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A Game Of Two Halves

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So the The 2014 Hugo shortlist is out (as is the 1939 Retro Hugo shortlist, if you are into that sort of thing). I put a lot of thought into the awards this year so I was pleased to see so many of my nominations made it through:

  • Best Short Story: ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
  • Best Related Work: Speculative Fiction 2012 by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
  • Best Graphic Story: Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics ) and “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
  • Best Professional Artist: Galen Dara
  • Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James, A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher and Pornokitsch edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
  • Best Fan Writer: Abigail Nussbaum
  • Best Fan Artist: Mandie Manzano and Sarah Webb
  • John W Campbell Award For Best New Writer: Sofia Samatar and Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Of the things I didn’t nominate, I was particularly pleased to see Liz Bourke for Best Fan Writer, Strange Horizons for Best Semiprozine and ‘The Lady Astronaut of Mars’ by Mary Robinette Kowal for Best Novelette. However, the righting of the wrong done to Robinette Kowal was about all the fiction categories had going for them and my pleasure at the bottom half of the ballot soon turned to frustration as the top half was announced.

Partly that was because the 14 book Wheel Of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was nominated for Best Novel after some bright spark noticed it was notionally eligible under section 3.2.6 of the WSFS Constitution: “Works appearing in a series are eligible as individual works, but the series as a whole is not eligible. However, a work appearing in a number of parts shall be eligible for the year of the final part.” Obviously fandom took the bait, despite the fact it clearly isn’t a novel and wasn’t even all written by the same person. On the plus side, it does mean that Adam Roberts’s lengthy evisceration of the series could be eligible for Best Related Work if he can bring himself to read the final three Sanderson volumes.

More than that, however, was the presence of a load of old shite from the Baen/Analog end of the spectrum, including a story from Vox Day. The quality of this fiction is a guess; I will read it and come to a judgement when the voter pack is sent out (although I’m not helpful). What isn’t a guess is the fact that they are on the shortlist because of concerted mutual lobbying. This is a pretty obvious outcome of fan culture endorsing award lobbying so you can’t then turn around and complain that the wrong people were more successful at lobbying.

Written by Martin

20 April 2014 at 10:10

Posted in awards, sf

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Hugo Nominations – My Ballot

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My choices. They are ranked, though that doesn’t count for the nominations process itself. Some of these are also slightly different from my selections in the linked individual post. Feel free to try and argue me out of any of these in the comments.

Best Novel

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Empty Space by M John Harrison
  • iD by Madeline Ashby
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
  • A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Best Novella

  • Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
  • Black Helicopter by Caitlín R Kiernan (Subterranean Press)
  • The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books)
  • ‘Burning Girls’ by Veronica Schanoes (Tor.com)
  • ‘Martyr’s Gem’ by CSE Cooney (Giganotosaurus)

Best Novelette

  • No nominations

Best Short Story

  • ‘Your Figure Will Assume Beautiful Outlines’ by Claire Humphrey (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
  • ‘Inventory’ by Carmen Maria Machado (Strange Horizons)
  • ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons)
  • ‘Let’s Take This Viral’ by Rich Larson (Lightspeed)
  • ‘Free Fall’ by Graham Templeton (Clarkesworld)

Best Related Work

  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers Of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
  • Les Revenants by Mogwai
  • Speculative Fiction 2012, edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin
  • Red Doc> by Anne Carson
  • Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace

Best Graphic Story

  • Prophet: Brothers by Brandon Graham and Simon Roy
  • Mind MGMT: The Futurist by Matt Kindt
  • ‘Mars To Stay’ by Brett Lewis and Cliff Chiang (The Witching Hour)
  • ‘Time’ by Randall Munroe (XCKD)
  • Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

  • Upstream Color
  • Tomb Raider
  • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2
  • A Field In England
  • Byzantium

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

  • Black Mirror – ‘Be Right Back’
  • Gesaffelstein – ‘Pursuit’
  • Utopia – ‘Episode 1’
  • Janelle Monáe – ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’
  • Orphan Black – ‘Effects Of External Conditions’

Best Semiprozine

  • No nominations

That said, if I was going to nominate, it would be for Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld and Interzone.

