Here’s a list of this year’s Hugo-nominated authors who’ve been Otherwise honorees in the past, along with links to where to buy or read copies of their Otherwise-honored works. Join us in celebrating these Otherwise honorees who have gone on to be honored by other parts of the sf community.
(The categories listed here are the Hugo categories in which the authors’ works were nominated this year.)
The Otherwise Award (formerly known as the Tiptree Award) celebrates science fiction, fantasy, and other forms of speculative narrative that expand and explore our understanding of gender. The jury that selects the Award’s winner and the Honor List is encouraged to take an expansive view of “science fiction and fantasy” and to seek out works that have a broad, intersectional, trans-inclusive understanding of gender in the context of race, class, nationality, disability, and more. The winner of the Otherwise Award receives $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.
The 2020 jury comprised Chesya Burke, M.L. Clarke, Liz Henry (chair), Annalee Newitz, and Tochi Onyebuchi.
We invite everyone to come celebrate with us at a virtual award ceremony on Saturday, October 30, 2021, at 3pm EST. For details on how to join, please check the website for A Room of One’s Own Bookstore, which is hosting the event.
This year’s winner, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, was a unanimous favorite in a rich field of literary explorations around gender, sex, and related societal roles. We are delighted to present Ekpeki’s tale, a novella first published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora (Aurelia Leo), as this year’s recipient of the Otherwise Award.
And we were overjoyed to find a bounty of vibrant discourses among 2020’s nominated stories, reflected in eight Honor List titles.
In the winning story and the Honor List, several overlapping themes stood out. Like “Ife-Iyoku,” many of the Honor List stories treat gender in the context of intersectionality—we see how racialized, national, and ethnic identity, as well as disability, affect gendered experience. Several stories grapple with the fact that trans men, trans women, nonbinary people, and other embodied entities walk different paths than cisgender people, and that affects how they experience the world as gendered beings.
We also saw a number of stories that deal with queer elders, including City of a Thousand Feelings, The Seep, and The Four Profound Weaves. Though science fiction and fantasy have a long tradition of celebrating wise elders, whether they are high-level wizards or ancient AIs, it is rare to see them explored in a queer context. These stories demand we acknowledge that one doesn’t stop growing, healing, hurting, or being lost and in need of re-forging community and place with age. They also describe ways that queer elders provide models to the young, how they may fall short, and how younger generations engage with them, while also celebrating the different ways each generation expresses themselves.
Given the events of the past several years, perhaps it is no surprise that exile was a theme that came up in these stories over and over: in “Ife-Iyoku,” “The Moon Room,” Depart, Depart!, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, City of a Thousand Feelings, and Four Profound Weaves, we meet characters who have been cast out of their homelands and are searching for a way back. As they struggle with their sense of dislocation, our heroes and antiheroes must find a way to construct new kinds of home, with their chosen communities. Often, this sense of exile is compounded by environmental destruction associated with climate change—another theme in many of these stories, which grapple with the multi-generational legacy of industrial production and agricultural waste.
The environment isn’t just a force “out there”—it affects our bodies, both physical and political, as well as our social roles. In these stories, we can feel those effects. We meet people who can wring rain out of the air, build floating cities, transform themselves into clouds of gas, merge with machines, and transcend the world altogether. We feel the heat and moisture and sickness that come with a carbon cycle that is perturbed beyond all measure. Our identities do not end where our skin meets the air, but instead are part of ecosystems. And when those ecosystems are under attack, so are we.
Many of the Otherwise honorees grapple with this idea by showing us how our bodies are permeable to the environment. This is especially apparent when it comes to the mechanized bodies of the characters in “Helicopter Story” and “Custom Options Available.” Here we see characters whose gendered bodies have been rebuilt to function as weapons, or hyper-productive workers—a literalization of the ways that patriarchy and capitalism demand that we refashion ourselves as things-to-be-used rather than people.
The Otherwise Award honors stories that expose the many ways we experience gender in this world and others. This year we were thrilled to see so many brilliant authors taking a nuanced, complex approach to the topic—giving us characters we will never forget, in worlds as alien as our own.
