Thursday, February 21, 2019

2019 Nebula Award Nominees

Location: Woodland Hills, California.

Comments: There is a lot to like about the nominees for the 2019 Nebula Award. The brand new category of Game Writing looks to be an interesting addition to the awards. Of note in that category, three of the nominees are from the same studio - Choice of Games - which seems to specialize in what are essentially Choose Your Own Adventure stories for computers. In addition, the ballot looks to be quite diverse, which is always a sign of a strong field of nominees.

However, there is cause for minor concern due to this ballot. During the nominating period, the group "20booksto50K" posted a slate of proposed nominees on their not quite as closed as they thought Facebook group that they took careful pains to claim was not a slate, but everything about it seemed to seem quite slate-like. For those who don't know, 20booksto50K is a group of "indie" (that is, mostly self-published) authors that is intended to support and promote its members. A run-down of the bulk of the Facebook post in question, and the elements that make the claims that it is "not a slate" somewhat dubious, can be found on this post by Camestros Felapton.

The "not a slate" is somewhat fact that there was a period of time in the late 1990s to the early to mid 2000s in which the Nebula Awards were the subject of repeated accusations of the nominating ballots being tainted by logrolling and vote trading - a problem that became so serious that SFWA changed the rules for nominating in an effort to try to combat it. Numerous people wrote about the issue and the chosen solution, including Jason Sanford and John Scalzi. In more recent years, the Hugo Awards were subjected to a series of ideologically driven slate campaigns that plagued the award for nearly four years. Given this background, setting up something that even remotely looks like a slate seems to be a hazardous endeavor.

The "not a slate" had the following recommendations that became Nebula nominees:
  • Novella: Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee
  • Novelette: Messenger by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi; The Rule of Three by Lawrence M. Schoen
  • Short Story: Going Dark by Richard Fox; Interview for the End of the World by Rhett Bruno
  • Andre Norton Award: A Light in the Dark by A.K. DuBoff
The nomination here that I want to focus on is the one for The Rule of Three by Lawrence M. Schoen, because I think it highlights one of the most pernicious effects of slates and things that are maybe not quite slates. Schoen is a member of 20booksto50, and so they highlighted and promoted his work. He is, however, a mostly traditionally published author, with a couple of novels published by Tor, a number of works of short fiction published in traditional venues, and so on. He has been nominated for a Nebula Award six times in the last seven years. In short, he seems to be the last person who would really need a boost from 20booksto50 to secure a Nebula nomination.

And yet, the effect of this nomination has been to cast a shadow over all of Schoen's previous ones. I don't want it to. I have met Mr. Schoen, listened to his readings, read his works, and had conversations with him. I like him. And yet, in the back of my head, I can hear the voice saying that if this nomination was the result of and organized group trying to promote members of their club, how do we know that his previous nominations weren't juiced in some similar manner? I don't like having those thoughts, but they are unavoidable given the nature of the 20booksto50 post.

And this is one of the most insidious effects of slates and slate-like campaigns: They cause one to doubt the bona fides of those who are supported by the campaign, even when they are situated similarly to Mr. Schoen, and even when you would rather think the best of them. During the various Puppy campaigns related to the Hugo Awards, some authors like Marko Kloos and Juliette Wade figured out that a slate-driven nomination would taint any other recognition they had received or might receive in the future and either declined such nominations or demanded to be removed from the slate to begin with, while clueless numpties like John C. Wright and Lou Antonelli thought that their slate-driven nominations represented a real accomplishment and not damaging black marks that would hang over their subsequent careers like dead albatrosses. The simple fact is that getting a nomination via these sorts of tactics casts a pallor over everyone involved.

I want to believe that Mr. Schoen's nomination was truly earned. I'm just not sure that I can. And that really sucks.

Best Novel

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Other Nominees:
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Best Novella

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Other Nominees:
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
Fire Ant by Jonathan P. Brazee
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Best Novelette

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Other Nominees:
An Agent of Utopia by Andy Duncan
The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly
Messenger by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi
The Rule of Three by Lawrence M. Schoen
The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte

Best Short Story

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by Phenderson Djèlí Clark

Other Nominees:
And Yet by A.T. Greenblatt
The Court Magician by Sarah Pinsker
Going Dark by Richard Fox
Interview for the End of the World by Rhett Bruno
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow

Best Game Writing

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch by Charlie Brooker

Other Nominees:
God of War by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, and Cory Barlog
The Martian Job by M. Darusha Wehm
Rent-A-Vice by Natalia Theodoridou
The Road to Canterbury by Kate Heartfield

Ray Bradbury Award

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Other Nominees:
Black Panther
Dirty Computer
The Good Place: Jeremy Bearimy
Sorry to Bother You
A Quiet Place

Andre Norton Award

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Other Nominees:
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
A Light in the Dark by A.K. DuBoff
Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Go to previous year's nominees: 2018
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2020

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  1. Psst, the author's name is Lawrence M. Schoen, spelled the German way.

    1. @Cora: You are, of course, correct. I fixed the incorrect spellings. The odd thing is that I managed to spell it correctly at first, and then shifted to an incorrect spelling later in the post.