Every year some of the best science fiction and fantasy writings are selected by a panel of authors that have distinguished themselves in the field. The winners are then awarded the prestigious Nebula award. As a fan of the genre the “nebula nominee’s shortlist” a precious resource when deciding what to read next. This post collects the list of the 2013 nominees for best novella (defined as a writing of at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words), with links to where to download the (legal) eBook version.
This is a rare example of sublime literature, an adroitly crafted, magnificently written novella spanning between the historical fiction and dark fantasy genres. The mix of the two genres works incredibly well: fantastic demons are metaphors of the real historical horrors, and supernatural elements reflects a system of beliefs and the superstitions of a community.
This is the story of Deborah, a Jewish girl growing in Poland at a time when anti-Semitic discrimination was the law, and the whole community lived in fear of pogroms. Her family is also faced with the prospect of poverty, since their main trade and source of income (sewing) suddenly has to compete with the products coming out from textile factories. Deborah inherited the holy powers from her grandmother, the zegorin of the village, that starts to train her to become one. Unfortunately her family is soon to be faced by a new wave of pogroms and supernatural events.
Andy Duncan & Ellen Klages
Despite being a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula 2013 awards, I would classify this novella as historical fiction, and not as science fiction or fantasy.
The story starts in the 1930s, in the deep South, at a time when segregation was the law of the land. Each chapter focuses on one pivotal moment in the life of a different member of the same family, each one belonging to a different generation. We are told the history of Wakulla Spring, a “white-only” retreat in the more pristine and wild corner of Florida, through their eyes.
The first two chapters are remarkable, because of the incredibly successful portrait of the past, as seen by the people living back then, and because of the well rounded character development. I just wish that the rest of the book was as good!
The last three chapters are quite short, almost as if they were written in a rush, and they feature characters that feel flat, quite uninteresting. The author introduces a couple of very small supernatural events, that do not fit well with the rest of the story, and that do not really add anything to it.
Trial of the Century
Lawrence M. Schoen
I probably did not enjoy the short novella as much as a person that read the previous installments of it would. I liked the focus of psychology, but I really could not get into the dog sized buffalo with an internal fusion reactor pet idea.
Free eBook: [Author page]
Six Gun Snow White
Catherynne M. Valente
This is a retelling of an old fairy tale, that makes unmistakably explicit the sexual, gender, and ethnic violence that is often implicit in fairy tales, so as to bring the reader face to face with what dominant culture pretties up and romanticizes. Gone are the fairy tales tones and colors, replaced by gritty details, and a hard, verist style where the fairy tales elements are used as metaphors and allegories, or to give more depth to the story.
This is the story of Six Gun Snow White, born of a Nevada silver baron who forced the Crow people to give up one of their most beautiful daughters, Gun That Sings, in marriage to him. With her mother’s death in childbirth, so begins a heroine’s tale equal parts heartbreak and strength. This girl has been born into a world with no place for a half-native, half-white child. After being hidden for years, a very wicked stepmother finally gifts her with the name Snow White, referring to the pale skin she will never have.
Trigger warning: the story contains visual depictions of sexual violence, xenophobia, and first nation destruction (intended as a way to showcase their horror).
The Weight of the Sunrise
This alternative history Nebula award winner novella is set in a world where Pizarro did not completely wipe out the Mayan empire and their culture to the point of obliteration. In this world the empire is still standing, under the rule of a Emperor worshiped by his subjects as a living God. The empire is fighting against Scarlet Fever, a disease originated in Europe that disproportionately affects American. It wipes out entire villages, the few survivors are believed to be blessed by the Gods. The hope of a cure comes with an envoy from 13 British colonies in North America that are trying to free themselves from the rule of the monarchy.
What makes the story remarkable is not the portrait of a long lost culture, the entertaining plot, or the quite believable reconstruction of alternative historical events. What set this novella apart is the honest portrait of our own real history. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers.
- Nebula 2013 winners announcement [link]