My vote for the 2019 Nebula Short Story Award

Usually the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America presents its annual Nebula Awards at a gala ceremony during its annual Nebula Conference. This year, for obvious reasons, the award presentation will be live-streamed at 8 p.m. EDT on May 30 without a ballroom full of people. The awards honor the best novel, novella, novelette, short story, young adult book, game writing, and dramatic presentation of the previous year.

As a SFWA member, I get to vote on the nominees, and I’ve read all six of the finalist short stories. Overall, I think they’re all worth reading. Unlike the Hugo Awards, there’s no ranked voting; I only get to vote for one, but I’ve ranked them here anyway from my least favorite (as I said, they’re all good) to the one I’ll vote for. Of course, my ranking is subjective and even a bit arbitrary, and your opinions may vary.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld 2/19)
In a series of letters to her family back home, an explorer searches in an alien library for information that would help Earth. The voice is compelling, but the overall story reveals no big surprises, and the tale ends on a defeatist and depressing note.

“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)
As storms become sentient, a small town’s children fight back. The writing evokes a timeless dreamlike quality and creates sharp characters: pathos abounds. The point of view character is a child, however, which traps us in a limited horizon that is both claustrophobic and kind of a cheat, since the larger picture can go unexplained. In the end, nothing in the story transcends narrow personal interests.

“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
This classic-style horror story involves a dollmaker in India during the British Raj — so classic that the ending can be guessed less than halfway through the story. Cultural anger animates the story, but the conventional plot weakens it.

“How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise (Uncanny 7-8/19)
Jilted lovers get revenge through magic. The narration and characters show self-awareness and self-reflection, which gives the story a sober, solemn, literary strength. No one winds up happy, but they do wind up wiser.

“The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne (Uncanny 3-4/19)
Mutiny, death, and blood on a generation ship. The savage story manages to find a happy ending. For me, it had the intensity and velocity of a television show, and since we live in a golden age of television, that’s a good thing indeed.

MY VOTE: “Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19)
In 1891, something tragic happened, and we’re still living with the consequences. This very short story smacks the reader upside the head with nuance, ambiguity, and pitiless social criticism. Its densely packed details make it hard to read and irresistible to re-read: very much a story of our moment, and I mean that as high praise. I also value the unconventional storytelling style: I think the Nebula should reward attempts to expand the genre in one way or another.


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