Award Eligibility 2018

written by David Steffen

It’s time for that January tradition, the Award Eligibility post for Diabolical Plots.

This has been a year of change, as we’ve been trying a new publishing strategy; instead of publishing stories only on the Diabolical Plots website, we’ve been shifting toward publishing them in ebook.  Since there was a backlog of several years of stories already published, this resulted in three anthologies of stories that were first published on Diabolical Plots:

  1.  Diabolical Plots: The First Years in March 2018
  2. Diabolical Plots: Year Three in June 2018
  3. Diabolical Plots: Year Four in September 2018

Diabolical Plots: Year Four was particularly momentous, because it marked the point where the ebook publications have overtaken the website publications.  And because of this change, as well as this being the first full calendar year with 2 stories per month, more DP stories are eligible than have ever been eligible before, because all of the stories that were scheduled on the site from January 2018 to March 2019 are eligible (January 2019 to March 2019 stories were all in Diabolical Plots: Year Four).

As ever, I’m not saying you should nominate these, but I do get questions about what is eligible, so here is a list of what is eligible, if nothing else it’s nice to look back at what was new this year.

Here are the stories, alphabetically by author, which are all eligible under the Short Story category (by Hugo or Nebula rules)

Short Story

“Brooklyn Fantasia” by Marcy Arlin

“The Fisher in the Yellow Afternoon” by Michael Anthony Ashley

“How Rigel Gained a Rabbi (Briefly)” by Benjamin Blattberg

“Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden

“Soft Clay” by Seth Chambers

“Local Senior Celebrates Milestone” by Matthew Claxton

“Withholding Judgment Day” by Ryan Dull

“Medium Matters” by R.K. Duncan

“Artful Intelligence” by G.H. Finn

“The Divided Island” by Rhys Hughes

“The Hammer’s Prayer” by Benjamin C. Kinney

“For the Last Time, It’s Not a Ray Gun” by Anaea Lay

“The Memory Cookbook” by Aaron Fox-Lerner

“The Vegan Apocalypse: 50 Years Later” by Benjamin A. Friedman

“The Last Death” by Sahara Frost

“The Coal Remembers What It Was” by Paul R. Hardy

“The Efficacy of Tyromancy Over Reflective Scrying Methods in Divining Colleagues’ Coming Misfortunes, A Study by Cresivar Ibraxson, Associate Magus, Wintervale University” by Amanda Helms

“Glass in Frozen Time” by M.K. Hutchins

“What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” by Jo Miles

“Still Life With Grave Juice” by Jim Moss

“9 Things the Mainstream Media Got Wrong About the Ansaj Incident” by Willem Myra

“Six Hundred Universes of Jenny Zars” by Wendy Nikel

“Heaven For Everyone” by Aimee Ogden

“Graduation in the Time of Yog-Sothoth” by James Van Pelt

“Pumpkin and Glass” by Sean R. Robinson

“Jesus and Dave” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

“The Man Whose Left Arm Was a Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman

“The Dictionary For Dreamers” by Cislyn Smith

“Crimson Hour” by Jesse Sprague

“Tank!” by John Wiswell

“Her February Face” by Christie Yant


Diabolical Plots is eligible for the Hugo Award for the Best Semiprozine.

Editor, Short Form

I am eligible for the Hugo Award for the Best Editor, Short Form, for both Diabolical Plots and the Long List Anthology.


Around this time of year people occasionally ask what The Long List Anthology and The Submission Grinder are eligible for, award-wise, since these lists are always Diabolical Plots short stories.

The answer is: not really any categories for the Hugo or Nebula, but possibly for other awards which I don’t keep up with as much.

The Long List Anthology is fiction, but by its nature it is entirely reprinted fiction from previous years, so all of the stories within it are already past their period of eligibility by Hugo and Nebula rules, and there are no categories for anthologies specifically.

The Submission Grinder is an online tool, which there isn’t a particularly suitable category for in the Hugo and Nebulas.

In both of these cases there might be categories in other awards, such as anthology categories in the Locus awards for the Long List Anthology, or categories in Preditors and Editors poll about writing tools.

If one felt very determined and maybe more than a little bit silly, I suppose one could nominate the Mighty Samurai cross-stitch photo series on the DP twitter account for Best Related Work.

Hugo/Nebula Award Recommendations!

written by David Steffen

Having previously listing out award-eligible works that were written or published by me, here is my list of works that I think you might want to consider for Hugo and Nebula awards that were not written or published by me.

