Reactions to the 2016 Nebula Award Nominees

I already posted my comments on the 2016 Nebula Award nominees in this post, so let’s take a look at some other reactions from around the web:

Rich Horton is generally pleased with the 2016 Nebula nominees, for even though not every nominated work is a personal favourite, he does not find a single poor story among them.

Camestros Felapton shares his thoughts on the 2016 Nebula nominees and is generally pleased with the works nominated and the diversity of the nominees, though he is also flabbergasted by how much of the nominated short fiction he still hasn’t read.

Talking of the Nebula nominees in the three short fiction categories, Rocket Stack Rank offers an annotated list with links to the stories themselves, mini-blurbs, reviews and more.

So far, most reactions I’ve seen to the 2016 Nebula nominees have been positive. I did see some grumblings, mostly on Twitter, that the Nebula shortlist contained for fantasy than science fiction and that the science fiction that was nominated is not the “right sort” of science fiction, i.e. it’s not hard enough or not political enough or whatever. Here are some exmples:

I feel a bit mean for singling out The G. like this, especially since most grumblings along those lines seemed to come from the same crowd involved with the Clarke Award shadow jury. However, Twitter makes embedding whole conversations difficult and The G. simply stated the point in the most succint way.

As for the point, the Nebula shortlist does seem rather fantasy dominated this year with only one explicit SF novel (Ninefox Gambit), two edge cases (The Obelisk Gate, Everfair) and two explicit fantasy novels (Borderline and All the Birds in the Sky) nominated. Last year, we had three SF novels and one edge case out of seven, in 2015 we had five SF novels out of six, in 2014 four SF novels out of eight. However, in 2013 there was only one explicit SF novel out of six nominees (which promptly won in spite of being the IMO weakest book on the ballot), so a fantasy dominated Nebula ballot is not exactly unusual. Besides, SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America these days, so fantasy novels are perfectly legitimate Nebula nominees, unlike e.g. the Arthur C. Clarke Award which is explicitly for science fiction.

This year’s lone science fiction nominee is a far future space opera, rather than a near future novel. This isn’t actually unusual for the past few years, since most SF nominees of recent years were not near future speculation, but space opera (Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Jack McDevitt), military SF (Linda Nagata, Charles Gannon) or far future post-apocalyptic and post-human SF (Lawrence M. Schoen). The recent Nebula nominees that come closest to plausible near future speculation are The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Annihilation by Jeff VanDerMeer and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, though that one is more literary fiction with some speculative bio-technology thrown in.

As for why near future speculation seems to have fallen out of favour recently, at least with novel length SF, one explanation might be that the world is currently changing so rapidly and in unexpected directions (Brexit, the Trump election) that speculating about the near future is extremely difficult and near future fiction is likely to be made obsolete by reality. I recall that Charles Stross once said that he had to scrap a novel, because reality had made it obsolete. Given what a time investment writing a novel is, I can understand why authors would not be willing to take that risk. Never mind that near future SF tends to age very badly, e.g. a lot of Cyberpunk classics like Neuromancer are horribly dated only thirty years later.

Finally, the accusation inherent in some of the complaints about the lack of near future speculation on the Nebula shortlist, namely that science fiction has become apolitical and ceased to care about the future, is just plain wrong. For there is more than one way of being political and a lot of the works, both on the 2016 Nebula shortlist as well as those nominated in previous years, are definitely political, just not in the way certain people seem to want. Also, there is a notable contingent mostly among British critics who seem to be almost personally offended by the existence of epic fantasy and space opera, both of which are deemed as too escapist.

Meanwhile at Inverse, Ryan Britt complains that two of his favourite SF novels of 2016, namely Death’s End by Liu Cixin and Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey were snubbed by the Nebula Awards. Now for starters, my favourite SF novels of 2016 were also snubbed by the Nebula Awards – it happens, especially if your tastes don’t align with the genre mainstream. And while I have to confess that there are some titles I expected to see on the Nebula shortlist that didn’t make it – Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer is the most obvious one for me (and coincidentally, it was snubbed by the Locus Recommended Reading List as well) and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers also comes to mind, though others have also suggested City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett, Undergroud Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Underground Airlines by Ben Winters – neither Death’s End nor Babylon’s Ashes were the first or even the fifth titles that came to mind.

Now a Nebula nomination for Death’s End would not have unduly surprised me, since the first book in the trilogy, The Three Body Problem, was nominated for a Nebula and Death’s End was on the Nebula recommended reading list, though it did not make it in the end. But Babylon’s Ashes is a really long shot. For starters, it’s the sixth book in an ongoing series and later installments of ongoing series rarely show up on genre awards ballots. Besides, Babylon’s Ashes is nowhere in sight on the Nebula recommended reading list and none of the previous five books in the Expanse series were nominated for a Nebula Award either (and no episode of the TV adaptation shows up on the recommended reading/watching list, let alone among the nominations for the Ray Bradbury Award), all of which would seem to suggest that The Expanse, whether in book or TV form, simply isn’t to the taste of the Nebula voters.

In general, those grumblings about the Nebula Awards nominations I have seen largely boil down to “My favourites didn’t get nominated”. Which isn’t actually all that different from what we see every year. What is more, quite a few people seem to be suffering from genre awards fatigue, as Abigail Nussbaum and Ian Sales point out.

So what about everybody’s least favourite award contrarians, the Sad and Rabid Puppies? So far, the major and minor puppy blogs are conspicuously silent on the matter of the Nebula Award nominations. Of course, the Puppies never really focussed on the Nebula Awards in the first place, since the Nebulas are less easy to influence than the Hugos or the Dragon Awards, especially considering that most big name puppies are not SFWA members. Nonetheless, they used to complain about the wrong books by all the wrong people getting nominated. This year, however, we get outraged posts about this Washington Post article on YA authors employing “sensitivity readers” (I’m stunned how much anger that article caused and not just among puppies either, KBoards also exploded over it), whiny posts about how mean the left is and how those leftist meanies forced them to vote for Trump and a lot of folks twisting themselves into truly impressive pretzel shapes about that Milo thing (Link goes to a round-up of the best bits courtesy of Camestros Felapton). Of course, it was pretty obvious to everybody with half a brain that most of the concern the various puppies showed last year over alleged and actual pedophilia (three cases, mostly decades old) in the SFF community was never genuine, but just a handy weapon to use against those they perceived to be their enemies.

Besides, I suspect that both sets of puppies may be suffering from genre awards fatigue as well, especially considering that they got thoroughly trumped every time they tried to influence anything but the Dragon Award, whereas they feel empowered in the real world due to trumping the opposition (puns totally intentional).

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