I said that I might talk about the stories that I selected for the notable stories list for the Million Writers Award. The first thing that comes to mind is how incredibly impressed I was with Atomjack. I’ve loved the site for a long time, and have written about it here before. Atomjack’s editors nominated these three stories for the Million Writers Award:
Story 1: “Monkey Heaven” by Sam J. Miller
Story 2: “T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel” by Ben Burgis
Story 3: “Swimming Pool of the Universe” by Nick Cole
Now, keep in mind that when I was reading nominations I was sleep-deprived and drowning in words to the point that I wasn’t even sure if I liked fiction anymore. Then be impressed when I tell you that I loved every single one of these stories, to the point that I kept changing which one I put on my final selections. In the end, I chose “Swimming Pool of the Universe.” But both of the others spent some time on my top ten list. I was gratified to see that “Monkey Heaven” was selected by other judges, and sorry that “T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel” missed out.
Obviously, Atomjack has an overall vibe that really works for me, but I loved each story for its own particular qualities.
“Monkey Heaven” is dark and thoughtful. I waded through a lot of genre stories that lacked a transcendent quality, and a lot of stories that tried to be literary, but ultimately forgot to be stories. “Monkey Heaven” had the best of both worlds: plenty of action, literary value, and serious philosophical chops.
“T-shirts, Tentacles & the Melting Point of Steel” was refreshing to me because it deals with politics without being pedantic or preaching to the choir. It’s funny and well-written, and it doesn’t give easy answers. To me, this was a pleasant contrast to Joseph Bates‘ “How We Made a Difference,” which was nominated by the editors of Identity Theory (and did end up on the notable stories list, though I did not select it). “Difference” also aimed for humor, but I felt that the humor came out self-satisfied, and that the story would appeal only to someone who was already liberal (for the record, I am liberal). “Tentacles,” on the other hand, though political and perhaps liberal-leaning, is going to make anyone a little uncomfortable, which I think is a good thing. And the heroine, a conspiracy theorist, is too whacky to command my complete sympathy, but is too appealing to be completely dismissed. I think “Tentacles” is about the unknown at the heart of politics, and I find that a more respectful position than that of “Difference.” So, “Tentacles” was robbed. By me, apparently, since I could have placed it on the list.
As for “Swimming Pool,” I was swayed here by personal preferences (ultimately, the only way to choose). I’m a huge fan of military SF, and I like “Swimming Pool” for drawing on the tropes and doing something fresh with them. I think the story is a comment on the lasting effects of war, but it does this without being precious, and, again, without providing easy answers. The main character carries the vestiges of a training program in his brain. Though the military has discontinued using the program because of its tendency to stick with soldiers, this particular soldier values its presence.
All of these stories are worth reading, and Atomjack is absolutely worth reading. Only twice in the list of editor nominations did I find myself liking all three stories. I hope to write about the other three-for-three in a future post.