Book Review: The Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 edited by Kevin J. Anderson

Being in the mood to get back into writing short fiction at the beginning of the year, I decided to read some to get in the mood.  Perusing my trusty book-buying website I came across this volume at a special price and decided to give it a try.  Though I write a lot of science fiction and fantasy I don’t really keep up with the field, but once in a while I enjoy taking a peek and seeing what’s going on.

I very much like the new format of the Nebula Awards volumes.  First all the short story nominees are presented, along with the winner, then the novelette nominees and winner, and finally the winning novella.  In addition, there are bonus stories from the Author Emeritus and new Grand Master.  All in all, it’s a good full selection of reading material.

So I started at the beginning, with the short stories.  I love well-written short stories, but I have to admit that as I read the first several I was disappointed.  They were decent enough stories, nothing wrong with them, but I expect award-nominated stories to be not only decent but exceptional, thrilling, the kind that at the end make you think, “Yeah, that’s why I read science fiction.”  Perhaps I’m spoiled because I read my first Nebula Awards volumes way back in the late sixties and early seventies, and the stories in those books were in-your-face out-and-out classics.  There were some ho-hums in that bunch too, but there were also amazing pieces by the likes of Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Samuel Delaney, Robert Silverberg, and other luminaries of the field.  Perhaps I set my sights too high, but I was looking to be blown away.  The only short story that met my expectations was “Bridesicle” by Will McIntosh.  Though hampered by an inappropriate title that suggests slapstick humor, the story is in fact an unusual, heartfelt, and entertaining look at love enduring through the centuries, even beyond apparent death, due to cryogenics.

It was in the novelette section, however, where things got really interesting.  It starts off with Paolo Bacigalupi’s terrific story “The Gambler”, and moves on to first-rate stories by Michael Bishop, Richard Bowes, Ted Kosmatka, Rachel Swirsky, and Eugie Foster.  Three or four out of the six I would consider Nebula Award quality, and it must have been a tough choice for the voters.

Finally, Kage Baker’s award-winning novella “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s” is presented.  It’s a fine, absorbing look at a group of hookers in Victorian England who not only ply their trade but find out information and go on missions for a secret society.

All in all, the reading of this anthology was a very positive experience.  As I mentioned, the format is exemplary; the fact that all the nominees in the shorter categories are included is a big plus and would encourage me to seek out further volumes.  I don’t expect every story in any sort of anthology to turn me on, so I was not surprised or unduly disappointed that the short story nominees were rather weak; the superlative quality of the novelette nominees and the winning novella more than made up for it.

Apart from a boxed set of Heinlein novels and another boxed set of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy which my maternal grandmother gave me at diverse Christmases, my introduction to the field of science fiction and fantasy was the shelf of Nebula Awards volumes at our local library.  Some had stronger stories than others, but they were all guarantees of a great reading experience.  It’s good to see that the tradition is ongoing.

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