2006 Awards Recommended Reading Lists and Comments

The Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award

Jurors: Celu Amberstone, Steven Barnes, Karin Lowachee, MJ Hardman and Jennifer Stevenson.


47 by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown)

A powerful, moving work appropriate for young adult readers and yet a good read for adults. It is unflinching in its portrayal of slavery in the American south. A young slave boy narrates this electrifying account of how he met one of the mightiest heroes of African-American legend, High John the Conqueror, who is much more than he appears to be, and the marvelous and terrible changes John wrought on a life so downtrodden that he has no name, only a number. The writing shows beauty in the depiction of people of great courage, character and creativity in the midst of impossible circumstances. -JKS

Recommended Shortlist

Ashok Banker, Prince of Ayodhya (Penguin India)

The is an Indian epic of awe-inspiring antiquity and complexity. Every thousand years or so someone updates it for contemporary readers. Banker’s Ramayana, a five volume series, is a perfect fit with our era’s high fantasy genre. Powerful, emotional, fast-moving, many-layered, a cultural trip, a roller-coaster ride. -JKS

Tobias Buckell, “Toy Planes” (Nature, Oct. 13, 2005)

This story is told with an economy of words and yet manages to give the reader a strong impression of island life and the compromises made by many minority people, to maintain both personal and cultural identity in the larger world outside their own communities. the story also speaks to the economic survival of poorer countries in a world dominated by rich corporations and large nations. -CA

Octavia E. Butler, Fledgling (Seven Stories Press)

Octavia E. Butler’s final novel is a meditation on social and sexual vampirism, viewed through the lens of a 53 year old “juvenile” blood-sucker named Shori. Mature, frightening, and thought-provoking, Fledgling simply isn’t like any other vampire story ever written, and a fitting cap to a spectacular–if tragically truncated–career. -SB

Daliso Chaponda, “Trees of Bone”
(Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest, Issue #3)

Spares no one in a rock-plus-hard-place account of hatred, history, cultural transmission, and the price of peace. Set in an African landscape between country and town, past and present, old ways and new ways, this story grants dignity and yet tragedy to an elderly healer and his young apprentice in a time of social turmoil. -JKS

Marica Douglas, “Marie-Ma” (Femspec, Vol. 6, Issue #1)

A chorus of voices imbues this spare but beautifully written story, casting a harmonic note to the narrative about a rather strange neighbor, a family’s preconceptions, and a little girl’s curiosity. Each uniquely drawn character, different ages from a young daughter to her mother to the odd and exquisite Marie-Ma herself, gives life to the observation and eventual interaction with an unexplainable magic that surrounds each of them in different and unexpected ways. -KL

Hiromi Goto, “Nostalgia” (Nature, Sept. 1, 2005)

A very short dense take on futuristic biology and the culture thereby associated and all about the Brontës. -MJH

N.K. Jemisin, “Cloud Dragon Skies” (Strange Horizons, Aug. 1, 2005)

A poetic portrayal from the point of view of Nahautu. Her pristine world with her family is benignly invaded by scientists whose decision to intervene with the cloud dragons of her world wreak unexpected consequences — especially for her as the daughter of the one man whose opposition to the help goes unheeded. Jemison’s deft handling of the protagonist’s voice and her inner conflicts perfectly filter the larger issues of technology vs. natural order, and the consequences of humanity’s choices in this battle. Though dealing with broader concepts, the story never loses sight of the personal struggle and ramifications on an individual level, and provides a beautifully wrought conclusion to the dilemma with a melancholic weight that truly gives life to this unique character. -KL

A.H. Jennings, “Owasa” (Farthing, July, 2005)

A suspenseful tale that keeps you guessing about the ramifications and meaning of the characters’ actions until the very end, and the ending itself provides an iron anchor to the rest of the narrative. The language is beautiful throughout, while in parts is contrasted sharply by a frank, almost blunt voice. Gods and humanity are tackled in this story, and the conflict is very much worthwhile. -KL

Alaya Dawn Johnson, “Shard of Glass” (Strange Horizons, Feb. 14, 2005)

This well-written story intensely illustrates a political struggle turned personal for a black woman who flees her white lover across the world, taking their child and a magical shard of glass. -JS

Khan, Ahmed, The Meaning of Life and Other Cliches (Another Realm, March, 2005)

A dialogue between two stranded spacers coping with memories, watching maybe sentient will-o-the-wisps, telling a whole story sparsely. Lovely writing, close to poetry. -MJH

Gail Nyoka, Mella and the N’anga: An African Tale (Sumach Press)

