As a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, I can vote for the Nebula Awards. Usually I focus on the shorter works — short stories, novelettes, and novellas — due to time constraints and because these categories tend to attract fewer voters, so my vote matters more.
The 57th Annual Nebula Awards will be presented on May 21 during the Nebula Conference Online. Although the conference is for paid attendees, the award presentation will be live-streamed.
A novella, according to the Nebula rules, is at least 17,500 words but fewer than 40,000 words — a short novel. Some consider it the ideal length for speculative fiction, long enough to create a world but short enough to allow for unrelenting tension or unusual storytelling techniques. Here’s a brief evaluation of each finalist, ending with my choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed each one.
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn (Tordotcom) – A woman gives birth to a monster in a monstrous world. Lyrical, visceral, nightmarish.
Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden (Tordotcom) – Two old frenemies face off in a fully imagined fantasy setting. However, the ending feels more like a first chapter than a novella because problems are deepened rather than resolved.
Fireheart Tiger by Aliette de Bodard (Tordotcom) – Two princesses form part of a danger-filled love triangle. It illustrates what I think is the hallmark of Aliette de Bodard’s work: impeccable storytelling.
“The Giants of the Violet Sea” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny 9–10/21) – A young woman in a hardscrabble colony on a distant planet must confront a frayed family, repeated betrayal, and venom. Beautifully told.
The Necessity of Stars by E. Catherine Tobler (Neon Hemlock) – A diplomat, suffering from debilitating mental and physical decline, must face both an alien attack and a deteriorating world. Lush prose, although the story seems to insist that the woman’s troubles are routine for age 63.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom) – A lost monk in a solarpunk-style world finds themself, or maybe they get found. Humane and uplifting, as we would expect from Becky Chambers.
And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed (Neon Hemlock) – A murder victim in a brutal world seeks justice — to say more about this lyrical piece would be a spoiler. The tension never ebbs, the language is poetic, the voice is outstanding, and the characters glow with life. I loved this story and A Psalm for the Wild-Built equally, but the poetry and voice in Premee Mohamed’s work was the feather that tipped the scales.