Nebula Awards Showcase 2019 (ed Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Parvus Press 2019)

The 53rd annual edition of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America take on the best short stories written by SF, fantasy, horror and genre writers, awarded at their 2018 convention and featuring stories mostly written in 2017.

Having been published by Roc, Tor and Pyr over the last decade or so, Parvus Press are the publishers of this volume. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s introduction is a personal take on her 10+ years experience as a Latino writer in the Latin American magical realist market and then the SFF market, and then the volume consists of a baker’s dozen stories, author biographies and that’s it. No commentary, listings or anything else. Previous volumes have gone to the other extreme, with the fiction almost taking a backseat to the other material, but for this volume the reader/collector/historian is left with but one option – reading the selected stories.

I’ll fill in the story details and make my (leisurely) way through the volume, adding my ‘reviews/notes’ on the stories as I read them. At my current rate of reading, I reckon I might manage to read this volume and the one 2019 Year’s Best SF anthology by the time the 2020 volumes appear. Or maybe not.

Rebecca Roanhorse. Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experiencetm was the winner in the Best Short Story category and was originally published online in Apex Magazine 8/17 and where you can read it. The story features native Americans, rather than citizens of India. It’s near future, with the protagonist a guy working in the entertainment industry, hooking into a VR rig to give paying customers the virtual experience they choose from. He’s of native American descent, which is good for the titular experience, but he has reservations with playing up to the stereotype and appropriating more of a lineage than he actually has. The story twists around a friendship offered by a customer, a white guy, who (spoiler alert) appropriates his identity and his house (!) – the twist at the end isn’t a clear one, but it’s of a PKDickian/GeneWolfian type as the protagonist and the reader are left a little unclear as who is or was who or was what. I found it a reasonable story, but having read a lot of VR-type stories back in halcyon days of cyberpunk in the 80s, this story a quarter of a century later just didn’t feel it had enough for me to be a standout. And, somewhat tellingly, none of the four editors of the Years Best SFF anthologies included the story in their take on the best of 2017.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad. A Series of Steaks. appeared in ClarkesWorld Magazine in January 2017 and it’s still online there. I read this in it’s magazine appearance, as I was getting the monthly magazine through the Amazon UK POD route, and I noted that ‘..it was a story from a (young?) Singaporean writer, new to me, which shows a lot of promise’ and that it ‘..doesn’t read like one from a novice writer, the characterisation is excellent, and I’d be keen to read more from this writer.’ Full review here. This was a nominee in the Best Novelette category. The story was included 3 of the 4 annual Year’s Best SFF anthologies, so a degree of consensus on this one!

Jonathon P. Brazee. Weaponized Math. appeared in The Expanding Universe Volume 3, and was a nominee in the Best Novelette category. I was surprised to find myself reading a military SF story in this volume, as this type of story hasn’t largely been featuring on SFWA ballots of late. Yes, the protagonist is a female sniper, but that’s a marginal angle in the story and TBH the fact that she avoids being killed at one point by dint of her being physically small and the enemy sniper choosing the bigger male soldier as being the likely ranking officer isn’t an ideal way of showing the personal capabilities through which she has risen to her high rank. I’m not a big fan of military SF and I found the story rather tedious in the extensive fine detail about weaponry, ammunition, military kit, the math and mechanics of sniping etc etc. And, more importantly, I struggled to see any SFnal elements. The weaponry was a bit more advanced than we have now, and it was set on an alien world, but you could strike out a couple of sentences and pretty much pass the story off as being set in Iraq or Afghanistan. Anyhoo, I skimmed the last half dozen pages. And as with the opening story, this one also failed to be included in any of the four Years Best SFF anthologies.

Jamie Wahls. Utopia, LOL? appeared in Strange Horizons, 5th June 2017 and is still online there. A humorous story, a nominee in the Best Short Story category, whose humour really didn’t work for me, as I found one of the main characters so irritating I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages. I also found the textspeak a) exasperating and b) rather too early 2010s than far future. I do have a good sense of humour, but about to enter my seventh decade, I found myself wondering if it was a generational thing, and maybe if I was half my age then I would have engaged more with it. Anyway, FWIW of the four annual Year’s Best SFF anthologists, it only tickled the fancy of one : Rich Horton.

Martha Wells. All Systems Red. was published by Tor.com and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella. More about the story here including lots of words of praise. It’s a lengthy story (natch) and it’s intro states “..On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.” I read the first section but felt that I wasn’t up for another 100 pages or so.

Sarah Pinsker. Wind Will Rove. appeared in Asimovs September/October 2017, when I was still reading a lot of magazine SF and I enjoyed it, a generation starship story of which I noted : “..All in all a gentle story, no drama, no military bods or scientists, no committee meetings, no real mention of tech.”

Richard Bowes. Dirty Old Town. appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2017. In my days of reading F&SF, Bowes’ semi-autobiographic stories were always a big treat, even without major SFF elements, and this is another lovely story from him. A successful writer has a dream about a young boy from his schooldays and the ‘story’ sees the author reflect on his relationship with this boy, and with his grandparents, in a housing project in Boston in the 50s. His grandmother, like himself, had a wee bit of magic drawn from the land of their forefathers (Ireland), and we see how his relationship with than school companion grows and comes to a conclusion in a sweet and gentle story.

Matthew Kressel. The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard) appeared online on Tor.com and is still online there. I read the story in it’s appearance in Neil Clarke’s volume of the Year’s Best SF, and enjoyed the depth and warmth in the story. If you follow the link above to read the story, do yourself a favour and try to skim the editorial introduction and dive straight into the story (there’s a bit of a spoiler in the intro).

[more reviews from this volume to come….]

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