It’s Hugo Award season and as I’ve started thinking about my nomination ballot, I realize that I’ve read very few short stories in 2013. So, I am now beside myself, trying to read as much as I can before the nomination deadline on March 31st.
Two stories I’ve read and loved are “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar, published at Strange Horizons in January 2013, and “Of Alternate Adventures and Memory” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, published on Clarkesworld last December. The former is fantasy mingled with folklore, the latter a futuristic science fiction.
Even though these stories come from different places—science fiction versus fantasy—the first thing that comes to mind is how both share really interesting similarities, starting with the fact that they are both beautifully written. While Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a new-to-me author, I had encountered Sofia Samatar’s prose before in her novel A Stranger in Olondria—a book I personally did not connect with, but whose prose I admired. The point is, both shorts have a rhythm to them, an almost poetic cadence that goes round and round, carrying the stories through to their conclusion. Both have gripping opening lines and incredibly moving closing sentences.
They are both subtle stories, too, with minimalistic worldbuilding: It is more about what you don’t know than about what you know for sure that keeps you reading. These short stories feature entire worlds which, though only barely alluded to, offer a surprisingly meaty amount of food for thought. One of the central topics in “Of Alternate Adventures and Memory,” for example, is memory—especially the importance of preserving collective and personal memory. In a way it is about change, too—revolutionary change that affects both the public sphere as well as the individual. And family. Weird families.
Those same themes are equally present in “Selkie Stories Are for Losers.” A girl’s memory of a mother, a mother’s memory of a skin and of breathing on water rather than on land, and the collected memories of selkie stories characterize Samatar’s short fiction. This is a tale about the inability to change or to let go (and to forgive), as well as the need to do just that, to move on to new and brighter things (and to find love). And family. Weird families.
I thought of issues of “consent” when reading both stories, as well. Consent is an inevitability when thinking of selkie stories, I believe, just as it is when thinking of stories about artificially created people. The woman who has her skin stolen has often little say on the matter and neither does the boy who is crafted to life to live as an “alternate”—the very word implying a life lived in the “margins.” Coincidently, both stories feature young people as viewpoint narrators, and both narrators have to deal with an inheritance from their mothers.
Needless to say, I was deeply impressed with both stories and how rich they were and how so much was conveyed with few words. I will be nominating both for a Hugo.
In Book Smugglerish: 8 “I want more of those” out of 10.
“Hugo Award” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.