Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy and User Experience.

My 2012 Hugo Award Nominations

Today was the deadline for this year’s Hugo Award nominations, so I finally got down to work and submitted my ballot.

I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable of the field to submit nominations in every category, but I also wanted to talk about what works I did nominate, and why. So here goes:

Best Novel

Best Novelette

  • Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente, published by Clarkesworld Magazine – Valente is one of those authors I desperately want a blood transfusion from, in the hopes that I might absorb and recreate her writerly amazingness. Like the previous year’s “Silently and Very Fast”, this story examines the uneasy ways in which technology and progress affect our bodies and our families, but this time through the lens of 50’s boosterism and Cold War paranoia. The full text is available to read here.
  • The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal – A lovely story that blends together The Wizard of Oz; 50’s-era retro futurism; and painful truths about old age, losing the one you love, and balancing your family hopes with your career. You don’t think it would work,  but it totally does. The full text is available to read here.

The whole “revisionist look at the 50’s” theme present in both stories is just a coincidence, I swear.

Best Short Story

This is the category I felt most informed about because of all the stories I consume, but even so, the frontrunners were obvious.

  • Robot by Helena Bell, published in Clarkesworld Magazine – The thing I love about this story is that it’s written in second person – and God, does Helena Bell make it work. This has to be one of the most jaw-dropping, inventive, virtuoso-like (virtuosic?) stories of 2012. The full text is available to read here, but I honestly think it’s better in its audio form – Cat Rambo’s narration gives it an extra edge of pain and verisimilitude. You can listen to the podcast version here.
  • Immersion by Aliette de Bodard, published in Clarkesworld Magazine – This was one of the most heartbreaking stories I heard last year. This is one in a string of stories written by Aliette de Bodard taking place in the future on a series of Vietnamese space stations. She is one of several authors whose writing has forced me to analyze my position as privileged reader and writer of speculative fiction – being that I’m white, anglo, straight, ablebodied, and cis-gendered – and for that I am grateful. The full text is available to read here.
  • Spindles by L.B. Gale, published in Lightspeed Magazine – This one is a bit more experimental, but I’m a sucker for stories that reinvent and subvert fairy tale tropes, and this one has a healthy, heaping tablespoon of feminist dissent. The full text is available to read here.
  • The Seven Samovars by Peter Sursi, published in Lightspeed Magazine – This one isn’t as “deep” or issues-laden as the nominees above, but there’s something about the breeziness and whimsy of it that I dig. It’s quite dialgoue-heavy, but it works because it sells the otherworldliness of the story’s setting; I would love to work at a coffee shop like the one in the story – either that, or have a cup of Erzebet’s mint, basil, and lemon verbena tea, which sounds delicious. The full text is available to read here.
  • Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain by Cat Rambo, published in her anthology Near + Far by Hydra House – Cat Rambo read this story aloud at the 2012 World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, and it made me and the audience gasp. Literally. I figure any story that can do that is worth greater attention. The full text is available to read here.

Best Related Work

  • Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells – This podcast has taught me so much about writing in the year and a half that I’ve been listening to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Best Editor, Short Form

  • Lynne M. Thomas for Apex Magazine – I really love Apex in the short time that I’ve been subscribing to it, so I might as well give it, and her, another form of support.
  • John Joseph Adams for Lightspeed Magazine – It took me a long time to get into the groove of Lightspeed after I subscribed to it. A lot of the time, I don’t like the stories and novellas he chooses for this magazine. However, his choices do display a consistent editorial sensibility, and for that, I respect him.

Best Editor, Long Form

  • Brett Savory of ChiZine Publications
  • Sandra Kasturi of ChiZine Publications

What can I say? I love me some ChiZine. I love the work they put out (as evidenced by my Best Novel nominations above), and I love the fact that they’re based in Toronto like I am.

Best Fan Artist

I found these suggestions through Twitter – thanks, Mary Robinette Kowal and co!

Best Semiprozine

I subscribe to the first three magazines, and read slush (quite happily!) for the fourth. There is no way I can be objective about this category.

Best Fancast

  • SF Squeecast – Yes, this won the Hugo last year, but I only started listening to it a few weeks ago, and it’s amazing. I love the hosts’ crazy conversations.
  • SF Crossing the Gulf – I love Karen Lord, so I’ll gladly support the podcast she cohosts with Karen Burnham.
  • The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy – Transcripts of GGG’s interviews show up in my electronic subscription to Lightspeed Magazine, and I quite enjoy them, so this gets a nod. One caveat, though: I much prefer the transcripts over the original audio versions.

