The Controversy over Nebula Awards Showcase 55, edited by Catherynne M. Valente

The Controversy over Nebula Awards Showcase 55, edited by Catherynne M. Valente

Nebula Awards Showcase 55 (SFWA, August 2021). Cover by Lauren Raye Snow

I’m hearing some grousing about the latest Nebula Awards Showcase, edited by the distinguished Catherynne M. Valente.

This is the 55th volume in the long-running series, and the second to be published directly by SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America. As is customary, it contains the complete Nebula award-winning stories, as selected by that august body, as well as a tasty selection of the other nominees, as selected at the whim of the editor.

Well — not exactly. And that seems to be the crux of the problem. For the first time I can remember, the Nebula Awards Showcase contains only one of the winners from last year, A. T. Greenblatt’s short story “Give the Family My Love,” originally published in Clarkesworld. All the others — including the winners in novelette, novella, and novel category — are represented only by brief excerpts.

[Click the images below for nebula-sized versions.]

This has been a controversial choice, as I’m sure you can imagine. Australia’s Andrew Gibbs, in his Amazon review, puts it pretty succinctly:

This volume included… three short non-fiction articles, the short story nominees and winner, the novelette nominees and an extract from the winner, extracts of the novellas and an extract of the winning novel. It is disappointing that this is the first volume in the series not to include the complete novelette winner and it is unusual to not include the novella winner in total as well. In fact about more than a third of the 460-odd pages is extracts. I would have much preferred to read the whole of less stories rather than been thrown tidbits of more stories.

I see Andrew’s point. Given the choice, I think I would’ve rather seen the winning Nebula slate in its entirety, and a sampling of some of the other nominees, rather than 150+ pages of unsatisfying excerpts.

However, this is entirely the editor’s call — and there’s a pretty strong historical precedent for the Nebula Award Showcase editor doing whatever the hell they feel like. Last year’s editor, Nibedita Sen, didn’t include the full novella winner either (Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective), opting instead to include generous excerpts from all six nominees.

Nebula Winners Fourteen (Bantam, 1982) and Seven American Nights
(Tor Double #10, 1989). Covers by Gary LaSasso and Bryn Barnard

Back in 1982, when he edited Nebula Winners Fourteen, Frederik Pohl completely ignored tradition and instead set out to rectify what he clearly felt was an injustice — cramming the entirety of Gene Wolfe’s massive (and award-losing) novella Seven American Nights into the book, at the expense of virtually all the other nominees.

This is the prerogative of the editor. To assemble the best book they can. Or to give special attention to truly brilliant work overlooked by the committee. Or to fairly showcase the diverse range of talent nominated by the members of SFWA. Or to do none of those things, and try something else entirely.

There have been 55 volumes of the Nebula Awards Showcase, and I’m not so in love with tradition that I expect them all to abide by the same format. If there’s a tradition I respect, it’s giving the editor the latitude to put together the anthology they want, with the building materials the voters of SFWA have assembled for them.

And that’s exactly what Cat Valente has done. I’ve already ordered my copy, and I look forward to enjoying it.

Here’s the complete table of contents.

Introduction by Catherynne M. Valente
“The Best of Twines, the Worst of Rhymes: A Tale of Two C++ies (or, Why Game Writing Is Bad and Great)” by Seth Dickinson
“Queering Chaos” by Foz Meadows
“Lois McMaster Bujold and Being a Grand Master” by LaShawn Wanak
“Give the Family My Love” by A. T. Greenblatt*
“The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power” by Karen Osborne
“And Now His Lordship Is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas
“Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island” by Nibedita Sen
“A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde
“How the Trick Is Done” by A.C. Wise
“A Strange Uncertain Light” by G. V. Anderson
“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carrol
“His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light” by Mimi Mondal
“The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker
Excerpt: “Carpe Glitter” by Cat Rambo*
“The Archronology of Love” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Excerpt: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
Excerpt: Riverland by Fran Wilde
Excerpt: “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” by Ted Chiang
Excerpt: “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” by P. Djèlí Clark
Excerpt: “This Is How You Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Excerpt: “Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water” by Vylar Kaftan
Excerpt: “The Deep” by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes
Excerpt: “Catfish Lullaby” by A.C. Wise

Here’s the complete list of 2020 Nebula Award winners and nominees at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

Our previous coverage includes:

Nebula Awards One and Two
Nebula Award Stories 3, edited by Roger Zelazny, reviewed by William I. Lengeman III
Nebula Winners Fourteen, edited by Frederik Pohl
Nebula Award Stories 17, edited by Joe Haldeman
Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, edited by Kij Johnson
Nebula Awards Showcase 2015, edited by Greg Bear
Nebula Awards Showcase 2016, edited by Mercedes Lackey
Nebula Awards Showcase 2017, edited by Julie E. Czerneda
Nebula Awards Showcase 2018, edited by Jane Yolen
Nebula Awards Showcase 2019, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Nebula Awards Showcase 54 edited by Nibedita Sen

Nebula Awards Showcase 55 was published by SFWA on August 15, 2021. It is 482 pages, priced at $19.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Lauren Raye Snow. See all the details at the
SFWA website.

See all our recent coverage of the best new releases in SF and fantasy here.

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as an avid reader of anthologies and the magazines, i absolutely do not like excerpts, i see how they can be helpful but i dont enjoy them. i dont think i have ever purchased off an excerpt, with the exception of first chapter type ones but that is still infrequent. if the author has novels and shorts, i dont mind reading a short set in the authors main novel world. i’m probly more picky then i need to be though 🙂

Dale James Nelson

I wouldn’t buy a book of excerpts like this.

[…] SECOND FIFTH. John O’Neill analyzes “The Controversy over Nebula Awards Showcase 55, edited by Catherynne M. Valente” at Black […]

Piet Nel

The short fiction winners should be included in full. The only understandable exception would be if the novella winner is extraordinarily long (besides the one John mentions, I remember that Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” was also not featured in full). But not including the entire novelette winner is unprecedented. Including it would still have left the editor plenty of room to exercise her discretion, so that’s disappointing.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that the Nebula Awards volume has dropped off the Locus Recommended Reading List, and this won’t help. It reminds me of the 2010 venture to revive the Hugo Awards anthologies—and Ted Chiang’s short story winner was omitted. End of series after one volume.

As a reader, I would love an anthology that combines each year’s Hugo and Nebula winners in the short categories. Just the winners, no excerpts, no non-fiction except introductions of economical length. If the book is shortened by too many dual winners, the editor can include something else. I think this was tried once, but it didn’t catch on.

Somewhat off the topic, I have difficulty understanding why award anthologies aren’t good sellers. Award winning stories are supposed to be the most popular and acclaimed ones—doesn’t anyone want them in a book?

Rich Horton

To be fair, Pohl included all three short fiction winners. And also “Seven American Nights”, a pretty clearly great story (better than Varley’s overrated winner, for sure!), and also one short story nominee.

I suspect there might have been problems getting permission to publish the full versions of the novelette and novella winners?

I admit, I dislike seeing exceprts.

I do feel the Nebula books have lost their luster, lately.

[…] a million dollars in legal fees to fan outcry over their annual edition of Nebula Awards Showcase only containing one story that actually won a  Nebula Award, it appeared that in 2021, no news was indeed good […]

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