The Winners of the 2018 Nebula Awards Are Stellar

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Last night, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America handed out the 2018 Nebula Awards, recognizing the best sci-fi and fantasy books and short stories published in 2018. The winners were, predictably, out of this world—and we mean that literally in the case of the winner for Best Novel.

As we predicted, Mary Robinette Kowal took home the night’s top award for The Calculating Stars, an 1950s alternate history story of a women-led space race to Mars. “It’s filled with Mars!” Kowal exclaimed to open her acceptance speech, during which she praised the uniform excellence of her fellow nominees.

It’s certainly difficult to argue with her. The entire ballot—from Best Novel to Best Short Story—was packed with more than worthy winners, including many vying for their first Nebulas.

See the complete list of winners and nominees below:

Best Novel

WINNER: The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)

The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US)
Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (Ecco)
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)

Best Novella

WINNER: The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press)

Fire Ant, by Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi)
The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)

Best Novelette

WINNER: The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections, by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)
An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births, by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed)
The Rule of Three, by Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest)
Messenger, by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)

Best Short Story

WINNER: “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, by P. Djèlí Clark (Fireside)

“Interview for the End of the World”, by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
“Going Dark”, by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
“And Yet”, by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny, March/April 2018)
“A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, by Alix E. Harrow (Apex, February 2018)
“The Court Magician”, by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)

Best Game Writing

WINNER: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, by Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix)

The Road to Canterbury, by Kate Heartfield
God of War, by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker & Adam Dolin
Rent-A-Vice, by Natalia Theodoridou
The Martian Job, by M. Darusha Wehm

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)

The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy” (Written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell)
Black Panther (Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler)
A Quiet Place (Screenplay by John Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck, directed by John Krasinski)
Dirty Computer (Written by Janelle Monáe and Chuck Lightning)
Sorry to Bother You (Written and directed by Boots Riley)

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

WINNER: Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt)

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents)
A Light in the Dark, by A.K. DuBoff (BDL)
Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House)
Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, by Henry Lien (Henry Holt)

Did your favorites pick up any awards last night?

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Blogging the Nebulas: Calculating the Odds

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This is my fifth year #BloggingTheNebulas. For two years running, I’ve managed to predict the winner correctly. The two years before that, not so much. I would say that gives me even odds of getting it right this time around, but that’s not really how award predictions work. I can point at current trends or past preferences among the Nebula voters, but untimely what is being judged are the merits of a work of art. A book’s impact on any given reader is personal, and the personal defies statistics.

The Nebula nominees for Best Novel are generally excellent: a half-dozen or so sifted out of the hundreds published every year by other pro writers who know craft when they see it. Though I try not to let my own tastes influence my predictions—I am not a Nebula voter—I’d like to note just how much I personally enjoyed every single nominee this year. My shaky prediction of which one might win should not be taken as a criticism of those that might not. For me, reading (or rereading) all six nominees has been its own reward.

With that, I’ll begin with the books I think are less likely to take home the Nebula. It is here I will slot in our three debut novels: Witchmark, by C.L. Polk; The Poppy Warby R.F. Kuang; and Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse. There is recent precedent for a first novel winning the Nebula—Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice in 2014; Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl in 2009—but writers tend to only get better with each book. (I’m putting an asterisk next to Charlie Jane Anders’ win for All the Birds in the Sky in 2017; while it was a first genre novel, it wasn’t her first novel, and that year was strange in other ways—five of the six nominees were debuts of one kind or another, and the sixth was a sequel.) Generally, I think later books in an author’s career have a leg up.

C.L. Polk’s Witchmark is set at the end of a Great War, in a world recalling but not exactly own early 20th century England—this one has been influenced by a magical system that has been twisted for political ends. The main character is a physician who was once a subjugated member of one his country’s ruling magical families; in order to escape being used as a sort of human battery for his sister’s magic, Miles Singer joined the military and escaped to the front lines. (That war seemed preferable to chaining his life to his sister’s power tells you something important about the privileged life he rejected.) Witchmark addresses the very personal effects of empire building: our physician’s patients are all soldiers suffering from the psychological traumas of war, and he himself has not gone unscathed by both his upbringing and his time as a soldier. I really enjoyed the bike-punk Edwardian aesthetic, and the way the novel manages to illustrate the grand machinations of empire through the personal perspective of one person. But it is still a first novel, displaying (minor) issues with pacing and the overall plotting. The sequel, Stormsong, arrives early next year, and it will be a treat to return to that world, and likely a stronger book, befitting the maturing talents of the author.

R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is such an ambitious novel, I almost can’t believe it’s a debut. The plot follows a war orphan  named Rin from her humble beginnings in a backwater province to a position of national import. When she aces the national test for admittance into Nikan’s most prestigious military academy, Sinegard, she is relieved to escape her small, mean life. However, Sinegard proves to be no escape: her fellow students are mostly the privileged children of wealth, not dark-skinned orphans, and many of her teachers consider her an upstart and a usurper. The novel’s first half is something like a boarding school fantasy, though with none of the coziness that description implies. At the midway point, everything changes: Nikan restarts hostilities with the neighboring Federation, and Rin and her fellow students are thrust out of the schoolroom and onto the battlefield. The Poppy War is a brutal national epic with a protagonist who is as terrifying as she is tenacious. Though it is a truly prodigious work, there just isn’t much precedent for large-scale epic fantasies picking up the prize, especially when they are first novels. Consider: of the books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, only A Clash of Kings was Nebula nominated, and that was 20 years ago (it lost to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents). N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, which won best novel last year, is a fantasy novel of incredible scope, but it was the culmination of an acclaimed trilogy, and most definitely not a debut.