Lastly, the jury for the 2020 Otherwise Award wishes to thank readers and writers alike for their deep engagement with works that explore and expand our concepts of gender.
Winner: 2020 Otherwise Award
In a year crowded with stellar work that interrogated, celebrated, and contextualized gender in the way that only speculative fiction can, “Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” stood out. Not only did it distinguish itself with the thematic concerns in which it engaged but also through the cohesion with which the story’s concerns were handled. This story situated discussion and depictions of gender, attendant expectations, constrictions, and transcendence in a situation and cultural and religious schema still vanishingly rare in the genre, and remained an entertaining and emotionally scopic story in the process.
What could have easily slipped into a stereotypical depiction and affirmation of patriarchal norms among the pre- or post-colonial African societies presents itself instead as the struggle of a community in the context of colonialism and colonization, a context that pits the impetus for communal survival against the dictate toward individuality. What does it look like to have gender roles enlisted in the pursuit of a community’s survival against larger, aggressive, unreasoning entities? How does the threat of annihilation further entrench that social schema? In the context of the story, childbearing isn’t a mandated duty because those identified by the community as women are too weak for combat but because childbearing is the only vehicle of the community’s continued existence. Such a distinction read to us, the jury, as a lived principle among the characters rather than mere scaffolding for oppressive policies, and the skill to which this dynamic was pulled off in the story impressed us greatly.
We loved the story’s critique of the idea that an extremely special, powerful place can ever be magically protected from the ravages of colonialism. Here, Ekpeki is careful to show us the downside of living inside this protected shell: the village is still operating as a monarchy, where women’s views are marginalized, and this leads directly to repeating the very scenario that made many African civilizations vulnerable to the incursions of European slavers. As the story unfolds, we realize that it is impossible for any community to remain isolated from imperialism, even if they have superpowers. And this makes the story a more powerful allegory—as well as a more truthful account of how power works.
A story that contains everything that “Ife-Iyoku” contains could easily have burst at the seams, but one of this work’s most stunning and impressive qualities is its cohesion. In the exciting cinematic opening, a team of psychically gifted hunters battles a mutant, winged, lava-breathing dinosaur. Over the next few chapters, the complex web of the community, its history, its divisions, and its context in the world are revealed, leading us to a situation that shows the disruptive power of a single woman’s choices, and her insistence on self-determination. In addition to presenting a dramatic and three-dimensional discourse on gender, community, and sacrifice, the story also gives us an inversion of a creation myth wherein the gendered nature of such tales is treated in a grounded and nuanced manner. Not once did it feel like the story’s many themes and aspects existed in isolation. That the story, as much as it holds within it, reads as a seamless piece is a testament to the craft on display.
“Ife-Iyoku” is a work of daring moral imagination as well as a story expertly constructed. What makes this story’s achievement even more spectacular is that it hardly emerged as the lone blossom in an otherwise fallow field of storytelling on gendered themes. Rather, this year’s winner stood out for the jury in a bumper crop of thought-provoking and challenging speculative fictions. For this reason, we are delighted to share the following Honor List, of eight other 2020 tales that significantly advanced our genre’s explorations of gender, sex, and societal roles, in unranked order but with the deepest of congratulations to all.
R.B. Lemberg’s The Four Profound Weaves explores the intertwined lives of genderfluid and trans elders who live in a world that hovers between dreams and ancient history. It centers on a nameless man, exiled from his home for moving between genders. He’s on a quest to find an old friend, Benesret, who has the power to weave textiles that embody the four “profound” human experiences of hope, change, wanderlust, and death. Haunting and delightful by turns, the story explores a world of nomads and city-states, magic and art, youth and age, and ultimately what it means to remain friends even as the world and our identities shift like desert sands.
In a swooping poetic allegory, Anya Johanna DeNiro’s City of a Thousand Feelings takes us with trans exiles into battle as they try to enter a city of dreams and wonders, only to be turned away by militant patriarchal villains. Relationships form under pressure, lapse, and are taken up again years later, as the protagonists hide in exile or continue to fight in wars. Finally, new generations are born with new goals, creating their own amazing city, built on the work of the elders who fought so hard to make a world where that was possible. Deeply moving.
Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea is an exciting, complex story about a young nonbinary pirate and an aristocratic young woman figuring out who they are in the face of danger. Unable to return to their homelands, pursued by nasty colonizers, they form an alliance that grows into a fierce and wonderful romance. We can’t wait to return to the world of The Mermaid to learn more about these delightful characters, their cool magic system, and the ways they might start to resist a tyrannical empire!
Depart, Depart! follows Noah, whose escape from climate disaster in Houston to a refugee camp further north is complicated by more specific needs for safety and key resources as a young trans man. Luckily, he has a ghostly ancestor for an ally, and a wealth of ethno-familial history to lean on as he navigates his distinct instant of a struggle for a sense of home, belonging, and acceptance that stretches back eons.
The Seep, set in San Francisco in homage to Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing, takes a somewhat bitter, leather-jacket-wearing butch dyke protagonist into a post-singularity future where alien nanobots ingested as a drug make almost everyone super happy. Her search for meaning and connection takes place within a community indifferently giving up specific embodied histories, to become whoever and whatever they wish with seemingly no adverse consequences, while she questions whether identity can have meaning without its histories.
Isabel Fall, “Helicopter Story” (Clarkesworld Magazine, short story)
Isabel Fall’s “Helicopter Story” created an intense and divisive reaction. For the jury, this is a story that extols the triumphant gender/sex-messiness of the protagonist’s transition into a military weapon, exposes the ways that the military industrial complex can co-opt some of our deepest human social structures to weave our identity construction into components of a bigger machine, a military force. With beauty, depth, and sensitivity, Fall describes Barb’s gendered precision, feelings, fierceness, and relationships built on the trust developed in battle. It is a love story in the mil-sf tradition, one where its heroes, whose identities are tied to war, begin to question the ethics behind that war.
Another story that explores mechanization and gender-modelling is Amy Griswold’s “Custom Options Available,” a joyous romp in which a retired mining robot chooses gender and sexuality configurations, then cruises for partners. The protagonist then starts to uncover feelings and preferences that they didn’t choose, including a fierce desire for freedom and self-determination.
Maria Romasco Moore’s “The Moon Room” brings us into a glittering, but gritty, urban world of drag bars and clandestine identities as seen through the eyes of an alien. Trained from a young age to hide her true nature, she takes photographs of drag queens and revels in their ability to be seen—while the pressures of hiding her polymorphous body drives her to drink and blackouts. Luckily, queer joy saves her from a life of hiding—and she’s finally able to come out as the beauty she is.
Recommendations and more
The Otherwise Award invites everyone to recommend works for the Award. Please submit recommendations via the recommendation page of the Otherwise Award website. On the website, you can also donate to help fund the award and read more about past winners and works the Award has honored.
In addition to presenting the Otherwise Award annually, the Award Council presents two annual $500 fellowships to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today.
The Otherwise Award began in 1991 as The James Tiptree, Jr. Award, named after Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” In 2019, the Award’s governing body, the Motherboard, decided, in response to community concerns, to rename the Award. The Tiptree Award became the Otherwise Award. (For more on the reasons behind the change, visit the history section of the Award’s website.)
The Otherwise Award, under any name, is an award with an attitude. As a political statement, as a means of involving people at the grassroots level, as an excuse to eat cookies, and as an attempt to strike the proper ironic note, the award has been financed through bake sales held at science fiction conventions across the United States, as well as in Britain and Australia. Fundraising efforts have included auctions conducted by Ellen Klages and Sumana Harihareswara, the sale of T-shirts and aprons created by collage artist and silk screener Freddie Baer and others, and the publication of four anthologies of award winners and honor-listed stories. Most of these anthologies, along with other publications, can be purchased through the Otherwise Award store.
This Auction will be part of what the folks who put on Wiscon are calling “a very low key virtual event.” But I’m baffled by how anything involving Otherwise Award auctioneer Sumana Harihareswara could possibly be considered low-key.
Last year, Sumana’s online auction was amazing, compelling, and impossible to describe. I’m a science fiction writer; I should be able to describe just about anything. But somehow Sumana managed to auction off things that didn’t actually exist but were (despite that) real. It was one of those “you had to be there” events — even though none of us were actually there.
