2003 Award Results

The SLF is delighted to announce the results of our 2003 Fountain Award judging! The Fountain Award is given to a speculative short story of exceptional literary quality, chosen from work nominated by magazine and anthology editors. Our jurors for 2003 were: Heinz Insu Fenkl, John Kessel, Larissa Lai, Kelly Link, and Maureen McHugh. They have chosen a winner and selected the following short list for honorable mention.



“The Specialist” by Alison Smith
Published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern


Honorable Mentions:

“After the Disaster” by Ben Ehrenreich
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
“Ash City Stomp” by Richard Butner
Trampoline: an anthology
“Bitter Grounds” by Neil Gaiman
Mojo: Conjure Stories
“Bread & Bombs” by M. Rickert
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
“Brief History of the Dead” by Kevin Brockmeier
The New Yorker
“Come Dance with Me” by Terry Bisson
“Custer’s Angel” by Adrienne Gormley
New Voices in Science Fiction
“Death Penalty” by Leslie What
“The Fishie” by Phil Raines and Harvey Welles
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet
“The Mystery of Our Baraboo Lands” by Barth Anderson
Polyphony 3
“The People of Paper” by Salvador Plascencia
McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern
“The Pond” by Sarah Willis
Missouri Review
“The Reincarnate” by Michael Bergstein
Conjunctions:41, Two Kingdoms
“The Shortest Distance Between Me and the World” by Mark Kline
Missouri Review
“They Took My Body Apart and Made Another Me” by Robert Kelly
Conjunctions:41, Two Kingdoms
“You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud



Two Fountain Award jurors offer the following comments on our 2003 winner, Alison Smith’s “The Specialist”:

John Kessel:
Alison Smith’s “The Specialist” is beautifully written, funny, and full of evocative details. As I read the nominated stories I was on the lookout for originality and good writing, but what really carried me in this story was the feeling that the author had access to something fundamentally mysterious. I love the way the story kept taking sharp turns when I least expected them, and I found the final images powerful and disturbing.

Larissa Lai:
As I went through the heap of stories, I was looking for ones that struck me as innovative, resonant and well-written. I was looking for stories that delivered both emotional impact and conceptual depth. I tended to favour stories that were socially meaningful. It was a great pleasure to do this work, as there were very few stories I did not enjoy in some measure. But this also made it difficult to narrow the list down.

“The Specialist” stuck out for me because it took a prevalent cultural trope—that of the “frigid woman”– and explored its implications in ways that were emotionally resonant, and at the same time fresh and strange. Alison Smith takes an everyday metaphor, literalizes it, subtly at first, and then keeps needling at it and making it more and more fantastic, until were find ourselves somewhere very wonderful indeed. Her logic is compelling and strange, and takes the reader to an interesting and oddly satisfying close.



And our winner, Allison Smith, offers us insight into her story, and comments on winning the first annual Fountain Award:

Alison Smith:
I’ve always been fascinated by tuberculosis. It’s a rather disgusting and highly contagious disease. Nonetheless, in the fiction of the nineteenth century, people are always rushing about kissing tubercular young ladies. So I thought, if we can make TB sexy, then we ought to be able to make just about any illness compelling. Yet sickness languishes on the back shelves of great literary topics. And our ideas about it remain undeveloped. There are the romantic consumptives, the noble cancer patients, and then there are neat deaths. I started kicking around the idea of chronic illness as a subject for a story in 1994. I wanted to write about the isolation of chronic illness, the unnamable quality of it, about how it quietly alters the trajectory of a life. Then I came across a gynecological study that reported ten percent of females experience unexplained pelvic pain. And no one talks about it. Soon Alice arrived in my mind, with a constant ache in her nether regions.

It took eight years to write The Specialist. When I got up to the part where the Fourth Man’s wife is on a dogsled in the Yukon leading the search party for her husband I stalled out. I had written myself into a corner, a cold snowy, sparsely populated corner. So I set the story aside (for good, I thought) and wrote my first book, a memoir titled Name All the Animals. I finished it while in residence at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in May of 2002. I met a writer there named Laurie Foos. Her first novel, Ex Utero, is about a woman who loses her uterus at the mall. It’s a thrilling ride of a book and Laurie delivers it in spare, deadpan prose. Reading Ex Utero gave me courage. I pulled out The Specialist. I finished the story that week.

I was certain that no one would ever publish the piece. A dark quest story about a woman and her troubled vagina? No editor was going to go near that. But I was wrong. The lovely editors at McSweeney’s picked it up right away. And then it was optioned for film. And then the kind judges at the Speculative Fiction Foundation have blessed it with the very first Fountain Award. I am stunned by the spectrum of people who can relate to Alice’s story. And I am quite honored to accept the Fountain Award, on Alice’s behalf.

August 18, 2004


More information on the Fountain Award

To discuss the Fountain Award, visit the SLF Forum page.


Participating Publications in 2003:

Abyss & Apex Missouri Review
Alchemy Mojo: Conjure Stories
Alien Skin MOTA 2003: Courage
Another Showcase Neo-opsis
Anotherealm New Orleans Review
Asimov’s New Voices in Science Fiction
Barcelona Review The Night Land
Chizine NFG Magazine
Confrontation On Spec
Conjunctions 41: Two Kingdoms Open Space: New Canadian Fantastic Fiction
The Dark Other Magazine
Dreams and Visions Paradox
Fables Polyphony
Fedora II Rabid Transit II
Fence Magazine Say…
Flytrap SciFiction
Georgia Review Silver Gryphon Anthology
The Infinite Matrix Stars
Intracities Stickman Review
Island Dreams Story Quarterly
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Strange Horizons
Live Without a Net Sun Magazine
Lost Pages Taint Magazine
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction The Third Alternative
Massachusetts Review Trampoline
McSweeney’s Witpunk
Men Writing Science Fiction as Women Women Writing Science Fiction As Men
Mississippi Review

Questions about this year’s awards process may be directed to Karen Meisner, Awards Administrator – FountainAward@speculativeliterature.org