Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Nebula Awards 33
edited by Connie Willis
Harcourt Brace Books, 352 pages

Nebula Awards 33
Connie Willis
Connie Willis was born in 1945 in Denver, Colorado. Her first SF publication was "The Secret of Santa Titicaca" published in Worlds of Fantasy, the Winter 1970-71 issue. For her first novel, she collaborated with Cynthia Felice on Water Witch. She has won Hugo and Nebula Awards for Fire Watch, "The Last of the Winnebagos", Doomsday Book and "Even the Queen"; a Hugo Award for "Death on the Nile"; and Nebula Awards for "A Letter for the Clearys" and "At the Rialto". 

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog
SF Site Review: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Advertisement
Three meditations about the 33rd annual anthology of Nebula Award winners and nominees:

1. Remembrances of Things Past
The witty editor introductions and author epilogues sandwiching each wondrously thought-provoking selection in this year's Nebula Awards 33 reminded me of the many collections I read as a kid first discovering science fiction. Indeed, a quick survey of my library confirmed that many of my first purchases were short story anthologies, including the very first paperback I ever bought (for all of 40 cents), 13 Great Stories of Science Fiction, edited by Geoff Conklin. (I have several Conklin-edited volumes, which despite the quality of the stories, have equally dumb titles.) Other key books (mostly in Doubleday Science Fiction Book Club hardback editions) that shaped my adolescent reading habits include the annual SF surveys by Judith Merril, The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Avram Davidson, and Spectrum 4, edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, as well as the very first Nebula Awards, edited by Damon Knight.

Of course, at the time I didn't know New Wave from permanent wave and had no idea I was reading ground-breaking stuff. I just thought they were weirdly cool stories. Moreover, with their references to Shakespeare and Melville and the Bible, they opened a back door to the more "legit stuff," and I could now fake knowledge of classic literature as a burgeoning pseudo-intellectual adolescent, though in fact I wouldn't crack open anything that didn't have spaceships in it. Though, in time, I would, and I have these launching points to thank for it.

But, even then, I could appreciate how writers in a "genre ghetto" wanted some self-respect, and, hence, the impetus behind the Nebula Awards, a way for the Science Fiction Writers of America ("and Fantasy" was added later to the organization's title) to honour their own.

2. A Brief Rumination On the Whole Notion of Awards
In his introduction to the inaugural Nebula Awards in 1965, Knight notes that:

"Forty years before our [first SFWA awards] banquet in March 1966, Hugo Gernsback launched the first science fiction magazine in the world. Since then we have seen science fiction grow from its primitive beginnings into a flourishing, vigorous and increasingly respected field of literature. The stories in this book... show the quality of modern science fiction, its range and, I think, its growing depth and maturity. Science fiction has come a long way."
Thirty three years later, it's come an even longer way, as evidenced by the breadth and quality of this latest assortment. Unfortunately, it is probably still the case that none of these is widely recognized outside the SF field. This is still, for the most part, a club for insiders. I don't know if the insiders really much care (and, don't worry, I'm not getting into yet another one of those "why doesn't SF get more respect" riffs), but I wonder if the whole idea of awards might need to be re-examined.

I mean, is Nancy Kress's "The Flowers of Aulit Prison" really that much better of a story than "Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream" by James Alan Gardner to get a Nebula, while the latter is an also-ran? They're both great, highly imaginative, thought-provoking works. I couldn't say that one was more deserving of being a winner than another. It's just the way the ballots added up. That doesn't strike me as quite fair.

Connie Willis, this year's editor as well as Nebula nominee herself, makes the same observation:

"[T]o put things in perspective: Neither Alfred Hitchcock nor Greta Garbo ever won an Oscar... and James Joyce never won a Nobel Prize. Closer to home, non-Nebula winners include William Gibson's "Burning Chrome," Dhalgren, The Snow Queen, Titan, and R.A. Lafferty's "Continued on the Next Rock." And five of the Grand Masters, including Robert A. Heinlein."
I suppose this sort of thing gives SF fans something to bitch about, which is part of the "fun" of the awards concept, anyway. And, as Willis points out, the whole point of the Nebula anthology is to honour some of the runners-ups, who after all, have received high compliment from their peers as belonging in "the best of" category. But then there's the question of why the work of certain nominees are here, but not others? Willis says it was a tough choice and she wishes she had the room to include everyone but, after all, that's what editors do, make agonizing choices of what's in and what's out.