This year Sumana promises that there will actually be some physical things that people can buy and possess — along with a custom crossword puzzle with Otherwise-related clues. Just a few tangible objects and a lot of intangible fun — which seems appropriate as we slowly ease back into the physical world.
For the past 26 years, the Otherwise Award has raised money each year at an auction like no other. Apparently even a pandemic can’t stop us.
I hope to see you there!
This year, you’ll be bidding on gorgeous and captivating books (including a hard-to-get book with a story by Zen Cho, one of next year’s WisCon Guests of Honor), a Ms. Marvel figurine signed by WisCon 43 GoH G. Willow Wilson, and more. You’ll bid via our new online auction platform — we’ll post here and on social media when it opens for bidding Saturday night.
And you’ll get a few special guests, a couple off-kilter “commercial breaks”, and a pass-the-hat stunt. Oh, and yes, a free custom crossword puzzle with Otherwise Award clues and answers!
Register now; WisCon will send you a link to the virtual event platform in time for you to join us on Saturday.
As nomination and voting deadlines get closer for the Hugo Awards (nominate by March 19th!) and other honors, we bring to your attention books and short stories published in 2020 by past Otherwise Award winners.
Eleanor Arnason, 1991 winner for A Woman of the Iron People, published the short story “Tunnels” in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine on May 1, 2020. You can buy that issue on Magzter.
Maureen McHugh, 1992 winner for China Mountain Zhang, published the short story Yellow and the Perception of Reality in July 2020. You can read it for free on Tor.com.
The Otherwise Award is pleased to announce the selection of three new Fellows. Usually, the Award presents Fellowships to only two emerging creators each year. But because this year has been so difficult for everyone, the Motherboard decided to choose three new Fellows this year. It is a great time to imagine futures that are unlike the world we live in today.
This year’s Fellows are speculative fiction writer Shreya Ila Anasuya, independent filmmaker Eleyna Sara Haroun, and poet FS Hurston.
Shreya Ila Anasuya writes short fiction set in real and imaginary South Asian cities. In the application, Shreya wrote, “I find that my work repeatedly asks this question – who are women and femme people in their fullest manifestations, and how does their experience of themselves contrast to their culture’s expectations and demands of them?” Her work is informed by lived experience as a queer non-binary femme person from India who lives with chronic illness. Funding from the Fellowship will give Shreya the time needed to work on a collection of historical speculative fiction set in South Asia or South Asia inspired secondary worlds. The Fellowship funding will also make it possible for Shreya to take classes that will connect her to the greater speculative fiction community, combating the loneliness of being “a writer of strange fiction in Calcutta during a global pandemic.”
The work of independent filmmaker Eleyna Sara Haroun has focused on encouraging children to to question, challenge and discuss the effects of issues like minority rights, gender equality, climate change and child abuse on their communities and themselves. Her project “Filmwalli” is a series of five short films, to be produced in both Urdu and English. Each story is a folk tale that challenges traditional narratives of women in Pakistani society. These films/folk tales will encourage children to realize that everyone has the right to live to their full potential. Funding from the Otherwise Fellowship will allow Eleyna to develop two out of the five stories into scripts, complete the research and treatments for the other three scripts, and collaborate with a storyboard artist on these tales. With that work in place, she can submit her work to festivals and writers labs and apply for greater funding to begin the animation production of the films and the development of a campaign built around these films.
Poet FS Hurston will be working on a novel in verse with a fascinating main character: a teenager in contemporary Dakar who was born with the memories of a 400-year-old shark. Through this connection with a shark, the teenager meets ghosts of the past. FS Hurston writes that each character in the novel will be based on “a queer trans African person from anthropological archives, journals of slaveowners, colonial administrative documents, slave ledgers. The story will explore “the wide and capacious space of what white anthropologists couldn’t or didn’t want to understand of queer Africans,….speculating on what is possible on the other side of the colonizer’s gaze….” The funding from the Fellowship will help cover the cost of travel in Senegal and Cameroun, the two places where most of the novel takes place.
