(My pocket square and pin for the evening. Because Marguerite has amazing taste and I am in fact, so fancy.)
The Kitschies were n one of those rare nights in this field that brings you actual honest to God hope. The winners are all great and, as Kitschies Sky Marshal Glen Mehn pointed out, the shortlists are too.
I’m fundamentally a pretty optimistic cat, especially where narrative is concerned and it was great to see that optimism absolutely vindicated. I had the distinct pleasure of announcing the Gold Kitschie winner which meant I was there to witness the best acceptance speech since Whale Fall. One that started with Alex partially falling out of their seat and yelling ‘Are YOU FUCKING WITH ME?!’ and ended with ‘Fuck Thatcher’.
Prior to that, I got to deliver a speech talking about the shortlist. It went down really well and, as requested by several people, here it is.
The Gold Tentacle is awarded for Best Debut. To complete any creative endeavour is difficult but to do so with a voice that’s all your own at the same time as telling a story well is as close to impossible as you can get. Five authors managed it, and the Gold shortlist should be essential reading for anyone interested in the current state of genre fiction. Here’s what we found.
Age of Assassins, RJ Barker (Orbit). The sequel Blood of Assassins is also out now.
Girton Club-Foot is the sort of young man who your eyes pass over. And that’s exactly what he, and his Master, are banking on. By turns funny, tender, tragic and surprising Age of Assassins explores what happens when you send an assassin (And his Master) to catch an assassin. And the price they both pay for taking the job at all.
As Girton and you investigate further, you both discover jfamilial secrets, clashes of class and obligation and above all that, an exploration of what life is like for the overlooked and of how chronic pain can change, but not control, its sufferers.
How Saints Die, Carmen Marcus (Harville Secker)
Carmen Marcus’ poetry is shot through with the imagery of an England gone rich and strange. This is the country as a place on the borderlands. After all, an island is nothing but shoreline and shorelines are nothing but the terminus between here and there. The known and the unknown. Natural and supernatural. Child and adult.
Those terminal spaces are where Ellie Fleck lives. Growing up in a North Yorkshire town, Ellie is smart enough to know that other people think she’s too smart. Her father is bowed low under the weight of a pressure she can’t understand, her mother is an elemental figure divided between rationality and illness and her favourite game is How Saints Die.
Ellie is a child with the pressures and horrors of an adult bearing down on her. Ellie is the centre of a storm of high strangeness, a polite tornado of Forteana that, like all the best inexplicable phenomena, we nod at and cross to the other side of the street when it gets too close. Ellie is readier for what’s coming than she knows. But everyone around her is not.
How Saints Die touches on everything from the movies of Ken Loach to the notional English town of Hookland in its careful, almost abstract exploration of adolescence in extremis. Unflinchingly eloquent, funny and clever it’s a return home for anyone who ever grew up strange in a town too small for them.
Hob Ravani’s problems start before her Uncle is killed. But they don’t end there. Hob lives, not in a Company Town, but on a Company World. TransRift own the planet and everyone on it. But not everyone on the planet got the memo. And not everyone on the planet is fully human.
Alex Acks’ debut is the solution to an equation that seemed unsolvable; how to do a space western without endlessly, and damagingly, invoking Firefly.
JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven is one of the most audacious novellas you’ll read. It’s a single story, which is also readable as part of a pair which will also shortly gain a sequel. Three stories, three different entry points to the same complex, untidy and amazing world.
This is a novella placed on the bleeding edge of the singularity. Set, to go all trailer voice for a moment, in a world where magic and electricity are connected it’s a story about the complex strands of individuality, personal choice, societal pressure and massive technological change. These issues and those of gender identity as societal expectation AND OR personal choice as well as the occasional dinosaur are something lesser authors would wrestle with. Yang dances with them.
The result is a story that feels epic in scope and personal in focus. One where innovation, personal and cultural, is a full contact sport and where the readers, and the characters, are both in the eye of the storm.
Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska (tor.com)
Maths is not the first place you’d expect to find hope, or heroism for that matter. But Liz Ziemska’s Mandelbrot the Magnificent finds not only those, but the common ground between science and faith that has eluded humanity since the first chimp threw a bone up into the air and was disappointed Stanley Kubrick didn’t use it for a cross fade.
The fictionalized story of the early life of Benoit Mandlebrot, it shows us the structure beneath the apparently structureless. The rise of fascism, the collision between familial loyalty and personal safety. The horrors of being both big and clever. All of these are wrapped up in Benoit’s dive into the world beneath the world and in Liz’s elegant, minimalist, compassionate prose. Plus there are diagrams.
The worst truisms are also the truest and there are few truer than this; picking winners from a field this strong was very difficult. These are all extraordinary books by authors who lift and progress the field simply by being in it. This is the future and I speak for all the Judges when I say the future is far brighter, more inclusive varied and FUN than any of us could have dared hope when this process began. All these authors deserve to be proud. All these authors deserve to be read.
But only one can win. And thankfully this isn’t Highlander so that process isn’t being decided by a sword duel in a 1980s car park. And so, after intensive debate and discussion, it is our great pleasure to announce that the 2018 Golden Tentacle goes to Alex Acks for Hunger Makes The Wolf.
And then there was applause, swearing and upholstered trophies! Yaaaaay!