Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Alyssa Wong creeps me out

Two weeks on, and Alyssa Wong's still creeping me out. The four short stories included in my Hugo voters' packet to support her nomination for Best New Writer* (AKA the John W Campbell Award) are formidable exercises in body and transformation horror. They're several shades grimmer than I usually care to go, but she's darn good at what she does.

Hungry Daughters Of Starving Mothers, The Fisher Queen, Santos de Sampaguitas and Scarecrow (all available online at the links given) take in vampires of the id, mermaids of the Mekong delta, spirit magic in the Philippines and homophobic bullying in small town America respectively. 

And as you might guess from that brief outline, Wong's protagonists and settings are generally not those offered by your typical genre yarn. Whether geographically or psychologically, we're outside white, straight America here.

I tend to find this is good for me - as product of white, straight Britain it stops me reading lazily through the prism of my own life experience and preconceptions. And in this case the pay off in the form of Wong's writing certainly makes the imaginative leap worthwhile. These stories have stuck with me in a way that many don't.

Maybe it's the short story format or the feminist (not to mention LGBT) sensibility with which Wong writes, maybe it's the underplayed brutality of the stories, but there's also something here reminscent of Tiptree. I know as I type that this might be seen as a lazy comparison to roll out, but having only recently read Tiptree it feels relevant and is is high praise indeed in Mothworld. 

My only (very constructive) criticism would be that Wong is trying to compress a lot into her work - they do read like pocket novels. It could be that longer-form writing would give her characters more room to breathe and the decisions on which her stories turn more weight.

That said, this is a very strong body of work to be coming out of the gates with so early in her career. Three of these stories have won awards, with Hungry Daughters winning last year's Nebula for best short story. For this reader, all of them are comfortably better than anything in last year's Hugo short fiction categories.

So, with one more nominee on the Campbell shortlist to read, it looks like it's between Wong and Andy Weir for my first place vote. And for all Weir's deserved success, I'm leaning towards Wong as the deserved winner and better writer.

*Wong is the only nominee on the Campbell shortlist not on the Rabid Puppy slate.

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