Fiction Reviews

Nebula Awards Showcase 2013

(2013) Catherine Asaro (editor), Pyr, £11.83 / Can$19 /US$18, trdpbk, 390pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14783-9


The World of Science Fiction has many awards and two of the most important are the Hugos and the Nebulas. The Hugos are nominated by and voted on annually by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention whereas the Nebulas are nominated by and voted on annually by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). You might say that the former represent the fansí views and latter the writersí views.

The book lists all the winners since the awards began in 1965, as well as all the nominees and honourees for 2012. In deciding which works to showcase, the editor has looked at all that were nominated for the year and those selected here are not necessarily the winners. With such source material, it goes almost without saying that they are all very well written.

Ken Liuís 'The Paper Menagerie' tells of a young boy, the product of an American father marrying an 'imported' Chinese wife. His mother made him origami toys and, though he did not understand at the time, she breathed life into them so that they would respond when he played with them. It is only later, after she has died, that the now-grown up young man understands all that his mother had gone through and this magic means that he has not truly lost her.

In 'The Ice Owl' by Carolyn Ives Gilman we find ourselves in a city on a distant world, amidst a period of political change. Whilst communication between mankindís many outposts is instant, travel between them is at the speed of light, meaning that a traveller will arrive at his destination many years after departure and things might have changed considerably during the journey - one can easily jump from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak. The story tells of young girl who befriends old man, both of them having escaped the problems of other worlds. While he is tutoring her, she discovers that he had been involved with terrible things on his home planet many years earlier. As the revolution sweeps through the city, both decide it is time to move on again. Whilst much of the story was interesting, the end proved to be concerned only with the girlís relationship with her mother, which made for a lame ending considering all that had gone before.

Connie Willis uses 'Ado' to ridicule Political Correctness by taking us to a future filled with pressure groups against almost everything, all of whom want to amend everything so their product or belief is not 'harmed' in any way; the claims of these groups are clearly ridiculous to us but have the backing of the law of their day. The story is told through a school teacher who is attempting to teach the works of Shakespeare. Examples of her problems include the Copenhagen Chamber of Commerce who object to the line 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark' and the National Cutlery Council who object that swords are depicted as deadly weapons ('Swords donít kill people. People kill people'). In the end, all of the great bardís works are reduced to just four lines from Hamlet Ö and even they are being challenged. The tale is amusingly told and, like many good tales, carries a serious warning!

'The Migratory Patterns of Dancers' by Katherine Sparrow is a well-told tale with an interesting idea. The modern world has lead to the loss of, amongst other things, the birds so a small group of men has been hired to replace them, if only in a cultural sense. Their DNA has been augmented with bird DNA and in the autumn and spring they are compelled to migrate along the old routes. They travel by bicycle through the American National Parks, stopping to dance for the crowds, these dances being driven by the memory of mating and other dances from the added DNA. But birds do not live as long as humans!

In 'The Axiom of Choice' David Goldman reminds us through the experiences of a travelling musician that we all make choices, all the time, and that every choice has a consequence. Unfortunately the story is nothing special and the author does not do anything interesting with the concept.

'Club Story' is an essay by John Clute, extracted from the third edition of The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, which looks at the origins and format of this genre. It is written the same way that he talks; it is densely packed and very 'intellectual'.

Geoff Ryman has set 'What We Found' in Nigeria, where it tells of a family that has its problems and of hope leading cruelly to disappointment. His lead character, a scientist, finds that the act of scientific observation reduces that which is observed - and finds that this applies to life in general.

In an excerpt from her novel 'Among Others', Jo Walton presents us with diary entries by a young girl growing up in a Welsh valley. It tells of her adventures in a landscape which is shaped by the local factories and is, as she sees it, full of fairies and mystical paths. Being only a snippet, this suffers as do many excerpts - I had no idea where it was going.

Nancy Fuldaís story 'Movement' concerns a young girl with temporal autism. It is told by the girl who attempts to explain to us that, though apparently cut-off from the world, she simply works with a different sense of time and response and is, in her own way, quite happy. She likes being the way she is and just wishes that everyone would understand.

'Sauerkraut Station' by Ferret Steinmetz tells a good and enjoyable story in the traditional line of hard SF. Again concerning a young girl, it describes her life on a space way station which is run just by herself, her mother, and her grandmother. They service and supply space craft as they make their way between the stars and all is well until the war comes along. At first it is a chance to make a little extra money as there are more visitors and more work to do, but as the war deepens the soldiers become harder and also their biggest threat - although the space station is neutral, neither side can allow the other to take it over. And the stationís unofficial name? One of its sidelines is the manufacture of some of the best sauerkraut to be found anywhere.

E. Lily Yuís 'The Cartography Wasps and the Anarchist Bees' is a charming little tale whereby it is discovered that wasps draw tiny but highly accurate maps of their local area in the interior of their nests. The local populace, seeking to profit from these maps, soon manage to kill off most of the wasps but the survivors flee to an area controlled by bees. The bees have another problem - some of their number wish to change the old, ordered ways to those of anarchy.

In 'Ray of Light' Brad R. Torgersen tells of survival in a frozen world. Visiting aliens have blotted out the sun resulting in a big freeze whereby the world has become covered with ice. The only survivors live in small cities on the ocean floor, waiting for the time when the sun reappears and they can return to the surface.

The excerpt from Delia Shermanís young adult novel 'The Freedom Maze' introduces us to a young girl from 1960 who finds herself back 1860. It seems she has been tricked by some sort of magical creature, though we get too little of the story to know why. From what we do see, the raison díÍtre for the story seems to be to educate us of mid-nineteenth century life on a plantation in the deep south.

For 'The Man Who Bridged the Mist' Kij Johnson takes us to a world where boats travel on the mist which lies above the water of rivers and oceans. This is not mist as we know it, rather it is more solid, like a foam; it is highly caustic and there are dangerous, hungry fish lurking within it. The Empire is divided by such a river and travel between its two halves is hampered by reliance on the ferry folk, who only dare take to their boats when the conditions are just right. No wonder they send a man to build a bridge across it! Although there is much talk and description of bridge building, it is pitched nicely to provide a background to carry the story along but without getting in the way. The real story is about the people; indeed, it is, very quietly, a delightful love story.

As well as prose, there are two poems: 'Peach-Creamed Honey' by Amal El-Mohtar, and 'The Sea Kingís Second Bride' by C. S. E. Cooney. I have never been especially fond of poetry but the latter told an interesting story.

All-in-all I found this to be a most enjoyable book. The stories varied nicely between hard SF and fantasy and, whilst I found a few to have their weaknesses and the excerpts to be too short to be worthwhile, my overall impression was one of a good read and stories I shall remember.

Peter Tyers

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