Rachel Swirsky’s Recommendations for the 2014 Campbell Awards

There are two weeks left until the end of the Hugo nomination period, and I wanted to blog about some of the awesome writers I’ve found this year or last year who are eligible for the Campbell Award.

For those who don’t know, the Campbell Award is given to notable new writers of science fiction and fantasy. Whether or not you’re nominating for the Campbell, you should check these writers out because they’re repositories of new, exciting energy and ideas.

At the end of the post, I’ll also include a few brief lines about some of the other Campbell candidates I’m considering nominating, who are also worth checking out.

As always, I’m sure there are many, many very fine authors that I’m missing out on. I focus on short stories instead of novels (and I feel justified in doing that because so many people do the opposite) so I am automatically biased that way. But more than that, I just don’t get to all the stories I should! And there are also the problems of memory.

The metric I’m using for pulling people out is that they either have to have had one work that I found overwhelmingly wonderful, or else a body of work that includes quite strong stories. If people have only come out with one thing that I consider quite strong (but not “OMG so great I can’t even handle it!”) then I’m leaving them off this particular list.

I note that I’m also trying to correct for bias toward people I know well, such as Emily Jiang and Chris Reynaga. They both published things I respected last year, but I can’t report the experience of coming to the work cold, and neither has a substantial enough published body of work for me to feel like I can double check myself.

For a partial list of people who are eligible for the Campbell, you can check here. Not everyone who is eligible knows to put in their name, but it’s a place to start.

I’ll also note here that I have reservations about the Campbell Award. Not the concept of it (yay new writers!), so much as the fact that it’s very, very hard for an award with such tight restrictions to be comprehensively judged by popular vote. By the nature of the thing, many new writers, no matter how exciting, don’t have the time to build a significant public profile while they’re eligible, even if they are producing exciting work. That’s not to say that the nominees and winners aren’t often awesome, but it’s hard for the award to be really comprehensive. So, you can take this as my attempt to get a few more names out there for the award, or just as an attempt to get some awesome new writers read independently of the Campbell. Either way.

In alphabetical order:

Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander is in her second year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: Tornado’ s Siren” on Strange Horizons

Brooke Bolander has published a number of short stories, the bulk of them in Lightspeed. The first story of hers that I read was “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring.” Also notable is “Sun Dogs,” a story about Laika, the first dog sent into space.

Brooke has an unusual voice that takes advantage of disjunctive leaps of imagery to create a series of dense and surreal impressions. Sometimes they are whimsical; sometimes dark. I find her writing very grounded in the body—hot, cold, lonely—she evokes physical sensations in me.

I like the charming whimsy of “Tornado’s Siren,” but in many ways it’s a less ambitious story than the more complex and unresolved concepts of “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring” and “Sun Dogs;” I consider those stories to not have totally realized their potential, but in a wonderful, interesting way, full of unusual and striking material.

I find it hard to think of a writer to compare her work to. There may be a touch of Aimee Bender in the texture of the unusual imagery that she uses to evoke emotion.

Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado is in her first year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: “Inventory” on Strange Horizons

Carmen and I both went to the Iowa Writers Workshop but for some reason we failed to intersect through that channel. I missed her story “Inventory” when it came out in Strange Horizons due to my rushed reading this year, but luckily, Carmen submitted it as a potential reprint to Women Destroy Science Fiction. It didn’t work out for that purpose, but it’s a strong story that put Carmen on my radar, and which may nudge its way onto my Hugo ballot.

Carmen has also published a number of other short stories appearing in a wide scatter of venues, some of which are familiar to speculative fiction readers (like Lightspeed and Shimmer) and some of which aren’t. In particular, I’m looking forward to reading her story from issue #2 of Unstuck (it’s out of print, but you can still get electronic editions), a journal which publishes work that lies on the boundary of speculative and literary fiction. It’s a neat journal and more people should check it out.

About “Inventory,” I wrote in a recent blog post, “Exquisite telling detail transforms this list story (a format that I have a weakness for) into something emotional and poignant. Machado has experience writing in the lit world and brings those chops to the development of this sad, post-apocalyptic tale, told on a very personal level. By detailing moments of togetherness, Machado creates in the reader the sensation of loneliness that her character feels, isolation that persists despite touch and intimacy. Read for character, language, and emotion.

