BSFA Award Shorts: vignettes or stories?

Hurrah for the BSFA for mailing the shorts that made it to the BSFA Award shortlist. That’s so quick and such a great idea to encourage us to get involved.

Congratulations to the authors for making the shortlist. All their stories were well written. Well done! I hope this proves a fillip to their writing journey. I will review the stories in a later post.

All the same, I was reminded why I cancelled my subscriptions a while back to Interzone and Asimovs’. Two of the four shortlisted stories were what I would call vignettes. That is, they start at the cusp of a key event in the main character’s life and end once that event has taken place. Well, isn’t that normal for a traditional story? True, but here the event is already anticipated, planned for, and plays out largely as the characters expected it to.

In one of these stories, the event plays out exactly as set out at the beginning of the story. There isn’t really any plot or character development, no surprises and no choices, just experiencing the event through the eyes of the characters (which it does well). In the other vignette, the event takes place sooner than planned and so the main character does learns a little humility and the author gets to play with making a parallel between the different early deliveries of the two main characters. So I suppose there was some plot and character development, but very slight given the wordcount and the intense description.

Of the other two shortlisted stories, one felt like it ought to be interesting but the story was told in a deliberately vague way as if the author wanted to transcend clarity of plotting.

That left one. While I found it difficult to follow at times (probably I should get around to watching The Thing), it had originality, plot, and character development. This was based on a film, and the author chooses not to use the events of the film as the focus, rather that is the backdrop and the focus is on how the character of The Thing is experiencing the events —how it learns, grows, and changes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not dismissive of these story styles but I do wish magazines such as Interzone weren’t so stuffed full of them (at least there were when I was a subscriber). In fact, I can bring to mind Ian Watson as an example of someone who can thrill me with these kind of vignettes and does so because of the startling and sometimes unsettling originality of the situations the characters find themselves in.

So, in conclusion, I didn’t particularly enjoy three-quarters of the stories. They were well written and those sorts of stories dominate the pro-magazines and best-of-year anthologies, so someone rates them. Not for me though, and I am not (quite) alone. So while I wrote this blog post I purchased the latest edition of JupiterSF Magazine because, in my unfashionable way, I often find the stories in the best for-the-love magazines are more satisfying than the content of the most prestigious magazines such as Interzone.

Hate mail in the comments below please!

Tim

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About Tim C. Taylor

Science fiction publisher and author of the bestselling Human Legion series. I live with my wife and young family in an English village. I am currently writing full time, when I'm not roped into building Lego.
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One Response to BSFA Award Shorts: vignettes or stories?

  1. Pingback: The REAL STORY Manifesto « Tim C. Taylor

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