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Nebula Awards Showcase 2001
edited by Robert Silverberg
Harcourt, 254 pages

Nebula Awards Showcase 2001
Robert Silverberg
Robert Silverberg was born in New York City in 1935. In 1949 he started a science fiction fanzine called Spaceship and made his first professional sale to Science Fiction Adventures, a non-fiction piece called "Fanmag," in the December 1953 issue. His first professional fiction publication was "Gorgon Planet," in the February 1954 issue of the British magazine Nebula Science Fiction. His first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, was published in 1955.

In 1956 he graduated from Columbia University, with a major in Comparative Literature, and married Barbara Brown. After many sales, he earned a Hugo Award for his promise (the youngest person ever to do so). In the summer of 1955, he had moved into an apartment in New York where Randall Garrett, an established science fiction writer, lived next door; Harlan Ellison, another promising young novice, also lived in the building. Garrett introduced Silverberg to many of the prominent editors of the day, and the two collaborated on many projects, often using the name Robert Randall. He divorced his first wife in 1986 and married writer Karen Haber the following year. He now lives in the San Francisco area.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Book Of Skulls
SF Site Review: Lord Prestimion
SF Site Review: Sorcerers of Majipoor
SF Site Review: The Fantasy Hall of Fame
SF Site Review: The Alien Years
SF Site Review: Legends: Stories by the Masters of Modern Fantasy
SF Site Review: The Avram Davidson Treasury
SF Site Review: Sorcerers of Majipoor
Robert Silverberg Tribute Site
Interview with Robert Silverberg

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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Whether the Nebula Awards, given out annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, truly represents the best fiction of the year is open to debate. And debated it is, year in, year out, ad nauseum. There's a general perception that, whereas the Hugo Awards -- voted on by fans attending the annual World Science Fiction Convention -- are given to the most entertaining stories of the year, the Nebulas tend to go towards more literary works. I would tend to agree with that, but at the same time, "good" is a relative term, depending on what the criteria of judgement is. Certainly, every Nebula-winning story in the past has been, at the very least, good. Some have even been great. Such is the case with the 2001 volume of Nebula Awards winners and finalists, collecting winners and selected runners-up from the 1999 final ballot.

In retrospect, 1999 was an amazingly strong year for novellas and short stories. Of the six finalists, any one of them could have taken the prize deservingly. As it happens, though, it's Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life" which earned the trophy. And an amazing piece it is. Chiang, who has turned out such masterworks as "Tower of Babylon," "Division By Zero" and "Seventy-Two Letters" gives a marvelously complex story dealing with the difficulties of communication. On one level, the reader is treated to Louise Banks' efforts to establish communication with a thoroughly alien race, the heptapods. While the first contact situation unfolds in a traditional science-as-mystery of exceptional inventiveness, the simultaneous storyline -- of the future Louise trying to establish communication with her daughter -- provides an effective counterbalance and an emotional poignancy. The novella runner-up included here, David Marusek's "The Wedding Album" delves into darker territory. Marusek effectively sets up the reader with preconceived notions early on, and proceeds to knock them down one by one as the story progresses. If, in the future, photographs were replaced by fully rendered, interactive holograms complete with an A.I. "snapshot" of the subject's psyche at the time, what would happen if mental illness entered the picture? The episodic structure of the story only serves to enhance the emotional impact. One quirk that differentiates the Nebula Awards volumes from, say, the Hugo Winners is the yearly inclusion of select runners-up. This, naturally, invites second-guessing as to why one made the cut while others didn't. So in the spirit of tradition, my major complaint here is that more of the novella finalists weren't included. In particular, I was disappointed that Andy Duncan's "The Executioners Guild" missed the cut -- a disturbingly calm period piece that tackles aspects of capitol punishment from the point of view of those who carry out the gruesome task. An excellent story which would enhance any collection it appeared in.

The Nebula winner for best novelette, "Mars Is No Place for Children" by Mary A. Turzillo, alas, left me cold. Aside from the unfortunate title lifted, more or less, from Elton John's "Rocket Man," I found it little more than a future version of the standard heroic quest: Hero overcomes obstacles to win magic talisman with which to slay the dragon. The dragon in this case being leukemia, the magic talisman being the long-lost Sojurner rover, which, when discovered, will bring fame and fortune -- enough to pay for the trip back to Earth where, apparently, anti-leukemia treatments are all the rage. Add in the fact that the protagonist is a plucky little girl who discovers along the way that she had an older sibling die from the very same disease, and it's a wonder that Steven Spielberg hasn't already grabbed the movie rights to this, a guaranteed big-screen tear-jerker. Much more powerful, and, unfortunately, not included in this collection, is Brian Hopkins' "Five Days in April." Unforgivably obscure, Hopkins' story explores the Oklahoma City bombing in dark, brooding overtones with an intimacy only a native of the Sooner State could manage. In light of the recent terror attacks against the World Trade Center, "Five Days in April" is even more relevant.

As I mentioned earlier, 1999 was a particularly good year for short stories, and Leslie What's Nebula winner, "The Cost of Doing Business" is a good representation of that. Spectacularly violent in a matter-of-fact sort of way. "Surrogate victims" is a frightening concept straight out of A Clockwork Orange -- institutionalized suffering. For those with the financial means, there is always someone who can be bought to take a beating for them. What weaves the concept into an effective character study of those who become Licensed Surrogates and those who hire them. The other short story here, Michael Swanwick's "Radiant Doors," is a wrenching tale of a refugee crisis of unthinkable scope. We are responsible for all our actions, Swanwick seems to say, and we must be prepared to be held accountable for the repercussions we may not even live to see. Full of haunting imagery and deep foreboding, this is one of the best pre-apocalyptic stories ever put to paper. Of course, I have to gripe about the short story left out that shouldn't have been. Bruce Holland Rogers' "The Dead Boy at Your Window" is a strange, bittersweet piece that has that resonance usually found only in time-worn mythology. The title tells everything about the story while playing coy at the same time. Highly recommended if you can find it.

Octavia Butler's excellent Nebula-winning novel, Parable of the Talents, is represented here by that book's epilogue. While I easily list Talents among the best reads of 1999, it's ill-served by the epilogue, which loses almost all of its impact when taken away from the context of the book. Showcase 2001 would've been much better served by devoting that space to more short fiction. The same goes for Gary Wolfe's valiant -- but ultimately futile -- attempt to summarize the whole of 1999 science fiction in a 15-page essay. It doesn't work at any level, and devolves into little more than a list of everything that was published that year with little more than token criticism. It comes across as Dozois lite, and again, that space would be put to better use as fiction.

What did work, however, was the inclusion of 1999 Author Emeritus Daniel Keyes' article "Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey," which takes the reader on the fascinating and convoluted journey that led to Keyes' writing of the seminal "Flowers for Algernon." It's an illuminating piece, and I am grateful for Keyes sharing it with us. Also a delight is "Judas Danced," a gem of a story from newly-anointed Grand Master Brian W. Aldiss. I'd never had the pleasure of reading "Judas Danced" before, but it is an excellent display of the inventive stylings and skill Aldiss is known for.

Ultimately, Nebula Awards Showcase 2001 is as accurate -- or inaccurate -- a snapshot of the state of the genre during one brief moment of time as it is possible to get. It's certainly not perfect, and future volumes would benefit from the elimination of marginal non-fiction in favour of more deserving runners-up. Even so, it remains a collection of top-notch writing on the whole, and deserves a place on every serious bookshelf as essential reading.

Copyright © 2001 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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