Best Fanzine

  • Pornokitsch
  • Nerds Of A Feather
  • FerretBrain
  • The Book Smugglers
  • A Dribble Of Ink

Best Professional Editor: Long Form

  • No nominations

Best Professional Editor: Short Form

  • No nominations

Best Professional Artist

  • Joey Hi-Fi
  • Olly Moss
  • Sarah Anne Langton
  • Kevin Tong
  • Galen Dara

Best Fan Artist

  • Trudy Cooper
  • Autun Purser
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Sara Webb
  • Noelle Stevenson

Best Fan Writer

  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Jared Shurin
  • Nina Allan
  • Jonathan McCalmont
  • Requires Hate

Best Fancast

  • No nominations

John W. Campbell Award For Best New Writer

  • Sofia Samatar
  • Carmen Maria Machado
  • Tim Maughan
  • EJ Swift
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

The John W Campbell Award Eligibility Page will help you with this confusing award but be warned, it isn’t entirely accurate. For example, Madeline Ashby isn’t eligible as it say (or I’d have nominated her).

Written by Martin

30 March 2014 at 16:54

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Hugo Nominations – Best Novella, Best Novelette & Best Short Story

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Once again, I must confess to dereliction. I can count the genre short fiction published in 2013 that I read in 2013 on the fingers of one hand. I’ve read considerably more in the last two months or so but nowhere near enough. Luckily, there are better curators out there:

Nussbaum opens her post by saying:

They also reaffirm my belief in the vibrancy and relevance of the genre short fiction scene. I don’t know another genre in which ordinary readers habitually get excited about short stories the way that SFF readers do, and in which those stories are an integral part of the conversation surrounding the genre. I certainly don’t know another genre in which short fiction venues are proliferating–whether it’s online venues or original anthologies (often funded by Kickstarters). Far more than the best novel category, it seems to me, the short fiction categories give us a glimpse of the genre’s present state – and of its future – which is why it’s so important to me that they represent the richness and diversity of what’s being published.

I’m not sure I quite agree. There is obviously something unique about the speculative fiction short fiction landscape and worth cherishing. But whilst short fiction is part of the conversation, the discourse remains dominated by novels. At the moment, short fiction strikes me less as a glimpse into the genre’s future than a parallel universe and that is where I think the Hugos and the other short fiction awards have a role in shining a spotlight, amplfying the conversation and bridging the gap.

Best Novella

  • Spin by Nina Allan (TTA Press)
  • Black Helicopter by Caitlín R Kiernan (Subterranean Press)

I was also planning to nominate ‘The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself’ by Ian Sales (Whippleshield Books) but he’s done that himself and saved me the bother.

Best Novelette

I’ll confess I spent more time looking for a tweet from Howard Mittelmark suggesting that a novelette was “an omelette with a little book in it” than I did actually reading them. I think it is a silly term and, like several Hugo categories, is not in common usage outside the genre. Compare and contrast, for example, the Wikipedia article for novelette with those for novella and short story. Then wince a bit at the way SF shoves itself into the latter two.

A counter-argument for retaining the category put forward by Nussbaum is that “the short fiction categories, with their wider perspective and lower stakes, give a better snapshot of the field and its interests” than Best Novel. I would agree that removing Best Novelette and having five slots for novels, five for novellas and five for short stories would leave the awards unbalanced. My solution would be to have a ten slot shortlist for stories up to 17,500 words (there’s probably an argument for having ten slots for Best Novel too).

Best Short Story

With the above in mind and given I haven’t finished reading yet, here are ten short stories I enjoyed:

You will notice that almost all of these stories were published in small online magazines. If you are less of a purist than me, you might consider these venues for Best Semiprozine.

Written by Martin

26 March 2014 at 08:32

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Hugo Nominations – Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form

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Like comics, SF television is something I like in principle but rarely get a chance to consume and, when I do, I’m inevitably disappointed. I tried to make space to do a bit of research and watch a bit more in preparation for the Hugos but I failed.

