Fiction Reviews

Nebula Awards Showcase 2018
The year's best science fiction and fantasy

(2018) Jane Yolen (ed.), Pyr, £15.99 / Can$19 / US$18, 287pp, ISBN 978-1-633-88504-2


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.

Although this is the '2018' Showcase, the year refers to that of the publication of the Showcase. The awards were for items which were first published in 2016 and were nominated and voted on in 2017.

The book includes a list of all the winners since the awards began in 1965, as well as all the nominees for the final ballot for 2016’s publications. In addition to the Nebulas, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation went to writer Eric Heisserer for Arrival and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy went to Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine; the nominees for both awards are also listed. As usual, 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.

For those uncertain of the categories: the SFWA define a short story as having fewer than 7,500 words, a novelette is longer but has fewer than 17,500 words, a novella is longer still but has fewer than 40,000 words, and a novel has 40,000 words or more.

We start with the short stories.

In ‘A Fistful of Permutations in Lighting and Wildflowers’ Alyssa Wong tells of sisters Hannah and Melanie, who have always had unusual powers. Since Hanna left home her sister has missed her more and more, to the point where she takes her own life by immolation. In an attempt to prevent this, Hanna returns home earlier but Melanie simply dies in another awful way. Hanna returns home earlier and earlier but her sister always dies. Just how much can she turn back the clock and what else can she try?,/P>

Barbara Krasnoff’s ‘Sabbath Wine’ is set in Brooklyn, back in the days of Prohibition. Malka is the young daughter of Abe Hirsch, a Jew whose religion has lapsed. When she befriends the slightly older David Richards, the son of a neighbour, she asks her father if he would produce a Sabbath as an educational experience for her and her new friend. Always willing to make his daughter happy, Abe agrees but the only way he can get the necessary wine is from a local bootlegger, David’s father, who he invites to join them. As they watch their children playing they admit an unusual truth to each other. A really nice little story.

‘Things with Beards’, by Sam J. Miller, recounts the experiences of MacReady, a man who survived a disaster in McMurdo in 1983. The whole camp had been destroyed; almost everyone was dead and blown to bits apart from the two almost completely frozen survivors the supply ship had found. He could remember nothing of the event, other than something vague about a dog, and, indeed, he still finds himself with memory lapses. The thing that now lives inside of him only comes out when it is safe and it ensures he never remembers what happens.

Caroline M. Yoachim’s story ‘Welcome to the Medicinal Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station ¦ Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0’ is short but punchy. It lists the A to Z procedure for treatment, as in A: get infected, B: go for treatment, etc., through to Z: die. No matter what path you take, all routes lead to Z.

In ‘This Is Not a Wardrobe Door’ A. Merc Rustad introduces us to 6-year old Ellie, who goes through her closet door to see her friend Zera and have great adventures (and is always still six when she returns, no matter how long she has been away). One day the door no longer opens for her but as she grows through her childhood she never forgets Zera and often writes to the Gatekeeper, requesting the door be opened again. Meanwhile, Zera is dismayed to find than not just Ellie’s door but all the doors have gone quiet and so she goes to see the Forgotten Book - before all their friends in the other world forget about them.Brooke Bolander’s ‘Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies’ is short and to the point. Don’t cut the wings off strange creatures - they hatch again and come back for you! Personally, I do not much care for the use of the f-word unless it adds a necessary punch or is a vital adjunct to an event or particular character; in this story I thought it showed a lack of vocabulary.

And so to the Best Short Story: ‘Seasons of Glass and Iron’ by Amal El-Mohtar. Tabitha walks and walks in iron shoes, almost without rest; she has lost count of the years but she is on her fourth of seven pairs. Amira lives on the top of a glass hill and as long as she sits without moving her suitors are unable to climb it; she is sustained by the golden apples that appear in her hands. One day Tabitha finds the glass hill and, as her iron shoes grip the glass, she arrives at the summit and finds Amira. As Tabitha walks round and round the summit, slowly wearing through the iron, they become friends, each telling the other their histories. Maybe they are the solution to each other’s problem.

Next come the Novelettes.

First we have an excerpt from ‘The Jewel and Her Lapidary’ by Fran Wilde. In the Jewelled Valley, Jewel Lin wakes to find herself bound, a prisoner in her own palace. Her father, the King, has been betrayed! Fortunately Sima, her Lapidary, is also there and Lin will need her help if she is to save the Valley. The excerpt was too short to be of any use.