A perfect young adult novel, a well-crafted story of a princess on a quest to save her father’s kingdom. In the process, the story of her encounter with the N’anga becomes a fierce tale of female empowerment, wrapped in sweet, simple prose. -MJH

Nnedimma Okorafor-Mbachu, Zahrah the Windseeker (Houghton Mifflin)

Zarah is a girl of unique appearance and special abilities that set her apart from friends and family, and this difference troubles her. When her best friend becomes ill after an exploring trip to the forbidden jungle goes awry, she is determined to return to the jungle to bring back a cure for her dying friend. along the way she has many adventures, and meets many interesting friends. This delightful story is the kind of book I wish had been around when I was about ten or eleven. I am very glad it is here to share with my granddaughter. -CA

Nisi Shawl, “Wallamelon” (Aeon Magazine, Issue #3)

This is a tale in which magic and the traditions of Voudun play an important part in a young girl’s becoming an adult. the story also explores the challenge of how to maintain the worship of ancient gods, and a childhood wonder for magic and nature, in a world beset by poverty and urban violence.” -CA (NOTE: Since Shawl is currently active on the board of the Carl Brandon Society, her work cannot receive a CBS award. But the jury felt that “Wallamelon” merited being on the Recommended Reading list.)

Vandana Singh, “The Tetrahedron” (Intranova, March 15, 2005)

When a large mysterious object suddenly appears in the middle of a street in New Delhi, India, all the world’s scientists flock to study the occurrence. The implacable tetrahedron gives little answers, though, save for young university student Maya, who finds herself drawn to the strange shape and questioning her own assumptions about duty, choice, and what it means to be the mystery in one’s own life. A sensitive and smart portrayal of the doubts and desires of one modern woman conflicted between the assumptions of the past and the possibilities of the future. Family life in current-day India is engagingly portrayed through the point of view of an intelligent and compassionate protagonist, giving a glimpse into this unique culture (sometimes with a gentle humor) while successfully weaving speculative elements to highlight Maya’s personal struggle. -KL

Parallax Recommended Long List

Phoenix Tales,by Gregory Bernard Banks

Cosmic Gangsta vs. The Reptilians by Morse Donaldson

Mississippi Muse by Felicia Elam

Atomik Aztek by Sesshu Foster

Kynship by Daniel Heath Justice

Zephyr Unfolding by Nicole Givens Kurtz

Archipelago by Amil Menon

“Cruel Sistah” by Nisi Shawl

“Matched” by Nisi Shawl

The Crown: Ascension by Hannibal Tabu

Blood: The Last Vampire by Benkyo Tamaoki


The Carl Brandon Society Kindred Award

Jurors: Jewelle Gomez, Ian K. Hagemann, Ursula K. LeGuin, Debbie Notkin, Cecilia Tan


Stormwitch by Susan Vaught

A fine work about a young black woman’s journey from the egalitarian Caribbean to the segregated American South. Along the way, she learns about the reasons to “keep her head down” and steps into her own power as a magician and as a woman. Written as a young adult novel, it works for adults as well. -IKH

A complex short novel which deals with race identity, African magic, and 1960s American society, treating them all with honesty, clear-sightedness, and compassion. -DLN

A very professionally written YA that sweeps the reader right along. Full of racial tension and ethnic consciousness, it will give teenagers to whom the Black Liberation movement is ancient history an excellent, vivid picture of the times. But its didactic purpose rather outweighs its emotional involvement; it doesn’t seem written from the heart. -UKL

A book that actually does tackle issues of racism head on. -CT

Not new ideas but a different perspective on African and African-Caribbean and African American culture. The evocation of the sense of dislocation that the young main character feels being moved from Haiti to Mississippi is quite good. A story showing kindness and possibility. -JG

2006 Kindred Award Recommended Shortlist

These are works that the jury as a group regards very highly. Most of them were seriously considered as winners: one or two were thought to be outside the mandate for the award, but otherwise memorable and important.

Tobias Buckell, “Toy Planes” (Nature, Oct. 13, 2005)

One-page stories with so much substance are very rare. This is beautifully done. -UKL

“Toy Planes” has a light touch that almost obscures the pride infusing the story. -JG

Extremely well-written, and a very pointed use of “speculative fiction” to illuminate the first world/third world divide. It put a smile on my face when I read it and while I was writing this short review. -IKH

Perhaps more about colonialism, or post-colonialism, than race. Well-written and about as thoughtful as a short short can be. -DLN

Octavia E. Butler, Fledgling (Seven Stories Press)

It is impossible to comment on this book without taking at least a moment to mourn the loss of one of the deftest, most perceptive, and most complex science fiction and fantasy writers of all time. Her voice will be missed forever.