But, forget winners and losers. To be sure, there are more comprehensive "Best of" anthologies. (Indeed, Kress and Michael Swanwick's "The Dead" previously appeared in The 14th Annual Edition of the Year's Best SF, while James Patrick Kelley's "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and, though not reprinted in this Nebula Awards volume, both "The Undiscovered" by William Sanders and Bill Johnson's "We Will Drink a Fish Together..." are in the 15th edition; Karen Jay Fowler's "The Elizabeth Complex" is also in The Best of Crank!) But Nebula Awards 33 provides a very nice overview of how diverse the field is. Indeed, in her short intros to each of the various selections, Willis acknowledges the difficulty in classifying them as say, cyberpunk or alternate history, noting that they often encompass a range of sub-genres. Some aren't even strictly SF or fantasy (Fowler's "Elizabeth Complex" and "The Crab Lice" by Gregory Feely) and wouldn't be out of place in an avant-garde literary collection. And one of my favourites here is a combination hard SF and ghost story, "Abandon in Place" by Jerry Oltion (and Nebula winner for Best Novella), an evocative lament about the demise of the Apollo program and the general lack of interest in manned space exploration.

Equally intriguing is the traditional look backwards, honouring the now-obscure Nelson Bond as an Author Emertius and Poul Anderson as the latest Grandmaster. Bond's "The Bookshop" is reprinted as representative of his work, and even though you've visited here before, you'll still enjoy browsing. For Anderson, Willis selected to represent his oeuvre a not-usually-anthologized story, "The Martyr." I don't normally go for tales driven by the characters speculating on scientific theories, but in this case it leads to a superbly stunning and disturbing ending.

Throw in Best Short Story winner Jane Yolen's "Sister Emily's Lightship," an excerpt from Vonda McIntyre's Nebula-winning novel, The Moon and The Sky, as well as a forum of short essays by noted SF authors and editors on the state of the genre, and you've taken a pretty good pulse of a very healthy literary form.

3. The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story
Which brings me to one final parting thought. It's a regularly voiced complaint in both literary and SF circles about the supposed dearth of opportunities for publishing short fiction. This despite the multitude of volumes dedicated to short fiction that a search on any of your favourite Internet bookstores might uncover. My suspicion is that editors and publishers like to raise this argument as a way to keep pay rates low, or not pay at all (the so-called literary markets that "pay" in copies).

I raise this point only to say that the short form -- particularly as exemplified in Nebula Awards 33 -- strikes me as an especially apt mode for SF. And one that perhaps may not be fully appreciated by a generation of fans coming of age in these days of tetratologies and Star Wars prequels. Indeed, I 'm wondering if in part I was initially drawn to short stories by the episodic nature of favourite TV shows of my childhood such as The Twilight Zone and, to a lesser extent, The Outer Limits. Now I have absolutely no empirical basis on which to base this, but I wonder if the pervasiveness of sequels-without-end and fat fantasy novels that make War and Peace seem like an afternoon's read has caused short stories to get the short shrift, as it were, in the public reading eye.

If so, Nebula 33 is a very good starting place to get acquainted with a very rich and broad lode of the best in science fiction and fantasy. Hell, some of the best stuff that is being written, period.

Table of Contents
Sister Emily's Light Ship Jane Yolen
Itsy Bitsy Spider James Patrick Kelly
The Moon and the Sun (novel excerpt) Vonda N. McIntyre
The Flowers of Aulit Prison Nancy Kress
The Crab Lice Gregory Feely
The Bookshop Nelson Bond
Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human BloodstreamJames Alan Gardner
The Dead Michael Swanwick
Day Omega(poem) W. Gregory Stewart
Spotting UFOs While Caning Tomatoes(poem) Terry A. Garey
The Elizabeth Complex Karen Jay Fowler
Abandon in Place Jerry Oltion
The Martyr Poul Anderson
Alive and Well: Messages from the Edge (Almost) of the Millennium Wil McCarthy
Beth Meacham
Ellen Datlow
Cynthia Felice
Christie Golden
Shelia Williams
Michael Cassutt
Kim Stanley Robinson
Geoffrey A. Landis

Copyright © 1999 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide