The 41st volume of Nebula Award winners continues the recent run of handskome large format, well designed volumes, with a good range of commentary and analysis, and the award winning stories and some of the nominees for the years covered (2004-2005).
-nb- click the Best SF Reviews graphic above to browse reviews of previous volumes in this series.
Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners’ won the Best Novella award this year, two years after her ‘Louise’s Ghost’ won the Best NOvelette. I felt that earlier story was particulary light on the genre elements. This story goes a bit more into genre territory – just! When reviewing it back in the September 2005 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction I wrote:
- Title story from Link’s latest anthology. A strange setting, just slightly different to the ‘real’ world- enough to be somewhat unsettling. Jeremy Mars is one of a group of teens who are obsessed with a strange, dreamlike TV programme called ‘The Library’ in which all is not what it seems. The programme flits from channel to channel unannounced, and they are avid fans who never miss an episode, and who discuss ad infinitum the whys and wherefores of each episode. Jeremy’s parents are going through a bad patch, and a road trip ensures, in which Jeremy becomes more closely involved with the characters in the tv series.
The story ends, dream like, somewhat arbritrarily, leaving the reader with a vague memory of people, events but also of the feel and the emotions if not the plot.
It is, rather disappointingly ihmo, the most fantastical of the three winners this year!
Carol Emshwiller’s ‘I Live With You’ appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction in March 2005. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic, or descriptive reviewing it then:
- A dark ghost story, told from the POV of the creature which ‘moves in’ with a woman – unnoticed at first, but increasingly dogging her steps…
A nice enough story, but worthy of being the winner of Best Short Story category??
Dale Bailey’s ‘The End of the World As We Know It’ is older still, but once again from Fantasy & Science Fiction, from the Oct/Nov 2004 issue, whence I was impressed:
- One of the stronger stories of the year. Bailey takes on the post-apocalypse challenge, and comes up trumps. We see a near-future American survivor, and his early attempts at coping with events, interspersed with snapshots of historical apocalypses. The stories rises above the average through the main character, Wyndham, who, as we see with heartbreaking clarity, is more bereft at the loss of his wife than at the bigger picture.
Unnervingly, as I read this story mid-Jan 2005, some couple of weeks after the Dec 26th 2004 Tsunami, Bailey wraps up the story with a reference to Krakatoa, and the ensuing 30,000 tsunami related deaths back in 1883. Wyndham/Bailey muses the nature of the Supreme Being who allows such things to happen.
Next up is Anne Harris’ ‘Still Life with Boobs’ came from semiprozine Talebones, Summer 2005 issue. It didn’t really grab me. The central conceit of a young woman’s breasts off gallivanting with other people’s sexual organs, without their owner’s permission, was a weakish one on which to hand a gently humorous look at some issues about sexuality and sex roles. I was similarly unmoved by ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ – but then I suppose chickflit wasn’t written for blokes nearing the big 50. Heigh-ho. BTW it’s available on Anne’s blog.
Robert J. Sawyer’s ‘Identity Theft’ appeared in ‘Down These Dark Spaceways’ in May 2005. Not only up for a Nebula, but it was also up for a Hugo, and obviously I’m on a different wavelengths to many others, as I wrote of this:
- I … and was not impressed. His recent ‘Shed Skin’ (Analog Jan/Feb 2004) had a similarly creaky premise on which was built some fairly routine writing. That earlier story had someone uploading their brain to a shiny robotic body, and being a bit miffed that the original biological self isn’t best pleased at the future mapped out for him in a retirement home – its just too preposterous a situation to accept in 2006. The same technology is used here, with, a quick five minutes under a tin helmet being all that is needed to transfer a mind to a more robust, robotic body, to set up a similarly silly conceit.
There is a dead body – or is there? The PI on the case has to work out just who the murderer is and in whose body, and it just felt way too similar to the kind of story Asimov would have written in the 1950s. But as I really am not minded to spot the clues throughout such stories, I suppose it is somewhat unfair to critique a story whilst excluding what is presumably a main feature of the story, but a Hugo nominee????????.
