As mentioned in my last post, I was in Scotland for a few days on very short notice. The hotel WiFi was actually decent, but only free for 30 minutes per day, which is only just about enough to deal with vital e-mail that needs to be dealt with and maybe look up a few things. Hence there was no blogging these past few days. However, I managed to take a lot of photos.
Of course, neither the world nor the SFF part of it stopped, while I was away. And so the 2013 Nebula Awards were awarded last weekend. The full list of winners is here.
I already posted my thoughts on the nominees when they were announced. Short version: A very good and diverse slate of nominees except for the dramatic presentation category, which only left me baffled.
With a good and diverse slate of nominees, there was a high chance of a good and diverse list of winners. Though this wasn’t guaranteed, see last year where the weakest book in a very strong slate won in the novel category.
Luckily, this year the actual Nebula winners managed to keep the promise made by the shortlist. And – most strikingly – all five winners in the fiction categories are women and two of them are women of colour. I agree with the post I just linked that it’s sad that the fact that the winners of a major genre award happen to be all women is remarkable at all. However, given the many debates about gender, race and general diversity in the genre we’ve had these past few months and years, then yes, this is remarkable.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is shaping up to be the standout book of 2013. It has already won the Clarke and BSFA awards, just won the Nebula and is nominated for a Hugo. Ancillary Justice is a book I like quite a bit, though unlike the truly dreadful Hugo shortlist, there were other nominees in the Nebula best novel category I would have been equally satisfied with. Though if anything other than Ancillary Justice wins this year’s best novel Hugo, the Hugos will be even more of a joke than they already are due to the machinations of certain groups (for more background, see here, here and here).
For more on Ancillary Justice, here is a linguist’s take on the narrator’s use of “she” as the default pronoun.
The Andre Norton Award for the best young adult novel goes to Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson. Again an excellent choice, though personally I wouldn’t even have considered Sister Mine YA nor was it published by a YA imprint.
As for the short fiction categories, I haven’t read the winning novella by Vylar Kaftan. Of the ones I did read, Wakulla Springs by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages would have been my favourite. The winner for best novelette, The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard, would have been my favourite as well, though I also like The Litigation Master and the Monkey King by Ken Liu.
As for the winner in the short story category, If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky, this is a story that doesn’t really work for me. It’s certainly a powerful story, once you get to the end, but getting there is a problem. In fact, my favourite in this category would have been Selkie Stories Are for Losers by Sofia Samatar, which is also my top Hugo pick. And in the category of “tragic tales of family/relationship grief and loss with SFF elements” (Why are so many SFF shorts so bloody depressing anyway?), I prefer Alive, Alive Oh by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley to If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love. Though it’s interesting that If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love seems to be a real love-it-or-hate-it story. People either really love it or they flat out hate it. I’ve heard the story called “gay dino porn”, which is factually incorrect, because the titular love is neither a dinosaur nor gay. I’ve seen people call the narrator sadistic, because she wants to see the people who put her fiance in a coma devoured by a T-rex. I’ve seen it called a “non-story” and “not really SF”. That last claim actually has some merit, since the speculative elements are only very tangential. Nonetheless, what is it about this story that is so polarizing?
In the dramatic presentation category, Gravity won in what was IMO a very weak slate. Now Gravity is a film I have zero interest in and indeed I have no idea why it gets so much awards love, both in mainstream and genre awards. To me, it’s the sort of very serious, very worthy and very dull science fiction movie that often is the darling of film critics and awards voters, but that I personally don’t care for at all. And I think it probably says a lot about me that my favourite in this category would have been Pacific Rim, a fun spectacle about giant robots beating up giant monsters and Idris Elba being awesome and badarse. I’d even have preferred the obligatory Doctor Who episode to Gravity and I’m very much over Doctor Who.
Finally, the grandmaster award went to Samuel Delaney and well deserved it is, too.
So in short, it was a good year for the Nebulas with strong winners and a strong nominee slate. So you’d think that the SFF community would be largely satisfied with the results. Well, in that case you’d be wrong, because the usual suspects had to weigh in to point out that the winning works did not win on their own merits, but that they only won because the authors were women with the correct politics. Because those works couldn’t possibly have won on their own merits, since they do not fulfill the criteria of what those people think is entertaining fiction. Nor are they groundbreaking because Heinlein or Clarke or Delaney or Joanna Russ or some other big name of the past did it first in the 1960s. And all this is the reason why SF is dying and a symptom of the imminent triumpf of communism and a sign that the end of western civilisation is nigh. For examples, see here and here (do-not-linkified for troll protection).
Now I sympathize with complaining about awards nominations and winners. Because there have been many years where works that were IMO pretty damn dreadful were nominated and even won, e.g. last year’s Nebula win for Kim Stanley Robinson or Black Out/All Clear taking both the Nebula and the Hugo a few years back. And if you want to know pain, you need only look at the fiction categories, particularly the novel category, on this year’s Hugo shortlist.
But what’s with this meme that rightwing writers only write entertaining fiction that is totally not political, whereas left-leaning writers, feminist writers and writers of colour only write boring message fiction? First of all, “entertaining” is just as subjective as “good”. For example, a lot of people love Tom Clancy’s thrillers for their realism and close attention to details and find them incredibly entertaining, whereas I find endless technical descriptions of submarines, weapon systems and any other piece of military equipment under the sun mindnumbingly boring. I only read that sort of thing when I’m paid to translate it, but certainly not in my leisure time reading, because I happen to find tech specs of submarines completely uninteresting, not to mention irrelevant to the actual plot. Yet thousands of readers obviously disagree.
Never mind that some readers might genuinely prefer books written by women or writers of colour, because experience has shown them that they are more likely to enjoy those books and that such books are less likely to offend or hurt them. For example, I definitely prefer books by women and have for a while now, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t read books by men. In fact, I read and like quite a few books by men. Of the last 12 books I bought, 4 – that is one third – were written by men and 8 by women. The last two books I read happen to be written by men. However, I am somewhat less likely to give a new male author a try, unless they come highly recommended, because with male authors the chance of accidentally coming across something like this is higher.
Besides, do these people honestly believe that anyone would nominate and/or vote for a book or a story they didn’t like just because it was written by the right sort of person and promotes the right sort of politics? It’s perfectly all right, if they don’t like Ancillary Justice or If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love (hell, I don’t much care for that one) or whatever. But the fact that some people don’t like it, doesn’t mean that no one does or that those who do vote for it are not doing it because they genuinely like the book/story.
If anything, the changing demographics of Nebula award nominees and winners are a reflection of the changing demographics of the field. The SFF community has been getting much bigger and much more diverse in recent years and the awards shortlists and winners are beginning to reflect this. And if some fans of more traditional fare are baffled by some of the winners or nominees, since they cannot see any merit in the works at all, well, this is how many of us felt whenever another technobabble feast with cardboard characters or a work that was blatantly offensive to large swathes of humanity won a major genre award.