Hello and welcome to everyone's favorite awards that no one asked for, the Sippys! So far I've managed to ship my favorite relationships, cower in fear at my favorite scares, and totally not cry over my favorite tragic and/or beautiful stories of 2015. And there's still two more categories of Sippys to go! This week is all about the stories that get the heart pumping, that made me lean forward in my seat and read a little faster. Because fourth up is--
The "Time to Run Some Red Lights" Sippy
for Excellent Action! in Short SFF
There are those who complain that short SFF these days are, well, boring. Too luminous, too poetic, too metaphorical. There are those who pine for the days of the pulp science fictions that prioritized action and plot over subtlety or meaning. To those people I ask: what the fuck are you reading? I have seen zero indication that stories now are any less intense or visceral than those written at any point in the past (that these people who complain about the decline of compelling short SFF often identify as fans of Lovecraft...confuses me). And stories today use action in subtle and profound ways, to entertain of course but also to challenge and to goad, to complicate and to reveal some ugly truths. And today I'm focusing on stories that bring the action, the battles big and small, that manage to take a breakneck pace and a visual flare and craft something deeply personal. And the winners are...
THE BIG SIP:
Creepy magical monster taking children in a beautifully rendered Chicago? Yes please! The character work is solid, the action visceral and sharp and powerful, and the story is an accomplishment of action done right. The struggle is gripping, the mood grim and foggy, the ending a mix of victory and tragedy, and it all just works. Even a year after it was published it stands out as a story that condenses so much of what I like about magic realism and urban fantasy, the magical bordering on the mundane and the way that fantastic brings with it an awe but also a looming and terrifying danger.
THE REGULAR SIPS:
Forget fantasy football, this story introduces the idea of an arena in which all the characters of fable are handed a knife and let go. Again and again they kill each other, and again and again are brought back. The story is a battle royale of fairy tales, filled with blood and hate and love and longing, all the while the mystery grows as to what's happening, what it all means. The action is violent and shocking and imminently suited to the story and it's message of oppression and erasure, and makes for a cutting social commentary.
Any story that makes me think "sort of like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but better" is a story that I will not hesitate recommending. The story is told with an irresistible gravity and force, a setting rich with subtlety and magic and class and depth. The characters are charming, their loss and drive palpable, and there is a cinematic quality to the fights, to the action, to the world. A duel around a rising moon ripe with explosions and death and poison, the story would have sold me on the action alone, and yet there is more going on, pairing action with affirmative action, and the result is a story that burns with fun and possibility.
"And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Dead" by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed - February) (My Review)
This story could have ended up in a few different categories, because at its heart it's as much about relationships as about action, and it's an innovative story when it comes to voice and pacing (and swearing), which put it in the running for next week's Sippy as well. But I think, more than anything, what I liked about the story was how it handled the action, the struggle of Rhye against herself, against her past, against how much she's changed. It's compelling and it's funny and it's lovingly brutal. It's sensual in its violence, and it's a fast and entertaining read that jumps from the screen and managed to tug at my heartstrings as well.
"The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild" by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld - January and March) (My Reviews)
I think this is the weirdest of the stories on this list, a surreal journey across many different lands, at times ponderous and yet, in the end, carried by a solid action, a pervasive movement of Violet toward the Red Country. The journey is sped by tragedy, by the fluid logic of the countries that Violet passes through. With a painting and a Sorrow and a stubborn resolve, Violet is a character that won me over, not afraid to fight and not afraid to run and always just a step ahead of disaster, a step ahead of the Emperor who wants to stop her quest. It's a heartbreaking story but also an unheartbreaking one and it can very much be both!