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Nebula Awards Showcase 2010

01/10/2010. Contributed by Patrick Mahon

Buy Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 edited in the USA - or Buy Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 edited in the UK

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Nebula Awards Showcase 2010 edited by Bill Fawcett. pub: ROC. 417 page enlarged paperback. Price: $16.00 (US), $20.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-451-46316-6.

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‘Nebula Awards Showcase 2010’ is the eleventh in a line of annual SF anthologies that have been running since 2000. A predecessor series goes all the way back to the start of the awards in 1965. As the name suggests, each volume showcases the stories that won the most recent Nebula Awards, as well as including several new non-fiction essays chosen by the editor. This year editorial duties fall to Bill Fawcett, a well-known SF anthologist.

For those who don’t already know, the Nebula Awards are voted on annually by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, membership of which is open to professionally published writers of SF. Awards are available in five categories: novel, novella, novelette, short story and script. The anthology also covers various other awards that are given out in parallel to the Nebulas, covering young adult fiction, excellence in screenwriting, SF poetry and several other categories. The timing of the awards is slightly strange. The stories in this volume won their respective Nebula Awards for 2008 and these were actually awarded in April 2009. It has then taken another year for them to make it into print. However, they are here now. Do they merit the awards? I’ll look at a cross-section of three of the featured stories or extracts that intrigued me most, though there are several more, including the Nebula-winning novelette and short story, which are included in their entirety but which I don’t have room to discuss here.

The Nebula Award for Best Novel was awarded to Ursula Le Guin for ‘Powers’, the final volume in her ‘Annals Of The Western Shore’ trilogy of young adult fantasy novels. The anthology reproduces two chapters from the middle of the novel. We meet Gavir Arca, a teen-age slave who has a gift for storytelling and an occasional power of prophecy. Gavir is on the run from a tragedy he is desperate to forget. When he is introduced to a semi-mythical community of former slaves who now live free in the forest, he is gratified to find his storytelling powers valued by the community and its leader and starts to see a future for himself outside the bonds of domestic servitude. The extract is roughly 15,000 words long, about one seventh of the whole novel. This sounds substantial, but having read ‘Powers’ afterwards, I’m not sure the extract is really long enough to give the reader a proper understanding of what the novel is about. Nonetheless, it does illustrate the quality of Le Guin’s writing, which is as high as ever. The Nebula is certainly well deserved here.

Catherine Asaro won a Nebula in 2001 for her novel, ‘The Quantum Rose’. This time, she walked away with the Nebula Award for Best Novella for her story, ‘The Spacetime Pool’. New maths graduate Janelle is transported to a parallel Earth where a mage’s prediction foretells that her older self will heal a decades-old power struggle between royal brothers. Yet, as she learns about the new world, she finds written evidence that they achieved interstellar flight some five centuries earlier. Somehow, their technological knowledge was lost and, in line with Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum, the earlier achievements now appear to the locals to be akin to magic. Janelle wants to go home to her own Earth but soon finds herself a pawn in the dispute between a hard-bitten emperor and his more attractive younger brother. I enjoyed this novella, the longest item in the anthology at roughly 35,000 words. Asaro has developed a well-realised world with rounded and believable characters. If the romantic elements of the story were rather more overt than I would have preferred, that simply reflects my reading preferences as against Asaro’s writing preferences. The story is told convincingly and is a worthy Nebula winner.

For me, the weakest of the entries in the anthology was the extract from ‘Flora’s Dare’ by Ysabeau S. Wilce, which won the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Novel. This is a fast-paced SF thriller set in a very alien society and the story emphasises this through the use of a lot of invented terms and language. Across the whole novel this may very well be highly successful. However, it made this short extract confusing and ultimately unsatisfying for me.

I have read several of the previous volumes in this series of anthologies and have enjoyed them all. I’m pleased to say that the 2010 volume maintains the same high standards. The winning stories display a diversity of both subject matter and style whilst showing in almost all cases why they won. The supporting articles are also well worth reading and include decade-by-decade summaries of the history of SF and some interesting personal reflections on how some of the contributors ended up being SF authors.

If I had one criticism of this collection it would be that neither of the novel extracts is long enough to enable the reader to appreciate the story properly. However, if the novel extracts were longer then something else would no doubt have had to be omitted. I would not like to lose any of the other material, so I reluctantly accepted the shortness of the extracts and took it as an encouragement to go out and get the actual books. On reflection, perhaps that was the whole point.

This year’s edition of the ‘Nebula Awards Showcase’ is a definite keeper. The stories are worthy of their awards and the supporting essays provide an interesting counterpoint to the fiction. This is an anthology that provides readers with a great feeling for the current state of Science Fiction. I really enjoyed it and I think you will, too.

Patrick Mahon

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