In addition to choosing three Fellows, the Fellowship Committee announced an honors list, which includes Jasmine Moore, Kailee Marie Pedersen, Timea Balogh, and Wren Handman. These writers and artists are all doing exciting work in gender and speculative fiction.
The members of the 2020 selection committee for the Otherwise Fellowships were Martha Riva Palacio Obón, Devonix, Kiini Ibura Salaam, and Betsy Lundsten.
The Otherwise Award celebrates works of speculative fiction that imagine new futures by exploring and expanding our understanding of gender. Through the Fellowship program, the Award also encourages those who are striving to complete works, to imagine futures that might have been unimaginable when the Award began. Now in its sixth year, the Fellowship program seeks out new voices in the field, particularly from communities that have been historically underrepresented in science fiction and fantasy and by those who work in media other than traditional fiction.
Each Fellow will receive $500. The work produced as a result of this support will be recognized and promoted by the Otherwise Award.
Over time, the Fellowship program is creating a network of Fellows who can build connections, provide mutual support, and find opportunities for collaboration. This effort complements the ongoing work of the Award — that is, the celebration of speculative fiction that expands and explores gender by imagining otherwise in thought-provoking, nuanced, and unexpected ways.
If you would like to donate to the fund for future Otherwise Fellowships, you can do so here. Let us know if you would like your donation to support the Fellowships program specifically.
For the sixth year, we are welcoming applications for Otherwise Fellowships: $500 grants for emerging creators who are changing the way we think about gender through speculative narrative.
If you think that description could apply to you — even if you are not working in a format most people would recognize as part of the science fiction or fantasy genre — you are eligible to apply for a Fellowship. Otherwise Fellows can be writers, artists, scholars, media makers, remix artists, performers, musicians, or something else entirely. So far our Fellows have been creators of visual art, performance, poetry, fiction, and games.
The Otherwise Fellowship is designed to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today. The Fellowship Committee particularly encourages applications from members of communities that have been historically underrepresented in the science fiction and fantasy genre and from creators who are creating speculative narratives in media other than traditional fiction. In keeping with the focus of the Otherwise Award, the selection committee is seeking projects that explore and expand understandings of gender, particularly in relationship to race, nationality, class, disability, sexuality, age, and other factors that set individuals or groups apart as “other.” Fellowship applicants do not need a professional or institutional affiliation, as the intention of the Fellowship program is to support emerging creators who lack institutional support for their work.
The Otherwise Motherboard is in solidarity with the current mass protests, in the US and beyond, that are fighting against police violence and white supremacy and for Black lives. We mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black people whose lives have been cut short by police violence. We support the transformative coalitions now emerging to abolish white supremacist systems, structures, and institutions. We believe another world is possible.
To change the world requires that we first imagine it otherwise. One small thing that the Otherwise Award can do for the current struggle is to amplify the voices of Black authors whose visionary speculative fiction creates pathways to imagining and building a more just world. And so we offer a list of fifteen works, honored by the Otherwise Award in the past, to feed the imaginations of those engaged in this moment and this movement.
Some of the works on this list, such as Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep, speak directly to Black people’s lived experience of oppression and uprising; others, such as Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, transport readers to worlds in which white supremacy, and whiteness itself, are absent. Andrea Hairston’s Redwoodand Wildfire and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair decolonize history to center Black and Indigenous creativity, joy, and love. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium, Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Hairston’s Mindscape reconfigure science fiction tropes to unmake the colonial conventions on which they rely. Three short story collections, Shawl’s Filter House, Sheree Renée Thomas’s Sleeping Under the Tree of Life, and Kiini Ibura Salaam’s Ancient, Ancient, provide multiple routes through Black history, memory, myth, and sensuality. Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Talents and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth show people and communities in complex relationship to apocalyptic change and transformative social movement. And, in a mode that Bogi Takács describes as “speculative only so far as real life can be called such; which is, of course, considerably,” our most recent winner, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, refuses colonial definitions of gender, self, and identity.
As you engage in this struggle in whichever ways you can, we hope these books bring inspiration, solace, escape, and pleasure.
WisCon will stream the auction — including comedy, stunts, and special guest stars — via YouTube, and you’ll be able to bid and converse using a live Discord chat. And the entire auction will be hosted by auctioneer Sumana Harihareswara and live-captioned by a CART (“Communication Access Realtime Transcription”) transcriptionist.
