Review of Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 edited by Catherine Asaro (Pyr, May 14, 2013)
This volume showcases those works published in 2011 that were on the 2011 Nebula ballot. All the stories were enjoyable and it was convenient to get them in one volume. Many of the items appearing on the Nebula ballot are not from places the average reader would be able to access after the ballot is out because the magazine volumes in which they appeared have long since left the bookstore shelves. If you miss issues of the print magazines, it can be difficult to find the missing ones without resorting to a used magazine dealer online and for most people the one story they want to read in a single issue would not be worth the trouble. The showcase is a good way to provide access to all the stories that SFWA members thought were the best of 2011 publications.
Our favorite short story in this volume was Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie”. It has a real world setting with just the slightest bit of magic. Because the magic was in childhood toys made by the mother, it makes you feel nostalgic for childhood treasures and you can easily believe those treasures have a bit of magic in them which made them come to life. Also the issues of the immigrant mother not speaking English reminded us of friends who have a similar problem because their children cannot speak to their grandmother. Immigrants not speaking English is certainly an issue many families and towns are dealing with today. The mother’s lack of English makes her bringing the animals to life using Chinese even more magical because it is something the son and mother shared between themselves and it excluded the father and the boy’s friends. The son did not understand this until the end of the story because as a child he wanted to fit in and stopped talking in Chinese. The end of the story was very sad because by the time the son understood his mother, she was gone.
The excerpt from Jo Walton’s Among Others was also exceptional. All of Jo’s work is good and we have enjoyed it since her first novel was published, but this work was the first time she had used her childhood in Wales as a resource to produce a fantasy setting. After reading the excerpt we bought the novel while traveling and read it in a couple of days. If you have not been to Wales, you have missed a beautiful part of the world. The mountains and coast are so beautiful, it is not hard to believe some of the people living there can do magic. Hidden away from most tourists are areas damaged by mining and quarrying, with buildings abandoned when the resources ran out. These are the areas where protagonist Morwenna goes to play in and that her fairies inhabit. It lends to this suburban fantasy a feel of a mix of the very ancient mixed with the only slightly old (like from our childhoods). The characters in the story are all interesting, with Morwenna as the viewpoint character giving us a slanted view of many of the adults. Morwenna had her own ideas about who was a family member and who was not, this did not agree with that of the adults. It will be interesting to see further work in this universe since Morwenna still has several years of school to get through.
This volume has several excellent short works and excerpts of a few longer ones. If you like some variety to your reading and appreciate a good short story then this volume is for you.