The mammoth book of Nebula Awards SF

Posted: September 1, 2015 in Book reviews

Edited by Kevin J Anderson


This anthology represents those stories nominated for the 2009 Nebulas. It was an interesting read, and as with any anthology featuring multiple writers the quality of the stories is variable, although in this instance one feels a little guilty for disliking a story given that these are all award nominated, and in some instances award winning, tales!

But I guess it really would be a dull world if we all liked everything! What follows is my take on the various categories, and obviously other, probably more valid, opinions are available!

In the short story category my favourite was probably Will McIntosh’s Bridesicle, a romantic tale of a cryogenic dating agency for dead people. It’s clever, thoughtful and really rather sweet.

I also liked I Remember The Future by Michael A Burstein, a melancholic tale about an aging science fiction writer that melds fact and fiction very well.

Non-Zero Probabilities by N.K. Jemisin, a story about a New York where anything that can happen will happen is kinda fun, and Spar by Kij Johnson (the eventual Nebula winner) is interesting, even if the tale of a human woman trapped in a life pod having constant sex with an Alien is a bit near the knuckle at times.

I was less keen on Hooves And the Hovel Of Abdel Jameela, a fairly generic magical fantasy tale I thought, made interesting only by the medieval Islamic setting but the one I really disliked was Going Deep by James Patrick Kelly, which was a bit of a chore to read and didn’t really go anywhere, effectively featuring a couple of interesting ideas in search of a plot and some remotely engaging characters.

In the novelette category the standout for me was Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka, it’s a little heavy going and does try and teach you some quantum physics, but the eventual payoff is worth the ride, it went in a direction I never saw coming, and somewhere downright creepy.

Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman Beast by Eugie Foster (the winning tale) was an interesting take on a dystopian society, where people are controlled via masks that rewrite their personality, and their DNA it seems, on a daily basis.

Of the rest none really grabbed me. Vinegar Peace by Michael Bishop had an interesting premise, namely that the parents of soldiers killed in action end up sent to a kind of reverse orphanage. It’s a tale primarily about grief, but was a little too quirky for me. The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi had some interesting characters, and maybe in 2009 it seemed fresher, but the tale of genuine journalism being usurped by celebrity seems old hat read in 2015.

I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said by Richard Bowes, is a rather odd tale about a man in hospital and his imagined (probably?) interactions with various spectral figures. It’s more interesting than it sounds, but again a trifle out there for me. I hate to admit this, but I skipped A Memory of Wind by Rachel Swirsky, I tried reading the first couple of pages but really couldn’t get into it, and skipping to end seemed to suggest not a lot unexpected happened!

This leaves the Novella category, and there was only one entry, the winner, The Women of Nell Gwynne’s by Kage Baker. I really enjoyed this tale of Victorian ladies of the night working for a secret steampunk organisation. It has great characters and great situations. The only criticism I had was that it ends up a bit limply, but it’s a fun ride up until this.

Aside from this there’s some poetry, which I’m afraid to say just isn’t my thing, and stories from writers honoured by the 2009 Nebulas, Neal Barrett Jr. and Joe Haldeman. Haldeman’s story is fun but forgettable, but I’m afraid I wasn’t too keen on Barrett’s tale.

All in all it was an interesting read, with some very good stories, some enjoyable stories, and a few that make me wonder what other people saw in them!

Typical anthology really!

  1. I like the idea of putting together a collection like this – like you say though, it’s still always going to be a matter of taste!

  2. starkers70 says:

    I imagine putting an anthology together must be really hard, not just picking the stories but deciding what order to put them in. Do you start with the strongest story or leave that till the end? There must be a very specific knack to it.

  3. Was ‘I Needs Must Part’ influenced by Phillip K Dick’s ‘Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said’? Both ‘I needs must part’ and ‘Flow my tears’ are lyrics by Dowland, which suggests to me that there’s a link.

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