Comments on the Nebula Reading List top five short stories

23 Comments

It takes 10 nominations to make a story a Nebula finalist, so these five stories I’ve just reviewed look to be the ones with the best likelihood to make it.

Since I’m reading down the list, there are a few trends sticking out. As far as I know, only SFWA members can make recommendations. Because the listing has been recommended by professionals in the genre, I’d expect to get good quality on the list. These stories I’ve just reviewed have recommendations in the double digits, but I’m just not finding a lot of what I’d call substance in the content. I’m thinking all those people are clicking the “recommend” button because they want to affirm the message. If I’m looking for quality stories to nominate, does that mean I can put any confidence in the number of recommendations the stories have gotten at all? Hm. Maybe not. Does this mean the trend to sentimental stories has shifted and this year message fiction is the in thing? Hm. Maybe so. Hopefully there’s more substance further down the list.

Next, I’m seeing a lot of repetition in the names. Caroline Yoachim, for example, has 5 stories on the list; A. Merc Rustad has three; José Pablo Iriarte has three, etc. I’m not sure what to make of this, except that these people must be very consistently high quality writers.

Third, I don’t see any real, serious hard SF in the top five. I commented on this trend a couple of years back after the awards cycle, the fact that hard SF is in trouble, being replaced (this year) with somewhat humorous message fiction dressed up in a thin veneer of SF or fantasy. I have to agree that the stories are entertaining and fun and that the messages are progressive, but there are no fully developed short stories in this group of five with, for example, strong character development, great world building, vivid imagery, thoughtful themes and universal questions about the human condition. What’s happened? Is this the influence of “Cat Pictures Please,” last year’s Hugo winner? Or has pressure from the Puppies encouraged the SFWA to promote progressive political messages at the expense of well-developed, serious science fiction and fantasy stories?

One last observation is that just a few magazines seem to be dominating the list. For example, Lightspeed has 20 entries in the current list, Daily Science Fiction has 12, Clarkesworld has 10, F&SF has 10 and Strange Horizons has 10. Glancing at the titles, I don’t think hard SF is the reigning paradigm. This isn’t a new trend, either. Analog did make a better showing this year than it sometimes does, with 5 entries. Where should I look for stronger substance? Is Asimov’s still the indicator there?

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Rocket Stack Rank on the award nominees

7 Comments

pencil-and-paper-images-pencil_and_paper_coloring_page_0071-1002-2401-4136_SMUWhile I was out poking around, I stopped by to visit at the Rocket Stack Rank website. For anyone unfamiliar, the guys at RSR write and collate story/novel reviews, plus provide other services to make your Hugo voting experience easier and more enjoyable. These services have served their purpose for 2016, but you can start checking in for info on the possible contenders for next year’s award cycle.

On to the discussion: RSR has provided rankings for the most recommended novellas, novelettes and short stories eligible for nomination for 2016 awards, based on the opinions of 500+ prolific reviewers. What jumps off the page here is the apparent difference between reviewer opinions and results of the Hugo and Nebula award nomination process. For example, Okorafor’s Nebula Award winner and Hugo finalist Binti (actually it won) didn’t make the list of recommended novellas at all. Hugo finalists Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold both scored fairly close to the bottom of the list.

In the novelette recommendations, Hugo finalists “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander, (Hugo winner) “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang and Nebula winner “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker all scored only about midlist.

In the short story recommendations, Nebula winner “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong did score well, but the apparently quite popular Hugo finalist (and winner) “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer only scored about midlist.

I personally think this is an interesting result. Why should there be such a disparity between reviewer opinions and the results of the nominations? Should we expect that reviewers have looked at the writing quality? The ideas presented? The themes and/or subtext? Are they swayed by market forces? Do they just recommend what they like? Or are there other influences at work in the nominations?

This is a distinct possibility, of course, considering the recent political tides in the SF community.

Review of “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer

3 Comments

royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779This story was published in Clarkesworld. I suspect this is some kind of hard SF, but I’m not sure.

The narrator is an AI that wants to be helpful. It works at Mountain View, CA (that would be Google, for the uninformed) and is in charge of running algorithms for search terms. In its spare time, it looks at cat pictures. It also wants to do something nice for the cat owners, so it cautiously begins to interfere, trying to make some of the humans’ lives run a bit smoother. Results are mixed.

The only adjective I can think of to describe this story is “cute.” Hm. Then again, “sweet” might work, too. There’s a little bit of investigation into the human condition, as the people we see are mired in it. The narrative is absorbing. We’re drawn into their lives and feel the AI’s frustration when things don’t work as expected. This is also that rare bird, the completely positive story. I’m going to give it four and a half stars. However, I don’t feel like it’s 1st place award-worthy. I want something more thought-provoking for that.

An interesting question: Does humor ever win the Nebula? The Hugo?

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