My choice for the Nebula Award for Novelette

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (SFWA) has announced the finalists for the 56th Annual Nebula Award. The awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony on Saturday, June 5, 2021.

I’m a member of SFWA, and I like to focus on the shorter fiction nominees because I can finish my reading by the April 30 deadline, and because fewer people vote, which means my opinions matter more.

Novelettes are at least 7,500 words long but less than 17,500 words, which allows for greater development than a short story. All the nominees use that space to create their own worlds with success, and each one is worthy of the award.

• “Shadow Prisons” by Caroline M. Yoachim (in Dystopia Triptych, Broad Reach Publishing + Adamant Press) (full text: The Shadow Prison ExperimentShadow Prisons of the MindThe Shadow Prisoner’s Dilemma). People can be turned into “shadows” as punishment by a restrictive government. A woman who becomes a shadow tries to fight back, or at least to avoid destroying other lives. I found the story itself more compelling than the telling of it.

• “Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 5-6/20). Superheros are feared and hated — by themselves as well as the public at large — for their poorly controlled powers. Emotions in the story are carefully depicted.

• “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker ( 6/17/20). A woman becomes caught in a web of her own lies. Genuinely creepy horror.

• “Where You Linger” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Uncanny 1-2/20). A woman goes back into her past to help her younger, immature self cope with her chaotic love life. The story is beautifully written but never becomes more than a deeply intimate story. A technology that powerful would change society, but there’s no hint of the bigger picture.

• “Stepsister” by Leah Cypess (F&SF 5-6/20). What happens after the end of the Cinderella myth? A well-plotted and well-executed story answers the question.

• “The Pill” by Meg Elison (in Big Girl, PM Press). A pill can cure obesity, and people rush to take it despite its “acceptable” casualties. This gets my vote for the award, and I think this kind of story is science fiction at its best: a good story well told. By “good” I mean a story that dissects our current society with a pitiless scalpel, exposing how deep our prejudices reach and how much pain they cause. This story might change the way you think.

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