First novels can take risks you don’t necessarily see in later ones; there’s just something about experiencing all that raw potential and talent struggling free. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning is a revelatory debut, a post-apocalyptic tale set in what was once a Navajo reservation, before the drowning of the world. The opening finds Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter of the Dine, in a self-imposed exile. She’s drawn out to find a missing child, and what she uncovers during her mission sends her back out into the world. For a person with a magical talent for killing, this isn’t necessarily a good thing—for the world or for Maggie. It is an active, inventive novel, and Maggie’s voice is just aces—urban fantasy can sometimes feel a little sleepy, but Trail of Lightning shocks the genre to life. Though debut novels, not to mention urban fantasy novels, rarely take home the prize (and there isn’t an example of a winner that’s both), Trail of Lightning is so much fun, and so daring, I’ll peg it as a dark horse contender.

Next up is Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller. Like All the Birds in the Sky, Blackfish City isn’t really a first novel, but it’s the author’s first novel eligible for a Nebula. Also calling it a debut doesn’t quite do justice to the author’s prior career—this is the fourth time Miller has been up for a Nebula award, following several short story nods, and in 2018 he took home the Andre Norton Award for The Art of Starving. Blackfish City is probably the most metal of all of this year’s contenders (though Trail of Lightning is a close second): it opens with an orcamancer riding a skiff with a polar bear in chains at her side, and just gets cooler from there. The book takes place in the floating city of Qaanaaq, located in swollen, post-climate change Arctic waters. The city is owned by shadowy figures but run by an impersonal AI. The arrival of the orcamancer—and what she represents—upsets the delicate equilibrium of the city. This one is another strong contender. The cli-fi setting is timely, and more importantly, the novel skirts the line between scifi and fantasy in a way that a number of recent winners have: the orcamancer and the strange wasting disease afflicting the city seem almost magical, even while the trappings of the world are cyberpunk. Blackfish City would fit right in with previous winners like The Stone Sky, which blends straight up magic with smart geological science, and All the Bird in the Sky, which very deliberately invokes both science fictional and magical tropes.

Still, I think even Sam J. Miller’s marvelous book will come in behind one of our final two: Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik, and The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal. Both Kowal and Novik are well established writers with dozens of nominations and a whole raft of awards between them. (As an odd aside: they both got their starts writing alt-Regency fantasy.) The first two of Kowal’s Glamourist History series were both nominated for the Nebula, and the novelette prequel to The Calculating Stars, “The Lady Astronuat of Mars,” was awarded the Hugo for best novelette. Novik’s previous novel, Uprooted, took home the Nebula in 2016. Both writers have a firm command of language and a polished prose style, and both know how to construct a novel. Either could take home the Nebula and I wouldn’t bat an eye.

Spinning Silver isn’t a sequel to Uprooted, but it offers a similar fairy tale sensibility, drawn from Eastern European history and legend. The novel primarily follows three young women: Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender; Irina, the daughter of a boyar with aspirations; and Wanda, the daughter of a serf. In the first third, both Miryem and Irina are married to powerful men: a fairy king (here called the Staryk) and the Tsar himself, respectively. In a fairy tale, their royal marriages would serve as happy endings. Here, they are just the start of a larger story. Fairy tales often follow a trajectory from humble beginnings to royalty—lucky Hans leaves home, and by then end, rules the country. But Spinning Silver never loses its focus on the day to day, the personal, and the complex web of friendship, family, and country that binds a life. Uprooted was a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver is, if anything, more enthralling than its predecessor. But two things make me hesitate to declare it the likely winner. While it is precisely the kind of high fantasy novel that Nebula voters go for (its predecessor’s win three years ago proves that), past voters have shown an (admittedly dwindling) preference for science fiction over fantasy. Moreover, Novik took home an award for best novel just three years ago, and I think the voters will lean toward someone who hasn’t been so recently fêted.

Which brings me to The Calculating Stars. The novel details an alt-history Space Race through the eyes of one woman, Elma York. In 1952, a meteor strikes the planet outside of Washington DC and, as a consequence, most of the Easter seaboard is destroyed. Because of the greenhouse effect caused by the resulting steam in the atmosphere, the Earth will be inhabitable within a few short centuries. The Space Race that follows is thus one against time, and not the Soviets. Elma, who is trained as both a human calculator and a pilot, is determined to be one of the first people go toMars. Though the barriers to her becoming an astronaut are changed in this alternate timeline—if we are going to colonize other planets, women must be included—they are not inconsequential. But The Calculating Stars isn’t just about Elma’s professional goals: her struggles with anxiety offer a personal counterpoint to the institutional hurdles she faces, and are a direct result of both her education and the cataclysm of the recent past. Elma is an incredibly competent, accomplished person who is nonetheless occasionally overwhelmed by self doubt.

In addition to being just an excellent novel, The Calculating Stars is also meticulously researched and (though this is harder to quantify) really, really cool. Many of us start reading science fiction in part because of that sense of discovery and wonder: what’s out there, just a little farther into the black? Even though I was born after Neil Armstrong took his famous first steps on the moon, The Calculating Stars captured for me the air of a whole generation of people yearning for the sky, and for what is beyond the sky, in a visceral way. For that reason, more than any other, I think it will be named the winner of the 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Whether I’m right or wrong, I wish all the nominees the best of luck. It was an honor to read such a fine group of novels.

