Congratulations to the 2018 Nebula Finalists!

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It’s that time again, and the SFWA has come through with a really varied list. I’ll start some reviews with the next blog.

Novel
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Witchmark by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)

Novella
Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi)
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

Novelette
“The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly (Tor.com 7/11/18)
“An Agent of Utopia” by Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed 1/18)
“The Rule of Three” by Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest 12/18)
“Messenger” by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)

Short Story
“Interview for the End of the World” by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside 2/18)
“Going Dark” by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
“And Yet” by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3-4/18)
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
“The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)

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Review of “Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea” by Sarah Pinsker

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This novelette is a dystopia SF piece published in Lightspeed magazine. It’s a Nebula finalist and ended up with 11 recommendations on the Nebula Recommended Reading List.

Bay survives by scavenging along the beach. A woman in a lifeboat washes up on the island and Bay takes her back to the cottage where she lives on the cliffs above the sea. Bay can tell the woman is a musician because of the calluses on her fingers. Gabby is a “rock star” who plays for audience on the ships where the wealthy live. She wakes cold and sick, and finds she’s not especially welcome at the cottage, as likely no one will pay for her return and she is a drain on Bay’s resources. During the second night, she take’s Bay’s guitar and leaves, hoping to walk to the nearest city. Bay wakes and finds the guitar gone. It belonged to her missing wife Deb, so she sets off after Gabby, finds her sick on the road. Bay has little respect for her, as she is part of the pampered rich and has no survival skills, while Gabby tries to insist that she’s not part of that culture. They walk on toward the city, find the bridge has fallen into the sea. This ends plans and dreams for both of them, so they turn back toward the cottage. Still, Gabby has a boat.

This is another story without a plot. The two women only find each other and walk along the beach, then along the road. The whole thing is about the conversation and what they say to each other. From this we learn about the gap between the rich and poor and how this has led to the fall of civilization as we know it. On the pro side, it’s well-written and absorbing. I’m thinking the theme might be the collapse of the music business as it was into a smaller, more personal market. On the con side, I was a little disturbed by Bay’s coldness—it seems like she’s be happy to have someone to talk to after all those years without Deb. Also, the perspective shifts are a little awkward, from Bay to Gabby to an apparent interview for Inside the Music where Gabby relates the experience. Does this mean she got back to civilization?

Three and a half stars.

2016 Nebula Finalists

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The SFWA published the list of Nebula Award finalists on schedule this week. There was one bit of awkwardness, as Cat Rambo’s story “Red in Tooth and Cog” was initially listed in the novelette category, but turned out to be slightly below the required word count (7500 words). Rambo withdrew the story from consideration rather than upset the published short story results. Interestingly, there was a 3-way tie for 5th place in the short story category, leading to a list of 7 finalists. As expected, most of these were stories with fairly high numbers of recommendations.

For this year’s minority count, I’m slightly confused by learning that some groups are no longer considered minorities for diversity purposes. For the count below, I’m ignoring sexual orientation and Jewish heritage, for example, but including trans/non-binary and Asians. Others might feel the minority count is higher or lower. Adding things up: 16 women finalists, 7 men, 1 non-binary. This suggests that women will figure strongly among the winners again this year.

Novel (4 women, 1 man, 5 minorities)

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan)
Borderline, Mishell Baker (Saga)
The Obelisk Gate, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
Everfair, Nisi Shawl (Tor)

Novella (3 women, 3 men, 3 minorities)

Runtime, S.B. Divya (Tor.com Publishing)
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Liar”, John P. Murphy (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)

Novelette (4 women, 2 men, 1 minority)

“The Long Fall Up”, William Ledbetter (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
“Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea”, Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories”, Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Orangery”, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
“The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, Fran Wilde (Tor.com Publishing)
“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, Alyssa Wong (Uncanny)

Short Story (5 women, 1 man, 1 nonbinary, 4 minorities)

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, Brooke Bolander (Uncanny)
“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood)
“Sabbath Wine”, Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
“Things With Beards”, Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld)
“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door”, A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, Alyssa Wong (Tor.com)
“Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station│Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)

More on Double Standards. Is it racism?

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In the last blog I asked why Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Sunil Patel have been treated so differently after bad behavior within the SFF community. Under her persona as a lesbian Thai writer, Sriduangkaew has been promoted in various high profile magazines despite being exposed as a notorious online bully. On the other hand, Patel has recently been blacklisted by several publications because of complaint by women via Twitter that he engages in “manipulation, gaslighting, grooming behavior and objectification of women” (but not apparently direct sexual harassment). So, why the difference? Is there an issue here? I checked around on the Internet for different opinions on the matter.

