Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 edited by Greg Bear (book review)

December 30, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

The ‘Nebula Awards Showcase 2015’ is the sixteenth 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 and the sixth in a row that I’ve reviewed for SFCrowsnest. This one contains stories originally published in 2013, with the awards being given out at a ceremony in May 2014. The editor of this Showcase is Greg Bear, a prolific SF writer who has won many awards, including the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2000 for ‘Darwin’s Radio’.

My main criticism of last year’s anthology was that it was much shorter than previous volumes and focused on presenting the winners of each Nebula Award category, including alongside these only two nominees for the short story award and no nominees in any other category. One of the reasons I enjoy reading these ‘Showcase’ volumes is to compare the winners with their competition. Last year, that was not really possible. It’s therefore heartening to see that the 2015 edition returns to the earlier format and includes all the nominated short stories and novelettes.

Starting with the short stories, the Nebula Award was won by Rachel Swirsky’s ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’, an extremely short piece which seems to start out as a slightly twee fairy story but whose dramatic twist ending turns the story through one hundred and eighty degrees and transforms it into a poignant masterpiece, whose award win is fully justified.

There were four other nominees for the short story Nebula. ‘The Sounds Of Old Earth’ by Matthew Kessel is a hard SF story with a big heart, considering what we may lose if we’re forced to move from a polluted Earth to newly-built colonies elsewhere in the solar system.

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s ‘Alive, Alive Oh’ is another excellent hard SF story, this time about the challenge of bringing up a child on an inhospitable exo-planet.

Sophia Samatar’s ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ is an urban fantasy which was enjoyable enough to read but left no great impression on me afterwards.

Finally, Kenneth Schneyer’s ‘Selected Program Notes From The Retrospective Exhibition Of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’ is an innovative piece, written as the name suggests in the form of programme notes for an exhibition of a dead painter’s works. The story raised many interesting questions in my mind but then failed to answer almost any of them, leaving me dissatisfied.

The Nebula Award for Best Novelette was won by Aliette de Bodard’s ‘The Waiting Stars’, a fascinating far future hard SF story about a Vietnamese family group trying to rescue their great-aunt, who has become the brain of a huge starship from the scrap-yard where she has been left to rot.

This piece is accompanied by all five of the novelettes nominated for the same award. My favourite of these was Sarah Pinsker’s contemporary SF story, ‘In Joy, Knowing The Abyss Behind’, an extended meditation on old age and the love of an elderly married couple for each other which I found hugely affecting.

Christopher Barzak’s ‘Paranormal Romance’ is a gentle but highly enjoyable character piece revolving around Sheila, a white witch who specialises in love potions but whose own love life is virtually non-existent.

Ken Liu’s ‘The Litigation Master And The Monkey King’ is an excellent story, featuring strong characters and an interesting plot based around a historical massacre in Yangzhou in the mid-seventeenth century. However, it is difficult to call it a genre story as the fantasy elements are almost incidental to the plot and I found the change of tone half-way through the story, from dry comedy to tragedy, somewhat confusing.

‘They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds Of Glass’ by Alaya Dawn Johnson, is a post-apocalyptic SF story which focuses on the plight of a pregnant woman who wants an abortion but has few options for getting it. The story was interesting enough but I would have liked to see a more complete rendering of the story universe, most of which was two-dimensional in comparison to the focus on the protagonist’s situation.

The novelette I was least convinced by was Henry Lien’s ‘Pearl Rehabilitative Colony For Ungrateful Daughters’, which takes a fascinating fantasy concept and then ruins it by making the protagonist a totally unsympathetic spoiled brat. Given that this was nominated for a Nebula Award, it must appeal to some people. I’m afraid I found it deeply annoying from start to finish.

