Some Thoughts on the 2016 Nebula Nominees, the Shadow Clarke Award and some other awards

Yes, it’s that time of the year again, genre award shortlist time.

In the past few days, the nominees for the 2016 BSFA Award, the 2016 Aurealis Award, the longlist for the 2017 David Gemmell Legend Award and the winners of the 5th annual SFR Galaxy Awards have all been announced and a brand-new award, the Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction by Pakistani authors, has been created.

The shortlist for the 2017 Arthur C. Clarke Award has not yet been announced – though we have a complete list of all books submitted – though there already was a minor uproar when some overwhelmingly British critics from the anti-nostalgic end of the SFF fan spectrum formed a so-called “shadow jury” for the 2017 Clarke Award. Apparently, shadow juries for established awards are a thing in the UK, but not elsewhere (the rest of us doesn’t form shadow juries, just informally complains about awards shortlists and winners), which led to some confusion and bad feelings. However, the Clarke Award shadow jury does not want to take over the award itself, it’s just some people talking about books. I’m unlikely to pay much attention to their pronouncements, because the shadow jury includes several critics with whose reviews I almost always disagree, but I don’t have any problem with the existence of this shadow jury and more discussion about books is always a good thing. You can find out more about the Clarke Award shadow juries and its members at the page of the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Today then, the nominees for the 2016 Nebula Awards have been announced and promptly had to be corrected, because one nominee on the novelette shortlist, “Red in Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo, turned out to have dropped below the minimum novelette threshold of 7500 words during edits and was therefore ineligible. The story could have been nominated in the short story category, but would have knocked three other stories off the shortlist due to a three-way tie, therefore Cat Rambo, being a class act, withdrew the story from consideration.

Meanwhile, Bogi Takács has helpfully compiled links to all Nebula nominated works that are free to read online. The novelette replacing “Red in Tooth and Claw”, “The Orangery” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, may be found here, by the way.

The Nebula shortlist itself looks very good, but then I’ve found that the Nebula Awards tend to reflect my personal tastes better than the Hugos, even before puppy interference. It’s also a nicely diverse shortlist with plenty of women, writers of colour, LGBT writers and international writers, including several who belong to more than one of those categories.

Let’s take a look at the categories: All the nominees in the novel categories got a lot of buzz last year. We have the debut novels by two accomplished and award winning short fiction authors, the sequel to last year’s Hugo winner and Nebula nominee in the same category, a long awaited novel by an award winning author and a debut that got a lot of buzz. All worthy books, though only one is also on my personal list.

In the novella category, what’s notable is the dominance of Tor.com Publishing’s standalone novellas, since four of the five nominees are Tor.com novellas and only one “The Liar” by John P. Murphy is from another source. Interestingly, this was also the only novella on the list that I’ve never heard of before. Tor.com Publishing is certainly good at spreading awareness of their novella line, even if I have read only two of the novellas on the list, A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson and Runtime by S.B. Divya.

There recently was a discussion at File 770 where some posters expressed concern that Tor.com Publishing would eventually come to dominate the novella shortlists for the Hugos and Nebulas and that novellas published in print magazines would find it harder to get noticed. The 2016 Nebula Awards shortlist would certainly provide fuel for such concerns. However, one also shouldn’t forget that until the rise of e-books, the novella was considered a dying form, since it was difficult to find any markets willing to take novella length stories. E-publishing has revitalised the novella form with Tor.com at the forefront, but various small presses and indie writers (including your truly) have gotten into the act as well. And besides, Tor.com Publishing does excellent work. Even those novellas which don’t interest me personally tend to get good reviews.

The novelette shortlist is more varied. Tor.com Publishing is represented yet again with its sole standalone novelette, The Jewel and the Lapidary by Fran Wilde, but we also have novelettes from Lightspeed, Uncanny, F&SF and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Alyssa Wong’s novelette “You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay” is excellent. Sarah Pinsker has been showing up on awards shortlists with increasing frequency of late, though I haven’t read this particular story. I haven’t read the two Beneath Ceaseless Skies novelettes – for some reason I don’t read that magazine all that often, though I usually enjoy their offerings when I do. Once again, the F&SF novelette is the lone unknown factor.