Before moving onto the nominations I did manage to come up with, I need to discuss the category itself. I already talked about this a bit with respect to Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form but there is an additional problem here. In practice, BDP:SF maps as directly to Best Television Episode as BDP:LF does to Best Film. But whilst it is fairly straightforward to compare films since they are discrete pieces of work, television episodes are usually installments in serials. Of course, films and novels can be installments too but these are both less common and less intensive (over a year gap between such installments appearing rather than just a week).

So what does this mean? Well, I had a long, unedifying conversation with Niall Harrison about this where he put forth various insane ideas. This clarified for me that the category isn’t very satisfying but there isn’t a better replacement so you ever dump it or re-name it to describe what it actually is. But since neither of these have happened yet, my nominations are on the current rules.

1) Black Mirror – ‘Be Right Back’

The first season of Black Mirror has the best British science fiction series of the 21st Century. The second wasn’t. Jonathan McCalmont – who is also nominating this episode – points out this was “due to Brooker’s decision to write all the episodes himself despite working on other shows at the time”. Given this is still my top pick for BDP:SF, imagine what he could do if he concentrated. Roll on the third season.

2) Gesaffelstein – ‘Pursuit’ (NSFW)

3) Utopia – ‘Episode 1′

Just before screening the second season of Black Mirror, Channel 4 debuted another SF series which turned out to be an even bigger disappointment. I’d hoped that Utopia would blend the attitude and wit of Misfits with the sustance of a classic British political mini-series like State Of Play. Instead it turned out to be Cold War conspiracy cobblers of the sort that so infects comics. But it deliberately building a television programme around the concept of a comic book, it does very interesting things with its cinematography – something usually completely ignored by SF telly. It also gets the tone right and the first episode tantalisingly hints at what might have been before it all collapsed.

4) Janelle Monáe – ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’

Huge thanks to Liz Batty for help with the music videos selections. I’d planned to give my fifth slot to something from Game Of Thrones, my current soap opera of choice, but I ran out of time so other YouTube suggestions welcome.

Written by Martin

21 March 2014 at 10:48

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Eat My Hat

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It’s been a while since I’ve offered odds on the Arthur C Clarke Award (and what a good shortlist that was) but today seem like a good opportunity to start again.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie – 1/2
The Machine by James Smythe – 2/1
God’s War by Kameron Hurley – 3/1
The Adjacent by Christopher Priest – 6/1
Nexus by Ramez Naam – 12/1
The Disestablishment Of Paradise by Phillip Mann – 12/1

I guessed three of the six so egotistically I’ve made these the favourites. You probably can’t discount Priest’s greatest hits album but the Naam and the Mann are surely rank outsiders.

Written by Martin

19 March 2014 at 09:20

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2013 Nebula Awards – Short Story

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I should have written about ‘Spin’ by Nina Allan for the BSFA Award short story club by now but I moved house a couple of weeks ago and my copy is packed in a box somewhere. So I’ll be waiting for the awards booklet to be send out to BSFA members before continuing. I used the pause to have a look at the recently announced short story shortlist for the Nebula Awards (all available online) to see if it had any likely contenders for my Hugo ballot. The short answer is no.

This is not to say it is all bad but whilst there are two very good stories on the list, they are no use to me. The first is ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sophia Samatar which I’ve already written about. The second is ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky which contains no speculative elements whatsoever.

Next we have two examples of RUMIR that awards should weed out but instead tend to elevate. ‘Selected Program Notes From The Retrospective Exhibition Of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’ by Kenneth Schneyer is a slipstream story told through the medium of the title, a frame that exists solely to conceal the fact the doesn’t get any further than feeling very slightly strange. Meanwhile ‘The Sounds Of Old Earth’ sees Matthew Kressel pretending to be Mike Resnick by writing about a dude who neglects his family because of nostalgia but gets a hug in the end.

