And onto the short stories! Like the novelettes, I’m going to make these short and sweet.
“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”, E. Lily Yu
Another author who I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. I need to start reading more short stories again, or at least making a rule to read the Year’s Best anthologies and not just let them gather dust on my shelf. This one just blew me away – it’s absolutely like nothing else I’ve ever read before. Amazing.
“The Homecoming”, Mike Resnick
This one wins for making me cry. I think that makes it a contender pretty much on the basis of this. Clearly, I am a reader who is motivated by emotion (in case no one has figured that out before), and if you make me feel something, especially in a short story, you’re damn well doing something right.
“Movement”, Nancy Fulda
And another one that made me cry. I don’t even have the words for how damn beautiful and heartbreaking and hopemaking this story is, all at one time.
“The Paper Menagerie”, Ken Liu
And another one that produced tears, dammit. I’d actually been meaning to read this one for ages and ages, since Jonathan Strahan talked it up on the Coode Street Podcast. I even bought the hard copy of F&SF it was published in, and then it kind of got lost on my shelves. I think I need to search out all of Liu’s fiction and mainline it for a while. And probably cry a hell of a lot. I am so glad that I got a supporting membership and the Hugo Packet, for nothing else than for making me read some of the authors that I’ve been meaning to read.
“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”, John Scalzi
This is one that just isn’t for me, I think. It’s well written and it’s clever and it deserves to be on the ballot, but I think against some of the emotional gut punches of the other stories, it fades a bit.
I feel like the short story ballot is as strong as, if not stronger, than the novellas (which is saying something). And I honestly don’t know where my vote is going to lie here. I think maybe The Paper Menagerie, but I’m really not sure. I see some rereading before I cast my vote here.
And the Hugos reading continues! I suspect that I’m only going to be blogging the novelettes and short stories, and not the other categories so much, due to other things needing my attention. I may be able to find the time for other categories, but we’ll see.
And so, the novelettes. I found this category to not be as strong generally as the novellas (but hell, just look at that novella lineup!). These are going to be short and sweet, just my general thoughts about these novelettes.
“The Copenhagen Interpretation”, Paul Cornell
I think this one just wasn’t for me. There was nothing bad about it, nothing that I can point a finger to and say why, but it just didn’t grab me on any level.
“Fields of Gold”, Rachel Swirsky
This was one of my favourite stories out of Eclipse Four (which is saying quite a lot, since that anthology was amazing. I’m becoming a massive fan of Swirsky’s work in general – I love her writing style and I seem to invariably find that the stories she tells resonate with me. This one is no different.
“Ray of Light”, Brad R. Torgersen
I don’t know what it is with my brain and this story – I keep on forgetting what the hell it was about, then I open it up and remember and then wonder why on earth I didn’t remember. Maybe it’s the title? Anyway, I adored this story, through and through. Not too crazy about the aliens in it, but they’re hardly the centre of the story. I love the idea of people trying to survive by living in the remaining heat at the bottom of the ocean. I love the hope that remains, no matter what. Definitely in contention for me.
“Six Months, Three Days”, Charlie Jane Anders
This one was really interesting – I love the way Anders plays around with how life would be if you could see the future (and see the future in different ways). But beyond the concept, it didn’t really grab me – I didn’t find myself empathising much with the characters, and I don’t really know why. I need to read it a few more times and ponder on it a bit.
“What We Found”, Geoff Ryman
This is another one that I need to reread, I think. There was nothing bad about this, and it damn well deserves to be nominated, but something about it just didn’t resonate for me. Definitely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, though. Just maybe not for me? I’m not sure.
For me, my voting is likely to lean towards Fields of Gold or Ray of Light. I’m honestly not sure where I’m going to go on this one, and I’ll have to do some rereading.
And onto the novellas nominated for the Hugos for 2012.
I read all of these on the Kindle, all of them from the Hugo packet apart from the Valente and the Grant, which I already owned (I also own the Valente in hard copy, which I am gleeful about. I had a few issues with the formatting of a couple of these on the Kindle, but they were ultimately readable. It’s a small quibble, and hey, the Hugo packet is provided for free, essentially, and the love. Not complaining, just putting it out there in case anyone is wondering.