Who do you think will win the Nebula this year? Find full reviews of this year’s nominees here. Previous years’ Blogging the Nebulas entries are here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: The Calculating Stars Thrillingly Reimagines the Space Race

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The Pitch:

In 2014, Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” was awarded the Hugo for Best Novelette. In that story, the titular lady astronaut, Dr. Elma York, is living on Mars with her husband when she’s confronted with a dilemma: she has a chance to undertake one last mission as an astronaut—she hasn’t flown in decades due to her age—or stay behind with her husband, who is dying of a wasting disease. We’re given some biographical information about Elma, her husband Nathaniel, and the alternate history they inhabit, but only in broad strokes. The genuinely heart-wrenching choice Elma must make is truly the center of the piece.

The Calculating Stars is a prequel to that novelette, and tells the incredible life story of the woman who will one day become the Lady Astronaut of Mars.

This is a book that starts with a bang, quite literally. Elma and her husband are vacationing in the Poconos when they’re hit with a flash so powerful that even behind closed eyelids, it is bright as day. Through their shocked conversation that follows, and then the subsequent earthquake, we begin to comprehend the suddenly changed shape of their world. Their first thought is of a nuclear attack by the Soviets, but when they start seeing ejecta from the impact site burning down from the sky, it quickly becomes clear that a meteorite has hit somewhere to the east of them (as scientists, they know nuclear weapons don’t kick up dust and debris). After a terrifying journey further inland to a military base in Ohio, Nathaniel is put right to work in his capacity as an engineer. (He was previously instrumental in a successful satellite launch that put an object in space before the Russians, so he’s known to the brass.) Though Elma was a pilot in World War II—a WASP—she’s sidelined by a fellow pilot (and grade-A jerk) she worked with during the War. It is 1952; President John Dewey and most of the government are dead; Washington DC and the several hundred miles surrounding it have been vaporized.

The scale of the disaster is staggering. Elma’s parents were in Charlotte, NC, in the affected area, and are presumed dead. She and Nathaniel, who lived in DC, only survived by happenstance. Things get much bleaker when, after Nathaniel asks her to perform some calculations for him, Elma figures out that the meteorite strike is probably an eventual extinction-level event. Because the meteorite stuck water, not land, the resulting vapor in the air will eventually cause a runaway greenhouse effect. (It is theorized that such a circumstance explains why Venus is a molten hellscape with sulfuric acid rain, despite being Earth’s twin in many other regards.)

The Space Race, nudged a little bit earlier in this timeline, is already in full swing. With global extinction looming, the imperative to get off Earth becomes that much more dire. The Calculating Stars details a Space Race not against the Soviets, but against time.

Elma pushes doggedly towards her goal of becoming an astronaut. Though she’s a strong and gifted woman, she is beset by doubts and healthy attacks of Impostor Syndrome. Though they are completely standalone, The Calculating Stars makes “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” that much more poignant, as we live through Elma and Nathaniel’s long years of marriage. Though their relationship is not the primary focus of the novel, it is its beating heart.

Why it will win:

I think The Calculating Stars is in a very strong position to win the Nebula this year. Alternate histories maybe don’t have the best odds, Michael Chabon’s win for Yiddish Policemen’s Union 11 years ago notwithstanding, but Kowal’s has so much more going for it than mere subgenre specialization.

Its alternate history is incredibly well-researched (so much so that there’s a bibliography and a dense historical note at the end of the novel that will stack several more books onto your to-read pile). This is hard science fiction in the vein of Kim Stanley Robinson, who has two best novel Nebulas (for Red Mars and 2312). Kowal has a detailed grasp of the science involved and never hand-waves, but neither does she bore you with trivia; the novel remains firmly grounded in Elma’s character. That Elma’s relationship with science is foundational makes Kowal’s care with scientific detail all the more vital.

The Calculating Stars is also both timely and sensitive to history. Though Kowal began the novel before Hidden Figures became an unexpected blockbuster film, the success of the movie was a stroke of luck. It exposed to the general public the important work performed by the black women who served as NASA’s human computers. Though the 1950s and 60s of the “Meteor Age” of Kowal’s novel look very different (here Elma would mutter “it was a meteorite”), even in this changed world the social movements of the post-War era still proceed apace.

The post-Meteor world is more open in some ways: the Soviet Union collapses in the nuclear winter, ending the Cold War, and the race to the stars becomes a truly international endeavor. That doesn’t mean that institutional sexism and racism cease to exist, however: Elma and Nathaniel are initially placed with a black couple, the Lindholms, after they’re displaced, a Major and another computer, and the pair end up becoming their close friends. Through their contrasting experiences, we see not only Elma’s struggles as a woman in a technological field, but the perspectives of people of color as well.

Plus, the book is just cool. Mars is cool. Astronauts are awesome. Though the plot is often more political jockeying than breathless action after that initial section, it never feels slow. Partially because of the debilitating anxiety Elma experiences when speaking to groups (especially groups of men), even simple meetings are braced with tension. And while it is but the first in a duology—The Fated Sky was released only a few months later—it follows a clear trajectory right through to a transcendent conclusion, one that made me tear up—not out of sadness but in wonder.

Why it won’t win: 

I’m at a bit of a loss here. The Calculating Stars does face some stiff competition this year, though I think its most direct comes by way of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. They are both books by well established writers (whose first series, curiously, were both alt-Regency) who have serious chops. But even then, in historical terms, science fiction tends to beat out fantasy for best novel honors at the Nebulas. Honestly, The Calculating Stars has about the best chance to win of the nominees, based on the precedents and tendencies of Nebula voters in past years. But people are not statistics, and they may break for fairy tales over alt-history this year. Nebula voters have been tending more to fantasy than they did 30 years ago, so it’s not as strong an indicator as it once was.

Either way, you better believe that the next book on my to-read pile is The Fated Sky. I wouldn’t miss it. You shouldn’t either.

