Nebula Awards 33, ed. by Connie Willis

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Nebula Awards 33, ed. by Connie Willis, Harcourt Brace, 1999, ISBN 0-15-600601-4, $13.00, 272pp.

The latest collection of this long-running series that presents the award-winning fiction for the previous year. I’ll comment on the individual stories:

  • Jane Yolen, “Sister Emily’s Lightship” — I’ve never been a Yolen fan. While I find her prose professional enough, I’ve never read anything by her that would make me jump up and rush out to force someone to read it. This story is no exception. The premise of Emily Dickinson meeting an alien is too…precious, and Yolen’s sole contribution to that premise in this story is to emphasize some of the ethereal and otherworldly quality of Dickinson’s poetry, and that doesn’t come until the end. Yeah, she did her Dickinson research, but so what? Other than the alien, there is no reason for this story to be science fiction (see “Abbess Phone Home” in the Turkey City Lexicon).
  • James Patrick Kelly, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” — I read this one last year and commented on it in this space. It was better on the re-reading, using technology of the future to portray a true human characteristic.
  • Vonda McIntyre, excerpt from The Moon and the Sun — As someone who has not read this Nebula-winning novel, the excerpt presented here does exactly what it is supposed to do–whet your appetite for more. I had no idea what the subject of the book was before I read this, now I do, and have had a taste of how it is told. I’m not going to rush out and get it, but I’m much more interested now than I was before.
  • Nancy Kress, “The Flowers of Aulit Prison” — An excellent story with its basis in that most Phil Dick-ian question, “What is reality?” This is the kind of SF that I look for, where aliens help us understand, through them as a metaphor, a fundamental idea of life. That it has a plot, an unique setting, and fascinating characters makes it an award winner. I’m not giving anything away with this one, but just point you to it and say, “go read.”
  • Gregory Feeley, “The Crab Lice” — I disliked the beginning of this story so much that I didn’t even finish it. There was nothing for me to grab onto to orient myself in the story, and life is just too short.
  • Nelson Bond, “The Bookshop” — A nice little classic story, where every writer’s fantasy comes true, but at a price, of course. You could do a collection of these ultimate library tales (Jorge Luis Borges comes to mind).
  • James Alan Gardner, “Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Bloodstream” — Another one that I have written about before. It’s a great story, with some unique twists to alternate history (so much better than the Feeley).
  • Michael Swanwick, “The Dead” — An audacious story, and right up my alley. I liked it well enough, but there was something missing–I’m not sure what, maybe more of an explanation for the Donald character and his background. The anger that it stems from is good.
  • Karen Joy Fowler, “The Elizabeth Complex” — This could have been as bad as the Yolen, yet it works to some extent because of its experimental nature. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of these things, but once was interesting.
  • Jerry Oltion, “Abandon in Place” — Wow, I liked this story a lot, even though it is so ridiculous that it is laughable. One must come at this as if reading a fairy tale–there is nothing plausible here. The science is bogus, the characters are straight wish-fulfillment from Robert A. Heinlein days. But the mythology is strong, and if one has any remorse for the space program whatsoever, there’s a good chance that it will tug the correct strings.
  • Poul Anderson, “The Martyr” — A classic from the latest grand master, a nice little mystery about why those infuriating aliens continue to treat us differently.

All in all, this is a worthy volume to grab, especially if you don’t want to dedicate the time to reading the Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best or the magazines themselves.

[Finished May 1999]

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