I’m working mostly from the Hugo Award categories, but a few of these categories overlap with the Nebulas as well.

The Short Story category is the one that means the most to me, so to help suggest more reading for anyone interested, I’ve listed 10 stories instead of 5.

Note that I have skipped any categories that I didn’t think that I was sufficiently knowledgeable enough about during the year of 2016.

Also, in any given category, the ordering does not mean anything–the order is not rank-order, so the first is not any different than the last, etc.

I left out the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, because I know a lot of amazing people on that list and I don’t want to make people feel bad they got left out (but I’m still going to have to pick 5 for my actual ballot!).


Best Novel

FIX by Ferrett Steinmetz

United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas

Best Novella

“Everybody Loves Charles” by Bao Shu, translated by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)

“Chimera” by Gu Shi, translated by S. Qiouyi Lu and Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)

“The Snow of Jinyang” by Zhang Ran, translated by Ken Liu and Carmen Yiling Yan (Clarkesworld)

Best Novelette

“Fifty Shades of Grays” by Steven Barnes (Lightspeed)

“The Calculations of Artificials” by Chi Hui, translated by John Chu (Clarkesworld)

“The Venus Effect” by Joseph Allen Hill (Lightspeed)

Best Short Story

“Archibald Defeats the Churlish Shark-Gods” by Benjamin Blattberg (Podcastle)

“Beat Softly, My Wings of Steel” by Beth Cato (Podcastle)

“The Bee-Tamer’s Final Performance” by Aidan Doyle (Podcastle)

“The Night Bazaar For Women Becoming Reptiles” by Rachael K. Jones (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“The First Confirmed Case of Non-Corporeal Recursion: Patient Anita R.” by Benjamin C. Kinney (Strange Horizons)

“The Modern Ladies’ Letter-Writer” by Sandra McDonald (Nightmare)

“A Partial List of Lists I Have Lost Over Time” by Sunil Patel (Asimov’s)

“The Sweetest Skill” by Tony Pi (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

“Thundergod in Therapy” by Effie Seiberg (originally published in Galaxy’s Edge, but the link is to free reprint in Podcastle)

“In Their Image” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe (Escape Pod)

Best Graphic Story

Gravity Falls: Journal 3 by Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Finding Dory

The Secret Life of Pets



Best Editor (Short Form)

Jen Albert (Podcastle)

Neil Clarke (Clarkesworld)

Graeme Dunlop (Podcastle)

Rachael K. Jones (Podcastle)

Norm Sherman (Escape Pod)

Best Professional Artist

Galen Dara

Best Semiprozine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies


Escape Pod


Strange Horizons

Best Fanzine


Quick Sip Reviews

Best Fan Writer

Mike Glyer (File770)

Charles Payseur (Quick Sip Reviews)





Hugo Novelette Review: “Obits” by Stephen King

written by David Steffen

“Obits” is one of the Hugo Finalists for the novelette category this year.   It was published in Stephen King’s short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

Mike Anderson takes a job at the online celebrity gossip mag Neon Circus writing joke obituaries of recently-deceased celebrities.  His article becomes one of the most popular in the magazine.  After he is turned down for a raise in frustration he writes an obituary about his boss to blow off steam and his boss dies unexpectedly that same day.  Does his writing have the power to kill?

Overall this story is Stephen King in his best short story form–real world situation but with one bizarre idea thrown in, and explore the consequences.  As is typical for Stephen King his characters feel like real people, enough so that it’s easy to imagine it all actually happening.  As his colleague at Neon Circus starts to encourage him to explore his ability further I could really feel the downward spiral of feeling out that horrific talent.  I was enjoying it quite thoroughly until the ending which was more of an ellipsis than a period or exclamation point.  I don’t know if it makes it better or worse when the narrator of the story points out its lack of ending–I guess hanging a lantern on the lack of resolution is better than nothing?  But I would’ve rather seen a more satisfying ending on the end of it, whether it took a lighter turn or a darker turn.



Why do I Value the Hugos?

written by David Steffen

I’ve been following the Hugos closely for several years, trying to read and review as many of the nominated works as I can digest between the announcement of the ballot and the final deadline.  I also follow the Nebulas, and I glance at the results from other SF genre awards, but for me the Hugos take up most of my attention come award season.  With this eventful Hugo year, it crossed my mind to wonder why the Hugos specifically, and whether I might perhaps be better off devoting more of my attention to awards that don’t collect controversy the way the Hugo Awards always seem to do, and in escalating fashion these last few years.