We’ll have one more entry in this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series, making our final prediction as to who will win. Look for that on Friday, May 17. In the meantime, find reviews of this year’s other nominees here. Previous years’ Blogging the Nebulas entries are here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver Transforms Folklore into Fantasy Gold

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

When I first picked up Spinning Silver, I thought that it was a sequel to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, the book that took home the Nebula for Best Novel in 2016. The cover designs are very similar, and what little I knew about the plot—an update of the Rumpelstiltskin story—seemed to align with the other book’s reimagined fairy tale vibe.

But Spinning Silver is not so much a sequel as it is… I’m not sure I have an exact term for what it is. Both books take place in a semi-mythic Eastern Europe—maybe after the Kievan Rus, but no later than late medieval—and both play quite seriously (if that’s not an oxymoron) with folkloric tropes.

Spinning Silver primarily follows three young women (though there are chapters from at least a half dozen other perspectives): Miryem, the daughter of a too-kindly moneylender; Irina, the daughter of a boyar with aspirations; and Wanda, the daughter of a serf. At the turn of the first act, Miryem and Irina are both married to powerful men: a fairy king (here called the Staryk) and the Tsar himself. In a fairy tale, these women would either be the prize—the princess in the castle to be won by the lucky youngest son—or their marriages to men above their stations would be their reward for virtuous and pious maidenhood. But here, the marriages are just the start of dangerous and dire trouble. They are not a reward, nor are they rewarding.

Miryem comes to the attention of the Staryk, the otherworldly prince, after she wrests control of the family business. They’re the sole Jewish family in their hardscrabble town, and the only people who can lend money; they’ve long lived on the knife’s edge of necessary outsiders. As  Miryem’s mother lays dying from want and cold —her father ultimately too kind to demand what they’re owed—Miryem takes over, quietly and carefully demanding repayment of their neighbor’s loans. One such loan is to Wanda’s father. The payment she demands —the use of one of his children as servant—is freeing for Wanda, taking her from her abusive household into the gentle kinship of Miryem’s parents. Miryem may be hard-nosed, but her parents are not; she has begun spinning silver into gold, changing her fate and that of those around her with a harshness that is kind.

Irina’s social-climbing father buys a ring, and then a crown made of Miryem’s Staryk silver, which brings her to the attention of the Tsar, who marries her for her magic. The Tsar is a casually brutal young man, inhabited by a spirit of fire and destruction, and all he wants only to consume Irina. She manages to keep him at bay through pluck and wit, and with her affinity for the icy mirror-world that Miryem is trapped in through her marriage to the Staryk prince. Each woman—Miryem, Wanda, and Irina—commands just a little bit of the otherwise beholden spaces they inhabit, but those slivers are cracks that can widen into chasms.

Why it will win:

Spinning Silver is just as accomplished—if not more so—than Uprooted. Though earlier articles in this series have noted many caveats on the prospects of a fantasy novel winning best novel, Novik ticks all the boxes. Contemporary fantasy—books like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or Jo Walton’s Among Others—tend to win over traditional or epic fantasy… unless the writer is incredibly well established. Ten years ago I would say your last name had to be Bujold or Le Guin to be awarded a Nebula for a traditional fantasy novel, but the new name in that grouping is Novik’s.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will note again that the Nebula is an industry award—voted on by other professional writers – and standing in the industry matters. Novik’s Temeraire series—nine books deep, about an alt-Regency with dragons—remains incredibly popular, and for good reason: they are both deeply considered and action-driven novels, the kind that make you think even while you’re furiously turning pages. Her turn to the mythopoeic in Uprooted and Spinning Silver frees her from the soft constraints of the alternate history. Spinning Silver shows off her skill as a novelist, drawing a complex narrative out of the most simple fairy tale origins. Truly, she spins gold out of silver.

Why it won’t win:

I’m not a mathematician, so I’m going to have to fake some statistics to go along with my gut reaction, but: I think the Nebula voters will break for someone who hasn’t so recently picked up a Nebula, which Novik has. I don’t have to fake too much: while a few novelists have been awarded in the best novel category multiple times, they tend to come years apart: Connie Willis won in 1993 for Doomsday Book and again in 2011 for Blackout/All Clear; Kim Stanley Robinson took home a Nebula in 1994 for Red Mars and in 2013 for 2312. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, won in concurrent years, but that was over 30 years ago (!), and I feel like the voting pool has changed since then.

Fake math aside, I still think Novik has a real shot at another Nebula this year. She’s a novelist at the height of her powers, and her book is an absolute joy to read. The way it takes history and folklore and shakes them into a narrative that is both mythic and personal is incredibly deft. I really hope Spinning Silver turns out to be the second volume of a not-quite-trilogy.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: C.L. Polk’s Witchmark Deftly Balances Character and Worldbuilding

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

From the very first page, Witchmark drops readers into the thick of it. Dr. Miles Singer is just finishing up a long shift at the veterans’ hospital, contemplating a directive that he discharge 16 patients by week’s end, whether they are healthy or not. Aeland’s war with Laneer is over. The victorious wounded are heading home to the imperfect care of their homeland, displacing other soldiers just as damaged. Miles was a soldier himself, which is the overt reason he’s so good at healing the mental injuries of war. The covert reason is that Miles is a magic user—a witch—who has a talent for healing that he must obfuscate and a dangerous past that requires him to live under an alias.

