Young People Read Old SFF


Pat Cadigan

Young People Read Old SFF

30 Jul, 2023

August 2023’s Young People Read Old Hugo Finalists story is Pat Cadigan’s 1987 short story Hugo finalist Angel”. Associated with the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s, Cadigan’s skillful writing established her as one of cyberpunk’s most significant authors. Cadigan’s was a familiar name on finalists’ lists. Angel”, for example, was not only a Hugo finalist1, it was a finalist for the Nebula2, the World Fantasy Award3, and various magazine awards. 

Clearly, voters 36 years ago liked Angel.” Do the Young People? 

1: Losing to Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers”, and edged out by Kate Wilhelm’s Forever Yours, Anna”, and placing ahead of Howard Waldrop’s Night of the Cooters”, Karen Joy Fowler’s The Faithful Companion at Forty”, and Lisa Goldstein’s Cassandra’s Photographs”.

2: Losing to Kate Wilhelm’s Forever Yours, Anna” but beating Lisa Goldstein’s Cassandra’s Photographs”, Paul Di Filippo’s Kid Charlemagne”, Susan Shwartz’s Temple to a Minor Goddess”, Karen Joy Fowler’s The Faithful Companion at Forty”, and Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers”,

3: Losing to Jonathan Carroll’s Friend’s Best Man”, while beating Gary Kilworth’s Hogfoot Right and Bird-Hands”, Gene Wolfe’s In the House of Gingerbread”, David J. Schow’s Pamela’s Get”, and Douglas E. Winter’s Splatter: A Cautionary Tale”. 


Before I post my full thoughts, I kept having this song playing in my head as I was rereading:

(video here if embed does not work)

I actually think this may be the favourite story I have read for this project. Although given how great Cadigan is, that is perhaps unsurprising.

To start with, the story is about gender. Not just in the sense that our protagonist is intersex, but also the descriptions and treatment of the titular Angel reads so much like that of trans people. You could remove the more speculative elements and make this story what I feel like it as at heart, an asexual trans man who has found peace with an intersex partner who loves themselves, but trying to escape his past of being in an abusive relationship with an allo-cis-woman. It is painful and harsh at times, but also immensely beautiful as well, even if also tragic.

It goes further in this with the nature of identity. Most obviously this is shown with the waitress with no face, where most people don’t notice because they simply see the face they expect to see. But we also see it with The Angel, who is noted as having the definite article when he is performing miraculous feats but becomes Angel when is opened up to the protagonist. Even the protagonist themselves is content with being intersex and doesn’t want to live a binary existence, something Angel’s Ex cannot fathom.

The penultimate paragraph is just so brilliant and one I think that will stay with me:

I could find them all now, all the ones from the other places, other worlds that sent them away for some alien crime nobody would have understood. I could find them all. They threw away their outcasts, I’d tell them, but we kept ours. And here’s how. Here’s how you live in a universe that only knows less or more.”

I could spend a long time talking about how masterful the prose is and gives various examples of its beauty but I would rather just get people to read it for themselves.


Kind of makes me feel ashamed that I’ve only read a few Cadigan stories, because every one of them has left an impression on me. Roadside Rescue” is a short snappy comedy of errors thing, but Cadigan puts more thought into the alien here than most authors would put into novels. Pretty Boy Crossover” is quintessential cyberpunk that actually holds up to scrutiny, not to mention it reminds me of Serial Experiments Lain of all things. And then there’s Angel,” which has to be the most potent of the bunch.

I recommend reading this one in advance, before even looking up where it’s been reprinted, because certain themed anthologies it shows up in give away one of the major twists. Going into it, and indeed for a good chunk of it, I thought it was urban fantasy. Asimov’s prints fantasy sometimes. I thought Angel was supposed to be taken as, you know, a literal angel from the heavens. He turns out to not be that. Another thing Cadigan does, more subtly, is that I thought at first the lack of quotation marks to tag dialogue was just a stylistic thing; turns out the narrator and Angel can communicate telepathically, but we’re not told this up front. The narrator’s lack of a gender (in that they don’t seem to think of themselves as anything, although they do seem to perform as masc) is another thing. The narrator is sexless not really by their own choice (apparently being rendered impotent from botched medical treatment in youth) while Angel was banished for not being attracted to members of his own species, although it’s strongly implied he finds humans rather attractive. Such an orientation would certainly get the average person labeled a deviant. Actually, it all reminds me of Sturgeon’s The World Well Lost,” only more sophisticated and taken to a more tragic (and tragically modern) extreme. 

We’ve reviewed a couple stories here before that have queer characters or can be read as queer, but, for example, McIntyre’s Wings” was so abstract that I didn’t find it connected with any real-world experiences, and Varley’s Options” tries to make sense of transgenderism from the perspective of someone who’s sympathetic but who has no personal context for it. Angel” is a truly QUEER story (and I do think queer” is much better than LGBTQIA+”; it’s symbolic, it contains multitudes, and it treats the English language with respect) in that I related to the narrator and Angel more than a bit. I’m not intersex, but I have been profoundly attracted to other men in my life whilst being, for my own reasons, afraid of physical intimacy with another man. What the hell, when you ask a girl out you fear she’ll say no, but when you ask a guy out you fear you’ll get your shit kicked in. The tragedy of the narrator and Angel’s romance (because I do think they love each other romantically, if not sexually) is that it could’ve worked out. Sex would not’ve really been an issue, although Angel’s species seems to have a different definition for sex” anyway. They still would have to contend with homophobia, being a man and a masc-performing person of indeterminate gender, but unfortunately that’s just being alive and queer in the 80s. 

I miss when this book club had more people active in it, because a story like this one could use more discussion and exposure. I waited until the last minute to read it because this book club has basically turned into The Kris & Brian Show” and that’s not really fun at all. It did, however, at least get me to read what will surely be in my top 25 short story reads of 2023 when I eventually get to making that list. Deadlines can push us to doing incredible things.


Yes, it is a shame it has become just us two, I would have loved more people to discuss this with. It is so rich and crunchy and I would happily discuss different reading of it with a group for hours.


On that note, if anyone reading this would like to be part of the Young People project or knows someone who might, please contact me at jdnicoll at panix dot com.