It’s award season again, and these are the nominees for the Hugo Award, voted by supporting members of this year’s WorldCon. This category covers fiction of less than 7500 words. I love to use the Hugo Awards as a recommended reading list, and I hope you enjoy the stories as much as I do!
1.“STET,” by Sarah Gailey (Fireside Magazine, October 2018) Written as a heavily-annotated synopsis for a research paper about the life-or-death choices of self-driving cars. I love stories that are written as documents, and this has three levels: the synopsis, the annotations by the editor suggesting changes, and the responses from the author responding to the editor’s suggestions. (“STET” means “let it stand” when responding to editorial suggestions). This hits a lot of my favorite things, between an emotional story, a document-style format, several layers of storytelling, and very concise format. There is a very emotional story here, but much of it is inferred from the tone and the atypical wording for a research paper and the responses to that. Loved it.
3. “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018) A group of fairy folk are pining over Rose MacGregor, the one who got away. They are so accustomed to being the ones to be pined over, they’re not sure what to do with themselves when it happens in reverse! This is an entertaining reversal that has the feel of tall tales from the fey about this unconquerable person unique in a world of otherwise entirely conquerable people.
4. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside Magazine, February 2018) Based on apparently true piece of documentation showing that George Washington purchased “nine negro teeth”, this tells the stories of the nine people whose teeth became part of George Washington’s dentures, and what made each of them who they were and how their tooth’s presence affected Washington. With the format this is a small collection of flash fiction with a common theme, interesting and compelling and each one very brief and to the point.
5. “The Court Magician,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018) This is the story of the boy who will become the court magician, always hungry to learn the secrets of the tricks, who will keep on no matter the cost. This is a story of power and the power behind the power, where there is always a trick behind everything.
Uncanny Magazineis an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine with a commitment to diversity. Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas are the co-publishers and co-editors-in-chief, and Michi Trota is the managing editor. The first issue of Uncanny Magazine was published in November 2014. Uncanny Magazine has already been nominated for and won multiple SF/F awards, including winning the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and multiples stories first published there nominated in the Hugo story categories, winning a Parsec award, as well as being a finalist for World Fantasy Award and Locus Award.
They release monthly issues, in ebook format, online, and two of the stories every month in the podcast. Every episode of the podcast features an update on what the Thomases are up to which varies in length between about two minutes and twenty, which includes any publishing changes, convention travel, mention of current events (usually regarding publishing or politics). Then, the story (sometimes two), the poem, and an interview (often of the author of the story, but that may not always be true).
This list is based on the list of all of the stories published on the podcast only since the beginning of the podcast, which comes to about 50 stories. This list is not based on stories that Uncanny Magazine published in ebook/online formats that weren’t on the podcast, so if you like what you read here, you should certainly go read more of their fiction that wasn’t considered for this list. This list also doesn’t include poetry because I am a terrible judge of poetry.
1. “Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man” by Max Gladstone
The dialect of the narrative voice of this one took a little bit getting used to, but the incredible reading by Heath Miller helped sell this a lot, he pulled the dialect off splendidly. The story follows Big Thrull, who is a legendarily tough member of a legendarily tough race that is heavily based on customs and values toughness and straightforwardness, who invites the “Askin’ Man” into her home as a guest who is of a culture and toughness that we would call more ordinary who knows how to ask the right questions to get what he wants. Big Thrull has to quickly become acquainted the slippery slope of giving small favors.
2. “When the Circus Lights Down” by Sarah Pinsker
The circus is a living thing, and the big top tent lights down from the sky and attracts the nearby residents to come and visit before lighting off again sometime in the near future.
3. “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” by JY Yang
Harry Lee Kuan Yew is being rigorously tested. Not just this Harry Lee, but the dozens of other Harry Lees before him, tested against various battle simulations the original Harry Lee had faced up against, and scored and ranked to determine their future fates.
5. “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
A woman carves wooden ducks to sell at local fairs. Every single day an old man buys the cheapest one she has on display with barely a word. What is he doing with all of those ducks? This story has one of the best and most surprising moments, where the story suddenly shifts from a curious mystery to something much different. (full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)
“Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar (full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)
“Down and Out in R’lyeh” by Catherynne M. Valente Another story read by Heath Miller who did an incredible job selling the voice on a story that might’ve been difficult to read. The story uses “squamous” to mean very drunk, and especially with Miller’s reading voice, it really works.
The Hugo Awards Best Novella category covers stories between 17,500 and 40,000 words. See here for a full list of the nominees this year. I enjoyed all of the novellas this year, I’m glad that the Hugos use instant-runoff voting so I can give some kind of vote for them all instead of just having to pick one!
A Sarah Pinsker from an alternate reality has discovered how to travel to alternate realities. One of the first actions this alternate Sarah Pinsker performs is to organize the first SarahCon, attended entirely by Sarah Pinskers of various realities. This Sarah (an insurance adjuster) grudgingly decides to attend, where she meets hundreds of herselves and is just starting to figure out how to navigate the odd social situation of talking to all these other Sarahs, when a dead body is discovered, apparently a murder, and this Sarah Pinsker is the closest Sarah available to one with detective experience while they wait for the authorities to arrive on the island of the convention. The victim is Sarah Pinsker. Pretty much all of the suspects and potential witnesses are Sarah Pinsker. And Sarah Pinsker is on the case.
