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 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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Nebula Awards Introduces Game Writing Category, and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Is a Nominee

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The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has released its list of nominees for the 2018 Nebula Awards, and things are looking good this year. Not only is this year’s Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Performance category a powerhouse of great nominees, but there’s also a brand-new category…

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https://io9.gizmodo.com/nebula-awards-introduces-game-writing-category-and-bla-1832758660