them and their sisters, only to spring a trap set by the conniving Rachel.  It's a fun, twisty heist story (which also introduces a new clone who is instantly engaging, no small achievement in a show that already has half a dozen characters played by the same actress) whose ending is unexpected but also completely earned.  This is the level Orphan Black should be aspiring to all the time.

  • Person of Interest, "If-Then-Else", written by Denise Thé, directed by Chris Fisher - The beleaguered artificial-intelligence-procedural, whose fifth and final season is set to be burned off this summer, delivered an extremely strong fourth season, one that pushed its characters to the limit and explored new aspects of them.  No episode did that more memorably than "If-Then-Else," which takes us inside the head of the AI who helps (some might say commands) the human characters, as it tries to figure out an escape route for them after they've been trapped in a fatal dead end situation.  As the AI plays and replays the scenario in its processors, looking for a plan that won't end in death for at least some of its assets, we also get flashbacks to its early days, in which it is being taught by its creator and mentor (Michael Emerson) to value life, and not just treat people as pawns in its greater plan.  "If-Then-Else" is also an episode that finally pays off the long-simmering romance between characters Root (Amy Acker) and Shaw (Sarah Shahi), which if nothing else is a testament to how much this show's writers can cram into an hour and still end up with an exciting, nerve-wracking episode.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Publishing and Fan Categories

With ten days left before the Hugo nominating deadline, it's time to move swiftly forward to the publishing and fan categories.  What binds these categories together is that they are consistently the ones that I have the most trouble picking nominees in.  I don't even bother with the best editor categories, for reasons that have been enumerated too many times for me to repeat, and the two best artist categories are always difficult--I find myself relying very strongly on resources like the Hugo eligible art tumblrs, and recommendation lists like this one.  Still, there are some amazing nominees here, ones that I'd love to see on the ballot next month, and whose future work I'm really looking forward to.

Previous posts in this series:
Best Semiprozine:
  • GigaNotoSaurus - The model for this modest, unassuming magazine continues to work like gangbusters.  One story a month, many of them at a greater length than the more prolific online magazines manage, and often by names I'd never heard before but look forward to hearing again (I had my introductions to both Zen Cho and C.S.E. Cooney from GigaNotoSaurus).  It's an impressive project, and one that is long overdue for recognition.

  • Lackington's - The second year for this little magazine that could was just as impressive as the first.  Delivering short, strange, often experimental stories, usually clustered around a theme, it's a venue that isn't afraid to be a little off the beaten path, and whose contents is always rewarding.

  • Strange Horizons - In the end, there's no place like home.  Strange Horizons was the first online magazine I read, and wrote for, and it continues to strike a level of excellence that, in my admittedly biased view, is unmatched everywhere else.  Both its fiction and non-fiction were typically excellent this year.

  • Uncanny - A new magazine--it launched in late 2014--Uncanny nevertheless quickly established itself as a market to watch.  Already in its first year, it scored publications from some of the more exciting authors working in the field--people like Carmen Maria Machado, Sofia Samatar, and Catherynne M. Valente--all of which were strong, major pieces.  Definitely a venue to watch.
Best Fanzine:
  • File 770 - I'm not the first or second to say this, but Mike Glyer's work, collecting links and commentary during the months-long puppy kerfuffle (work that continues to this day) was both tireless and invaluable.  It transformed File 770 into the field's public square, a place for mostly amicable discussion between both sides of the dispute.  For that, it deserves recognition.

  • People of Color in European Art History - This ongoing project, though not technically genre-related, feels completely vital to the project of making genre more than just the playground for a certain Eurocentric worldview.  Its constant reminders that people of color have existed throughout history, and participated in European life at every level, are a necessary counterpoint to the prevailing attitude, especially in fantasy, that they should be relegated (if seen at all) to a restricted, restrictive set of roles.
Best Professional Artist:
  • Andrew Davidson - I first heard about Davidson this year, when I saw the series of woodcut illustrations he drew in 2013 for the Harry Potter novels (reissued this year in the new hardcover editions).  In 2015, he also illustrated the cover for Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale, as well as that of the previous volume in the duology, Seraphina.

  • Likhain - Likhain draws fantastical art that draws from Filipino folk traditions.  In 2015, you probably saw her work on the cover of the e-book edition of Zen Cho's collection Spirits Abroad, and the rest of her work is equally vivid and eye-catching.

