IGNYTE Short Story Round Up

I do like short stories but I tend to overlook them in my regular media consumption. The up-side of that is I do most of my short story reading around award finalists and get nicely curated lists of what is currently hot in speculative short fiction.

This years inaugural IGNYTE awards are no exception. Before I get to my attempt at a ranking, the finalists are again:

It is a strong selection of stories and the two stories that were dual Hugo & Nebula finalists have tough competition from the other three. As always, this is just my ranking right now and with stories of this quality I might feel differently on a different day.

  1. A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy – Rebecca Roanhorse
  2. Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island – Nibedita Sen
  3. Dune Song – Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  4. And Now His Lordship is Laughing – Shiv Ramdas
  5. Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan – Christopher Caldwell

I still really like the structure play of Ten Excerpts… and the way it invites the reader to invent their own story to fill in the gaps. However, A Brief Lesson… does such a good job of layering story conventions to re-tell a genuinely old story that I had to put it top. The other three, I’d happily rank differently and I enjoyed aspects of all three.

IGNYTE Shorts: A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy by Rebecca Roanhorse

In the near future, technology to extract memories from human tissue has enabled the entertainment industry to digitally recreate recently departed actors. Isolated in his Malibu home, a young Native American actor/model Dez Hunter is deep in mourning after the sudden death of his equally photogenic girlfriend Cherie. Lost in grief, he has taken to finding tiny scraps of her presence (hair etc) and using that to extract fragmented engrams of her memory.

“WE WERE GONNA BE STARS. That’s what you got to understand. Big fucking stars. Like Jack and Rose or Mr. and Mrs. Carter, like our faces on every screen, dominating every media feed. Everyone already loved us, wanted to be us, wanted to fuck us. And people like that, people like us? Young, rich, famous? We don’t just get sick and die. They’ve got med docs and implants and LongLife™ tech that keeps people alive for 150 years now if you can afford it, and we could afford it. So how could they let her die? How could I lose my perfect girl? How could they do that to me?

A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy by Rebecca Roanhorse, The Mythic Dream (p. 67). Gallery / Saga Press. Kindle Edition.

But what is the border between grief and obsession, between true love and indulgent vanity? The question comes in the form of Carol Elder, the head of the media company that (apparently) wants Dez to stop grieving and to get back to work.

‘“You signed contracts, Mr. Hunter. People paid you a lot of money to be in their digitals, and, well, you can’t just not fulfill your obligations.” “Bereavement,” I mutter. “Can’t you tell them I’m taking time off for bereavement?” “Yeah, I wish we could do that for you. I really do. But this is millions of dollars. The other actors, it wouldn’t be fair to them.” She leans in. I can see a hint of a tattoo on her shoulder where the blouse gapes at her neck. “And your community back home. Aren’t they counting on you? Expecting you to represent them to the world?” I wave that away. I don’t think much about home anymore. “There’s talk of replacing you,” she says. I look up, annoyed. “With who?” “The guy from Sixteen Tipis. You know the one.” She gestures towards her short blond hair. I know what she means. He’s got the wind-machine hair. “That guy ain’t even Native. He’s Persian.”

A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy by Rebecca Roanhorse, The Mythic Dream (p. 67). Gallery / Saga Press. Kindle Edition.

As an incentive, Elders offers Dez something remarkable: the media company’s copy of Cherie’s engrams — an opportunity for Dez to recreate Cherie digitally. Dez though has other ideas…

The story is a Black-Mirroresque horror story into a near future where fame and celebrity is exploitable post-death. The consequences of attempting to ressurect the dead (even or especially out of love) follow a familiar arc and act as a stern warning of the need to both grieve and move on. If the story feels both modern and familiar, the name of the anthology is a clue. The Mythic Dream anthology is a collection of contemporary retellings of myths and folktales. In this story Roanhorse chose to adapt the Tewa story “Deer Hunter and White Corn Maiden” [A version here https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Deer_Hunter_And_White_Corn_Maiden-Tewa.html ].

I wasn’t familiar with the original and only read it after reading this retelling. It is certainly an impressive retelling, capturing the relevant elements and cautionary tale aspect but with a futuristic setting. It also works as a story in its own right, except perhaps the very end which is a more overt call-back to the original. I was impressed with how the characterisation of Dez balances empathy for his grief with that more judgemental aspect of his own flaws that comes both with the hubris-horror trope and the folktale be-careful-what-you-wish-for aspect.

