2017 Nebula Novelette Nominees

SFWA Nebula Awards

This week we’re shaking up our usual format, and taking on the Nebula nominees in the Novelette category — those of them available online, anyway.

So we’ll be discussing:

We’ll also discuss “Red in Tooth and Cog,” by Cat Rambo, which was nominated for a Nebula, but fell between the cracks of the wordcount categories (and ultimately judged in the short story category, at 7,070 words).

What do you think of this batch of Nebula nominees? Which make you squee, and which make you snark? Join the discussion in the comments!

“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister

“The Fifth Gable,” by Kay Chronister.
Published in Shimmer #29, January 2016.

Content note: A deliberately disturbing story, focusing on the death of children and infants.


Recommended by Lady Business, where Ira writes:

This is a beautifully written and haunting and somewhat disturbing (I love it) story about creation and having children and loss. I’m not sure what more I can say about it that won’t spoil the reading experience, aside from that the language and imagery is lovely and haunting. Definitely worth a read.

Michael Kelly at @sfeditorspicks writes much the same:

Lyrical, melancholic, and moving story about parenting, loss, death, and sorrow.

Charles Paysuer writes:

The story does a great job of showing the darkness that the women live in, the world that is at war, the endless stretches of dead children, the suffering that is still somehow necessary to it all. (…) There is magic in the story but not a pretty kind. The magic is dark and springs from pain, and it sets the mood, dark and brooding and festering.


What did you think of “The Fifth Gable”? Read the story, and come discuss in the comments!

“Seven Birthdays,” by Ken Liu

“Bridging Infinity” Anthology, ed. Jonathan Strahan

“Seven Birthdays,” by Ken Liu.
Published in Bridging Infinity, reprinted in Tor.Com.

Speculiction writes:

Contextualizing the contemporary Western situation with some simple but effective bits of far-future imagination, Liu keeps things relevant by understanding the idea that problems will always exist, and thus what matters is our approach—our attitude—toward them.

Rocket Stack Rank gives the story four stars, citing pros and cons:

Pro: (…) The ending is heartwarming because, after all that time, Mia finally has the right words–and they’re noble, inspiring words. At the large-scale level, it’s a great description of human evolution and transformation into a galaxy-spanning civilization–if civilization is even the right word for something so grand.

Con: There’s little action and no tension in the story, which mostly consists of a recitation of events that transpired.

Tangent Online reviewer Jason McGregor comments:

While this story doesn’t seem to be as free from a sort of historical dualism (which leads to a tincture of human self-loathing which is mostly balanced by an explicit appreciation of our “wondrous” quality) as it is from the human vs. nature dualism that it explicitly disavows and does seem like yet another climate change story at first, it does move on to bigger and better things which do involve mega-engineering and a bit of “gosh wow” and is a good execution of the tried-and-true and fitting “time lapse” structure.


What did you think of “Seven Birthdays”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong

Uncanny May/June 2016
Uncanny May/June 2016

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong.
Published in Uncanny, May/June 2016.


Vanessa Fogg sums this one up:

Her latest story in Uncanny Magazine is classic Alyssa Wong: intense, visceral writing; searing imagery; building horror. An orphan in this alternate Wild West can bring dead things back to life—and perhaps put them to rest as well. Skeletons rise, dead things dance, and there’s an unforgettable scene involving a chicken. In the end, it’s also a beautiful story of loss and love.

The reviewers at OneMore dig deep into the piece:

Full disclosure: I love the desert and I love myth-making. Any story that can combine the two, bringing the desert to haunting life until you can hear the dead and smell the hot breeze is almost certain to win me over.

(…) Is it about trying to come to terms with your heritage? About not fitting in and being unsure where there’s a place for you? Possibly. It’s certainly about love and loyalty and what we’re prepared to sacrifice. And it’s definitely uncanny. Excellent stuff.

