Today, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America announced the nominees for the 2018 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. This year’s ceremony includes a new award, being given out for the first time: Best Game Writing, honoring work in interactive mediums, as well as the not-officially-Nebula-awards for dramatic presentation and best novel for younger readers.
This blog has made it annual tradition to analyze and dissect the list of nominees for the Nebula for Best Novel—always a great snapshot of the year’s best in sci-fi and fantasy literature (certainly as we see it: all six of this year’s nominees for Best Novel made our lists of the year’s best books).
We can’t wait to get started: this year’s ballot is another fantastic one. We truly are in a golden age of SFF.
Here are the nominees for the 2018 Nebula Awards.
The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
The first of a pair of prequel novels to Kowal’s award-winning novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars, The Calculating Stars delves into the alternate history that resulted in humanity establishing a colony on Mars in the middle of the 20th century. In the spring of 1952, a huge meteor hits Chesapeake Bay, taking out most of the Eastern United States. Mathematician and former military pilot Elma York and her scientist husband Nate are there to witness the destruction, and Elma knows immediately that this is an ELE—an extinction-level event—and that humanity must look to the stars if it has any hope of survival. Although her experience as a pilot and her math skills earn Elma a place in the International Aerospace Coalition as a calculator, she begins to wonder why women can’t be astronauts as well—and she’s more than willing to confront racism, sexism, and more personal enemies on her quest to become the first lady astronaut. This is one of those books that seems to have come along at just the right moment, bringing together fascinating, inspiring characters; compelling, plausible worldbuilding; and a message that resonates—especially today. Read our review.
The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US)
In a world inspired by the recent history and culture of China, the Nikan Empire defeated the Federation of Mugen in the Second Poppy War, and the two countries have since coexisted in a fragile state of peace. Orphaned peasant girl Rin lives a life of misery in Nikan, but when she sits for the Keju, the empire-wide examination designed to find talented youth and assign them to serve where they will be most useful, she scores in the highest percentile and is shocked to be assigned to the prestigious Sinegard military school, home to the children of the Empire’s elite. At Sinegard, Rin is bullied for her dark skin and low social status—but with the help of an insane teacher, she also discovers she is a shaman, able to wield powers long thought lost to the world. As she grows into her power and communicates with living gods, Rin sees clearly that a third Poppy War is coming—and she may be the only one who can stop it. Kuang is Chinese-American, and the book’s worldbuilding is informed by her study of twentieth century Chinese history, but this is no mere academic exercise—the characters are flawed and true, and the choices they face are impossibly compelling. The “year’s best debut” buzz around this one was warranted; it really is that good. Read our review.
Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller (Ecco)
Set in the floating city of Qaanaaq, built in the arctic circle in the wake of the terrible climate wars that saw ground-level cities burned and razed, Miller’s adult debut (his lightly fantastical YA The Art of Starving won the Andre Norton Award) is an intricate jewel box of ideas. The floating city is a marvel of engineering, but is starting to show the strain: poverty is rising, and crime and unrest along with it. A new disease known as the Breaks—which throws the infected into the midst of other people’s memories—is sweeping the population. When a woman arrives in Blackfish City riding on an Orca and accompanied by a polar bear, she’s an instant celebrity, dubbed the Orcamancer. She takes advantage of her fame to draw together the citizens Qaanaaq and set in motion acts of resistance and rebellion that will have incredible impact, leading four people them in particular to see through the corruption, lies, and marvels of the city to the shocking truths beneath. This is the kind of swirling, original sci-fi we live for. Read our review.
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Drawing on Eastern European folklore and the classic fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, Novik tells the story of Miryem, daughter in a family of Jewish moneylenders led by her incompetent father. With their fortunes on the wane due to his poor business sense, Miryem must step in and turn the family business around. Inspired by a mixture of desperation and genius, she responds by spinning debts into gold—gold that attracts the attention of the Staryk, emotionless fairies who bring winter with them. The Staryk give Miryem Fairy Silver and demand she transform it, too. Miryem does so by turning the beautiful metal into jewelry that attracts the attention of the rich and powerful—but her success brings her more Staryk attention, and thus more problems. Novik’s first standalone novel to come along in the wake of the Nebula Award-winning Uprooted had a tough act to follow, but Spinning Silver—expanded from a short story included in anthology The Starlit Wood—is every bit as enchanting. Read our review.
