Some Thoughts on the 2017 Nebula Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2017 Nebula Awards have been announced today. At Barnes & Noble, Joel Cunningham offers an overview of the nominees and shares his thoughts on the nominated novels and at File 770, JJ shares some links to those of the Nebula nominated novels and stories that are available for free online. Meanwhile, as is sort of traditional by now, here are my thoughts and reactions to the nominated works.

As in previous years, the 2017 Nebula shortlist is an overall good and diverse shortlist, featuring plenty of women, writers of colour, LGBT writers, etc… There also are a couple of headscratchers and works I’ve never heard of among the nominees, but then again this is something that I find on almost every Nebula shortlist, far more so than on the Hugo shortlists, puppy nominees which usually aren’t that well known among wider fandom excepted.

Let’s start with the nominees in the best novel category, where we have a mix of obvious choices and “Huh?” moments. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin as the conclusion of a critically acclaimed and highly popular trilogy, clearly falls in the first category as do Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, Jade City by Fonda Lee and Autonomous by Annalee Newitz, all of which got a lot of buzz. But while the reviews I saw for Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly and The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss were generally positive, the reaction to both books was a lot more lowkey. Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, finally, complete passed under my radar. It’s notable that four of the seven nominees (Amberlough, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Spoonbenders, Jade City) in this category feature historical/quasi-historical settings. Two nominees (Six Wakes and Autonomous) are unambiguously science fiction, while The Stone Sky sits on the borderline between fantasy and science fiction.

Diversity count: Six women, one man, two writers of colour. Three of the nominees are published by Orbit (plus one more is published by Orbit in the UK), two by Tor, one by Saga Press and one by Knopf. So the Tor dominance that certain elements in fandom are always complaining about is actually more of an Orbit dominance, at least in the novel category.

However, the Tor dominance actually does apply to the best novella category, which – as in previous years – is absolutely dominated by Tor.com’s novella line. Four of six nominees are Tor.com novellas, one was published in Uncanny and another by a small press/writers and artists collective called Noble Fusion Press. But then, Tor has revitalized the novella and its novella line is generally of very high quality. As for the nominees, River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey, All Systems Red by Martha Wells, The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang and “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker all got a lot of positive buzz. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages seems to have generated somewhat less buzz, though I like the novella very much. I have to admit that I have never heard of Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen, though I have enjoyed other works by the author. Again, it is notable that we have two nominees (Passing Strange and River of Teeth), which are set in the past. Coincidentally, this is also the category where there is the highest degree of overlap with my personal Hugo shortlist. Three of the Nebula nominees in this category are also on my personal Hugo shortlist, another is a definite possibility.

Diversity count: Four women, one man, one non-binary, one writer of colour, one international writer.

The novelette category is the one which contains the highest number of headscratchers. Vina Jie-Min Prasad is shaping up to be one of the breakout SFF writers of 2017, since I have seen a lot of positive buzz for her stories. She also has another story nominated in the best short story category. Kelly Robson is a writer whose stories I enjoy quite a bit, though I preferred her 2017 novelette “We Who Live In the Heart” to “The Human Stain”, for which she was nominated. Sarah Pinsker’s name frequently shows up on awards shortlists in recent years and indeed she also has another story nominated in the best novella category. I also generally enjoy her fiction, though I haven’t read this particular story. Meanwhile, Richard Bowes, Jonathan P. Brazee and K.M. Szapara are completely unknown to me. A quick Google reveals that Richard Bowes is a World fantasy Award winner and that Jonathan P. Brazee seems to write mainly military science fiction, which is not normally a subgenre that is well represented on awards shortlists. It’s notable that the best novelette nominees are drawn from a wide variety of sources and first appeared in F&SF, Asimov’s, Tor.com, Uncanny, Clarkesworld and an anthology. I don’t read F&SF or Asimov’s, since they very hard to come by where I live and I haven’t read the anthology in question either, which is probably why so many of the nominees in this category are unknown to me. Interestingly, one of the stories, “Weaponized Math” by Jonathan P. Brazee, was published in the self-published anthology The Expanding Universe, Vol. 3, which makes it the only self-published work among the nominees.

Diversity count: Three women, three men, one writer of colour, one international writer.

The nominees in the short story category are a mix between stories that got a lot of buzz and more obscure choices. “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM” by Rebecca Roanhorse got a lot of positive attention and a very good story it is, too. “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim is another story that got a lot of attention this year and the woldbuilding is great, though the story itself didn’t work for me. “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand” by Fran Wilde is another story that got quite a bit of positive attention, as is “Fandom for Robots” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. I usually read Tor.com’s short fiction offerings, but I must have missed “The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)” by Matthew Kressel. I haven’t read “Utopia, LOL?” by Jamie Wahls.

Diversity count: Four women, two men, two writers of colour, one international writer.
Publisher count: Two Uncanny stories as well as one each from Tor.com, Apex, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Strange Horizons.

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult SF or Fantasy only has four nominees this year, namely Exo by Fonda Lee, Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren, The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller and Want by Cindy Pon. Unlike some previous years, this year’s Andre Norton Award nominees largely seem to be the sort of book that actual teenagers read rather than the YA excursions by established adult SFF writers. Sam J. Miller is the only author who is better known for his adult SFF and a lot of the stories I have read by him feature teen characters, so he seems like a natural fit for YA. It will be interesting to compare this shortlist to the new YA Not-a-Hugo which is awarded for the first time this year.

