Hugo Award 2022 for Best Novella: my votes

The 2022 Hugo Awards are scheduled to be presented on Sunday evening, September 4, 2022, during a ceremony at Chicon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Illinois. It will be live-streamed.

This is my ranked ballot for the Novella category. As often happens, my ranking is somewhat arbitrary. Hugo rules forbid a six-way tie, and any of these stories is well worth reading and would make a fine winner. Which is the best? Your opinion is as good as mine, and here’s mine:

6. Across the Green Grass Fields, by Seanan McGuire (Tordotcom) – A thoroughly satisfying portal fantasy. A girl flees from bullying and eventually finds herself facing an even bigger bully, but by then she’s a wiser, better person.

5. Fireheart Tiger, by Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom) – Two princesses form part of a danger-filled love triangle. This story illustrates what I think is a hallmark of Aliette de Bodard’s work: impeccable storytelling.

4. A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow (Tordotcom) – A fairy tale retold about princesses condemned to sleep, perhaps the sleep of death, but they want to fight back. A lot of handwaving distracts from the unlikely mechanism that brings them together, but the narrator’s furious, piercing sarcasm never falters.

3. A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom) – A lost monk in a solarpunk-style world finds themself, or maybe they get found. Humane and uplifting, as we would expect from Becky Chambers. This was my choice for the Nebula Award, which it didn’t win, and while I love this story, I think Elder Race and The Past Is Red are just slightly better, slightly tauter. Other people may reasonably disagree.

2. Elder Race, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tordotcom) – A disgraced, desperate princess seeks help from the elder sorcerer to defeat an evil demon, but the sorcerer is in fact merely a second-class anthropologist of Earth’s Explorer Corps. Still, he seems to be a sorcerer, especially because he’s an emotional wreck. Adrian Tchaikovsky proves again that he is a master storyteller.

1. The Past Is Red, by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom) – “My name is Tetley Abednego and I am the most hated girl in Garbagetown.” That’s the opening line. Garbagetown is a floating island of trash in the waterworld left after we Fuckwits ruin the Earth. The story is more worldbuilding and character exploration than plot, but what a world! What a character!

Hugo Award 2022 for Best Novelette: my votes

The 2022 Hugo Awards are scheduled to be presented on Sunday evening, September 4, 2022, during a ceremony at Chicon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Illinois. It will be live-streamed.

I had a delightful time reading all the novelettes. Here’s my ranking for the Hugo ballot, which reflects no difference in quality among the stories because they’re all good. This is just my personal preference.

6. “Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny Magazine, May/Jun 2021) – When the right dress can change fate through the art of magic, scruples crumble — but art endures. Effective pacing with a nice twist.

5. “That Story Isn’t the Story” by John Wiswell (Uncanny Magazine, Nov/Dec 2021) – A terrified young man overcomes his fears, just barely, of a vampire. This story is really a beautiful tribute to friendship.

4. “O2 Arena” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki (Galaxy’s Edge, Nov 2021) – In a dystopic Nigeria, a law student decides that survival is overrated. “This world needs a wake-up call that might be only found in an arena of our own making.” Taut and gritty. Won the Nebula Award.

3. “L’Esprit de L’Escalier” by Catherynne M. Valente (Tordotcom) – Told with poetic intensity embracing an aching sadness, Orpheus brings Eurydice back from Hades in our present day, but despite his hopes, she’s still dead.

2. “Colors of the Immortal Palette” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021) – An immortal painter struggles with art, recognition, and meaning. Quiet and philosophical.

1. “Bots of the Lost Ark” by Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld, Jun 2021) – If you love Murderbot, you’ll love this story. Enough said. This is my pick for first place because it’s funny, and as I’ve said before, there’s never enough humor in SF.

Hugo Award 2022 Best Short Story: my votes

The 2022 Hugo Awards are scheduled to be presented on Sunday evening, September 4, 2022, during a ceremony at Chicon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Illinois. It will be live-streamed.

I’ll be there in person. As a member of Chicon 8, I get not just to attend but to vote on the Hugos, using a ranked ballot. (A World Science Fiction Convention is a fan-run, fan-owned, participatory event, not one of those “expos” or “comic-conventions” where you get to walk around as a consumer in a specialized shopping mall. Extended rant available upon request.)

As usual, the ballot presents a tough choice. All these short stories are solid, and any one of them deserves to win. I need a criteria by which to vote, though, so I’ll judge based on how hard I think each finalist pushes the art form of short story. Your opinion may vary, of course.

6. “The Sin of America” by Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021) – A surreal horror story, almost an allegory, of exquisite detail and searing brutality. Because the story is hard to understand at first, intentionally and effectively, I won’t say more.

5. “Tangles” by Seanan McGuire (Magicthegathering.com: Magic Story, Sep 2021) – A dryad, a mage, and a search party walk into a forest … and they help each other. I’d enjoy seeing the characters again solving bigger problems.

4. “Mr. Death” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, Feb 2021) – No spoilers, but this story is sweet, heartfelt, and lovely, which I didn’t see coming. A Junior Reaper of Death must take a toddler “across the river” to join the cosmos, and it’s just too hard.

3. “Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny Magazine, May/Jun 2021) – A father and son work together after the father’s death to solve a mathematics hypothesis, a process that isn’t emotionally satisfying for the son. The story was emotionally moving to me as a reader.

2. “Unknown Number” by Blue Neustifter (Twitter, Jul 2021) – A physicist has questions about how his life could have gone. The story is told as a series of text messages, which works well.

