MIND MELD: More Nebula-Worthy Works of Fiction…Picked By Some of This Year’s Nebula Nominees
The recently-announced 2009 Nebula Award ballot includes lots of great fiction from lots of great writers and only hints at all the great work being published. So we asked this year’s nominees this question:
Here’s what they said…
[Note: Due to my poor interviewing skills, there were multiple revisions of this question ultimately intending to clarify that its intent was not to slight any of the fiction that was nominated, but rather, to name additional works that are also award-worthy. Along the way, I also left open the possibility that panelists could name work in any category. Any perceived lack of cohesion in this Mind Meld is thus entirely of my own making -- but I think you'll find plenty of great titles to seek out in addition to the one's on this year's Nebula ballot. So there.]
There are so many good books and stories out there. Awards showcase only a select few. Some of those novels that were not included in this year’s Nebula Award Nominees are: Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, Jedediah Berry’s Manual of Detection, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Alan DeNiro’s Total Oblivion, More or Less (this last one was released late in 2009, though, so perhaps we may see it on awards lists in the future). Some stories I loved in the past year that I would have loved to see on the ballot are Theodora Goss’ “The Puma”, M. Rickert’s “The President’s Book Tour”, Ben Francisco’s “Tio Gilbert and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts”, Will Ludwigen’s “Remembrance is Something Like a House”, and Carlos Hernandez’s “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria”.
I could actually go on, but then, like awards lists, this is just a selection of the books and stories I read in the past year that I found remarkable, or that surprised me in some way. The more a person reads, the harder it is to be surprised. So when I come across narratives that make me sit up like a fresh reader again, for me that’s a sign of something special.
Here, though, is one more piece of fruit: a kind of book that the Nebula doesn’t recognize with an award each year is the short story collection, one of my absolute favorite kinds of books. I would be able to make a very long list of books to recommend for that list, if it existed. I would love to see that as an additional category to the Nebula Awards at some point in the future. Especially since short fiction has been such an important form for writers and readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy from the genre’s beginnings.
I would have loved to see any of the following: Tamora Pierce’s Bloodhound, Kristin Cashore’s Fire, Michelle Zink’s Prophecy of the Sisters, or Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix.
Let me say at the start that I have no problems with the ballot as it stands. But if it could have been a bit longer here’s what I would have included:
In the short story category:
- Ben Francisco: “Tio Gilbert and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts” (Realms of Fantasy)
- Kris Dikeman: “Nine Sundays in a Row” (Strange Horizons)
From the unjustly neglected A Troll’s Eye View Anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling:
- Kelly Link: “The Cinderella Game”
- Catherynne Valente “A Delicate Architecture”
In the Novelette:
- Elizabeth Hand: “The Far Shore” (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
- Mary Turzillo: “The Sugar” (Sky Whales and Other Wonders Anthology (edited by Vera Nazarian)
In the Novella:
- Paul Jessup: Open Your Eyes (Apex Book Company)
In the Novel:
- Ekatrina Sedia: The Alchemy of Stone (Prime Books)
2009 was an incredible year for fiction. It’s a tremendous honor to be nominated for a Nebula, and I’m thrilled beyond belief that “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” was so well received and garnered such support amidst all the other amazing work that was published last year.
Here are some of the other outstanding stories I encountered from 2009 (or that were otherwise published during the 2009 Nebula-eligible period) that didn’t make the ballot, in no particular order, broken down into Nebula categories:
- “Early Winter, Near Jenli Village” by J. Kathleen Cheney (Fantasy Magazine, April09)
- “N-words” by Ted Kosmatka (Seeds of Change, Prime)
- “The Mermaids Singing Each to Each” by Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld, Nov09)
- “Turning the Apples” by Tina Connolly (Strange Horizons, March09)
- “Night, in Dark Perfection” by Richard Parks (Clarkesworld, Dec09)
- “The Robot Sorcerer” by Eric James Stone (IGMS, #10)
- “When Thorns Are the Tips of Trees” by Jason Sanford (Interzone & Apex, #217 & May09)
- “Starter House” by Jason Palmer (Apex, Jan09)
- “Golden Lilies” by Aliette de Bodard (Fantasy Magazine, Aug09)
- “Remembrance is Something Like a House” by Will Ludwigsen (Interfictions 2, Small Beer Press)
- “Teddy Bears and Tea Parties” by S. Boyd Taylor (Chizine, #41)
- “The Parable of the Shower” by Leah Bobet (Lone Star Stories, June09)
- “Another’s Treasure” by Eric Choi (Footprints, Hadley Rille Books)
- “The Moment” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints, Hadley Rille Books)
- “Come-from-Aways” by Tony Pi (On Spec, #76)
- “The Mermaid’s Tea Party” by Samantha Henderson (Helix, Summer08)
- “The Radio Magician” by James Van Pelt (Realms of Fantasy, Feb09)
- “Gone Black” by Matthew S. Rotundo (Writers of the Future 25, Galaxy Press)
- “Lion Walk” by Mary Rosenblum (Asimov’s, Jan09)
- Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup (Apex Book Co.)
