Nebula Awards 22 – edited by George Zebrowski, pub Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988

These reviews of Nebula Awards collections are being written in a very haphazard order, based solely on date of purchase and whim in deciding when to read the book in question. This book came to hand, via eBay and a long surface journey from the States, in the first quarter of 2007, and got read fairly soon thereafter, ahead of some volumes as yet unread sitting on the shelves. Browse the reviews or content listings of other Nebula Awards volumes on Best SF here.

This is the third of Zebrowski’s editorship, the first I’ve read. It’s a true A to Z of the year in question, as it covers Asimov to Zebrowski. Indeed, the Good Doctor is first up with his Robot Dreams, a nominee for Best Short Story, losing out to Bear’s ‘Tangents’. The story is partly included as a tribute to Asimov’s Grand Master award, and there are some humorous notes from Asimov on the gaining of said honour. The story features a robot whose positronic pathways have been experimented with by a junior scientist on Susan Calvin’s team, enabling it to dream, leaving Calvin with a very simple reaction. It’s a gentle story of another era, reading more of a 1966 than 1986.

Great Bear’s ‘Tangents’ is next up, of which I summarised when it appeared in Dozois’ 4th Annual Collection : ‘an elderly mathematician, who has fled his youthful fame and misdeeds, is seeking contact with another dimension. A young boy who has an immediate rapport for the work, proves the catalyst to the success of his experiments’. It’s a strong story that could easily have been written in 2006 as 1986.

Judith Moffet’s ‘Surviving’ is a sociological/anthropological study, very light on the SF/fantasy, about which I noted in a review I wrote a while back ‘a girl, raised in the forest by apes, tries to make a success of life in the ‘civilized’ world, but even a lesbian relationship cannot stop her from returning to the trees’.

Kate Wilhelm’s ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Trees’ is the first in the volume which is new to me, and it’s a story I’m glad to have read. It won the Best Novelette category, ahead of Lucius Shepard’s ‘Aymara’, Orson Scott Card’s ‘Hatrack River’,, Charnas’ ‘Listening to Brahms’ (below), Roger Zelazny’s ‘Permafrost’, Judith Moffet’s ‘Surviving’ (above), an William Gibson’s ‘The Winter Market’. It’s a great read, again short on that much sfnal, but Wilhelm skilfully creates a realistic and alienating sense of place in the baking heat of the midwest, when a young man drives a long way to obtain an antique piano from an empty house for his elderly father. It transpires that piano, father and house all have secrets, and tucked away in a grass-surrounded valley miles from anywhere, with only the big blue sky to witness events that happened there in a commune some decades past.

Suzy McKee Charnas’ ‘Listening to Brahms’ gets us out into space and into the future (call me old-fashioned, but I do like to see an SFWA collection featuring something of this nature!) It’s a dark, but at the same time sensitive narrative from the perspective of one of a small crew on a spaceship who are thawed out from cryosleep to find themselves the last remaining representatives of Earth, embraced by aliens who have some physical and societal similarities to humans. We find out how the humans cope with this situation, which varies from not at all (suicide) through the spectrum to virtually ‘going native’. It a complex read and a good counterpoint to the film ‘Aliens’, which sees such contact leading to mayhem.

Lucius Shepard’s ‘R&R’ is a standout story, which won the Best Novella category ahead of ‘Newton Sleep’ (below), Robert Silverberg’s ‘Gilgamesh in the Outback’, Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Escape from Kathmandu’, and F. Paul Wilson’s ‘Dydetown Girl’. I wrote of R&R when reading it some time ago : “If war is hell, then future war is more hellish. Mingolla finds a short spell of R&R to be anything but restful in an intense few days. Vivid and draining”. It was subsequently turned into a novel, recently reissued as part of the SF Masterworks series, and is on my shelf, one of an increasingly enormous collection of books I will read ‘one day’.

Orson Scott Card’s ‘Salvage’ made the Preliminary Ballot, but is included in this volume ahead of the ‘Hatrack River’ novelette which reached the final nomination stage. The background is an interesting one, perhaps more so than the actual story itself, featuring one young man’s attempts to explore a now-submerged Mormon temple for treasure. He doesn’t find the treasure, but finds out about himself and his society.

Gregory Benford’s ‘Newton Sleep’ is an intriguing story. It’s in effect a scientist’s riposte to Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘Riverworld’ series, in that Benford’s protagonist, who finds, rather to his surprise, that the after-life for him is a literal hell, peopled by famous names from the past, but who determines to address the underlying science behind the world in which he finds himself. Furthermore his protagonist is the same scientist from his novel ‘Timescape’, who meets Sir Isaac Newton and finds, to his disappointment, that this hero of his has eschewed any attempt to treat the world they live in as a rational universe, but as one rather as ruled by astrological portents.

A strong selection of stories, which stand up well some 20 years on.

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