Today, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2017 Nebula awards, honoring science fiction and fantasy works—novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories—published during the prior calendar year. If the Hugo Awards, voted on by fans, are the SFF version of the People’s Choice Awards, the Nebulas are the Oscars, voted on by industry pros.
Around here, we’re big fans of the Nebulas—the novel ballot in particular is always a reliable indicator of the year’s best in sci-fi and fantasy literature (case in point: six of this year’s seven nominees for Best Novel are on our lists of the year’s best books). We’ve even made it a tradition to read through all of the Best Novel nominees every year and offer not just reviews of the books, but a little inside baseball awards prognostication.
We can’t wait to get started: this year’s lineup is an especially strong one. Here are the nominees for the 2017 Nebula Awards.
Amberlough, by Lara Elena Donnelly
Combining Casablanca, Cabaret, and John le Carré, Donnelly’s intoxicating debut whisks us away to Amberlough, a seductive, permissive enclave in a setting not exactly unlike 1920s Europe. The city is targeted by a conservative, nationalist One-State Party, which seeks to unite all nations into an orderly empire. Cyril DePaul is a shattered intelligence agent forced reluctantly back into the field—where his spectacular failure puts him at the mercy of blackmail by the OSP. But everyone in this story is a double-agent of sorts; no one is precisely who they seem, and their complex relationships and cover stories weave together into an complex web of intrigue. As the OSP tightens its grip, every character is forced to make hard choices, even as their freedoms wither around them. It’s dark, powerful, affecting stuff. Populated by fascinating, flawed, tragic characters and atmosphere that glitters like a spotlight on sequins, it’s a book destined to be remembered—a book out of time and a book for our times.
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss
In a brilliant mash-up of classic horror and sci-fi tales and characters, with an added steampunk twist, Goss’s debut novel expands on an earlier short story to tell the tale of Mary Jekyll, daughter of the famed Dr. Jekyll. Impoverished, she hires detective Sherlock Holmes to track down the man who murdered her father—the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Holmes is distracted by the serial killings in Whitechapel, a parallel investigation that leads both him and Mary to other daughters of infamous men: Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappacini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. With an unwaveringly entertaining narrative voice, Goss imbues each woman with agency and personality, crafting a story in which each can pursue her own destiny as they wrestle with their singularly odd pasts and odd families.
Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory
Gregory’s latest sounds at first like a superhero story: con man Teddy Telemachus cheats his way into a CIA research program where he meets and falls in love Maureen McKinnon, a genuine psychic with incredible powers. They start a family, ultimately having three children each with powers of their own, and become a traveling telekinetic family sideshow. But then, tragedy strikes the Amazing Telemachus Family, and the surviving members are left shattered, Decades later, their lives are in ruins when the CIA comes knocking, eager to learn if the family still has any powers left to exploit. The twisty narrative jumps back and forth between 1963 and 1995, circling around and around the points of view of each member of the family. The shifts in perspective are heartwarming—these people truly seem to love one another—and heartbreaking, as their extraordinary powers turn out to cause them terrible, personal pain.
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The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin
The first book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, Hugo-winner The Fifth Season, is an explosion of ideas, twisting plot points, and clever point-of-view puzzles. The second, The Obelisk Gate, is a masterwork of world-building, developing the history and culture of the Stillness while setting up the clash between mother and daughter that will define a new age. Neither one disappointed in the least. Which is why it’s such a delight to say that the final book, The Stone Sky, is one of the most satisfying concluding novels of the year, or any year. This is not because everything is wrapped up neatly and tidily, handing out rewards to the deserving and punishing the wicked. The Stillness is a place of hard choices, and hard choices are what we are given, in the end. This book, and this trilogy, pull off a feat that works something like magic, a trick that ends with its beginnings and begins where it ends.
Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty
A locked-room mystery nestled comfortably inside a big-idea sci-fi premise, Lafferty’s latest is a interstellar page-turner, building a compelling future world of human clones and interstellar travel, and rewriting the rules of the crime novel accordingly. Societal and climate collapse drives humanity to send 2,000 cryo-frozen people to a distant, Earth-like planet on a ship crewed by six criminals who volunteer to be cloned again and again as they shepherd their precious cargo to its final destination. Every time the crew is cloned, they maintain their collective memories. When they wake up at the beginning of the novel, however, their former bodies are dead—brutally murdered in various ways; the ship is in shambles (gravity is off, the controlling artificial intelligence is offline, and they’re off-course); and their memories (and all other records) have been erased. The six have to clean up the mess—but they also have to figure out who killed them and why, and how to survive within a paranoid pressure-cooker of a ship. Lafferty steadily ramps up the tension from the jarring first pages to the nail-biting conclusion. We dare you to stop reading it.
Jade City, by Fonda Lee
The island nation of Kekon relies on the magical properties of jade—and the families of Green Bone warriors able to manipulate it to gain magical fighting abilities—for protection. These warriors have safeguarded the island for centuries, but when a long period of unrest gives way to peace, the new generation forgets about tradition, and powerful families jockey for control of the country. As the family drama spills out into brutal street fighting and cunning political intrigue, a new drug emerges that allows anyone, even foreigners, to use jade. Back-room scheming erupts into full-on warfare, and a conflict that ties together complex threads of family and history will determine the fate of Kekon’s future. Magic meets The Godfather in this immensely readable epic.
Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz
Newitz, the co-founder of io9, delivers seriously plausible—if chilling—future medicine in her debut, imagining a world where pharma pirates reverse-engineer drugs the way people jailbreak software today. Judith “Jack” Chen, who fancies herself a Robin Hood figure, offering affordable life-saving drugs to those who can’t afford them, hacks a far less benevolent drug called Zacuity, which supposedly makes people feel good about working long hours for their jobs—but when people start dying, she discovers the truth: Zacuity makes people addicted to work, to the point of insanity and even death. A thrilling pursuit and race against time ensues as Jack flees two determined agents—one of them an artificially intelligent robot beginning to awaken to the soul within its own programming—while trying to get the truth out into the open. In this terrifyingly plausible post-climate change future, pharma hackers—both blackhat and white—are a vital part of the healthcare system in which “better living through chemistry” is taken to terrifying extremes.
And here’s the rest of the impressive ballot…
- River of Teeth, by Sarah Gailey (Tor.com Publishing)
- Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages (Tor.com Publishing)
- And Then There Were (N-One), by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny)
- Barry’s Deal, by Lawrence M. Schoen (NobleFusion Press)
- All Systems Red, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Black Tides of Heaven, by JY Yang (Tor.com Publishing)
- Dirty Old Town, by Richard Bowes (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
- Weaponized Math, by Jonathan P. Brazee (The Expanding Universe, Vol. 3)
- Wind Will Rove, by Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s)
- A Series of Steaks, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld )
- A Human Stain, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com)
- Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny)
Best Short Story
- Fandom for Robots, by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Uncanny)
- Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex)
- Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls (Strange Horizons 6/5/17)
- Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand, by Fran Wilde (Uncanny)
- The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard), by Matthew Kressel (Tor.com)
- Carnival Nine, by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
- Get Out (written by Jordan Peele)
- The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (written by Michael Schur)
- Logan (screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green)
- The Shape of Water (screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (written by Rian Johnson)
- Wonder Woman (screenplay by Allan Heinberg)
The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult SFF
- Exo, by Fonda Lee (Scholastic Press)
- Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren (Tor)
- The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller (HarperTeen)
- Want, by Cindy Pon (Simon Pulse)
Who are you rooting for?