Review: Ignyte Award – Short Story Nominees

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The Ignyte Awards (created by FIYAHCON to shine a light on the vibrancy and diversity of spec fic) are my favorite awards, and short fiction is probably my favorite thing. What better way to spend my time than reading through what I was sure were going to stories that fired on all cylinders? And boy, was my certainty validated. My thoughts on all these masterful, deservedly nominated stories are below.

Center of the Universe (Nadia Shammas) is centered, of sorts, on Abigail who’s in a simulation in which she’s a real human and everyone else is virtual. But the story is not a simple exercise in solipsism. There are simulated people who vie to be seen—to exist under her gaze. And that existence is eventually seized through drastic measures. It’s a unique and fluid premise in which solipsism exists but the narrator is in the periphery of it—a premise that could convolute and crumble from a lesser writer. This is a story that kept me captivated – gaze locked on its words – through its pain. But also, its beauty, its poetry, and the sympathetic struggle of attaining meaning. While reading, it quite easily became the center of my universe.

Delete Your First Memory For Free (Kel Coleman) showcases the bumps in the road that anxiety presents with a story that is antithetically smooth. When Devin and their friends use technology that takes away specific, non-vital memories, their relationships start to change. Kel Coleman writes with such vigor that their writing style smooths over a lot. Not so different from how the developing themes of the story smooths over some emotionally charged situations. Additionally, the nuances in the interpersonal interactions with just about every character were so rich and fully-formed. This is a vital story to many people whose small enemies can feel as cumbersome as their major ones. It might be so instructive and critical to someone, that the memory of reading it would be hard to extract.

If the Martians Have Magic (PDjèlí Clark) offers an engaging story, but most importantly, it offers a WORLD that felt lived in and thoroughly explored, all while telling a pacy story. Martians are widely persecuted by humans–pigeonholed negatively because of some bad seeds in the group. But there’s a way to save those who mean no harm, and the protagonist Minnette is going to try her best to fulfill it in a rollicking, entertaining fashion. Martians do have magic, and everyone who’s read anything PDjèlí Clark has written probably knows he has a lot of it, too.

The Fifth Horseman (Martin C. Cahill) starts with The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse after they’ve “apocalypized” the world. But they have a sibling that they don’t know too well—the fifth horseman. And that horseman has someone additional work to do. That work is described in beautiful, lyrical prose that shows off the beauty of the world – as ephemeral as it is – along with a sympathetic backstory for the fifth horseman. There’s a sense of distance with her due to her circumstances, but there’s also some warmth that’s beautifully paired with the writing style that finds the beauty in the world despite its cataclysmic situation. I really dug this. The potency of the story’s descriptions alone is damn near apocalyptic.

The Tale of Jaja and Canti (Tobi Ogundiran) bears a little similarity to Pinocchio, but its wooden boy’s journey veers in engagingly unexpected directions. The tone is like a fairy tale and the way its split into chapters enhances that feeling. It has a spare word count but is able to do so much without feeling rushed or choppy. And without spoiling anything, the story is bookended in a way that’s structurally ingenious. Like the other Ignyte nominees, this story is a banger.

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie – Screenwriter, stand-up comedian, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, “Neat!”

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