Some Comments on the 2018 Nebula Award Winners (and a bit about the Eurovision Song Contest)

So the winners of the 2018 Nebula Awards were announced yesterday and the finale of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest took place as well. And lest they be forgotten, the winners of the 2018 AnLab and Asimov’s Readers’ Awards have been announced as well.

Eurovision Song Contest first, Nebulas later.

Not that there is much to say about the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. The Netherlands won with a nice song performed by a young man named Duncan Lawrence, Germany finished third to last with a weak song and weak performers (I literally had no idea who even was performing for Germany until last night, that’s how unremarakble the song was). There was plenty of weirdness on stage (and I only watched bits and pieces), including an Icelandic band in feitsh gear proclaiming that “Hate will win”, a poledancing opera singer from Australia, a cute guy with a weak voice from Azerbaijan seemingly getting tortured by two robots, a Brittney Spears clone from Belarus, a person who looked like an androgynous space alien performing with a seriously overweight ballet dancer for France, etc… In short, the usual Eurovision Song Contest weirdness. Israel’s national broadcaster pulled out all the stops and brought in a bunch of previous winners, including the 1978 and 1979 winners, Gal Gadot (first superhero to appear at the Eurovision Song Contest), model Bar Rafaeli, who was one of the hosts, and even Madonna, whose performance is getting savaged online. But then I’ve known for more than thirty years – ever since I saw her trying and failing to sing “Who’s That Girl?” live in a long ago TV program – that Madonna just isn’t a very good live performer. And yesterday’s performance was better than that long ago “Who’s That Girl?” performance. At least you could hear her this time around. I also liked Jean Paul Gautier’s space pirate look for her and the weird post-apocalyptic ballet. Though staircases and long robes don’t mix.

Given all the uproar before the contest, the event itsel was remarkably quiet. The Icelandic band snuck in a few Palestinian flags, which got them boos from the audience, and Madonna had two dancers with an Israeli and Palestinian flag stuck to their backs ascend a staircase hand in hand, which promptly caused Eurovision to distance themselves from this “political statement” (which I quite liked). Some of the “Boycott Israel” folks were harrassing people on Twitter for watching the Eurovision Song Contest, which is just plain obnoxious and doesn’t help their cause at all. I have no problem with people deciding to boycott Israel or any other countries, but they should let others make their own decisions. Never mind that the rules of the Eurovision Song Contest are that last year’s winner hosts this year’s contest. There have been a few exceptions, mostly when a country didn’t have the funds and facilities to host (one of them actually was Israel, when they won back to back in 1978 and 1979 and didn’t want to host two years in a row), but I can’t recall one for political reasons. The ESC considers itself apolitical except for some kind of “Music will bring us together” motto and doesn’t exclude countries, if they want to take part. And so the Eurovision Song Contest has been held in countries with problematic regimes and politics several times. The ESC took place in Ukraine while there was a war going on in the Eastern part of the country and earlier, while the country was ruled by an autocratic regime. It took place in Spain during the Franco regime. It took place in Russia and Azerbaijan, both of which have autocratic rulers and human rights issues (and I did see plenty of concern about Azerbaijan at the time). It took place in Ireland, when divorce, contraception and abortion were still illegal there without exception and when women were still getting locked up in Magdalene Laundries. It took place in Switzerland, when women still couldn’t vote in some parts of the country. Last but not least, it took place in Israel in 1979 and 1999, when the situation of the Palestinian people was no better than today. And most of those times, no one batted an eyelash, though there were some concerns about Azerbaijan and Russia at the time. Yet this year, people are calling for a boycott.

And now let’s get to the Nebulas. A list of the winners as well as some photos and discussion may be found at File 770. Just as with the Eurovision Song Contest, there was a lot of uproar about this year’s Nebula Awards beforehand, chronicled exhaustively here, here and here. To sum it up, there were several unusual finalists on this year’s Nebula ballot, all but one self-published, all fairly obscure and not the sort of thing that the Nebula electorate normally goes for. Upon investigation, it turned out that all of those unusual finalists were linked to a Facebook group for profit-oriented indie writers called 20Booksto50K, founded by Michael Anderle, and that several of them also had ties to Michael Anderle’s company LMBPN Publishing. Further investigations turned up a recommended reading list posted to the Facebook group that went beyond its original intent and turned into a sort-of-but-not-really slate. The fact that several of the 20Booksto50K affiliated finalists behaved pretty badly didn’t help either. Eventually, Jonathan P. Brazee, the person who had posted the list, apologised.