Left ambiguous is the role of Carol Elder and her motivations. Her offer of Cherie’s engrams feels like a kind of Faustian bargain and I’m not sure whether the story is implying that she knows what Dez will do with them (and hence she is actively setting him on a destructive path) or just doesn’t care or hasn’t properly considered the danger. I don’t think that ambiguity is a flaw in the story but rather adds to the more sinister/supernatural aspect of it. In the version of the original story I read [linked to above] there is an intervention by a being from the spirit world but that being steps in only once the couple have transgressed customs around death. Carol Elder, in contrast, is a visitor from the world of corporate media and commercial exploitation and enables Dez to attempt to break the walls of death.

I think this is the strongest story I’ve read by Rebecca Roanhorse and I’ve enjoyed several things she has written. There is genuine empathy for the main character and there is a clever layering of near-future society over a classic horror story vibe over a classic folktale. I suspect that if the story may have missed out on more award nominations because anthologies get a bit overlooked.

IGNYTE Shorts: Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan by Christopher Caldwell

John Wood is a carpenter on-board a 19th century whaling ship sailing out from Nantucket. A former slave, John finds love and companionship in the form of fellow sailor William Harker.

‘No light but the moon, but John could walk the length of the Gracie-Ella’s decks eyes closed and barefoot without placing a wrong stop. She was named for the daughters of two men who held her title, and at sea she belonged to the captain, but John reflected that she was his as much as anyone’s; his hands had shaped her and healed her, cosseted her and kept her afloat. He ducked down below decks. In the dark he made his way midship to a space he and the cooper shared. The smell of sawdust and resin was a comfort. A few strikes of a flint and the lantern overhanging his workspace was alight. John set about arranging his tools. The work here was sweet. He ran his hand over words he had carved on the underside of the vice-bench. “I hereby manumit & set free John Wood. He may go wheresoever he pleases.”’

https://uncannymagazine.com/article/canst-thou-draw-out-the-leviathan/ Uncanny Issue 28

The story leads off with a title from the King James Bible quoting the Book of Job, framing the story within the scope of humans facing both greater primal forces (here the ocean and the whales they are hunting) and divinity.

The divine appears in two forms. Firstly, the pious harpooner To’afa (known to the crew as Gospel) who acts as self-appointed judge of the crew’s morals and as an amateur chaplain for the ship. Secondly, the cabin boy Pip, who has some sort of spiritual connection with a quite different form of divinity:

‘John lifted the boy up and staggered against sudden weight; in an instant Pip felt heavier than one of the blanket pieces. He kneeled under the tremendous burden. Pip’s eyes snapped open. The boy’s expression was hard and made him look far older than his fourteen years. His voice was like thunder. “John Wood. You know me not. But you I know. Your kin called to me for safe passage across my waters.”
John groaned struggling to keep the boy upright. “Pip, this ain’t sensible. You struck your head.”
The boy’s look was pitying. “Pip? No. I am the storm and the wind hard behind it. I am the wave and the darkness below. I, the white foam and the shifting sea sand. Do you know me, John Wood?”
John whispered, “Agwe?”
“The blood remembers. Destruction follows your present course. You have until the moon waxes full and wanes again.” Pip shut his eyes. John felt the weight vanish from the boy.’

The interplay of quasi-divine forces (the sea, the massive creatures that the ship hunts) is a familiar setting. A prophecy of disaster goes unheeded but given the the nature of the trade and the violence of the seas, the inevitability of disaster is guaranteed with or without divine intervention.

Like many a ghost story, the central character is more of an observer of events than an instigator of change. John is helpless in the face of powers far beyond his capacity to influence or control. However, it is within his smaller deeds of kindness and consideration that his fate is set.

It’s a strong story that uses a familiar setting and familiar themes within that setting, to tell a smaller ghost story and love story painted within a canvas of bigger themes of vast powers.

IGNYTE Shorts: Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

The village of Isiuwa is ringed in by a bamboo fence and beyond its borders are endless dunes containing the remnants of past civilisations. Nata is determined to escape from the confinement and control of the Chief and the Elders.

“Isiuwa knows the Chief is right because he bears a cross on Isiuwa’s behalf, along with the troupe of Elders, sentries, and novitiates: the cross of going beyond the fence and seeking solutions, praying to the gods and asking them to stop moving the dunes closer. The troupe sometimes returns with strange things they’ve salvaged from the sand, things that look like they belong to another time, and the Elders keep them in the archive. The Chief reminds us that this is not a privilege but a burden, for it is impossible to look upon the face of the gods and live; and every time the troupe returns home intact is a blessing from the whistling gods. Isiuwa nods and remains behind the fence; remains grateful.”

https://apex-magazine.com/dune-song/ Apex Magazine May 7 2019

The story featured in Apex Magazine’s last issue before it went on hiatus in 2019. It is an adept mix of the familiar and the unusual, taking a look at a post-apocalyptic community that is self-sustaining (it seems) but also authoritarian and controlling.