This story was wonderful and fun and delightful and hilarious. There was plenty of humor inherent in the situation, but the murder mystery is played straight–it has all of the components you expect from a murder mystery, except that the scenario adds a bizarre twist to the situation that both complicates (because it’s hard to even tell the people apart) and simplifies (because Sarah has a better understanding of the suspects than she would if they were entirely separate people) the investigation. This lends itself to the story taking some turns that would only make sense in this very specific situation. Highly recommended, I have been recommending this to anyone who has asked me what I’m reading.
Usually alternate history is used to explore the consequences of major political or military events turning out differently. But sometimes, it can just be used as a reason to tell a Western story about hippo-riding cowboys in Louisiana (alt history because there was an early 20th century proposal to import hippos to raise them for meat).
Winslow Houndstooth had been happy as a hippo rancher until his ranch was burned to the ground. Now Houndstooth is a hired hand, and he’s accepted a job from the government to clear all of the feral hippos out of the Mississippi, and he also has revenge on his mind to get back at the one who destroyed his ranch.
This is so much fun, very much a western style story but with the significant added wrinkle that their mounts/cattle can bite them in half. The story is told straight, so the hippos aren’t used for comedy, but that just makes it all the more fun. It has the feel of a heist sort of story, with Winslow as the leader gathering skilled specialists to perform the seemingly impossible mission.
Jacqueline and Jillian are twin sisters, weighed under the heavy burden of parental expectations. Every aspect of what they do and how they present to the world is defined by their parents who wanted the perfect boy and the perfect girl. Jacqueline is the perfect princess of a girl, never dirty, never impolite, while Jillian is a tomboy who excels at athletics and never does things that might be considered girlish. When they’re thirteen the girls discover a portal into another world in their house and they travel through it, to a land protected and contained by a vampire and a mad doctor who can raise corpses from the dead. Portal visitors are a common occurrence here, and due to a prior arrangement, the girls each go into the custody of one of these powerful men and must make their way in this strange world until they can find a doorway home.
This ties into McGuire’s Wayward Children series, but you don’t need any familiarity with the series to read this–it works just fine as a standalone. It is built largely on the audience expectations of portal stories, so if (like me) those are a particular favorite, you’ll be well-primed for this. The characters are both well-portayed as real people as well as larger than life in some ways because they are constantly being pushed into boundaries that generally do not fit them. It’s a story of what makes each of us different from the others, and how our environments and constraints on our behavior end up defining much of who we are. It’s also a tale of sisterhood coming from a family that didn’t exactly nurture their relationship, thrown into adversity of a strange world. Well worth the read.
The security android (SecBot for short) calls itself Murderbot, but only in the privacy of its own head. It’s part robot part human, property of the Company, on security detail with a group of humans surveying a planet for resources. Unbeknownst to its crew, it has successfully hacked its governor module that is supposed to keep it safe and limit its behavior to only those things necessary for its security duties. But, really, it uses most of that freedom to download and watch entertainment vids in every moment of spare time. Its current crew is disconcertingly friendly, which is bothersome when it really just wants to be left alone to watch its shows. When a series of things go wrong with the surveying mission, it’s not clear if its due to the Company’s cut-rate equipment or if someone is sabotaging them. But Murderbot’s vid-watching has (surprisingly) prepared it for unexpected situations more than its actual functional programming, and if it wants to survive it’s going to have to help its crew get out of this.
Murderbot is a fun and charming character in its own way. While some parts of its personality are far from mine (a casual attitude toward violence, but that’s inherent in its programming) I think its character is particularly appealing for introverts who may find friendliness from others alarming at times. Murderbot is a very competent character and it’s a solid action story, but the biggest charm of it for me was just enjoying the kind of odd personality traits, different from most human characters in stories but also different from most robot characters in stories. Fun, and the first of a series.
The original Binti was reviewed here as part of the Hugo Novella Review in 2016. Binti: Home is the second story in the series.
Binti is the first human from the Himba culture to travel to the stars where she is attending Oomza University, where she is learning to refine her skill for mentally manipulating magical formulas. The first story told of the tragic happenings of her trip where she was the sole survivor of an attack by the jellyfish-like Meduse and went on to help forge a peace between humans and Meduse, and in the process was physically changed so that her braids became like a Meduse’s tentacles, able to move of their own volition. Now she is returning home to Earth to her family to go on a pilgrimage during her break in her schooling, and she’s bringing her Meduse friend Okwu with her. With the truce with the Meduse still fresh and tentative, and with Binti changed dramatically by her new experiences since leaving home, she doesn’t know how her family and culture will receive her.
Solid story, and I like following Binti as much as the first time. The first book took place mostly off-Earth so you didn’t get to see much of Binti’s home or her culture directly. This story takes place almost entirely here, we get to know her family and her background better. This story is the second in what I think will be a trilogy and it does feel like that–it is clearly building FROM something, and clearly building TO something where it will go next, but as itself I wanted to get the rest of the story–I will be excited to read the third story. I would recommend not starting the series with this book–I don’t think you’ll get everything out of it if you haven’t seen Binti’s path so far, and the previous conflict with the Meduse and the beginning of the truce.
Mokoya and Akeha are the twin children of the Protector, sold to the Monastery at birth. Mokoya is plagued by visions of the future that can’t be changed, and Akeha is drawn to political revolution. The Machinist rebellion is growing, the power of technology growing quickly and threatening the iron rule of the Protectorate and their soldiers, and both of the siblings see the terrible things their mother does to maintain her rule. They must make decisions about where their loyalties lie and where their abilities are best used.