  • Victo Ngai - It's been three years since I first noticed Ngai's art on, and at this point I simply can't believe that she hasn't been nominated in this category yet.  If there's another artist doing professional work for the genre magazines on this level, I'm not aware of them.  Often infused with Asian elements, Ngai's work is playful, fantastic, and occasionally even surreal.

  • Yuko Shimizu - My second year nominating this arresting, playful artist, who, like Ngai, combines Japanese illustration styles with fannish subject matter, as in this cover for a Batman comic.

  • J.H. Williams III - I'll have more to say about Williams's work when it come to the best graphic story category, but for now let's just say that The Sandman: Overture would not have worked without his panel-busting, almost overpowering artwork.  After nearly thirty years, the Sandman finally has art that suits the trippy, dreamlike nature of the character and his story.
Best Fan Artist:
  • Felicia Cano - Most of Cano's work seems to be semi-realistic fan art (such as her drawings of Harry Potter characters), but she also goes to slightly weirder places, as in these Cthulhu-esque drawings.

  • Jian Guo - I like Guo's recent series in which he dedicates a drawing to each of the planets in the solar system (plus Pluto).  Other recent work, such as this Batman vs. Superman poster, has an interesting style. 

  • Iguanamouth - This artist has a playful style and a fondness for lizards, and their most famous work is a series about unusual dragon hoards.  What's not to like?

  • Jose Sanchez - Sanchez draws mostly Star Wars fan art in a style that's a little off the beaten path--I like this drawing of C-3PO, or this TIE Fighter tribute.

  • Beth Spencer - I know Spencer mainly as one of the bloggers on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, and it was there that I became acquainted with her Alice-in-Wonderland-ish art.  In May she contributed a cover to Apex Magazine, but all of her work has a slipstreamy quality.
Best Fan Writer:
  • Nina Allan - Allan continues to be one of the smartest, most insightful reviewers currently working.  Her reviews for Strange Horizons never fail to convince me to read the books she raves about, and in her recent blogging about mystery novels she shows herself to be equally insightful about that genre as she is about science fiction.

  • Vajra Chandrasekera - Perhaps better known as a fiction writer, Chandrasekera is also a gifted essayist.  He's had several interesting pieces in Strange Horizons, including a new column and the review of Nnedi Okorafor's Binti that I already linked to.  And though those are 2016 publications, in 2015 he wrote one of the most insightful and necessary essays about science fiction and its love of the martial and warlike, one that feels particularly necessary in the face of the glut of superhero stories that thoughtless reiterate ideas rooted in American exceptionalism.

  • Erin Horáková - Erin's been writing great stuff for ages, but 2015 was a great year for her.  It's hard to know which of her Strange Horizons publications are the most delightful--her in-depth look at the animated miniseries Over the Garden Wall, which also examines how other reviewers approached this work?  Her caustic critique of the SF musical Urinetown?  Her fond but clear-eyed assessment of the children's show Yonderland?  Or perhaps her spirited argument that the movie Paddington is a work of genre fiction?  All are fantastic, and it's high time her work was rewarded.

  • Sofia Samatar - Despite being a full-time writer working on an amazing second novel in 2015, Sofia found time to continue producing excellent non-fiction.  Her essay about Carmen Maria Machado in the Los Angeles Review of Books is the best kind of close reading, one excellent writer walking us through the work of another.  And though it isn't strictly about genre, her essay for The New Inquiry, "Skin Feeling," should resonate with any person who wonders how our genre serves (and mis-serves) its POC readers and writers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The 2016 Hugo Awards: My Hugo Ballot, Short Fiction Categories

Here we are again with the Hugo nominating season rushing towards its close (on March 31st, in case you'd forgotten), and once again my fine intentions of coming to this point having read every story I could get my hands on have proven over-ambitious.  The number of online magazines publishing genre fiction grows every year, and though I truly intended to go through every story published by every one, the task proved overwhelming.  Still, I feel like I got a good sense of what was published last year, and a strong batch of nominees for my ballot.

Before we get started, a few comments on methodology, and observations on the state of the field.  Almost all of these stories were published in magazines that are freely available online, largely because that makes them easier to access whenever I have some free reading time.  As I did last year, I ended up skipping the print magazines completely, as well as most of the for-pay online magazines.  The one exception is the novella category, where the e-book boom continues to be extremely rewarding for both authors and readers, creating a new market for slimmer volumes and more contained stories that you can enjoy for just a few dollars apiece.