Best Fan Writer

  • Requires Only That You Hate – Like I mentioned above, several websites in the last year have made me re-examine the privilege that I hold in regards to being a “normative” consumer and (hopefully) producer of fiction. I’m nowhere near close to writing truly inclusive, progressive fiction, but Requires Only That You Hate, with its queer, feminist, and PoC critical lens, does a fine job of lobbing introspective grenades.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

  • Damien Walters Grintalis – Here I admit my bias again: Damien is an editor at Electric Velocipede, which I read slush for. I haven’t read her debut novel Ink, but several short stories of hers are available online, and they’re dark, literary, and fantastic. Try these on for size if you’re interested: When She is Empty and They Make of You a Monster.
  • Peter Sursi – As I mentioned above, I quite liked “The Seven Samovars,” and figured that since he was one of the few new/upcoming writers on my ballot, I should show him some support.
  • L.B. Gale – Same thing. I liked “Spindles”, and I also quite like her blog, so I want to support someone new and awesome.
  • Rachel Hartman – Seraphina was Hartman’s debut, and as far as I’m aware, she hasn’t published anything else. Since her book was one of my favourites of last year, it’s foolish to leave her off the list.

So that’s my ballot for the year. What about you? Even though today’s the deadline, what remarkable fiction from 2012 can you recommend?

The Hugo Nominee Ballot, Part 1

Yesterday was the deadline for voting on this year’s Hugo nominee ballot. I bought a copy of the Nominee Packet as soon as it became available in mid-May, and devoured the contents over the next few weeks, so I’m going to discuss my choices behind which nominees I voted for.

Note: This post and a following one will be a discussion of the five main fiction categories only: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story, and the John W. Campbell Award.

Update: The follow-up post is now live.

Best Short Story

My choice: Movement by Nancy Fulda – I’ve written about Nancy Fulda’s short stories before, but I was blown away by this one when I first encountered it, and continue to be when I re-read it. The throughline is consistent, and the metaphors sprinkled throughout the story all serve to complement the main story thread: Hannah’s gradual decision that she does not want to sacrifice her unique traits and become neurotypical, even if it means a lifetime of continual isolation and misunderstanding. Plus, the dialogue that ends the story is wrenching; you hope against hope that Hannah’s mother will understand what she’s truly trying to say.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • The Homecoming by Mike Resnick – Not a bad story by any means, but the final reconciliation between father and son was too sudden to be believable. Plus, the narrator relied on the word “Dammit” too much to convey his frustration with his son. Ultimately, I feel the pathos that the ending tried to evoke wasn’t supported by the events that preceded it.
  • The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu – If Movement weren’t on the ballot, I would probably have voted for this one instead. It’s definitely the most inventive/fantastic of the nominee slate, and the imperialistic tone of the negotiation between the wasps and the bees was spot-on. My only quibble was that the ending was too abrupt, but I’m willing to concede that this is a matter of taste on my part rather than poor narrative structure on the author’s.
  • The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu – You know what? I’m just going to swipe quote from a comment I posted on Jim C. Hines’ blog about the short stories category. Here we go:

    I’m the odd one out in that I didn’t like this one very much. Like The Homecoming, I thought it tried too hard to reach heights of emotion it didn’t earn. I was okay with the story until we read the mother’s letter to her son – that brought it to a screeching halt for a few reasons:

    1. The story says that the mother’s letter to her son was written on the same paper that she had used to create the paper tiger. Yet it also says that this same piece of paper was torn apart and taped back together. Could she really have written a letter of that length on an origami-sized piece of paper in such poor condition?

    2. The mother mentions she grew up among farmers and other peasants, and then became an undocumented worker in Hong Kong. This would indicate a low level of literacy – yet the letter she’s left behind is skillfully written, and there aren’t any odd/broken turns of phrase you might expect from someone with her level of schooling. Granted, the letter was spoken out loud by an interpreter, so we can’t know if the interpreter was smoothing out some of the language, but I still found it jarring.

  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue by John Scalzi – This one was a wickedly fun satire of fantasy cliches, but I found it didn’t have enough substance to compare with the other nominees on the ballot. Plus, Scalzi was pretty shameless about soliciting votes for this story in other competitions, even if said shamelessness was hilarious.

Best Novelette

My choice: Fields of Gold by Rachel Swirsky – Of the Novelette nominees, this story stuck in my memory the most. Perhaps it’s because I read this nominee first, but I also like to think that it’s because the main characters were so believably drawn. Who hasn’t known a man like Dennis, who wants the rewards of adulthood without the responsibility it entails, or a woman like Karen, a born problem-solver filled with contempt for her husband? In the end, it became a moving commentary on life, the afterlife, and failed expectations.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders – This was the one I enjoyed most after Fields of Gold. An interesting exploration of toxic relationships and whether the bad things that happen to us happen because they are inevitable, or because we refuse to believe that any positive alternatives exist. However, it’s also a real downer. Read at your own risk if you’re just getting over a nasty breakup.
  • What We Found by Geoff Ryman – This won the Nebula for Best Novelette, but I have to admit I don’t understand why. Ostensibly, it’s about the terror that a Nigerian scientist feels over his impending wedding, and the fear that he will pass on his family’s history of dysfunction to his future children. However, I got the sense that while the novelette strove for a deeper, more philosophical meaning, that meaning was never made fully apparent – the story was too disjointed to allow anything to cohere. Considering the recognition this story has gotten in other circles, I’m not sure if the problem lies in it or in me.
  • The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell – Apparently, this novelette is part of a series, a previous installment of which was also nominated for a Hugo award. It’s an alternate history involving… what, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset when I read it, or maybe I would have understood it more if I had read the other installments, but on the whole, I found it nigh incomprehensible.
  • Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen – A nice, solid, SF story that imagines what would happen if humanity’s last remnants had to start living on the ocean floor to avoid the effects of massive surface glaciation. I particularly liked the idea of a generation of teenagers who grew up without experiencing sunlight, and so decorated an abandoned ocean habitat to look like a beach. However, the main character’s quest for his missing daughter, as well as his discovery of the true state of the planet’s surface – Hey, it’s actually livable up here after all, but we adults were just too complacent to find out for ourselves! – was too pat.

