I’ve read all the short stories nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The awards, which include novels, novellas, novelettes, game writing, dramatic presentation (television, movies, etc.), and young adult books, will be presented May 18 in Los Angeles.
I’m sorry to say I loved only two of them. As a member, I must vote for one (ranked voting is for the Hugos, not the Nebulas), and here’s my vote:
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
My heart was in my throat, hoping the witch librarian would help the troubled boy find the book he needed to escape his life, and the boy would accept the magic that the book had to offer him. I read this slowly, knowing it was a short story and would end soon, trying to give myself more time to enjoy it. Magic, indeed.
My opinions of the other stories, ranked in order of preference:
Second place: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside 2/18)
The story encompasses nine short biographies of the slaves whose teeth came to be part of Washington’s dentures. (True story: Washington had dentures made of human teeth.) Since they form an alternate history of a world in which there are various kinds of magic, I kept expecting the consequences of this magic to change the sweep of history, but they did not. Still, well worth reading.
Third place: “And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3–4/18)
A visit to a haunted house led to disaster for a boy. Now an adult, he returns. The house is still haunted, but he might be able to beat its time-space mutations. The real story is the protagonist’s personal history of his unhappy family, shortcomings, and childhood disasters. This is done well, yet it feels familiar, resembling quite a few other literary short stories I’ve read. Perhaps unhappy families can be alike, too.
Fourth place: “The Court Magician” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)
A boy discovers the cost of magic, and he learns that good intentions do not overrule cold cause and effect. The fable-like telling feels too distant, and the story seems familiar. There are no new stories, true, but perhaps a more detailed, close-up telling could have revealed new contours of yearning within an old idea.
Nope: “Going Dark” by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
A military commander must turn off a humanoid robot that was badly injured in the line of duty. Up until that moment, the commander has shown the emotional response of a turnip, yet he suddenly sinks into bathos. This story got on the ballot through the not-a-slate 20BooksTo50K® slate. It has some merit, but it’s not ready for prime time and is not one of the year’s five best short stories. It shouldn’t be on the ballot.
Nope: “Interview for the End of the World” by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
An asteroid is about to destroy the Earth, and a rich man with a rocket must pick the three thousand people who will escape death and perpetuate humanity. This is a cliché within a cliché, and poorly told at that. The story is another on the not-a-slate 20BooksTo50K® slate, and it doesn’t deserve to be on the ballot.