The OF Blog: Brief thoughts on the Nebula shortlists

Friday, February 20, 2015

Brief thoughts on the Nebula shortlists

So the latest installment of the Nebula Awards shortlists have now been released.  It's a list, yes, but as a reader of all sorts of fictions, it is a disappointing list, one that (especially in the novel category, but to some degree in other categories) still gives off that faint miasmic whiff of logrolling and "political" blocs.  Yes, there are some very good works on there (including two on the Novel shortlist), but really do we have to nominate yet another Jack McDevitt or his seeming generational successor, Ann Leckie?

Perhaps as an increasingly distant outsider, I am missing some subtly great stories, but it seems, based on admittedly spotty sampling of the finalists, that while there is some experimentation and broadening of scope beyond the so-called "core genre," that no matter how much some gussy up their tales with needed socio-cultural diverse characters and locales, the main content and story focus remain very much stuck in the same paradigms of the past four decades.  The majority of the stories I've read from these SF publishers are stagnant; they seem to focus more on demonstrating too much of an "awareness" of previous genre stories, skimping too much on developing new models, new techniques for these changing worlds of ours.

Maybe I'm just disappointed that this feels like the literary equivalent of Nickelback or Coldplay.  Sure, many loved them once, but the repetition of formula yields diminishing returns over the years.  Same seems to hold true with contemporary SF, or at least that which is heralded as being of it, by it, and for it and its dedicated readers.  The best SF these days, ironically, seems to be written by "literary fiction" writers.  Whenever it is translated into English, Antoine Volodine's Terminus radieux may be one of the better post-Collapse novels written this decade.  David Cronenberg's Consumed easily can be read as a SF novel, albeit one that focuses more on characterization and how people slot into an increasingly voyeuristic world.  John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van does a much better job at portraying a SFnal community/ethos than did Jo Walton's Among Others.  These books, which are just the tip of the iceberg of 2014 releases that contained SF elements, certainly would have made for a more interesting novel category than the majority of the nominees.  Again, McDevitt?  Leckie?  A disappointing Addison/Monette novel (she's written much better work, especially her short stories)?  These are the best SF novels of 2014 according to SFWA?  I cannot help but think either whole swaths of excellent stories were not read by the majority of the voters or that perhaps self-interest justified supporting some tales at the expense of plausibly much more qualified narratives.

But in the end, does it really matter, any of this?  Increasingly, I've become convinced that it doesn't.  I'm surprised that I wrote this much about a matter that is less important than discovering and championing stories that are published on the margins of these literary subfields.  Now back to reading other imaginative fictions, perchance to marvel over.


Jonathan M said...

Larry... They're going to take your thumbs for this.

Larry Nolen said...

That is if they know of this blog's existence these days! ;)

Anonymous said...

I thought you'd stop taking any interest in anything fantasy or science fiction related.

Larry Nolen said...

I largely have, at least those published under SF/F genre imprints. But as a storytelling mode, I do occasionally encounter some stories that fascinate me. Unfortunately, most of those aren't usually bandied about for SF/F awards consideration.

Anonymous said...

*claps slowly* Bravo Mr Nolen.

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