Nebula Awards 24

edited by Michael Bishop
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990)
$22.95 cloth, 302 pp.

In his editor’s introduction to Nebula Awards 24, Michael Bishop calls this annual anthology “a different animal from the best-of-the-year collections” of science fiction. So it is, and the difference is all to the good.

Given the freedom to make what he calls “startling but defensible” choices in assembling this volume, Bishop has made Nebula Awards 24 less a collection of 1988 SF than a survey of the SF world in 1988. Only about two-thirds of the wordage here is devoted to fiction and poetry. The rest of the book is composed of assorted nonfiction — essays, remembrances, overviews, and behind-the-scenes glimpses.

The net effect is a good one: instead of being a narrowly focused coronation of four works and four writers, Nebula Awards 24 places those awards in a broader context. Bishop seems to want to remind us that the Nebula Awards, voted on by the membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America, are — though important — only one opinion, and that far more quality SF appears each year than all of the field’s awards together can honor.

Leading the nonfiction parade is a thoughtful, detailed overview by British author Ian Watson of dozens of notable novels and shorter works which first appeared in 1988. Bill Warren closes the volume with a similar survey of 1988’s SF films.

In between can be found Greg Bear’s salute to Ray Bradbury, newest recipient of SFWA’s highest honor, the Grand Master Nebula. Bradbury himself contributes a new poem, “The Collector,” and a forceful essay on the madness of censorship.

On a sadder note, the 1988 deaths of two earlier Grand Master recipients, Clifford Simak and Robert Heinlein, are marked with loving remembrances by Gordon R. Dickson and Frank Robinson.

There is no Nebula Award for poetry, but Bishop has included here the three winners of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award. In addition to the honored works by Bruce Boston, Suzette Haden Elgin, and Lucius Shepard, Bishop treats us to Robert Frazier’s unsettling long poem “The Daily Chernobyl.”

As for the Nebula Awards themselves, Lois McMaster Bujold checks in with a reflection on her award-winning novel Falling Free, while novel nominee Gene Wolfe is represented by his story “The Other Dead Man.” And all three winners in the short fiction categories are reprinted here, along with three other short fiction nominees (by Jack McDevitt, Neil Barrett, Jr., and Jane Yolen).

The three winning stories are as different in tone and subject as they are powerful in effect. James Morrow’s sharply satiric “Bible Stories For Adults, No. 17: The Deluge,” the short story winner, introduces a half-drowned harlot aboard Noah’s ark. In George Alec Effinger’s intimate novelette “Schrodinger’s Kitten,” a twelve-year-old Muslim girl wrestles with the personal consequences of modern physics, in the form of conflicting visions of her own future.

But the highlight of the volume is Connie Willis’s poignant, evocative novella “The Last of the Winnebagos.” It explores love and loss in an uncomfortable future in which the last remnants of our familiar reality are quickly vanishing. A touch of future shock and a tug on familiar heartstrings animate Willis’s graceful narrative.

A highly accomplished writer in his own right, Michael Bishop has enhanced his credentials as an editor with this splendid collection of thought and imagination. Nebula Awards 24 belongs in every serious SF collection, as both a benchmark for literary achievement and a window into the SF world.

–Michael P. Kube-McDowell was a 1989 Nebula Award jurist, and is the author of the recently-published novel The Quiet Pools (Ace).

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