Jason Sanford’s story ‘Blood Grains Speak Through Memories’ introduces us to a future world where the grains live in everything and protect the environment following past disasters inflicted on it by mankind. The grains achieve this through the Anchors, people whom they can make very powerful but manipulate through the memories of their predecessors. Whilst the Anchors live in permanent locations, the rest of humanity, day-fellows as they are known, can never stay long anywhere and must continually move on; if they outstay their welcome or harm the land in any way the grains will stir the local Anchors into terrible, fatal action. Frere-Jones Roeder is such an Anchor but she hates the grains, the way they care nothing for the day-fellows and force the Anchors into terrible acts, but especially for the way they treated her own family.

‘Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into The Sea’, by Sarah Pinsker, tells of a time when society and the cities have collapsed. Gabby Robbins was ‘lucky’ to have been working on a cruise ship when the collapse happened but later, through a drunken accident, finds herself cast adrift in a lifeboat. Bay lives alone in a simple, almost bare, cottage on the cliffs, many miles from what is left of the nearest city, and lives by scavenging whatever she can find: fish in the rock pools, odds of flotsam, and so on. She finds the unconscious Gabby washed up on the shore and takes her back to the cottage. Bay has learnt to survive alone in the harsh conditions and at first hardly cares about her ‘guest’ but slowly she warms just a touch to Gabby; after all, there is nowhere else for Gabby to go.

Through the memories of its Guardian and the tales of its Guide, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam tells us of the ‘The Orangery’. A long time ago, the god Apollo took a vacation amongst humans and decided to stay. He had a way with women but invariably caused them pain, a pain which he assuaged by offering them draft of syrup, a syrup which turned them into trees. Over the years there are more and more trees until one night Apollo breaks through the wall of the Orangery looking for the one which had been Daphne, intent on restoring her to womanhood. Instead the Guardian takes him to the tree which had been Dryope and things do not go as he had planned.

The award for Best Novelette went to ‘The Long Fall Up’ by William Ledbetter. Veronica Perez announces to the world that she is on an illegal space flight and, what is more, she has become pregnant in Zero G and intends to give birth whilst still in flight. Everyone knows that this will result in a badly malformed child - or will the child, as she claims, be perfectly normal? Is the Jinshan Corporation lying about the malformations in order to control the population? Jager Jin’s spaceship is on routine duty, ready to ward off stray asteroids, when he receives the call to intercept her flight and destroy it. As his mission proceeds he comes to suspect that all is not as it seems. What should he do? What can he do?

Seanan McGuire won the award for Best Novella with Every Heart A Doorway (which was also a Hugo winner. We have an excerpt, presumably the first chapter, and it tells how Nancy arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. In this instance ‘wayward’ means the ability to visit other worlds, of the sort that normal society could never acknowledge. Whilst it looks interesting, it is too short to see what sort of story it is and where it might go.

The award for Best Novel went to All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (and which was also short-listed for a Hugo). Although we only get an excerpt, again presumably the first chapter, it is almost a short story in itself and sets the scene nicely for what looks like an interesting novel. We are introduced to 6-year old Patricia as she discovers she can converse with birds and animals.

As already mentioned, the Andre Norton award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy went to Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine and we are granted an excerpt: the prologue and first chapter. We learn a little of Arabella’s childhood on the family’s plantation on Mars and subsequent forced return to Earth at her mother’s insistence - she needs to grow up to be a proper lady, not a tomboy! Then a letter arrives from Mars - her father, who had remained on their plantation, has died. The excerpt is too short to see where the story might go from there but it looks promising.

For those interested in statistics, about two thirds of these stories were written by women and about two thirds are fantasy as against science fiction; furthermore, there is strong correlation between gender and category. Make of that what you will; personally as long as the story is imaginative and good I enjoy both - and I do not mind who writes it.

Generally I enjoyed the stories, some especially so, though I thought a few tried too hard to create an air of ‘differentness’ and that, at least in part, obscured the meaning of the story. Some years I find I enjoy all the stories in the Showcase, other years I feel that some of the stories were more for other writers than for readers; this year was somewhat of the latter.

Peter Tyers


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