Countdown by Mira Grant
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Newsflesh trilogy, for which this novella is a prequel. I was pretty excited to read it, and overall, I wasn’t disappointed. I don’t know how any voters who haven’t read the trilogy will fare with this one, since it is vastly enriched by the reading of the other books.
Basically, this novella relates some of the events that led to the Rising, where humanity and animals over a certain mass rose as zombies. The Newsflesh books are an awesome look at the potential the zombie outbreak has on humanity, and I loved the way that Grant incorporated the world of bloggers in the events post-Rising.
I don’t feel that this novella is as strong as the novels. One of the major strength of the other books are the protagonists, and here, the reader is given a variety of viewpoint characters (which would be very hard to relate to if you hadn’t read the other books). There are a lot of “aha!” moments which call back to events of the trilogy, and there’s a decent amount of stuff that’s genuinely heartwrenching.
I really enjoyed this one, but I feel that, standing on its own, it’s not strong enough to be a Hugo winner.
The Ice Owl, Carolyn Ives Gilman
This is the weakest story on the ballot, to my thinking. There is some genuinely beautiful stuff in here – the ice owl itself, and its story arc – but overall, it felt scattered and nothing captured me. I felt like there wasn’t consistency or conviction in the characters, and as such I didn’t feel invested in their stories.
There are some fascinating glimpses into the larger universe this takes part in, which just aren’t explored enough in the context of the story.
Not for me, but there are obviously people who see more in this story than I do, since it’s on the ballot.
Kiss Me Twice, Mary Robinette Kowal
Another of my favourite authors, who I am very happy to see on the ballot.
I loved a lot about this novella – I loved Metta herself, and I think the use of Mae West quotes and imagery for her was an inspired choice by Kowal. I liked Huang as protagonist, and even though the police procedural isn’t really my thing, I found myself really caught up in the plot.
I do feel like the ending let this one down a bit. I felt as though there was a bit too much luck involved in the resolution, which detracted from what otherwise was a wonderful and strong story.
In another ballot with different competition, this would probably be a winner for me.
The Man Who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson
Here’s where I have to admit to some sacrilege and admit that this is the first Kij Johnson story I’ve read. I’m just not someone who tends to seek out short stories in general, which is one of the reasons I was really keen to get a supporting membership and get hold of the Hugo packet.
This one really surprised me. The plot is really pretty basic: man builds a bridge over the mist (populated by fishes and Big Ones, who are clearly lethal and angry and gloriously enigmatic). I honestly thought this one would totally bore me, and I was completely wrong.
I am someone who reads for character, and this novella gave it to me. I really liked Kit as protagonist, and I adored Rasali. I even liked the end of this one, though I can imagine that it would be frustrating and anti-climactic for some readers.
Definitely up there in competition for my vote.
The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, Ken Liu
And here is where I have to admit that this is the first Ken Liu story I’ve read. I have a handful of his sitting waiting on the Kindle and in various publications, I’ve just not gotten around to it (despite many people enthusing about his work, and justifiably so).
I don’t think I can say that I enjoyed this one. This novella is a punch in the gut. It is amazingly written, with the documentary style coming across flawlessly, and it is a very realistic look at what could be done with time travel, and the motivations behind people’s choices to travel back.
This one should definitely come with a trigger warning, and I know several people who wouldn’t be able to read this because of the war crime content (I have a pretty strong tolerance for such, and this one pretty much had be revolted/weeping/despairing in general).
I’m torn on this one, because it is amazing, but a lot of the amazing and wrenching content comes from the history and not the science fiction elements.
Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente
The novella category is one that really spoiled me, including three of my favourite recent authors. And this novella pretty much propelled Valente to the status of being one of my favourite authors of all time (as well as being an incredibly awesome person in general).
And tangent – if I ever get a cover like this one, I will be an extremely happy author. Happily, the story within is just as awesome as the cover.
I can understand that Valente’s lyrical style probably isn’t for everyone, but I adore it, and it’s especially amazing to see her writing science fiction in that same style.
This novella is just incredibly beautiful and complex, like the jewels that Elefsis begins “life” as.
