Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Dann, Jack, Editor. Nebula Awards 32. New York: Harcort Brace, 4/1998. 352pp.

The Nebula Awards series is another one whose volumes I check out every year. Unlike most fiction collections, say Hartwell's Years Best, one of the main attractions here is the non-fiction: recently the Nebula series has kicked off each volume with a bunch of essays summing up the paricular year in sf as well as a sort of State of the Union view of the genre. This volume has great, if occasionally depressing, essays by Elizabeth Hand, Lucius Shepard, Keith Ferrell, Ian Watson, Terry Dowling, Sean McMullen, Norman Spinrad and Robert Frazier. It's particularly interesting to compare Hand's essay on how SF and the mainstream are merging with Shepard's and Spinrad's essays on how the corporate bottom line is ruining that same SF. Their gestalt seems to suggest that literate SF is in pretty good shape, but you just have to know how to separate the needle from the chaff, not to mention locating the wheat in the haystack. But of course, I didn't buy the book for the essays, I bought it for the stories. And fine stories they are. As with many books of this type, there were a couple of stories in particular that I wanted to read: the novellas “Da Vinci Rising” by Jack Dann (the Nebula winner) and “Yaguara” by Nicola Griffith (standing in for Griffith's award-winning novel Slow River, one of the best novels of the 1990s and perhaps the best sf novel ever written about sewage). Dann's is an alternate history about Leonardo Da Vinci actually building the flying machines he so meticulously designed. Griffith' s is sort of like Pat Murphy's Nadya from last time, a tortured story of lesbian love and transformation in an extreme wilderness: this time it's big cats in the jungle instead of werewolves in the desert. If this sounds like I'm blowing it off as dull or derivative, that's not the case at all. Like all of Griffith's work, it's well done and interesting; she treats the sexuality of her characters casually and part of the background as opposed to being what the story is explicitly about. There is one other story that I want to point out and that is Paul Levinson's “Chronology Protection Case.” It's a wild and wooly gonzo kind of story, sort of a cross between Greg Egan and Terry Prachett.


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