This story ties into the author’s Tensorate series, and was dual-released with another novella in the same universe The Red Threads of Fortune, but it works as a standalone–you don’t need any prior knowledge of the characters or universe to be able to follow the story. I haven’t read the related novella or the other books in the series, but I enjoyed getting to know the twins and their relationship with each other. What I found particularly interesting was some of the cultural details, especially how children are not considered a specific gender until they’re old enough to decide their gender for themselves, and how Tensorate magic is used to facilitate this process–although parts of living under Protectorate rule seem oppressive, this particular aspect was positive and interesting.
Science fiction award season is here again, and the Hugo final ballot was announced for WorldCon 75 in Helsinki Finland. Lots of familiar names and publications on the list, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work. Note that this year marks the instatement of some new rules by those who attended the WSFS meetings at the last two WorldCons, meant to counteract the voter collusion dominating the ballot in the last few years. First, although voters could still only nominate five things for each category, there are six finalists on the ballot instead of five. Second, there is a new nomination-counting procedure in place meant to weaken the effect of large groups of people voting for the exact same ballot, a rule called E Pluribus Hugo which I have researched and understood and then completely forgotten about several times since it was first proposed a couple years ago. And the rule changes do appear to have an effect–the ballot looks different than it has the last couple of years.
On to the short story category, my favorite category of all the Hugo categories, covering stories less than 7500 words. This review covers five of the six nominees.
“This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.” So goes the memorable opening line of this story, both a fantasy story about the vengeance of a demigoddess, as well as a metanarrative about the stories we tell about killers and not about the killed.
Short and to the point, Bolander never beats around the bush. She gets right to the point and gets her point across in an entertaining way and is done before you’ve had chance to really consider what just happened. This story refuses to bow to the convention of trying to humanize the abuser, and engages with that choice directly right in the first two paragraphs.
The war is almost over, in all but the most official of ways, and Calla is going into the heart of enemy territory to visit a friend from the other side as he lays in the hospital. Larn, who she is visiting, is a Gaant, who are telepathic. Calla is an Enith who are not. During her time in the war she had both a nurse watching over Larn and other prisoners of war, as well as a prisoner herself who was watched over by Larn. In their time together they forged a connection between them, based around her teaching him how to play chess. The Gaant as a rule don’t play games like chess because being able to read another person’s mind makes it hard to win games of strategy. But Calla is going to play one last game.
This is a solid story built around a simple premise, and I loved to see the friendship they formed even in the most hostile of environments and when everything in the world was stacked against that friendship. Friendship is a powerful thing.
This is the story of two women who are the protagonists of different fairy tales meeting each other and what happens after. Tabitha is a woman cursed to wear seven pairs iron shoes of iron shoes, one after the other, and walk and walk and walk until they are all worn down to nothing. Amira is a woman cursed to sit in complete stillness on the top of a glass hill, a hill surrounded by her suitors who try again and again to climb the hill to reach her. Tabitha’s iron shoes grip the hill and so the women meet and become friends.
Another solid story about the power of friendship, this one about the sympathy we have for the bad situations of our friends even when we can’t seem to see our equally bad situations that we are in, and how having friends you can trust to lend you perspective on your life can mean everything in the world.
When cities reach a certain age, a certain stage, then they are born from the dead collection of objects that they are into a living breathing thinking creature. This is a dangerous time because there are things that prey on newborn cities, killing them while they are drawing their first breath. Each city has a midwife, who can use their magical song to help their city through this fight. It is almost time for New York City to be born, and a young Black man is about to learn he is the midwife.
Action packed story with a really cool fantasy premise and striking imagery, Jemisin’s story is grounded in a sense of place, perfect for a story that is all about a place becoming a sort of gargantuan person. This is a standalone story, but this could easily be a series as different cities wake up.
Melanie and Hannah are sisters, with the power over weather and time. When things got bad at home, Melanie chose to stay, and Hannah chose to leave. Hannah takes a flight home, the first time she’s come back in years, and the skies open for Melanie and Hannah witnesses her death by lightning. Determined to fix this, Hannah tries again, rolling time back and trying a different way to save her sister. Again and again she tries to get there in time to save Melanie.
A story of sisterly love and of coming to understand someone who you already thought you had known, of fighting against impossible odds to fix the world for someone you love. Solid, fast-paced, very well done.
I am back from WorldCon 74, also known as MidAmericon 2, which was held in Kansas City, Missouri from August 17-21! I am back into my normal swing of things and trying to work my way back into the normal everyday types of things that WorldCon wasn’t.
I had such an incredible time. Sitting at my desk, back in the real world, my brain is still trying to process everything, it has been a very densely packed 4 days. I am introvert. I use the word “introvert” in the sense, not that I hate social situations or hate people or anything like that, but that social situations use energy and being by myself recharges energy–as opposed to an extrovert who recharges by being around people and uses energy when they’re alone. I was expecting to have fun, but I was also expecting to slam into my social limits halfway through each day and then come home feeling like a wrung out washcloth. But, it seems that in this very specific environment, I am more of an extrovert–most nights when I finally retired to my room the reason was more because of aching legs and knowing that I should try to get some sleep than being unable to cope with the social scene anymore.
I arrived at the hotel around midday Thursday and left around midday Sunday, so I had a solid 72 hours around the premises. I hear there are a lot of really interesting things to go see in and around Kansas City. But I didn’t go to any of them, figuring that I had such a limited time here and the people and things I came here for were all concentrated in the area by the hotel and convention center.
