Home Local News Sci-Fi zine GigaNotoSaurus, edited by Madison writer LaShawn Wanak, nominated for a...

Sci-Fi zine GigaNotoSaurus, edited by Madison writer LaShawn Wanak, nominated for a Hugo Award

LaShawn Wanak

GigaNotoSaurus, a speculative literary magazine that publishes science fiction and fantasy stories on a monthly basis, has been nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. Its editor, LaShawn Wanak, is a science fiction writer based in Madison.

Wanak moved to Madison in 2008 by way of Chicago’s South Side when her husband accepted a job with a Christian nonprofit in town. An avid lover of science fiction and fantasy (SFF) thanks to her grandmother, Wanak was first introduced to the local SFF scene by a feminist science fiction group that invited her to WisCon, an SFF convention that takes place annually in Madison.

“For the first time, I got to meet other people who love to read science fiction and fantasy and a lot of them [were] Black people like me,” she said. “So that was a huge thing for me.”

Wanak took over the volunteer-led publication in 2022 after its founder, author Ann Leckie, stepped away from its editorial leadership after running the zine for almost a decade. GigaNotoSaurus publishes pieces that range from 5,000-25,000 words, which was a strategic choice on Leckie’s part.

“In the science fiction and fantasy genre, it’s hard to find markets that publish novella works,” Wanak explained. “She wanted to be one of those markets.”

When Wanak took over, she increased the number of people on staff, bringing on associate editors Mia Tsai and Edgar Wentz. At the time, the publication was also able to increase writers’ pay to $200 per story. 

Tsai, a Taiwanese American speculative fiction author based in Atlanta, fell in love with SFF in the fifth grade because of the genre’s sense of wonder, and was looking for “slush opportunities” when GigaNotoSaurus put out its staffing call. “I wanted to be in a place that was a bit off the beaten path and published longer stories similar to the ones I had been reading,” she said. 

As an East Asian editor for an SFF magazine, Tsai takes seriously her part in bringing marginalized or unheard voices to the fore. “There’s a responsibility to those before and after me, as well as a responsibility to those in my community, which encompasses more than just East Asians,” she said. 

Tsai continued: “I see my position here as someone who can advocate for voices who might otherwise end up in the rejection pile or who might have gotten passed over in the bookstore.” 

Wanak similarly looks for stories with deep meaning, especially those that grapple with faith and queerness. “That was one thing that I wanted,” she said. “I wanted the magazine to be a place for people to send their queer stories and to elevate those voices as well.” 

Writers have gone on to win awards for the stories they published in GigaNotoSaurus.

As a whole, Wanak says that the science fiction and fantasy genre “allows us to dream and consider things that can’t be done in the real world in a way that at some point, we can do. It also gives us a whole new language [for] truth.”

And while she’s been reading and writing her whole life, it wasn’t until Wanak moved to Madison and attended WisCon that she considered writing from her own experiences as a Black woman. 

The importance of writing about these identities was only solidified during an incident now known as RaceFail, which was a 2009 Internet incident that illuminated the racism within SFF fandoms and opened up conversations about representation in the genre. 

While the incident itself spurred a lot of unnecessary hatred, for Wanak, it was a sort of wake-up call. “At the time, I was kind of writing stories from a Black perspective. But the essay from RaceFaill helped me focus a lot better on it,” she said. “I threw everything out [in my novel] and basically redid the story from [a Black female character’s] perspective.”

Since its inception in 2011, GigaNotoSaurus hasn’t been a complete stranger to the limelight, similarly garnering a Hugo Award nomination in 2017. But Wanak says that this year’s nomination was not only a personal motivator, but symbolic of the zine’s larger importance.

“When we were notified that we were selected to be on the final ballot for the Hugos, I was going through some rough times and was kind of wondering, ‘Well maybe I should make this my last year of running the magazine,’” she explained. 

She continued: “The fact that we got nominated meant that not only [are] people actually reading us, but they actually care about us. It kind of blew me out of the water.”

The significance of leading a publication like GigaNotoSaurus isn’t lost on Wanak, who is one of 4 or 5 Black editors in the science fiction and fantasy sphere. “Right now is a time [where] we have so many great Black authors coming out with these amazing stories,” she said. “I’m proud to be among them.”

“We don’t get that much buzz compared to other publications, we don’t put out multiple stories, [and] we hardly get comments on the stories we do put out,” Tsai added. “So to be seen, especially as one of the very few markets led by a Black woman, with a diverse, international team comprised of marginalized people, is simply jaw-dropping to us.” 

Despite the well-deserved recognition, Wanak is hoping to keep things relatively the same for the magazine’s near future. “Keeping things small for now seems to be a good idea, but at the same time, I still dream,” she said. “Who knows what the next few months will be like?”

The Hugo Awards, along with the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, will be announced at a ceremony in Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday, Aug. 11.