1.  The Hugos are Fan-Based.

Specifically, they are based on the supporters/attendees of WorldCon, which is certainly not an exact representation of fandom as a whole.  But what I mean by this is that the fan-based nature differentiates it from juried awards or the Nebulas which are voted by SFWA members, which gives that award a very different feel.

I do like the concept of the Locus Awards, since those are available for anyone to vote online, so have a broader voting audience–maybe I’ll try to pick them up next year.

2.  The Hugos Have a Long Reading Period

The Nebulas and the Locus awards have very short reading periods (the period of time between the announcement of the ballot and the voting deadline) of only about a month.  If I want to read as much of the fiction as possible, that’s not nearly enough time–I can’t finish all the short fiction, let alone start the novels.  The Hugo ballot is announced around Easter weekend (usually early April or so) and the voting deadline is at the end of July, so there are nearly four months to try to do all the reading.  The Hugo Packet isn’t released right at the beginning of the reading period, but usually enough of the short fiction was published in online venues so that I can fill my reading time with Hugo material.

3.  The Hugos Have Instant Runoff Voting and No Award

The Nebula ballot for each category is a set of radio buttons–you can only choose one winner.  On the Hugo ballot you can give a numeric vote from 1 to N, where N is the total number of nominees (usually 5).  All of the voters first choices are tallied, and the story with the lowest votes is eliminated–all of the ballots which had the eliminated story as the top vote slip down to their second choices, and so on, until there is a winner.   I like this because it’s a very common situation where I like more than one of the nominees a great deal, and this lets me give support for more than one instead of having to choose.  This is also beneficial if the same author has more than one story in a category because they don’t self-compete.

There is also a No Award vote that lets you differentiate between items you don’t care about and items you strongly feel should not win.  If there is a large enough portion of No Award votes, no awards will be given for the category, which gives a recourse in the case that you think a category has nothing worthy.

4.  The Hugos have a Graphic Story Category

I love graphic stories, but I have not been very good at keeping up with them.  The graphic story category gives me a sampler of what the graphic stories that people loved the most so that I can catch up a bit, maybe even consider picking up a subscription.  This year’s category was especially stellar, with three comics that I’d consider picking up–which I reviewed here a few weeks ago.

5.  The Hugos Have WorldCon

I made it to WorldCon 2012 in Chicago, and had a really great experience there.  That was before the launch of the Submission Grinder, so less people knew who I was, but I still knew a lot of people from Writers of the Future and Codex.  There were a lot of my favorite writers and editors there, probably partly due to the Hugos drawing them to the award ceremony.  I also thought it was fun to go to the award ceremony itself.

6.  The Hugos Have the Hugo Packet

A lot of the short fiction is available for free without actually becoming a Hugo voter–a lot of it was published for free online to begin with, other publishers (like Analog) post it there for the readers to see.  But most of the ones that aren’t available for free are in the packet, and most years most of the novels have been included as well.

This is based on kind of an odd dynamic.  The Hugo packet is only a few years old, so it’s a nice convenience.  If the Hugos were less notable, the publishers probably wouldn’t participate.  If the Hugo voting audience was huge, the publishers might be reluctant to give away that many free copies.  So it works in kind of an odd middle space where most science fiction and fantasy readers are aware of the award, enough that pasting the name on a book cover can encourage sales, but not so many actually participate (even though they all can) to deter publishers.

7.  The Hugo Rules/Categories are Chosen By Fans

OK, this one is alternately a benefit or a detriment.  A benefit because as new formats of science fiction and new publishing technologies become popular, the award can expand to include those things, and theoretically phase out those things that are outdated.  A detriment because it can sometimes end up with some long-lasting categories that don’t make a lot of sense, or new categories thrashing out of momentary conflicts.  But I like the idea in theory anyway.

Hugo Novelette Review: “Championship B’tok” by Edward M. Lerner

written by David Steffen

“Championship B’tok”, written by Edward M. Lerner, published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, is nominated for this year’s Hugo Award in the Novelette category.  Analog has posted this story for free online as part of this Hugo season.