So how much impact did the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate have on the final winners? None, it turns out, since not a single 20Booksto50K finalist won. Unlike the Hugos, the Nebulas don’t release voting breakdowns, so we will never know how many votes the 20Booksto50K finalists got in the end. So in the end, all that the 20Booksto50K not-a-slate accomplished was giving some of their members the chance to call themselves Nebula finalists (which was the point of the whole exercise, I guess) and to lose a lot of good will not just for their group and its members, but for all indie authors.

Now we’ve discussed who did not win, let’s take a look at who did:

Mary Robinette Kowal won best novel for The Calculating Stars. Now this is my least favourite among this year’s Nebula finalists, though I don’t particularly care for Spinning Silver and The Poppy War either and haven’t read Witchmark. A lot of people seem to love the Lady Astronaut books (and two more have just been announced), but I’m not one of them. I guess my feelings about Mary Robinette Kowal’s historical fantasy and alternate history works are exactly like my feelings about those of Tim Powers. I love their pre-1900 alternate history and historical fantasy works and dislike the 20th century set ones. Furthermore, Mary Robinette Kowal was wearing a gorgeous gown at the ceremony. If there was an award for the best outfit worn at an SFF awards ceremony, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Nebula gown and N.K. Jemisin’s 2018 Hugo gown should definitely be nominated.

The Nebula Award for the best novella goes to The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard. This is a choice I can totally get behind and in fact, The Tea Master and the Detective, The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark and Artificial Condition by Martha Wells are currently duking it out for the top spot on my Hugo ballot. And those who are worried about Tor/’s dominance on the Hugo and Nebula ballot will be relieved that this year’s winning novella was not published by Publishing, especially since novella is the one category where really does dominate due to their high quality novella line. Though Tor/ took best novel and best novelette, so the Tor conspiracy theorists will still have plenty of fodder.

The winner in the best novelette category is The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander. Once again, it’s a winner I can’t really disagree with. And in fact, it’s the strongest of this year’s finalists in the novelette category together with The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly. The best novelette category at the Hugos looks a little better and has two more good stories, one decent story and one I haven’t yet read. Though as I’ve said before, novelette is a little weak this year.

The Nebula Award for the best short story goes to “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark. This story is a curious case, because when I first read it, I liked it a lot. But when I revisited it for Hugo voting, I found that I liked it much less than before. But then, “best short story” is another category, which has plenty of good but no truly outstanding stories on either the Hugo or the Nebula ballot in 2019. And the Nebula ballot was further hampered by the fact that two finalists really weren’t up to snuff. Though the people who are worried that too many women are winning Nebula and Hugo Awards these days will be relieved to see that a male writer can still win a Nebula Award in 2019.

The new gamewriting award was won by Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Now I’m not very familiar with games and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is actually an interactive “Choose your own adventure” type TV episode rather than a game proper. Nonetheless, it’s a highly deserved win, especially since Bandersnatch didn’t make this year’s Hugo ballot, probably because people were uncertain whether to nominate it for dramatic presentation short or long form.

ETA: Apparently, some people are upset about the win for Bandersnatch, because it’s not a videogame and not sufficiently gamey enough. But then, SFWA is a writers’ organisation, so it’s obvious that they value other things than gamers. Besides, there already are plenty of game awards as well as the Dragon Awards with its four gaming categories.

And talking of dramatic presentations, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation goes to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Personally, I would have preferred Black Panther of the finalists, but I’m also happy with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding YA SFF book, finally, goes to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. This is not a surprising win at all, since Children of Blood and Bone was a hugely popular debut novel, which got a lot of buzz last year. Though I have to admit that I found it a little underwhelming. Of the books on the ballot, both Dread Nation by Justina Ireland and Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien were stronger.

The Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award goes to Neil Clarke and Nisi Shawl, both of whom are highly deserving recipients. Meanwhile, the Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award went to Lee Martindale.

The recipient of the 35th Damon Knight Memorial Grandmaster Award, finally, was William Gibson. He’s definitely a deserving choice, though I’m not a huge fan of either Gibson’s work (and then there is this Wired article from 1993, which is just plain embarrassing) or 1980s Cyberpunk in general. I actually started reading science fiction at the height of the Cyberpunk era, but I largely ignored or avoided the subgenre, because it just wasn’t my thing. Interestingly enough, I like latter day Cyberpunk such as “We are the Cloud” by Sam J. Miller or “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander more than I like the 1980s stuff.

I haven’t seen any reaction posts yet beyond Joel Cunningham’s brief write-up at Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, wherein he mostly cheers for Mary Robinette Kowal’s win. Though I’m sure we’ll see more reactions in the days to come.

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One Response to Some Comments on the 2018 Nebula Award Winners (and a bit about the Eurovision Song Contest)

  1. Pingback: Some Reactions to the 2018 Nebula Award Winners and a Postmortem on the 20Booksto50K Issue | Cora Buhlert

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