Blogging the Hugos: Kary English

Kary English
Category: The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

We previously encountered Kary English as the author of “Totaled”, the one bright spot in the Best Short Story category. That story is included in the Campbell packet along with two more short works, “Departure Gate 34B” and “Flight of the Kikayon”. The former is a piece of micro-fiction about a ghost trying to move on from the world of the living; the latter is longer (possibly novelette-length) and concerns a woman stranded on a desert island, and how she got there.

It’s interesting to read these as a set, because they come across as variations on a theme. All three of the protagonists are women who are in a liminal space between life and death; they are all partially cut off from the world in some way; they all reflect on their family connections before passing on. They have their differences, too—”Gate 34B” is about acceptance, while “Totaled” is about making the best use of the time remaining—so they’re not just copies of each other. It seems to be more about exploring the feeling of isolation from different directions.

At the level of the prose, English distinguishes herself with an unusual level of sensory detail. This is particularly important in “Totaled”, where sense memory turns out to be a means of communicating with the outside world, but it shows up in the other works too. It’s a good quality in her writing that adds to the sense of realness.

In contrast to the other Puppy nominees, which often seem to be more about guns than people, these are very human stories. There are sci-fi elements, but they do what the genre is supposed to do and illuminate aspects of life from a different angle rather than become the center of the story themselves. It’s a surprise to see this on the slate at all, since it seems like what the Puppies say they don’t want in science fiction. But it’s a welcome surprise—these stories were a cut above the rest of the Puppy chow on offer.