His rueful contemplation is interrupted by a dying man, Nick Elliot, brought into a hospital ill-equipped to provide emergency care. Nick asks for Miles specifically, though he uses Miles’ name from the life he escaped. The dying man also has the aura of a witch and tells Miles that he has been murdered—poisoned—and entreats him to find the killer. Watching their interaction is the man who brought the dying Nick Elliot to Miles, one Tristan Hunter. Miles’ conversation with Nick exposes his magical abilities and his past. After Elliot’s death, Miles fully expects to be blackmailed by Tristan, but that’s not precisely what happens. Hunter has his own inscrutable motivations, and he pushes Miles to uncover the motive for and methods of the man’s death.

The very next day, as bad luck would have it, Miles runs into his estranged sister, Grace. Miles was born into a life of both privilege and servitude: his sister is a Storm-Singer, able to control the weather to the benefit of all Aeland, and he is her Secondary. The Secondary may have skills of his or her own, but they are treated like batteries by the powerful Storm-Singers, used to strengthen their more dominant magical abilities. When assisted by Miles, Grace has the magic to affect the climate on a mass scale; alone she is not nearly as powerful.

Storm-Singing is a practice the secretive, aristocratic Hundred Families have been performing for Aeland for at least a century: turning the storms and mitigating all severe weather, even while Aeland at large persecutes anyone with magical abilities as a matter of policy. Miles didn’t want to live his life under magical duress, so he ran—first to med school and then to the front, faking his death and sequestering himself in the veteran’s hospital upon his return to Aeland. Grace wants Miles to return to fold; their father is sick and needs Miles’ medical attention.

Miles then pursues both matters independently—the murder mystery and the contact with his family—though the plotlines soon begin to collide and converge. His relationships with his sister and the mysterious Tristan Hunter draw Miles out of the penitential cell of a life he’s built for himself, forcing him to confront his past and maybe even start building a future.

The setting is something like Edwardian England just after the ravages of the Great War, but twisted with magic that encodes the colonial subjugations of the British Empire. Miles is both privileged and subjugated. In solving the murder of Nick Elliot, reacquainting himself with his sister, and doctoring to his fellow soldiers, he pulls strings that cause his hidden past and the needs of the empire to intersect in dangerous and volatile ways. The world of Witchmark is complicated and cool, but the story never falters in its attention to character.

Why it will win:

Witchmark is so deft in its balance between worldbuilding and character, it’s hard to believe it’s Polk’s first published novel. The information about the world unspools deftly, never leaving the audience behind nor handholding overmuch. Though I don’t have anything like statistics on whether it matters (see below), the book is told in a lovely first-person voice, the kind where the narrator’s tics and avoidances are as integral to the plot as his desires and needs. It’s not that the world bends to him, more that he bends to the world.  The magic system is complicated and the setting suggests a dense history, but Polk seemingly effortlessly makes what is important clear to the reader while maintaining a briskly plot (bicycle chases are a prominent feature). I can see other writers rewarding the tight craft of the novel; they are, after all, the Nebula voters.

This is more stray observation than anything else, but I went looking to see if there was any preference in past Nebula winners for first or third person voice, if only because Witchmark’s first person is so arresting. Prior winners suggest no particular pattern: Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky is in third-person, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is in first-person, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice are both in first-person, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 is in third-person. Last year’s winner,  N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Skywas partially in second person, though technically there is a first person narrator hiding behind the “you” narrative. There seems to be no evidence that point of view factors in who takes home the prize, which makes sense to me: different writers have different strengths in that regard, just like they do for tense or any other technical aspect of writing. That Witchmark is told in lovely first person doesn’t necessarily factor, but the skill at which Polk carries it off certainly does.

Why it won’t win:

Alas, I don’t think either historical science fiction or fantasy tend to be favored by Nebula voters, and historical fantasy is an especially hard sell. Which is to say: while I recognize that Witchmark isn’t exactly a historical novel—it’s not precisely about Edwardian England and WWI—it has enough signifiers of the literature of the time to make it historical-adjacent. There are a number of recent Nebula nominees in this half-historical place—Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough, Tina Connolly’s Ironskinbut none of them took home the prize. Blackout/All Clear, which was largely set in WWII, picked up the Nebula in 2011, but that was more science fiction than fantasy—and also by a writer as beloved and accomplished as Connie Willis. Witchmark is on solidly magical terrain.

Witchmark is also Polk’s debut. All things being equal (and with notable exceptions), Nebula voters tend to lean toward established writers. It’s an industry award on some level, and though that industry is the arts, one’s connections within the industry do matter. Established writers also have had time to hone their craft; Witchmark is a very accomplished novel, but there are a couple dropped threads in the narrative. It’s entirely possible they’ll get picked up again in the sequel, Stormsong, but the award is for the novel, not the series.

That said, I can assure you I will be reading the hell out of the series. Polk is an author to watch, and I’m very much looking forward to what she writes next.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: Blackfish City Carries the Zeitgeist on the Back of a Whale

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Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

As the title suggests, Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City is as much about a place as it is about any given character. Its chapters cycle through four point-of-view characters: a messenger, a civil servant, a fighter, and a scion of great wealth. The perspective of the fifth character, the city of Qaanaaq, is told in chapters taken from “City Without a Map,” a mysteriously-sourced chronicle of a built city floating on open arctic water somewhere east of Greenland, north of Iceland.

As the book opens, we’re somewhere midway through a climactic apocalypse. Every nation you can think of has fallen (often several times), or changed irrevocably, or disappeared beneath the waves. Qaanaaq—a municipality run by artificial intelligence and owned by anonymous founders—gathers up the flotsam and jetsam of a drowning world.

While reading the first couple chapters, I did something I don’t usually do: I sketched a map of the floating city. It’s an eight-armed starfish of a place, and each numbered spoke has its own particular flavor: the wealthy enclaves of one and two; the slums of seven and eight; the docked ships off of five, where gangsters hold court. Each character pins themselves to the place—or places—they are from, or are going, or where they want to go. Qaanaaq is as callous and as kindly as any city, beholden to the tides of wealth and influence, but still carved out with shifting cultures that owe nothing to the systems of governance.

