The finalists for the 2020 Nebula Awards were announced yesterday night, uncommonly late in the year, since the Nebula finalists are normally announced several weeks rather than four day before the Hugo nominations close.
So let’s take a look at the individual categories:
There are no big surprises in this categories – all six finalists are highly regarded novels, which got a lot of positive attention.
Piranesi is Susanna Clarke’s first novel since the Hugo and Nebula winning Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell back in 2004 and got a lot of attention well beyond the SFF sphere. I have to admit that I haven’t read it yet and that I don’t have a great desire to read it, even though I liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell quite a bit back in 2004. But then, I’ve also changed quite a bit since 2004 and my tastes have changed as well.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin is an expansion of her 2016 short story “The City Born Great”. It’s an excellent novel by one of the top writers in our genre and in fact, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the Broken Earth trilogy. Heresy, I know.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is another novel that got a lot of attention beyond the SFF sphere. I enjoyed it a lot and it’s on my Hugo ballot. With The City We Became, Mexican Gothic and Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark in the novella category as well as Lovecraft Country in the film and TV category, it’s also notable that the trend towards Lovecraftian horror featuring protagonists that Lovecraft himself would never have accepted in his fiction continues unabated.
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk was the only finalist in this category that surprised me a little. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say anything about it, though C.L. Polk has been a Nebula finalist before.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse is a fine fantasy novel by one of the most exciting newer writer in our genre. It’s another unsurprising finalist.
Network Effect by Martha Wells is the latest installment and first novel in the beloved Murderbot series. It’s also on my Hugo ballot and I’m not surprised to see it here at all.
Diversity count: 5 women, 1 non-binary, 4 writers of colour, 2 international writers.
ETA: It’s actually three international writers. C.L. Polk is Canadian.
This category is a mix of expected and unexpected finalists. The three Tor.com novellas Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark, Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi and Finna by Nino Cipri all got quite a bit of attention. I did like Ring Shout, though not quite enough to put it on my Hugo ballot. Haven’t read the other two.
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg is a novella I’ve heard of, though it got a little less attention than the previous three, probably because Tachyon’s marketing budget is smaller than Tor’s. Again, I haven’t read it.
“Tower of Mud and Straw” by Yaroslav Barsukov appeared in the magazine Metaphorosis. I’m afraid I’ve never heard either of the novella nor of the magazine, though it looks interesting. Yaroslav Barsukov is a Russian author currently living in Vienna BTW.
“Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki appeared in the anthology Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora by small press Aurelia Leo. I have interacted online with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki and Aurelia Leo does good work, though I haven’t read this particular novella. Together with Riot Baby, there are two novellas by Nigerian writers/writers of Nigerian origin on the Nebula ballot.
Diversity count: 4 men, 1 woman, 1 non-binary, 3 authors of colour, 2 international authors (4 if you include first/second generation immigrants to the US), at least 2 LGBTQ+ authors*
“Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker is a fine SFF mystery that’s also on my Hugo ballot.
The “Shadow Prisons” triptych by Caroline M. Yoachim is a chilling dystopian serial that stuck with me for a long time after I read it. One of the individual stories is on my Hugo ballot, though it didn’t occur to me to nominate the serial as a whole. I’ll have to think about whether to change my Hugo ballot accordingly, because the three stories really belong together.
“Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt is a story I enjoyed quite a bit, though it didn’t quite make my Hugo ballot.
“Where You Linger” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is unfamiliar to me, though I normally read Uncanny. I probably missed it, especially since it came out at a time when I was busy with the Retro Reviews project and new fiction fell to the wayside for a while.
“Stepsister” by Leah Cypress is another story I’m not familiar with, probably because F&SF is difficult to come by here in Germany. This is one of only two Nebula nominations for the so-called “Big Three” print magazines this year BTW.
“The Pill” from Meg Elison’s collection Big Girl is another story I haven’t read, so I can’t say anything about it.