The story delves into but leaves unresolved the tensions between the supernatural explanation of the encroaching dunes and a scientific one. The ‘rational’ here is represented by Nata’s absent mother:

“Nata blamed Mam in the beginning, believing it was her fault, that she could’ve just stopped arguing with the Elders, telling them that there were no whistling gods, that the civilization under the sand was just swallowed by an extreme ecological disaster. She insisted there were thriving civilizations out there and she was going to find them, that the whirlwind of time would take her there. She insisted she had seen it for herself.”

Of course, madness and the irrational is also defined in terms of social expectations and cooperation with norms and the opinion of the village of Isiuwa is that Nata’s Mam was a mad woman.

Gods of the sands or even Mam’s whirlwind of time, whatever the source of the dunes besieging Isiuwa, they are home to powerful forces beyond the villagers current understanding, as well as secrets and gifts.

The ending is necessarily ambiguous. Do the dunes contain gods, time-whirlwinds or just violent storms? A short story isn’t going to answer those questions but instead leaves the reader’s imagination to run away with the possibilities. The story, constrained by the village it starts in, escapes into the sands beyond.

This is a very nicely put together story that evokes in quick steps a sense of the village as a thriving community rich in produce and trades but also leaves not doubt as to why Nata is desperate to escape its claustrophobic restraints.

IGNYTE Shorts Week

Voting for FIYAH magazine’s IGNYTE awards closes on September 11. That’s just enough time to cover at least one maybe two of the shorter fiction categories.

I’m going to start with Short Story.

The finalists are:

I’ve read two of these and so I’ll lead off in a subsequent post with Suyi Davies Okungbowa post-apocalyptic Dune Song.

I’m counting pronouns

I woke up late because I was working late on things from the mundane physical world, which means ploughing through spreadsheets and making columns think they are rows and rows think they are columns. This meant this morning I had less time for my entertainment, which means ploughing through spreadsheets and making columns think they are rows and rows think they are columns. Specifically, I wanted to wrangle the IGNYTE award finalists into a spreadsheet with a similar format to the one I’m using to collate Dragon Award finalists.

One bonus for the IGNYTE awards is the finalist list typically includes publisher where it is relevant. So that’s good. A downside (purely from a tabulating things perspective) is some of the names attached to a single finalist are as many as 20+ but that is a good challenge. Often things that look convenient from a data perspective (‘a book’ has ‘an author’) reveal assumptions about our world. Writing a list of stuff is something imbued with socio-political perspectives that can literally trip you up[1]. Counting people means categorising people and categorising people is not a simple thing.

A key issue is counting gender. There are good reasons for tabulating gender because it is an almost universal issue of social disparity across the world. We can see a lot about social change and inequality by looking first at gender and we have roughly two major categories of people (male, female) plus some proportionally smaller ones[2]. But gender is also complex and I’m not sure about the best way of counting it. Also, even though I primarily present gender stats in aggregate, I still am going through lists of authors and sticking them in a gender box.

Looking at the ‘how’ of the classifications I decided to modify the way I was tabulating gender. What I did with the Dragons was check Wikipedia entries or other sources of author bios and looking for indications of gender…but really what I was doing was checking pronoun usage. So, if what I was actually doing was counting pronoun usage then a smarter move was to tabulate PRONOUNS rather than gender i.e. instead of ‘other/non-binary’, ‘male’, ‘female’, use the categories of ‘they/other’, ‘he’, ‘she’. That way the presentation of the data matches what I was actually doing.

I don’t know if that’s the best approach but it has another benefit to a different question about the gender of authors. In note [1] below, the issue of James S A Corey was pertinent – two people who author books under a single name. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck are both men but what gender is James S A Corey? It’s not just an abstruse philosophical question because if we are thinking about how sexism plays out in awards or book purchases etc the presentation of gender is relevant. “Robert Galbraith” is a pseudonym used by author J.K.Rowling and at least initially it was a secret that Galbraith was Rowling, which presents an interesting question when classifying books by the gender of their author.

