19 March 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Review: Nebula Short Story Nominees

written by David Steffen

You can find a full list of the 2013 Nebula nominees here. This is a review of the short stories nominated this year for the Nebulas, which are chosen by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

1. ‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,” Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
The story of an interplanetary colonist from Earth who traveled with her husband with the expectation that they would be able to return in ten years, but a pathogen keeps them from returning. Their daughter, born on the colony, has never seen Earth and has grown up with her mother’s stories of the old world. This story has roots in the experience of immigrants here on Earth, but is all the more heartfelt for the differences rendered by SFnal treatment.

Top notch. Not much else to say, just go read it. This is easily my pick for the category.

 

2. ‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,” Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
Old Earth isn’t worth preserving anymore, most people say. It should be broken down into its component materials for the further development of New Earth. But not everyone wants to evacuate the planet. For people who have spent their whole lives there, raised their families there, that’s a difficult and painful transition to make.

Not a bad story. I felt for the character, but it was a bit maudlin for my tastes. There is conflict, certainly, but nothing that the character can do anything about so the story just kind of happens around him. Not bad, but just not my cup of tea, I guess.

 

3. ‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,” Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
This is told as though it were one of those audio tours you can sometimes get at museums to walk you through the exhibits in some meaningful order. It steps through an artist’s works from the beginning of her career to her death, examining how her technique changed with events in her life, in particular in the representation of loved ones who had died.

I found the technique for this one served to only increase the distance between me and the character so that she’s a historical figure of little importance to me rather than really immersing me in the story. It was very faithful to its medium–I would enjoy listening to this in headphones as I walked around an art exhibit looking at each of the works as it’s described. But on its own, without the actual art having been created and shown to me in parallel, it reads pretty much like I’d expect a museum tour to read without being able to be there or look at anything–kind of interesting but very prolonged and all of the most interesting stuff is not onstage. I found some of the discussion questions after each painting rather annoying because so many seem to be based around the writer of the audio tour not really paying attention to the quote the author herself gave about why some figures are drawn differently than others. If Mr. Schneyer hired an artist to make the paintings that go along with this story and presented them together, I’d happily buy the ebook for that.

 

4. ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
This story starts out with the whimsical hypothetical in the title, as spoken by a woman to a friend she loves dearly, and continues on to give real life reasons why she is pondering this whimsy.

The characters read as real once the story got to the story, but I found all the hypotheticals more irritating than entertaining or illuminating. If A, then B. If B, then C. If C, then D. A story this short shouldn’t feel too long, but to me it does. Eventually the story gets to the actual story behind the hypotheticals, but by that time I was just impatient for it to be over.

 

5. ‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
A girl’s mother leaves her family behind. The girl thinks the circumstances imply that her mother is a selkie (a mythical shapeshifting creature that could turn into a seal by pulling on her sealskin, but would be trapped in human form if that skin was stolen).

Most of the body of the story is the girl criticizing the tropes of selkie stories, which I wasn’t very interested in, partly because I haven’t seen enough selkie stories to really say whether her tropes are actually accurate or not. While some of the circumstances of her mother leaving match a selkie story, I didn’t see any really strong evidence that that was the case, so it just seemed to be a story about a neurotic fixation caused by family trauma. The family trauma, perhaps I should’ve felt moved by, but it happened before the story started, and rather than confront the real situation she spends all of her time obsessing about selkie stories.

Not my thing, I guess.

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