Tag Archives: short fiction

Hugo Award Finalists, 2013 – First Impressions

2312As always, the finalists for the Hugo Awards and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer are an interesting lot with a few surprises and a number of disappointments. The 1343 valid nominating ballots represent a record number, more than 20% above last year’s previous record. The winners will be announced Sunday, September 1, 2013, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at LoneStarCon 3 in San Antonio, Texas.

As usual, I am looking forward to my yearly journey through the contemporary science fiction world, even if the Hugo Award itself is becoming more of a popularity contest among fan personalities than ever before. Here are my initial thoughts about the nominees.

Best Novel (1113 ballots)

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

2312 appeared on almost every best-of list and should be the odds-on favorite to win. Saladin Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, also received widespread accolades. John Scalzi’s Redshirts received some praise, but my guess, not having read it yet, is that readers liked its lighthearted premise of what it’s like to be a Star Trek crewmember more than its actual literary merits. Scalzi is also a popular fan personality, which helps his visibility. Lois McMaster Bujold is another fan favorite, having been nominated many, many times. My opinion is that her books are solid mid-list action-adventure tales, but mostly just comfort food for fans who relate well to her protagonist who overcomes major physical disabilities to become a badass soldier and politician. Blackout, by Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, was on zero best-of lists and no other award short lists (at least, that I saw). But McGuire is a hugely popular blogger and podcaster whose celebrity within the fan community gives her a disproportionate advantage. The more of McGuire’s work I read, the less impressed I am. This is all the more disappointing because well-reviewed books such as Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin, The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal, among others, were ignored.

Asimovs_Oct-Nov_2012Best Novella (587 ballots)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall; On a Red Station, Drifting; and “The Stars Do Not Lie” were all well reviewed and all are on the Nebula ballot. Neither The Emperor’s Soul nor San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats appeared on any best-of or award lists that I saw. Here again, Sanderson’s and Grant’s fan popularity rather than the merits of their stories likely put them on the final ballot. The title of Grant’s story indicates it may be little more than fan fiction related to Joss Whedon’s hugely popular SF franchise, Firefly.

Best Novelette (616 ballots)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

The love-fest for Seanan McGuire continues, incredulously including a self-published story. I’m not familiar with the other novelettes, so I am hoping that they will be decent. Certainly, Valente and Cadigan have produced top-notch work in the past.

Best Short Story (662 ballots)

“Immersion” by Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives” by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware” by Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

All these stories undoubtedly deserve to be on the ballot. The sad news is that there are only three nominees because no other works received the minimum 5% of the votes required by the World Science Fiction Society constitution. I suspect this is due to a large number of good short stories that spread votes wide and thin.

Best Related Work (584 ballots)

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature Edited by Edward James & Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge UP)
Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them Edited by Lynne M. Thomas & Sigrid Ellis (Mad Norwegian Press)
Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who Edited by Deborah Stanish & L.M. Myles (Mad Norwegian Press)
I Have an Idea for a Book… The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg Compiled by Martin H. Greenberg, edited by John Helfers (The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box)
Writing Excuses Season Seven by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Jordan Sanderson

This is a hard category to say much about. The variety of potential works is vast, so almost anything can appear. Farah Mendlesohn has produced a number of well received scholarly works in the past few years, so I expect The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literatures deserves its place on the final ballot. Previous volumes of Writing Excuses were pretty informative, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated again. I have no idea what Chicks Dig Comics or Chicks Unravel Time are, but from the titles they must be part of a female-centric critical series. Martin H. Greenberg’s book sounds like little more than a list, so I’m not sure what value it has, other than to honor one of the great anthologists of all time. I’m a little surprised there are no art books on the final ballot.

sagaBest Graphic Story (427 ballots)

Grandville Bête Noire written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Saga, Volume One written by Brian K. Vaughn, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how good the selections are for this category, with the exception of Schlock Mercenary, a lightweight gag comic. It is a travesty that it is on the list and Batman: The Court of Owls is not. The voters have no trouble putting superhero stories in the Dramatic Presentation category, but for some reason resist them in their natural home, the Graphic Story category.

looperBest Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) (787 ballots)

The Avengers Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
The Cabin in the Woods Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
The Hunger Games Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Looper Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)

There are no surprises here, other than not seeing Game of Thrones, Season 2.

