My Nebula Ballot 2015

written by David Steffen

The Nebula awards are nominated and voted by members of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.  I have been a member of SFWA in the past, but have chosen not to maintain my membership dues so I am not currently a member.  So I can’t actually vote.  But I do still follow the Nebula awards, and so I thought it worth posting my ballot as if I had the right to vote.  The Nebula ballot has only 5 categories, four of them for lengths of written fiction and one for the Ray Bradbury Award for film.  Unlike the Hugos, its voting system only allows you to vote for one thing, rather than rank-ordering all of them and doing instant runoff votes like the Hugos, so I will structure my post accordingly.  You can find the full list of nominees here.

Because I don’t tend to read many novellas, because the Nebula voting period is so short, and because I was spent some of the Nebula voting period reading books for short-term review deadlines, I didn’t read any of the novella nominees this year.

Best Novel

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice.  I reviewed Ancillary Justice here.  I gave Ancillary Sword a more lengthy review here.  The story picks up shortly after the evens of Ancillary Justice.  Breq the body-bound ship AI is now in the employ of Anaander Miaanai, the many-bodied emperor that rules over most of the colonized universe, albeit with a schism that has divided herself into a civil war.  With the shutdown of the gate system that most ships depend on for transport between the stars, the empire has been thrown into disarray.  Miaanai orders Breq to visit Athoek Station.  This is the only assignment Breq would have accepted from the emperor, because she owes a debt to the sister of Lieutenant Awn, one of her former crew members who had died in her service.

It’s hard to match the novelty of Ancillary Justice, especially since one of the things I loved about that first book were the flashback sequences in the many-bodied ship AI with ancillary system.  But this was a solid entry in its own right.  I thought it felt rather incomplete, like the first half of a book rather than a whole book, to be concluded with Ancillary Mercy, but was still a good book, worthy of an award.

Best Novelette

“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 12/14)

(this review was part of my Nebula Novelette review, where I review the 3 nominated novelettes I found time to read)

The protagonist of the story is an every expanding near-omniscient near-omnipotent AI.  It thinks it has everything under control, but it discovers a new threat, an inscrutable impossible unprovable threat–magic.  The alteration of probability which only manifests when it can’t be proved.  Alteration of probability isn’t inherently provable because there’s always a chance it could’ve turned out that way anyway, but when the same person can twist it in their favor time and time again, even if it’s not provable.

This story was great on so many levels.  The outcome was never certain because the two sides are so powerful, but differently powerful.  I love a great mix of science fiction and fantasy like this.  Epic, fun, exciting.

Best Short Story

“The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” Matthew Kressel (Clarkesworld 5/14)

(this is an excerpt of my Nebula Short Story Review, where I review all 7 nominated short stories)

Humanity has been gone for eons, and there’s not much of interest going on anymore so the Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye have a lot of time just to talk.  Until they find the DNA encoding of a human named Beth in a pod and recreate her.  She is terribly ill and she only has time to hint at a secret that even the All-Seeing Eye doesn’t know before she dies from her illness.  The Eye cannot allow this, and sets out to recreate Beth again and again and again, but each time they can’t keep her alive long enough.

I really enjoyed this story.  The tone seems light at the beginning, like an intergalactic buddy road trip between the Meeker and the Eye, but as the Eye seeks Beth’s secret’s relentlessly it gets much darker. Solidly entertaining, far future SF.

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Edge of Tomorrow, Screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (Warner Bros. Pictures)

(this is an excerpt of my Ray Bradbury Award Review, where I review the 5 nominated films that I could find rentals for)

Earth is under attack from an alien force known only as mimics, viciously deadly enemies that humans have only one battle against.  Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) works in PR for the US military and has been ordered to the frontier of the war in France.  The general in charge of the war effort orders Cage to go to the front lines to cover the war.  When Cage attempts to blackmail his way out of the mission, he is taken under arrest and dropped at the front with the claim that he had tried to go AWOL and so is quickly forced into service, given only the most passing training in the mechsuits that are standard issue, and dropped into battle with everyone else.  This area was supposed to be fairly quiet, but the battle here is intense.  Cage manages to kill one of the mimics, but dies in the act, only to wake up earlier in the day when he’d woken on the base in handcuffs after the general had him arrested. He dies again, and again, and again.  No one else has any memory of reliving the day except for Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the super-soldier nicknamed “Full Metal Bitch” after she wreaked havoc against the mimics in the only battle against the mimics that the humans have won.  She confides that she had won that battle because she had gone through the same thing he had–as long as he dies he will always restart at the same time and place.

I avoided this movie in theaters, because I haven’t really gone to any Tom Cruise movies since he kindof went publicly nuts.  But I rented this one since it was nominated.  I thought Tom Cruise was back to old form in it, and even if you don’t like it, well you get to see him die literally dozens of times.  I thought Emily Blunt was especially good in her role as Rita, powerful but still affected by the PTSD of dying over and over and seeing so many die around her over.  The looping-after-death element makes for a cool dynamic when well-plotted and when placed against large enough obstacles, which was well done here.  Good spec FX, good casting all around, solidly entertaining.