Diversity count: Three women, one man, two writers of colour.
Publisher count: Scholastic, Tor, HarperTeen and Simon Pulse are represented with one nominee each.

In general, what’s notable about the adult fiction categories is that Uncanny dominates the short fiction categories, followed by Tor.com and Clarkesworld. Tor.com absolutely dominates the novella category, while Orbit dominates best novel. The decline of the big three print magazines continues. F&SF and Asimov’s managed to garner one nomination each, while Analog didn’t get any at all. Only a single nominee in the fiction categories is self-published. Thematically, I don’t see a clear trend beyond a preferences for works with historical settings.

So let’s take a look at the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation: The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman, The Shape of Water and Logan are all obvious nominees and fine movies in their very different ways. Coincidentally, we have two more films with historical settings here, Wonder Woman and The Shape of Water. I’m a bit surprised that there is no love for any of the Marvel movies this year, especially since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and particularly Thor: Ragnarok are among the better Marvel movies of recent years. I have to admit that the nomination for Get Out was something of a surprise for me, since it’s a horror movie and those don’t normally do well at the Hugos and Nebulas. However, Get Out is also a multiple Oscar nominee this year (and how cool is it that we have two SFF films competing in the major Oscar categories this year?) and generally very well received, though it seems to have passed under the radar here in Germany, probably because of cultural differences.

But for me, the really big headscratcher in this category is the nomination for “Michael’s Gambit”, an episode of the TV series The Good Place, because this show wasn’t really on my radar at all. Now I am aware that The Good Place has received some very positive reception after a somewhat lowkey start and that it apparently ends with a massive twist, but this is a show I have zero interest in, even though I like Ted Danson. For starters, it’s a sitcom and I don’t like US-style sitcoms. It’s also set in the afterlife and I don’t like stories set in the afterlife. And the one trailer I saw, mainly because I linked it at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, did absolutely nothing for me. I’m also surprised that of all the high quality SFF offerings on TV – The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, Game of Thrones, American Gods, Outlander, The Expanse, Preacher, The Defenders, Black Mirror, Stranger Things, not to mention highly debated shows like Star Trek Discovery and The Orville, interesting lowkey series like Killjoys and Dark Matter or even the various DC superhero shows – the lone TV episode to make the Nebula shortlist is an episode of a sitcom set in the afterlife. The Good Place may be a fine show, but better than The Handmaid’s Tale? Honestly?

So those are my initial thoughts and reactions on the 2017 Nebula nominees. I will probably make a follow-up post in the next few days with links to reactions from around the web, once they come in.

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10 Responses to Some Thoughts on the 2017 Nebula Award Nominees

  1. PromoGuru says:

    Cora, thanks for the article post.Really thank you! Great.

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  3. Rich Horton says:

    SPOONBENDERS is really really good (to my mind, by far the best of the nominated novels, though I haven’t read them all so take that with a grain of salt). It’s a shame that you missed it, and the only reason I can think is that it was published by Knopf, and not marketed as SF/Fantasy. But do by all means seek it out!

    (We must get buzz from different places, because I heard no buzz at all about Fonda Lee’s novel (which I will eagerly seek out!), some buzz about SIX WAKES, more buzz (lots of buzz!) about AUTONOMOUS, and lots of buzz about THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST’S DAUGHTER.)

    I will say that while Uncanny is absolutely a wonderful magazine, it’s not spectacularly better than the print magazines (F&SF and Asimov’s both had particularly good years in 2017), and I continue to worry that the online magazines are benefiting (no fault of their own at all!) in award nominations because their stories are free. Believe me, there are plenty of stories in the print magazines as good as those on this ballot.

    Thanks for doing these summaries, which are interesting and illuminating.

    • Cora says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      I haven’t yet read Fonda Lee’s novel, but I’ve heard many good things about it from people I trust and it’s on my list. I’ll also add Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders and The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter to the “Check it out” list as well.

      I have no problem believing that the print mags produce some very good stories. And indeed, I have liked many stories from the print mags, once I read them. However, the print mags are simply not as accessible as the online zines, particularly if you live outside the US and in a non-anglophone country like me. Not even the train station and airport bookstores (which are the place to go for foreign magazines) carry the big three print mags. Coincidentally, living outside the US might also be why I missed Spoonbenders, because the selection of English language books in book stores is usually limited. And I haven’t heard about a book, I can’t order it online.

      • Rich Horton says:

        Well, yes — it’s the accessibility of the print magazines that’s an issue — even for those of us in the States.

        I don’t see a way to fix this problem, but I think it does distort award nominations.

        • Cora says:

          Yes, given how many bookstores are closing/have closed in the US, particularly in rural areas, I imagine print mags aren’t always easy to come by there either.

          And I agree that it distorts awards nominations, though I’m happy to see at least some stories from print mags nominated for the Nebulas.

  4. Astra says:

    Daryl Gregory is on my list of authors I auto-buy as soon as a new book comes out. He is that good. Spoonbenders started off more slowly than some of his previous novels but was as charming and beautifully crafted in the end as I come to expect from him.

    • Cora says:

      Okay, you and Rich have persuaded me to give Spoonbenders a try. Off to order it and use the handy 12% off coupon I have.

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