But I digress. I’ve shipped my favorite relationships, hidden under the covers from the scariest horror, wept until the world was awash in my tears at biggest heartbreaks, and drove fast and took chances with the most pulse-pounding action! Which leaves just one category to go, and it’s...
The “Where We’re Going We Won’t Need Categories”
Sippy Awards for Excellent I Don’t Know What in Short SFF
What does it mean? Well, part of the point of this category is...I’m not sure. These are stories that defy conventional definitions and categorization. These are the ones that slip between genres and expectations. They’re...well, a lot of them are weird, but beautiful. Haunting, but fun. Deep and complex and brilliant in the ways they innovate and inspire. So without further delay...
The Regular Sippys
“Utopia, LOL?," Jamie Wahls (Strange Horizons) (Short Story)
There’s such a frenetic energy to this piece, which finds a man named Charlie waking up from a long freezing and introduced into this brave new world by a hyperactive guide and an AI who might just have some ulterior motives. But really, the story does a brilliant job of revealing a future that is very different. Where humanity has moved in some interesting but perhaps troubling directions and here we find someone with a bit more “modern” sensibilities meeting this future and not recoiling in horror (not really). It’s a hopeful, invigorating piece that definitely stood out in its form and style and was a delight to read!
“On The Other Side of the Sea," Nerine Dorman (Omenana) (Short Story)
This is another story that looks at a rather interesting future, but instead of utopia looks much more at dystopia, at a broken landscape and two children, siblings, running through it, hoping to reach a promised haven and an escape to somewhere better. And what they find instead is what I love about this story—a way to ut down the weight of inheritance, the dreams of their parents, and find something real that they can work towards. To take strength and comfort in community and what remains without giving in to the damage done. It’s a story of survival, family, and trust, and it manages in a very desolate setting to find hope and progress in some surprising and at times shocking ways.
"An Unexpected Boon" by S.B. Divya (Apex) (Short Story)
Family and siblings recurs here, but in a much different way than the last piece, as this story focuses on different ways of thinking and, perhaps more specifically, different ways of experiencing the world. The main character is someone vulnerable because of how she perceives the world, how she tries to move through it—but those very things make her able to see solutions to problems that those around her, mired in their own standard thinking, find impossible to get through. The piece explores how expectations can be a cage for many, but for some it goes beyond that, like they’re not speaking the same language, like they’re Mac and Windows, unable to fully communicate and integrate as long as they have to follow the rules. But when they don’t, when they are allowed the freedom to break outside of their constraints, magic happens.
And Then There Were (N-One), Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny) (Novella)
An author inserting themself into their work is not often a technique that leads to...enjoyable stories. And yet this piece is entirely populated by the author, a convention made up of alternate selves, and at its center, a crime and an investigation. The piece is a mystery but definitely not a traditional one, with every suspect, witness, and victim the shade of the same person. With many of the same experiences but many not, as well. It’s strange but compelling, captivating, caught in the gravity of the main character, who is not the author but who is, in a way. It’s like the trippiest thought experiment that shouldn’t work as a story, but does. It does on the strength of its character work and the depth of its mystery, and the power of its insights.
“Owl vs. The Neighborhood Watch," Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons) (Short Story)
For me, this story subverted expectations by the way that it refuses to give in to the pull of tragedy and grief, the gravity of sorrow and despair in the face of systemic and perpetual hardship and setback. The story unfolds around a person plagued by birds, harbingers of misfortune. And yet for all that the birds have always meant something bad, for all that the main character hasn’t been able to prevent the tragedies the birds heralded, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Indeed, what I love about this story is the way that the main character fights back, learning from each time bird comes to call, knowing the system not so that she can escape it or transcend it (something that she doesn’t have the power to do alone), but so that she can work within it to save what she can, to help who she can. And that it might not be enough to save or help everyone, but that it’s definitely enough to save and help some. That when dealing with a world that often views things in absolutes, that often values things only in absolutes, it can be quite transgressive to act in increments. To fight for every step. To keep coming back, time after time, despite loss and depression and bigotry and pain, to try and make the world better. And to go about it armed with information and care, eyes open to the signs the universe gives, willing to act and to bring people together as a community to try and push back against the tide of tragedy that seeks to define our narratives. It’s just a wonderful, affirming story that I didn’t expect but that has meant a lot to me this year.
And that’s it. Thank you so much to all the authors, editors, publishers, readers, and fans who made 2017 a great year for short SFF. Long live the Sippys! Love live excellent short SFF! Cheers!