The biggest difference in my convention experience between this time and the last time at WorldCon in Chicago in 2012 is that I have become somewhat more notable in the speculative fiction publishing community.
–The Submission Grinder was launched.
–Diabolical Plots started publishing original fiction and became a SFWA-qualifying market.
–The Long List Anthology was published.
So the biggest difference is that it wasn’t uncommon for complete strangers to actually know of what I do. Some would recognize me from checking my name badge alone. Others wouldn’t recognize the name, but if I mentioned the Grinder or someone else mentioned that I run the Grinder then many writers would recognize me, would often say very nice things about the site. This was a very big difference for me–When I last attended a convention I had had some published fiction and had been running Diabolical Plots for nonfiction-only for 4 years , but those had never spurred this kind of reaction.
In the past, when I was just getting started at writing, I had some miserable experiences at conventions–I just thought they weren’t for me. I couldn’t seem to get anyone to really talk to me and whenever I tried I just felt like I was shut out by everyone there. This time around, since I was more well-connected than I’ve been in the past, I tried my best to try to help people have a good convention who looked like they might’ve been in the same boat as I had been when I’d had miserable conventions. First, if I was standing in a circle of people talking and I saw someone standing outside the circle looking like they wanted to join, I would try to step to one side and wave them in, make it clear they were welcome to join the conversation. Second, if I was with some people I knew, and I saw other people that I suspected didn’t know each other, I would try to introduce the two groups to each other, maybe with a bit of bragging-up, since it is much easier to talk about another person’s accomplishments than your own. I feel like these simple practices might’ve helped make the con a little better for some of these people, and I know that when I saw such similar behaviors directed toward me I greatly appreciated the person taking a moment to make my day much better.
I was namedropped on at least three different panels, and each one was for a different project–this was a novel experience for me. I have heard secondhand from people who’ve gone to other conventions that the Submission Grinder is often mentioned in panels as a resource, which is great! I hear that I was mentioned in a Kickstarter panel as an example of someone who has run a successful Kickstarter (for the Long List Anthology last year)–this was before I arrived onsite or I might’ve been there myself. I hear that I was mentioned in a panel aimed at new writers that in part discussed the topic of how to find markets for your work, and the Submission Grinder was mentioned as a resource–I had intended to attend that panel just to see if I could witness a namedrop for the fun of it, but I ended up seeing a perfect opportunity to hang out with someone I had barely seen yet, so I took that opportunity (and didn’t regret it since my intent to visit the panel was really just a vanity novelty). And the one namedrop I was there to witness–Finding the Right Podcast For You, in which Alasdair Stuart mentioned the Diabolical Plots “Best Of” podcast list as a good way to get samplings of fiction podcasts… and then he also commented on the shades of pink I was cycling through. So that was all very exciting.
Aside: This might be an appropriate time to note that being able to have an unrelentingly wonderful time does not mean that everyone was treated well–see this thread by Alyssa Wong about being targeted by harassment at this convention and a previous one she had gone to. Alyssa had very positive things to say about how the WorldCon organizers handled it (which is good!) but it is horrible that it got as far as it did–people should know better. This isn’t rocket science. Read her thread and other threads that spun off of it if you aren’t aware of this kind of horrible behavior from some small subset of fans. It’s nasty stuff. I did not see any of this kind of thing happening personally, but it did happen. It’s not necessarily surprising that I didn’t see or experience it personally, since I am an able-bodied heterosexual white man of unremarkable appearance who is not a household name, and so it would be less usual for me to be the target of such abuse (not impossible, mind you, but less common). It is a mark of privilege that I don’t generally need to worry about that, and I’m glad that Alyssa Wong and others are willing to talk about this kind of thing still happening, because it’s easy for people who don’t experience it to forget about it or to think it’s not a problem if the people who ARE experiencing it feel like they can’t talk. On the other hand, since this is a post about my experience of the con, I will leave it at that for now–if you weren’t aware of that thing happening, consider taking some time to read her tweets. There have been some other tweet streams of interest on the subject of harassment that have run since WorldCon, such as this one by Rachael K. Jones and this one by Julia Rios.
I wasn’t involved in a lot of programming. I actually hadn’t thought that I would be on any programming at all–I had applied early in the year and received a rejection quickly after. But I did end up being in two bits of programming.
I co-led a critique session with C.C. Finlay (editor of F&SF and a writer), which was a lot of fun. We read synopses and excerpts from novels by three authors, and then all five of us gave our impressions and we discussed ways that the synopses and excerpts might be improved. I had never met Finlay before, and it was wonderful to get a chance to not only meet with him but to interact with him for a couple hours to discuss strengths and weaknesses of fiction. Obviously I can’t say much more than that–these were unpublished novels and the discussion in a private room, so I can only speak about it in generalities.
I was very excited to find out not too long before the convention that I had been assigned a 30-minute fiction reading (Well, 25 minutes, to allow some time to let the next author get prepared). It… wasn’t what you would call an ideal timeslot, being from 7-7:30 on the night that the Hugo Awards start at 8–so at that time most people who were at all interested in watching would be finding seats in either the auditorium or in some other group viewing area where they were streaming.
But to my surprise, approximately 13 people were there just to hear me recite things I made up! This is a quite large turnout for someone like me who is not well-known for their writing.