Here’s one from last fall where Billy D offers a fairly standard view that the Twitter charges are vague, non-specific and unsupported by any real evidence.

Here’s an interesting opinion by Natalie Luhrs. According to Luhrs, “…if Patel were a white man, I don’t believe the people he abused would be getting nearly the same degree of support from the community.” She goes on to give examples of white men who have been accused of similar behavior without much effect. She also notes that Patel has moved to position himself strongly within the community, but he’s actually just an up and coming editor/writer without much of network that would give him real power and influence to resist the charges.

These opinions are interspersed by announcements by publishers about cutting ties with Patel because of the complaints. These include Lightspeed, Book Smugglers, Alliteration Ink, Mothership Zeta and Around the World in 80 Books Blog, who pulled an interview with Patel.

No one has brought charges of sexual harassment, but clearly Patel is out of line in a major way. Luhrs thinks his behavior would be considered standard in a white man. So, is the problem here really that Patel is a dark-shinned man-of-color? No one has uttered the word “racism” in this discussion, but Luhrs’ comments about Patel’s status in the SFF community lend to this idea. In previous blogs, I’ve noted that men-of-color clearly have lower status than women-of-color. Patel is ambitious, and he’s probably following the standard formula as outlined by John Scalzi, which is “sucking up and punching down.” However, he’s missed the fact that this only works for men with “white” privilege. The result is a serious offense.

I’m not coming out in support of Patel’s behavior. However, he’s clearly being treated differently than Sriduangkaew–or, for example, YA author Greg Andree, who was accused of similar behavior but escaped unscathed.

So, is the issue racism, or not?

Review of “Natural Skin” by Alyssa Wong

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This story was published by Lightspeed. It currently has six recommendations on the Nebula Reading List.

Liin is slipping out the window of the family apartment, but her younger sister Xuemei wakes, asks if she’s going to see a surgeon again. Liin tells her to go back to sleep, tucks her in. Their father has recently arranged for Xuemei to go to school in Ottawa, but expects Liin to stay and help with the family business. She walks through Chinatown, finds the surgeon and flesh broker, a hard woman in a burnished mask. Liin offers to sell, and she and the surgeon negotiate, come to a deal. Then they go back to the family’s apartment to conclude the bargain. Will Liin go through with it?

This is the first story I’ve read from the list that I’d qualify as science fiction, as it takes place in a possible future Toronto. It’s got the feel of Cyberpunk with the sprawling, busy city and the brokers of flesh and other casual enhancements. As is usual with Wong’s work, it’s strongly emotional and has an undercurrent of horror. It’s written in first person, so it’s fairly personal and up close. Good imagery, character development and world building, but not especially thought provoking. Very polished. Wong has a very evocative writing style.

Four stars.

Strong potential nominee.

Comments on the Nebula Reading List top five short stories

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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?

Whiteness vs. Minorities in the SFF Community

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So, I’d guess the previous blog will be interesting reading for those in the SFF community who are calling for increasing diversity. This will also probably be interesting news for editors and publishers who thought they were supplying it.

The invisibility of certain groups who thought they were actually a minority also explains a lot about certain relations in the SFF community. One example of this is Vox Day, of course, who clearly identifies as Native American. As a minority, why doesn’t he receive affirmative action benefits from the SFF community? Answer: Because Native Americans don’t really count toward diversity. Day also extensively publishes and promotes Chinese writers. Sorry, those writers are all invisible, too. In fact, Day is widely criticized for being white-supremacist, racist and anti-diversity instead. Another example is Larry Corriea, who seems to think he belongs to a minority group, but instead doesn’t qualify as Hispanic because he’s from a European heritage and not Latino.

Let’s look at some of the Asian writers who are currently seen as evidence of diversity in the SFF community. Here’s the list of notable Asian-American writers from Wikipedia: Ted Chiang, Wesley Chu, Georgina Kamsika, Ken Liu, Marjorie Liu, Malinda Lo, Marie Lu, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Chris Nakashima-Brown, Cindy Pon, Vandana Singh, Alyssa Wong, Laurence Yep, Charles Yu and Kat Zhang. I suppose we can also add Rajnar Vajra and Hugo winners Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang to this list. Sorry, these people are now all “white” and no longer evidence of diversity in a SFF publication. This also means that magazines like Clarkesworld and Lightspeed that seem to specialize in Arab and Asian SFF aren’t supplying real diversity.

Actually, the SFF community was called on this a while back by Cecily Kane and Weston Allen in a study published by Fireside Magazine. Kane and Allen found that out of 2,039 short stories published in 2015 by 63 industry magazines, only 38 were by black authors. Kane and Weston cited only Terraform Magazine as representing real diversity in the SFF community.

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