The Nebula Award finalists for 2011 have been announced by SFWA (the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Presented in several categories, from novel to short forms, The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. You can read the full list here. The finalists for best novel are as follows:
"¢ Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
"¢ Embassytown, China MiÃ©ville (Macmillan UK; Del Rey; Subterranean Press)
"¢ Firebird, Jack McDevitt (Ace Books)
"¢ God's War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
"¢ Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime Books)
"¢ The Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
It's a very strong list, with four of the six on my own year's best list for Locus Online, and a fifth, The Kingdom of Gods, acknowledged as another strong read. The Kingdom of Gods is the conclusion to a great epic fantasy series that readers should seek out if they haven't encountered it already.
Departing from a sometimes staid tradition of honoring established writers, Nebula voters also turned the spotlight on two great first-time novelists whose work has received considerable acclaim: Kameron Hurley and Genevieve Valentine. Not only are these two novels wonderful reads, but both writers took considerable chances. In God's War, Hurley created a unique science fictional world settled by Moslems that featured bug-based tech/magic along with a centuries-old war. Valentine's Mechanique, meanwhile, fused Steampunk and circus fiction while creating brilliantly complex characters. God's War recently won a Kitschie Award and Mechanique won the Crawford Award for best first fantasy novel.
China Mieville's Embassytown, a fascinating rumination on the nature of language and colonialism, was also deemed worthy by SFWA and might be considered a front-runner due his past track-record with the Nebulas. And, as a kind of counterbalance, lovers of more traditional space opera"”and of mysteries!"”will be happy with the nomination for Jack McDevitt, whose Firebird features his beloved Alex Benedict character and deals with the disappearance of a renowned physicist.
But there's one novel on the list that is both speculative and a comment on SF/Fantasy: Among Others by Jo Walton. It's a coming-of-age novel told through diary entries, featuring a great female teenage protagonist in the form of Morwenna Phelps. Fairies and the narrator's mother, who may be a witch, feature strongly, but so does Phelps' love of reading science fiction and fantasy. For better or worse, Phelps' is helped in dealing with the aftermath of tragic events by her reading, and what she learns from it.
As I wrote in a column for the New York Times Book Review, "The real key to appreciating Among Others can be found in [this] passage: 'Tolkien understood about the things that happen after the end. Because this is all Scouring of the Shire, this is figuring out how to live in the time that wasn't supposed to happen after the glorious last stand.' It's a terribly brave act, to write a novel that is in essence aftermath, but Walton succeeds brilliantly. The novel's a wonder and a joy."
Although there will always be debate about what else could have or should have made the Nebula list"”Colson Whitehead's Zone One is a brilliant novel, for example"”it seems unlikely readers will find any controversy in these choices: just lots of excellent reading.
The winners will be announced at SFWA's 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, to be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17 to May 20, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, near Reagan National Airport.