The shortlist for this year’s James White Award has been finalised and can now be announced.
The shortlisted stories are:
- Academic by Jonathan Bloxsom
- All the Distances by Dan Campbell
- Automatic Diamanté by Philip Suggars
- Every Useless Parameter by Darren Goossens
- You First Meet the Devil At A Church Fete by Shannon Fay
- The Well-Deceived by JS Richardson
The winner of the competition (who will received £300 and have their story published in Interzone) and the runner-up (who will, this year, receive £100) will be announced at EightSquaredCon, the 2013 Eastercon, in Bradford at 7:00pm on Sunday, 31 March as part of the BSFA Award Ceremony. The winner will be announced here shortly after the award ceremony concludes.
The Organisers would like to thank the judges, Aliette de Bodard, Ian McDonald and the Interzone editors Andy Cox and Andrew Hedgecock for their time and consideration and TTA Press, publishers of Interzone and Black Static, and the British Science Fiction Association for their continued support of the competition. We would also like to thank Colum Paget whose generosity allowed the JWA to increase this year’s award fund.
This year’s competition received 201 entries from writers from all over the world. Entries are read anonymously. The final shortlist consists of two women and four men. Amongst the final six are three UK-based writers, one Australian, one American and one Canadian.
Below you can read the opening passages from each of the shortlisted stories.
The kraken speaks and I try to follow. It throbs and ebbs and staccato spasms on my knollenorgans and yet it is meters away, stark in the background, a ton of alien flesh. Its speech is between us. I can follow the cascade symbol by symbol but the deeper logic is lost in the flood. This is mathematics, formalised, legible to the computers, and their job to translate. All I can do is bathe in it.
The thesis is finished and the kraken stills. Even so it pulses with electric motion. Tentacles and vesicles. Digestion, circulation, perception, cognition. All incompatible with ours. Beside it is its library, a stunted and bulbous thing that still has family resemblance to its master, and at the edge of the void a jetfish of clearly different stock. Without metal, the kraken have bred their tools. The rest is Stefano, the ice roof, the water and the void.
Stefano’s heartbeat quivers closer and closer. “Nonye. Did you get that?” he says.
“Only the words,” I say. “I can’t parse mathematics at that speed. Does it make sense?”
“I’ll need some time to work through it. But the computer doesn’t show any red flags.”
I tell the kraken we have received and understood its words. This kraken is one that visits us often to exchange thought. The others call it Anthropologist. I prefer to think of its real name, which cannot be rendered phonetically.
All the Distances
“Mommy L!” Frederica shrieks at me. A pounding of feet, a jouncing of braids, and she’s in my arms again. I breathe in the berry-shampoo-and-clean-soap smell of her and know I’m almost home.
The rest of the crowd parts around us in the terminal. I’m sure we’re in the way, making folks bunch to each side, delaying someone in getting to the next off-planet. But I don’t care. This is the only place to be.
With reluctance, I begin to let go, to set Freddi down, but she clings tighter, hitching her knees up over my hips. Worry clenches me in place with a brief memory of having said goodbye, of her tears one month ago, the tantrum, her accusation… But she just inhales once, sighs with contentment and exclaims, “You smell like space!”
Laughing, I set her down and take her hand. “I bet I smell more like dirty socks and musty teddy bears.”
“No,” she says, very serious. “You smell like space, like you always do.”
“Well, I bet Mama R will be happier after she’s made sure I get a good bath. Come on, let’s go find her.”
Rhonda is leaning against the wall, a little ways further along–arms crossed, eyes crinkled, grin twitching her mouth with bemusement. “Welcome home, Lizzie-love,” she says just as I reach her.
My heart skips a beat. All in one glance, I feel that old freefall sensation of fresh infatuation–and yet I know, I just know, in the pit of my stomach, that something is wrong.
I have lots of dreams [sequences of involuntary sleep images]. I’ve told them all to my therapist, Derrida. He is a specialist in withdrawal cases. I am still learning about people. I want to like them. 10024. I want them to like me too, though I worry [anxiety, fear] that Derrida and I are not communicating well.
For example, he might ask me this sort of question:
“Tell me what can you see?”