Charles Payseur observes:

This is a story that equal parts strange and bleak and beautiful to me, like the desert. Like doomed love. (…) In many ways I read the story as about how sometimes there’s no escaping a situation, a place. Sometimes who you are, who your parents are, and the machinations and plots of those with more power, are damning and inescapable. Which is not to say that those situations are hopeless.

And at Hollywood The Write Way, Melody writes:

This story is a great exploration of what it’s like living with a curse in a survival of the fittest, use everyone for personal gain society, what it means to embrace your identity. It’s a fine exploration of power and expectations, love and boundaries, fear and the limitations it brings, it allows for, it thrives in. Grief and holding on. Moving on. What an intensely rich and sobering mirror of real life.


What did you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments below!

“The Dancer on the Stairs,” by Sarah Tolmie

“The Dancer on the Stairs,” by Sarah Tolmie.
Novelette. Published in Tolmie’s Two Travelers, and reprinted in Strange Horizons, November 2016.

This story was recommended for discussion by Cecily Kane.


Nina Allen wrote:

Tolmie has a careful, controlled, poised style that is the epitome of elegance – a kind of literary dressage, or dancing, in fact. Her poetical investigations into human rituals, creativity and modes of belief make her fiction some of the most interesting new work around at the moment.

Charles Payseur wrote:

This is a long and intricate story that unfolds like a dance, a very fascinating portal fantasy that looks very different from what I’m used to. It features a woman taken from a world that sounds very much like our own and put into a place that is basically one huge house. One enormous building with floors connected by a very special stairway. And it’s a great reversal of what normally happens in portal fantasies, where the main character is some sort of Chosen One. Here the woman is the lowest of the low, without the currency that would make her even able to leave the stairs she finds herself on. What follows is a rough education and the slow reveal of this society. […]

It’s a great and moving story that’s enchanting and magical and elegantly layered. An excellent read! 

Rocket Stack Rank is less enthralled. Among their criticisms:

The story takes forever to get going. […] None of the characters is developed well enough for us to feel any emotions about them.


What’s your take on  “The Dancer on the Stairs”?  Read the story, and join in the discussion in the comments below!

“The City Born Great,” by N.K. Jemisin

The City Born Great, by N.K. Jemisin. Art by Richie Pope.

“The City Born Great,” by N.K. Jemisin.
Published in Tor.Com, September 2016.

This one runs the gamut, review-wise. Let’s go from down to up…

Seraph, at Tangent Online, calls it:

A profanity-riddled, drug-induced psychotic episode of a paranoid-schizophrenic young man, with no justification for an abrupt and unconnected ending. That’s really the most positive I can be.

Rocket Stack Rank pegs this “Average,” with pros and cons:

Pro: The narrator really does want to do something creative. He sings, he draws, and he despairs, because he knows he has no future. Paulo saves him, and he brings New York to life and defeats a monster with it.

Con: It’s hard to consistently suspend disbelief for this one. Swinging bridges and neighborhoods into action against a Cthulhu-like creature is hard to credit.

A.C. Wise writes,

“The City Born Great” captures the personality of New York City wonderfully, its rough edges, and its unbreakable spirit. The places we live are imbued with the personality of their citizens, and full of quirks all their own. As someone who lived in Jersey and worked in NYC for several years, I fully admit this story had me wanting to punch the air and yell, “Hell, yeah! No cosmic horror is taking my city down!”

 

“Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home,” by Genevieve Valentine

Clarkesworld, Issue 121, October 2016
Clarkesworld, Issue 121, October 2016

“Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home,” by Genevieve Valentine.
Published in Clarkesworld, October 2016.


Lots of reviews for this one — most of them full of spoilers! So go, read — or take this pull quote as incentive:

This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. (…) It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.

