Some Thoughts on the 2020 Nebula Award Winners

The winners of the 2020 Nebula Awards were announced last night. The full list of winners may be seen here. For my comments on the finalists, see here.

The virtual ceremony was livestreamed, but I didn’t watch, because I was busy with other things and so only noticed that the ceremony was already going, when I saw a winner announcement on Twitter.

So let’s take a look at the winners.

In a decision that will surprise no one, the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novel goes to Network Effect by Martha Wells.  The Murderbot stories are widely beloved and also really great, so I’m not at all surprised to see it winning.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella is Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. This is a most worthy winner and probably also my favourite of the three novellas on the Nebula ballot that I have read. Horror normally doesn’t do all that well in the Nebulas and Hugos, so it’s interesting that this year’s Nebula Award goes to an explicit horror novella.

The 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novelette is “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker. It’s a great story and very worthy winner, though I like the “Shadow Prisons” triptych by Caroline M. Yoachim a little more.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Best Short Story is “Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell. It’s a fine story, which is also a Hugo finalist in this category. We also have another spooky story winning, though it’s not explicitly horror. And come to think of it, “Two Truths and a Lie” is a spooky story as well.

The 2020 Andre Norton Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction goes to A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. This is a truly delightful book and I’m very happy that it won.

The winner of the 2020 Nebula Award for Game Writing is Hades. As I’ve said before, I’m not a gamer, so I can’t say much about this category (and I’m not sure if I will vote in the special videogame category of the Hugos this year). That said, I know that Hades is a very popular game. It is also a Hugo finalist.

Finally, the 2020 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation goes once again to an episode of The Good Place. This is the only Nebula winner this year that I’m not happy with. Not just because I can’t stand The Good Place, even though it is a terrible show and its popularity is a complete mystery to me. But yes, apparently a lot of people really like The Good Place. This is also its first Nebula win, though it feels as if it has won more often, probably because Hugo voters keep voting for the blasted thing and the Hugo and Nebula ballots occasionally blur together in my memory.

And honestly, does The Good Place need to win a major SFF award every single year? We are currently living in a golden age of SFF TV and streaming shows with more great shows than any one person can watch, unless you never want to do anything except watch TV. So why on Earth does The Good Place keep getting nominated for (and winning, in the case of the Hugos) major genre awards, when there are so many other great genre shows out there?

There were a lot of good films and TV episodes on this year’s Nebula ballot. The Mandalorian, The Expanse and Lovecraft Country are all good TV shows*, which have never won a Nebula, though The Expanse won a Hugo once. Lovecraft Country also won’t be getting a second season and was ignored by the Hugos, so this was its only chance of winning anything. The Old Guard was a great fantasy action movie and updated the Highlander concept for the 21st century. I still haven’t seen the Birds of Prey movie, but I doubt that it’s worse than The Good Place.

At least, this will be the last year that The Good Place will win anything, because the show ended last year. Still, I feel sorry for all the good works that didn’t win because The Good Place keeps clogging up the genre awards.

A couple of special awards were given out as well. Nalo Hopkinson receives the 2020 Damon Knight Grand Master Award. The recipient of the 2020 Kevin J. O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award is Connie Willis. Finally, the 2020 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award goes to Jarvis Sheffield as well as posthumously to Ben Bova and Rachel Caine. All are excellent choices and I’m particularly glad to see Rachel Caine recognised, because her Weather Wardens books did not nearly get the attention they deserved.

All in all, the 2o20 Nebula Award winners are a good, if largely uncontroversial selection. Even the win for The Good Place is not really controversial, even though I find the show terrible, because it is a popular show. One trend that’s notable is that the three short fiction winners all either straddle to border to horror or – in the case of Ring Shout – are explicit horror stories.

