Fiction Reviews

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014

(2014) Kij Johnson (ed), Pyr, £12.99 / Can$19.00 / US$18.00, trdpbk, 301pp, ISBN 978-1-61614-901-7


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 fans' views and latter the writers' views.

The book lists all the winners since the awards began in 1965, as well as all the nominees for the final Nebula ballot for 2013 to which this book's stories relate. Having said that, the guest editor (Kij Johnson) confusingly refers to the 2013 Nebulas as being the 2012 Nebulas, as 2012 is the year of publication of the works voted on in 2013. (Sensibly, previous Pyr anthologies in this series denote the year of the Nebulas as the year the awards were presented, and not the year of the works being awarded. Pyr needs to editorially standardise its nomenclature!)

The editor starts with an introduction, which is followed by short articles on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and on the Nebula Awards and associated awards. Rather than picking from amongst all the nominees, as has sometimes been the case with this book series, this year we mostly get the winners.

In 'Immersion' Aliette de Bodard takes us to a future of augmented reality. Many people wear immersers, devices which constantly append information to the scene around you and also project your chosen avatar for public gaze (useful for lifting those wrinkles or restyling your otherwise dowdy clothes) - think of Google Glass after a few centuries of development. Whilst some cannot afford immersers and most use them only when required, there are others who rely greatly upon them and addiction can be a real problem. [Nebula Award - Best Short Story.]

Andy Duncan reminds us of the days of alien contacts in 'Close Encounters'. Back in the fifties Buck Nelson had been famous for his tales of his trips to Mars and Venus but now he is an old man and would be much happier if folks would just forget about such things. However, Stephen Spielberg’s film is due out soon so reporters are calling round, stirring up the old tales in the hope of a “human interest” story for their papers. Unfortunately, whilst science has told us what the planets are really like, Buck can still remember his sadness when burying Bo, his Venusian dog. And that girl reporter, is she really what she appears to be? And how come she just arrives and leaves but is never seen walking along the drive to his door? [Nebula Award - Best Novelette.]

'After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall' is a time travel story by Nancy Cress. In 2035 life has almost disappeared. The Tesslie, as the survivors call the never-seen alien race, arrived from nowhere and all but destroyed the planet some twenty years earlier. Yet, for their own unknown reasons, the Tesslie have saved a handful of humans and keep them in the Shell, an almost windowless construction from which they cannot leave. The survivors have been given the means to grow their own food as well as devices that supply clean water and process waste. Since it became obvious that this tiny population is too small to survive, perhaps because of genetic damage due to radiation from the attack, the Tesslie have given them another device - the Grabber. This allows an individual to pop back in time for just ten minutes and grab whatever (s)he can; this is often a young child to help their dwindling numbers thought it may be useful goods such as blankets or clothing. Meanwhile, back in 2013, the FBI have noticed a pattern to certain child abductions and store break-ins. The story is set in both periods and flits between them following the chronology of the events in each, linked by the trips back on the Grabber. After a while, it starts to become obvious where this story is heading and so the end is hardly a surprise. This is not, though, sloppy writing giving the game away (such as the crime writer who gives us too many clues about the butler in only chapter 2 of a who-dunnit), it is because the author is carefully leading us in that direction as the facts are laid before us. [Nebula Award - Best Novella.]

The excerpt from Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel2312 suffers from being what it is; just an excerpt. It starts with a prologue which sets the scene as being on Mercury, in one of the moving cities that trundles on rails round the planet at the same speed at which it rotates (every 177 Earth days) so it remains permanently in the cool zone of just before the dawn. Swan has recently lost Alex, her grandmother, and old friends keep enquiring whether such an early death was natural or was there anything suspicious? With such a short excerpt and the way the story appears constructed of snippets and lists of (presumably) related facts, it is difficult to know anything much about where it is going. I suspect it will prove to be one of those books that you have to read a fair way into before it all comes together. [Nebula Award - Best Novel.]

In 'The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species' Ken Liu provides a sort of essay on the idea that all species write books in some form or other. Whilst inventive, it also struck me as a little contrived; it stirred memories of The Book in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which continually mentioned yet another strange and exotic race ('… though the Jatravartid people of Viltvodel Six …'). [Nebula Award Finalist - Best Short story.]

The excerpt from 'Fair Coin' by E. C. Myers appears to start at the beginning of the book and set the scene. Ephraim arrives home from school to find that his mother has tried to take her own life, a reaction to having identified his body after a traffic accident. It must be said that the deceased does look remarkably like Ephraim and even had his library card in his wallet; he also had a commemorative coin in his wallet, one minted in 2008 - which is odd as they were all minted in 2009. Ephraim finds a note telling him to flip the coin and make a wish … . It would seem we are dealing with alternate or parallel timelines. Unlike the excerpt from 2312, this seems indicative of a straightforwardly told story. [Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.]

Cat Rambo’s 'Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain' is an interesting story which tells of love between a human and an alien made of clay, as seen from the alien’s perspective. Love does not always end well! [Nebula Award Finalist - Best Short story.]

Starting in 1975 SFWA have often presented a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award to a living author for a lifetime of achievement in science fiction or fantasy. This time it has gone to Gene Wolfe. In appreciation of the author, two articles are included: 'Gene Wolfe' by Michael Dirda and 'How to Read Gene Wolfe' by Neil Gaiman.

As a representation of his work, Wolfe chose 'Christmas Inn' for this anthology. The Christmas family run the (understandably named) Christmas Inn, somewhere up north where Christmas is cold, dark, and snowy. The business limps along most of the year but survives on the folks that want to get away to somewhere different for Christmas; this year, however, the snow storms have been so bad that no one can get through. The family are much relieved when a small but rather strange group turn up in a big SUV, looking to stay for a few days. After a while, it dawns on them that these are not normal people; indeed, they may not even be people (as we know them) at all. [Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master.]

The book finishes with three poems.

'The Library, After' by Shira Lipkin is, to me, much more like a very short story and I enjoyed it. [2012 Rhysling Award - Best Short Poem.]

In 'The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages' Megan Arkenberg has some interesting ideas but, like many poems, they are only hints at the wonders we have missed. [2012 Rhysling Award - Best Long Poem.]

Marge Simon’s 'Blue Rose Buddha' strikes me as a typical short poem and, I must confess, such poetry does not do much for me. [2012 Dwarf Stars Award.]

There are some interesting and very enjoyable stories in this anthology and everything was well written (as you would expect from such an anthology). As this should represent the best of the best, I would expect to get to the end and put it on my shelves thinking “wow - that was good” but no. Overall I felt a bit disappointed though it is difficult to say why. Perhaps, when looking for the best of the best, writers look in a different way to readers?

Peter Tyers

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