Since this year’s auction is transcending the material plane, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re taking this opportunity to play with the auction format in a few ways.
First: the Otherwise Motherboard has decided to use pass-the-hat challenges this year to raise money for the Carl Brandon Society and WisCon’s general fund, instead of raising money for Otherwise. (We’re fortunate enough to be able to keep the award going this year without the auction’s income. And celebration, community, and fun have always been key to the auction, besides the fundraising, and those things are more important than ever this year.)
Second: to reduce the risk and difficulty of mailing things, and receiving mail, most of the auction items are electronic.
And third: for the items below, instead of bidding in money, you’ll try to one-up each other with recommendations, colors, and poems in the Discord chat. Enjoy using the gestures of “bidding” while prefiguring how auctions might work in postscarcity societies!
The auction items will be:
The Fortress by S.A. Jones. Donated by Erewhon Books. Publishers Weekly’s review calls this 2020 novel a “radical, detailed vision of what extremes it might take to unlearn misogyny”. Choose electronic or paper format!
A “Dodo Code” to visit Sumana Harihareswara’s island in the Nintendo video game Animal Crossing. (You’ll be able to pick apples, grab spare DIY recipes and hybrid flowers, and see a virtual children’s museum.)
An original blessing or affirmation, created for almost any person, place, or thing of your choice (subject to conditions of the writer’s conscience), by Alexandra Erin, to be delivered in written text after the auction. Buyer may specify their preferred level of agnosticism.
Want to win one of those? Want to see the surprise guest who’ll sing if we reach a donation challenge? Want to support science fiction that explores and expands gender (with the Otherwise Award)? Want to help increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction (with the Carl Brandon Society)? Want to roar with laughter?
There are dozens of possible reasons to visit this year’s auction. Hope to meet you there! Please register by May 20th.
Akwaeke Emezi has won the 2019 Otherwise Award for Freshwater (Grove Press, 2018).
The Otherwise Award (formerly known as the Tiptree Award) celebrates science fiction, fantasy, and other forms of speculative narrative that expand and explore our understanding of gender. The jury that selects the Award’s winner and the Honor List is encouraged to take an expansive view of “science fiction and fantasy” and to seek out works that have a broad, intersectional, trans-inclusive understanding of gender in the context of race, class, nationality, disability, and more.
About the Winner
“Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwateris beautiful, complicated, magical, challenging, and sometimes vividly cruel,” writes juror Edmond Y. Chang. “Told from multiple, overlapping, and often conflicted perspectives, the novel tells the story of Ada, who is caught between worlds, trying to navigate family, education, migration and immigration, Catholicism and Igbo spirituality, and what it means to be a self, a person. The novel does not shy away from explorations of gender nonconformity (particularly for people of color), sexuality, toxic masculinity, race, mental illness, and trauma. There are no easy paths or answers for Ada (or the reader), and therefore the novel imagines alternative, even radical forms of identity and most importantly survival. I will continue to think about Freshwater for a long, long time, adding it to my constellation of gorgeously intense stories like Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy.”
On a more personal note, juror Bogi Takács. writes: “Sometimes a work comes that says something you carry in yourself as intimately as flesh and bones, but you’ve never seen reflected in fiction; speculative or otherwise. For me, Freshwater by Igbo and Tamil author Akwaeke Emezi was one of those works, straining against the constraints of Western literary genres and bursting them in a luminous display of strength…. Freshwater gives me hope, room to grow into myself as a reader, and a sense of relation that emerges across continents and traditions; with all our commonalities and differences.”
The winner of the Otherwise Award will receive $1000 in prize money, a specially commissioned piece of original artwork, and (as always) chocolate.
About the Honor List
In addition to selecting the winners, each year’s jury chooses an Otherwise Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list. This year’s Honor List includes nine works, listed here in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Notes on each work are excerpted from comments by members of this year’s jury.
