July 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 Edward Carmien

288 pgs. List price $ 14.95
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This excellent collection serves a number of masters. It presents some great writing, records a moment of SFWA history, and provides a stage for commentary by some of the field’s brightest and most thoughtful voices. Once again, as I suggested of the 2003 Showcase anthology, this book would serve well as a class text for a science fiction and/or fantasy literature class.

Richard Chwedyk’s thoughtful “Brontes Egg” leads off the anthology in style. This tale of unexpectedly bright “toys” is engrossing and represents some of the best that speculative fiction has to offer contemporary readers. Or science fiction. Lets not stumble over terminology. Ted Chiang’s “Hell is the Absence of God” is a stylistically unusual piece that ends with a hammerblow. Representing the Nebula novel award is a fragment of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods that will likely lead one to finding and reading the novel, if one hasn’t done so already. Adam-Troy Castro’s “Sunday Night Yams” is a light-hearted yet quietly serious…something…that combines the best of crunchy sf with lark-winged fantasy—or, in lit-speak, “magical realism.” “Sita Dulip’s Method” is a story from Ursula K. Le Guin’s anthology Changing Planes; it amply demonstrates why she well deserves the Grand Master award.

Jack McDevitt’s “Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City” represents the creative process at its best—forget being the hero, the scientist on the cutting edge, the hapless innocent caught up in strange events…what about the guy who is in the background of a great event? “Cut” by Megan Lindholm is a disturbing and excellent story—say no more, it is a must read. Michael Swanwick’s “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” is as good as one expects a Swanwick story to be, while Charles Stross’s “Lobsters” presents about as “real” a look at what it would be like to live a cyberpunk life as one is likely to find. Carol Emshwiller’s “Creature” presents a hermit and a talking dinosaur in a story that is far better than it must sound from that description.

Finally, for those familiar with Katherine MacLean’s work, her story “Games” will refresh one’s memory of some of her favorite tropes, in this case telepathy and destiny.

Damon Knight’s passing in 2002 is remembered with tributes from Frederik Pohl, Carol Emshwiller, James Gunn, Robin, Wilson, Edward Bryant, Eileen Gunn, and Leslie What. No less is due the man who, among many other accomplishments, formed the SFWA in the first place. Sharon Lee’s appreciation of Author Emeritus Katherine MacLean is thoughtful and useful for readers who come to the field ineluctably later than others. As always, a complete list of Nebula Award Winners rounds out this collection, a handy reference.

While a collection that serves so many masters runs the risk of being a master of no trades, this Showcase nevertheless provides excellent fiction—the Nebula Award winners should at least be “good,” shouldn’t they?—along with commentary that helps frame some of the people so important to the nation of what I call romantic literature, fantasy and science fiction. McIntyre has done a good job of bringing together the necessary elements as well as the optional ones. I’ve used the 2003 Showcase as a class text in the past, and feel that in addition to serving as a good collection for fans in general to acquire, this year’s collection would also serve well in the classroom. It is cost-effective, and its contents represent a broad sweep of contemporary science fiction and fantasy writing. In addition, the non-fiction elements present a variety of opportunities for class assignments that can lead students deeper into the world of science fiction and fantasy.

© 2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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