The Hugo Awards, writing and the shifting world

As soon as the Nebula Awards wrapped up, I reluctantly looked at the Hugo nominees, hoping there might be a few new glittering titles worth reading. Now that’s a pisspoor attitude to have toward one of the few popular award programs for my preferred genres of good writing, but there we are. After several years of small-minded snipes and scandals, I was not excited about the Hugos. I must admit, however, the 2017 nominees look pretty good on the surface. Will 2017 be the year that we stop trying to make science fiction great again and simply try to produce good writing and tolerate our unique talents and differences?

The full list of nominees is here. You will see  a lot of overlap with the Nebulas in several categories and a smattering of titles that bellow their continued alignment with a particular contrariness purporting to be authentic, bold and politically incorrect. They may be any or all those things to some readers. I just find them boring and/or childish, but this is not another critique of the Sad Puppies, or whatever they are calling themselves now. It’s a musing on how our polarized literary landscape mirrors the polarized political landscape. It seems that the reactionary protests among some authors about “real” science fiction, fantasy and horror and their disgust with writers and works that don’t follow the traditional scripts and genre features were just foreshadowing of what we see happening today in many different parts of society and political expressions.

I hope the writerly community is on an upward trajectory, but even if it is questions and considerations remain. Where, in the continuum of motivations, does this reactionary surge come from? Is it more fear- or hate-based? Can that even be quantified or does it simply depend on the individual? While we go on arguing nature versus nurture, my experience in the world of public health makes me wonder if perhaps fear/hate is caught like a virus. If it is the latter, how do we inoculate ourselves? The well-known public health preventive measure of social distancing seems exactly what we should not do, so maybe that metaphor doesn’t hold up.  Continue reading

“Sabbath Wine” by Barbara Krasnoff captures a piece of early 20th century Brooklyn

Note: This the last of the reviews of the short stories nominated for the 2017 Nebula Awards. The full list of nominees is here, and you can find the other reviews by scrolling down and looking at recent posts on this site, or search by the author’s name in the search bar. 

I didn’t think I was going to get to “Sabbath Wine”, published in Clockwork Phoenix 5 before the SFWA Conference, but author Barbara Krasnoff took that extra step and sent me the link to the online version of the story, which you can find here. I’m so glad she did. “Sabbath Wine” is nothing like any of the other nominated stories. It’s the mildest ghost story you’ll ever read There’s not a scare in the whole tale, but it’s sweet portrayal of dead children and grieving fathers that captures both a certain place and time and a universal truth or two.

Young Malka, a nine-year-old Jewish girl meets a slightly older African American boy, David, on a stoop in her neighborhood in Brooklyn, circa the 1920s. Malka wants to invite David for a Sabbath dinner, which will take some effort to arrange, including convincing her atheist father and finding wine in the middle of Prohibition. David promises that his bootlegging father can provide the wine, and the two families ultimately meet for the Sabbath dinner.

At first, I was impatient with the story. It feels very old-fashioned with its straight-up realism and slow dawdling around in the neighborhood, describing places and pushing out a lot of preliminary dialogue. It is old fashioned. That’s not a crime though, is it? Once I settled my mind down and read to absorb the setting and voices of the characters, I enjoyed the story.

In the end, I took away two things. First, we really do need to remember to read for the pure pleasure of being transplanted to an entirely different place, time, and social structure. These narratives somehow give us a foothold for understanding what people were like during that time in history, and as we move solidly into the 21st Century it feels like it is time to start preserving the voices of the 20th Century.  Second, this is a delightful story, but it hardly qualifies as fantasy or horror. The story is more about the living than the ghosts that inhabit it, and I immediately took the children’s story as a starting point to look for the darkness.

It’s the fathers. My apologies to the author, who probably had no intention of her story being anything else than it is, but my interest was provoked by these two men who have the audacity to drag along their dead children’s ghosts to a new place and keep them around for self-punishment? comfort? companionship? This smells of moral corruption, no? I’m inspired, in the worst possible way, to wonder what happens next.

Thumbs up and 4.25 of 5 stars.

Nebula nominee–“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wild Flowers” by Alyssa Wong / Nominado al Premio Nébula – “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wild Flowers” de Alyssa Wong

Note: This is review number five of the six short stories nominated for the Nebula Award in 2017. You will find the full list of nominees here, and the other reviews this year in the most recent posts. 

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wild Flowers” by Alyssa Wong is about two tragic sisters with great love for one another despite their differences. They have the power to bend space and time. When one of the sisters dies, the other feels compelled to try, try and try again to change the circumstances leading to her sister’s death.

The depictions of the sisters feels true, if not extremely deep. There are some sweet descriptions of their closeness as young girls and the pain of separation when they’re older. Sibling relationships are subtle and powerful in their own right, and the notion that the balance of the universe might depend on the harmony of two sisters is an attractive idea. The story’s strongest feature is the emotional frenzy surrounding the main character’s emotions. Continue reading

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar highlights the writer’s gifts

Note: this is review number four of the nominees for the Nebula Award for short fiction this year. You can see all the nominees listed here.

heavy-iron-shoes

Who knew there really were such shoes? These are reportedly displayed at a medieval crime museum in Rothenburg, Germany.

Amal El-Mohtar is no stranger to accolades for her writing. She’s been a Nebula finalist before and won the Locus Award as well as several Rhysling Awards for poetry. I, however, have not been particularly thrilled with some of her more recent stories. So when I saw that she was nominated for the Nebula again this year, I worried that I would be handing out another tough review of an author whose work I want to like.

I am happy to report that my worries were misplaced. This is the story I’ve been waiting for from El-Mohtar. It’s both simpler in form and far, far, better in execution than earlier ones recently nominated for awards.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, published in Uncanny Magazine, is a sweet fantasy told from the perspectives of two characters who have painful lives involving curses and shame. One of the main characters is Tabitha who is crossing the world wearing iron shoes that must be worn out before they can be removed. And she is on the fourth of seven pairs. Despite her mangled feet and the pain, she sees beauty in the world all around her. Still, she cannot stop to make a new home. The other character, Amira, sits atop a glass mountain where she feels safe on her glass throne as long as she doesn’t move. Amira appreciates the peace that comes from keeping the world at bay far below her perch, yet she is lonely. Continue reading