The winner of the Nebula for Best Novella was Vylar Kaftan’s ‘The Weight Of The Sunrise’, an alternate history story where the Incan Empire didn’t fall to the Spanish in the sixteenth century, but remained successful and vibrant well into the early nineteenth century. The story revolves around the diplomatic intrigues that follow when Americans come to the Incan court in 1806, offering a miracle cure for the smallpox that has ravaged Incan society for years. In payment, they want a large quantity of gold to fund their planned war of independence against the British. The story is full of fascinating detail but sometimes seems more interested in rehearsing the arguments against the historical American slave trade than in developing fully-realised characters to represent both sides of the debate.

The ‘Showcase’ also includes short extracts from two novels, the winners of the Best Novel Nebula and the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Novel. The former was won by Ann Leckie’s debut novel ‘Ancillary Justice’ and the extract, comprising the first chapter of her book, provides an excellent introduction to this complex and intelligent hard SF story.

The latter award was won by Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Sister Mine’ and the extract provides a fascinating introduction to the principal characters and their situation, leaving me wanting more.

The remaining category of awards is for poetry. Three poems are included here. ‘Into Flight’ by Andrew Robert Sutton won the Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem. I loved this mini-epic which recounts what happens when the world’s books decide that they’ve had enough of humanity and start to fly away.

The winner of the Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem was Terry A. Garey’s ‘The Cat Star’. Although I am a cat lover, I’m afraid I found little to engage with in this memorial to the poet’s dead cat.

Finally, the SFPA’s Dwarf Stars Award for a really short poem was won by the haiku ‘Basho After Cinderella (iii)’ by Deborah P. Kolodji, which I found moderately amusing.

The final items are mostly non-fiction and include a short but insightful introduction from this year’s editor Greg Bear, an appreciation of Samuel R. Delany’s life and work, in honour of his being awarded the title of Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master, an accompanying reprint of one of Delany’s best-known stories, ‘Time Considered As A Helix Of Semi-Precious Stones’ and, finally, a short remembrance of Frank M Robinson, who was intended to be a Distinguished Guest at the 2014 Nebula Awards ceremony but was too ill to attend. The remembrance itself is warm and generous to Robinson but it was marred for me by some bad-tempered whinging about the running of the ceremony itself.

My main criticism of the stories collected in this volume is that too many of them have an agenda to push, to the detriment of their characters and plot. Some of them manage to integrate a political issue into the story in a coherent way to interesting and valuable effect. They are, unfortunately, in the minority. Personally, I am starting to get more than a little irritated by genre authors lecturing me on how to think, even when I broadly agree with the point they’re making. This is, of course, not a criticism of the collection itself, since it is merely reprinting a selection of the stories that were nominated for or won the Nebula Awards in 2013.

On a more positive note, 2015’s ‘Nebula Showcase reverts’ to an earlier format, reprinting all the short stories and novelettes nominated for a Nebula Award in 2013, as well as the winners in those and the other categories. From my perspective, this works very well, enabling a comparison between the winners in those two categories and the stories they were up against.

I look forward to reading the ‘Nebula Awards Showcase’ every year, to see how the state of the genre is evolving over time. The 2015 edition is one of the more valuable of recent years due to editor Greg Bear’s selection criteria, enabling readers to sample a broad cross-section of the year’s best genre fiction. Despite a few concerns, I’d recommend this volume to anyone wanting to get up to speed with the current state of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Patrick Mahon

December 2016

(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books, 2015. 347 page enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-090-0)

check out website: www.pyrsf.com

Category: Books, Fantasy, Scifi

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  1. avatar Julian White says:

    Thank you for bringing this series to my attention. I probably don’t read as much ‘new’ SF as I should (despite reading SF Crowsnest religiously… ) so these look like a decent way to catch up a bit. You don’t mention them but there are several volumes (including an even newer 2016 one) available in both Kindle and Kobo ebook formats.

  2. avatar UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Julian
    We have a tendency to note the format we read and only mention digital versions if we’re told about it in the advance bumf.
    We’re aware of and have the 2016 volume. So many books, only one life-time.

    Geoff

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