Sofia Samatar

Sofia Samatar is in her second year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA (Small Beer Press)

Sofia Samatar’s novel is on the Nebula ballot this year, as is her Strange Horizons short story, “Selkie Stories are for Losers.”

I particularly loved her short story in Glitter and Mayhem, “Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes to Drinks with the Green Girl.” It’s an amazing story. I wrote about it in my short story recommendations for 2013: “This surreal story is about two ghost girls who are known by their ghost stories, and how they navigate their unlives in the wake of that endless, unavoidable trauma. I thought it discussed living with violence really intelligently as well as being beautifully written.”

Sofia’s prose and imagery are really beautiful, and her observation of character and detail sharp. Her body of work thus far is impressive, and it’s clear she’s a major talent.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Benjanun Sriduangkaew is in her first year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (Clarkesworld)

I first read Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s work last year in Giganotosaurus. In the novella,”

She also writes short stories based in a space operatic world. Two from this year include “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (linked above) and “Annex,” both in Clarkesworld. Her space opera world is an intricate weave of interesting technology and eye-kicks, dealing explicitly with the territories of colonialism, gender, and identity. In this year’s short story recommendations, I wrote about her space opera world: “Like much far future work, [the world] loops away from the comfortable details of the present into very strange imagery, wrapping around toward the oddness of surrealism or high fantasy.”

Benjanun’s work is really interesting with a distinct, strong point of view. Her space opera overlaps thematically with Ann Leckie’s novel, Ancillary Justice, but style-wise, she’s on her own. Her ability to write epic storylines over the course of short stories is particularly impressive and unusual. I look forward to seeing what she does with a novel if she’s writing one; her stories suggest she’d be a natural at it, but they are also wonderful in themselves and shouldn’t be underestimated on account of their form.

Some other folks I’d like to chat about:

Henry Lien

Henry Lien is in his first year of eligibility.

His first ever published piece, the novelette “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,” which appeared in Asimovs Magazine, is on this year’s Nebula ballot. Although many people clearly loved this novelette, I’m lukewarm about it. The basic concepts are neat (it’s about young girls practicing a martial art based on something similar to ice skating), but I found the voice of the teenage main character unconvincing—to me, it seemed like a stereotype drawn from adult ideas of what teenage girls are like, rather than drawing from actual teenage girls.

If I were looking at this story alone, I’d think he was an interesting writer with some space to grow. Which, as a new writer, he is. However, I’m also in a writing group with him, and I’ve had the privilege of reading some of his unpublished work, especially the beginning of his young adult novel. From that, I know that he’s a powerhouse.

I probably won’t nominate him for the Campbell because I don’t feel comfortable doing so on the basis of what I’ve read privately, but I know that I’m really excited to see what he keeps producing, and I do recommend him as a name to look out for.

Also, check out his website to see the beautiful, surreal work by the artists he works with. He has amazing taste in art.

Joy Kennedy O’Neill

Joy Kennedy O’Neill is in her second year of eligibility.

Aftermath” from Strange Horizons (link goes to the first of two parts) was one of my favorite novelettes from last year.

I wrote about it, “This is one of the few zombie stories that I’ve really liked. It’s about the process of reconciliation that occurs after the zombies recover and how they reintegrate into society. The novelette intelligently references and builds on real-world situations like the post-apartheid recovery in South Africa. Mending the sociological rifts left by genocide and other atrocities requires a sort of willful social blindness, a denial of what’s happened. In the novelette’s case, the zombies did not have control over their actions, so the story necessarily removes the question of responsibility for the atrocities, which does make the reconciliation process less intense than it is in real life. Nevertheless, I think O’Neill intelligently explores the ways in which people act to protect themselves psychologically: denying what has happened, denying what they did, the ways in which the socially mandated silence creaks and cracks.”

This really smart and well-developed story makes me excited to see what else Joy Kennedy O’Neill will do in the future.

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2 Responses to Rachel Swirsky’s Recommendations for the 2014 Campbell Awards

  1. 1
    Ted says:

    It looks like some of the links are broken, mostly because (I think) there are spaces at the beginning of the urls within the quotes.

    Feel free to have this ‘fail’ moderation. Doesn’t really need to be recorded for all posterity.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    I like to approve comments like this – it encourages others to report broken links and the like when they see them. Or, I hope they do.

    I think I’ve fixed all the links that Mandolin didn’t fix, but please let me know if there are any broken links I missed.