Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

2013 Nebula Awards – Short Story

with 2 comments

I should have written about ‘Spin’ by Nina Allan for the BSFA Award short story club by now but I moved house a couple of weeks ago and my copy is packed in a box somewhere. So I’ll be waiting for the awards booklet to be send out to BSFA members before continuing. I used the pause to have a look at the recently announced short story shortlist for the Nebula Awards (all available online) to see if it had any likely contenders for my Hugo ballot. The short answer is no.

This is not to say it is all bad but whilst there are two very good stories on the list, they are no use to me. The first is ‘Selkie Stories Are For Losers’ by Sophia Samatar which I’ve already written about. The second is ‘If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love’ by Rachel Swirsky which contains no speculative elements whatsoever.

Next we have two examples of RUMIR that awards should weed out but instead tend to elevate. ‘Selected Program Notes From The Retrospective Exhibition Of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer’ by Kenneth Schneyer is a slipstream story told through the medium of the title, a frame that exists solely to conceal the fact the doesn’t get any further than feeling very slightly strange. Meanwhile ‘The Sounds Of Old Earth’ sees Matthew Kressel pretending to be Mike Resnick by writing about a dude who neglects his family because of nostalgia but gets a hug in the end.

Finally, there is ‘Alive, Alive Oh’ by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. This is less a story than a scientific experiment to see how much much contrivance and sentimentality can be crammed into 3,000 words as possible. “Sad and beautiful”, say the comments; “devastating and brilliant”. It is a pile of shite of ‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’ proportions (though not actively offensive in the same way). It is a problem for SF that stories like this regularly get through the slush, the fact they make it on to award shortlists is a travesty.

Oh well, I’m sure the Hugo shortlist will be better…

Written by Martin

10 March 2014 at 15:46

Posted in awards, sf, short stories

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  1. I feel like I should come to the defense of “The Sounds of Old Earth.” It’s not my favorite story – it was slightly off the bottom of my list of potential nominees, which you’ve seen – but the comparison to Resnick is unfair. Or, more precisely, it’s instructive, because as you say the premise has Resnick’s name all over it but I think Kressel’s execution calls attention to the ways in which he is a better writer. Resnick’s fiction is characterized by a saccharine sentimentality that I think this story lacks – I can’t, for example, imagine Resnick creating the narrator’s hard-drinking, hard-screwing teenage houseguests, whom he obviously finds alienating even as he welcomes them into his home, and Kressel is much more sympathetic to the narrator’s exasperated family, while also stressing the horror of what’s going to happen to the Earth.

    On the other hand, I can’t disagree about “Alive, Alive Oh,” a piece of maudlin, manipulative claptrap that is sadly fight up the Hugo voters’ alley.


    10 March 2014 at 18:13

  2. The comparison is to Resnick is cruel – Kressel is certainly a better writer – but I’m not sure it is entirely unfair. So it is true that Resnick lacks the empathy to have written the teenage houseguests sympathetically but that section still ends on a highly sentimental note:

    She stands there, and again she reminds me of my granddaughter who I never see. I want to hug her and tell her the future will be xin, that everything will work out, eventually. But I’m too drunk to lie. “It’s late, Lin. Go to bed.”

    A tear rolls down her cheek. She nods and turns away. I close the door, feeling as if I’ve missed something important. It takes me forever to fall back asleep.

    The next morning, the kids are gone. The house looks as if a tornado has blown through. But one bedroom has been tidied, and there’s a note on the nightstand.

    “The frogs are beautiful. You are beautiful. Thank you for a perfect day. —Lin.”

    I hold the note in my hand and stare out the window into the empty yard. I already miss their laughter.

    I’m also less convinced the depiction of the family is sympathetic, They escalate to exasperated unreasonably quickly which seems to confirm the narrator’s own view that he is hard done by. Then, out of the blue, we have the revelation that they have been secretly working on a huge surprise for him – one grand gesture standing in for a proper relationship.

    More broadly, it seems like the sort of clumsy, old fashioned SF of which Resnick is one of many practioners. I mean, check out this dialogue:

    My granddaughter beamed and said, “I got a full scholarship to GE Sinopec!”

    “GE Sinopec?” I said.

    “An orbital university!”

    “Oh, wa!” I said. “A full scholarship? That’s xin!”

    “As a reward,” Josef said, “Esther and I have decided to buy Rach a small lobber. You’d be surprised at how affordable they’ve become.”


    10 March 2014 at 21:16

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