On to short stories: Once again, we have a nice mix of very different stories from different markets, both magazines and anthologies. “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” by Brooke Bolander was one of my favourite stories last year and Brooke Bolander is an author whose stories I consistently enjoy. Sam J. Miller is another author whose stories I consistently enjoy and “Things With Beards”, his take on The Thing, is no exception. Alyssa Wong is another author whose fiction I always enjoy, though I missed “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” for some reason, even though it’s a Tor.com story. I have also enjoyed the stories by A Merc Rustad I’ve read, though again I haven’t read this particular story. I did read Caroline M. Yoachim’s medical SF horror story in Lightspeed and found it interesting, though I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as others apparently did. I haven’t read the two anthology stories, though Amal El-Mohtar is another author I look out for, because she writes consistently good work. Barbara Krasnoff is the only author who’s unknown to me.

When looking at the short fiction nominees in general, it’s notable that Tor.com and online magazines dominate, whereas of the “Big Three” print magazines only F&SF is represented at all, whereas Asimov’s and Analog haven’t managed to place a single story onto the Nebula shortlist this year. This trend has been happening for a while, but it was rarely more notable than this year.

On to the Ray Bradbury Award for best dramatic presentation: There are three solid and popular choices, Rogue One, Arrival and Doctor Strange, though I’m a bit surprised Captain America: Civil War a.k.a. The Avengers in Schkeuditz (my late great-aunt Metel lived in Schkeuditz, so I got a kick out of seeing the Avengers there, even though they mostly just smashed Halle-Leipzig Airport) is missing. I have zero interest in the Westworld TV series, but it’s popular and therefore, I’m not surprised to see an episode nominated. Zootopia, on the other hand, is yet another CGI animated movie for kids that tends to end up on genre awards shortlist for reasons unknown. Kubo and the Two Strings, which to my shame I’ve never heard of, is another animated movie.

On to the Andre Norton Award for young adult fiction: At least, the nominees mostly are the sort of YA books actual teenagers would read and a pretty good selection it is, too. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge won the Costa Award in the UK, which is an impressive achievement. Arabella of Mars by David Levine got a lot of buzz, as did The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi and Railhead by Philip Reeve. Delia Sherman and Kelly Barnhill are both established and popular authors. Unfortunately, I have never heard of Lindsay Ribar, though I love the title Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies.

Now a lot of the works on the Nebula shortlist are not works I would personally have nominated. Mostly this is due to issues with the theme. This year’s shortlist contains two more or less explicit Narnia references, which rarely do it for me, since I never read the Narnia novels at the age where one should read them, so the impact is lost on me. There also are at least two Lovecraft retellings, both from the POV of protagonists (a woman and a black man) H.P. Lovecraft would not have had any room for. Now I did read Lovecraft at the right age and I did enjoy it at the time, but not enough that I want to read umpteen retellings (and there have been a lot of Lovecraft retellings of late). Finally, I tend to avoid fairy tale retellings, because my personal bar for such stories is extremely high. Basically, if it’s been done and better in thirty to forty year old Czech TV movies, I don’t really want to read it. Finally, I don’t like CGI animation and therefore don’t care for what I call the Pixar movie of the year (occasionally, so I’ve been informed, not even made by Pixar) at all.

However – Puppies take note – just because many of the stories on the Nebula shortlist wouldn’t be my personal choices, that doesn’t mean they’re unworthy. Quite the contrary, I think pretty much every nominee on the 2016 Nebula shortlist is extremely worthy with the possible exception of Zootopia and that’s largely because my personal bias against Pixarish CGI animated films is extremely strong.

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4 Responses to Some Thoughts on the 2016 Nebula Nominees, the Shadow Clarke Award and some other awards

  1. Gene B says:

    I can’t decide whether to pretend to be outraged, or take your Zootopia comment as a compliment (because this 56-year-old man absolutely loved the film).

    I realize that since a lot of my fiction uses various anthropomorphic and fantasy creatures I am a bit biased, but I do object to the blanket reduction of anything that is animated and/or anthropomorphic as being “for kids”–not to mention the idea that something meant for children is somehow not worthy of a reward. But then, I’ve always been fond of this quote from C.S. Lewis: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

    But as usual, I agree with the vast majority of your post, and remain grateful you share your thoughts.

    • Cora says:

      To be fair, I haven’t seen Zootopia and of course, you’re correct that not every animated work nor every anthropomorphic work is for children. Animal Farm, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Wallace and Gromit, etc… clearly prove otherwise.

      However, I’ve found that the post-Toy Story crop of CGI animated Hollywood films by Pixar and others really don’t work for me and never have. I have no idea why, especially since I used to love traditional Hollywood animation and still enjoy those films and shorts, when I rewatch them today. I also loved anime as a teen, when there was very little of it to be found in Europe. But Toy Story, Ice Age, etc… just put me off. I have watched them with students, but I would no more nominate them for a genre award than Final Destination 3, which is also a huge hit with my students.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and hope we can agree to disagree on Zootopia.

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