I think this is a pretty damn amazing list of nominees, and all of them would be deserving winners in their own right. For me, the race is between Countdown, The Man Who Bridged the Mist and Silently and Very Fast, but I think it is the latter that truly deserves to win.
On the weekend we went and saw Snow White and the Huntsman. My overall feeling leaving the cinema was that I was sad in general, because this movie had a chance to do something amazing with the Snow White story, and just failed in general.
I didn’t hate the movie, and there were a few parts that I truly enjoyed. I just thought it should have been more.
I’m going to cut this, since I am likely going to talk spoilers.
Stephanie Gunn’s “Ghosts” is another impressive offering in a now-rarely seen SF subgenre: life in an underground shelter after the bomb. Nadya and Mater are teenagers who have the mixed blessing of being fertile in a world where women give birth to genetic monsters and there are no doctors. Nadya’s father insists that she produce an offspring with Mater, but she has a different goal in mind. Visceral and concrete, like the bunker featured herein, “Ghosts” is among my favourite stories in Epilogue.
I am stupidly happy to be in this anthology, and totally chuffed that Guy enjoyed my story.
I don’t remember taking this photo. I look through many of the photos from the first year of my son’s life, and I don’t remember them. There aren’t many photos of me from that time, and in the ones that exist, I don’t even really look like I’m there.
In retrospect, I was a prime candidate for the development of PND. I have a long history of clinical depression and anxiety, though I had been stable and off meds for a year prior to falling pregnant. And here’s another thing that we don’t (or aren’t supposed to) talk about: I wanted a girl. Now, I wouldn’t give my little boy up for anything, but when we had the ultrasound that revealed we were having a boy, all I felt was disappointment. I’d always imagined myself being a mother to a little girl, never a little boy. I know that people will say that it was an unreasonable thing, that I was just lucky to have a healthy kid, and these things are true. But it doesn’t change that emotional reaction.
So, how did I get to a point where I can say that I am truly past the PND?
1. Being honest.
Admitting that you’re not blissfully happy as a mother is a hard thing, especially if on the surface, everything is okay. Your kid is healthy, even if they don’t sleep well or have feeding issues. But it is the most important thing to do. Do not hide that you are struggling. Not from yourself or your family or medical team. And if they do not believe you, then tell someone else. And keep going until you get the help you need.
Find statistics about PND and throw them at people. Print out blogs, read books. People need to know the reality of this.
2. Ask for help.
You need support. Talk to your doctor, talk to a therapist, talk to your partner and your family. They cannot know that you need help unless you ask them. And sometimes, I think for partners who are just as overwhelmed, they can’t always see that you’re really struggling, that it isn’t just the baby blues.
It’s not going to be everyone’s choice, but I believe that anti-depressants saved my life. And yes, you can take anti-depressants and breastfeed (Kellymom is a great resource for the uses of medication in breastfeeding). I also took sleeping tablets, just so I could switch off my brain and get some sleep when I lay down at night. I was worried that I would sleep through my kid crying, but I never did – the drugs were a low enough dose that I could get up, feed him, and when I got back to bed, I went to sleep straight away.
4. Don’t stop doing things.
I think this is one of the most important things, and one of the things that I see people get caught on. Other people come in and help with the baby and the house to help out a mother who is depressed, the mother is given time to rest and eventually ends up doing very little. Get help, by all means, but you need to keep doing things – giving up everything just feeds depression.
I didn’t do my housework for the first months of my son’s life. My mother stepped in and helped there, and if she hadn’t been able, I would have gotten a cleaner in. Meals were pretty much thrown together from whatever. But I was the one who took care of feeding my son, who changed his nappy most of the time, who did the laundry. Even when I felt like hell and like I couldn’t do anything that made him happy, I could at least take care of his basic needs.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all boob nazi on you. But I think if you can medically continue breastfeeding (and I know it’s not an option for everyone), it is one of the best things you can do to help deal with PND. Even when I felt like my son hated me (and I did), I could still feed him, if nothing else.
And it was hard. It was really hard work feeding him for at least the first four months. I got a lot of help and support with this, and I am so glad that I pushed through with it. I hated having to get up every 1-2 hours to feed him overnight, but I did it and I am proud.