One of the most direct treatments of racism I’ve ever seen in a book, and Butler uses the fact that it is science fiction to make the metaphors and parallels all the more clear and to put her message across. The battle is between those with racist attitudes and the forward-thinkers, and the forward-thinkers win. … Butler has taken the traditional Eastern European vampire myth and turned it into a modern science fiction thriller that also stands as an examination of racism and the evils of “racial purity.” The writing style is spare and clean, with tight prose which borders on Hemingway-esque. She reveals the answers to the mystery skillfully and the characterizations are realistic and humanistic. -CT

A novel whose protagonist is an amnesiac vampire, this featured some really good writing about bumping up against intolerance for the first time and how confusing and angering that can be. Addresses the connections between the acculturation of children, the cultural assimilation of diverse populations, and the experiences of populations targeted for oppression. -IKH

“Trees of Bone” by Daliso Chaponda

Despite a rather awkward or naïve style, this is a powerful, thoughtful story. -UKL

A very moving allegory about post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by racism which was set in Africa. It also has some interesting things to say about living with one’s oppressors and living with oneself. -IKH

An excellent combination of politics, science, and African magic. -DLN

“Before the Altar on The Feast of All Souls” by Marg Gilks

My favorite short story of all we read. Done with a wonderfully light hand. Most of the people in this story are dead, which is what is so neat about it. -UKL

An interesting job of conveying some of the complexities and internal conversation present for people of color who are dealing with whites. I appreciated the author’s ability to put this down on paper and felt that it was suitably ambiguous. -IKH

A sweet story which says almost as much about racial relations as it does about lifelong love. -DLN

47 by Walter Mosley

Whenever a slave narrative is moving, evocative, and thoughtful without being sentimental or simplistic, it’s worth honoring. 47 is a fine example. -DLN

The most interesting and complex views on “difference” in anything I read for the award. Mosley does let some idiosyncrasies get in the way but his writing is always the most compelling and his perspective fresh. -JG

An excellent story of slave life on a Georgia plantation in 1832, vivid but never gloating on the horrors. There are no new revelations or meditations on race matters, but the sober, quiet realism of the picture is very moving. Unfortunately a science-fiction element is introduced, which is poorly handled: mere wish-fulfillment is not true imagining. I wish the author had not foisted silly and improbable aliens onto his solid historical novel of human pain and hope. -UKL

A young adult novel with believable and useful explorations of American slavery, whose main character starts out as a fairly unremarkable slave in the antebellum South. I was especially taken with the author’s take on the connection between personal transcendence and internalized oppression – a topic which I’d love to see more written about. -IKH

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedimma Okorafor-Mbachu

I loved this YA novel and have passed it along to my granddaughter. The language is a delight. The setting is a kind of Alternate Africa. It’s wildly imaginative, funny, spirited, slightly crazy, with a great young heroine. All the human beings are black. It doesn’t address racial issues directly, although the anti-technological talking gorillas and others have some points to make about prejudice. -UKL

A well-written and well-realized young adult novel set in the “other world,” based on traditional African-American folktales such as “The People Could Fly.” -IKH

Generally hailed by the jury as one of the most entertaining books we read; a young-adult novel with a great deal to recommend to all ages. The author has a special skill at conveying a full sensory experience: and her characters have some remarkable sensory experiences! -DLN

“La Gran Muerte” by Liz Williams

Beautifully and painfully written, and flows with wonderful ideas and images. -JG

This story is one of the best allegorical explorations of complex racial identity that I’ve ever read, with insights on par with the best mixed-identity writing that I’ve read. -IKH

This exploration of a particularly dramatic border-crossing from Mexico into the U.S. provided me with genuinely fresh insights into racial and ethnic issues, as well as the headline news. -DLN

A superbly imagined and recounted tale of crossing between Mexico and North America, between life and death. -UKL

2006 Kindred Award Recommended Long List

These are works that we are glad to have read and want to call to your attention.