Those who worry that women are taking over the major SFF awards will hopefully be pleased that this year, two of the five Nebula winners in the fiction categories are men. If you include the game writing and dramatic presentation awards, which were both won by men as well, you even get four male and three female winners. But I bet that the usual suspects who worry about the poor widdle men being shut out of SFF awards will complain that the wrong men won or something like that.

*Even if Lovecraft Country has a character quote a Lovecraft poem that was not published until the 1970s, twenty years after the show is set, it still was a good show.

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5 Responses to Some Thoughts on the 2020 Nebula Award Winners

  1. Szwole?er says:

    I agree that this year choice was largely uncontroversial. In general I got impression that Nebulas are usually less controversial than Hugos.

    Lovecraft Country had several works not published at time when it was set quoted or otherwise used (easiest to spot was obviously “Whitey on the Moon” by Gil Scott-Heron) but I am convinced those anachronisms were planned artistic choice and not mistake.

    • Cora says:

      Yes, “Whitey on the Moon” was a really notable anachronism, since it referred to events that happened way after the time when the series was set. But retro TV shows often have anachronistic music – Mad Men comes to mind and also Babylon Berlin – so I assumed it was a deliberate artistic choice, even if personally I prefer music that fits the time the series/movie is set.

      The terribly racist Lovecraft poem is also quoted in Matt Ruff’s novel, which the series is based upon, so I suspect it’s a mistake that carried over from the book. But while the poem in question was written in the 1930s, it remained mercifully unpublished until the 1970s. But in the 1950s, there were few sources about Lovecraft’s appalling racism publicly available, since most relevant quotes are in letters, etc… and not so much in his fiction.

  2. James Pyles says:

    Since I tend to lag behind most SciFi fans in my reading and watching, I was surprised to see Martha Wells take a Nebula, not because she doesn’t deserve it, but because I’ve actually read the first installment in her series. Yes, it is quite good so kudos to her.

    I’ve never seen “The Expanse,” but am currently reading the first novel in that series “Leviathan Wakes,” which, if the show maintains the quality of the book, it must be something special.

    I have to agree that “Lovecraft Country” had excellent writing, acting, and production values, but I’m not much of a horror fan (at least “icky” horror), and I only made it through five of the ten stories I got on DVD from the public library before returning it (I did a few reviews on my own blog).

    I was a little surprised to find that there were still awards named after authors. Both Andre (Alice) Norton and Ray Bradbury are favorites from my childhood (yes, I’m old) and I’m glad to see their names honored. That said, so many other awards have been renamed, as you well know, due to the original human beings involved being less than stellar.

    From what I can tell from your review, this year’s Nebulas, unlike other recent awards ceremonies, were fairly objective and free of drama, which is how they should be.

    • Cora says:

      Martha Wells’ Murderbot books are something that SFF fans all across the spectrum can enjoy. Martha Wells also had to wait twenty years for her career to finally take off, in spite of writing excellent SFF all along, so I’m very happy for her.

      I think you would enjoy The Expanse, both the novels and the TV show. They’re very much classic SF, updated for the 21st century.

      Lovecraft Country was very well made, well acted and really captured the pulp aesthetics of the 1930s – 1950s, but it does have a lot of icky body horror, so I understand why it’s not everybody’s thing. It also fell apart towards the end and suffered from the fact that the protagonist Atticus is increasingly shown to be a violent jerk (and war criminal) of whom even his own girlfriend is afraid at times, something he wasn’t in the book. But even if the show was flawed, I’m still surprised that it didn’t do better in the SFF awards, especially that it didn’t even get a single Hugo nomination.

      I’ve never heard anybody say anything negative about Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury, which is why their names are still on the respective awards. Though there still are a few other awards named after people, in SFF and beyond.

  3. Charlie Mudd says:

    Weird that you don’t like The Good Place. Fabulous, absurdist, dark comedy. But I understand: I think Big Bang Theory was the most obvious, unsurprising comedy on TV since Frazier, but I seem to be in the minority. Les goûts et les couleurs … (ça ne se discute pas).

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