I had a great time reading works for the Nebula. It’s refreshing to read stuff that I don’t have to critique. I can just say, “Yes, I thought that was great,” or “No, I didn’t like that,” without having to analyze WHY I didn’t like it and how it could be salvaged and yadda yadda. I think I’m burned out on critiquing lately.
Anyway. I’d like to talk about which works I recommended, and why. These are all stories that I really enjoyed and think other people should read too. This list is based on my reading throughout the year as well as a few discoveries in this final frenzy of reading. All of these are available to SFWA members through the website (and a few are available online).
- Novella: Shepard, Lucius: Stars Seen Through Stone (F&SF, Jul07) This whole Nebula-reading frenzy started when I saw there were only two novellas qualified for the preliminary ballot. I really hate “choices” like that. So I decided to try the two novellas which had 8 recommendations already. The Shepard work is terrific. Strange events alter a small Pennsylvania town, a morally bankrupt musician rises to glory and then crashes back into much-deserved obscurity, and two estranged lovers fall for each other again. It was like Lovecraft’s “The Mountains of Madness” meets Austen’s “Persuasion.” I particularly liked the strong female lead and the satisfying justice in the musician’s fate. If you’re at all inclined to read something in the next few days, I recommend this work–and if you get a recommendation in by the 31st, you’ll be the 10th, which would put this on the preliminary ballot.
- Novelette: Jemison, N. K.: The Narcomancer (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, WS & LWE, Ed., Jan07 ) A fine tale about a priest fighting a sleep-magician. What I really liked here is that this story developed well on both a plot level and a character level–in fact, the two intertwined neatly to make a compelling, satisfying story. So many writers neglect one or the other, but this story works on both levels. Very well done.
- Novelette: Kail, Andrea: The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom (Writers of the Future Volume 23, Galaxy Press, Sep07) You probably haven’t heard of Andrea Kail. Well, you should have. She’s a terrific new writer and you’ll be seeing great work from her in the next 5 years. This story possesses a delightful voice: the young King Tut, living a second life in a museum, writes letters to his hero Abraham Lincoln. Yep, that’s what I said. Overall, it’s a serious exploration of our relationship to history and heroes. But it definitely keeps its whimsy. My favorite part was when Abe sends the young pharaoh a scooter as a present, which gets him in trouble as he zips around the museum.
- Novelette: Pelland, Jennifer: Mercytanks (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, WS & LWE, Ed., Apr07) Okay, this completely rocked. I sent the link to a bunch of people and said READ THIS. If I told you what was so cool, I’d spoil the ending. But I’ll say this: It’s a story about the REAL far-future, or at least a more plausible version of it than usual. Most far-future stories seem too conservative in their vision. Few writers consider how vast the world’s changes are even within our own lifetimes, and they fail to extrapolate appropriately. But Jennifer Pelland has done some great work here. In this story, accidental refugees from the past attempt to adjust to life in the future–and if they can’t adjust, they’ll be put into a VR sim where they’ll live in a pale imitation of reality (but they won’t know their lives are VR simulations!) Our protagonist is a counselor who’s helping these people adjust to a future they can barely comprehend before they have to be mercytanked. Totally great stuff. Go read it.
- Short Story: Black, Holly: A Reversal of Fortune (Coyote Road, Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking Juvenile, Jul07) After I read this, I walked into the living room where my husband was sitting. My expression was slightly dazed. “Honey,” I said, “I just read an awesome story where a girl challenges the devil to… a gummi-frog eating contest.” Without missing a beat, he said, “That’s strange and wonderful. But if Kelly Link didn’t write it, and neither did you, I don’t know who could have!” (Husband scores points. He gets fresh chocolate chip cookies today.) But seriously, Holly Black–who wrote the terrific twisted faerie tale Tithe–has turned out a delightfully clever tale about a girl who tricks the devil himself. Witty, charming, and fun. Plus, it was great to read a story which didn’t have a rocks-fall-everyone-dies ending. Even though I like that sort of thing.
- Short Story: Rickert, M: Holiday (Subterranean, Sep07 < #7, Datlow issue>) People have been telling me to read M. Rickert for a while now. I’d always meant to read her stuff, and she sounded like my sort of writer. Indeed. This story blew my socks off. A man is visited by a never-quite-named Jon-Benet Ramsey who converts him into a birthday-party-holding, clownsuit-wearing–Oh, just go read the story. Haunting, chilling, and very strange. Consider me a new M. Rickert fan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one pick up a bunch of recommendations.
- Short Story: Kowal, Mary Robinette: For Solo Cello, op. 12 (Cosmos, Mar07 ) A maimed musician faces a terrible choice: in order to reclaim his skills, he must sacrifice something he loves. Essentially, it’s a deal-with-the-devil story–where the devil turns out to be within himself. Great ending. On an unrelated note, the art for this story is especially gorgeous. Cosmos does great illustrations.
Three of my recommendations are new to the list:
- Short Story: Mamatas, Nick: Summon Bind Banish (Bandersnatch, Paul Tremblay & Sean Wallace, Ed., Wildside Press, Nov07) Bandersnatch is a very weird anthology, if by “very” you mean “completely” and by “weird” you mean “I have to boil my brain, please strain the spaghetti, eggs are toast, PING!” The cover has no title. The back has no blurb. The art is ALL. Omnipresent over the book, like a tattoo over an entire human being. Within these strange pages are a number of very good stories, among them this one. “Summon Bind Banish” is about Alistair Crowley, transcendence, and goat-fucking, not necessarily in that order. I found this story remarkable for its daring subject matter and its well-crafted build to a surprising yet inevitable ending. I highly recommend it. Plus the sf/f world has recently suffered a distinct lack of stories with goatfuckery, a problem which has now been remedied for several years to come.
- Novelette: Leckie, Ann: The Snake’s Wife (Helix:A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, WS & LWE, Ed., Oct07) Three of my recommendations are from Helix, and no surprise–it’s a fine market. This story is about what happens when foolish humans try to play the Prophecy Game. This game is well known to dungeon masters across the world who’ve dealt with the Wish spell. It involves the game of, “Well, the EXACT word the prophecy said could mean THIS, if I bent it just right and hoped a lot and made excuses for all the crap I’m going to do anyway.” Such verbal shenanigans usually end in tears, death, or someone cursed with a goat’s head for the rest of their life. Anyway, about this specific story: A young boy falls prey to political machinations and suffers a terrible price. Men reading this story might want to, uh, armor themselves sufficiently first. But the boy wreaks his revenge on his tormentors in the end, through more of those verbal shenanigans, in a satisfying way. It’s a good read.
- Short Story: Scholes, Ken: Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky (Clarkesworld, Nov07) I’m not usually crazy about alternate history. The stories have to be wildly different from reality for me to enjoy them much. This story accomplished that. In a Europe where Napoleon won, Adolf Hitler grew up with no Germany to rule. He became a painter, moved to Paris, hung out with Ernie Hemingway, and fell in love with a Jewish girl. I liked the originality and the vision of this piece. Now I’m pondering the ways in which people are shaped by their environments, and how altered the same person can be by different situations.
Phew. That was a lot of thinking, and now my brain hurts. Time to get silly. Everyone watch Watermelon Nights with me! Sing along! Be young and in love, and a watermelon! Then go read Mercytanks by Jennifer Pelland.