Finally, there is ‘Alive, Alive Oh’ by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. This is less a story than a scientific experiment to see how much much contrivance and sentimentality can be crammed into 3,000 words as possible. “Sad and beautiful”, say the comments; “devastating and brilliant”. It is a pile of shite of ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ proportions (though not actively offensive in the same way). It is a problem for SF that stories like this regularly get through the slush, the fact they make it on to award shortlists is a travesty.

Oh well, I’m sure the Hugo shortlist will be better…

Written by Martin

10 March 2014 at 15:46

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Hugo Nominations – Best Semiprozine

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Best. Semi. Pro. Zine. Just typing it causes me pain. Of all the made up categories, this is the most made up. This places is me in a bit of a quandary because Strange Horizons (which is eligible in the category) is the centre of my SF universe and I’d love to see it recognised. I also think it has a pretty good shot this year since despite being a notionally American magazine, it is very international in content and outlook. But come on! Semi-fucking-prozine! I’ll vote but I sure as hell won’t encourage this idiocy by nominating.

Written by Martin

4 March 2014 at 10:46

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Hugo Nominations – Best Related

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Everyone thinks the Hugos need fixing but everyone has different solution. For example, the G at Nerds Of A Feather suggests in ‘A Modest Proposal For Hugo Reform’ that the number of categories need to be expanded. As I say in the comments, I think the opposite: that number of categories need to be reduced to concentrate on the things the voters know well. The corollary to this is that I think better use should be made of the Best Related category to cover everything the other categories exclude.

The wording of the category is: “The best work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, published in the prior calendar year and which is either non-fiction or noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text.” That is pretty broad as – in addition, to non-fiction – there are lots of things that are neither fiction or non-fiction. In practice, though, the award is dominated by criticism, biography and writing about writing with the occasional art book thrown in for good measure. So my list of nominations is a deliberate attempt to push the boundaries of the definition.

But just before that, two quick points on exclusions. Discussing Best Editor: Short Form, I said that collections and anthologies were eligible for this category. This is incorrect and was based on a misleading description of the category (from the Nerds Of A Feather post linked above, in fact). I would still like it to be true but there is no way to stretch the actual definition that far so I’ve not included any this time. Discussing Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form, I said that it should really be Best Film. If that ever came to pass then I’d nominate computer games here; since it hasn’t yet, my nomination for Tomb Raider goes where it is most likely to attract other nominations.

1) Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers Of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman

Astrocat_005

Popular science book for children in which Dr Walliman’s tour of the solar system is accompanied by Newman’s lovely Soviet-influenced illustrations (all the rage in SF art at the minute). It is simultaneously educational, inspiring and beautiful. If you truly want to install a sense of wonder in your kids, buy them this.

2) Les Revenants by Mogwai

Soundtrack to the French television series by the Scottish post-rock stalwarts. A more sombre affair than their own albums, chilly, coiled and gently menacing. Fuck filk. (By the way, this year’s Rave Tapes is even better.)

3) Speculative Fiction 2012, edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin

Spec Fiction 2012

Collection of the best of internet criticism compiled by one of my Best Fan Writer nominations and some other guy. I don’t own the book but I’ve read the individual pieces. This vote, however, is for the enterprise itself. The baton has now been passed to Ana Grilo and Thea James, the perfect pair of, er, pair of hands.

4) Red Doc> by Anne Carson

You could
take the entirety of the
common sense of humans
and put it in the palm of
your hand and still have
room for your dick
.

A mix of poetry, drama and narrative that holds the unique distinction of being shortlisted for both the Kitschies and the TS Elliot Award. It is a painfully grounded fantasy that manages to be instantly welcoming and accessible whilst retaining layer after layer of depth. (Niall Harrison will tell you that this book belongs in the Best Novella category as it is a science fiction or fantasy story of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Don’t believe his lies.)

5) Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace

wagner_large_0

Exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in which a Hari Kunzi story is matched with twenty works from designers and illustrators (that is Mario Wagner above). If you missed it, a book is available. Here is Lila Garrott’s review for Strange Horizons.