Qaanaaq’s fragile equilibrium is upset by the arrival of a woman on skiff. Alongside her vessel swims an orca; on the prow sits a polar bear in chains. She’s rumored to be many things, a figure of gossip and myth. Though everyone seems to have heard tell of the orcamancer, her exact location is hard to triangulate, her origins are mysterious, and her motives are opaque. Meanwhile, the city moves to its own rhythms: a young man learns he has a fatal, mentally withering disease; a zipline messenger makes a play for a different life; a brain-damaged fighter upsets his place in the criminal hierarchy; a woman tries to free her mother from a prison in everything but name.

Blackfish City is a peripatetic novel, ranging over the city of Qaanaaq—into its past, into the pasts of its characters, into the larger world and its complicated, strangling history. Its name is a palindrome, and we read it backward and forward in time.

Why it will win:

This may be an odd argument to make, but hear me out: I think Blackfish City is the novel that best encapsulates the zeitgeist of 2018.

It’s a cli-fi novel that isn’t preachy or (necessarily) a bummer, equally hard science-y and character driven. Though a lot of the overt action and submerged backstory is bleak, there’s a tremulous sense of optimism wending its way through the story. The fact of Qaanaaq—this impossible metal starfish clinging to place in the bitter north—makes it an object of wonder. So too is the orcamancer, though the repercussions of that wonder are harsh, if not fatal. Qaanaaq is a patchwork place, both made up of the histories of other places and the trauma of their fall. Like the novel that took home the Nebula in 2016, Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, Sam J. Miller’s first novel for adults has an indefinable quality: it is a story that best encapsulated the weird right-now.

Moreover, the Nebula is an industry award, and Miller has the requisite chops—often a factor in who wins. Last year he picked up the Andre Norton Award for The Art of Starving. (Not too be too reductive, but the Andre Norton is akin to a Nebula for young adult science fiction and fantasy.)

Why it won’t win:

Per usual, I can take the reasons why I think this novel will win and read them backward as I argue why it might not. The novel I thought was the best finger on the pulse of 2017, Amberlough, didn’t take home the Nebula; the award went instead to N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, the absolutely devastating conclusion of a juggernaut of a trilogy. Though Miller does have a well respected YA novel under his belt, Blackfish City is still only his second novel, and his first for adults. And though this may be a little outside the purview of this series, neither did Blackfish City pick up a Hugo nomination. While there is imperfect overlap between the Hugo and Nebula winners, the winners do tend to be taken from the pool of novels nominated for both.

Arguments aside, I fairly loved Blackfish City. Its themes and concerns are right smack in my wheelhouse. Any novel that starts me scribbling notes on a self-drawn map is one that has hit me hard. Reading through the nominees every year introduces me to books I would have otherwise missed. Even though this is a somewhat dippy thing to say, the nomination ends up being its own reward, for me anyway.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: Trail of Lightning Shocks Urban Fantasy Back to Life

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

Trail of Lightning immerses the reader into a profoundly altered world by first introducing you to a scenario familiar in contemporary fantasy. Maggie Hoskie is fighter-for-hire who has been in self-imposed seclusion after a job gone bad cost her a partner, but she is lured back into the fray by the residents of a small town, who enlist her to find a missing child. As she sets out on the job, we begin to explore her world, a place called Dinétah, which was a Navajo reservation in the western U.S., before the waters rose and drowned the earth.

With the death of the Fifth World—our world—and the birth of the Sixth, the old powers have returned. Dinétah is a largely functioning enclave in an unstable world, encircled by a wall 50 feet high. The missing child was taken by monsters, and Maggie is a monster hunter of the Diné. Her lost partner was the folk hero Niezghání, returned with the old gods at the end of the world and the start of the new.

The monsters who took the child turn out to be something unknown to Maggie, animated by outsider magic. We follow her on a search for answers across Dinétah and out beyond the wall. As she’s been largely holed up feeling sorry for herself since everything went wrong with Niezghání, her reemergence triggers a series of uncomfortable, if not downright painful, confrontations with people from her past, and leads to a few interesting introductions. Maggie herself is a standoffish survivor, with a narrative voice of the sort that what looks like candor can actually be masking painful truths she is hiding even from herself. She is complex, compelling, and just plain cool.

Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel. Even though it takes place after a devastating global cataclysm, the maudlin, elegiac tone one can find in post-apocalyptic fiction is absent, replaced instead with a winsome pragmatism: Maggie Hoskie picks herself up after her own personal endtimes to seek her prickly place in the new world.

Why it will win:

The world of Trail of Lightning is predicated on the old gods returning, but the setting feels wholly new: by looking to Indigenous history, legends, beliefs, and concerns to build an urban fantasy setting, Roanhorse has crafted a transformative take on timeworn genre tropes. Everything old is new again. I’ve personally put this book in the hands of three or four people with divergent interests, and they’ve all enjoyed it, because it is a rip-roaring tale with tons of action and excitement, yet it never loses its grounding in character. It’s a book that demands to be read in a single sitting. I honestly haven’t had as much fun reading a novel in a long while, and I maybe read too much.

