The 2010 Nebula Award Finalists: Trending Personal and Next-Gen
The Nebula Award finalists for 2010 have been announced by SFWA (the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Presented in several categories, from novel to short forms, The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The novel finalists are:
- The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
- The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
- Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
- Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
- Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
- Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)
Of the six books in the novel category, two---Who Fears Death and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms---appeared on Amazon’s SF/F top 10. Who Fears Death has, in particular, been one of the most talked about SF/Fantasy releases from 2010. For finalist Nnedi Okorafor, the nomination is just another step in an ongoing and unpredictable journey that started with a book signing on the Michigan State campus. During the event, she was verbally attacked by African academics for addressing issues of female circumcision in a science fiction setting.
“Since then," Okorafor told me, "I’ve had plenty of Africans attack me via email and snail mail for the same thing [but] even more Africans have applauded me for writing ‘African science fiction’ and addressing such volatile issues. Nigerians of the Diaspora continue to let me know how interesting it is to read fantasy/sf based in mythology and cultures specifically germinated and grown in ‘Naija’ (slang for Nigeria). I’ve had feminists both applaud and condemn the way I handled the circumcision scene [in the novel]. I had one guy email me in a fit of rage because something happened to a character that he really loved. I read a wonderfully glowing review of Who Fears Death written by a '30-something white American male' who usually typically preferred '30-something white American male stuff.' I recently learned that male prisoners have been 'devouring' my novels, including Who Fears Death…Considering the plethora of reactions to the novel I’ve encountered, all so strong and passionate, I think did something right.”
As for the short fiction categories, a trend toward more representation from online magazines was blunted somewhat this year, with publications like Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov’s SF Magazine, and The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy earning nods. However, the new online magazine Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams, had two nominations, including "I'm Alive, I Love You, I'll See You in Reno" by Vylar Kaftan. Kaftan, who is helping organize FOGCon next month, describes "I’m Alive…" as "a love story about two people who just can't get in sync…Add to that the time adjustments caused by nearly-light-speed travel, and they've got a lot of problems." Kaftan’s story was the first chosen for publication by Lightspeed.
One trend did continue to hold true: the Nebula short form categories are reflecting more and more acclaim for the next generation of writers. Many of these nominees will publish first novels in the next few years. I checked in with a few of the nominees in those categories to get their reactions to being nominated, and to learn more about their stories—starting with the two Beastly Bride finalists, Christopher Barzak and Shweta Narayan.
Christopher Barzak’s nomination for the “Map of Seventeen” (best novelette) is his second, the first coming for his novel The Love We Share Without Knowing last year. As “surprised this year” as last, Barzak considers the Nebula a huge honor “because it’s voted on by my peers, other SF and Fantasy writers, and that’s a difficult crowd to please.”
His story is “a play on the myth of Melusine. I first came across that myth while reading A.S. Byatt's Possession years ago now. I'd never encountered it, and was taken with the prohibition of a woman who enters into a marriage with a man based on the condition that one day out the week she will bathe and he must promise not to disturb her while she does...Because he breaks her rule, she curses his children for generations to come to be like her. It felt oddly like a description of a genetic feature she was handing down, albeit as a curse, and it also reminded me of the very male-oriented prohibition fairy tales and myths like Bluebeard...I wanted to use the Melusine myth to illuminate the idea of hiding versus being seen, being ‘out’ maybe, for my characters Tommy and Tristan, a gay couple living in a small rural town. I also think there aren't enough mermen out there…”
Narayan, meanwhile, is a first-time nominee for "Pishaach," also a novelette. She described with enthusiasm how she learned she was a finalist: “On February 16, I woke up to a message from Madeleine [a SFWA officer], asking for my phone number so she could call me on SFWA business. I spent the next hour freaking out, alternating between ‘No way!’ and ‘What other SFWA business could there be?’ I couldn't even take the call myself when it came (I had laryngitis), so...I heard about being a Nebula finalist from my husband repeating Madeleine's words for me, and got to bounce up and down in silence.”
"Pishaach" is important to Narayan because it represents many firsts: “The first complete story I wrote that was deeply personal. The first time I tried a non-linear multi-perspective structure.” It was also her first workshop critique attending the famed Clarion Writers' Workshop in San Diego in 2007. "As a result, [it was also] the first time I figured out how to look for the underlying problems people were getting at, rather than grabbing at a convenient solution. It was not an easy story to write, on any level. It was full of struggle---pushing myself to get it right, making emotionally hard decisions, caring about every word. So for me the nomination is validating that process somewhat. Reminding me that pushing myself matters, and caring, and not stopping till every word is right."
In the short story category, Amal El-Mohtar was nominated for "The Green Book," a tale published online by Apex Magazine, edited by noted author Catherynne M. Valente. Last year, El-Mohtar was featured on Omnivoracious for her great gift book The Honey Month.
Like many of the nominees, El-Mohtar didn’t expect the good news, especially as "The Green Book" was her only published story in 2010. The nomination is especially meaningful to El-Mohtar because “people who don't know me from Eve liked my work enough to nominate it for an award...The thought that people...ranked it in their top five short story reads of the year was already brain-meltingly awesome; the thought that there were enough of those people to put me on the ballot is just inconceivable. Every time I think of it my brain sort of short-circuits until the next time I'm confronted with reality, and then it short-circuits again.”
El-Mohtar told me that the “story that began as a gift of hand-written scribbles for [fellow writer] Nicole Kornher-Stace in an actual tiny green book, a strange story of patchwork fragments and ivy-bones and ink-love.”
A recurring refrain about the nominated stories, from the writers' perspective, is that they were deeply personal in conception or in some way represented a stretch for the writer. There also seems to be a blurring of fantasy and science fiction, and more of an awareness of gender issues.
For example, when I asked Rachel Swirsky (featured on Omni recently) what the Nebula nomination for her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” meant to her, she told me that not only was it a “foray into a different kind of territory stylistically” but also an exploration of “the sociobiological claim that the kinds of differences between male and female sex roles we see recurring in various cultures are based on real differences in male and female biology--primarily the vulnerability that comes with being pregnant and nursing small children. This seems like a pretty valid thesis as these things go, so I was wondering how you'd get around that to make a functional matriarchy. There have been lots of science-fiction oriented proposals of how technology might get around reproductive obstacles, but I tried to use fantasy.”
Swirsky may have a slight advantage in her category as a past nominee, but in general the categories are wide-open, with no clear front-runners. Will SF triumph over Fantasy? Will the next gen win out over the remnants of the old guard? Readers will find out at the Nebula Awards Banquet on Saturday evening, May 21, in Washington, D.C.