Second, I should say that I debated for a long time over reading stories published on, or in the publisher's new novella line.  The behavior last year of Tor editor Tom Doherty, in which he all but aligned himself with the Rabid Puppies and their leader Vox Day, was to me completely beyond the pale, and the fact that Doherty has not retracted or apologized for his words is a black stain on the entire company he runs.  It was, in addition, extremely frustrating to see how Tor's position within the genre, as one of its central publishers and, as of 2015, one of the main markets for novella-length fiction, essentially insulated it from any blowback for Doherty's behavior--some parts of fandom even rallied to "protect" the company when Day and his cronies decided to boycott it, the rather predictable outcome of linking one's fortunes to an unstable bigot.  In the end, however, I found that I couldn't justify leaving the market and its authors out, especially considering that Tor remains one of the few venues for longer fiction.  And though that decision turned out to be a rewarding one--Tor published some of the more important and interesting stories in the last year--I remain frustrated by the fact that Tor is effectively too big to feel the consequences of its actions.

As to the state of the field, I have to say that what I saw of the short fiction of 2015 was less exciting than in previous years.  I like all the stories I've listed below, but compared to last year there are fewer of them that I was blown away by, and whose omission from this year's shortlist would strike me as a true injustice.  I also couldn't help but notice that fewer venues are publishing stories in the novelette length (which may or may not be related to the above observation, since the novelette category has historically been the strongest of the three short fiction categories).  On a happier note, it was interesting--and for the most part, gratifying--to see so many stories in the space opera genre, and particularly ones that focused on AI protagonists, ship's minds, and people who have been turned into spaceships (and vice versa).  I can only assume that this is the influence of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy trickling down to authors and editors.

So, with all that preamble out of the way, let's get to the stories I'm nominating this year.  In alphabetical order of the author's surname, they are:

Best Novella:
  • "The Bone Swans of Amandale" by C.S.E. Cooney (from The Bone Swans: Stories) - Cooney's "Martyr's Gem" (also included in this collection) was an unexpected delight last year, a lyrical, witty fairy tale whose fairly meat-and-potatoes plot was elevated by smart writing and engaging characters.  "Bone Swans" does much the same with a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin that also incorporates elements of several other fairy tales, and features some truly interesting characters and creepy turns of plot.  The narrator, a shape-changing rat named Maurice, witnesses the murder of a flock of magical swans, and bands with the survivor, Dora Rose--for whom he has for years nurtured an infatuation--to get revenge by enlisting the help of the Pied Piper.  Maurice is a familiar sort of scoundrel, good-hearted but ultimately amoral and out for himself, but his relationship with Dora Rose--who pretends to be above his sort of scrounging but possesses her own capacity for ruthlessness--is interesting and complex.  Best of all, however, is the Piper himself, a sort of innocent who is nevertheless capable of tremendous cruelty and damage.  "The Bone Swans" is frequently funny, but it also gets at the dark, bloody origins of many fairy tales, and Cooney ensures that the combination never feels less than perfectly entertaining.  (Nebula nominee.)

  • Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing) - Perhaps the one criticism that you could make of this novella is that it's the most Elizabeth Hand story imaginable.  The music scene of the 60s and 70s?  Check.  Middle aged people looking back on their bohemian youth with mingled horror and nostalgia?  Check.  The supernatural impinging on the rational world in ways the continue to haunt the people who witnessed it decades later?  Check to infinity.  The thing is, though, these are all really compelling ingredients, to me at least, and what Hand does with them is typically excellent.  Made up of the intercutting narratives of the former members of a folk rock band, their manager, and other hangers-on, Wylding Hall describes the summer the band spent in the titular house, creating their most famous and influential album but also awakening something hungry and sinister.  Even if Hand's characters didn't tell us right from the start, we'd know exactly where this story is going, so familiar is it not just from Hand's fiction but from millions of other ghost stories like it.  But what matters here is the execution, the recreation of a particular time and milieu, and of the characters' love of music, combined with their dysfunctional relationships.  It makes Wylding Hall, for all its familiarity, effortlessly engaging and fascinating.

  • "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T. Malik ( - Malik's story seems at first like a familiar nested narrative, a tale told by a grandfather to a grandson about life in post-independence Pakistan, and the last remnants of the fantastic he witnessed there.  Very soon, however, the story's first narrative closes down, and we realize that it was only a prelude to the real business of the tale, the grandson's exploration of his family history and connection to magic.  The details are really well done, particularly the relationships between the various family members, but what's truly winning about this story is the way it incorporates the fantastic and the mundane, as in a scene in which an official of the newly-independent nation explains to the last remnant of the Mughal dynasty that the eucalyptus tree that, as she believes, houses a jinn must be brought down because it represents British imperialism.  There are a lot of cool moments like this in the story, as well as a very nicely realized fantastic McGuffin at the core of it, and together they make it quietly remarkable.  (Nebula nominee.)

