Nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards were announced on February 22. I thought it might be an interesting exercise to read as many of the short fiction nominees as possible and blog my impressions about them. We’ll start with the short stories, all of which can be read online (though not necessarily after the awards season).
(Don’t complain about spoilers. I don’t care.)
- Arvies by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed, Aug. 2010)
- How Interesting: A Tiny Man by Harlan Ellison (Realms of Fantasy, Feb. 2010)
- Ponies by Kij Johnson (Tor.com, Nov. 17, 2010)
- I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno by Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed, June 2010)
- The Green Book by Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine, Nov. 2010)
- Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith, ed. by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon, Apex, 2010)
- Conditional Love by Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan. 2010)
What strikes me is just how nasty this lot of stories is. Short stories, which for award purposes are under 7,500 words in length, don’t have a lot of time to make their point, and in many cases the point is visceral, if not brutal. Four of the nominated stories are like that; reading all of them at once is both unsettling and jarring, and deadens the impact that each story no doubt made when it was published.
Three of these stories deal with nasty things involving children. “Arvies” is a structurally interesting story that plays with the concepts of birth, death, life, and childhood, where the only people who are alive are those who haven’t yet been born: “Ponies” is a parable about the cruelty of children, seen through the eyes of the eponymous, fantastical creatures: short and to the point, an épée-thrust of a story. “Conditional Love” is set in a medical facility where children whose genetic modifications have gone wrong are sent. It’s a heartbreaker with a chilling end.
“Ghosts of New York” is about 9/11, which is to say that readers will be either morally offended or deeply moved (I’m not sure into which category I fall). Specifically, it’s about the World Trade Center jumpers, who in this story are made to experience the fall again and again in the afterlife. It’s a horror story, so bear that in mind.
Compared with that gruesome foursome, Ellison’s “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” and Kaftan’s “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” seem almost banal: elegantly written pieces without a real knockout punch. I may simply have been too deadened by the other stories to appreciate them. (Ryan Britt, on the other hand, liked “How Interesting” a great deal.)
Which leaves “The Green Book” by Amal El-Mohtar, which was first published in the Apex Arab/Muslim issue. I like this story a lot: its structure, the form of a copied manuscript, behind which unfolds a tale of magic and quiet horror. It’s a beautiful piece and quite different from the other nominees: sui generis rather than topical, scary rather than shocking.
If I were a SFWA member, I’d probably end up voting for “The Green Book,” with “Arvies” and “Conditional Love” as my runners-up.
The Nebulas will be handed out on May 21.