Sunday, January 31, 2016

Revised Nebula Ballot: Beauty Is a Wound

I have revised my Nebula ballot to remove Laurus from the Novel category and replace it with Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. It sits very comfortably in the tradition of magical realism. It begins with a prostitute rising from her grave after 21 years, and ends with an invisible lover falling prey to a revenge murder. Along the way, a courtesan learns to fly, a gangster ascends to heaven by attaining meditative moksha, and a thousand communist ghosts torment their murderers. Yet for long passages, it could be read as a fairly straightforward family drama in a historical setting, the setting being Indonesia over the course of the 20th century. Its primary weakness is that it is a touch too long, a weakness that it shares with Laurus, both opting for a synoptic view of history rather than narrative economy. Ultimately my preference comes down to being more interested in 20th century Indonesia than 15th century Russia, and preferring communist ghosts to holy fools. Here is what they do to the warlord who masterminded the local execution of what was, in 1965, a nationwide mass murder of millions:
For years after the massacre he experienced terrible insomnia, and then when he finally did fall asleep, he suffered from sleepwalking. Communist ghosts were out to get him all the time, even sabotaging him at the trump table and making him lose again and again. Their constant annoyances were driving him insane--he'd often put his clothes on backward, or walk out of the house in his underwear, or go home to the wrong house. Or he'd think that he was making love to his wife but it turned out that he was fucking the toilet hole. The water in his bathtub would turn into a sticky pool of blood, and upon investigation he'd discover that all of the water in the house, even the water in the teapot and the thermos, had also suddenly thickened into dark red blood.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tentative Nebula Nominations

Since I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) last year, I am now eligible to nominate works for their Nebula Awards. The following are my tentative nominations. I say tentative because ballots can be revised until the end of the nomination period on February 15th. I do have at least one novel from last year which I am hoping to get read before then, and am always open to recommendations of shorter works that I may have missed when they first came out. The following is intended not as lists of "the five best publications in each category," but the five best that came to my attention early enough for me to read them.


  1. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson: I strongly suspect this will prove durably to have been the best science fiction novel published in English in 2015. There is a lengthy section of the book that could be used in a physics classroom to convey the sublime beauty of Newtonian mechanics. By making an artificial intelligence into the narrator, Robinson affords himself the opportunity to digress metafictionally on the nature of language and narrative, opportunities passed over all too often by other science fiction novels. Though a novel of interstellar exploration, it dares to undermine the premises of the subgenre, detailing in excruciating manner the ways in which life, ultimately, is a planetary epiphenomenon.
  2. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins: Worth reading if only for the chapter describing the Amargosa Dune Sea. The mathematical sublime in the inevitable death of the American West.
  3. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins: This is the most "fun" of my nominees for the novel category, if you are the sort of person who finds the combination of adolescent psychology and supernatural power characteristic of the gods in most of the world's polytheistic traditions "fun".
  4. Slade House by David Mitchell: Combines the precise linguistic control and baroque imagination of most of Mitchell's novels, but without the grand metaphysical or socio-political ambitions for which his longer pieces are known.
  5. Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin: This translation from the Russian has garnered many comparisons to the work of Umberto Eco, and those are fair, though unlike most such reviews I think this book has more in common with Bardolino than with The Name of the Rose. And if you compare it to the former, then the comparison is in Laurus's favor. The Russian Orthodox figure of the holy fool is one that should appear more often in world literature.


  1. "The New Mother" by Eugene Fischer (first appeared in Asimov's): Reproductive freedom, patriarchal violence, and the very nature of parenthood are all brought to crisis by a peculiar, sexually transmitted syndrome.
  2. "The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred" by Greg Egan (first appeared in Asimov's): This story should replace "the trolley problem" on the syllabi of courses in introductory philosophical ethics.
  3. "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T. Malik: Malik continues to out-write most of the rest of us in the world of science fiction and fantasy, in quality if not in quantity. In this piece he brings together the legends of the Islamic world and the existential angst of the immigrant son, and in so doing, out-Rushdies Rushdie.
  4. Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds: This one grew on me more than I expected. It starts out like a fairly standard, grim bit of military SF, but by bringing in atrocity, torture, vengeance, the decline of civilization, memory, and identity, it ends up echoing Kafka's "In the Penal Colony". A very timely glimpse into a far future that isn't quite so distant.
  5. "What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear" by Bao Shu (first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction): If time is reversible then the apparent inevitabilities of history are only so many stories we tell ourselves. They might be even if the arrow of time has a definite direction.


I have already stated why I hate the concept of "novelette". The following are the stories that I will nominate within it.

  1. "We Never Sleep" by Nick Mamatas: All your grandiose ideas were invented by intellectual whores to keep the pot boiling. All of them. Accept it and move on.
  2. "The Prospectors" by Karen Russell: Even ghosts want to get lucky.
  3. "The Long-Rumored Food Crisis" by Setsuko Shinoda (first appeared in Hanzai Japan): Civilization is a convenient fiction.
  4. "Our Lady of the Open Road" by Sarah Pinsker (first appeared in Asimov's): What happens to DIY culture when surveillance becomes such an accepted norm that the very desire to be or do by "yourself" is prima facie grounds for suspicion? This piece doesn't quite answer that question, but it kicks out a few jams along the way toward an answer.
  5. "The Saitama Chain Saw Massacre" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (first appeared in Hanzai Japan): Has a bit more in common with Heathers than the movie explicitly referenced in the title. Great, bloody fun.

Short Story

This is the only category in which anything I published this year would qualify. However, Nebula rules, unlike those for the Hugo Awards, forbid self-nomination. If you are a SFWA member and have read "The Joy of Sects" (I think the strongest of the three pieces I had published in 2015), and deem it worthy of a nomination, I would be honored. Here are my nominees:

  1. "The Buzzard's Egg" by China MiƩville (first appeared in Granta): Indescribably weird, as MiƩville is at his best.
  2. "Respawn" by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (first appeared in Press Start to Play): The murdered becomes the murderer, which is much less fun than it sounds, finding yourself drenched in your own blood but in a new body.
  3. "Printable" by Toh Enjoe: Translation as an act of murder that takes place outside of time: Sounds about right.
  4. "Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Projection" by Yumeaki Hirayama (first appeared in Hanzai Japan: The map is not a mute instrument, but a co-conspirator.
  5. "Best Interest" by Brian Evenson (first appeared in Hanzai Japan): Even as Gojira is destroying the city, the yakuza find a way to work it to their advantage.