“Speculative fiction often tackles the topic of different sentient species meeting, but it usually takes colonialism – and specifically settler colonialism – for granted, and writes from the colonizer’s point of view. The short story “Dreamborn” by Zuni two-spirit writer Kylie Ariel Bemis offers the exact opposite, from an Indigenous viewpoint, and also incorporating culturally specific gender. After a breach in the worlds, the Nahaka people appear in a giant spaceship to occupy the lands of the Seven Nations and oppress the people….Children are forced away from their culture, including the possibility to choose their own gender, and the tradition of the dreamborn, those who transition to a different gender. Ume, an elderly woman, is one of the dreamborn; and she is determined to rescue the children, one of them dreamborn like herself….[T]his story spoke to me and gave me hope like very few others did this year.” – Bogi Takács.
“In The Book of Flora, Meg Elison manages to create a broader spectrum of genders than I have ever encountered in fiction (except, possibly, in Raphael Carter’s “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation”). The idea that people are either male or female, while held by many of the characters, is completely erased by the complexity of the individuals involved. The idea that people (or even most people) can be labeled as male, female, trans, or genderfluid proves to be equally dispensable, as Elison distinguishes between many kinds of women, many kinds of men, and at least one main character who falls into neither camp and has their own unique biology. By the end of the book, even the most basic assumptions about gender in this post-apocalyptic world are shattered in unexpected ways. Elison is a master of storytelling; books about worlds this bleak often require the reader to take breaks, but this one was difficult to put down.” – Debbie Notkin
“Pet is tender, a deftly woven spell that asks us what it means to be safe; what it means to be saved; what it means to identify a monster, and what it takes to rid ourselves of all monsters. The slim novel is a testament to the often under recognized complexity of Young Adult fiction. In the imaginary [city of] Lucille, all monsters have seemingly been eradicated, and yet Pet, the titular “monster,” has arrived ready to assist Jam in a hunt for one. The experience of reading Jam, a Black transgender teen girl, is gentle and a breath of fresh air. She’s shy, selectively mute, and supported on all fronts by her community, family, and even by Pet. Her gentle negotiations with Pet asking them to be patient and trust her are a joy to experience. …This is a story that treats its most vulnerable with care, and in doing so, releases them from the expectation of vulnerability and transforms them into the basis for a powerful new mythos. – Mariana Calderon
“A gorgeous and grotesque collection of short stories, a carnival of imagined futures that are, in Hurley’s words, “really different” from the world we know….With a background as a historian, and insight borne of struggles with long term disability, Hurley writes futures in which the what and how of having a body, and of being a person, might be radically reworked in myriad ways that are messy, meaty, mutating, cyborged, gendered and not so, mortal and not so. From body jumping mercenaries inhabiting the corpses of their enemies to a paraplegic fighting her way across an icy landscape to bring medicine to a plague stricken settlement, from many gendered mages to a probability engine built from a wall of the dead, the characters and worlds of Meet Me in the Future are extraordinarily richly imagined, compellingly rendered and increasingly surprising, strange and moving as one works one’s way through the collection.” – Trish Salah
“Innocent Chizaram Ilo’s story “Of Warps and Wefts” brings the reader into direct contact with the ways in which the roles we find ourselves in form who we are. Suppose you were a wife to one man in one life one day and a husband to another woman in a completely different life the next day – and you retained continuous memories of both lives. How would you be the same in both relationships? How would you be different? What would it mean to your children to have interchangeable parents, and would you be the same kind of parent in both lives? The same kind of lover? And what might happen if the lives coalesced? Ilo’s strikingly original short story , which has additional surreal elements along with the role switches, explores these themes deftly and deeply.” – Debbie Notkin
“The Calculating Stars is as thoughtful as it is charming, funny, and full of hope. I have been a proud badge-holding member of the Lady Astronaut Club since the book’s initial release ….I still want to run out into the street yelling “spaaaaaace!” as I did upon my first read, but now I also do so whilst considering the intersectionalities of gender, whiteness, mental illness, and what it means to be an ally in industries dominated by cis white men. …The multiple faux pas of Elma as she attempts to help BIPOC friends (they didn’t ask for her help), and confronts internalized racism had me cringing, but these moments, along with her growth and acknowledgement of her mistakes, are important both to the book and to the genre as a whole….Elma York’s identity as a woman with severe anxiety in an era where mental illness meant “hysteria” and hysteria meant unfit for science (or life in general) adds an additional facet to the book that I greatly appreciate….Mary Robinette Kowal’s depictions of mental illness combined with sexism feel heavy, authentic, and not always hopeful. They feel real, and yet Elma continues to power through, to literally reach for the stars. For that, The Calculating Stars deserves all the accolades.” – Mariana Calderon
