2016 Nebula Nomination Thoughts: Novellas

(I know, I know, the Nebula ballot is yesterday’s news now that the Hugo nominations were released yesterday, but I refuse to touch at least half of that ballot with a ten-foot pole.)

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Nebula ballot in the short fiction categories. I always intend to do it every year, and sometimes I even achieve it! This year I’m actually on track to finish, hopefully before the awards themselves are presented.

So far I’ve read through all the nominated novellas and novelettes (with the exception of a couple that were either unavailable in a free version or inaccessible.) This post will go through my Nebula novella thoughts of those that I’ve read, and the next one will cover the novelettes.

  • Wings of Sorrow and Bone by Beth Cato (Harper Voyager Impulse)
    (Free version unavailable. Will potentially try to read after finishing everything else.)
  • The Bone Swans of Amandale” by C.S.E. Cooney (Bone Swans)
    A beautifully written fairytale combining elements of “The Two Sisters,” “Juniper Tree,” and “The Pied Piper.” It has a intriguing narrator in the form of Maurice the rat, a cunning and entertainingly vulgar individual who acts as both observer and participant in this story’s shenanigans. The word that most describes this novella for me is “solid.” It was a delightful and fun read, and probably the most straightforward of all the novellas nominated. I don’t really have much more thoughts beyond that, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the writing.
  • The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer (Asimov’s 4-5/15)
    The most traditionally-written SFF story of the bunch, this novella is a “what-if” story whose premise lies in a new and curious genetic condition, spread via sexual contact, that causes women to be able to reproduce asexually every time they ovulate and causes men to become sterile. Tessa, a reporter and a lesbian who’s halfway through her pregnancy, seeks to write an article covering the issue from scientific, political, and social angles, all of which take on a more personal meaning for Tessa as she sorts through her feelings of her own IVF pregnancy and the prospect of raising a child.

If you’re going to write a story in which men are potentially threatened with extinction, you might as well write it this way—Fischer’s story effectively highlights how a drastic upheaval in the way human reproduction works, one that renders men obsolete in the act of propagation, would likely be received in the context of the United States’ current turmoil over gender equality, reproductive rights, and the legal definition of a human being. This story is a bit short on character and very heavy on the “what-if” scenario, and the writing itself leans towards overly describing the setting several times, but the “what-if” scenario is realized enough to carry the story.

  • The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik (Tor.com, 4/22/16)
    This novella blew my mind. A story-within-a-story in which a Pakistani-American man who was raised on his Gramps’ stories of his childhood travels to Northern Pakistan for the first time, seeking to uncover the truth behind Gramps’ story of the Pauper Princess and her jinn who lived inside a eucalyptus tree, it mixes magic and science and mysticism and history and folklore and math and religion and cultural identity in equal measure. It’s beautifully written, and the ending comes together in a mind-bendingly satisfying way.
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
    It’s a novella written by Nnedi Okorafor, therefore I would have bought and read it regardless of whether it appeared on the ballot (which in fact I did, a month or so before it was released.) Binti is going to be the first person from the Himba people to go to space. Against her family’s wishes, she’ll attend Oomza University, a school of great cultural renown run by the Khoush, the majority ethnic group. Halfway to the university, Binti and her fellow travelers are attacked by the Meduse, jellyfish-like aliens looking to confront the university for stealing a vital item of cultural significance from their leader. Again, a solidly-written story mixing action and adventure with questions about cultural interaction, appropriation, and imperialism.
  • Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson (Tor.com, 6/10/15)
    I’m not even sure how to compare this novella to the others on the ballot. It’s a light, hilarious yet touching story of a French soldier-turned-courtier with plumbing problems. He’s installed toilets all over Versailles, and every noble is clamoring to have this latest fashionable contraption. Powering this vast network of plumbing is a mischievous, child-like nixie, who may or may not be interested in doing the job Sylvain has set her to do. It’s strange and unusual and ridiculous (as is appropriate for a story set in the court of Versailles), and it’s also clever and tightly-plotted, and why am I having all these feelings for an “Enlightenment-era French slut” (author’s own words)?

My vote: If I had the ability to cast a vote, I’d pick “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn.” All the novellas I read were strong in their own ways, but Usman T. Malik’s story stands out for me as one that will continue to have an impact upon re-read and will stand the test of time the best. If I were going solely by enjoyment factor, I’d probably pick “Waters of Versailles” since it pushes all my buttons, and again I must ask why I have so many feelings about a story about MAGICAL PLUMBING?

Review: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

exit pursued by a bear

I’m going to begin this review by talking about an entirely different story first.

A couple days before reading Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I read a short story titled “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” by Kelly Robson. It’s a good story and well-written, and violent—at its core is the physical, mental, and cultural violence surrounding sexual assault.

Browsing the author’s blog, I came across a post in which she was responding to another author’s sentiment that the story wasn’t worth reading because of the gruesome sexual assault. Robson wrote that she believed it important and necessary to depict a violent and upsetting reality (without being gratuitous) because otherwise she would be contributing to the erasure of a reality that currently exists and most people ignore (specifically the preying on Native American women.)

I then read a different blogpost the second author had written a few years ago, which in the comments she advocates for more stories being written with realities where people simply don’t rape other people, as a way of showing readers what that kind of reality can look like.

The reason I bring up this particular short story and the conversation that occurred regarding if, how, and why rape should or shouldn’t be portrayed in the first place in fiction is because I found myself asking questions about Exit, Pursued By a Bear while reading it that paralleled the situation I just described. Not about the portrayal of rape, however, but its aftermath.

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Review: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

swordspoint

“Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph…”

So opens Swordspoint, subtitled A Melodrama of Manners, the first novel set in the fictional world containing the City with its neighborhood Riverside, long ago abandoned by the nobility and now the home of the city’s more disreputable citizens—such as swordsmen.

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Review: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

yaqui delgado

Piddy Sanchez’ perfectly normal morning gets interrupted by some girl informing her that Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy’s not sure why—she doesn’t even know who Yaqui is or why Yaqui has it out for her. Maybe it’s that she has whiter skin than the other Latina girls at school. Or could it have something to do with the fact that her ass now seems to have a mind of its own when Piddy walks?

Regardless, Yaqui means business, and she makes sure Piddy knows it. Piddy tries to find ways to deflect the harassment and get Yaqui off her back, but the bullying continues to get worse, extending outside of school into her home life and weekend job at the neighborhood salon. How can Piddy survive when every action she takes is guaranteed to cause even worse backlash from Yaqui and her friends?

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Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

a gathering of shadows

“I am Delilah Bard, she thought, as the ropes cut her skin. I am a thief and a pirate and a traveler. I have set foots in three different worlds, and lived. I have shed the blood of royals and held magic in my hands. And a ship full of men cannot do what I can. I don’t need any of you.

I am one of a damned kind.”

I will need to restrain myself so this review doesn’t consist solely of me screaming AAAAHHHH LILA OMFG LILA, LILA IS AWESOME. It’s going to be difficult, but I will do my best.

Warning: This review will discuss the outcome of the first book A Darker Shade of Magic. If you haven’t read it and would like to remain unspoiled, feel free to skip this review and go read A Darker Shade of Magic instead.

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