I generally start these stories with a synopsis, to give a sense of what the story was about.  For me to be able to write a meaningful synopsis I need to be able to get some cohesive sense of what the story was about.  I had trouble discerning that for this particular story, so this is not so much a synopsis as a list of story elements.  The story starts with pilot Lyle Logan playing chess against his ship AI, and then the scene ends very abruptly in a way that’s never adequately explained and these characters never appear again in the story, nor have any other appreciable effect.  We’re introduced to an alien race known as Snakes, among other things.  There are also a mysterious race of beings (Interveners) that can apparently mimic the appearance of either humans or Snakes–these beings are not at all well-understood but they believe that the beings sparked the explosion of life in the Cambrian Era and that they steered the social/technological development of the human race.  The story mostly circles around two characters: a snake named Glithwa and a human named Corinne, and a human Carl.  Glithwah represents the ruling Snakes, digging for information about what might be human sabotage.  The titular game, b’tok, is played during the story, which is supposedly as much more complicated than chess as chess is more complicated than rock-paper-scissors.

As you might’ve gathered from the scattered, rather long and directionless synopsis, I apparently did not really get the point of this story.  What was that first scene there for?  What do the Snakes have to do with the Interveners?  Who am I supposed to root for?  Why do I care about any of this?  I found some references on the Internet that this might be part of a series of stories involving the InterstellarNet. If so, maybe I’m just missing some important information, but there was no information attached with the story that suggested it wasn’t a standalone, so I’ve got to judge it on its own merits.

One of the issues with the story was that it claimed that B’tok was so incredibly complicated, but it seemed like a pretty straightforward battle simulator, something we have many variations on even now.  Not only that, but some of the reals were just nonsensical, that rather than making it incredibly impressively complicated like it was apparently meant to be, it just came across as a poorly designed war sim.  That’s the trouble with trying to write a story about a game that was so complicated humans wouldn’t grasp it well, I guess.

I thought this story was all over the place.  I was not interested in any of the characters, or what happened to them, and the point of major reveals was often not particularly clear–the throwaway initial scene certainly did not help any of this.

Hugo Novelette Review: “The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn

written by David Steffen

“The Journeyman: In the Stone House” by Michael F. Flynn, published in Analog, is nominated for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Novelette.  Analog has posted this story as a free read as part of the Hugo season.

This is part two of the Journeyman series of stories.  I have not read the first part of the story, so I am extrapolating a bit.  Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand and Sammi o’ th’ Eagles are in the midst of  a journey that began in the previous story, where they were sent on a quest by a ghost that resided in a crashed vessel from the sky (presumably an AI residing in a starship) to find particular settlements for the star-men to salvage from the remains.  As well as the quest, they are also trying to stay ahead of Kalakaran Vikaram who is looking to avenge his brother that Teodorq killed.  As they are trying to cross a territory toward their destination, they stop to examine a stone building and they wonder how it was constructed (the technology level of the setting is mostly like a Medieval level, but with the remains of higher tech scattered about it’s clear that this occurs in the future after a technological collapse of some kind).  They, as well as their pursuer, are captured.  To continue their quest they must somehow escape their imprisonment.

The most interesting thing about this story was the use of language.  The two protagonists are from different cultures that speak different languages.  This means that to communicate directly with each other they have to speak in a broken pidgin dialect.  Each has vastly different views of life and death and everything that surrounds it, and this comes out in various conversations throughout the story.  At the same time I found some of the dialect rather distracting because, well, I just wasn’t all that interested in the outcome of the story, and the dialect was more absorbing than the events.

Maybe I would feel more absorbed if I had read the first story in the series.  Maybe if I had seen the conversation with the AI I would have a clear idea of the stakes at hand here, and I’d be more emotionally invested.  As it was, I was never confused by what was happening, I didn’t feel like it left out too much detail at least to explain events, but I didn’t really care what happened either and the story dragged as a result.  The characters could succeed, they could give up and go home, they could die in the attempt, and it wouldn’t make much difference to me–not that I really had any doubt that they’d make it through this alive.  When I read a story I want to feel connected to it, either an emotional connection with the characters, or at least some kind of thematic or intellectual connection.  I want to understand the stakes, what will happen if they fail in their mission, and I didn’t really feel like I got any of that.

And then the story just kind of ends at a pretty much arbitrary point, clearly just leading on into the next one, but without any kind of satisfying tying off.  Maybe these stories as a whole make a compelling story when combined together, but when a story is up for a Hugo as a standalone I’ve got to judge it based on what I see, and to me this is a not-very-compelling story fragment with some interesting dialect.  Maybe I would’ve liked it better if the Journeyman series as a whole were nominated for a novella or novel award, rather than this segment being nominated for the novelette award (that’s no longer possible with this nomination, a part of a whole cannot be nominated and then the whole also be nominated).  So this one was a miss for me.