Historically this has a further layer. Many women have used male pseudonyms (or made their gender less obvious by using initials) as a way to avoid sexism in book purchasing etc. However, some authors in the past who used pseudonyms of a different gender to their ‘everyday’ names did so for other reasons i.e. as a means for exploring their own gender. Nor are those mutually exclusive motivations. Authors regarded socially as female may have chosen male pseudonyms both to avoid sexism and to express their own understanding of their gender, nor is it going to be entirely clear which.

There’s a sort of moral to this story which is the unsurprising conclusion that gender is complex. The specifics in this case is that classifying authors by gender is complex REGARDLESS of your views on gender. You could have quite regressive views on gender (e.g. J.K.Rowling) but that doesn’t change that there are cases of authors were gender can be hard to classify (e.g. Robert Galbraith).

[1]e.g. back in 2019 some people scoffed that I’d made an error saying 10 men had won Dragon Awards in the two headline categories because four years and two categories comes to 8, so how could it be 10 etc. https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/a-bit-more-on-dragons-and-probabilities-etc/

[2] A reminded that ‘proportionally small’ can add up to a lot of actual people https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/07/05/i-love-manchester-but-i-must-destroy-it/

Ignyte Award 2020: Finalists

FIYAHCON have announced their finalists for the first Ignyte Awards and there are some interesting choices. You can read the announcement here https://theconvention.fiyahlitmag.com/2020/08/17/the-2020-ignyte-awards-ballot/ and File 770 has coverage here http://file770.com/2020-ignyte-awards-finalists/

It is an interesting mix of names seen on other awards and names that may be less familiar. See above for full categories. I’m going to skip over YA and Middle Grade categories plus some others (sorry Pod Cast) for brevity.

Best Novel – Adult

for novel-length (40k+ words) works intended for the adult audience

  • The Dragon Republic – R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager)
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)
  • Jade War – Fonda Lee (Orbit)
  • Storm of Locusts – Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)
  • Kingdom of Copper – S. A. Chakraborty (Harper Voyager)

Mainly books on my to-be-read pile rather than books I’ve already read. The deadline for voting is September 11, so probably not enough time to read them all before the deadline.

Best Novella

for speculative works ranging from 17,500-39,999 words

  • The Deep – Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes (Gallery/Saga Press)
  • The Survival of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson (Tor/Forge (Tor.com))
  • The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday – Saad Z. Hossain (Tor/Forge (Tor.com))
  • This is How You Lose the Time War – Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar (Gallery/Saga Press)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark (Tor/Forge (Tor.com))

I’ve read four out of five (haven’t reviewed one of them). Like other awards, the field of publishers for novellas is looking very small here — only Tor and Gallery/Saga.

Best Novelette

for speculative works ranging from 7,500-17,499 words

  • Emergency Skin – N K Jemisin for the Amazon Forward Collection
  • While Dragons Claim the Sky – Jen Brown for FIYAH Literary Magazine
  • Circus Girl, The Hunter, and Mirror Boy – JY Neon Yang for Tor.com
  • The Archronology of Love – Caroline M. Yoachim for Lightspeed
  • Omphalos – Ted Chiang for Exhalation: Stories

I’ve read three out of five and this looks like an interesting category.

Best Short Story

for speculative works ranging from 2,000-7,499 words

  • Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island – Nibedita Sen for Nightmare Magazine
  • Dune Song – Suyi Davies Okungbowa for Apex Magazine
  • And Now His Lordship is Laughing – Shiv Ramdas for Strange Horizons
  • Canst Thou Draw Out the Leviathan – Christopher Caldwell for Uncanny Magazine
  • A Brief Lesson in Native American Astronomy – Rebecca Roanhorse for Mythic Dream

I’ve already read two out of five. So, I’ll definitely do some reviews of the other three before voting. The range of magazines being drawn from is very similar to Hugos an Nebulas, although that’s not surprising.

Best in Speculative Poetry

  • Heaven is Expensive – Ruben Reyes, Jr. for Strange Horizons
  • Elegy for the Self as Villeneuve’s Beast – Brandon O’Brien for Uncanny Magazine
  • A Conversation Between the Embalmed Heads of Lampião and Maria Bonita on Public Display at the Baiano State Forensic Institute, Circa Mid-20th Century – Woody Dismukes for Strange Horizons
  • Those Who Tell the Stories – Davian Aw for Strange Horizons
  • goddess in forced repose – Tamara Jerée for Uncanny Magazine

I can’t say I read much poetry but I might have a look. All Uncanny or Strange Horizons.

Critics Award

for reviews and analysis of the field of speculative literature

  • Jesse – Bowties & Books
  • Charles Payseur – Quick Sip Reviews
  • Maria Haskins
  • Alex Brown – Tor.com
  • Liz Bourke

A solid and also eclectic mix of reviewers in what looks like an interesting category that includes different styles and medium of reviews. There’s overlap with the Fan Writer and Fanzine category of the Hugos but this category has a tighter focus.

Best in Creative Nonfiction

for works related to the field of speculative fiction

  • AfroSurrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction – Rochelle Spencer (Routledge)
  • The Dark Fantastic – Ebony Elizabeth Thomas (NYU Press)
  • Black Horror Rising – Tananarive Due (Uncanny Magazine)
  • Our Opinions are Correct – Charlie Jane Anders & Annalee Newitz
  • Tongue-Tied: A Catalog of Losses – Layla Al-Bedawi (Fireside Fiction)

A category that has some similarity to the Hugo’s Best Related Work in nature but with a clearer emphasis on nonfiction. Like BRW, the category has a mix of mediums (podcasts, columns, books).

The Ember Award

for unsung contributions to genre

  • Tananarive Due
  • LeVar Burton
  • Keidra Chaney
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Malon Edwards

The first of the two community awards recognising people’s work in general.

The Community Award

for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre

  • Beth Phelan
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Diana M. Pho
  • Writing The Other – Nisi Shawl + K Tempest Bradford
  • Strange Horizons – Gautam Bhatia, Vajra Chandrasekera, Joyce Chng, Kate Cowan, Tahlia Day, William Ellwood, Rebecca Evans, Ciro Faienza, Lila Garrott, Dan Hartland, Amanda Jean, Lulu Kadhim, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Catherine Krahe, Anaea Lay, Dante Luiz, Heather McDougal, AJ Odasso, Vanessa Rose Phin, Clark Seanor, Romie Stott, Aishwarya Subramanian, Fred G. Yost, and the SH copyediting team and first readers

I’m not sure I’ll vote in either of these categories. It’s great to celebrate people but it can be hard (and can feel weird) to pick between them.


This is an exciting development for award season. FIYAH magazine is gearing up for their virtual FIYAHCON in October. To add to the fun they have also announced a new SFF Award named the IGNYTE award.

“In the tradition of FIYAH, when we see a need going unfulfilled, we correct it. To that effect, we are thrilled to announce the creation of the Ignyte Awards series as part of the inaugural FIYAHCON event. The Awards seek to celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of the current and future landscapes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror by recognizing incredible feats in storytelling and outstanding efforts toward inclusivity of the genre.”


There is additional coverage at Locus and at Tor.com.

Most of the categories are ones common to other awards (Best Novel, Best Novella etc) but there are also some innovative categories such as:

  • Best in Creative Nonfiction
  • The Ember Award for Unsung Contributions to Genre
  • Community Award for Outstanding Efforts in Service of Inclusion and Equitable Practice in Genre

We are award nerds here, so it is really interesting to see how FIYAH are structuring them. Like lots of awards it is a two-stage process — pick nominees to be finalists, pick finalists to be winners. They’ve decided to go with a split jury/popular vote system:

  • Round one: finalists are chosen by the FIYAHCON staff, essentially acting as a jury.
  • Round two: an open no-cost online vote open to anybody. Voting will be a simple pick your favourite.

I think this is a smart choice. Having a jury led first round means the awards can avoid complex eligibility rules and curate a field of finalists that can reflect the kinds of works/creators that they want to reflect the ethos of the awards. All awards end up with their own kind of signature (even awards with a similar overlap of finalists like the Nebulas and the Hugos) but it can take a long time to establish that unique character. The nomination phase is also a weak point for people trying to game or disrupt awards, so curating the list of finalist also saves a lot of potential headaches.

This makes the second round a lot easier to run as open participation vote. Participation drives interest and engagement. People are more invested in finding out who won when they’ve had a chance to participate. Because the finalists are a curated choice, it means voting can be open but voters are likely to be self-selecting: people who aren’t familiar with the finalists are unlikely to vote whereas people who are familiar with them are more likely to vote. The system should help create it’s own pool of interested voters.

“Finalists will be announced Monday, August 17th, at which point we will open voting to the broader SFF community through September 11th. Winners will be announced the weekend of the convention.”


The award is free for nominees and voters but to cover costs for the trophy and shipping the trophies, FIYAHCON has asked for donations…which look like are now fully funded!

I really hope this works out well. I’m looking forward to seeing the finalists as well as seeing how the whole thing operates.