The Nebula Awards will be announced May 19, 2018. The awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This post is about the short story category. Nominees in other categories — novelettes, novellas, and novels — will be addressed in future posts.
I read all of the short stories that have been nominated for a Nebula Award. The Nebulas define a work of fiction as a short story if it is less than 7,500 words. Because they are so short (and because our site does not usually review individual short stories), I have written mini-reviews for each nominee. I’m also going to give you my vote for which story I think should win and my prediction for which story I think will win. I’d encourage you to read all of them. They are very short and each one can easily be knocked out in a brief reading session.
Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls
At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this story. It felt like more of a quick tour of a far-flung future and/or rough drafts of ideas for a Black Mirror episode instead of a more interesting, deeper investigation.
Then I realized I was an idiot. This story is subtle, with implicit messages and themes. It doesn’t beat the reader over the head. It’s coy in its answer to (or posing of) some very thought-provoking questions, like:
- “What is the key to happiness: (1) a lack of needs and wants or (2) being useful to others?” How boring WOULD it be if your every need was met and you could experience anything at any time without consequence?
- “What is the nature of free will in a deterministic universe?”
- “What is the impact of memories on behavior?”
- “What would a utopia ACTUALLY be like and would anyone ACTUALLY like it?”
- “Isn’t The Lord of the Rings a bit….ya know?”
And that’s just what I came up with in a few minutes after a first read-through. But don’t let my amateur analysis of the themes scare you away from reading this. Utopia, LOL? is not a slog; it’s a fun story about the future involving an AI and a very enthusiastic human helper.
Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
This is a charming story, probably THE most charming out of this group. Many think-pieces have been written about the toxicity in fandom, but there are also a lot of benefits as well. This story does a wonderful job showing some of those more positive aspects: a community, an escape from a current unpleasant reality, and a source of creativity and inspiration. The title has a bit of a double-meaning as lovers of robot stories should really enjoy this one.
Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
I did not like this story. It’s not really a story so much as an exercise in surrealistic mood horror. The imagery is hard to imagine, the point was lost on me, the show-off-y language is repetitive, and there’s nothing terribly original about it. When a story doesn’t intellectually OR emotionally stimulate me, that’s just a miss for me.
The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel
It’s about a dying writer who is trying to finish one final novel on the distant planet he settles on for his demise (that’s not a spoiler, that info is in the teaser from Tor). Its writing style KIND of reminded me a little bit of Hyperion by Dan Simmons with its fully immersive language. The story tackles the question of whether or not making art is still worthwhile if everyone shares their experiences directly via some sort of social media brain connection. Is it still worthwhile even if no one even sees your work? The joy of inspiration, the desire to pass on knowledge, the desire to learn, and how all of those things are connected are subjects in this pretty story.
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience by Rebecca Roanhorse
I thought a lot about this story after I read it. I was scribbling in my notebook for three days after I read it. The story is written in the second person, so ostensibly the “you” referred to in the story is YOU, the reader. Is the story providing YOU with an authentic Indian Experience? Which experience in the story IS supposed to be an authentic Indian Experience? The story itself? Is there even such a thing as an “authentic” Indian Experience? There are currently 562 tribes recognized by the federal government, with wildly divergent histories, geographies, and cultures. Is the “you” in the story having an “authentic” Indian experience? Is the story about how a mythical past overshadows a complicated present? Is the story about how strength can be drawn by that mythical past to overcome present obstacles? Is the story about how Western influences corrupted the Native American culture or is the story about how American culture generalizes present day Native Americans into stereotypes?
As you might infer, this story is loaded with complexity, but the plot itself is straightforward (or is it?). I hope you read it and share any theories you have of it in the comments. This is one of those stories that you really want to discuss with other people. It’s really great and profoundly thought-provoking.
Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim
When I first started reading Carnival Nine, I was resistant. I kept expecting it to conform to something I was familiar with, like Toy Story or Pinocchio. Nope. It’s its own weird little world that follows its own weird little rules. Once I accepted that the reality of this story is just different from mine, I was swept up into a beautiful tale of life, ambition, dreams, sacrifice, duty, and love. It was the most emotionally touching and beautiful stories out of the nominees. It’s message may be simple, but sometimes, simplicity is powerful.
My Pick: I would vote for Carnival Nine. It has the prettiest writing without resorting to narrative tricks. Basically, it was the only story that affected me emotionally, so I gotta go with that.
My Prediction: I am going to guess Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience just because past Nebula short story winners have been a bit experimental with form and this story meets that criteria and it’s really, really smart and interesting. I would be satisfied if any of the nominees won, though. Except for Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand. I did not like that one.