- “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days, Pyr)
- “Displacement” by Colin Harvey (Displacement, Swimming Kangaroo Books)
- “America, Such As She Is” by Jay Lake (Alembical, Paper Golem)
- The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime)
- Lamentation by Ken Scholes (Tor)
I really wish that Gemma Files’ and Stephen Barringer’s novelette “Each Thing I Show You Is A Piece of My Death” (from Clockwork Phoenix 2) had made the ballot. I haven’t been so excited by the technical prowess or scared by the content of a story in a long time–my breath speeded up and my heartbeat pounded and I was just totally taken in by this tale–especially given that it involves filmmaking which is an obsession of mine, and secret histories. It’s just brilliant, and I think it deserves a lot more attention than it’s gotten. It might not have made the ballot, but it wins the Cat Award for Awesome Things in a landslide.
This is one of the strongest Nebula Award final ballots in years, due in great part to the new nominating rules. Under the old rules, SFWA members could recommend large numbers of works for the Preliminary Nebula Ballot, and all these recommendations were made publicly. This encouraged logrolling, with members simply recommending each others stories instead of the works they enjoyed most.
The new rules simplified everything by limiting members to five nominations per category-meaning members couldn’t waste many nominations on logrolling-and by making the nominations private-meaning members couldn’t verify logrolling. The end result is a vast number of new authors making the final ballot for the first time.
While I agree with almost every selection on the final ballot, there are still a number of works I’d have also been pleased to see on the list. These include:
- “Nine Sundays in a Row“ by Kris Dikeman, Strange Horizons
- “From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7“ by Nnedi Okorafor, Clarkesworld
- “Before My Last Breath” by Robert Reed, Asimov’s
- “The Shangri-La Affair“ by Lavie Tidhar, Strange Horizons
- “The Magician’s House“ by Meghan McCarron, Strange Horizons
- “Eros, Philia, Agape“ by Rachel Swirsky, Tor.com
- Displacement by Colin Harvey
- Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup
- Green by Jay Lake
- The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko
I would have to say Cat Rambo’s “The Mermaids Singing Each to Each”, which just missed the ballot. How can you not love a story about a ship towing a Moby Dick-sized lump of sea trash that is slowly picked away by genetically-engineered mermaids?
Close seconds would be “The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew” by Catherynne M. Valente, and Tio Gilbert and the “Twenty-Seven Ghosts by Ben Francisco”.
I feel lucky enough to have been nominated this early in my career that I should probably just shut up and smile thankfully, rather than second-guess the ballot. On the other hand, everybody’s got an opinion…
As a newbie author who had a dog in the fight, watching SFWA’s running tally of votes became a sort of neurotic ritual. It was nerve-wracking, but also a reminder of the wealth of good short-form work being done by relatively new writers. From this group – my ‘cohort,’ in a sense – I’d have been happy to see stories on the ballot from Leah Bobet, Kris Dikeman, Amal El-Mohtar, Justin Howe, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Mercurio D. Rivera, Cat Rambo, or Genevieve Valentine.
I’d also have been happy to see more two-fisted fun on the ballot. Two of the absolute best stories I read this year were “Zeppelin City” by Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn, and “Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs” by Leonard Richardson. Both were ridiculously enjoyable and Nebula-worthy to my mind.
But if I’d had the power to beg one non-selfish boon from the Nebula gods of 2009, it would have been on behalf of Daniel Abraham’s The Price of Spring. I think the Long Price Quartet is, quite simply, the best fantasy series of this generation. It deserves a major award.
There were a lot of great stories that could easily have ended up on the ballot. Without regard to category, some stories I particularly liked were Jack Skillingstead’s “Alone with an inconvenient Truth”, and Cat Rambo’s “The Mermaids Singing Each to Each.” (I think Cat’s story missed the ballot by just a couple of votes.) Marc Laidlaw had a story called “Quickstone” that I really liked. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Spires of Denon” and Camille Alexa’s “Shades of White and Road” were both impressive. Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Godfall’s Chemsong” was another standout for its sheer imaginative strangeness. I also really liked the language and humor of Leah Bobet’s “The Parable of the Shower”.