What these nominations all have in common is that they are substantial, discrete pieces of work that are not eligible for any other category. Some people are taking it even further than that and I’ve seen a couple of nominations for individual blog posts such as ‘We Have Always Fought’ (which, incidentally, is being collected in Speculative Fiction 2013). This doesn’t seem quite right to me – it just about works in the BSFA Non-Fiction Award but only just and it is much narrower in scope. Equally, whilst I will be nominating a Janelle Monáe video in Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, I’m not convinced you can brigade the album and its video into a single Best Related nomination. But more power to them. Just because it isn’t how I see the award, doesn’t mean I want to set up a needlessly complicated definition. This urge to cover and control everything is part of the problem behind several of the current categories when Best Related offers a wonderful opportunity to be unconstrained.

Written by Martin

28 February 2014 at 09:54

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Hugo Nominations – Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form

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At the risk of repeating myself, I am in favour if giving awards to things that do exist (for example, novels and short stories) and against giving awards for things that don’t exist (for example, novelettes and semiprozines). The best dramatic presentation categories, however, are even worse than nonexistant. Here we have a made-up term for a collection of non-comparable things that have perfectly good names, arbitarily divided by length. To all intents and purposes, Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form is the Best Film category. A film has won every year since the award was created except for 2012 and 52 out of 55 nominees were films. The award definition might talk grandly of “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music” but this is obviously bollocks. why not simply reflect the reality by calling it what it is?

The lone non-film winner was the first season of Game Of Thrones because ludicrously episodes of a television series can be nominated in Short Form and the series itself can be nominated in Long Form. The picture with Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form itself is less stark but still overwhelming: a TV episode has won every year except for 2004 and 2009 and 47 out of 55 nominees were TV episodes. Even these two exceptions did not provide good evidence for keeping the criteria open; both ‘Gollum’s Acceptance Speech’ and ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’ were essentially bonus prizes to well-established and rewarded fandoms.

This year, one of my film nominations is eligible for both Long Form and Short Form because it is 96 minutes long which falls within the 90 minutes, plus or minus 10%, boundary. Obviously I’m not going to nominate it in Short Form but I shouldn’t really have the option. However, since the category is currently open to all ‘dramatic presentations’, I am including one non-film nominee (and will include one non-television nominee for Short Form). But hopefully in the future I won’t have that option either.

1) Upstream Color – I remember very clearly the unexpected mindfuck of watching Shane Carruth’s Primer at the Sci-Fi London film festival, stumbling out into Soho dazed. Terrifyingly, that was a decade ago and it is only now that Carruth has followed up his debut feature. It would be a cliche to say it was worth the wait – a cliche Carruth would probably balk at given his abortive attempts to make other films – but it is a remarkable film, made even more so by extent of the maker’s endevour (Carruth wrote, directed, shot, scored and edited the film as well as playing the lead) It has the beauty of Terrance Malick’s late films with an added intellectual and imaginative heft. It is, in other words, the sort of film that has no chance of getting on the shortlist of the Hugos. Go and watch it immediately and then read Abigail Nussbaum’s four thoughts (a good example of why she should be nominated for Best Fan Writer).

2) Tomb Raider – I first heard of this as ‘the game where Lara gets raped’ which is a pretty good example of the internet’s tendency to work itself up into a froth on the basis of imperfect information. In fact, the latest installment of the series, written by Rhianna Pratchett, is pretty much the opposite. Here is Liz Bourke’s review but the best and most concise description comes from Renay: “escape from Patriarchy Island”. It is also a wonderfully balanced, intuitive and immersive game (exactly the opposite of Bioshock Infinite which a few wrongheads have suggested nominating).

3) Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2Monster’s Inc is not just a great film but also an extremely original science fiction film. So it was a huge disappointment that the sequel was simply a mildly amusing campus comedy. In contrast, Meatballs 2 is gonzo SF that takes its insane premise – the ability to make it rain food – and runs wild with it. A perfect example of the freedom that exists within children’s animation to produce films that would be considered avant garde in adult Hollywood. Writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are also responsible for The Lego Movie so I’ve got to see that soon. [Edit: Apologies to Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn who actually directed this film - Lord and Miller did the first one.]

