Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Thoughts on the Nebula Shortlist

Hey, hey! The 2013 Nebula Award Shortlist has been announced. As usual, here it is! When available, I've included links for purchase on all novels and films, for those who are so inclined, and links to !FREE! stories when available for short stories, novellas and novelettes. After presenting each slate of nominees, I offer my thoughts and predict a winner.

Best Novel

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Marian Wood)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Morrow; Headline Review)
Fire with Fire , Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
Hild, Nicola Griffith (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Ancillary Justice  Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Red: First Light, Linda Nagata (Mythic Island)
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker (Harper)

I have to confess that, of this list, I've only read Ancillary Justice, but if you'll recall it did make my Hugo shortlist. It's definitely a good enough book, though I think it better fits the profile of a Hugo than a Nebula winner (it's organized around a simple but striking conceit, it's aspirations are firmly grounded in genre and it is, in a fundamental way, in explicit conversation with genre). Nevertheless, it's probably the front runner.

The Golem and the Jinni is another book I could see winning, as it combines urban fantasy with the kind of "political conflicts dressed up as cultural/civilizational conflicts are stupid and pointless when you consider: a) how much we've got in common; and b) how much everyone would benefit from some cooperation and mutual understanding" type message that I find sensible and appealing. Disclaimer: I haven't read it. But from what I've read about it, the book seems to be very well-written too.

As far as the rest go, I'm happy to see Samatar and Small Beer Press get recognition from what is arguably the institutional voice of the genre. And I'm inclined to support the choice of The Red: First Light, for the simple fact that it demonstrates the SFWA recognizes the changing dynamics of the publishing industry and does not exhibit the kind of reflexive prejudice against self-publishing that is yin to the yang of Hugh Howey's zealotry. (I've also heard the book is very good, so it's not just any self-published novel.)

Hild, however, is the kind of daring choice that underscores my belief that the Nebulas are inherently superior to the Hugos. It's gotten more attention from mainstream literary types than genre insiders; it subverts and inverts a number of questionable assumptions about gender in the Middle Ages, generally transported wholesale into fantasy; and it's barely fantasy, for that matter. I don't expect it to win, but I'm glad it's on the list.

Predicted Winner: Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK) because it's the buzziest SF novel of 2013.

Best Novella

‘‘Wakulla Springs,’’ Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages ( 10/2/13)
‘‘The Weight of the Sunrise,’’ Vylar Kaftan (Asimov’s 2/13)
‘‘Annabel Lee,” Nancy Kress (New Under the Sun)
‘‘Burning Girls,’’ Veronica Schanoes ( 6/19/13)
‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (, 8/13; World Jumping)
"Six-Gun Snow White," Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)

 Lawrence Schoen again? I find that hard to explain, unless he happens to be one of a small number of writers the SFWA's "conservative," "progressive" and "I don't care about the politics" wings can agree on. This story just isn't that good, to be frank. Nor, unfortunately, is Valente's--a disappointment, given how good her writing generally is. But maybe I just have "fairly tale retelling fatigue," a condition I blame on Disney and the various abominations that go under the name Once Upon a Time--wretched creatures that murdered this niche genre before my very eyes and then performed wicked and depraved acts upon its corpse.

"Wakulla Springs," by contrast, is a more interesting choice, but if Hild is barely fantasy, this one isn't really SF or fantasy at all. Can't see that winning.

Predicted Winner: ‘‘Trial of the Century,’’ Lawrence M. Schoen (, 8/13; World Jumping) because other SF/F writers seem to really like his novellas.

Best Novelette

‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ Christopher Barzak (Lightspeed 6/13)
‘‘The Waiting Stars,’’ Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky)
‘‘They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass,’’ Alaya Dawn Johnson (Asimov’s 1/13)
‘‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,’’ Henry Lien (Asimov’s 12/13)
‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13)
‘‘In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,’’ Sarah Pinsker (Strange Horizons 7/1 – 7/8/13)

This is a decent slate, with quality stories by Liu, Pinsker and de Bodard. ‘‘Paranormal Romance,’’ I'm afraid, didn't do it for me--it's the kind of inward-looking, self-referential genre story that Paul Kincaid associates with SF's "exhaustion" and I generally associate with the Hugos. ‘‘The Waiting Stars’’ by Aliette de Bodard is my favorite of the shortlist, though Liu and Pinsker would also be worthy winners.

Predicted Winner: ‘‘The Litigation Master and the Monkey King,’’ Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/13) because it's good, everyone loves Ken Liu and, well, his stories just feel like award-winners. 

Best Short Story

‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,’’ Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,’’ Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,’’ Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,’’ Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)

None of my Hugo nominees made it, which is a horrible stain on the reputation of the SFWA. And boy does the SFWA rank-and-file seem to prefer Lightspeed over Clarkesworld. (No knock on Lightspeed, but where's the love for Clarkesworld?)

But now that I've had a chance to read some of these, I'll concede that ‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers’’ by Sofia Samatar; ‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth’’ by Matthew Kressel; and ‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’’ by Kenneth Schneyer are all very high-quality. Schneyer's piece is a great example of how to effectively deploy an experimental story structure, but I imagine it will feel a bit too much like a "thought experiment" to some. Samatar's, by contrast, is an emotionally-charged, Clarion-style piece; what's more, it hits hard in the way only short stories can hit hard. 

Predicted Winner: ‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,’’ Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13) because it's the story that leaves the biggest emotional impact on the reader.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director) (Warner Bros.)

I find the idea of comparing Pacific Rim to Gravity exceedingly strange.

Predicted Winner: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.) because it is a rare "hard" SF film, because it uses the medium in unique ways and because, in comparison to it, everything other than Europa Report is a complete joke.

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (Little, Brown; Indigo)
When We Wake, Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin; Little, Brown)
Sister Mine, Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central)
The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
Hero (The Woodcutter Sisters), Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
September Girls, Bennett Madison (Harper Teen)
A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine)

I have read none of these and know very little about any of them. Sorry.

Predicted Winner: Your guess is as good as mine. 


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator (2012).