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) (597 ballots)

Doctor Who:“The Angels Take Manhattan” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“Asylum of the Daleks” Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who:“The Snowmen” Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)
Fringe:“Letters of Transit” Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
Game of Thrones:“Blackwater” Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

As I predicted, there are the usual three episodes of Doctor Who and two other sacrificial lambs. My only question is why a single episode of Game of Thrones is nominated. As established last year, Game of Thrones should be considered as one ten-part presentation. Nominating a single episode is like nominating a single chapter from a book. In any case, it doesn’t matter, since it’s a foregone conclusion that Doctor Who will win.

Best Editor – Short Form (526 ballots)

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

The usual suspects are nominated once again. My hope is that the retiring Stanley Schmidt will finally receive his due.

Best Editor – Long Form (408 ballots)

Lou Anders
Sheila Gilbert
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf

This is a category that very few people are really interested in. I certainly am not.

Julie-DillonBest Professional Artist (519 ballots)

Vincent Chong
Julie Dillon
Dan Dos Santos
Chris McGrath
John Picacio

A mixture of some old favorites along with some new faces. There are so many good professional artists that it is hard to pick a slate of nominees without offending some really deserving candidates. And picking a clear winner is nearly impossible.

Best Semiprozine (404 ballots)

Apex Magazine edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
Beneath Ceaseless Skies edited by Scott H. Andrews
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
Lightspeed edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
Strange Horizons edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross

It baffles me why this category should exist at all. Either you’re a professional magazine or you’re not. This wishy-washy half-measure should be abolished. For example, Clarkesworld published three Hugo nominees this year compared to one for Asimov’s and zero for Analog and F&SF. If that’s not a professional magazine, I don’t know what is.

Best Fanzine (370 ballots)

Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
Elitist Book Reviews edited by Steven Diamond
Journey Planet edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester

The Hugo voters inexplicably changed the eligibility rules this year to exclude virtually all online fanzines. Why supposedly forward-looking science fiction fans chose to regress to only printed periodicals is a mystery.

Best Fancast (346 ballots)

The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)
StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith

Although the Hugo voters have excluded online fanzines, they have embraced podcasts. However, the same titles appear year after year, and frankly, I have not been impressed with any of them. Episodes of news and opinion shows are almost always too long and often lack organization. StarShipSofa’s selection of audio stories is underwhelming. I’m still looking for a SF podcast with value-added information that’s worth my time. I suspect others feel the same way, since this category had the second-lowest number of nominating ballots.

Best Fan Writer (485 ballots)

James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
Mark Oshiro
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver

Mostly the same names we see every year in the mutual-admiration society known as fandom.

Best Fan Artist (293 ballots)

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles

Here’s another list of mostly familiar names. At least professional artist Randall Munroe did not make the final ballot this year.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 ballots)

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Zen Cho *
Max Gladstone
Mur Lafferty *
Stina Leicht *
Chuck Wendig *

* Finalists in their 2nd year of eligibility.

Mur Lafferty and Stina Leicht were both nominated last year, so I expect one of them will win this year. I am completely unfamiliar with the other three nominees.

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Hugo Awards 2012: Best Short Story

The Best Short Story category is one of the original Hugo Award categories. Short stories are defined as stories of less than 7,500 words. Good short stories are hard to find, as there is not a lot of room to develop big ideas. But when a good short story clicks, it can take the reader on an intense, powerful journey.

