Also: our first category with Actual International Authors, meaning our first voting category! Yay!
- “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”, Zen Cho. So, like, confession: I have a passionate hatred of the rhetorical second person. Actual second person—i.e. where the narrative is solely and directly talking to a defined “you”—is fine, but rhetorical second person, that uses an explicitly-but-undefined “you” in an otherwise first- or third-person narration1 is one of my pet peeves in fiction; I find it unbearably twee, pretty much no matter who’s writing.2 “If at First You Don’t Succeed” uses rhetorical 2POV a lot, which is a real shame, because I absolutely adore the concept of this work—basically an “un-ascended” dragon working on its cultivation—for banging my monster-protagonist’s-journey-to-enlightenment-and/or-love-interest drum hard. So it took me a little bit of work to get into this one, but I did adore it (to the point of tearing up!) by the end.
- “When We Were Starless”, Simone Heller. A perfectly serviceable “oldskool” style story, but a little bit too much smeerping for me personally.3
- “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth”, Daryl Gregory. A few jarring tropes here and there, but an otherwise lovely and quiet story about time and family and alien invasions.
- “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections“, Tina Connolly. Food makes you feels. Fine, I guess? But not really my thing.
- “The Thing About Ghost Stories”, Naomi Kritzer. There’s something… overly ironic? Or something? About the narrator’s voice that keeps me out of this one. Has a sort of similar premise, I guess, to both “Nine Last Days” and “If at First”—in that it’s using a speculative veneer to tell a small-scale family drama—but both of those pull off the shtick much better.
- “The Only Harmless Great Thing”, Brooke Bolander. So apparently this is just me, but… I really, really could not shake the feeling this was some time traveling White Man’s Burden/”Noble Savage” style story from circa the 1950s, except with caricatures of native peoples palette swapped to sentient elephants.4 Like… is it just me? Is it? Or are white people really just so fuckin’ unable to stop themselves writing these po-faced Oscar-bait tut-tutting shame carrot stories?5 Yikes. Incidentally, this is also the story I predict will win this particular award, so… playing to middle-class white guilt: works every time!
Zen Cho’s work is the obvious first choice for me, despite my reservations about the authorial voice; it’s just the type of story I love (monster protagonist! monster romance! monster enlightenment!), so I can just… get over myself on the rest of it. The other stand-out was Daryl Gregory’s, which is kind of the reverse of Cho’s work in that I enjoyed the mechanics of Gregory’s writing a lot more, but found a few of the narrative tropes a bit… not my favorite. But it’s definitely the kind of low-key, quiet story that fits this weird-ass length perfectly, so… boom. Done. Votes locked in!
- Actually, I can often deal with this better in 1POV, though it does depend heavily on the narrator. That is, I have to believe they’re actually talking to someone, rather than just thoughtlessly trampling all over the fourth wall. [↩]
- Yes, including myself; one of the biggest challenges I enjoy is writing first person with an implied, but never explicitly referenced, “you”. Pretty much all of Lain’s narration in the Wyrdverse books is this, for example; Lain has no fourth wall, so he is, in fact, talking directly to the reader, though he’s desperately trying to hide that fact. Even the 3POV segments of those books are narrated by Lain—albeit after-the-fact, hence the tense change—which, again, is intentionally obscured. And, also, that’s more than enough behind-the-curtains garbage for one day, so… moving on. [↩]
- Not to mention the other little minor annoyances, like the protagonist insisting at one point they’re “not close enough” to know a secondary character’s gender… and then immediately giving them a male name and using male pronouns. Like… one approach or the other—i.e. a default gender or not—is fine. But this weird half-measure feels like going through the motions of appearing “politically correct” without actually understanding what the issues around gender are, which… ye-ee-eah. [↩]
- And, like, to be super clear about this; the text includes elephant slave songs. Like… holy shit, white people. Stop. [↩]
- And this is not even getting into the fact that the radium girls were also, y’know, real. And had a huge impact on the labor movement. But, no. Elephants. That’s cool, I guess. [↩]