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

My choice: Karen Lord – Honestly, just read my review of Redemption in Indigo. That review alone will tell you why I chose Lord’s story over the others. And for the love of God, don’t stop there, but read the book itself too.

The other nominees: (in no particular order)

  • Mur Lafferty – Ah, Mur Lafferty. I love her as a podcasting personality, and I know that she’s tried her hardest to make a name for herself in the publishing industry for nearly a decade, but I was unimpressed by what she contributed to the Nomination Packet. For one thing, it was a single short story while the other nominees contributed much more. For another, the story she did contribute felt hollow at the centre, like it was missing some important bit of plot or information that would have tied the whole thing together.
  • E. Lily Yu – The works she contributed to the Nomination Packet were very strong, including her Hugo-nominated short story The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees (above). I don’t think she’s award-ready yet, but she’s certainly one to watch.
  • Brad R.Torgersen – Of the nominees in this category, Torgersen’s work hews most closely to the “golden age” concept of science fiction. I give Torgersen credit for writing good prose and fleshing out his ideas, but the ideas themselves aren’t that new. Even more troubling, the three stories of Torgersen’s included in the Nominee Packet all seemed to share the same broad strokes: Humanity is on the brink of collapse, and it is up to a straight white man in an isolated environment to battle loneliness and despair in preparation for some event that will drastically change his circumstances. Ultimately, I felt his work, while skillful, didn’t take speculative fiction writing in any new directions.
  • Stina Leicht – I didn’t get very far into Of Blood and Honey, the novel Leicht included in the Nomination Packet. The first chapter contained some extremely clumsy infodumping, so I stopped out of frustration. This review in Strange Horizons didn’t encourage me to give it a second chance, either.

That’s it for now. Come back in a few days to read Part 2 of this post, where I discuss the Best Novella and Best Novel categories!

Book Review: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Title: Redemption in Indigo
Author: Karen Lord
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Rating: 5 out of 5
Format: eBook
Note: Nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

This was one of several works that I read in preparation for filling in my Hugo Awards ballot. There’s one more novel I need to read before I cast my vote, but this was one of my favourites.

About the book: Paama has a knack for making the best out of bad situations. After returning to her family, she manages to break off her marriage to her gluttonous husband with considerable tact and aplomb. Her actions attract the attention of supernatural beings who think that she is uniquely suited to control something far more dangerous than a fool with a mountainous appetite: the Chaos Stick. However, the original wielder of the power of Chaos wants his rightful property back…

What I liked: Good god. The whole story sounds like you’re hearing a storyteller in a courtyard. There’s a spider-shaped trickster spirit. There’s a prideful demon-spirit with indigo skin and eyes. There’s an order of women who have the ability to control dreams. There’s a poet, true love, secret identities, and magic. There’s a woman who, through the sheer simple force of her dignity and compassion for others, teaches the indigo-skinned demon-spirit about the value of duty. There’s delicious-sounding food. In short, what on earth didn’t I like?

What I disliked: I think this was a problem with my eBook copy, but the introductory chapter to the book was not listed in its table of contents. As such, I didn’t read it, so when some information came to light at the end of the fourth (or is it fifth?) chapter, and the Chaos Stick was mentioned by name, I nearly chucked my Kobo in frustration. Here I was, reading a lovely series of anecdotes about a resourceful woman and her foolish husband, and then the Chaos Stick showed up – an object with such a ridiculously portentous name that it sounded like it was ripped straight from a comic book. How on earth could something as cosmic as that fit in with what I had read of a woman trying to avoid scandal in a small town?

Then, of course, the spirits and magical women and tricksters showed up. This disconnect is part of why I enjoyed the book so much – it didn’t turn into a cheesy comic-book story, like I worried it would. However, I don’t think the title Redemption in Indigo prepares readers for what the story is about. Yes, the villain is a spirit with indigo skin who redeems himself, but compared to the heart of the story, the title is oblique at best.

The verdict: The characters are relatable and human – even the ones who aren’t human. In Redemption in Indigo, pride gives way to humility, and the force that changes the world, that melts the proudest heart and fills it with understanding, is dignity. All talk of morals aside, it’s reassuring to find a book with such a humane message – to have a villain who isn’t evil, but just bitter and tired, and to have a heroine who isn’t brave or plucky, but stable as an oak. The emotional state of each character changes subtly but realistically from chapter to chapter, like a river flowing. It’s wonderful to read something so assured and understanding of the human condition. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Up next: The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg