2014 Nebula nominations

The SFWA has just announced the shortlist for the 2014 Nebula Awards:

Novel

  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
  • Trial by Fire, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
  • Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu ( ), translated by Ken Liu (Tor)
  • Coming Home, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

I’ve read two of the six novels on this list, Annihilation and Ancillary Sword. Both The Goblin Emperor and The Three-Body Problem have had a lot of online buzz, with people I trust liking both. As per usual there’s a Jack McDevitt novel on the list, because he either has a lot of friends in SFWA or a lot of blackmail material, as he’s the dullest writer in existence. Gannon I’ve no clue about, but he’s published by Baen and with a few exceptions, the best their writers aim for is “decent”.

Novella

Of these, only Mary Rickert and Rachel Swirsky are on the list of critically acclaimed short SF I’m reading my way through on the booklog. An indication perhaps that there is a rough consensus on what last year’s best stories were, but only a rough consensus.

Novelette

In the novelette category, traditionally the most …awkward… category with both the Nebula and the Hugo as nobody really knows what is and isn’t one, there’s more of a consensus: Richard Bowes, Tom Crosshill, Carmen Maria Machado and Kai Ashante Wilson all are on my list with the same stories. This may just be because fewer novelettes than novellas or short stories are written.

Short Story

In the short story category, there are once again only two stories that overlap: Usman T. Malik’s and Alyssa Wong’s. Again evidence of a lively short story field?

What struck me also is that how little in all these three categories was published in the traditional venues; basically anything that doesn’t have a link above. Two novellas, one novelette and two short stories. The novellas published as chapbooks by Tachyon, the rest in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Interstellar, Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • The Lego Movie, Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (Warner Bros. Pictures)

This award has the same problems as the media Hugos: it’s not where the Nebulas’ focus lies, so the selection is predictable and limited to big budget blockbusters rather than anything surprising. Are these really the best science fiction or fantasy movies from 2014, or just the ones the Nebula nominators have heard of?. I suspect the latter and I don’t see the point in yet another award rewarding the already known and unsurprising.

Granted, you can make the same claim for the novel award, but the difference there is that the Nebula is one of the two top awards in the particular field of SFF novels, while nobody cares about winning the Bradbury. Moreover, while the novel Nebula can be predictable, it isn’t to the extent shown here.

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House)
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown)
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)

If the Nebulas do have to have speciality awards, I’d rather it’s for categories like this, of more direct concern to the SFF field and highlighting a critically underserved branch of SFF.

Short SF Marathon Week 2

The second week of my short sf marathon has just concluded:

  • Day 8: Jeffrey Ford, Karen Joy Fowler, Max Gladstone
  • Day 9: Kathleen Ann Goonan, Theodora Goss, Nicola Griffith
  • Day 10: Shane Halbach, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard
  • Day 11: Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, N. K. Jemisin, Xia Jia
  • Day 12: Xia Jia, Rachael K. Jones, Stephen Graham Jones
  • Day 13: Vylar Kaftan, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ellen Klages
  • Day 14: Jay Lake, Rich Larson, Yoon Ha Lee

A Night in the Lonesome October — Roger Zelazny

Cover of A Night in the Lonesome October


A Night in the Lonesome October
Roger Zelazny
280 pages
published in 1993

A Night in the Lonesome October took me all of October to read, not because it was such a long or difficult book, but because I read each chapter on the day it took place. This has been an ancient tradition in online fandom, or at least it was when I was hanging around rec.arts.sf.written in the late nineties (and I see Andrew Wheeler at least remembers this tradition too). It’s an interesting way to read a novel you’d otherwise read in a day or so. It also constituted my (semi) annual allowed read of a new Zelazny novel; I ration my reading of a “new” Zelazny as he’s one of my favourite authors and the supply is after all limited.

A Night in the Lonesome October in fact is the last solo novel he completed before his death two years later. Sadly to say, it’s also one of his few late novels that’s any good, unlike say his collaborations with Robert Sheckley. Like so many other grandmasters Zelazny had declined somewhat in his later years, for a variety of reasons, but A Night in the Lonesome October was a return to form. Witty, well written and with the characteristic inventiveness of Zelazny’s best work; it’s no wonder it became a cult favourite.

Read more

The Dreamblood Duology — N. K. Jemisin

Cover of The Killing Moon


The Killing Moon & The Shadowed Sun
N. K. Jemisin
415/504 pages
published in 2012

Have you ever reached that point where you’ve read twothirds of a fantasy trilogy, quite like the writer but don’t want to read the last novel because it would mean rereading the first two? Yeah, that happened to me with N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy, so instead I read her new series, The Dreamblood duology. Both The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun were published in 2012 and can be read as standalones, though you’ll miss a lot of the background if you only read The Shadowed Sun.

One of my ongoing frustrations with fantasy in general is how few novels take their inspiration from anything but medieval Europe. Medievaloid worlds as filtered through Tolkien and his imitators — where you can find pipe smoking peasants eating potoes with their turkey but few people of colour –are a dime a dozen, but books with Egypt as a source of worldbuilding are rare. In fact, The Dreamblood duology is the first series I can remember reading with Egypt as the inspiration for its setting, polytheism, annual flooding river surrounded by desert, powersharing between the priesthood and nominal god-king and all. What’s more, Jemisin was also inspired by Egypt’s historical relationship with Kush, the kingdom to the south of it in what’s now Sudan, who shared its culture and at times actually ruled it. In short, this is one fantasy in which pale Northern European heroes are in short supply.

Read more

Styx — Bavo Dhooge

Cover of Styx


Styx
Bavo Dhooge
295 pages
published in 2014

I hadn’t heard of Bavo Dhooge before I saw this book spotlighted in the Amsterdam public Library in their new additions section, near to where you hand in your borrowed books. It was the cover blurb saying that this was going to published in America that drew me to it and the back cover blurb that sold me on it. Raphaël Styx, a corrupt and aggressive chief inspector in the Oostende police, is chasing a notorious serial killer, the Stuffer, who murders young women, takes out their organs and stuffs the bodies full of sand. So far, so predictable, but then it comes to a confrontation between Styx and the Stuffer and Styx is killed … only to raise the next day as a zombie cop. Now he has to trust his successor, the Congolese-Belgium dandy Joachim Delacroix, to help him bring the Stuffer to justice.

Zombie cop taking revenge on his killer is not a concept I’d seen before, though John Meaney’s Bone Song is set up along similar lines. That on it’s own was good enough to take a punt on, with the icing on the cake being the setting. Oostende is one of Belgium’s grand old seaside resorts, being the favourite haunts of its first two kings, but having declined a lot in the second half of the 20th century. It also was the centre of Belgian surrealism, something that turns out to be important in Styx.

Read more

Ter Ziele — Esther Scherpenisse

Cover of Ter Ziele


Ter Ziele
Esther Scherpenisse
93 pages
published in 2014

Esther Scherpenisse is an up and coming Dutch fantasy writer, whose debut “Het prismaproject” in 2005 won the Paul Harland Prize in the best new writer category. Last year she managed to win the Paul Harland Prize again, but now for overall best story with “Ter Ziele”. For those unfamiliar with it, the Paul Harland Prize is an annual open competition for Dutch language science fiction, fantasy and horror stories; past winners include Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who went on to get two Hugo nominations this year and last. That last story is now available electronically as a chapbook, together with another of her short stories, “In de Mist”. That’s one of the advantages of ebooks, that you can publish chapbooks for a reasonable price rather than as expensive collectables, ideal to sample a new author.

Which is why I bought it yesterday after Esther tweeted that it was available. I’m still finding my way through the Dutch fantastika landscape after decades of not paying anything that didn’t come out in English. When I started investigating, Esther was one of the writers who had a critical buzz going for them and judging by the two stories here, that buzz is justified. These are well written stories that are as good as any published in English and I hope these will be translated sooner rather than later.

Read more

Otherbound — Corinne Duyvis

Cover of Otherbound


Otherbound
Corinne Duyvis
387 pages
published in 2014

It was thanks to The SKiffy and Fanty Show that I got to know about Dutch author Corinne Duyvis and her début novel Otherbound, when they had an interview with her about her book. This interview intrigued me enough to buy the ebook and start reading it immediately, because Duyvis was saying smart things about diversity and disability; it also helped that in the Dutch SF round table was raving about this book. And they were right to. This is a smart, well written fantasy novel with a clever, original idea at the heart of it that deserves to be a huge success.

Nolan would be just a normal high school kid, where it not for his crippling epileptic seizures. Amara is a servant girl, her only job to keep the fugitive princess Cilla safe, functioning as the lightning rod for the princess’ curse. Any drop of her blood spilled will attract the world’s vengeance on her, so instead Amara has to draw the curse to her, because she has a healing power that will allow the curse to do its worst and still leave her alive. As a side effect of her “gift”, Nolan was dragged into her world, her mind, seeing and experiencing Amara’s life every time he closes his eyes, every time he blinks. So when Cilla’s protector and Amara’s overseer, Jorn, punishes Amara for her neglicence by thrusting her arms into a fire, Nolan feels the pain alongside her. It’s this what’s really behind his epilepsy, this loss of control as he’s sucked into Amara’s world and can’t pay attention to his own.

Read more

The Mirror Empire — Kameron Hurley

Cover of The Mirror Empire


The Mirror Empire
Kameron Hurley
540 pages
published in 2014

Kameron Hurley’s debut novel Gods War had an impact many other writers would envy her for, only equalled by the buzz generated by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice last year. It wasn’t just an accomplished debut novel, it also helped revitalise science fiction at a time when it started to grow a bit stale again. Expectations are therefore high for Hurley’s new novel, The Mirror Empire, the first in a new series and the first fantasy novel she has published. Would it be as good and inventive as her previous series, would she be as good at writing fantasy as science fiction?

Halfway through Mirror Empire I finally realised what it reminded me off: Steven Erikson’s Malazan series. Not so much in setting or plot, but rather in complexity and willingness of both authors to throw all sorts of interesting ideas into their novels, ideas you may not expect in what at first glance seems to be a standard epic fantasy series. Where they differ is that Hurley is much better at inclueing the reader about who all these people are and how everything fits together, where Erikson had a magnificent disdain for the reading, leaving them to sink or swim on their own. Hurley is … more forgiving but still requires you to pay attention. This is not a novel to read with your brain in standby.

Read more

Why not have a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest?

Over at Europa SF, Dutch writer and critic Peter Kaptein explores the possibility of a pan-European organisation/movement for the fantastic in its broadest form:

We are not just writers

I do not believe in an European Writers Association. I don’t believe in a movement that focuses on only one aspect of our branch of art.

I do believe in an European Speculative Arts Association (or European Fantastika Creators or European Creators of Fantastika Association as it might be called).

Because we are more than just writers. We are also scholars, movie makers, animators, comic book artists, illustrators, sculptors, street artists, musicians, theatre makers and festival organizers.

We should not cut off the many possibilities for collaboration that can propel European SF, Fantasy and Horror to creative heights far beyond what the American and British market have reached until now.

What Kaptein is proposing is a way to structure and strengthen the ties between the various national science fiction/fantasy scenes throughout Europe without necessarily assimilating them into the Anglo-American juggernaut. What we have currently is that each country is influenced by what happens in English language science fiction, be it movies, novels, computer games or whatever, that a few writers and other creators get translated and assimilated, but that cross pollination between local European scenes is rare: both Belgian and Bulgarian writers are influenced by the American or British writers they read, but they don’t influence each other.

At the same time, while the Anglo-American science fiction world is becoming more open to outside influences, it’s still a process in which selected writers “break through” and become part of that world, but there isn’t yet a systemic interchange of ideas and influences, certainly not on any basis of equality. Projects like Clarkesworld’s Chinese science fiction translation project help a bit, but aren’t nearly enough to redress the balance.

So it makes sense to look for ways in which we can create a truly international, pan-European form of science fiction, where Polish writers are read in France and are inspired by the work of artists from Spain who in turn admire the radical works of Croatian film makers. How to go about this though? Do we need some sort of international organisation, something akin to an European SFWA but broader, as Kaptein is looking for?

Perhaps. There’s already the European Science Fiction Society, which organises Eurocons and the European science fiction awards, but that’s more rooted in fandom; it’s mission could be extended if the will is there. Perhaps we need a more European way of recognising worthwhile authors and other creators in foreign languages, perhaps we need a Eurovision Science Fiction Contest instead. Imagine having e.g. short stories from every country in Europe compete with each other, voted on by fans all over the continent. Wouldn’t it be great to discover Polish or Romanian authors that way?

Ironically, in whatever way we want to strengthen and create a truly pan-European science fiction scene, we will remain dependent on English in order for Dutch fans to be able to communicate with e.g. Greek ones (or indeed, considering both Kaptein and I are Dutch, each other). Like it or not, English is and will remain the lingua franca of the speculative fiction community. Not there’s anything wrong with that, as long as we non-native speakers also get a chance to have our say…

Should the WFA use Butler instead of Lovecraft?

I understand the impulse behind this petition, but I don’t understand the need to replace H. P. Lovecraft with Octavia Butler:

Octavia Butler contributed a rich, nuanced, complex body of work during her lifetime. Her novels, essays and short stories changed the entire genre of speculative fiction by complicating our notions of power, race and gender. Her characters were vivid and deeply human and her prose was sharp. She wrote masterfully across the imaginative genres, from science fiction to historical fantasy to horror.

While HP Lovecraft, whose head the current award is modeled after, did leave a lasting mark on speculative fiction, he was also an avowed racist and a terrible wordsmith. Many writers have spoken out about their discomfort with winning an award that lauds someone with such hideous opinions, most notably Nnedi Okorafor. It’s time to stop co-signing his bigotry and move sci-fi/fantasy out of the past.

What strikes me here, as it did Nick Mamatas, who spent some time refuting it, is the gratitious dig at Lovecraft’s writing, which is irrelevant to the purpose of the petition. That Lovecraft was a racist and that his racism was often integral to his stories should be enough; his writing qualities do not enter into it.

It also strikes me as odd to propose Octavia Butler as a replacement. She was a science fiction writer, not a fantasy writer. Just because she’s about the only deceased, prominent black science fiction or fantasy writer people actually know doesn’t make her suitable as figurehead for this particular award. It’s not as if science fiction has no awards named after horrible racists that could do with a bit of a cleanup, frex both the Campbell awards, named after an editior whose racism shaped science fiction far more and for far longer than Lovecraft’s ever did.