Witchmark, by C.L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing)
Polk’s debut is set in a universe resembling Edwardian England, except for the fact that in this reality, the elite families that sit atop government and the social order have magical powers as well as political ones. Miles Singer is from just such a family, but when he flees the lap of luxury to join the war effort, he grows disillusioned with the trappings of power, and takes the opportunity to fake his own death and assume a new identity. Posing as a doctor at a failing veterans’ hospital, he sees firsthand how war changes people, never for the good—soldiers are returning from the front plagued by terrible versions, and shortly thereafter, committing terrible acts of violence. When one of his patients is poisoned, Miles not only accidentally reveals his healing powers, he is thrust into a mystery that involves an aloof, beautiful man who is more than human—and who may hold the secret to stopping a brewing inter-dimensional war. This bewitching story of political maneuverings, dangerous magic, sweet romance, and bicycle chases is never less than addictive. Read our review.
Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga Press)
Roanhorse’s buzzy debut is set in a post-apocalyptic world comparable to Mad Max: Fury Road in intensity, with worldbuilding drawn from the author’s Indigenous American heritage. In an America devastated by rising sea levels, the Navajo Nation has been reborn as Dinétah—and with it have come the old gods and monsters of Native American legend. Maggie Hoskie is a monster-hunter, gifted with the power to fight and defeat these beasts. Hired by a small town to locate a missing girl, she teams up with a misfit medicine man named Kai Arviso, and the two dive into a mystery that takes them deeper into the dark side of Dinétah than they could have imagined—a world of tricksters, dark magic, and creatures more frightening than any story. Trail of Lightning is an audacious take on the conventions of both urban fantasy and the post-apocalyptic novel, binding them together in a way that could only and ever happen in Dinétah. Read our review.
And here is the rest of the fantastic ballot:
- Fire Ant, by Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi)
- The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press)
- Alice Payne Arrives, by Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing)
- Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing)
- Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing)
- The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections, by Tina Connolly (Tor.com)
- An Agent of Utopia, by Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
- The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births, by José Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed, January 2018)
- The Rule of Three, by Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest, December 2018)
- Messenger, by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)
Best Short Story
- “Interview for the End of the World”, by Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars)
- “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”, by Phenderson Djèlí Clark (Fireside, February 2018)
- “Going Dark”, by Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
- “And Yet”, by A.T. Greenblatt (Uncanny, March/April 2018)
- “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”, by Alix E. Harrow (Apex, February 2018)
- “The Court Magician”, by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed, January 2018)
Best Game Writing
- Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, by Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix)
- The Road to Canterbury, by Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games)
- God of War, by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker, and Adam Dolin (Santa Monica Studio/Sony/Interactive Entertainment)
- Rent-A-Vice, by Natalia Theodoridou (Choice of Games)
- The Martian Job, by M. Darusha Wehm (Choice of Games)
The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
- The Good Place: “Jeremy Bearimy” (Written by Megan Amram, directed by Trent O’Donnell)
- Black Panther (Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler)
- A Quiet Place (Screenplay by John Krasinski, Bryan Woods, and Scott Beck, directed by John Krasinski)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, directed by Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman)
- Dirty Computer (Written by Janelle Monáe and Chuck Lightning)
- Sorry to Bother You (Written and directed by Boots Riley)
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The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book
- Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt)
- Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents)
- A Light in the Dark, by A.K. DuBoff (BDL)
- Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (Random House)
- Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
- Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, by Henry Lien (Henry Holt)
The Nebula Awards will be given out during the Nebula Awards Conference, held May 16-19, 2019.