Nebula Awards Showcase 2017
Each year, the stories nominated for the annual Nebula Awards are collected into an anthology and published all together, and this year's collection is very good. Made of six short stories, three poems, excerpts from nine novels, a full novelette, a full novella, and a memorial speech, it's a very good example of the breadth and depth of current scifi and fantasy. As it should be, being the best of the best nominated for the awards.
The book is presented like a ballot: a little information about the prize in question, a biography of the writer and a statement about how and why they wrote their nominated pieces, then the pieces themselves, and the winners. It makes a lovely frame for the stories, knowing what inspired them a little, and the process that went into writing them; it makes the Showcase not just an anthology, but a learning experience. Because of how long it takes to produce a book, these are the best of 2015, collected after the awards were presented.
It's a very diverse book, and generally, it's an optimistic and forward-looking collection, which is a good sign for scifi and fantasy as a whole. Proof that the extreme grim darkness of recent years is in the past, and scifi especially has returned to its roots as a mirror of what could be and what should be in the future. Even more then that, however, the stories collected here generally deal with topics of interest for today, but like all good speculative fiction, do it at a slant.
“Cat Pictures Please” is about a sentient search engine that emerged accidentally, using it's deep knowledge of people's online lives to try to help them, rather then going all Skynet and trying to destroy humanity. It answers the question of why the Internet is so full of cat pictures, too. It's charming and funny and delightfully genre-aware.
Similarly, “Today I Am Paul” is another story of an accidental new AI, this one in a droid intended to care for nursing home patients by emulating their family who can't be with them. It's at the other end of the mood spectrum, however, hitting the perfect note of sadness and melancholy for it's subject matter.
The novelette winner, “Our Lady of the Open Road” tells the story of a touring punk band trying to maintain real music in a world where corporations have ruined most small towns and co-opted music by creating holograms that are cheaper to fill a stage with then real people. It's a wry and grassroots look at what an overly commercialized near future might look like, but it's not gloomy. On the contrary, it's kind of edgy and neat.
Of the best novel nominees, most of the excerpts were the first few pages of the book, showing the wide range of works inside the genres: from NK Jemisin's The Fifth Season, depicting the start of what is meant to be the last of many apocalypses, to Naomi Novik's Uprooted, based in Polish fairytale lore and full of energetic characters making the best of a weird situation, living between a malevolent woodland and an immortal wizard who is meant to protect them from it.
Of the poems, “100 Reasons to Have Sex with an Alien” is the most memorable, gleefully nerdy and strange, but all three are experimental and full of perfect genre imagery.
Most of this collection comes from women, signaling that the boy's club idea of scifi and fantasy may finally have cracked. The characters and cultures depicted are also wonderfully diverse, and that's still a new enough thing to see that it's exciting and fresh.
If this book doesn't make a reader want to go find the full novels and collections these stories and excerpts come from, maybe speculative fiction isn't for them, because this year's collection is top notch and compulsively readable.