Some Comments on the 2019 Nebula Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2019 Nebula Awards have been announced today. And thankfully – because I’m tired and not feeling at all well today – this year’s Nebula finalists seem to be largely uncontroversial, unlike last year.

All in all, it’s a very good shortlist. So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

Best novel:

2019 was an extremely strong year for SFF novels and the Nebula shortlist certainly reflects this. I don’t think anybody will be surprised to see A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow on the Nebula ballot, since those were some of the most discussed SFF books of the year. A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker also got a lot of buzz as well and besides, Sarah Pinsker’s short fiction is popular with Nebula and Hugo voters. I am pleased to see Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia on the Nebula ballot, for while it is a very good novel, it generated less discussion than the previous four. The only surprising finalist in this category is Marque of Caine by Charles E. Gannon, because I at least haven’t heard any discussion about this book at all. However, Gannon’s Caine series is popular with Nebula voters and he has been a finalist in this category several times before.

Diversity count: Five women, one man, one writer of colour, two international writers

Best novella:

The shortlist in this category is a little bit more surprising. That said, This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone was certainly one of the most discussed (and best) novellas of 2019. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark and The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes got a lot of positive buzz as well. Besides, the video to the clipping song on which The Deep is based was a Hugo finalist in 2018. And Ted Chiang is a perennial awards favourite anyway. I am also really happy to see Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan on the shortlist, because it’s an excellent novella which got comparatively little attention. Coincidentally, Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is also on my personal Hugo ballot. Catfish Lullaby by A.C. Wise is the only finalist in this category I hadn’t heard of before. It’s a small press horror novella about weirdness in the Lousiana swamps, which sounds right down my alley, so I’ll definitely check it out, hopefully in time for the Hugo nominations.

Those who worry about such things will also be pleased that Tor.com Publishing’s dominance in the novella category seems to have been broken, as more publishers enter the standalone novella market. And so Tor.com Publishing only has two finalists in the novella category this year, the fewest they’ve had since Tor.com Publishing started its novella line and revitalised the form. Saga also has two finalists. The remaining two hail from a collection published by Alfred A. Knopf and horror small press.

Diversity count (including the clipping members, since they are credited): Three women, six men, one non-binary, five writers of colour, one international writer

Best novelette:

Again, we have a strong ballot in this category. G.V. Anderson is certainly one of the best short fiction writers to have emerged in recent years. Her novelette “A Strange Uncertain Light” is also the only Nebula finalist to have originated in the print magazines. “For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll is a lovely little story and I’m happy that it made the ballot. Sarah Pinsker and Caroline M. Yoachim are both excellent writers of short fiction, though I haven’t read these particular stories. I also must have missed “His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light” by Mimi Mondal, even though I usually read the Tor.com stories. However, I have enjoyed other stories by Mimi Mondal that I read. Finally, I’m very happy to see Carpe Glitter by Cat Rambo on the Nebula ballot and not just because we featured it at the Speculative Fiction Showcase last year. This is the first Nebula finalist we’ve featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, by the way, though we have featured finalists and even winners of the Bram Stoker and Sir Julius Vogel Awards.

Diversity count: Six women, two international writers, two writers of colour

Best short story:

In this category, many of the finalists are stories that are new to me and there is very little overlap with my personal Hugo ballot. “Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt got a lot of buzz, though I didn’t get around to reading it yet. “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen is a story I have read and enjoyed. I’m also glad to see fiction from Nightmare Magazine get some love, because it is often ignored. “And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas is completely new to me, but then I only read Strange Horizons on occasion, so I may have missed it. Oddly enough, the three finalists from Uncanny, “The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne, “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde and “How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise don’t ring a bell, even though I normally read Uncanny regularly. But between being sick last year, doing the July short story challenge, attending WorldCon and dealing with ill parents, I read less short fiction than usual.

Uncanny published a whopping four out of twelve finalists in the novelette and short story categories. Tor.com published two, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, F&SF, Nightmare Magazine, Strange Horizons and Meerkat Press published one each. That’s still a healthy spread, though Uncanny‘s dominance in the novelette and short story categories is notable. And yes, Uncanny is a great magazine, but there are other fine magazines out there as well.

Diversity count: Five women, one man, two writers of colour, two international writers.

