The 52nd Nebula Awards volume, destined, once read, to sit alongside the 51 previous volumes in my collection. Props to Galen Dara for the cover illustration, and Nicole Sommer-Lecht for the cover design, and Prometheus Books who evidently also have a call on the kudos for the cover.
I’ll work my way through the book, and this review will grow over the next few weeks.
First thing to mention is that the editor is Jane Yolen. She has a most impressive writing career behind her across multiple fields, and was the recipient of the SFWA Grand Master award for the year in question. She herself in her introduction to the volume expresses her surprises as being awarded the title, having written little in the SF genre. I’d agree with that, and I can count the number of stories I’ve read of hers on the fingers of one hand, in 50 years of reading SF (I think I can claim that now, as I’m sure I was 8 when I started reading it). And of those stories on Best SF, one I marked down as ‘guff’ about an antarctic expedition (a horror story as it featured vampires) and another was a horror story featuring windswept moors and a windmill (and, yes, someone did end up tied to the sail of the windmill). However, the good members of SFFHWA (or to give the organisation its full name the Science Fiction and Fantasy and Horror and Any Other Kind of Fiction Written By Writers in These Genres Writers of America) voted her GM and invited her to edit the book, so I’ll just continue to quietly quibble from afar.
So what of the fiction? Well Yolen primes us to expect ‘deep-soul fantasy’, ‘true science fiction with an emphasis on science’, a ‘melding of several fairy tales’, a ‘powerful blend of science fiction and fantasy’, and a’touch of steampunk’. All but one story was written in 2016, which makes cross-referencing the contents of this volume with the Years Best anthologies covering that year an easy task. More so if I have links here to Dozois 34th Collection, Neil Clarke’s Volume 2, Horton’s 2017 volume, and Jonathan Strahan’s Volume 11.
First up are the nominees in the Best Short Story category. Leading the way is Alyssa Wong. A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers. Published online on Tor.com on 2nd March 2016, and still online. The editorial intro states “Hannah and Melanie: sisters, apart and together. Weather workers. Time benders. When two people so determined have opposing desires, it’s hard to say who will win—or even what victory might look like. This stunning, haunting short story from rising star Alyssa Wong explores the depth and fierceness of love and the trauma of family.” TBH I think the opening sentences suggests that there is more of a story than there actually is. What we have is one sister reflecting on the many past(s) involving her and her sister, and variety of incidents in the past(s) which happened either to her or her sister. The story was also nominated for a Hugo, but whilst I appreciated the raw emotion in the story, it didn’t quite do it for me due to their being too little detail being provided about the relationship between the sisters. The story did not appear in any of the four Year’s Best SF/F volumes for the year in question.
Next up is Barbara Krasnoff. Sabbath Wine. Published on Clockwork Phoenix and still online. It’s a ghost story, of the ‘I See Dead People’ ilk, and is set in Prohibition-era Brooklyn. Nicely told, and the story has a twist at the end, and there is horror in the realisation of the nature of the deaths (racial lynching and jewish pogrom), but a long, long way from SF fantasy or horror. As with the previous story in this volume, neither did this story appear in any of the four Year’s Best SF/F volumes for the year in question.
Sam J. Miller. Things with Beards. A touch of SF and horror in Miller’s take on seminal SF/horror 1980s movie ‘The Thing’, which I enjoyed when I read and reviewed when it was published. Hoo boy, though, two years ago this story was about something deep inside that needs to be kept hidden, but these days it’s all out in the open with some dude as Prez with something truly dark inside him and which we get a glimpse of every time he opens his mouth. Horton, Strahan and Clarke included the story in their Year’s Best SF/F anthologies.
Caroline M. Yoachim. Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 originally appeared online in Lightspeed Magazine #70 March 2016 and is still online. It’s a tongue in cheek choose-your-own-adventure, just over 2000 words long, with entries running A to Z. Nice enough, but one of the two or three best SF stories of the year?
A. Merc Rustad. This is Not a Wardrobe Door. appeared online on Fireside Fiction in January 2016 and is still online. Six year old Ellie starts the story bemoaning the Narnia-like wardrobe door in her bedroom, no longer working. We find that not only is she separated from her special friend on the other side, but her mother has been separated from her own special friend, and as Ellie grows up, her new special friend on this side of the doorways has also been separated from her very own special friend. Nice enough, but I’d prefer to have seen this at much greater length.