Diversity count: 6 women, 1 writer of colour
Best Short Story
“Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse” by Rae Carson has a great title, though it’s a story I completely missed due to it coming out at a time when I was otherwise occupied. Ditto for “My Country Is a Ghost” by Eugenia Triantafyllou.
I very likely read “Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math” by Aimee Picchi, since I usually read Daily Science Fiction‘s story of the day, when it lands in my inbox. However, I don’t remember this particular story.
Vina Jie-Min Prasad is a great newish author, though I haven’t read her story “A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad from the anthology Made to Order: Robots and Revolution.
I haven’t read “The Eight-Thousanders”, since Asimov’s is as difficult to come by here in Germany as F&SF. However, I’m really happy for Jason Sanford, especially after all the crap and harassment he got following his exposé of far right murder fantasies posted at the Baen’s Bar forum. You can find a summary of the whole ugly situation here, here and here. For that matter, this is the other Nebula nomination for one of the “Big Three” print magazines.
“Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell from Diabolical Plots is another story I haven’t read, I’m afraid.
Diversity count: 2 men, 4 women, 1 author of colour, 2 international authors
Andre Norton Award for YA SFF
Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher are two great YA fantasy novels that are also on my Lodestar ballot, so I’m thrilled to see them here.
I have heard a lot of good things about Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, though I haven’t read it.
I hadn’t heard of Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko before, though it looks interesting.
A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese is another book I’m afraid I haven’t heard of.
Diversity count: 5 women, 3 writers of colour
Best Game Writing
I’m not a gamer, so I can’t say anything about this category at all. Hades is the only game I’ve even heard of.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to write games
Ray Bradbury Award for Best Dramatic Presentation
I’m not surprised to see episodes of The Expanse and The Mandalorian as well as the whole 1st season of Lovecraft Country here, since all three are great SFF shows. The Mandalorian and Lovecraft Country also appear on my Hugo ballot. The Expanse doesn’t, largely because I’m woefully behind with the show.
I really loved The Old Guard, so I’m thrilled to see it here. It’s also on my Hugo ballot.
I have to admit that I was surprised to see Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn on the Nebula ballot, largely because I had completely forgotten that the film even existed. I remember that the trailers put me off at the time. Maybe the movie is better.
Finally, we have yet another episode of the execrable The Good Place. I guess I will never understand why so many people seem to love this show, especially in an age of so many great SFF TV shows. However, thankfully The Good Place ended in 2020, so this is the last year we will see it on SFF awards ballots.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies and TV shows.
And that’s it for the 2020 Nebula Awards. All in all, it’s a good ballot, which includes a mix of the expected and the unexpected. Writers from Africa and the African diaspora are making a strong showing and we also have two indigenous writers on the ballot, which is a first.
The decline of the “Big Three” print magazines continues, though they did manage to nab two nominations this year. The reasons for this is that there is so much great short fiction available in the online magazines that many people don’t look beyond the online zines. Which is a pity, because the print mags – well, F&SF and Asimov’s – publish a lot of good stories. They just don’t get the attention they deserve.
Though in general, we are seeing more variation in the sources for Nebula short fiction, which is a good thing. Tor.com no longer dominates the novella category like they used to. And while Uncanny is making a strong showing in the novelette and short story categories, it’s no longer as dominant as it used to be. Finally, four nominees come from anthologies and collections, which is something we haven’t seen as much in previous years.
Small presses are making a good showing on the Nebula ballot this year, though there are no self-published works for the second year in a row. It seems as if the 20Booksto50K dust-up of two years ago has soured a lot of Nebula nominators on indie authors and books, which is a pity, cause there is a lot of good work out there.
Beyond the Lovecraftian horror reimagined theme I already mentioned above, I don’t really see any notable themes this year. We have a wide variety of different stories and themes, which is a good thing.
All in all, another strong Nebula ballot.
*I’m only counting writers where I know for sure that they are LGBTQ+. Most likely, there are several others on the ballot whose orientation I simply don’t know.