I don’t imagine I will ever get more comfortable doing this, so I may as well do it sooner in the season than later. The season is *sigh* of nominating and voting for science fiction and fantasy awards, which is incredible, because it feels like the last season only just got over. But Nebula Award nominations have just opened, Locus Award nominations will possibly open in January, Hugo Award nominations will possibly open in February, and… those are the only ones I remember right now. So this is the time of the year to re-read the best works of science fiction and fantasy you read this year, take recommendations for more works that you haven’t read earlier, and… this is the hardest part for me: talk about your own publications from the year so that others may take them into consideration while nominating or voting for awards.
I really don’t talk about deeply personal things online, and my fiction is usually deeply personal. For a long time I didn’t try to publish my fiction, because I wasn’t emotionally prepared to receive other people’s reactions or even their indifference to those vulnerable parts of my life. Publishing fiction feels exposing and devastating, in a way publishing nonfiction never has for me.
This year I published two stories, and more than half of me is actively cringing from writing about their award eligibility. I don’t want to be in this race. But writing this post also means a few other people may read those stories, and I… I’d like that, won’t I? (You can see how I’m gently coaxing that reluctant half of my brain here. It’s easy, brain. Everyone writes these posts—it’s more good form than seeking unnecessary attention, promise. Think of it less of as a race and more of as a party—you show up, and then you have fun.)
I’m not sure that last line worked very well. That part of my brain does not like going to parties. (It probably avoids parties only slightly less than races.) I have always enjoyed award eligibility seasons of the past, when I didn’t have to participate them. A lot of new stories from the year are brought back into attention so it’s a reader’s delight. I suppose as soon as I can get done with this post, I can go back to reading great stories from other writers. Yeah, now that sounds like an incentive.
So here we go:
1. The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall (6094 words, Strange Horizons)
Eligible for: Short fiction/story at the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy Awards
This story took me four years to write, mostly because of the personal aspects of it. It’s not an entirely primary world but it’s close enough, and the characters are the kind of people I grew up around–rural, lower-caste people from India who don’t often get written in stories as anything but the miserable “other.” There’s a sludgy, bedrock kind of misery in this story as well, but I like to think it’s a story about resilience and hope. It was a hard-to-write story, but I needed to write it, and publish it, to remind myself why I write in the first place.
Like some reviewers have remarked, there aren’t many core fantastic elements in this story. There’s no magic, nothing that couldn’t potentially happen in this world, so it’s just a secondary world where some things are different. For me, I think, the shape of these characters’ lives and potentials is different, because poor, uneducated, always reviled people like that don’t often see a lot of potential for themselves in the world. From their perspective much of the world is fantastic, just because those things didn’t exist in their worldview until then. The city in this story is a mostly regular city (it’s a slightly less regular city in some of my other stories, but all these stories are standalone), but to the narrator it’s a fantasy adventure landscape with strange, unknown potentials. I needed to write that; needed to see if I could.
Mondal’s writing is lovely, and there’s a strong emotional core to the story. It speaks to the role women are often expected to take, but also the genuine and fierce love that can be found in that role. The story also explores the balance between adaptation and cultural assimilation, and keeping tradition alive, and what it means to be home—to have a home, to build a home, or to find one. Binu’s mother’s strength comes through in all her choices, and she’s a fascinating character, both in her relationship with others, and in her rediscovery of herself.
Another take on aging appears in “The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall” by Mimi Mondal. A mother follows her son to the city after they’re pushed out of their arboreal home in India. While others of their tribesmen thrive, her son falls in with a bad crowd and disappears. Spending her nights in the treetops looking for him, his mother lands work in various households and kitchens. Looking for her son, she eventually finds more of herself. A classic immigrant story brought to life in vivid prose.
Mondal’s story is a reminder that not all narratives have to be about big acts of resistance and the overthrow of oppressors. Survival is itself powerful. A sad yet beautiful story of resilience, change, and survival.
2. So It Was Foretold (1000 words, Fireside Magazine)
Eligible for: Short fiction/story at the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy Awards
A flash story I wrote last year in just two days of intense thought, and first read at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts before I submitted it to Fireside Magazine. It’s a tiny story with most of the worldbuilding in the background. I don’t know if a story so short is a worthy contender for awards, but I was incredibly touched by some of the reviews, so I’ll quote them anyway.
Damn. This one is powerful, emotional, beautifully written and full of rage and loss and grief and refusal to give in, be forgotten, let the stories of one’s history and ancestors die untold. Mondal delivers a powerhouse narrative in few words and it will haunt you long after you read the last lines.
[T]he story, for me, follows her burning that away in order to reach a place where true freedom is actually possible. Where she doesn’t have the baggage she had been carrying around. Where she can be anybody, unbound by the names and rules that marginalized her. And it’s a punchy story and a fine read!
I have strong, yet delicate feelings about this story. It’s a sensitive subject to write about, but one that must be written about all the same. The author is Dalit, which I confess I knew very little about before reading this. Still, as someone whose Ojibwe grandfather was forced into Christian schools when he was a child, I found my very spirit aching as I read along. It was all too familiar of a tale. It’s something that shouldn’t be relatable, but is clearly still a major struggle for many, many people. Given Mondal’s background, it’s clearly an issue she feels strongly about, and I’m glad she wrote on it. It made for a powerful story.
The writing itself, the language used, was concise, clear, cohesive, controlled. There’s a lot of emotion behind it–the fiery soul is there, passionate and strong, but just like the protagonist in this tale, it holds back right until the very end.
One aspect I strongly enjoyed was perhaps how little detail the readers are actually given. Because of its ambiguity, it is more identifiable to more people, or so I’d like to believe. Actually, I can’t think of any part of this story that I didn’t enjoy. The ending was, perhaps neither wondrous nor amazing, but it was most certainly fitting. It was good. Like the rest of the story, it was earnest.
Overall, I think this one is a 5 out of 5.
This story by Mimi Mondal is a luminous tale of destruction and escape; of leaving but finding nowhere home. It’s beautiful, but not for the faint hearted.
Read This: For a short piece about a past that is gone
Don’t Read This: If overblown strangeness is not for you
So that will be all of the awkward task of talking about myself, and I’ll now go back to reading and cheering on other people’s stories. Hope your holiday season is filled with warmth, delicious food, and lots of exciting tales around the fire.
ETA: A small note on award nominations for those of my readers who don’t know. The Locus Awards are voted online from anywhere in the world, there is no charge, and there will be a page published on the website of the Locus Magazine when they open in January. The Hugo Awards are voted online or by paper ballot from anywhere in the world; voting eligibility is the purchase of a Supporting Membership to the relevant year’s Worldcon, this year being the Dublin Worldcon 2019. The Nebula Awards are voted by members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are different criteria for being eligible to vote for some other awards, but this is off the top of my head. I may update this post later.