Best Short Story Nominations (611 ballots cast [compared to 515 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

72 “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (12.27%)
68 “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (11.13%)
43 “Movement” by Nancy Fulda (5.63%)
36 “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (5.63%)
36 “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (5.63%)
——————————————
25 “Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (4.09%)
24 “Unlimited Delta” by Robin Walton (3.93%)
23 “Tidal Forces” by Caitlin Kiernan (3.76%)
23 “The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne M. Valente (3.76%)
22 “Younger Women” by Karen Joy Fowler (3.60%)
18 “After the Apocalypse” by Maureen McHugh (2.95%)
18 “Shipbirth” by Aliette de Bodard (2.95%)
17 “Mama, We Are Zhenya, Your Son” by Tom Crosshill (2.78%)
17 “Goodnight Moons” by Ellen Klages (2.78%)
17 “Tying Knots” by Ken Liu (2.78%)
17 “The Server and the Dragon” by Hannu Rajaniemi (2.78%)
16 “The Invasion of Venus” by Stephen Baxter (2.62%)
16 “The Drowner” by Paedar O’Guilin (2.62%)

Best Short Story Final Ballot Results (1615 ballots [compared to 1597 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

2

“The Paper Menagerie” (WINNER)

454

454

515

569

789

4

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”

352

354

403

472

579

1

“The Homecoming”

310

311

359

439

6

“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”

266

266

281

3

“Movement”

185

187

5

No Award

48

No Award Tests:
• 1209 ballots rank “The Paper Menagerie” higher than No Award; 84 ballots rank No Award higher than “The Paper Menagerie”- PASS
• ((1615-48)/1922)*100 = 82% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”
3rd Place – “The Homecoming”
4th Place – “Movement”
5th Place – “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue”

Analysis

Only five short stories made the 5% cutoff. Does this mean the category of short story is stagnant (only four short stories made the cutoff last year)? Or does it mean that there are a large number of quality short stories that split the votes? I’m not sure what the answer is, but the category seems to be weaker than it used to. The Nebula Award winner was “The Paper Menagerie”.

Mini-Reviews

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)

This year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer went to Yu, very deserving based on this story. Yu uses the metaphor of a wasp colony enslaving a bee hive in a thought-provoking, original way to discuss colonialism and rebellion.

“The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s, Apr.-May 2011)

This is a moving story of an estranged father and son who find reconciliation while caring for their wife/mother who is hospitalized with dementia. The SF twist is that the son has undergone radical surgical modification that the father disapproves of.

“Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s, March 2011)

This is a beautifully written story about an autistic girl, the proposed treatment her parents are offered to cure her, and their mutual decision about it. One of the messages is that autistic people are not ill in a traditional sense, and that they do not necessarily need to be “cured” to have meaningful lives. It’s a story with food for thought from someone who obviously has had experience with an autistic person.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (F&SF, Mar.-Apr. 2011)

This is an emotionally charged story of a young American-born Chinese man who mistreats his native Chinese mother, illustrating the struggle between language and culture that many first- and second-generation immigrants encounter. After she dies, he finds a letter from her hidden in a magical origami animal she made. From that he learns a heartbreaking, poignant lesson. Be prepared to shed a tear when reading this story.

“Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)

It was only after I read this story that I learned it had been written as an April Fool’s joke. That clarified so much about why I disliked it. This is an incoherent story that apparently was supposed to be humorous, but fell far, far flat. Only the power of Scalzi’s popularity with fandom, and the overall weakness of the short story category, explains how fluff like this gets nominated.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novelette

The Best Novelette category is one of the oldest Hugo Award categories, being around since 1955. Novelettes are defined as stories of between 7,500 and 17,500 words. The novelette is good length for science fiction and fantasy stories. An author can explore a single idea without a lot of clutter.

Best Novelette Nominations (506 ballots cast [compared to 382 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

61 “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (12.05%)
56 “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (11.07%)
43 “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (8.50%)
37 “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (6.81%)
37 “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (7.31%)
—————————————————————————-
36 “A Long Walk Home” by Jay Lake (7.11%)
30 “White Lines on a Green Field” by Catherynne M. Valente (5.93%)
29 “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee (5.73%%)
23 “The Old Man and the Martian Sea” by Alastair Reynolds (4.55%)
21 “The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted From the Great Book)” by Nnedi Okorafor (4.15%)
21 “Laika`s Ghost” by Karl Schroeder (4.15%)
19 “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz (3.75%)
19 “A Small Price To Pay for Birdsong” by K.J. Parker (3.75%)
18 “The Choice” by Paul McAuley (3.56)
17 “Citizen-Astronaut” by David D. Levine (3.36%)
17 “The Summer People” by Kelly Link (3.36%)
17 “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow (3.36%)

Best Novelette Final Ballot Results (1418 ballots [compared to 1469 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

2

“Six Months, Three Days” (WINNER)

369

369

419

494

637

1

“Ray of Light”

340

343

363

410

521

3

“The Copenhagen Interpretation”

271

273

301

384

4

“What We Found”

230

231

256

5

“Fields of Gold”

149

151

No Award

59

No Award Tests:
• 976 ballots rank “Six Months, Three Days” higher than No Award; 120 ballots rank No Award higher than “Six Months, Three Days” – PASS
• ((1418-59)/1922 )*100 = 71% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “Ray of Light”
3rd Place – “The Copenhagen Interpretation”
4th Place – “What We Found”
5th Place – “Fields of Gold”

Analysis

Only eight novelettes made the 5% cutoff. It appears that there was strong support for a small number of candidates, with shallow support for a very large pool of contenders. The Nebula Award winner was “What We Found”.

Mini-Reviews

“The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July 2011)

This is an alternate history, the third in a series about a spy named Jonathan Hamilton. It is self-contained, but there are definite hints that it would be more enjoyable if one were familiar with the earlier works. The conceit is that in this world quantum mechanical devices exist which perform tasks that seem almost magical. I enjoyed this story, but felt like I was reading an excerpt from a novel.

“Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four)

This is a largely unmemorable story about the afterlife. New arrival Dennis meets various dead celebrities such as Cleopatra, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Jesus, and Alexander the Great, while lamenting his unfulfilled bucket list. As a character study this story is well done, but there is not much plot to hang it on.

“Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, December 2011)

This is a post-apocalyptic story where humanity is forced to live beneath the ocean to survive the complete glaciation of the surface after aliens block the sun. The plot focuses on a former astronaut searching for his runaway daughter and the serendipitous discovery they make in the process. Torgersen was the runner-up for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, and I expect we will see much more from this promising writer.

“Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com)

What happens when a man who can see a single, locked-in future goes on a date with a woman who can see every possible future, branching out like infinite trees? They can’t both be right, or can they? This is a powerful meditation on the philosophical debate between predestination and free will. Some very nice dialog fuels this engaging character study about romantic relationships, showing that even knowing the future doesn’t necessarily help bridge the gender gap.

“What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF, Sept.-Oct. 2011)

In a near-future Nigeria, a boy grows up to be a scientist. The story’s science fictional element is tenuous at best, concentrating mostly on the Nigerian’s family life. I really would expect to find something like this in a literary magazine. It’s not a bad story, but it’s not terribly remarkable, either.

Hugo Awards 2012: Best Novella

The Best Novella category was added in 1968. Novellas are defined as stories of between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Many people consider the novella to be a perfect length—long enough to develop a detailed world and interesting characters, but short enough to avoid unnecessary padding. It’s a hard length to get published, though; often not long enough to publish on its own, but too long to easily fit into some magazines or anthologies.

Best Novella Nominations (473 ballots cast [compared to 407 ballots cast in 2011])
(The titles in bold are the ones I nominated.)

120 Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (24.84%)
111 “The Man Who Bridged The Mist” by Kij Johnson (22.98%)
98 “Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (20.29%)
76 “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (15.73%)
47 “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (9.73%)
47 Countdown by Mira Grant (9.73%)
———————————————————————————-
39 “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton (8.07%)
38 “The Ants of Flanders” by Robert Reed (7.87%)
27 “With Unclean Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (5.59%)
22 Gravity Dreams by Stephen Baxter (4.55%)
18 “Martian Chronicles” by Cory Doctorow (3.73%)
18 “The Rat Race” by Cherie Priest (3.73%)
17 “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi (3.52%)
16 “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon (3.31%)
15 “Angel of Europa” by Allen Steele (3.11%)

Best Novella Final Ballot Results (1493 ballots [compared to 1467 ballots cast in 2011])

