Of the seven stories on the Nebula ballot for best novelette (7,500 words to 17,500 words), four are by men and three are by women. One was first published in an anthology, two came from the traditional print magazines, and four came from online venues. I note with considerable interest that one of those online venues, Giganotosaurus, managed to land two novelettes on the ballot despite the fact that it isn’t an SFWA qualifying market. Alec has pointed out how few online markets there are for novelettes and novellas: there are plenty of places for a writer to sell their story, so long as that story is less than 5,000 words. Usually this means that the traditional print magazines tend to dominate in the longer categories, along with original anthologies (and in the case of novellas, standalone books). But not this year, not this category.
- “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com, June 2011)
- “The Old Equations” by Jake Kerr (Lightspeed, July 2011)
- “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman (F&SF, September-October 2011)
- “The Migratory Pattern of Dancers” by Katherine Sparrow (Giganotosaurus, July 2011)
- “Sauerkraut Station” by Ferrett Steinmetz (Giganotosaurus, November 2011)
- “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse Four, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Night Shade Books. Amazon: paperback, Kindle)
- “Ray of Light” by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog, December 2011)
I’d already read Rachel Swirsky’s “Fields of Gold” in Eclipse Four, where it was one of my favourites; it’s an audacious afterlife fantasy that takes a hard look back replete with unfulfilled bucket lists and a hard look back at a rather undistinguished life. Everything I’ve read by Swirsky so far has impressed the crap out of me; this is no exception.
I’d also read “Six Months, Three Days” by Charlie Jane Anders. This is the story about a relationship between a man who can see the future and a woman who can see many different possible futures. The relationship ends in about six months and three days but they nevertheless pursue it. It’s deftly handled, and ends very subtly.
Brad Torgersen’s “Ray of Light” takes place underwater, where a few remaining humans struggle to survive near undersea vents after alien intervention blocks most of the sun’s rays from hitting the earth, plunging it into a deep freeze and killing almost all life. That’s the background: the protagonist has to deal with a daughter who’s never seen the sun and goes off looking for the surface.
Jake Kerr’s “Old Equations” proceeds from an audacious premise: a 22nd century in which quantum mechanics is old hat but, because Einstein died in World War I, relativity was never discovered — which makes the first human voyage to another star go horribly awry when the effects of time dilation manifest themselves. The use of timestamped communications that go out of sync is clever, but I have a very hard time accepting the premise of the story: that relativity would not be stumbled upon for nearly three centuries after Einstein. (I mean: perihelion of Mercury! Redshifts! Hubble! GPS!)
Geoff Ryman’s “What We Found” is so well written it hurts. It’s a marvel of misdirection: it starts as the story of a Nigerian scientist whose discovery that childhood trauma induces a chemical change that can be passed on to offspring is reflected in his own dysfunctional family; then it takes a hard turn to the deep and crunchy when he learns why his research cannot be repeated.
Now for the two Giganotosaurus stories, neither of which should have had any trouble finding a home at a higher-paying market. (Hindsight is 20/20, especially when aided by a spot on the ballot.) Ferrett Steinmetz’s “Sauerkraut Station” is one of those quirky space adventures, the story of a young girl trying to survive on her family’s space station during an interplanetary war. It’s awfully enjoyable at a story level, the kind of story that is fun to read but breaks no new ground; it rather reminds me of James Patrick Kelly’s “Plus or Minus,” only I like this one better. Katherine Sparrow’s “Migratory Patterns of Dancers” is more ambitious: the ride of cross-country cyclists recapitulating the migrations of extinct birds whose genes they have had incorporated into them, performing dances along the way.
I’m having a harder time picking a favourite here, partly because of the subtlety of some of the work being considered. “Six Months, Three Days,” “Sauerkraut Station,” “What We Found,” and “Fields of Gold” are probably my top four, but it would be very hard for me to rank them past that. I’ll be very interested to see what ends up taking the award on May 19.