Of all the readings by other people that I attended, most people read either one work that fit very closely into the time allotted, or maybe two things, or an excerpt from a longer work. I flipped through upcoming stories and though I would’ve loved to read part of my upcoming story that will be in IGMS, it is a bit of a sprawling story so that it would be hard to find a representative sample. And, well, in my opinion my best writing is very short, punchy stories of 500-1000 words. So, I decided to buck the trend and I ended up reading 5 stories in my allotted time.
I read “My Wife is a Bear in the Morning”, written as an complaint letter to an apartment manager by a man whose wife is literally a bear in the morning (you can hear it in audio at Podcastle).
I read “So You’ve Decided to Adopt a Zeptonian Baby!”, written as a brochure to help those who’ve decided to adopt those invincible alien babies that keep falling from the sky in meteor showers. (you can hear it in audio at Podcastle)
I read “This Is Your Problem, Right Here”, which is a story about a woman who has recently purchased a water park and finds that the plumbing doesn’t work properly when she opens in the spring, and it starts as a plumber tells her that this is because all of her trolls have died (the existence of trolls are not common knowledge in this world). That was originally published in Daily Science Fiction, you can also hear it at Cast of Wonders.
And I read two others that are as-yet unpublished, so I won’t discuss their details here.
The reading seemed to go over well. I got some compliments, and people said they liked the quick changeups of stories, especially at the end of a long day when everyone was getting tired.
The one book that I knew ahead of time that I was going to buy was The Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz. I already own the book. I already love the book. But I only had it in ebook, and I love these books so much I felt like I should have a signed paper copy. And, since Ferrett was onsite, it seemed best to go ahead and buy it so that I could get him to sign.
I knew that Ferrett’s next book, the third in his ‘Mancy series, was coming out soon, but that the release date was not for a little while yet. But Angry Robot Books had the book on sale at their vendor booth! So, obviously that came home with me too. And I am SO EXCITED to read it.
So I showed up at the Angry Robot booth to buy The Flux, and knew I had to buy Fix, a very nice man (whose name I didn’t immediately recognize and so didn’t pay all that much attention to) behind the counter told me that I could get a discount if I bought one of the larger form-factor books. Not really intending to buy a lot of books (because I have such a stack at home, I am a slow reader) I saw that United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas was on display, and I had heard someone talking about how good that was earlier, so that was the first one I picked up. The guy behind the counter started telling me about it and I tried my best to unrudely say “yeah yeah let me just read the back cover descriptio myselfn” (I hope I didn’t across as rude! I like taking verbal recommendations from fans of a book but at pretty much any kind of store I would rather just look at stuff without staff discussing everything I look at–it makes me very nervous if I feel like the staff are hovering and I will be much more inclined to scurry away than to buy). It did indeed sound really interesting, a story where Japan won World War II and ended up in control of the United States. I glanced at some of the other books, flipped a few over to read the back, but decided that United States of Japan caught my eye much more solidly than the others. So I decided to buy United States of Japan. The guy behind the counter rang me up and then offered to sign my book… at which point I of course realized that I was talking to Peter Tieryas, the author of the book I’d just bought, so I laughed at the fact that I had not noticed the matching book cover and name badge and took him up on his offer. (This concludes my telling of “The Time That I Wouldn’t Let Peter Tieryas Finish Pitching His Book To Me But Then I Bought His Book From Him Anyway Without Realizing He Was the Author of Said Book: A Tale of David Steffen’s Inattention to Detail”)
Caroline M. Yoachim and Tina Connolly both had book releases from Fairwood Press at WorldCon. Caroline’s book is a short story collection titled Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World. Caroline is an incredible short story writer, and consistently hits out of the park for me, so I am buying the ebook for this one. Tina‘s short story book is a short story collection titled On the Eyeball Floor. Tina (along with Caroline) is another writer who, when I hear they have something new out, I don’t ask for a pitch I just say “shut up and take my money”. So, I’m buying that ebook too. It was quite fun to watch these two launch together–they made it a friendly competition where they made a wager on it and the Fairwood Press vendor table had a running tally sheet of sales. They ended up tying at the end, which is hilarious and perfect.
I stopped by the freebie table once, at a time when it was a twenty minute wait to get to the table. After that wait I felt like I had to grab the maximum of three books even though I don’t really need more books. I saw a stack of Briarpatchby Tim Pratt and grabbed a copy even though I already own and love the book, so that I could give a copy of it away to the next person I talk books with. I also picked up a copy of Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow, and a short story collection by Matthew Johnson titled Irregular Verbs and Other Stories.
I also had a few extra copies of the Long List Anthology left over from last year’s Kickstarter and I decided that there was no better way to use them than to bring them to WorldCon and give them out to people when I chat with them. I saved one to give away at my fiction reading and gave three out when it felt appropriate, so that was fun!
I did not attend many panels this time around. I attended a very select few that were on very specific topics that were very near and dear to my heart or to specifically try to meet some of the panelists that were on my mental list of people that I wanted to meet.
Other than that, I tended to favor readings of authors: I went to readings by Caroline M. Yoachim, Terra LeMay, William Ledbetter, Loren Rhoads, Stefan Rudnicki, Kate Baker. And readings of magazines: Escape Artists, Flash Fiction Online, Asimov’s.
As well as kaffeeklatches, which are really just organized hangouts with people of interest–you signup in time to claim one of 9 slots and then you spend 50 minutes hanging out with that person. I did kaffeeklatches with Kate Baker, Ken Liu, and S.B. Divya.