Nancy Kress’ ‘My Mother Dancing’, appeared in Asimovs in June 2004. I noted:
- Originally published in 2000 in ‘Destination 3001’, published by Flammarion
A short piece in which far-future post-humans have been seeding the otherwise barren galaxy. The non-gender-specific crew are thrown into confusion when the well-established answer to Fermi’s Paradox (there isn’t anything/anybody out there) is challenged by data from a colony on whose progress they are checking.
Kelly Link’s ‘The Faery Handbag’ is also online. It won the Best Novelette award. It’s fantastical in the Terry Gilliam mould – of worlds within worlds, strange countries, strange relatives, and strange goins on.
James Patrick Kelly’s ‘Men are Trouble’ appeared in Asimovs, June 2004 and is also online. When it appeared three years ago I wrote:
- My reading of this story started with a double hindrance. Firstly, I made the mistake of deciding that sitting in the only vacant seat on the train carriage was a better option than standing for the 45 minute journey. Normally a no-brainer, but in this instance I hadn’t realised that all the other seats in that half of the carriage were taken by 16-year old schoolgirls coming back from a school trip to London. Had they been in uniform I would have spotted it straight away and avoided the empty seat, avoided the carriage (and possibly even avoided the train). However, they weren’t in uniform, and so as I sat down I began 45 minutes of inane conversation about boys, singing, clapping, shrieking, yawning, giggling, more conversation about boys…
The second hindrance was finding that the last story in the issue was evidently in the hard-boiled detective milieu. Somewhat dispirited I kept my eyes on the book, studiously avoiding as best as I could the lame conversational gambits from the young ‘lady’ sitting opposite me.
In the end I gave up trying to make sense of the story, and waiting until today to read it properly.
The reason why finding the story was of the hard-boiled PI ilk is that as a rule such stories in SF magazines tend towards fairly banal humour and do very little for me. Fortunately, Kelly avoids such a convention, and actually goes to the other extreme, furnishing us with a story with a memorably setting and all-female cast (including the POV character).
Kelly’s background is a near-future Earth in which aliens have arrived and got rid of virtually 50% of the human population – the male 50%. A couple of generations on and society is just about the same as it is now, the economy not as good as it was, but with robots supplied by the aliens providing a wide range of support, things could be worse.
PI Fay Hardaway is (with the exception of her gender) straight out of central casting, nursing a Johnnie Walker habit, unlucky in love, and bemoaning the lack of business. However, when one of the aliens, through the services of one of the robots, puts her on a very good retainer to do a bit of missings person detective work, things start to look up.
However, as is obviously going to be the case, Fay finds that things start to get complicated – very complicated. Girlfriends, mothers, priests, cops, pre-alien and post-alien generations, alien ‘seeding’ pregnancies, suicide cults – Kelly puts in a heap of ‘soft’ SF in a story that to me feels more like a James Tiptree Jr story than one written by a man (and if your knowledge of SF isn’t sufficient to work out the sense of that last sentence then it is you who will have to do some detective work hehehe).
Three years ago since that train journey with the girls?
The fiction concludes with, by means of a tribue to his Grand Master award, Harlan Ellison’s ‘The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie’.
In addition to all this fiction, the non-fiction includes essays by Lou Anders on small and medium press publishers, Kevin J Anderson on SF film, John Picacio on SF art, MH Greenberg / Ben Bova / Ellen Datlow / Bill Fawcett in conversation about short SF, Robert J Sawyer on Canadian SF, Jack McDevitt on the importance of the Nebula Awards, and Josepha Sherman and Andre Norton on the Andre Norton Award, an essay on Harlan Ellison by Barry N Malzberg, and some pomes.
A must for anyone seriously into short SF, but if only the SFFWA could tighten up the rules to choose material from a given calendar year, and pick some more Science Fiction!