4) A Field In England – In short order, Ben Wheatley has established himself as the most exciting director in Britain. His signature is to play with genres and here we have a collision of English civil war, passion play, John Dee occultism and psychedelic trip. It is all satisfyingly odd, if unmistakably a side project. This year he is adapting JG Ballard’s High Rise, which is very exciting, and directing a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, which is deeply conflicting.

5) Byzantium – Do we really need another vampire film? Probably not. But if we have to have them, I’d like more like this. Neil Jordan builds his film around two wonderful performances from Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as young mother and teenage daughter, locked in that relationship for eternity. Sadly, it is two thirds character study to one third vampire schlock but it is hard not to cheer at the hearty ‘fuck you, vampire patriarchy’ of otherwise silly plot.

I would have liked to post my Short Form nominations at the same time as these but I haven’t found the time for my telly watching yet. Since the point of publicly posting my nominations is to encourage others with voting rights to seek them out, I thought I better just crack on with these ones. Do check them out, if they sound interesting.

Written by Martin

27 February 2014 at 10:14

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‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sofia Samatar – 2013 BSFA Award Short Story Club

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‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ was originally published at Strange Horizons

One of the odd things about SF short fiction – and one of the reasons for this feature – is that so much of it is published but so little is written about it. And when short fiction is written about, it is usually in the listings format that goes for comprehensive coverage of as many stories as possible over analysis of individual stories. As an example, here is how ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ (a story which was voted the best of 2013 by readers of Strange Horizons and was subsequently shortlisted for the BSFA Award) was described by the two biggest short fiction reviewing venues when it was first published:

“Told in short back-and-forth sections, this one is a typical SH story about love and commitment, with the selkie tale standing in as a metaphor.”

Lois Tilton’s short fiction column for Locus Online.

“Sofia Somatar’s storytelling style owes a debt to Kelly Link’s magic realism, but lacks that author’s emotional wallop. A quick read that gets a little lost in its own naval gazing and one non sequitur too many, but your mileage may vary depending on your taste for quirk.”

Jared L Mills reviewing for Tangent Online

It is hard to write about short fiction. It is particularly hard to write about short short fiction (‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ is 3,000, a thousand less than ‘Saga’s Children). But surely if it is so central to our genre, we need to collectively get a lot better at it? (I’m including myself in this.)

So, a selkie is a mythical creature that looks like seal in the water but once on land, having shed its skin, appears to be a human. There is something inherently a bit naff about selkies, something Samatar gestures at with her title, and Tilton is right that here they function primarily as a metaphor (you wouldn’t have to squint too hard to read this as an entirely realist story).

The sentiment of the title is voiced by the narrator in the opening paragraph: “I hate selkie stories. They’re always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said “What’s this?”, and you never saw your mom again.” It is a great opening, immediately capturing the protagonist’s voice whilst also flagging the irony and metafictionality of the story. She’s eighteen, trying to understand her mother’s sudden disappearance on top of already trying to understand herself.

This second half of the story is reflected in the lovely relationship she forms with fellow waitress Mona, something that might be a burgeoning romance or might be platonic intimacy: “I’ve never kissed Mona. I’ve thought about it a lot, but I keep deciding it’s not time. It’s not that I think she’d freak out or anything. It’s not even that I’m afraid she wouldn’t kiss me back. It’s worse: I’m afraid she’d kiss me back, but not mean it.” If, like Mills, you can read any of this stuff without getting walloped by emotion then perhaps you need re-calibrating.

Equally, it is hard to spot the supposed navel-gazing and non sequitars. This is an extremely cleverly and precisely composed story; each short paragraph overlapping and amplifying the themes of the others, fluidly and without attracting attention. I guess this is part of the trouble with reviewing such fiction: if you take it apart, will it still work? The beauty of the story certainly isn’t broken by examination but I’m not sure it can be spoken either.

Written by Martin

14 February 2014 at 16:29

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