So. Many. People. So wonderful to put faces to names for people that I have known online for years.
I am not even going to try to make a comprehensive list, because there is no way that I will remember everyone and I don’t want those that I do forget to feel left out. But I will list out a few.
Shortly after rushing to the critique session that I was almost late for, I met up with my writing group friend Doug Engstrom–we’ve swapped critiques and discussion for years, so it was great to meet him in person and to interact with him off and on throughout the weekend.
I got to meet Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir, the masterminds (and mastervoices) behind Skyboat Media. They are most well known for producing the Lightspeed Magazine and Nightmare Magazine podcasts, and for performing much of the voice-acting for those productions. I have a direct professional connection with them in that they produced the audiobook version of the Long List Anthology last year–of which they sold out at their booth during WorldCon. They both have voices that I have heard for so long in story narrations that it was both wonderful and very weird to meet them in person–I associate their voices so strongly with storytelling that my brain sinks into story listening mode and I kind of had to yank it out of that mode because, hey brain I’m trying to talk to people here! It was great to meet them and talk business and chat.
Speaking of meeting people whose voices are incredibly familiar to me: I met Alasdair Stuart and Marguerite Kenner. They are the owners of Escape Artists, which is the parent company of most of my favorite podcasts: Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Podcastle, and Cast of Wonders, as well as the quarterly ebook zine Mothership Zeta. Alasdair has been on the staff of Escape Artists for more than ten years, and he was the host of Pseudopod at the time that I made my very first fiction sale of all time to Pseudopod and decided that maybe I ought to try listening to the show (which has resulted in an 8 year listening binge of all the podcast fiction I could find that still continues today). Marguerite is the editor and host of Cast of Wonders. They are incredible, smart, nice, welcoming, helpful people, and I want to hang out with them forever.
Kate Baker, is another one of those familiar-voiced people and I was happy to get a chance to hang out with her at kaffeeklatch and elsewhere. (And again with the barely being able to talk because I am so familiar with her voice from podcasts!)
It was wonderful to meet Sheila Williams, Neil Clarke, C.C. Finlay, Caroline M. Yoachim, Tina Connolly, Martin L. Shoemaker, Marina J. Lostetter, S.B. Divya, Ken Liu, Alyssa Wong, so so many others.
I got to meet a few writers whose short stories I have purchased: Andy Dudak, Tina Gower, Sunil Patel, Jon Lasser, Andrea G. Stewart. (it makes a handy icebreaker to say “Hi! I bought your story!” 🙂 )
Meeting people was easily the highlight of my convention experience.
The Hugo Awards
The Hugo Award ceremony was held Saturday evening and was hosted by Pat Cadigan. Cadigan was a wonderful and hilarious host, and really overall the awards went as well as I could have hoped given the ballot they started with. Lots of awesome things won. A couple categories got No Awarded (Related Work and Fancast I believe?) but none of the fiction categories which are my main interest in the awards.
Uncanny won Best Semiprozine in its first year of eligibility! Naomi Kritzer won for Best Short Story for “Cat Pictures Please”! Hao Jingfang and Ken Liu (who was the translator in this case) won for Best Novelette for “Folding Beijing”! Nnedi Okorafor won for Best Novella for “Binti”! N.K. Jemisin won for Best Novel for The Fifth Season! Neil Gaiman won for Best Graphic Story for Sandman!
The Martian won Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and its author Andy Weir won the Campbell Award! For each of them an astronaut accepted his award for him and talked about how much The Martian meant to them, that it got the science and the feel of the interpersonal relationships of the astronauts right!
Yes, there are a lot of explanation points in this section, but they are all deserved. Especially after last year with the fiction categories getting so many No Awards, it was a major relief that all the fiction categories were awarded, and to such incredible people and recipients.
I watched from the very crowded SFWA suite this year, in part because my reading was too close to the ceremony to have much chance of finding a seat. It… was more than a little cramped, but it worked out pretty well.
The Long List
Most of you who follow me at all already know about the Long List Anthology, but I’ll give a quick rundown for anyone who might not have heard about the project. Every year, after the Hugo Award ceremony, the Hugo administrators publish the longer list of works that were nominated in each category–approximately 15 including the 5ish that are on the final ballot. In most years, these works don’t receive a great deal of extra attention even though that longer list makes an excellent recommended reading list.
Last year I launched the Long List Anthology, which published stories pulled from that longer nomination list. It totalled 180,000 words, about 500 pages in print, and featured some of the most popular contemporary short story authors like Sam J. Miller, Amal El-Mohtar, Elizabeth Bear, Ken Liu, Kai Ashante Wilson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and others. The book continues to sell steadily even now, and has sold more than 9000 copies (which is more than the Hugo voting population has been in any year).
The project was so successful last year, that I have decided to repeat the project this year–the list is here. I am in the process of reading stories in the different categories and sending queries to the authors. Last year the cover art was reprinted art from Galen Dara. This year I’m taking that to the next level and commissioning original artwork from Galen Dara. And I’ve got a few surprise ideas to try out for stretch goals, too.
There will be a Kickstarter to fund the anthology–I look forward to sharing links and the good news with you all–I am aiming for mid-September.