In the short story category, I very much wanted to see Kris Dikeman’s “Nine Sundays in a Row“ make it. Crossroads stories are rare enough as it is; they draw from a uniquely American mythology that’s rich with metaphor and ripe for the mining, but it takes a master storyteller to really capture their quintessential weirdness. Dikeman nails it. Add a well-written animal PoV and a truly chilling metaphor for lost souls, and such complexity of character development that I cried at the end, and I think it’s definitely Nebula-worthy (which is why I voted for it myself — secret ballot schmeekret ballot). I love rereading it.
It’s interesting; Podcastle did an audio version of this story awhile back, but I haven’t listened to it, deliberately. (And I love Podcastle.) The narrator’s voice as Dikeman has written it is strong in my head: deep, slow, syrupy, like a proper Southerner. I don’t want anything messing with my conceptualization of that voice. It’s rare for a story to solidify like that in my mind, to the degree that I don’t want to see the film, or play the video game, or whatever. I don’t want to experience it in any form other than what the author produced, because anything else would just tangle the wires connecting me to the tale. For me, that’s the real test of a writer’s power.
This year, I didn’t read many new novels-although I enjoyed the ones I did read, such as Gail Carriger’s Soulless, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, and Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. I also didn’t watch many new movies-I’ve always preferred plays to films for some reason, probably the vestige of a misspent youth in children’s theaters.
A number of my favorite pieces made the lists, but I also found a number of other phenomenal short stories that deserve reading and recognition. (And of course I’m sure I missed many other phenomenal short stories since I didn’t read everything.)
One of my favorite short stories this year was “Remembrance Is Something like a House“ by Will Ludwigsen from Interfictions 2. The story is told from the perspective of an old house embarking on a journey to find one of its former residents. This is an intelligent, precisely written story, with a delicate handling of nostalgia and regret.
I also nominated Cat Rambo’s “The Mermaids Singing Each to Each“ from Clarkesworld Magazine, which seems to have come very close to making the ballot. It tells the story of a neuter individual who leads a salvage expedition into a dangerous sea-this is the kind of story that feels like an heir to the 1970s feminist SF tradition. It portrays a world with a lot of different speculative ideas, tied together with an interesting main character.
My third nomination that didn’t make it onto the ballot was Jeremiah Tolbert’s “Godfall’s Chemsong” which originally appeared in Interzone – a story of an alien among aliens. I love stories which take on alien senses and alien perspectives. This one, which explores gender and sexuality, imparts a strong sense of loneliness and alienation in a dark sea. It feels like Tiptree’s “Love Is the Plan, the Plan is Death“-though it doesn’t have the Tiptree’s visceral ugliness, it creates the same sort of short, sharp image of another world.
There were a number of other really strong reads this year. I was ineligible to nominate some of my favorites because I selected them for appearance as reprints in the audio magazine, PodCastle For instance, Ben Francisco’s “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts“ from Realms of Fantasy is a luminous, emotionally rich story that uses magical realist techniques to illuminate how the AIDS crisis has affected the generation gap between gay men. Ann Leckie’s “Marsh Gods“ from Strange Horizons pits a little girl against trickster gods in a charming tale with surprising depth of character and setting for its brief length. And then there’s Jessica Lee’s debut story “Superhero Girl“ from Fantasy Magazine, another vividly rendered, magical realist-influenced piece, which plays with ambiguity, fractured perspectives and meta-fictional narratives to tell the story of the narrator’s love and possible loss.
I was also really taken by another debut story from Fantasy Magazine, Aidan Doyle’s “Reading by Numbers,” a formally experimental piece of fiction that plays with the intersections between mathematics and storytelling to create a story that’s both surprising and moving.
Other stories worth recognizing include: Kris Dikeman’s deal-with-the-devil story from Strange Horizons, “Nine Sundays in a Row“; Alaya Dawn Johnson’s tale of physics, police brutality and anti-war activism, “The Score,” from Interfictions 2; and Jennifer Pelland’s consideration of how alien encounter might affect the least powerful among us, “…That Has Such People In It,” from Apex Digest – as well as all the others on my list at Ecstatic Days.
