"Kiosk" - Bruce Sterling (F&SF, Jan07)
"Memorare" - Gene Wolfe (F&SF, Apr07)
"Awakening" - Judith Berman (Black Gate 10, Spr07)
"Stars Seen Through Stone" - Lucius Shepard (F&SF, Jul07)
"The Helper and His Hero" - Matt Hughes (F&SF, Feb07 & Mar07)
"The Fountain of Age" - Nancy Kress (Asimov's, Jul07)
Let’s start with Bruce Sterling, shall we? “Kiosk” is set in some future Russia with a man running a small fabricator, a tool which can make a variety of cheap products. The novella unfolds with some of the political and economic situations of the neighborhood being revealed and the man gets a larger fabricator which can make better products, though uniformly black and featureless and indestructible. Perhaps this was the Soviet ideal? I don’t know. What I do know is that I struggled through “Kiosk” and there was no joy in mudville. There doesn’t have to be joy, but there is no life, no vibrancy to “Kiosk”. At least, there was no vibrancy which engaged me, as a reader.
“Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress is an interesting story. It deals with gypsies, future technology which can restrict aging (D-Treatment), family, and the goal of an aging man to find a woman he used to know. The odd thing is that I swear I’ve read a different version of this story. Certain characters appeared in each story, there was D-Treatment (same treatment), and a good deal of similarity...but it wasn’t the same story. I’d remember that much. So...did Nancy Kress write the other story, too? Or is this a spin-off of somebody else’s story? Either way, “Fountain of Age” was a bit of a treat. Fascinating story, I’d like more in this milieu, and I’d like to read more from Nancy Kress.
I wanted to dislike Gene Wolfe’s “Memorare”. I disliked his second and third New Sun books so much that the very name Gene Wolfe is enough to make me avoid a story or a novel, but this was nominated for the Nebula and it is available to read for free, so one doesn’t look a gift story in the mouth. “Memorare” is a love story in deep space. Windy is a television producer investigating the practice of burial tombs in the orbit of Jupiter. Kit is his girlfriend who, after a time, joins Windy and brings along a friend in need of a place to stay. Complications arise, as complications are wont to do. The more I read of the story, the more I was impressed with the emotion Wolfe was building. I can’t quite name the emotion, but it is there and it builds. Vague, huh? This is why I don’t write about short fiction on a regular basis. Anyway, the story. An impressive job describing the locations, the actual detail is probably not as vivid as it feels, but there is a definite sense of place to the story. I could picture it. Wolfe does this remarkably well. It’s well worth reading and feels like a more thoughtful science fiction, but that isn’t quite right either, because it would suggest that Bruce Sterling or Nancy Kress aren’t thoughtful writers, and that’s not true.
Judith Berman’s “Awakening” opens with a woman waking up in / on a pile of corpses and finding her way out of wherever it is she is. Interesting opening, but what follows is that I stop caring almost instantly, and after I stop caring I struggle to finish the rest of the story. “Awakening” should be a scary story, but it isn’t. I was very disappointed with “Awakening”.
I find myself having read “The Helper and His Hero” by Matt Hughes and not having a single thing to say about it. So, I’ll say this. I can see why other writers like the story. The story seems technically proficient and well crafted, but it was an utter chore / bore to read. I’d rather go read Gene Wolfe’s New Sun books. This is not a compliment.
Finally, this brings us to “Stars Seen Through Stone”, by Lucius Shepard. The story was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction and later in The Best of Lucius Shepard collection (forthcoming in August 2008). Like many other Lucius Shepard stories “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not an overtly SFF story. His fiction takes place in the real world, but a real world where sometimes something unexpected and unreal can occur. This is actually addressed early on in the story when the narrator mentions that the world contains all sorts of weirdness, but it is only the most extreme that anyone notices at all. “Stars Seen Through Stone” is set in 1970’s (sort of) Pennsylvania in a town called Black William (great name, by the way). Vernon is a small time, but moderately respected independent music producer and he signs a talented, if creepy, singer. There is an early incident with some odd ghost lights at the town library, but after that early incident the story follows Vernon developing his creepy singer, but comes back to the history of the town and the history of those odd lights. It is a quietly fascinating and compelling story, one that doesn’t necessarily jump out as being the story readers bang down the doors of their friends house to talk about, but it is also a really good story and one definitely worth the recoginition of the various award nominations it has received.
My conclusion? This is something of a disappointing category for me. I like “The Fountain of Age”, but I am not sure it is quite as good as either “Memorare” and “Stars Seen Through Stone”. It is difficult to say just how the Nebula votes will vote, but I guess I would be surprised if either Gene Wolfe or Lucius Shepard don’t win. Both are well respected, talented authors. If I had a vote, I would probably give my vote to “Stars Seen Through Stone”. I hold the fiction of Lucius Shepard in very high regard, and this was another excellent story for Shepard. Quietly filled with the fantastic, “Stars Seen Through Stone” is not a bad choice for the Nebula. This is just not at all an overall exciting or very interesting category.
The only category left which I would like to cover is that of the Novels, but I don't think I will be able to get to it. I've only read two of the books (Ragamuffin, and The New Moon's Arms). I would much rather have read at least three of the books before I start writing about the category, and that just isn't likely to happen. It's possible, but not likely. I have The Yiddish Policeman's Union at home from the library, and I'm going to get to it before the Hugo's, but I'm not sure I see it in the next two weeks. I've had Odyssey at home for two months and, I don't know, I just don't really have much interest in it. If it wins I'll get that copy back and read it right away, but nothing about it shouts to me. Or whispers. That leaves the Haldeman. I should read more of his stuff. I was impressed with The Forever War, so why not give more of his fiction a shot. This is a long way to say that I like Ragamuffin and out of the two books I have read, I'd like to see it win.