I think I need to start this by telling you a story.
One year, after the deadline to nominate for the Nebula Awards had passed, I picked up a book that had been getting a little buzz for awards, but which I hadn’t gotten around to earlier. I won’t name the book, because I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to do so.
It was amazing. Really, such a good book. And I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, I wish I’d read that before the nominating deadline, because it absolutely would have been on my nominating ballot. But, oh, well. What are the odds that my one vote would have made a difference?”
Well, the Nebula awards came and went. This book did not get a nomination. Another very deserving book won.
That year, SFWA decided to publish, internally, the long list of everything that received a nomination, along with the tally of how many nominations each work had received.
The book I had loved so much did, in fact, miss the final ballot by one vote.
I tell this story because every year there are good works, excellent works in fact, that simply don’t get enough eyeballs on them before the nomination deadlines pass to get the recognition they deserve. So now that I’ve done my obligatory self-promotion about what I’ve written that’s eligible, I want to provide you a short reading list of other people’s work that I think there’s real danger of people kicking themselves like I did for not having read them in time to nominate them.
To keep the list manageable, it’s not a list of everything I’ve liked this year. Rather, I set myself to select one work in each of the major prose categories (novel, novella, novelette, and short story). These are works that I think are award-worthy and not already getting the kind of buzz they need to secure Nebula and Hugo nominations.
This was a tough list to draw up, because I’ve read a lot of good stuff this year, and I’m sure I will continue to do so. So I further limited my selections not by what I’ve liked, but by what I think pushes the craft in some way or another.
So, without further ado, here’s my recommended reading list for you:
Mazes of Power by Juliette Wade (DAW Books)
I selected this book not because it’s the debut novel by one of my favorite short storyists, but because of the skillful way it messes with the protagonist/antagonist dynamic that readers expect. The result is a challenging novel that defies expectations.
The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg (Tachyon Publications)
I’ll disclose that I’m a sucker for short storyists using the clean, economical prose of that medium in longer works, but what really got me for this one is how R.B. Lemberg (though I’m not sure they would appreciate me putting it this way) laid out a roadmap for how to make existentialism work in the 21st century.
“Where You Linger” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Uncanny #32, January/February 2020)
The novelette is my favorite medium, and there were a lot of contenders here, but ultimately what made me pick this one is the sheer chutzpah of taking the reader through the events of the story twice while keeping it engaging throughout.
“Ishtar Descending” by Cécile Cristofari (Departure Mirror Quarterly #1, Fall 2020)
This was a very tough call, and I feel bad listing a story where I have a financial interest (and I can’t put it on my own Nebula nomination ballot because of that), but the other story I keep coming back to is also in that same issue of Departure Mirror, so I’m going to just own the bias and tell you that what I love about this story is the complete re-thinking of the apocalypse narrative coupled with some charming character work.
Your Vote Matters
So these are my suggestions. If you read them and agree with me, great! If you read them and decide you’d rather nominate something else, great! The point is that participation matters. Even if you turn in a mostly-blank ballot, if you’re eligible to nominate, please do so. Nebula nominations are open to all Full and Associate members of SFWA. Hugo nominations can be submitted by anyone who was a member of CoNZealand or who purchases at least a supporting membership for DisCon III.
And don’t make the mistake I made a few years ago by not reading something that someone whose taste you generally agree with has told you you’ll love. One vote can make a difference.