Serving some generational change with that Nebula Awards ballot

Yesterday the finalists for the Nebula Award were announced, and I'm really excited about the line-up. Yes, part of my excitement is because my novella "Sublimation Angels" made the final ballot. Nothing I can do to change this very personal need to jump up and down in happiness. So if you believe this makes me too biased to ruminate on the other Nebula finalists, I suggest you find something else to read.

Anyway, here's why I'm excited about the other names on the ballot: This Nebula ballot represents a sea change in speculative fiction, a change in terms of recognizing the next generation of speculative fiction writers. This doesn't mean all these writers are young things--their ages vary a good bit--and this doesn't mean the more established writers on the list aren't also worthy of inclusion. For example, I couldn't be more thrilled that Richard Bowes' great novelette "I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said" is a Nebula finalist.

That said, here are the authors (besides myself) for whom this is their first time being a Nebula finalist:

In addition, a few authors on the ballot have been nominated before without winning, but still strike me as notable additions. These include Paolo Bacigalupi, Kij Johnson, and China Miéville.

I'm not going pretend all these writers are at the same point in their literary careers. Some, like Scalzi, Miéville, and VanderMeer, are established best-selling authors. Others, like Ahmed and Jemisin, are brand new authors (with Ahmed only publishing his first stories last year). And they all write a vast array of stories across different styles and genres.

But the reason I'm excited to see them on this ballot is they represent the writers who are bringing new passion and readers to the speculative fiction genres. They are literally the genre's future.

Unfortunately, some in the speculative fiction establishment have been slow in recognizing these exciting new voices. For example, Eugie Foster's nominated story "Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast," which remains one of my favorite stories of 2009, was overlooked by all of the Year's Best anthologies and the Locus Recommended Reading List (although there are still many great stories on both the list and in the anthologies). But the fact that so many people have praised the story, and that it is also a finalist for the BSFA Award, shows that despite being overlooked it is still finding its audience.

Another work I'm excited to see on the ballot is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Named one of the best books of the year by everyone from Time Magazine to Publisher's Weekly, this is another case where the speculative fiction establishment has partially overlooking a groundbreaking piece of fiction. While The Windup Girl has received many glowing reviews, I was shocked when the Locus Recommended Reading List only named Paolo's book to their "First Novels" listing. This is the best science fiction novel of the year. Period. But somehow many of the critics who select for that list felt it was only worthy of a "first novel" nod. (Note: See "Update 2" below.)

Now I'm not stupid. I realize there isn't some monolithic SF establishment holding new writers down. In addition, many of the more established members of the SF community have worked long and hard to promote the writers listed above. No, this isn't an frakking conspiracy. Instead, the SF community is like all cultures and has difficulty quickly recognizing the accomplishments of the next generation. But such recognition does eventually come, and as proof of this I present this year's Nebula Awards final ballot.

And that is why I'm so excited--because the writers I love and read are being recognized by their community. I hope this recognition helps them to thrive and grow, and create even greater stories for us to enjoy.


A SFWA member emailed and said the ballot's many first-time nominees results more from the new Nebula nomination and voting process than mere generational change. Basically, the old system was subject to "logrolling" because SFWA members had to publicly state who they were nominating. When combined with members being able to nominate so many stories--I believe it was up to 10 in each category--the result was people nominating each other. In short, a daisy chain of "You pimp my story, I pimp yours."

Under the new Nebula nomination rules, this ability to pimp unto each another was limited because nominations were private (meaning no verification that one had indeed been pimped) and members were limited to 5 nominations in each category (meaning fewer spots to waste on pimping). The result was a final ballot filled with stories SFWA members actually liked.

I agree with this assessment. Many of the writers who are first-time nominees for this year's Nebula have been multiple-time nominees for the Hugo Awards. So it's likely had these new rules been in place earlier, we'd have seen many of these writers already being named Nebula finalists.

Still, no matter how this ballot came about, it remains an overdue generational shift--and one I'm excited to witness.

Update 2:

I guess this post exposed my ignorance on multiple levels. As was kindly pointed out to me, first novels are traditionally placed on the "first novels" category of the Locus Recommended Reading List. While I could quibble about this, if such is the practice then such is what gets done. I also don't mean to suggest that anyone not loving both Paolo's novel and Eugie's story like I do is a fool. Obviously we all love different types of stories and novels, and what works for one person won't always work for another.