Andre Norton Award for Outstanding YA Book:

Another very strong shortlist here. Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer is a great novel and also on my personal Hugo ballot. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez and Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee both got a lot of buzz. Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien is the sequel to a popular previous finalist. I don’t know anything about Cog by Greg van Eekhout and Riverland by Fran Wilde, but both authors are popular and well-liked.

Diversity count: Two women, four men, four writers of colour.

It’s quite remarkable that we have four male writers nominated in this category, since YA is very female dominated.

Best Game Writing:

I can’t say much about this category, because I’m not a gamer. Though I spot several familiar names on the ballot.

Diversity count: Five women, three men, at least two international writers

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

I am normally completely out of step with the dramatic presentation categories at the Hugos. Very few of my nominees in those categories ever make it and I am often completely puzzled by what gets nominated (The Good Place – cough). However, the Ray Bradbury Award shortlist very much overlaps with my personal tastes this year. There is only one finalist I don’t care for and another I haven’t seen, but would probably like. Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel are of course the heavy hitters in this category. Though I am a bit surprised that The Rise of Skywalker did not make it, but then the script was something of a mess. Also conspicuous by its absence are the horror movies Us and Midsommar, because both got a lot of positive buzz last year and Jordan Peele, writer/director of Us, is a previous finalist in this category (though both are present on the Stoker ballot). It’s also telling that while the Ray Bradbury Award is normally dominated by movies, this year we only have two film finalists and four TV/streaming finalists, which shows how very good SFF TV has gotten in the past few years.

Though Star Wars isn’t completely absent from the Nebula ballot this year, because everybody’s favourite bounty hunter daddy The Mandalorian is nominated for the episode “The Child”. No huge surprise, because pretty much everybody loves The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda. And am I the only one who’s wondering what Baby Yoda would do with a Nebula and/or Hugo Award? The nomination for Good Omens is no surprise, because this was another greatly beloved and good series. I didn’t get around to watching Russian Doll yet, but the series got a lot of positive buzz and seems to be well written. Finally, the nomination for the Watchmen episode “A God Walked into Abar” is no great surprise either, because the Watchmen TV series was popular and much discussed and this particular episode got a lot of attention.

Now I have to admit that I don’t like Watchmen, the comic, and never have. I first read Watchmen at a friend’s house in highschool. The friend was called away and I was left sitting alone in his room, waiting for him to come back. He had the Watchmen trade paperback and because I was bored, I picked it up and started to read. And as I opened the book, literally the first page I saw was the Comedian and Silver Spectre rape scene, which utterly disgusted me. I never warmed to Watchmen after that and am still not sure why it is so much more beloved than other mature readers comics from the same era, which often were much better. So I didn’t bother with the show, because there is so much good stuff to watch that I don’t have to bother with the adaptation/continuation of a story I intensely dislike. And yes, I know that’s not the fault of the TV show and the Comedian doesn’t even appear, as far as I know, though Silk Spectre does. But even though I don’t care for Watchmen, I’m not at all surprised that it was nominated.

No diversity count, it takes too many people to make a film or TV episode.

All in all, the 2019 Nebula shortlist is a strong, if not particularly surprising ballot. Lots of excellent finalists and very few I don’t care for. After last year’s uproar, this is a very pleasant change.

Those who are worried about Tor’s supposed dominance in the fiction categories will be pleased that Tor is not particularly dominant this year (and they only ever dominated the novella category anyway). Those who are worried about the poor widdle menz being shut out of SFF Awards will be pleased that male writers are pretty well represented on the Nebula ballot and that two categories are majority male. Though I foresee wailing and complaining anyway. Those who are worried about former and current SFWA officers getting nominated for Nebula Awards will just have to go on worrying, I guess.

That said, it is notable that while there are small press finalists, no self-published work was nominated this year in any of the fiction categories, unlike previous years. Is this backlash from last year’s 20Booksto50K debacle? Or just that 2019 was an extremely strong year for traditionally published works, so self-published works simply did not have a chance due to their lower average reach?

The final ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Awards has been announced as well. No detailed dissection, because horror isn’t really my genre. Though as far as I can tell, the ballot looks good. I’m also pleased that another book we featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase, Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren, made the Stoker ballot.

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