If your kid will take a bottle, then expressing and getting someone to take one feed overnight is awesome. If you decide that formula is the way to go, then awesome – your kid is still getting fed. We offered Liam formula several times when I was completely exhausted from getting no sleep, but he would never take it. He also never took a bottle of pumped milk, except maybe once. So I didn’t get that break, but just accepted it and kept going.
Yeah, I know, this one is totally contradictory. But if you can manage to eke out a decent amount of sleep, you will feel so much more able to cope.
Due to the kid who wouldn’t take a bottle, I was bound to night feedings until Liam night weaned (which was somewhere around 18 months, which is when he first slept through the night). Instead, I got someone to watch him for an hour or two during the day (my mother again, who was an angel) while I napped. At first, the anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t sleep, but I lay down anyway. Once I went on medication, the sleeping thing got much easier.
We also had Liam sleeping in our room for the first six months, which made night feeds easier. Co-sleeping wasn’t for us, but if you can do it safely, then it can be awesome. Sleeping situations are very much a matter of what works for every person, I feel, and it’s worth trying everything to see what works.
The husband and I, over time, evolved a pretty good strategy for making sure that we both got sleep. By nature, I go to bed early, and he stays up later, and we took advantage of that – he would resettle Liam until he went to bed (if he could without a feed being needed, of course, but he always tried) and once the husband was in bed, I was the one who got up – which was much easier, having had a decent chunk of sleep.
I also pretty much napped when Liam napped – I would often stay in bed with him for an hour or two after the husband went to work.
Because everything wasn’t enough fun, we also had a kid who hated to sleep unless he was being held. Thankfully, over time, he grew out of this, but while he was a baby, it was really hard. I fretted about it a lot, wondering if he would ever learn to sleep on his own. It would have made things easier if I’d just accepted it.
Babywearing saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Liam would nap, especially in a back carry, and I could still do things around the house. I often bounced on a fit ball and worked on the laptop, or hung up the washing with him on my back. It would almost always settle him. And there’s something gorgeous about having this little bundle tucked up against you.
And yes, I know that exercise is the last thing you want to think about when you’re exhausted. But it is one of the things that has been actively the most useful in fighting depression for me.
When Liam was young, I tried to get out with him in the pram every day for a walk. Getting fresh air helped, the movement helped, and more often than not, Liam would sleep, which helped even more.
As he’s gotten older and less tolerant of the pram, I’ve evolved a different system – I drop Liam off with my mother for a half hour, and I get out on my own to exercise. It means that I get fresh air, exercise and some time alone (which I need, as an introvert).
9. Working, or doing something that is purely yours.
This is one of the things I wish someone had told me before I even fell pregnant – to make sure that you have some time every day that is *yours*. To make sure that you don’t sublimate everything into the role of mother/carer.
There are things that are me: I write, I read, I like to play with sparkly makeup. The latter may seem like a foolish thing, but I love being able to wear colour and to see someone who looks like me when I look in the mirror.
I don’t think I wrote much at all for the first year of Liam’s life, something that I regret now. I think if we have another child, I’ll be trying to eke out writing time no matter what. It is something that keeps me sane, that keeps me being me, no matter what. Other people I know return to work because that’s what keeps them sane. I know many, many mothers whose whole lives revolve around their kids, and if that works for you, then great. I also know many who resent it.
The husband and I have also made a point of getting out every once in a while without the kid in tow – for us, this usually involves going to the movies. And I am aware of the privilege that we have in doing this – we can afford to, and we’re lucky enough to have grandparents who are always happy to watch the kid for a few hours. I know not everyone is so lucky.
Some days that’s all you can do. And you know what? That’s okay. If you get to the end of the day, and you’re all alive, with your basic needs met, that can be a triumph.
I didn’t really understand emotionally how PND affected women (and men) until I went through it myself. Having been there, I can see all too easily how the best option can appear to be suicide or killing your children. I don’t believe that I was ever a danger to Liam. I know that I was a danger to myself. I got help, and I got helped, and I am lucky, and my heart breaks for those who aren’t as lucky.