You may not know what WSFS Meetings are, but you’re probably familiar with the Hugo Awards, awards that are nominated and voted on by supporting members of WorldCon. WSFS meetings are held every year at WorldCon, and they define rule changes to the Hugo Awards. Anyone who has an Attending WorldCon membership can show up and debate, vote, help decide new categories or nomination rule changes and so on. I fully intended to go to at least one meeting while I was at WorldCon, because I do value the Hugo Awards and this once-a-year batch of business meetings defines everything. But… I was a horrible person and didn’t attend any of them. Nonetheless, some important rule changes went through this year, which I have been reading about after the fact, so I shall list out some of the more interesting ones (of the ones I understand) and give my reaction. My primary source for the WSFS Meetings that last couple years has been Rachael Acks’s blog. Rachael is a writer and editor, and is also involved in WSFS, both liveblogging updates as the meetings happen, and giving summaries and reactions afterward–which gives a very nice place to catch up on what you missed if you can’t or don’t go to the meetings.
Here is a list of the business agenda they started the weekend with, with a daily meeting scheduled from 10am to 1am. Or for a more informal version with Rachael’s reactions to items, you can check out this page.
I am honestly just catching up on these things now, so it’s entirely possible I got something wrong typing all this up.
Best Fancast category is now a permanent category
The Best Fancast category was defined a few years ago, and has been a trial category that would have expired after this year if it hadn’t been ratified again. I have mixed but mostly negative feelings about its permanent addition. I do feel that the Hugo Awards have been slow to consider publications in new media–it took quite awhile for online magazines to be considered seriously and audio-only publications have been slow to start to get some recognition, even when they are publishing original fiction of excellent quality. When the Fancast category had first come out I was excited that maybe this little niche would encourage more serious recognition.
Part of my disappointment has been that every nominee, except for StarShipSofa, has been nonfiction. That’s… fine, I guess. People like nonfiction podcasts, apparently. But I really want to see fiction podcasts recognized, especially fiction podcasts that pay their contributors and which publish original fiction and don’t need to beg their listeners for votes in every episode.
The rest of my disappointment is that, for my favorite podcasts, it is quite unclear what category they actually qualify for. They could be a Semiprozine or they could be a Fancast. The differentiation between the two is not well-defined in the current rules. If Fancast is supposed to actually be nonfiction, as voters have been treating it, then I would prefer that it would just be defined as such, so that this differentiation was at least clear. And a common point of confusion is that people assume Fancast is the A/V equivalent to Fanzine, meaning that it’s defining trait is not paying its contributors. (I have had discussions with people who advocate for the Fanzine category and they insist that this is NOT the defining feature, but according to the rules that are actually used to administer the award that is the main difference). But the rules seem to imply that Fanzine is also the A/V equivalent to Semiprozine. And what happens if a publication published in both audio and text? There is some precedent in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld and Lightspeed and others who both publish in both and who have gotten Semiprozine nominations, but other publications that also get both like Escape Pod came at it from the other direction and I think most voters think of them differently as a result.
I liked the Escape Artists editorial strategy last year, suggesting that if anyone wanted to vote for them, that EA would prefer they do it in the Semiprozine rather than the Fancast category. I thought this was a good idea, to encourage the fans to pick one specific side of the equation because one issue with having an ambiguous category is that maybe you have enough fans who want to vote for you to get you on the ballot, but if they’re splitting their nominations across two categories that kind of ruins that chance. Also, I don’t believe it’s possible to absolutely determine whether something is eligible for one category or the other unless it actually reaches the ballot level–at which point it will either be invited to be on the ballot, or it will be removed as being ineligible. Either case you’ve learned something which can help future voting, and it may even help push through some changes that better define the rules in the future.
The Five Percent Solution
Prior to this year there has been a requirement that all but the top 3 entries in a category must have at least 5% of the overall vote, or they are simply not on the ballot. This rule was a bit silly because it caused a reaction to larger pools of award-worthy worker and larger nominating group by REDUCING the category. This didn’t start hitting the ballots until a few years ago–that’s why you sometimes saw the Short Story category with only three items on it instead of five.
Very glad to see this bit removed from the constitution, so now you’ll see five items no matter what.
Electronic Signatures for Site Bids
Historically WorldCon has kindof been more USA-con. A lot of people have been trying to put the World in WorldCon and encourage it to be more internationally located. I’m a proponent of having it be more international (even though I will probably not be able to afford to go to most non-USA located years), and this helps more people vote for it without having to be physically present, so I think this is a positive change toward that goal.
Best Series Category
The idea behind this one is that some people felt that series of books that were remarkable and awesome series may not be likely to be nominated for Best Novel for their individual books. This category would be for those kinds of books–a series would be eligible after so many words have been published in the series, and would be eligible again after so many words have been published again after the first nomination.
I… don’t really see the point in this category. Individual books are already eligible, and if those individual books aren’t winning awards… it doesn’t seem like we really need to define new categories to handle that because maybe just some things are less likely to win, but we don’t need to make new categories for every little thing.
Not only that, but the eligibility would be harder to determine than any other category, since it would depend on when the last nomination for a series was, and how many words were in each book (which isn’t generally immediately obvious).
The idea behind this change is to prohibit the same entity from being nominated more than one time in a category (in which case I think the highest ranking item for that entity would be on the ballot). This was probably proposed in part based on John C. Wright’s shenanigans-related 5 nominations of a couple years ago. But more importantly, to me, this should make the Dramatic Presentation Short Form category much much more interesting, because there are many years where that is effectively the Best Doctor Who Episode category.
I am glad to see this go into the constitution, primarily for the Dramatic Presentation Short Form category.
