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2020 Neukom Awards Honors Complex Stories in Complex Times

Winners peer into imagined worlds with real consequences

Neukom Winners
Neukom 2020 winners Cadwell Turnbull (l) and Ted Chiang (r) are honored for works in speculative fiction. [Turnbull photo credit: Anju Manandhar; Chiang photo credit: Alan Berner.]

HANOVER, N.H. – October 8, 2020 – Dartmouth’s Neukom Institute is proud to announce the winners of the 2020 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards for speculative fiction:

2020 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction (Debut) 
Cadwell TurnbullThe Lesson
(Blackstone Publishing, 2019)

2020 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award for Speculative Fiction (Open)
Ted ChiangExhalation
(Knopf, 2019)

“Speculative fiction has always challenged and enlarged our ideas of what the world can be,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth. “This year’s winners continue this important tradition and recognize two wondrous and wonderful additions to this vibrant genre.”

In recognition of the relevance of speculative fiction to our time and the vast amount of high quality work being written, the Neukom Awards has also awarded special recognition to We Set the Dark on Fire, by Tehlor Kay Mejia (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019) in the debut category, and The Archive of Alternate Endings, by Lindsey Drager (Dzanc Books, 2019) in the open category.

The book awards were judged by Nebula Award-winner Sam J. Miller, author of The Art of Starving, Blackfish CityDestroy All Monsters and The Blade Between.

Complex Books for Complex Times

The debut winner, The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull, tells the story of the tense relationship between residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands and aliens parked over the island group on a multiyear research mission. The book provides a spec-fic twist to the complexities of colonialism, and of interactions between people.

"Few science fiction storylines are more overused than tales of alien first contact and invasion, which makes Cadwell Turnbull's achievement in The Lesson all the more astonishing,” said Miller. “He's managed to make it fresh and alive and painfully relevant for a moment where our histories of colonization and exploitation are poised to teach us all some terrible lessons, and we should all be paying attention. It's the kind of debut that makes me so excited for the future of speculative fiction."

The open category winner, Exhalation, by Ted Chiang, is a collection of nine stories that address subjects including time travel, alien life and artificial intelligence. In the book, Chiang’s second collection of stories, the author creates devices such as a digital memory and a digital pet to explore the many imaginative alleyways of the spec-fic genre.

“Ted Chiang is simply the greatest living science fiction writer, and each new story of his is cause for celebration. It's been 17 years since his last collection, and Exhalation is exactly the kind of brain-exploding, superhuman, profoundly human work we need right now. Far and away the best speculative book of the year, and probably the decade. Ted's stories rewrite the rules of the world and widen the scope of our dreams, and we are all in his debt," said Miller. 

Turnbull and Chiang will participate in an online award event later this month to discuss their works and the speculative fiction genre. Miller and Rockmore will also participate.

In addition to appearing on the panel, the two top award winners will each receive a $5,000 honorarium.

The awards program serves as part of the Neukom Institute’s mission to explore the possibilities of computational science, including the ways in which computational ideas impact society.

For more on the awards program or the winners, visit the Neukom Institute awards website at: https://sites.dartmouth.edu/neukominstitutelitawards/