Fiction Reviews

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015

(2015) Greg Bear (ed.), Pyr, £12.99 / Can$19 / US$18, pbk, 349pp, ISBN 978-1-633-88090-0


Reading Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 reminds me of two things.  The first was back when I belonged to a writer’s group when occasionally one of the members would bring along a story, pretend it was his, read it and then rubbish it because it was the winning entry of a short story competition he had entered, and lost. He would then rant on about how poor the story was, and how bad the judges were. However the Nebula’s do not have judges, they are voted on by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SWFA), so can so many get it wrong? Probably not.

The second memory was that I have never read a previous Nebula Award Stories before, except, once, with the 11th volume, edited by Ursula K. Le Guin, no less, and featuring the 1975 winners which included Joe Haldeman winning Best Novel for The Forever War, Roger Zelazny winning best novella for Home is the Hangman, Tom Reamy winning Best Novelette for 'San Diego Lightfoot Sue' and Fritz Leiber winning Best Short Story with 'Catch that Zeppelin!'.  Obviously, a very star-studded affair and the collection also included a couple of essays and some of the other short-listed tales by the likes of Harlan Ellison with his story 'Shatterday'.  Back then there were only four winners, and no Grand Master, or was there?  Because at the back of the 11th collection Robert Heinlein is listed as being awarded Grand Master status the previous year, while in this latest collection he becomes a Grandmaster in 1975. Typo? Mistake? Whatever the reason Le Guin missed a trick by not reprinting a Heinlein classic short story, or novel extract, and having an article written in his honour, which is exactly what happens in the 2015 edition with an article written about the latest (now called Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master) Grand Master who was Samuel R. Delaney followed by arguably his most famous story: 'Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones'.

This is the 2015 Nebula edition and it already seems curiously out of date. These were the 2013 winners, Greg Bear (a two-time Nebula winner himself) wrote his introduction in 2014 and the book came out in 2015 and we are now in 2016!  Perhaps it is the extract from Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice which swept all before it, or the inclusion of pretty well known stories like 'Selkie Stories Are For Losers' by Sophia Samatar that gives this feeling of déjà read. There are more winners here too, or more categories, named or renamed after a legend in the field. The one named after Ray Bradbury since 2009 is for the best script effort, the one named after Andre Norton is for best young adult fantasy and science fiction novel. In 2013, they respectively went to Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron for the screenplay of the film Gravity, and Nalo Hopkinson for 'Sister Mine'. Like Ancillary Justice an extract appears from 'Sister Mine'.

What we get for our bucks are the Nebula Award Winner for Best Short Story which went to Rachel Swisky’s very short story 'If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love', which reads like a whimsical fantastic love story before spiralling down into a darker truth. Accompanying this are four others stories which did not win, but were short-listed, including the aforementioned story by Samatar.  And what a varied bunch they are, giving different twists on well-worn tropes about shape-shifters, supernatural love and planetary exile.

Next, we get the winner of the Best Novelette category, namely Aliette de Bodard’s epic 'The Waiting Stars', followed by the five runner-up novelettes. We have used up a lot of pages by now so what follows is the winner of the Best Novella category – Vylar Kaftan’s 'The Weight of the Sunrise' where the Incan empire has survived, but there is no room for the runners-up, so it’s on to extract from Leckie’s Ancillary Justice which won Best Novel, and before reaching an extract from Hopkinson’s 'Sister Moon' there is a tribute article to Frank. M. Robinson who was the Nebula Distinguished Guest who died in 2014.

After the tribute to Delany and his famous short story we are presented with three poems: Terry. A. Garey’s 'The Cat Star', the winner of the 2013 Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem, which obviously posits if there are Dog stars, why shouldn’t there be the feline equivalent?  Deborah P. Kolodji’s Dwarf Stars Award Winner 'Basho After Cinderella' is very short and very clever, and has certainly given me an idea for a poem. The last poem is the winner of the Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem called 'Into Flight' by Andrew Robert Sutton, which examines a world where books have had enough about being superseded by their digital counterparts and flown away, but what sort of world do they leave behind?

If anything “Nebula Awards Showcase 2015” shows that good writing and imagination flourished in 2013.

Ian Hunter

See also here for Peter's take on the Nebula Awards Showcase 2015.

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