Book Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2017

14 Jul

Since the Nebula Awards’ inception some combination of its winners and nominees has been annually published together in a collection edited by a major genre figure. Unlike typical anthologies or collections, the content isn’t chosen by the editor, but by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Therefore the responsibilities of the editor (this year Julie E. Czerneda) appear minimal, mainly to write the introduction and decide on which category might have its nominees included. Individual stories also include introductions by the authors providing insight into the creation of their work.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 thus offers an ideal and affordable digest for seeing what members of the speculative fiction field view as its current best representations. For readers who somehow manage to keep up with all corners of the genre, the collection provides a nice summation and reminder of the current vibe, views, and insights that have gained notice. For the casual or new reader, it offers an opportunity to discover some talented writers and powerful stories.

 

The core of the collection contains Best Short Story winner “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, Best Short Poem winner “Shutdown” by Marge Simon, Dwarf Stars Award winner “abandoned nursing homes” by Greg Schwartz, Best Novelette winner “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker, Best Novella winner “Binti” by Nnedi Okorafor, and Best Long Poem winner “100 Reasons to Have Sex with an Alien” by F.J. Bergmann. To my joy, all of the nominees for Best Short Story are also included unedited.

I honestly had no desire to read the remaining content of the collection because it consisted of excerpts. I regretfully haven’t yet read Uprooted, the Best Novel winner by Naomi Novik, and I don’t want to read a small portion of it divorced from the overall piece of work. I’m a purist. Put in all of it, or put in nothing. ‘Lifetime Achievement’ recognition of Sir Terry Pratchett through the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award and Damon Knight Grand Master induction for C.J. Cherryh also are represented through excerpts from some of their work. Rather than excerpts I would personally have preferred inclusion of novelette and/or novella nominees, and a simple list of awardees and nominees for works that couldn’t be completely reproduced.

Even if not read in the excerpted context, I previously reviewed The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and our prolific Paul Weimer reviewed The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and the sequel to Updraft by Fran Wilde, each nominees for Best Novel. Updraft, additionally the winner of Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, was also featured here in an interview with Fran Wilde.

Okorafor’s “Binti” stood out in this collection with a richly drawn protagonist and vivid cultures human and alien, the biologically intriguing Meduse. Others might have stretched this into a novel, but Okorafor shows her talent and control in containing this within a novella that feels just right. As the resolution unfolded, I first thought that it was coming too abruptly, too easily, but I soon realized that it fit perfectly with a guarded optimism among the characters, a rational truce that promises satisfying stories to come.

I particularly adored the short story nominations. “Today I am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker has appeared in multiple “Best of” anthologies of the year, and I don’t tire of reading it. This touching tale is written from the point of view of an android programmed to care for an elderly woman while emulating (manifesting as) members of her family. Another nominated short story, “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer, brilliantly presents some of the same themes of AI trying to understand and take care of humans, but with a lighter and humorous tone.

Both of these stories rest more memorably with me than the winning short story by Wong. That is not to say that “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” is anything less than excellent. First appearing in Nightmare Magazine (which I’m glad to see getting more attention), this is a twisted story in a couple senses of the word, presenting a fresh point of view in the horror/urban fantasy genre.

Though published as genre fiction, Wong’s story could exist just as equally in a literary magazine. The winning novelette by Pinsker is another example of that kind of story, and more so is “When Your Child Strays from God” by Sam J. Miller. I am not certain that Miller’s story should even be characterized as speculative fiction. Though taking place in the near future and having elements of genre, they aren’t really essential to the story. But really, I don’t care. Because it is a powerful and beautiful story of vulnerability, of a father’s relationship with his son. I’ve consistently been impressed by Miller’s writing, and I’m looking forward to his soon-to-be-released debut novel.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017 reveals the current broad tonal range and high quality of the speculative fiction landscape: Light-hearted and serious, spreading from science to epic fantasy to horror, for adults and youth alike. In one relatively short volume this gives an excellent overview of SF’s finest.

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