Friday, January 22, 2016

Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2015

After reading the Nebula Awards Showcase for 2009, I was interested in reading a showcase for a more recent year. Since I've been writing a lot of short stories lately, I figured it would only help me to read high quality, award-winning stories. As I've mentioned before, anthologies this like are also a great way to discover new and amazing authors. Since I got a couple of Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas, I thought I'd see what they had in my local store. I found the Nebula Awards Showcase 2015, and decided to check it out.

From the very first story, Rachel Swirsky's haunting "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love," this book captured me. Swirsky's writing is lyrical, even whimsical, yet she builds the tension into an unexpectedly tragic end. Likewise, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley's "Alive, Alive Oh" is a deeply moving story of a mother trying to give her daughter a happy childhood despite their unnatural circumstances, only to have her well-intentioned efforts lead to heart-rending tragedy instead. These two stories stayed with me long after I read them, a tribute to their profound power. I also enjoyed Sophia Samatar's "Selkie Stories Are for Losers," a story about abandonment, loss, and the pain of adolescence, and Matthew Kessel's "The Sounds of Old Earth," a dystopian vision of a future where the Earth is scrapped for parts.
The only one of the short stories to fall flat for me was "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer." This story was structured as program notes, which after a few paragraphs felt unwieldy and pretentious.

Of the novelettes, I most enjoyed Aliette de Bodard's "The Waiting Stars" and Henry Lien's "Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters." Bodard creates a fascinating world, with a unique and imaginative take on AI. Likewise, Lien's world is rich and intriguing, but his narrative voice is what makes the story so wildly entertaining and often hilariously funny. Alaya Dawn Johnson's "They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass" begins as a typical "humans oppressed by aliens" story, yet as the main characters' journey progresses, it becomes a sharp satire of the Iraq War, with all the tragic misunderstandings and horrible consequences of nation-building in a country that's been devastated by war.

The winner for best novella, Vylar Kaftan's "The Weight of the Sunrise," is a beautiful and evocative depiction of a world where the Incan Empire never fell, and Colonial Americans must seek the Incan Emporer's aid in their fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. It's a compelling concept, and Kaftan's depiction of the opulent Incan empire is rich and complex. Yet, it's seeing the "noble" American Revolutionary through the eyes of a humane outsider that gives the story it's power. Incan society has deep rifts--the Emperor runs a totalitarian government, and demands child sacrifice and absolute obedience from his subjects. Yet, the American who professes to believe in Democracy keeps slaves, including his own brother, in abominable conditions. Instead of offering the Inca an end to small pox out of decency and humanity, the Americans would use their vaccine to barter for gold, which the Incans consider sacred. If the ending of the story feels a bit forced, the strong characters and keen insight into what makes a society truly admirable makes this story well worth reading.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction or fantasy. Beautiful stories by a wide variety of writers--what more could a fan ask for?

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