Hugo Novelette Review: “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart

written by David Steffen

“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium” by Gray Rinehart was published in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  The story is posted here for free to read.

Alluvium is the name of a human settlement and the planet its on, a place close enough to Earth in habitat that colonists can live with just nano-infusions to balance out the few chemicals that are toxic to humans.  Life is as good as it can be, until the Peshari (a lizard–like alien race) landed and conquered the human settlements.  Cerna is one of the settlers still living under their oppressive rule.  His friend, Keller, has become sick, since the Peshari took away their all-important nano-fabbers.  Keller has taken an interest in the death rituals of the Peshari and how it differs from human death rituals.

This story was slow to start.  The beginning scenes didn’t grab my attention very strongly, but I wanted to give the story a chance, to see if it picked up.  I’m glad I did, because a scene or two later it did grab my interest, when the death rituals start to take more of a focus.  I’ve said before that I would like to see more science fiction that features religion but neither preaches nor demonizes it, and so admittedly this story hit a sweet spot for my personal tastes with its focus on human and alien death rituals and how the effect of ritual and symbol can have on the world.  After the slow beginning, the rest of the story held my interest to the satisfying end.  Usually I go for stories that connect to me more on a personal level than this one perhaps did, this had more of a golden SF feel to it, but I thought the social and religious ritual aspects of it more than made up for that.  This story has my top vote in the novelette category.

Hugo Short Story Review: “On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli

written by David Steffen

“On a Spiritual Plain” by Lou Antonelli, published in Sci Phi Journal, is nominated for this years Hugo Award in the Short Story Category.  Sci Phi Journal has posted the story for free for the voting period, which you can find here.

The story takes place on the alien planet Ymila, devoid of any useful resources apart from being close to a wormhole.  Ymila has a single sentience species who practice a single religion based around the journey of the soul.  The biggest thing that’s different about Ymila is that it has a much stronger electromagnetic field which keeps dead souls from dissipating quickly as they apparently do on Earth.  Another major thing is that the Ymilans have developed specialized sensory organs that allow them to see and communicate with dead souls.  A human dies for the first time on the planet, and his soul visits the human chaplain–visible only under certain conditions but unable to communicate clearly.  The chaplain sets out on a pilgrimage to the pole of the planet where the magnetic field is weaker to allow the soul to dissipate.

I thought the core idea here was interesting, the concept of a intelligent-life-supporting planet which has different properties that will keep a soul in place, and the intelligent lifeforms there evolving with sensory equipment to communicate with them.  I can see how that sensory equipment would give an evolutionary advantage–allowing a multigenerational learning/mentoring culture.  I would love to see more stories that include religion as an important element without either preaching nor demonizing them.

But I never really felt any tension as I was reading.  At the beginning of the story they set out on a journey, they take the journey with no significant obstacles, and then the journey is over.  A lack of tension might be made up for by some interesting philosophy, something deep to mentally chew on, and that would certainly make sense in a publication that styles itself a journal of philosophical science fiction.  The chaplain had the opportunity to speak to Joe (the dead soul) through native translators, yet for most of the journey Joe is not aware of what the purpose of the trip is.  Why is the chaplain undertaking this journey without even speaking to Joe about it?  Does he think that he knows what’s best for Joe better than Joe himself–why not just ask Joe what he wants to do?  It seems to me that a chaplain’s role in such a situation would be to be a counselor for the dead, to help Joe come to terms with what has happened and to help Joe come to his own decision about what Joe wants to happen next.  The impression I got, which is probably not what the author intended, is that the chaplain wanted Joe’s ghost to go away because it would raise awkward questions among the congregation to have a ghost hanging around.  If he simply wanted Joe to go on to the afterlife, why rush it?  The pilgrimage could be taken at any time whenever Joe felt that he was ready–the native souls usually moved on after six generations, as a natural progression of their relationship to the living populace, so I would expect Joe to eventually decide to do the same if he weren’t rushed into it.  If the answer to these questions wasn’t the rather negative conclusion I jumped to, then I felt the story could’ve supported whatever was intended more strongly.


Kickstarter for Long List Anthology Launched!

A City On It's Tentacles_smallerToday is the first day for the Kickstarter of the Long List anthology.  The purpose of the Long List anthology is to celebrate more of the short fiction chosen by the Hugo voters.  This will be done by soliciting the short fiction works on the Hugo “long list” that the Hugo administration publish every year after giving the award.  See the Kickstarter for more details

Thank you!