  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor Novellas) - Like Malik's story, Okorafor's twisty and rich novella begins as one type of story, in which the heroine, a member of a reclusive, discriminated-against Namibian tribe runs away to attend an alien academy for the best and the brightest.  Then, a very short way through, it becomes a tale of survival, as the heroine's transport to school is attacked by aliens who blame the university for looting their cultural treasures.  Using these two conflicts, between the aliens and the university, and between Binti's people and the dominant culture on Earth, Okorafor weaves a tale about empire, the weight of history and tradition, and trying to find the right balance between kowtowing to the dominant culture and shutting yourself off from the world in order to protect yourself from it.  It's also a tense and thrilling adventure, with Binti having to use all her wits to survive and prevent a massacre when her ship arrives at its destination.  One of the most interesting stories of the last few years.  (Nebula nominee.  See also Vajra Chandrasekera's recent, insightful review of Binti at Strange Horizons.)

  • The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor Novellas) - The biggest problem with starting to praise Wilson's phenomenal novella is that it's so rich and so full of interesting aspects that you don't quite know where to start.  With the fascinating, science-fantasy-esque world, which is glimpsed only partially through the characters' eyes and document fragments, but which clearly has a wealth of other stories that could be told about it?  With the fearless intercutting between different time periods and settings, which forces the reader to pay close attention to Wilson's twisty narrative?  With his equally fearless use of voice, and particularly the way in which he has some of his fantasy world denizens speak in AAVE or Afro-Caribbean vernacular with an insouciance that forces the reader to ask, "well, why not?"  With the central love story between the title character and his fellow mercenary, two superhumans in a world that doesn't want either their power or their sexuality?  Sorcerer of the Wildeeps turns on its head much of what we take for granted about epic fantasy--including, of course, that it is possible to do important work in this genre in such a slim volume.  It deserves every accolade it can get.  (Note: at 43K words, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is outside the wordcount range for the novella category.  However, the 20% rule allows it to be nominated here, where I think it belongs--this is clearly a novella, not a novel, albeit a long one.)
Best Novelette:
  • "Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande" by A.S. Diev (GigaNotoSaurus) - There's a deceptively simple concept here--a journalist chronicling the way that the underclass is trampled by the rich in a future even more unequal than our present moment--that is brought to life by the sheer strangeness of the technological developments that this future brings with it.  It's impossible not to laugh at a story whose central conceit involves flying cows, but by the time you reach the end it'll be a bitter sort of laughter.

  • "Fabulous Beasts" by Priya Sharma ( - Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story about the coming of age of two girls in a UK council estate is how thoroughly it earns its happy ending.  Throughout the story, as the girls are trapped by circumstances, by their dysfunctional family, and by something monstrous within them, you keep expecting the worst to happen, especially as Sharma ratchets up the tension.  When the girls find their escape route, it's an ending that could have seemed cheap, if not for Sharma's effortless steering of the narrative.

  • "Ambiguity Machines: An Examination" by Vandana Singh ( - I always feel a little guilty about recommending list stories, because it's a format that can mask a lot of sins (see also: fairy tale retellings).  But the best of them, as Singh's story undeniably is, use the list format to enhance their narrative rather than conceal its absence.  This strange, elliptical story asks (in the form of an examination question, no less) what the meaning of a machine is, and how machines can end up reflecting and shaping the humanity of the people who create them.

  • "The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild" by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, part 1 and 2) - Valente wasn't very prolific in the short fiction scene in 2015, but what she did publish shows a writer who is not content to rest on her (many) laurels, but instead pushes against the boundaries of what she's capable of and known for (see also "Planet Lion," from Uncanny, which I think represents Valente's first foray into space opera).  "Goodnight," in which, to simplify a rather complicated story, a young woman travels to the land of the dead to retrieve her lover, feels a great deal as if Valente is channeling Kelly Link, particularly the way in which the story swoops in and out of surrealism, juxtaposing it with the mundane in a way that makes the latter seem all the stranger.  The dry voice in which the story is told helps us to keep our bearings in a world in which nothing, not even the meanings of words, remains fixed.