Here’s all the reviews, in all their spoilerific glory:
[spoiler]
Seraph, at Tangent Online, is enthusiastic:

This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. It not only categorizes the dangers of fully-immersive VR, and by extension those of excessive gaming, but of the abuses that can occur where there is little prison oversight, and unchecked corporate greed. Between getting lost in the digitally constructed world, which is so immersive as to even create false memories, and the medications given to involuntary test subjects to manipulate their minds into believing the game’s input, it’s not hard to see how Marie could no longer distinguish between reality, how she became so hopelessly addicted to the world of the game that she was willing to do anything to get back. It’s equally not difficult to see how Benjamina would become so disillusioned with the victimization for profit that she had been a part of. Even less surprising is the half-hearted media coverage, or should we say, cover-up. Most striking is the apathy of so many people who make the game break sales records, in spite of the controversy. It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.

Charles Paysuer calls the story “heartbreaking” and “wrenching,” and I particularly liked this observation he makes:

But for Marie I feel like it was a second chance. It was a chance to recreate herself, to be someone at peace with what she was doing. Not always at risk, afraid, and exploited.

Rocket Stack Rank has mixed feelings:

Pro: Nice twist that it’s all a simulation. The story told in letters is a nice device. The conclusion, that Marie got to go back into Themis after all, is amusing and yet also a little sad.

Con: There’s no protagonist and really no plot to speak of, other than Benjamina’s struggle to somehow do something to make herself feel better about what she did.

And A.C. Wise writes:

Bits of the story that feel like sly winks to our own reality (…) However, the bigger themes of the story are about truth and the nature of reality. Is it a lie if it feels real, if people don’t know they’re being lied to, if they can’t remember the lies they’re told? (…) ”Everybody from Themis Sends Letters Home” also touches on the idea of who has rights, who gets silenced, and who gets used as a tool by the system for “the greater good.”
[/spoiler]


What did you think of “Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home”? What’s your take on it? Join the discussion in the comments!

“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley

“Brushwork,” by Aliya Whiteley.
Novella. Published in GigaNotoSaurus, May 2016.

This is the first time on the new site we’re discussing a story that’s novella-length and novella-scope! (And if you like longer, weightier fiction, GigaNotoSaurus is well-worth your time.)


Charles Payseur goes into this story at length:

It is not exactly a happy sort of story, nor a short one. It is an experience, though, appropriately weighty and dense with a fully realized world (all contained inside an insulating dome). Drifting through age and love and loss and struggle, the story doesn’t offer any easy answers, but it certainly knows what questions to ask.

This is a complex, long, and emotionally gripping story about the power to resist and the power to comply and the prevalence of violence and privilege and loss. About how everyone has their own views of what happens to them, and that everyone is the hero of their own story, and the victim too. And it’s also about fruit. About stewardship. About growing things.

On File770’s “Novellapalooza,” JJ is of a similar mind:

This is an incredibly uncomfortable story to read right now, because the main theme is echoed repeatedly throughout the narrative: just how willing will people be, to make the moral and ethical compromises which throw their co-humans “under the bus” – as long as they think that they themselves will benefit? Just how large does the possibility of personal reward have to be, before human beings will choose to be complicit in sacrificing others — and then to look the other way when the inevitable happens? This is a moving and powerful story, and it is on my Hugo Novella longlist.


What did you think of “Brushwork”? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

“The Story of Kao Yu,” by Peter Beagle

The Story of Kao Yu (ebook cover)

“The Story of Kao Yu,” by Peter Beagle.
Short story. Published in Tor.com, December 2016.


Rocket Stack Rank gives this one five stars, calling the story “Beautiful, moving, and thought-provoking”.

Ron Andrea is less impressed: “Well-written and interesting, but there’s no payoff”.

I’d expected to find a little more discussion of a new Peter Beagle story — but then, that’s what we’re here for 🙂

What did you think of it? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!

 

“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid

The New Yorker, Nov. 14 2016

“Of Windows and Doors,” By Mohsin Hamid.
Short story. Published in The New Yorker, November 2016.

This is another suggestion from the #ShortFictionSunday hashtag. I always enjoy bringing up stories from The New Yorker – they’re often interesting (they need to be interesting enough to get into The New Yorker!), but since they’re not in a genre magazine, they can seem to be left out of the more “usual” circles and buzz.

What do you think? Read the story, and join the discussion in the comments!