March 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Nebula Awards Showcase 2004 by Vonda N. McIntyre
Roc / Penguin Putnam Trade: ISBN 0451459571 PubDate: 03/01/04
Review by Ernest Lilley

288 pgs. List price $ 14.95
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This is a stellar collection of short stories, excerpts for novels and tributes to authors including, as much as possible, the winners from the 2003 Nebula Awards ballot and several worthy runner ups. I especially liked "Bronte's Egg", Richard Chwedyk's winning novella about a home for abandoned dinosaurs, which evokes a combination of Brian Aldiss' "Super Toys Last All Summer Long" and Jurassic Park, but in a more hopeful light. Inspiringly there isn't a clunker in the bunch.

Have I mentioned yet that this is not only a "must read" for anyone with an interest in the field, but a pleasure to read as well? That's more reassuring than surprising, of course, given that this collection has little if any agenda besides quality writing, but it is reassuring to see that so many fresh voices are so much fun.

"Bronte's Egg" which I mentioned before, is told through the persona of Axel, a bio-toy dinosaur that has all the enthusiasm and innocence of a mutant ninga turtle, despite having suffered the worst fates that toys can know. And no, I don't mean having your owner grow up. If you think kids can be cruel to each other, you've never seen what boys can do to toys. So there's cruelty in it, but it's outweighed by the affection and camaraderie of outcasts, stuff SF fans eat up. Speaking of eating, while "Sunday Yams at Minnie and Earl's" didn't win, it's a terrific yarn about keeping the dream alive with a little help from your friends that shouldn't be missed. You might even decide to try yams.

Neil Fisk 's "Hell is the Absence of God" was the novelette winner and a story I'd been meaning to get around to, in which the author examines the relationship between faith and religion, and what it means to love God. I always enjoy hard looks at this arena, and Fisk never blinks as he puts his characters through Earth, Heaven and Hell with a collection of perspectives that show some real illumination of a classic conundrum.

From the cyberpunk-as-consultant crowd comes Charlie Stross's brilliant story about "Lobsters", freedom of information, taxes, a future where sex has gotten really safe and extremely risky all at once and about virtual lobsters who'd just like to get out of the virtual pot. Did I mention that Stross is brilliant? True, this was an "also ran" for novelette, but amongst the contenders the winner is more a matter of taste than quality.

Carol Emshwiller's "Creature" took home the prize for short story, and it's another excellent piece about reverse engineered dinosaurs who've outlived their utility, though not as toys for little boys. Fortunately contenders "Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City", "The Dog Said Bow-Wow", and "Cut" all made this collection as well, and are not to be missed.

There are appreciations for  Ursula LeGuin, Damon Knight, and Katherine MacLean, as well as an expert from LeGuin's Changing Planes, and one from Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Changing Planes was the only piece in the book I didn't care for, which is clearly a matter of taste, but which saddens me...because I used to really enjoy LeGuin. (right: Gaiman at the 2003 Nebula Award, which we covered)

The one omission that I hold against them is an excerpt from any of the contenders for the script category. Maybe its a rights issue, considering big media is involved, but if the award is for actual writing, not just dramatic presentation, I'd like to see some of it. The Fellowship of the Ring took the honors, and I'd be happy to read some of that, but I'd also have enjoyed the contenders: Shrek, Unreasonable Doubt, and Buffy: Once More With Feeling.

I always get confused by the year on the cover, which is a full two years out of synch with the publication dates of the stories, which came out in 2002. I understand that calling it the 2003, or even the 2003 Nebula Awards Showcase would make it harder to sell, but I think they could sidestep the whole issue by numbering them from the first Nebulas given. Never mind. It's worth picking up no matter what year it is.

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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