  • "Drinking with the Elfin Knight" by Ginger Weil (GigaNotoSaurus) - Once again, this is a simple conceit--a gay teen is discriminated against not because she's gay, but because she's a witch--that is impeccably done.  The descriptions of the heroine's struggles with her powers are scary, both for her inability to control them, and for the way they alienate her from her family and friends.  And the titular elfin knight, who is both a friend and a potential predator, is a wonderful creation that only intensifies the strangeness of the story's world.
Bubbling Under:
  • "Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight" by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld) - It isn't news that de Bodard has a unique and interesting approach to space opera, and this story is no exception.  It examines how three different people work through grief, where those people are the son of the deceased, the woman who received her recorded memories, and the ship mind that she gave birth to.  It's a story about the universality of grief, even in a post-human world.  (Nebula nominee.  Note that at 7K words, this actually a short story, but it's on the cusp and to me feels more like a novelette.)

  • "An Evolutionary Myth" by Bo-Young Kim, translated by Gord Sellar and Jihyun Park (Clarkesworld) - As the title says, this is a myth retold through the lens of evolution--or rather a fantastical sort of evolution, in which individuals, not species, change in response to their environment.  The narrator, the son of a deposed king who fears being assassinated by his usurping uncle, flees into the wilderness and undergoes many different kinds of metamorphosis, each of which reflect his state of mind and personality.  It's a trippy, strange story, which nevertheless feels completely assured and under the control of its author.
Best Short Story:
  • "Madeleine" by Amal El-Mohtar (Lightspeed) - From the Proustian reference of this story's title to its obsession with memory, this is the sort of story that could have been twee but instead works because El-Mohtar is so good at making the title character, and her grief for her recently-deceased mother, real and compelling.  (Nebula nominee.)

  • "The Game of Smash and Recovery" by Kelly Link (Strange Horizons) - A new Link story in the wild is always a happy occasion, and this piece, which is straight-up SF with Link's inimitable touch, is an utter delight.  The narrator's wry but slightly deranged voice slowly clues us into the wrongness of her world, but the truth she ends up discovering about it still comes as a surprise.

  • "Descent" by Carmen Maria Machado (Nightmare Magazine) - This is a deceptively simple horror story, whose architectural structure might, in the hands of a lesser writer, have been schematic.  Happily, Machado, one of the best writers currently working in genre, has her hand firmly on the tiller, and produces a story that is both creepy and deeply affecting.

  • "The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací" by Benjamin Parzybok (Strange Horizons) - If there's one story this year that I desperately would have liked to see get more attention, this is it.  Every line here is perfect, and the slow build-up of horror as the main character realizes that he's witnessing something monstrous continues to be effective even on a second or third read.

  • "The Closest Thing to Animals" by Sofia Samatar (Fireside Fiction) - This genuinely brilliant piece of writing from Samatar hasn't received nearly as much praise as it deserves.  Initially the tale of a chronic hanger-on who wants to be an artist but only ever seems to hang out with them, it slowly reveals the strange SFnal circumstances of the heroine's life, and the reasons for her desperation to leave something lasting behind her.
Bubbling Under:
  • "Restore the Heart Into Love" by John Chu (Uncanny) - I really like the premise of this story--an astronaut whose mission is to preserve archives containing as much of Earth's culture as his ship can carry at a time when war and upheaval threaten humanity's cultural heritage.  The hero discovers a problem in his ship's systems that might seem innocuous to an outsider, but Chu slowly makes us believe that it matters, and understand why the hero risks everything to preserve one small part of his heritage.

  • "Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All" by Rahul Kanakia (Lightspeed) - This very short piece offers an interesting, well-done twist on the ship mind trope that appeared so often in 2015 short fiction.  The narrator's voice is unusual, and the dilemma pondered in the story is compelling despite its short length.

  • "Things You Can Buy for a Penny" by Will Kaufman (Lightspeed) - An extremely clever nested fairy tale about wishes and their pitfalls.  There's nothing here you haven't seen before, but perhaps not so impeccably well-done.

  • "Variations on an Apple" by Yoon Ha Lee ( - Lee had an excellent 2015 in short fiction, but this retelling of the story of Troy and the apple of discord that caused all its trouble is my favorite of a very strong bunch of stories.  It zeroes in on the misogyny at the heart of the story, and goes about finding interesting, unexpected ways of dismantling it.

  • "Tear Tracks" by Malka Older ( - A smart, interesting first contact story that avoids fireworks in favor of constructing a convincingly strange and different alien race, and then delivering a complete gut-punch of an ending when the heroine's encounter with them forces her to reexamine her life.