One of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of fantasy and science fiction writers is the ability to place familiar things in an unfamiliar setting and, thereby, force readers to reexamine them… Cat’s stories create a similar kind of disjunction when they recast slavery and eugenics in a fantasy setting. Her “Narrative of a Beast’s Life” is a fantasy mirror of the slave narratives which were written and published by escaped slaves before the civil war and then used by abolitionists as tools for converting Northerners to their cause. Much contemporary African American fiction plays on slave narratives in some way – for instance, Jones’s Known World and Morrison’s Beloved have both been described as taking on the project of re-imagining the lost histories of people who could not tell their stories. Rambo’s re-imagining of American slavery adds to this discourse in a different way, by altering the slave narrative subtly to create a new perspective for analyzing the original.
Since I had picked up “Narrative of a Beast’s Life” for PodCastle, I was unable to nominate this year. I was also unable to nominate two of my other favorites – Daniel Abraham’s “The Curandero and the Swede: a Tale from the American 1001 Nights“ from F&SF, a very strange and somewhat discomfiting story of subaltern American histories, and Ann Leckie’s “The Nalendar” from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, a fun, brightly colored adventure story in which a young girl and a divine lizard take on a powerful river-goddess.
Four of the novelettes I nominated didn’t make it on the ballot. These included Nisi Shawl’s “Good Boy“ from her collection Filter House, a story of god possession facilitated by future technology, and Jason Sanford’s Interzone story, “The Ships Like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain,” a dreamlike science fiction story about planet-bound humans taking to the skies. I also nominated two stories from Eclipse 3: Nicola Griffith’s “It Takes Two,” a hard science fiction exploration of the biochemical nature of love, and Maureen McHugh’s “Useless Things.” The latter, which has been described as a “pre-apocalyptic” tale, features McHugh’s usual leisurely, literary buildup to an emotional epiphany, amplified with complexly layered characters and details.
I was running out of reading speed when I came to novellas so I didn’t do this category justice, I’m afraid. My favorite novella that didn’t make it onto the ballot was Charles Stross’s “Palimpsest,” which was sort of a mess in terms of voice and story development, but made up for it with really, really cool ideas. On Ecstatic Days, I summarized the story like so:
A teenager from our time is told that he’s about to die – but instead of dying, he can go back in time to murder his grandfather and then join a secret team of awesome time travelers whose duty it is to save humanity from going extinct by going to apocalyptic end-points, grabbing small groups of humans, and taking them through time gates to new points in time where they can regrow the human population. (The first section is oddly told in second person, and I wasn’t particularly engaged by the repurposing of the grandfather paradox, which I think would have been best left out of the piece, but whatever.) As part of the Stasis time traveling group, the main character can access billions of years of human civilization, which we are told about, often in awesome info-dumps – no sarcasm there, the info-dumps are awesome. This story struggles at the points when it gets too mimetic – the revolution was okay, the handling of love interests pretty poor – but it dazzles when allowed to revel in info-dump glory.
There was an awful lot of awesome short form fiction this year, and I had an awful lot of fun reading it. I wish I’d gotten to more-but there’s always next year.
I couldn’t resist answering this question because my favorite fantasy novel of 2009 was, by far, Fire by Kristin Cashore. I was so bummed it didn’t make it onto the Nebula ballot, either as a Nebula nominee or an Andre Norton nominee. (Technically, Fire is published as YA in the U.S., but I think it may be published as adult in the UK.)
Cashore’s first novel, Graceling, was a Norton nominee in 2008, but I actually feel that Fire is the stronger book. Like many excellent novels, it’s difficult to pin it down into a hooky summary, but here’s my attempt: Monsters are supernaturally beautiful creatures, and Fire is the last of the human monsters in a kingdom adjacent to the places in Graceling. The novel is about Fire grappling with her identity and the ways that others try to use her and her powers (she can read and control minds). Fire raises so many interesting questions about power, responsibility, and the nature of evil. Fire herself may not be as kick-ass as Katsa in Graceling, but she is a three-dimensional and complex woman, and one who cannot be pigeonholed.
The novel has certainly won its fair share of accolades, but I wonder if it is less popular than Graceling because it is less of a romance. There are romantic relationships in Fire, but they are complicated and, in my opinion, fairly adult. (Not in terms of explicitness, but in terms of maturity.) For that reason, I think it’s a very good crossover YA novel. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much that when I sat down to answer this question, I couldn’t even refer to my own copy, because I’d lent it to friends.
Tagged with: Catherynne M. Valente • Christopher Barzak • Eugie Foster • Jason Sanford • Lisa Mantchev • Malinda Lo • N.K. Jemisin • Nebula Awards • Rachel Swirsky • Rebecca Stead • Richard BowesEugie Foster • Saladin Ahmed • Scott Westerfeld • Ted Kosmatka • Will McIntosh
Filed under: Mind Meld
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