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)

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)

Review of “Things With Beards” by Sam J. Miller

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This story was published in the June issue of Clarkesworld. It currently has 10 recommendations on the Nebula Reading List. (I’ve revised based on comments.)

MacReady is one of two survivors of an incident at an Antarctic research station. His lover Childs is the only other survivor. The station has been found burned down, with the residents blown to bits and only two apparently frozen corpses perfectly preserved. There is also something that resembles a spacecraft in the wreckage. Thawed out in surprisingly good condition, MacReady rejoins life in New York City and takes up the fight for civil rights in a society where gays are ravaged by AIDS and the police target blacks. His old lover Hugh takes him to a meeting where he joins a plan to bomb NYC police stations. MacReady thinks something is wrong with him, but can’t put his finger on it. He has gaps in his memory. He starts to jump off the George Washington Bridge, but reconsiders. He carries out his part of the plot, leaving a bomb at a precinct station. On the way home, he has a profound realization about monsters.

This story is a sequel to the John Carpenter move The Thing, which is adapted from John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella “Who Goes There?” The two survivors of the destroyed station are infected by an extraterrestrial creature that emerges to claim other victims when conditions seem safe. At those times MacReady and Childs have memory lapses, realizing that something isn’t right, but with no idea what it is.

This is fairly long, written in present tense, and follows MacReady’s efforts to find a place in society again. It gives glimpses of the world around him, of what went on in Antarctica, glimpses of his past, and makes connections with issues current in society. It’s interesting as an extrapolation of the movie, but like most of the Nebula Reading List stories so far, it’s message fiction.

I’m certainly not the expert on literary criticism, but I think this is a postmodern work. It has a scattershot approach where Miller throws out a lot of different bits and leaves the reader to try to put them together into some kind of cohesive whole. Note: The following discussion contains spoilers.

Message 1: As far as I know neither of the works this sequel builds on has any mention of sexuality or racism. That suggests Miller has introduced the gayness of the characters and MacReady’s allyism with the Black Liberation movement to make some kind of statement. Progressive is what’s going to jump out at most people.

Message 2: Miller uses gayness as an excuse to bring up the AIDs epidemic, which was in full swing in the 1980s. He draws a parallel to the spread of the alien life form, as in the story MacReady trades the alien for AIDS through casual sex. This is interesting but not very deep, and I find the references dated. We’ve come a long way in prevention and treatment since 1980 and still referring to AIDS as the “gay flu” struck me as victimization.

Message 3: Through Hugh, Miller sends MacReady to a Black Liberation meeting. He’s right the movement was in sharp decline in the 1980s, but I get the feeling he’s not talking about 1980 here, at all. The issue of police shootings is current and has sparked a new movement, Black Lives Matter, with retaliation against the police from either inside or outside the organization. The fact that MacReady and the others agree to bomb police stations so readily is a questionable suggestion. Is violence against the police progressive, or something beyond that? Neoleft? A return to radicalism?

Message 4: Miller winds this up in the last paragraph by letting us know we need to make peace with the monster within.

Okay, so what’s this all about? Editor Neil Clarke’s estimation is apparently that it will piss a lot of people off. Because he runs a progressive magazine, I suspect he’s identified Message 1 and considers the story to be progressive because it’s about gay men as victims and defending African Americans from the police through retaliatory measures.

However, does it really say that? The problem with postmodernism is that the disorderly presentation means readers can draw different conclusions from the text. I can interpret the gayness and bombings to be just interesting sidelines to the main story here, but when I get to the main theme as stated in the last line, then I need to look back at what’s been said. If Miller has been talking about monsters, then gay men with AIDS carry a monster within that they communicate to others. Also, people who ally with the Black Lives Matter organization to retaliate against the police are monsters within. But this is all okay. Just make peace with yourself and go on spreading it around.

Actually, that reading could piss off a few progressives.

Regardless of the politics, I think this story is complex and well-developed enough to rate a possible nomination. I’d be happier if the messages were more subtle.

Three and a half stars.

Review of ‘‘When Your Child Strays From God’’ by Sam J. Miller

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This is one of the Nebula nominees. This story was published in Clarkesworld (7/15).

The pastor’s wife is looking for her son Timmy, who didn’t come home last night. She has been concerned about his rebellion, as he has appeared on Facebook with That Whore Susan. She searches Timmy’s room and finds different things that convince her that Timmy has strayed from God. She finds drugs, which she tries out. These cause hallucinations, but she soldiers through, deciding to visit That Whore Susan. Susan tells her that she and Timmy broke up six months ago, and accuses her of standing by while Timmy’s father abuses him. The wife gets a tip from a hallucination to check with Timmy’s friend Brent, where she finally locates Timmy and has to confront the facts about gayness, family and relationships.

This story is written in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone and makes gentle fun of the religious right with their fundamentalist values and how these can drive their children away. The pastor’s wife does reach enlightenment, which makes this a sweet story. However, I’m not sure it’s speculative fiction. There’s nothing here about science or fantasy, except the hallucinations.

This narrative has high diversity as it addresses gayness and the difficulties children have in coming out to conservative parents. Because of the humor, it has low drama and conflict, even when discussing things like drugs, abuse, gayness and coming out. The message is excellent and clearly stated. I gather that Miller is sure he’s addressing a liberal audience, though. I can see where this would be seriously offensive to conservative fundamentalists.

Three and a half stars.

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