Nebula Short Story Nominees – Some Thoughts

I’m not a huge short story reader. Up until last month, I rarely read them, and the majority of the ones I did read were assigned for English class in high school. I generally found them too short to be satisfying because I wanted more of the story, more of the setting and the characters, and I couldn’t get those because of the length restriction. I also have a horrible time reading short story collections and anthologies because I’m the type of person that has to read one book at a time, and I can’t read more than a couple stories at a time without getting really frustrated, so it usually takes me forever to finish an entire collection.

However, sometime in the middle of February, I started reading online sff webzines, such as Clarkesworld, Fantasy, Lightspeed, and Apex. I’ve really enjoyed a lot of what I read, and for some reason the mental block that hinders me when I read short stories in print doesn’t apply as much to what I read online, probably because I don’t have to read them all at once, I can read one story per day and not feel obligated to read all the rest.

Anyway, when the 2010 Nebula nominees were announced and I saw that a lot of the short fiction nominees were online, I decided I should read them in order to better judge for myself which stories should win for their respective categories and to later compare my thoughts with the final outcome. I don’t necessarily believe that literature awards are the be-all, end-all when it comes to determining whether something is the “best”, but I like seeing the process and results of other people trying to figure out exactly that, and the awards are a good way of highlighting what sorts of stories people are writing, whether you like them or not.

For short(er) fiction, the Nebulas give awards for the best novella, novelette, and short story. I’m still working my way through the novellas and novelettes, but as of a week or so ago, I finished reading all of the nominated short stories, so I thought I’d post my thoughts. All except two are available online.

“How Interesting: A Tiny Man” by Harlan Ellison: This was a solid story about a man who one day creates a miniature male human whom he cares for until people start denouncing the existence of the tiny man, screaming that it’s obscene, and so the creator and tiny man go on the run to avoid the tiny man being killed. It’s a simple story, but it’s told really well, and the writing is very clear and concise. However, compared to some of the others, it’s not my favorite.

Arvies” by Adam-Troy Castro: When I first finished reading this, I went and wrote, “OMG I WANT THIS TO WIN THE NEBULA SO BADLY.” My feelings have since changed somewhat, but that in no way diminishes the awesomeness of this story. In a world where being born is the equivalent of becoming dead and only fetuses living inside “dead” humans called arvies are considered alive, a famous fetus named Jennifer Axioma-Singh does the unthinkable when she announces her intention to experience pregnancy and give birth to a baby (through her arvie). It is basically a huge analogy to the U.S. pro-life movement, but it is completely accurate and dead-on its depiction of their logic behind whether someone is considered alive or dead, or even deserving of rights to agency and choice. Very relevant and very thought-provoking. It is a little light on the “story” part of the story, but I like it way too much to care.

I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” by Vylar Kaftan: This is a short, sweet love story that goes awry due to the side effects of traveling at the speed of light. It’s really adorable, and has a ton of science references thrown in, but in a cool way that makes sense.

Ghosts of New York” by Jennifer Pelland: A really good horror story about a woman in the World Trade Center on 9/11 who jumped out the window to her death when the plane crashed into the building and is condemned to live as a ghost and jump out of that window, experiencing every detail of her death over, and over, and over for eternity. It’s so well-written and it is creepy as fuck.

Ponies” by Kij Johnson: Also creepy as fuck. It has a very “Mean Girls” vibe, in that it’s all about girls fitting in and becoming a TopGirl by cutting off parts of their ponies’ anatomy, and the ponies are made of sugar, cotton candy, and everything nice. Kij Johnson is really good at writing these types of stories. Everyone: read “Spar“. It is the best tentacle porn you will ever read (I call the story this in the most complimentary way possible).

The Green Book“: by Amal El-Mohtar: This story was beautiful. The writing was so lush I wanted to wrap myself up in it, the structure was innovative and worked well, and it was just all-around excellent. In this book, a man finds a creepy, old book and starts communicating with the soul of a dead woman that the book absorbed centuries ago. I cannot sing this story’s and the author’s praises loud enough, but oh my god, I loved the story so much and I now want to read everything the author has written and will ever write.

“Conditional Love” by Felicity Shoulders: This was probably my least favorite story. It’s about a doctor living in a future where parents can order create gene-manipulated children with special abilities, but sometimes the process is a failure and then they’re stuffed into a hospital. One of her patients is a little boy who imprints on everyone he meets, but immediately forgets they exist every time they leave. It’s written well, and there’s nothing technically wrong with it, but compared to the rest of the stories, it couldn’t measure up.

So if I were in charge of the awards, I’d give “The Green Book” the Nebula and have “Arvies” and “Ghosts of New York” tie for second place. All in all though, the majority of the stories were really strong and I’m really enjoying reading all this short fiction. Yay for new time-sinks!

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