It has the setting and concerns of many past Nebula winners, taking place, as it does, in that near-future period that makes for a fertile ground for commentary about the here and now. It twists and amplifies current events, resulting in mordantly ironic details—consider that what was once a neglected Indigenous reservation is now surrounded by a 50-foot wall that keeps the rest of a ravening America out. The novel mirrors some aspects of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, which won Best Novel honors in 2000: a protagonist with a strong voice who isn’t in it to be “likable”; a mid- or post-apocalyptic setting; a grounding in tight-knit community set apart. Like American Gods, which won in 2003, the old gods walk its haunted world. And while it may be a lot of fun, it’s operating on a deeper level as well. This are all the kinds of things other writers respect and appreciate, and it is other writers who, after all, make up the voting pool for the Nebulas.

Why it won’t win:

As usual, the reasons for why I think the book will win often dovetail with the reasons why I think it might not. While Trail of Lightning is a new take on genre, it’s new in another way: it is Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut. First novels do win—most recently 2014’s Ancillary Justice and 2017’s All the Birds in the Sky, though technically the latter was only a first genre novel. But as an industry award, longstanding connections within the industry matter. (Consider also that 2017 was an atypical Nebula year: five of the six novels nominated were debuts, and the sixth was a sequel.)

Roanhorse is not an unknown, of course—she picked up both a Nebula and a Hugo last year for her short story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™. Still, Trail of Lightning is a first novel, with the occasional variances in pacing or tone evident when a novelist is honing her craft.

Moreover, I don’t think an urban or contemporary fantasy has a great shot at the prize, even one as singular as this. Nebula voters, when they have gone for fantasy over sci-fi, have historically bent to the more traditional variety, like the fairytale pastiche of Naomi Novik’s 2016 winner Uprooted. Last year’s victor, N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, is also a fantasy novel, but one augmented with strong epic and science fictional elements, not to mention a far future setting. The last (arguable) urban fantasy to win was Jo Walton’s Among Others, which brings us back to my first point: Novik, Jemisin, and Walton were all well-established novelists when they took home their prizes. We can point to a first-timer winning with a science fiction novel (like Ann Leckie). If past precedent tells us anything, it’s that a first-timer writing urban or contemporary fantasy faces a tougher fight.

Still, if nothing else, Maggie Hoskie is certainly a fighter, and Trail of Lightning is an incredibly strong first novel, with a killer voice and a richly realized world. Its sequel, Storm of Locusts, is even better.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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Blogging the Nebulas: The Poppy War Is a Devastating Fantasy Debut

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Editor’s note: The Nebula Awards are often described as the Academy Awards of SFF literature. Like the Oscar, the Nebula is voted on by the professional peers of the award nominees—members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are six nominees in the best novel category this year; every two weeks between now and the awards ceremony on May 18, Ceridwen Christensen will be taking a look at each of them, and figuring their odds of taking home the prize.

The pitch:

R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is an epic, but not at first. It starts small, and only later do things escalate, racing toward a shattering, dynasty-changing conclusion. We meet our fated protagonist, Rin, as a luckless orphan who’s been taken in by a family of small-time criminals in a backwater province of Kikara. She has few options open to her save being married off to one of her family’s creditors, so she sets her sights on acing the national exam that will allow her acceptance to Sinegard, the empire’s premier military academy. (Though Kikara is at peace, the devastation wrought by the titular Poppy Wars hangs heavy on the national memory, and military service is still highly valued.) Through sheer cussed force of will, Rin passes the test.

What should be an escape from the provincial smallness of her upbringing only ends up underlining how low her social placement is: the students of Sinegard are mostly the children of governors and generals. Many take issue with her upstart entrance to the academy, including the teachers; she has to fight constantly just to maintain her place. As a result, her journey through the school is atypical: she enters into a strange kind of apprenticeship with the Lore master, Jiang Ziya, who is as likely to be too high to show up to teach class as he is to make a series of fart noises into a lesson. Lore is a strange discipline in a military academy: something like a religious study, but the gods are real, quixotic, and dangerous. Jiang has attracted few, if any, eager students in his time as master; Kikara is a modern country, and has no time for mysticism.

Before Rin can graduate, the empire’s bubbling conflict with the neighboring Federation of Mugen heats up, and with wrenching speed, the novel shifts from something like a boarding school fantasy directly into the grim terror of warfare. The country of Kikara is something very like 20th century China, and events like the great national horror of the Nanjing Massacre are only very lightly coded in the novel. Rin sees things no person should ever see, which drives her do things no person should ever do. She is a fierce, complicated, often scary character, whose actions are understandable even as they are inexcusable.

The Poppy War is an unflinching character study of both a person and a place.

Why it will win:

I used to believe that fantasy novels didn’t stand much of chance of winning the Nebula unless your last name was Bujold or Le Guin, but that certainly hasn’t been true for the last five or six years. The last three winners have been either full-blooded fantasy novels (Uprooted by Naomi Novak, The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin) or featured strong fantasy elements (All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders). Unlike 2012 winner Among OthersUprooted and The Stone Sky aren’t even contemporary or urban fantasy, modes of the genre that seems to have been more attractive to Nebula voters in the past than traditionally epic fantasy.

The Poppy War manages to detail a devastating bildungsroman in the context of an even more devastating national epic. The sense of place is both richly textured and expansive—this is a place with history. Even while we live through most intimate details of Rin’s matriculation, we are given glimpses into the lives of the gods themselves. Maintaining the balance in scope is a talent indeed, and Kuang has it.

Why it won’t win:

Though there seems to be a tendency to nominate debut novels for the Nebula in recent year—more than half of the nominees for the last three years have been first novels—there is a clear precedent for established novelists to actually take home the Nebula. The preference for books from established writers makes sense: not only have they had time to hone their craft, but, as and industry award, connections within the industry factor. This year, The Poppy War and its fellow nominees Trail of Lightning and Witchmark—debut novels all—may be at a disadvantage in this regard.