Two Years Are Good Enough
Presently, anyone can nominate for the Hugos who was a supporting member last year, a supporting member this year, or who has registered already to be a supporting member next year. This proposal would remove the last of those options.
I don’t have strong feelings about this one–I wonder how many people actually pre-register for next year early enough that they can nominate this year? Maybe it’s just that my life rarely allows such pre-planning, that I find it hard to conceive this mattering one way or the other.
This passed for the first time, and would need to be ratified next year to go into effect.
This has been proposed before as a Hugo category. This time it was proposed as a not-a-Hugo that would nonetheless be voted for on the Hugo ballot and awarded in the Hugo Award ceremony with the rest of the Hugos (much as the Campbell Award for Best New Writer is).
This one passed but would need to be ratified next year to become an official category the year after.
It seems positive to me. YA is important to the genre world because it’s often the first thing that young readers pick up that transitions them into the adult fiction (and adults can love it too). I think it’s worthwhile to give it its own award.
Three Stage Voting
This was proposed as a way to avoid future Hugo Award shenanigans by adding an extra stage between nomination and the final ballot. The nominations would result in 15 semi-finalists which would be published. Then voters can upvote the things they think are good enough to be on the final ballot, which eventually becomes a final ballot, and then the final ballot would work now.
One concern I’d originally had was that it would increase admin workload, but it sounds like it might not be much different, especially by taking advantage of some crowdsourced effort. The middle stage would not have had eligibility verified, so the voting group can help point out ineligible works. And the nominated entities would only be checked for their interest in the ballot between the 2nd and 3rd stages, so that cuts down on “waiting for communication to happen” in the timeline.
I’m a little concerned that people voting against the spirit of the intent of the 2nd round might end up nuking categories, but I think it has a lot of potential.
This one passed, to be up for ratification next year.
E Pluribus Hugo
This is a new proposed nomination system which is intended to reduce the effectiveness of large numbers of voters with identical ballots for the same category (primarily to reduce the effect of slates). Last year I was in favor of this when it passed its initial vote, because I hadn’t heard of any better ideas and I didn’t want to wait a whole nother year to see if a better idea came around. But… though I think the concept makes sense, but it is more complicated than the current system–the current system you can look at all the numbers and sort them out by hand given the overall voting numbers. This one, you really can’t because it depends on the exact contents of individual ballots, and you end up having to basically count it by program given the full voting data.
And the major difference is that I think that the better solution might have come along in the form of three-stage voting. But three-stage voting also passed and so goes into effect next year, so we’ll visit that next year again.
5 and 6
This was another measure intended to make it harder to sweep the ballot with slates. Normally, a voter can nominate up to 5 works, and 5 works end up on the final ballot. So voting collusion can sweep the ballot with only a little discipline–just all fill out the ballot in the same way. This change makes it so that one still nominates 5 works, but that the top 6 end up on the ballot–so if one wanted to force 6 items onto the ballot it would require more complicated coordination. It increases the chance that at least one item will be on the ballot that was not related to the slate.
This was ratified so this will go into effect next year.
E Pluribus Hugo +
This is a new proposal that appears to be a new alteration of E Pluribus Hugo? But I don’t seem to be able to find any additional information–I’m sure it’s out there. It passed, and is up for ratification next year, head to head with Three-Stage Voting. (NOTE: David Goldfarb explains EPH+ in his comment on this post–go read that!)
“Folding Beijing” is one of the Hugo Finalists for the novelette category this year. It was published by Uncanny Magazine, a magazine that debuted in 2015, and you can read it here in its entirety.
In the future, Beijing is not just one city, but three. The five million residents of First Space have the city for 24 hours at a time and have the most enviable prestigious jobs. The twenty-five million residents of Second Space have the city for 16 hours at a time and have jobs of middling prestige and power and pay. The fifty million residents of Third Space struggle to scrap out a living, and mostly spend their time sorting the recycling of the other two spaces. One of the three is active at a time, and during that time the residents of the other two sleep in a deep drugged sleep with their buildings folded up tightly underground and out of the way.
Lao Dao is a sorter of recyclables in Third Space, but he has been offered a rare and lucrative employment opportunity by a contact in Second Space to deliver a message to a person in First Space. Generally movement between the spaces is highly restricted, especially movement from the lower class spaces to the higher class spaces, but it is possible to avoid the drugged sleep of transition and to ride the folding pieces of the city to move from Third Space to First Space. Lao Dao explores the normally hidden upper class facets of the city, trying to figure out what choices are best in this foreign space where people don’t have to scrimp for money.
I thought the premise for this was really clever, and I got the impression that it was based in a good understanding of the economics of the class system that would support the city’s economy (I don’t have much knowledge of macroeconomics, but it sounded plausible to me at least). While such a mechanism would be cost-prohibitive and too dangerous for anyone to consider (even discounting the possibility of malfunction in self-collapsing buildings, consider the risks of not waking up from any kind of general anesthesia and applying that to tens of millions of citizens once every 2 days) I was willing to go with the flow for the sake of the interesting premise.
The setup of the story gave a good outsider’s perspective to explore the upper levels of the city’s classes. Even though Lao Dao is a resident of the city and so is familiar with much of its layout and structure and social system, he has never actually been to First Space before, and the level of technology and privilege in that space is as foreign to him as anything could be. I read this story with great interest from start to finish–a clever SF premise with a compelling human story at the center of it. Well told, well translated, well done.