Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 edited by Kij Johnson (book review).

May 13, 2015 | By | Reply More

The ‘Nebula Awards Showcase 2014’ is the fifteenth successive volume in this series of anthologies dedicated to the Nebula Awards, which are given out annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This one contains stories originally published in 2012, with the awards being given out at a ceremony in May 2013. The editor of this year’s Showcase is Kij Johnson, an American fantasy writer who herself won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2011 for her story, ‘The Man Who Bridged The Mist’.

NebulaAwards2014

This year’s anthology collects together six complete stories, two novel extracts, three poems, two short pieces of non-fiction and a brief introductory essay from Johnson, in which she argues that the list of authors nominated for the various Nebula Awards in 2012 shows that the field is vibrant with new talent.

The first half of the book is taken up with the three works that won the short form Nebula Awards. Best short story went to Aliette de Bodard’s ‘Immersion’, a far future SF story set on a space station which illustrates the risks of becoming addicted to new technology, particularly if that technology helps you to fit into an unfamiliar society where the pressure to conform is very high. This is another of de Bodard’s signature pieces of exotic short fiction and I was particularly impressed with the amount of world-building she managed to fit into such a short piece.

‘Close Encounters’ by Andy Duncan won the Nebula for Best Novelette. Set in Missouri in 1983, the year that Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ came out, this is a UFO story with a difference. Octogenarian Buck Nelson wrote a book about the many times he was abducted by aliens but that was decades ago and he’s quietly retired now. When he’s visited by a journalist writing a feature on abductees, to tie in with the film’s release, he initially tells her to get lost. However, she persuades him to meet that night with a local academic who is trying to study UFOs scientifically, with hilarious results. I enjoyed the old style humour of this piece.

The Nebula Award for Best Novella went to Nancy Kress’s ‘After The Fall, Before The Fall, During The Fall’. This story, which can’t be far short of the 40,000 word upper limit for the novella category, proceeds via three separate but converging storylines set before, during and after a cataclysm that destroys the world as we currently know it. It takes some time to understand what’s going on in this story as the different storylines initially seem to bear no relation to each other. However, the effort is worth it as Kress weaves a fascinating tale with a great deal of heart at its centre.

The other pieces included in the anthology are two of the short stories which were shortlisted alongside de Bodard’s winning entry, both of which are interesting if slightly whimsical, extracts from the novels that won the Nebula and the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Novel, a Christmas-themed novelette ‘Christmas Inn’ by Gene Wolfe, to celebrate him being awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award and the three poems that won the 2012 Rhysling Awards. All of them are worth reading but my favourite was the Gene Wolfe story as it seemed relatively straightforward at first but uncovered hidden depths as it progressed.

My biggest complaint about this book is its abbreviated length, 301 pages, compared to last year’s volume which was almost forty per cent longer at 428 pages. Given that the price has stayed the same, this year’s anthology represents significantly worse value for money. It’s not so much that you get fewer pages for your buck but that the reduced space means that they reprint only two of the stories that were nominated for an award but didn’t win, with both of those being up for the short story award. Last year’s edition contained seven such stories across all three short fiction categories. One of the things I enjoy about these ‘Showcase’ volumes is the ability to compare the stories that won a Nebula against some of those they were up against. This year, I couldn’t do very much of that, which I thought was a real shame. I hope that the publishers move back to last year’s format next time and make the anthology long enough to include a decent cross-section of the stories that didn’t win an award.

Moaning aside, I always look forward to the ‘Nebula Awards Showcase’ as a great opportunity to read some excellent fiction and get a handle on the current state of genre fiction. This year’s edition still delivers on that promise, albeit at reduced length. Definitely worth a read.

Patrick Mahon

May 2015

(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books, 2014. 291 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN), £12.08 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-901-7. Ebook: 978-161614-902-4. Price: $11.99 (US))

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