For the 52nd year, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America will present the Nebula Awards to outstanding novels and shorter works published in 2017. At the ceremony on May 19, it will also present the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.
As a SWFA member, I’ve received a voter’s packet. I get to vote for one work in each category. So far I’ve read all the short story finalists, formed opinions, and decided who to vote for:
“Fandom for Robots,” Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny 9-10/17)
A sentient robot discovers an anime series about another sentient robot, Hyperwarp, and becomes a “hyper-big fan.” Then it discovers fanfiction and makes friends. This is as funny as it sounds but also touching as the robot, which has no emotions, responds in a pseudo-emotional way and becomes accepted as a human on the internet. (On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.) Both fandom and technology are efficiently dissected with a loving, razor-sharp knife.
“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM,” Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex 8/17)
An Indian guide for cyberspace tourists offers Native American “Vision Quests” that are as authentically Indian as the Lucky Charms leprechaun is authentically Irish, but white people seem fine with that. Then a customer wants too much. Unrelenting cynicism about commercialization and stereotypes underlies this story’s quiet fury. It’s already won an Apex Reader’s Choice Award and a Locus recommendation.
“Utopia, LOL?” Jamie Wahls (Strange Horizons 6/5/17)
A human is revived in a post-singularity age when most people spend their time in computer-generated simulations. He’s welcomed by an energetic and enthusiastic Tour Guide to the Future, the story’s narrator. They slowly come to trust each other, and then there’s a twist (no spoilers). As a result, a fun, almost frivolous story takes on a sudden, satisfying solidity.
“Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” Fran Wilde (Uncanny 9-10/17)
A visitor is led through an exhibition of what might have once cruelly been called a freak show. Beautifully written, the story effectively evokes the bitter anger of those on display, and perhaps it’s meant as horror reflecting the way society treats those who are different, but I don’t think it quite fulfills the noble goals of horror. Horror stories are modern tragedies, and a tragedy requires the protagonist to suffer for some fault within him or herself. The visitor is tortured apparently to avenge the general cruelty of society, but his or her participation in this cruelty is never established. As Aristotle argued in Poetics, unmerited misfortune merely shocks us: it isn’t tragedy. I see this story as torture for torture’s sake, and there’s no merit in sadism.
“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard),” Matthew Kressel (Tor.com 3/15/17)
An author travels to a distant planet to finish his final book, and meets a child who becomes his muse and student. The story’s genuine sweetness — in the best, most beautiful sense of sweet — can’t make up for what I think are two flaws: 1. The science fiction amounts to mere scenery, and the story, right down to the girl’s creole-like accent, could take place in the present on a Caribbean island. 2. Its narrator insists on the supposedly dying art of writing with pen and paper and printing actual dead-tree books. This also sounds just like the present, like bitter Baby Boomers complaining about Millennials and their supposed over-reliance on their cell phones. That kind of grumpy, defeatist rant makes me ashamed of my age cohort. I don’t know what the future will be like, but it won’t be like the present, and this story is the present pretending to be the future.
“Carnival Nine,” Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/11/17)
A wind-up toy robot mother makes great sacrifices to care for her robot son who has mechanical problems. The tale is obviously a analogy to what happens in real life to families with children with disabilities — a bit too obvious an analogy, perhaps, almost a parable, and the story never explains who does the winding up or why some toys live in a closet. Heart-strings are tugged, but logic is stretched, and that weakened the overall effect for me.
Verdict: I’m voting for “Fandom for Robots” because I was charmed by Computron the robot, but I’ll be just as glad if “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” or “Utopia LOL” wins.
— Sue Burke