Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 review

Ian finds the latest celebration of literary sci-fi excellence fascinating, but incestuous...

Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 review

Author: Ben Bova (ed)Publisher: Roc Science FictionISBN: 978-0-451-46188-9RRP: £10.99Website: www.penguin.com

A Nebula Award is extremely prestigious. Win one, and you’re made. Bestowed by the by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (a sort of trades union for sci-fi authors), the Awards are divided into five categories; Novel, Novella (a short novel), Novelette (a long short story), Short Story (a short short story) and Script, which can be for a movie, TV programme, a radio show or stage play. Rather than restrict itself to material produced in a specific calendar year, a work is eligible for a Nebula Award for 12 months after its publication date. Thus, a qualifying piece of writing published in June 2008 would be eligible for nominations until May 2009. If it picks up ten, it’s entered into the ballot for a possible award.

You might think there’s method to this madness. After all, organising the awards like this means they can select the winners mid-year and get (for example) 2008’s book on the shelves in 2008, instead of working one year in arrears and appearing out of date. You’d be wrong. The works presented in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2008 were collated by June 2007, and won their Nebula Awards in 2006. Hmmm…

Enough about the awards; let’s look at the stories. There’s no doubt there’s some fine material in here, with all four of the shorter works offered in full along with an excerpt from the Best Novel winner (‘Seeker’, by Jack McDevitt). Elizabeth Hand’s ‘Echo’ (Best Short Story) is a harrowing tale of long-distance love, drawn from her own experiences of being out of touch with a close friend who was on assignment in Iraq. ‘Burn’ by James Patrick Kelly (Best Novella) is a thought-provoking tale about the dangers of building societies based on dogma, and ‘Two Hearts’ by Peter S. Beagle (Best Novelette) is the sequel to his hugely popular work of 37 years ago, The Last Unicorn. If you’ve been wondering what King Lir did in his dotage, now’s your chance to find out. Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (Best Script) is a book-to-film adaptation of a Japanese fantasy. Interestingly, one of the scripts it beat to win the award was Steven Moffat’s brilliant Doctor Who episode ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, which the awards committee presumably found too mainstream. Or to British…

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Augmenting the award-winning works, and padding out the book’s 372 pages, are some of the finalists that didn’t bag a gong, several essays on the current state of science fiction and sci-fi awards (!), and bizarrely, the winners of the Rhysling Awards for Best Long Poem, Short Poem and Dwarf Star (very short poem). Personally, I’d rather have more losing nominees see their work reach a wider audience, offering a sampler of the best science fiction around. A book of sci-fi shorts is not the logical home for poetry, and while interesting, the essays would’ve been more at home on the SFWA’s website.

When awards are nominated and selected by their own industry there’s a danger they can get incestuous, and the Nebula Awards are no exception. A category for Best Newcomer wouldn’t be amiss, and maybe an award that’s voted on by the general public instead of other science fiction writers might counterbalance the who-you-know feel permeating the awards as a whole. Even so, there’s some great material in here. Dropping the essays and poems in favour of more stories from the unsuccessful nominees would have broadened the book’s overall appeal, but serious sci-fi connoisseurs will love it as it is.

3 stars

Rating:

3 out of 5