Brooke Bolander. Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies. Originally published in Uncanny Magazine and still online. Another short short, with the print version lacking in the indented tabs of the online version. Nice enough start ‘This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck’, but as with the previous story, a skim through what could have been a longer story. I was minded of Kelly Robson’s ‘The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill from a few years back, somewhat similar concept, but at greater length and to greater effect. Obvs this is a much shorter story, and I’m fine with writers pitching shorter stories for publication for whatever reason, but I don’t really expect to see them on the Nebula Awards nomination list. The author autobiography at the bottom of the online version of the story states that she has had multiple award nominations ‘much to her unending bafflement’. Obviously she’s not really meaning that, but I’m a bit baffled. (Well, I’m not really baffled either…)
The Nebula Award Best Short Story went to Amal El-Mohtar. Seasons of Glass and Iron first published in The Starlit Wood : New Fairy Tales. Yup, SFWA include fairy tales in their remit, and here we have a mashup of two fairy tales. One woman has to wear out seven pairs of iron-clad shoes, and the other sits atop a glass hill, with a golden apple ready to hand over to the man who is able to climb the slippery slope. When the iron-clad shoe woman reaches the top, they talk and gradually learn more about each other and their fates, until..
Anyhoo then, that’s the short stories out of the way. No real help to the future reader wanting to get an idea of what the best SF story of the year was.
Now on to the rest of the book, and I’ve had a change of mind since writing the previous sentence yesterday, and will simply list most of the rest of the content with any relevant information. I’m interested in the Best SF, so really now much sense spending my time reading stories that aren’t SF.
First up in the Best Novelette category is an extract from Fran Wilde. The Jewel and Her Lapidary. which was published by Tor in May 2016.
Jason Sanford. Blood Grains Speak Through Memories was published online on Beneath Ceaseless Skies and is still online.
Sarah Pinkser. Sooner or Later Everythig Falls into the Sea was published online on Lightspeed Magazine #69, February 2016 and still online. It’s a post-Collapse story in which two women have to come to terms with the new realities, as I noted when I reviewed it after reading it online.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. The Orangery. appeared on Beneath Ceaseless Skies #214 in December 2016 and is still online.
Alyssa Wong. You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay. was published online on Uncanny Magazine and is still online.
The Winner of the Best Novelette was William Ledbetter. The Long Fall Up. It appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in May 2016. I read it in this volume as it was flagged up as SF, which indeed it is. I wasn’t altogether taken by the story (neither were any of the four Year’s Best anthologists, none of whom chose it for the year in question). I would have put it as an Analog story, rather than an F&SF story in terms of the plot, and the telling of the story. It is about women’s reproductive rights/an astronaut’s ethical dilemma and technical challenge. The protagonist is sent on a mission to catch up with and destroy a small vessel in which a women, newly pregnant, is intending to carry the child to full term in zero gravity, which is a Bad Thing – either for societal/medical reasons (or in fact is is Big Corporation reasons). With just his female AI to talk to (and having to work a way around circumventing some of her communication/information-giving protocols) and the pregnant woman to listen to, he has to decide on his actions, and, when decided, how to implement those actions within various constraints. Fine enough for a story in Analog, but not the best SF novelette of the year by any means.
Next up is the Nebula Award for Best Novella, represented in this volume by an extract from the winner, Seanan McGuire. Every Heart a Doorway. which won a heap of other awards, a novella in a series about children, boarding schools and portals to other worlds.
Nominees in this Award, not featured in this volume, were :
- S.B. Divya. Runtime. (Tor. Publishing)
- Kij Johnson. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. (Tor.com Publishing)
- Victor LaValle. The Ballad of Black Tom. (Tor.com Publishing)
- John P. Murphy. The Liar. (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
- Kai Ashante Wilson. A Taste of Honey. (Tor.com Publishing)
The Nebula Award for Best Novel went to Charlie Jane Anders. All the Birds in the Sky. and an extract is provided.
The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy winner was David D. Levine. Arabella of Mars, and extract from which is provided.
The volume concludes, as ever, with a list of past Nebula Award Winners.
So, not that much in terms of coverage of the best SF in short form. Onto the shelves with the volume.