My Ranking

Title

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

Round 4

Round 5

Round 6

1

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” (WINNER)

331

331

377

453

492

628

2

“Kiss Me Twice”

315

315

330

370

462

593

7

Countdown

252

252

264

300

372

5

Silently and Very Fast

249

249

255

283

4

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”

199

200

208

3

“The Ice Owl”

107

108

6

No Award

40

No Award Tests:
• 1037 ballots rank “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” higher than No Award; 82 ballots rank No Award higher than “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” – PASS
• ((1493-40)/1922 )*100 = 76% – PASS

The remaining places were then calculated to be:
2nd Place – “Kiss Me Twice”
3rd Place – Silently and Very Fast
4th Place – “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary”
5th Place – Countdown
6th Place – “The Ice Owl”

Analysis

Only eight novellas met the 5% cutoff. I think the reason was that there were a handful of strong contenders that dominated the best-of lists. Final voting was very close between the two frontrunners, both published in Asimov’s. Once again, we see that Mira Grant has a passionate following that nominates and votes for her without broad support from the mainstream voters. The Nebula Award went to “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”.

Mini-Reviews

Countdown by Mira Grant (Orbit)

This is a prequel to Grant’s zombie series (Feed, Deadline), recounting the details of how the zombie virus was created. For readers who are familiar with this world, there’s a lot of repetition from the novels. This novella mainly gives Grant an excuse to do a data dump of her detailed biological research. The characters and plot of the story are not very engaging.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

In the universe of this story humans have invented light-speed transport and primitive instantaneous communication. Rebellious teenager Thorn befriends a mysterious teacher, Master Pregaldin, to fill in some of the gaps in her knowledge and experience left by being dragged from planet to planet by her somewhat immature mother. Meanwhile, an immanent political revolution on the planet threatens to expose Pregaldin’s secret and tear Thorn’s life apart. I found the situations and characters to be interesting, but felt that the ending was a bit out of tune with Thorn’s personality that had been established.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, June 2011)

This is a police procedural that features two partners: human detective Scott Huang and his artificial intelligence partner, Metta, whose default persona is Mae West. When Metta’s chassis is stolen, Metta is restored from backup to a new chassis and the duo soon connects the crime to a larger conspiracy. I liked this novella a lot. The characters were well-rounded, with clear personalities. The mystery was satisfactorily resolved, although there was a bit of luck involved. The world was consistent and easily pictured. I could see this expanded into a novel; I definitely hope Kowal writes more about this future society.

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Oct.-Nov. 2011)

This story is a wonderful piece of world building, concerning an architect who is tasked with building a long bridge across a mysterious valley connecting two isolated villages. The mist that fills the valley has strange properties and is home to large, deadly creatures. One of the beauties of the novella is that Johnson’s descriptions of the mist and the creatures are from the viewpoint of the characters who are so familiar with them that no further descriptions are necessary, letting the readers’ imaginations fill in the gaps. In lesser hands this would have been disastrous, but Johnson deftly weaves the mysteries into her story, letting them take a back seat to the human relationships between the architect and the natives. I hope that there will be more stories set in this fascinating setting.

“The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” by Ken Liu (Panverse 3)

This is an emotionally charged story of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria during World War II, a brutal time that is ignored in most history lessons, and actually denied by many contemporary government officials. Liu posits a unique time travel technique whereby past events can be witnessed once, and then they are irrevocably erased. The time travelers in the story pick this particular period to study because they don’t want the world to forget a horrible chapter of inhumanity. But by watching history, they obliterate the very memories they are trying to preserve. This presents a terrific dilemma, because now the only records of the atrocities are unverifiable accounts from biased observers. Liu’s writing is very powerful, and although there are some minor flaws in the documentary-style execution and logic of the story, he succeeds in his goal of using science fiction as a tool to bring neglected history to life.

Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, WSFA)

Valente is a stylist who uses poetic imagery to evoke mood. It’s the kind of writing you either love or hate. I’m leaning towards the hate end of the spectrum. The story tells of the relationships between the evolving artificial intelligence called Elefsis and the generations of the human family that owns and operates it. This is very much a character study, told as a fairy tale wrapped with a science fictional covering. This is a metaphor for the chaos that is life and learning, and as such doesn’t provide tidy resolutions.

2011 Nebula Awards Nominees Announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) announced the nominees for the 2011 Nebula Awards, the nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, and the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Novel

Novella

Novelette

Short Story

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Attack the Block, Joe Cornish (writer/director) (Optimum Releasing; Screen Gems)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (writers), Joe Johnston (director) (Paramount)
  • Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Hugo, John Logan (writer), Martin Scorsese (director) (Paramount)
  • Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen (writer/director) (Sony)
  • Source Code, Ben Ripley (writer), Duncan Jones (director) (Summit)
  • The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi (writer/director) (Universal)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17 to May 20, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. Connie Willis will be the recipient of the 2011 Damon Knight Grand Master Award for her lifetime contributions and achievements in the field. Walter Jon Williams will preside as toastmaster, with Astronaut Michael Fincke as keynote speaker.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of  SFWA. Voting will open to SFWA Active members on March 1 and close on March 30.

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson is probably one of the most famous writers you’ve never heard of. Matheson has produced dozens of short stories, novels, and screenplays, most often with elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Among other honors he has received are the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement (1990) from the Horror Writers Association and The World Horror Convention Grand Master Award (1993) from the World Horror Society.

Matheson’s first screenplay was The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), based on his novel The Shrinking Man (1956). This earned him the honor of receiving the very first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (1958) from the World Science Fiction Society.

Matheson spent several years writing TV Westerns such as Buckskin (1959), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1959), Have Gun – Will Travel (1960), Cheyenne (1960), and Lawman (1960).

Matheson became a writer for Roger Corman and other low-budget producers, penning such titles as Master of the World (1961), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Burn, Witch, Burn (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), and Die! Die! My Darling! (1965).

Matheson wrote sixteen episodes of the original Twilight Zone, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963), and two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in the 1970s. Other notable TV credits include Star Trek (1966) (“The Enemy Within”), as well as episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962), The Martian Chronicles (1980), The Twilight Zone (1986), and Amazing Stories (1986).

Matheson scripted Steven Spielberg’s first feature, the TV movie Duel (1971), from his own short story.

In 1973 Matheson won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Television Feature or Miniseries for his teleplay of The Night Stalker (1972), one of two TV movies he wrote that launched the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974).

Matheson’s seminal novel I Am Legend (1954) has been filmed at least three times: The Last Man on Earth (1964) (with Matheson contributing to the screenplay as Logan Swanson), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007). While not attributing its source material, Night of the Comet (1984) can clearly be seen as derived from Matheson’s concept. Many people point to I Am Legend as the first true zombie story, even though the monsters are described as vampires in the book. Matheson was certainly one of the first to try to explain vampire/zombie behavior in scientific terms, using a viral pandemic to explain its origins. Night of the Living Dead (1968) captured the spirit of I Am Legend so well, even though it was not a direct adaptation, that together these two classics have provided the basic framework for almost every post-apocalyptic undead story and movie since.

Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include A Stir of Echoes (1958) (filmed in 1999), The Beardless Warriors: A Novel of World War II (1967) (as The Young Warriors (1967)), Hell House (1971) (as The Legend of Hell House (1973)), World Fantasy Award winner Bid Time Return (1974) (as Somewhere in Time (1980)), and What Dreams May Come (1977) (filmed in 1998).

Matheson, born in 1926, is still alive and writing. His novel Other Kingdoms was published in early 2011 to positive reviews. The soon to be published anthology Steel: And Other Stories contains the short story basis for the upcoming Real Steel (2011) (previously adapted for Twilight Zone (1963)). The collection also includes “The Splendid Source” (1956) used as the basis of an episode of The Family Guy (2010).

A remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man is scheduled for 2012. A couple of other film projects based on Matheson’s works are in pre-production.

Do yourself a favor and pick up one of Richard Matheson’s books. This prolific writer deserves wider recognition.