1. “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, Mar/Apr 2021) – An online group debates and investigates the meaning of a traditional song. The storytelling format is untraditional and effective. This gets my first-place vote as a reward for experimentation. This was also my choice for the Nebula Award, which it won. Congratulations!

Why your first draft might disappoint you

The long, slender stalk will eventually bear a flower. It’s growing from Haworthia venosa ssp. tessellata, a succulent from South Africa.

You have a bright, shiny idea to write something — a poem, song, story, novel, essay, article, speech, or report — and you start to write it down … and it’s not quite right. In fact, halfway through it might even seem not worth finishing.

It happens to me all the time. I deal with that feeling by ignoring it, and I ignore it because I understand what triggers that feeling. I start with a bright, shiny, but somewhat incoherent idea. Then I commit that idea to words, it coheres, and in the process, it changes.

It changes for many reasons, but the main one is that the idea has to move from one form of expression to another, in the same way that turning a painting into a sculpture, or a novel into a movie, brings changes. I was inspired in one kind of expression, which was thought, and now I’m staring at words … and it’s different.

Different isn’t bad. In fact, different can be good. Sometimes an idea improves during the move, or it ventures in a different, equally inspired direction.

Still, the first draft is normally imperfect, even deeply flawed. It’s a first draft, after all, a rough draft. Imperfect is okay. All first/rough drafts have problems, and problems can be solved. Perfection in a first draft isn’t required and shouldn’t be expected.

The first draft must fulfill only one requirement to be worthy: it must exist. I can do anything with that draft, but only if I have the draft. If that draft goes all the way to “the end,” it has achieved a success that rivals the state of a Platonic ideal.

So don’t feel disappointed with your first draft. Instead, load it onto a pen drive or print it out and take it with you to your favorite restaurant or park to celebrate its existence. You have a first draft!

Why Cervantes Claimed He Didn’t Write ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’

Photo by Sue Burke

In front of Spain’s National Library in Madrid, a statue of Miguel de Cervantes stands with one foot resting on a pair of books. One of them is spine-out, and we can read its title: Amadís de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul).

That book tells the story of Amadis, from the fictional kingdom of Gaul, who was the greatest knight in the world. This Spanish novel of chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo and published in 1508, became Europe’s first best-seller. It was reprinted 19 times, translated into 7 languages, spawned 44 direct sequels in several languages, and fueled an entire genre that lasted a century. Most notably, around 1600, it inspired Don Quixote of La Mancha.

In many ways, Cervantes satirizes (or pays homage to) that tale, including a characteristic element of novels of chivalry that began with Amadis of Gaul. An earlier version of Amadis had existed since the 1300s in the form of a three-book novel, but Montalvo’s edition was different, as he explains in his prologue:

I corrected these three books of Amadis, such as they could be read, due to poor writers or very corrupt and dissolute scribes, and I translated and added a fourth book and a sequel, Sergas de Esplandián, which up until now no one has seen. By great good fortune, a manuscript was discovered in a stone tomb beneath a hermitage near Constantinople, and it was brought by a Hungarian merchant to eastern Spain in such ancient script and old parchment that it could only be read with much difficulty by those who knew the language.

Of course, Montalvo himself wrote the fourth book and Sergas de Esplandián (Exploits of Espandian; Esplandian is the son of Amadis). Why lie about it? Because, as he himself put it, the novel “had been considered rank fiction rather than chronicles.” By proclaiming it an ancient story and perhaps even forgotten history rather than fiction, it could obtain the status of works by Homer and Cicero.

He doesn’t seem to have fooled anyone, but he did set a pattern for sequels to Amadis of Gaul by other authors. Supposedly, the manuscript for Lisuarte de Grecia (Lisuarte of Greece)by Juan Díaz (1514) had been written in Greek in Constantinople and taken to Rhodes when the city fell to the Ottomans. Amadís de Grecia (Amadis of Greece) by Feliciano de Silva (1530) had been found in a wooden box behind a wall in a cave in Spain, hidden during the Moslem invasion in 711. Silves de la Selva (Silves of the Jungle) by Pedro de Luján (1546) was encountered in the magical sepulcher of Amadis himself, written in Arabic.

And so on. Manuscripts were discovered in distant castles and during voyages to far-off lands. Some were written in Hungarian, Latin, Tuscan, German, Chaldean, and “Indian” (Sanskrit, perhaps). A few were even supposedly written by characters from earlier novels.

Among the many jokes in Don Quixote whose punch line we have forgotten today is the one in Chapter IX. It recounts how, in a market in Toledo, a boy was selling some old papers to be reused. Cervantes looked at one of the pieces of paper, a pamphlet, and it turned out to bepart of the History of Don Quixote of La Mancha, written in Arabic by Cide Hamete Benengeli. He purchased a translation of the pamphlets for two arrobas of raisins (probably about two pecks) and two bushels of wheat. This discovered manuscript, Cervantes said, became the basis of the rest of the first part of his novel.

Rather than being found in some exotic place after a search filled with drama, difficulty, and great cost, Don Quixote was rescued from the garbage and translated on the cheap.

Besides that satire in Quixote, there’s another joke based on one of Montalvo’s books that we’ve forgotten. An imaginary island described in Exploits of Esplandian overflowed with gold and was ruled by a califa. Spanish conquistadors had read many novels of chivalry and sometimes compared the wonders of the New World to the marvels in those books, but when they sailed up the western coast of what we now call Mexico, they found a place that offered little besides rocks and condors. To entertain themselves, they started calling that barren land after the fabulously rich island in the book: “California.”

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A version of this article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of The Source, a quarterly publication of the American Translators Association Literary Division.

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You can read my translation of Amadis of Gaul here.