On July 11, the Ursula K Le Guin Prize for Fiction announced the shortlisted titles for this year’s prize. The winning author will receive a cash award of $25,000. The jury comprises William Alexander, Alexander Chee, Karen Joy Fowler, Tochi Onyebuchi, and Shruti Swamy.
Here is the list of the shortlisted titles:
Brother Alive, Zain Khalid
In 1990, three boys are born, unrelated but intertwined by circumstance: Dayo, Iseul, and Youssef. They are adopted as infants and live in a shared bedroom perched atop a mosque in Staten Island. The boys are a conspicuous trio: Dayo is of Nigerian origin, Iseul is Korean and Youssef indeterminately Middle Eastern, but they are so close as to be almost inseparable. Nevertheless, Youssef is keeping a secret from his brothers: he has an imaginary double, a familiar who seems absolutely real, a shapeshifting creature he calls Brother.
The boys’ adoptive father, Imam Salim, is known for his radical sermons extolling the virtues of opting out of Western ideologies. But he is uncharismatic at home, a distant father who spends evenings in his study with whiskey-laced coffee, writing letters to his former compatriots back in Saudi Arabia. Like Youssef, he too has secrets, including the cause of his failing health, the reason for his nighttime excursions from the house and the truth about what happened to the boys’ parents. When Imam Salim’s path takes him back to Saudi Arabia, the boys will be forced to follow. There they will be captivated by an opulent, almost futuristic world and find traces of their parents’ stories. But they will have to change if they want to survive in this new world, and the arrival of a creature as powerful as Brother will not go unnoticed.
Meet Us by the Roaring Sea, Akil Kumarasamy
In the near future, a young woman finds her mother’s body starfished on the kitchen floor in Queens and sets on a journey through language, archives, artificial intelligence, and TV for a way back into herself. She begins to translate an old manuscript about a group of female medical students – living through a drought and at the edge of the war – as they create a new way of existence to help the people around them. In the process, the translator’s life and the manuscript begin to become entangled.
Along the way, the arrival of a childhood friend, a stranger, and an unusual AI project will force her to question her own moral compass and sense of goodness. How involved are we in the suffering of others? What does real compassion look like? How do you make a better world?
Wolfish, Christiane M Andrews
12-year-old Rae is content as the adopted daughter of shepherds, helping with the flock and revelling in the beauty of her family’s hillside farm. But after a frightening encounter with a wolf – to whom she feels a sudden, peculiar connection – Rae realises there is much more to her past, and her future, than she could have imagined.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Alba goes about her days as an oracle’s apprentice, a duty that confines her to a distant, watery cave. But when she bestows a troubling prophecy on the rising boy-king, her words unintentionally begin a reign of terror, and send Alba on a desperate mission alongside Rae and the wolf.
Arboreality, Rebecca Campbell
A professor in pandemic isolation rescues books from the flooded and collapsing McPherson Library. A man plants fireweed on the hillside of his depopulated Vancouver Island suburb. An aspiring luthier poaches the last ancient Sitka spruce to make a violin for a child prodigy. In looping, linked stories that travel through generations, Campbell explores the effects of climate change on one slice of British Columbia.
Spear, Nicola Griffith
She grows up in the wild wood, in a cave with her mother, but visions of a faraway lake drift to her on the spring breeze, scented with promise. And when she hears a traveler speak of Artos, king of Caer Leon, she decides her future lies at his court. So, brimming with magic and eager to test her strength, she breaks her covenant with her mother and sets out on her bony gelding for Caer Leon.
With her stolen hunting spear and mended armour, she is an unlikely hero, not a chosen one, but one who forges her own bright path. Aflame with determination, she begins a journey of magic and mystery, love, lust and fights to death. On her adventures, she will steal the hearts of beautiful women, fight warriors and sorcerers, and make a place to call home.
Ten Planets, Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman
In Ten Planets, objects can be sentient and might rebel against the unhappy human family to which they are attached. A detective of sorts finds clues to buried secrets by studying the noses of his clients, which he insists are covert maps. A meagre bacterium in a human intestine gains consciousness when a psychotropic drug is ingested. Monsters and aliens abound, but in the fiction of Herrera, knowing who is the monster and who the alien is a tricky proposition.
The Spear Cuts Through Water, Simon Jimenez
The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family – the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors – hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.
But that god cannot be contained forever.
With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom – and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.
Geometries of Belonging, RB Lemberg
The intricate Birdverse has at its core a magic based loosely in geometry, from which comes healing, love, and art. It is a complex, culturally diverse world, a realm with LGBTQIA characters and a wide range of family configurations. Lemberg probes the obstacles behind traditional social boundaries of cultures; overseeing this world is the deity Bird and all its incarnations.
Drinking from Graveyard Wells, Yvette Lisa Ndlovu
An immigrant woman undergoes a naturalisation ceremony in an imagined American state that demands that immigrants pay a toll of the thing they love the most to be allowed to stay. A first-generation Zimbabwean-American woman haunted by generational trauma is willing to pay the ultimate price to take her pain away – giving up her memories. A neighbourhood gossip wakes up to find that houses are mysteriously vanishing in the night. A shapeshifting freedom fighter leaves a legacy of resistance to her granddaughter.
In Drinking from Graveyard Wells, Yvette Lisa Ndlovu assembles a collection of poignantly reflective stories that ventilate the voices of African women charting a Black history across oceans between southern Africa and America.