As accomplished as The Poppy War is, I think it suffers from a sort of bifurcation, where the second act turn transforms the novel into something other than it seemed to be building towards in the early going. I think there are good reasons for the shift, but the transition is nevertheless jarring to the unsuspecting reader. Thankfully, it is but the first in a series, and Kuang has time to further hone her craft in subsequent installments.

Which is to say, I will not be surprised to see this summer’s sequel, The Dragon Republic, on the ballot next year.

Follow along with this year’s Blogging the Nebulas series here. See previous years’ entries here.

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The Nominees for the 2018 Nebula Awards Are Simply Fantastical

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Today, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2018 Nebula awards, honoring science fiction and fantasy works—novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories—published during the prior calendar year. If the Hugo Awards, voted on by fans, are the SFF version of the People’s Choice Awards, the Nebulas are the Oscars, voted on by industry pros. This year’s ceremony includes a new award, being given out for the first time: Best Game Writing, honoring work in interactive mediums, as well as the not-officially-Nebula-awards for dramatic presentation and best novel for younger readers.

This blog has made it annual tradition to analyze and dissect the list of nominees for the Nebula for Best Novel—always a great snapshot of the year’s best in sci-fi and fantasy literature (certainly as we see it: all six of this year’s nominees for Best Novel made our lists of the year’s best books).

We can’t wait to get started: this year’s ballot is another fantastic one. We truly are in a golden age of SFF.

Here are the nominees for the 2018 Nebula Awards.

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The first of a pair of prequel novels to Kowal’s award-winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of MarsThe Calculating Stars delves into the alternate history that resulted in humanity establishing a colony on Mars in the middle of the 20th century. In the spring of 1952, a huge meteor hits Chesapeake Bay, taking out most of the Eastern United States. Mathematician and former military pilot Elma York and her scientist husband Nate are there to witness the destruction, and Elma knows immediately that this is an ELE—an extinction-level event—and that humanity must look to the stars if it has any hope of survival. Although her experience as a pilot and her math skills earn Elma a place in the International Aerospace Coalition as a calculator, she begins to wonder why women can’t be astronauts as well—and she’s more than willing to confront racism, sexism, and more personal enemies on her quest to become the first lady astronaut. This is one of those books that seems to have come along at just the right moment, bringing together fascinating, inspiring characters; compelling, plausible worldbuilding; and a message that resonates—especially today. Read our review.

The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US)
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries have since coexisted in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign them to serve where they will be most useful, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school, home to the children of the Empire’s elite. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher, she also discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be the only one who can stop it. Kuang is Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century Chinese history, but this is no mere academic exercise—the characters are flawed and true, and the choices they face are impossibly compelling. The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good. Read our review.

Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (Ecco)
Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving won the Andre Norton Award) is an intricate jewel box of ideas. The floating city is a marvel of engineering, but is starting to show the strain: poverty is rising, and crime and unrest along with it. A new disease known as the Breaks—which throws the infected into the midst of other people’s memories—is sweeping the population. When a woman arrives in Blackfish City riding on an Orca and accompanied by a polar bear, she’s an instant celebrity, dubbed the Orcamancer. She takes advantage of her fame to draw together the citizens Qaanaaq and set in motion acts of resistance and rebellion that will have incredible impact, leading four people them in particular to see through the corruption, lies, and marvels of the city to the shocking truths beneath. This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for. Read our review.

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Drawing on Eastern European folklore and the classic fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, Novik tells the story of Miryem, daughter in a family of Jewish moneylenders led by her incompetent father. With their fortunes on the wane due to his poor business sense, Miryem must step in and turn the family business around. Inspired by a mixture of desperation and genius, she responds by spinning debts into gold—gold that attracts the attention of the Staryk, emotionless fairies who bring winter with them. The Staryk give Miryem Fairy Silver and demand she transform it, too. Miryem does so by turning the beautiful metal into jewelry that attracts the attention of the rich and powerful—but her success brings her more Staryk attention, and thus more problems. Novik’s first standalone novel to come along in the wake of the Nebula Award-winning Uprooted had a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver—expanded from a short story included in anthology The Starlit Wood—is every bit as enchanting. Read our review.

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, except for the fact that in this reality, the elite families that sit atop government and the social order have magical powers as well as political ones. Miles Singer is from just such a family, but when he flees the lap of luxury to join the war effort, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power, and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves an aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war. This bewitching story of political maneuverings, dangerous magic, sweet romance, and bicycle chases is never less than addictive. Read our review.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel, binding them together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.

And here is the rest of the fantastic ballot:

Best Novella

Best Novelette

Best Short Story

  • “Interview for the End of the World”, by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
  • “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside, February 2018)
  • “Going Dark”, by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
  • “And Yet”, by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny, March/April 2018)
  • “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, by Alix E. Harrow (Apex, February 2018)
  • “The Court Magician”, by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)

Best Game Writing

  • Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, by Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix)
  • The Road to Canterbury, by Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games)
  • God of War, by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker, and Adam Dolin (Santa Monica Studio/Sony/Interactive Entertainment)
  • Rent-A-Vice, by Natalia Theodoridou (Choice of Games)
  • The Martian Job, by M. Darusha Wehm (Choice of Games)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy” (Written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell)
  • Black Panther (Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler)
  • A Quiet Place (Screenplay by John Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck, directed by John Krasinski)
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)
  • Dirty Computer (Written by Janelle Monáe and Chuck Lightning)
  • Sorry to Bother You (Written and directed by Boots Riley)

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book

The Nebula Awards will be given out during the Nebula Awards Conference, held May 16-19, 2019.

The post The Nominees for the 2018 Nebula Awards Are Simply Fantastical appeared first on The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

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