And he might be holding up a piece of paper covered in an inkblot. I would know this to be something called a Rorschach test [Herman Rorschach, Swiss psychologist, personality profiling]. I also know that these are anything but random blots. They are full of patterns. People, you see, find it very difficult to make things that are truly random. As far as I can tell, your brains make you pattern recognition machines: this face happy (10006), this face sad (10005), this face worried (10013).
While I am looking at the pattern, I might notice tiny pimples of sweat on Derrida’s forehead. I might see his brow tightening toward his lump of wrinkling olfactory flesh. I want to please Derrida. I really do, but all I see is a blob on a page. Then, oddly, I might want to use the word fucking [Sexual intercourse. Profanity. Offensive]. 10032.
“Blood. And people fucking?” I might say to Derrida.
He would say nothing.
“I know,” I would continue, “I am just a collection of metal and composites that supports a Penrose-Hamerof field. How could I think that I am a fertility god?”
Every Useless Parameter
In two weeks it will all be over. Reassignment. Failure. He does not want to go. He closes his eyes for a second, seeing the inscriptions like neon signs on the insides of his eyelids.
‘Set one,’ he says, and opens his pale blue eyes to see those same inscriptions on the wallscreen.
It might as well be set two, three, five or ninety — he can’t read any of them. Hell, he can hardly make the Irnu understand him. Two years of study and he knows maybe a hundred words — and they change from day to day. But he has to try. The planet’s whole history might be right here, incised into two hundred stone cubes half buried in the rainforest. Each as big as a house, monolithic, and crowded with incomprehensible wisdom. Each weighs two and a half thousand tons and comes from a cliff face over fifty kilometres away. And Johan calls these people primitives.
He might as well go and talk to Irnu-Sho. His most recent approach looks promising — for what that’s worth now.
The screen flicks to a picture of the Irnu village, and then to a composite image of Sho’s hut. A ghost wavers like smoke across the screen. Wynne pulls on his boots and steps into an evening as crisp as the ones he remembers, or maybe thinks he remembers, from his youth in Lithgow. Livia’s sun sits on the horizon like a fat blood orange.
You First Meet the Devil At A Church Fete
You first meet the devil at a church fete.
“Hello Stuart,” he says. He looks and sounds like a normal Liverpudlian but when you look at him you get that pinched feeling in your chest like when you see a dead animal in the street or the veterans with their missing limbs or your dad fighting with your mum.
“Who are you?” You know but you’re not willing to name him.
The man smiles.
“Give us a fag, would ya?”
It’s weird having an adult ask you for a smoke. You hold your pack out towards him. The devil takes a cigarette with a nod and a smile.
“Atta boy. In return I’ll give you a little tip.” He takes a drag on the cigarette. You hadn’t even seen him light it. When he exhales the smoke claws at the air. “Today is going to be a big day. Today things…change. Things start.”
Despite the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach you smile. Your band had performed pretty well today, but that hardly seems like a world-changing event. Not enough for the devil to come all the way to Liverpool.
The devil sighs.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” he says.
“What do you want?” You know it’s a bad idea to ask things of the devil but you figure your question’s a safe one.
“So as you can see,” Dr Shleiner intones, “The new neurons demonstrate a complete arborisation-–that is, they have a good amount of new connections with themselves and the surviving neurons. It’s a great integration, more than we expected.”
“Terrific,” I mutter, probably not sounding as enthused as I should.
“Of course,” she continues, sounding slightly bashful, “Your connectome is obviously not the same as it was.”
“Of course,” I agree, vaguely. Earlier she was saying something about how I was lucky because I still had a ‘skeleton’ of neural pathways remaining after my illness, with no area completely destroyed, but I got lost ages ago. She zooms out so that I can see an overview of the whole thing; a dizzying mass of shaded wires that split into infinitely finer strands, invisible at this magnification. Helpfully, the display flashes red for the old version of my brain, and green for the new one. A swell of nausea roils up in my stomach, as if it is protesting against its fellow organ.
“Well anyway, that’s great,” I say hastily, pulling the VR goggles off and forestalling hearing more stuff I don’t want to hear and wouldn’t understand if I did. Besides, I think I have just made myself seasick looking at my own brain.