Laurie J. Marks, The Elemental Logic series (Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic, and Air Logic, Small Beer 2019)
“Laurie J. Marks’ Fire Logic was published 18 years ago, followed by Earth Logic in 2004, Water Logic in 2007, and Air Logic in 2019. The four Elemental Logic books reflect the author’s growth in skill and breadth over the nearly two decades, along with an extraordinary consistency in characterization and vision. The gender aspects of the story arc largely concentrate in the depth and detail of complex same-sex relationships, though Air Logic also ventures into the realm of treating autism-spectrum mindsets as a gender of their own. More subtly, while Marks does include heterosexual relationships in her story, she never centers the dynamics of those relationships, concentrating all of her relationship writing on same-sex couples. One crucial thing these books offer the contemporary reader is a vision of undermining and destabilizing polarized societies, focused on the long hard work of bringing factions that hate each other back into tenuous but respectful relationship – and perhaps that too is a form of exploring and expanding gender.” – Debbie Notkin
“As a writer and editor of various trans projects, I sometimes feel that there is very little left to say about traditional binary gender roles from a perspective that is not explicitly transgender or intersex. The Lonesome Bodybuilder is a short story collection by Japanese author Yukiko Motoya, translated to English by Asa Yoneda, and it made me examine this preconception. This collection of present-day surreal pieces looks at binary gender roles, traditional male-female romantic relationships, and marriage in a way that still felt novel and biting to me, including shape-shifting gender changes (like husbands turning into their wives and vice versa), a dismantling of gendered tropes, and more….” – Bogi Takács.
“The Deep is deep, full of murky and unsettling characters, land- and waterscapes, and most importantly, ideas. Right from the start, the reader is disoriented, drowning, but slowly the story takes shape, like the sinuous body of the Yetu, a merperson descended from African slave women, to explore race, gender, sexuality, family, community, history, and the environment. The Deep is a thoughtful, creative, and unflinching reimagining and retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” settler colonialism, and the Middle Passage. It is a novella deeply about embodied memory, pain, and violence and resonates with and calls back to Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Morrison’s notion of rememory. The Deep, like Beloved, is profoundly about storytelling, who gets to tell their story, who survives to tell their story, and the perils and catastrophes of silence, disavowal, and forgetting.” – Edmond Y. Chang
Recommendations and more
The Otherwise Award invites everyone to recommend works for the Award. Please submit recommendations via the recommendation page of Otherwise Award website. On the website, you can also donate to help fund the award and read more about past winners and works the Award has honored.
In addition to presenting the Otherwise Award annually, the Award Council presents two annual $500 fellowships to provide support and recognition for the new voices who are making visible the forces that are changing our view of gender today.
The Otherwise Award began in 1991 as The James Tiptree Jr. Award, named after Alice Sheldon, who wrote under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. By her choice of a masculine pen name, Sheldon helped break down the imaginary barrier between “women’s writing” and “men’s writing.” In 2019, the Award’s governing body, the Motherboard, decided, in response to community concerns, to rename the Award. The Tiptree Award became the Otherwise Award. (For more on the reasons behind the change, visit the history section of the Award’s website.)
The Otherwise Award, under any name, is an award with an attitude. As a political statement, as a means of involving people at the grassroots level, as an excuse to eat cookies, and as an attempt to strike the proper ironic note, the award has been financed through bake sales held at science fiction conventions across the United States, as well as in Britain and Australia. Fundraising efforts have included auctions conducted by Ellen Klages and Sumana Harihareswara, the sale of t-shirts and aprons created by collage artist and silk screener Freddie Baer and others, and the publication of four anthologies of award winners and honor-listed stories. These anthologies, along with other publications, can be purchased through otherwiseaward.org/store.