“Telepresence” by Michael Burstein

A fine story on its own merits which failed to “seem like” a story about diversity until near the very end, which made it reminiscent of some of the best “what if?” and “if this goes on” works from the golden age of science fiction. -IKH

“Cassandra’s Cargo” by D. J. Cockburn

A slaver, a white man, finds himself unpredictably inhabiting a black slave’s body: the idea is not new, but the allusive style gives it distinction. -UKL

An interesting allegory which reflects Booker T. Washington’s observation that you can’t keep a man down without staying down with him. If only it were as true in real life as it is in this story! -IKH

Despite the familiarity of the subject matter, Cockburn’s setting, characters, historicity, and writing take this one a bit out of the ordinary run. -DLN

Touched by Venom by Janine Cross

A visceral exploration of sex, class, and power which has an outsider woman travelling through several cultures where the power dynamics are naked and unpleasant. It is very rare for me to enjoy medieval fantasy at all, and this hooked me in and kept me intellectually and emotionally challenged. -IKH

This book has generated a great deal of controversy in the SF&F field for its pulpy writing style and overt sexual content. Depending on your point of view, the style either showcases or obscures the author’s genuine focus on aspects of oppression and rebellion rarely touched on in fiction. -DLN

Atomik Aztex by Sesshu Foster

Foster’s characters are angry, hard-edged, realistic, and gritty. His style takes no prisoners: you have to be willing to drop your notions of “good writing” as practiced in English classes at the door and take him on his own merits, which are considerable. -DLN

A very high-energy, stream-of-consciousness book taking place in the Los Angeles we know and in a world where the Aztecs wiped out the Spanish conquistadors and now dominate much of Europe. More interesting than the typical “role reversal” story. -IKH

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Very skillfully done. Gaiman found a laudable and believable way to weave a narrative which is centered around a non-white character’s point of view. He avoids the trap of preaching and approaches the race issues subtly. I feel he deserves to be lauded for what he has accomplished in this polished piece of fiction. -CT

An elegant, lightweight, highly readable novel. It breaks no ground on racial matters, but fits the Kindred list because it treats the African Anansi myths and stories with energetic respect, and because the color of people of color is not mentioned while the color of white people is, thus centralizing the people of color and marginalizing the whites – unusual in a white writer, though not unprecedented. -UKL

Race is the background truth of this excellent novel, rather than a foregrounded issue. Among the characteristics that make this book stand out are its use of African mythology, its complex and deftly handled plot twists, and the fact that it’s knee-slappingly funny. -DLN

“Shard of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

An interesting story about a mother and her mixed-race daughter on the run from her father, who is a powerful white man from the American South during the 1950s and 1960s. -IKH

“Different Flesh” by Claude Lalumiére

A riff on the issue of race as the issue of “Who are my people?” Written with intelligence, control, and economy. -UKL

An interesting take on uneasy alliances between members of different outsider groups, and about the ways in which unpleasant facts can get covered over by memory and popular consensus. -IKH

“The Little Goddess” by Ian McDonald.

A fine story, although I don’t know enough about Indian culture to evaluate whether it plays fair with its cultural source material. -IKH

Mella and the N’anga: An African Tale by Gail Nyoka

One of the most moving stories we read, and the only one that I would recommend for younger readers. It is set in Zimbabwe before the European invasion and all the principal characters are from the same tribe. -IKH

“The Singing” by Dan Rubin

A brief, gently told human/alien First Contact story, which can be read as a meditation on ethnicity. -UKL

A slow, meditative story about an Eskimo and some aliens. It posed the question of how “they” might know that “we” are sentient, rather than the more typical question of how we would know that they were. -IKH

According to Crow by E. Sedia

A book about a young man’s quest to reconcile his mixed identity and the fact one of his peoples are at war with the other. I thought the author did a good job of drawing the world and conveying some of the complexities of a mixed identity where there may be no place to really call home. -IKH

I especially liked the way the main character has to evaluate the merits of his childhood life and his father’s family’s life, not just on the grounds of race and acceptance grounds, but also on the grounds of familiarity and expectation -DLN

“Matched” by Nisi Shawl

Mysterious and eerie, and at the same time it expertly conveys a childlike perspective and the urgings of a sentient being who learns individuality and freedom. -JG

An interesting take on the way that clones might evolve as second-class citizens, and what their struggle for freedom and equality might look like. I look forward to reading the novel that this is excerpted from. -IKH

“Wallamelon” by Nisi Shawl

An interesting story about an teenaged Black American girl who is starting to learn a (fictional) conjure system and beginning to grow into womanhood. Well-written, sensitive, and uplifting. -IKH

The Crown: Ascension by Hannibal Tabu

A fine read, throwing some action, some romance, and some speculative elements together in an amusing mix. I expect that some may find it a little bit too much like a comic book, but I still read and enjoy comics so there you go. -IKH

“The Dope Fiend” by Lavie Tidhar

A story which does a good job of being multicultural, with fairly diverse characters who were all quite a bit more than mere stereotypes of the groups they happen to belong to. One of the few works which begins to address the question of how we might all get along. -IKH