Comments on the Nebula Reading List top five short stories


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?

Common threads in these examples?


55327_girl-writing_mdFor one thing, I notice all these authors are women. Presumably there are also male authors who are bullied, but the prominence of these results in a search for bullied authors suggests that women are more likely to be targeted than men. It’s interesting to speculate on why. Are women viewed as fair game for some reason while men are not? Do women tend to present more daring or challenging ideas? Do they have a really bad understanding of political correctness? Do they have naive assumptions about their right to freedom of expression?

In two of the cases above, the harassment was instigated mainly by another woman who was offended by either the basic idea or the presentation of ideas in the novels. Why is this? Do women see themselves as having a responsibility to police and punish offensive ideas moreso than men? Do they act as SJWs more often?

In one case conservative author Vox Day entered the fray on the side of Kate Breslin. Does this mean there is a political or ideological battle going on? An attempt to censor or bury particular ideas that don’t meet with popular support? Are all novels now required to meet standards of progressive correctness in the marketplace?

One issue pointed out in the battle over Save the Pearls was that Foyt’s ideas weren’t that radical, but that her presentation was heavy-handed and inept. The same might be said of Man’s book, which took characters from history that carried baggage along–apparently just mention of Sally Hemings carries unacceptable implications about statutory rape and racism. Presumably a different treatment where Jefferson’s role as rapist and racist was prominent would have been completely acceptable. This suggests that one of the problems here is the reduced role of traditional publishers and editors in presenting these books for sale. Experienced publishers and editors, like those at Weird Tales for example, are more savvy about what’s acceptable to the public and what’s not. They would most likely nix offensive ideas before they got out there to cause trouble.

I’m not going to speculate about what happened to Harris. I think her fans need to get a life.

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