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Nebula Awards Showcase 2012
edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Pyr, 336 pages

Nebula Awards Showcase 2012
John Kessel
Multiple-award-winning writer and scholar John Kessel is the author of Another Orphan, Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly) Good News From Outer Space, Meeting In Infinity, and The Pure Product, as well as many short stories, articles and plays.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Corrupting Dr. Nice
SF Site Review: The Pure Product

James Patrick Kelly
James Patrick Kelly has been a full-time writer since 1977. He has won Hugo Awards for his stories "Think Like a Dinosaur" (1995) and "1016 to 1" (1999) and a Locus Award for short story "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (1997). He has also published a number of novels, the latest being Wildlife (1994). He lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire, with his wife and children.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Kafkaesque
SF Site Review: The Secret History of Science Fiction
SF Site Review: Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology
SF Site Review: Feeling Very Strange
SF Site Review: Feeling Very Strange
SF Site Review: Strange But Not A Stranger

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

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As the best-of-the-year volume that usually appears the earliest each year, I look forward to reading the annual Nebula Awards collection. It whets the appetite for the meatier SF volumes that come later, especially the Hartwell/Cramer and Dozois tomes. This volume clearly demonstrates the increasing diversity in subgenres, themes and styles in the field. Reading this year's collection, however, somehow makes me feel my age even more than past ones -- could the science fiction field be evolving faster than I can keep up?

One unsettling touchstone moment occurred when I realized that perhaps the most powerful and thought-provoking story in the book -- at least to me -- was "And I Awake and Found me Here on the Cold Hill's Side" by James Tiptree, Jr., posthumous winner of this year's Solstice Award. This story from 1972 is the epitome of 70s disturbing social science fiction, extrapolating what man's inbred desire for genetic diversity might cause when there are extraterrestrial aliens among us. It is more powerful today than it was when I was 20, and did not recognize the literary allusion of the title taken from the John Keats poem about love with a fairy woman.

Another unsettling indication that the field may be passing me by was the first story in the collection, "Ponies" by Kij Johnson, a slipstream fantasy about the cruelty of young girls to their peers that left me cold. (Clearly, I must be the wrong demographic for this.) A third came moment from Harlan Ellison's "How Interesting: A Tiny Man," which seems to be a slipstream allegory on the fickle nature of public perception that also struck me as contrived and less than profound. Why were these stories so highly regarded?

The often fascinating non-fiction included in past Nebula volumes has been replaced by novel excerpts, which I find a step backwards. This year we have an excepts from Connie Willis' brilliant two-volume Nebula-Award-winning novel, Blackout/All Clear, and Terry Pratchett's delightful humorous fantasy novel, I Shall Wear Midnight. I may be in the minority these days, but I do not enjoy free excerpts of longer works, and find paying for them annoying. (That is a role reserved for book reviewers, in my mind -- not excerpts...)

But wait! I may not yet be totally mired in my curmudgeonly mindset, because I find that there are also quite a few excellent and original stories here, including some hardcore SF, and some by new young authors. "The Sultan of the Clouds" by Geoff Landis is an excellent mystery SF story set in floating cities in the atmosphere of Venus. "Map of Seventeen" by Chris Barzak is a haunting contemporary fantasy story about the clash between the attitudes of small-town middle-America and urban cultural realities. "Arvies" by Adam Troy-Castro is a strange but effective far-future tale of effete humans who achieve a kind of immortality by never being born, and instead living inside human slaves called arvies.

Several of the aforementioned new young authors also have excellent stories here, many of which are cross-genre fusions. Shweta Narayan's "Pishaach" is a hauntingly original slip-stream fantasy set in a future India, effectively using a mixture of Indian myths and folktales. Aliette de Bodard's "The Jaguar House in Shadow" is set in an interesting alternate history 20th century where Aztec culture is engaged in a sort of cold war with western culture. Amal El-Mohtar's "The Green Book" is a New Wave-styled slipstream fantasy of a magic book that can trap the spirits of people that is a complex and effective -- if occasionally confusing -- story.

James Stone's "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made" is an SF story about a Mormon missionary seeking to recruit energy beings at the heart of the Sun to the Mormon religion; it's a better story than one would expect, although not without the inevitable weaknesses often seen in SF on religious themes. The final story in the volume is Rachel Swirsky's "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window," a powerful fantasy story that evokes SF-like sense of wonder through the use of long-time frames, as a witch from a matriarchal medieval kingdom has her mind trapped in perpetual enslavement and is summoned at various times in her future.

Editors James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel have done an excellent job overall with this year's volume, and provide a light and interesting dialogue as introduction. Also included are the Rysling Award-winning best poems, a feature which makes the Nebula collection unique among best-of-the-year books.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2012 therefore provides an overall excellent reading experience, and profound evidence that the science fiction and fantasy genres are continuing to grow and find new voices. It remains must-reading for all fans of fantastika.

Copyright © 2012 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.


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