A couple months ago I set out to read all of the Nebula nominees in the novel category for 2012, which are as follows:
I didn’t have much faith in my completing said project, but here I am, roughly a week before they are to be announced, having read five and a half of the nominees, and also a bonus previous novel. So good job, me. Even though I haven’t finished The Drowning Girl, which if it keeps going like it’s going, is going to be my favorite of the bunch, I feel like I can make some predictions.
2312 is going to win it.
But didn’t you just say that The Drowning Girl was your favorite? Sure, but that’s more personal taste than award trends. Let’s break this down.
I’m going to discount both Ironskin and Throne of the Crescent Moon because they are first novels. I just tried to figure out how many Nebulas have been awarded to first novels without much success. Certainly Neuromancer, which won in 1984, was a first novel, but I’m not seeing much precedent for that to happen. Also because Ironskin sucks. Crescent Moon is fun, but not up to the level of writing in some of the other novels here, much more beholden to genre conventions. I just don’t see such a conventional fantasy novel winning this, especially given the competition.
I’m also going to discount Glamour in Glass, partially because it is a sequel, partially because I don’t like it, and partially because the vote in the half-assed science fictional update of classic literature category is going to be split between that and Ironskin. Both Ironskin and Glamour in Glass take on story styles written by women in the early 19th C; Jane Eyre and Jane Austen being the hat-tips, respectively. Neither was particularly successful, in my opinion, but the deeper problem is that we’re dealing with awards voted on by nerds. Smart, writing nerds, but nerds nonetheless. Nerds can have strong feelings about the Janes (and I get that conflating a character with a novelist is a hugely insensitive thing to do, and still I do it) – case in point, myself – but it’s as much impediment as it is push. I hate every single thing Ironskin does with Jane Eyre, and it’s not a coherent novel there at the end. If I didn’t have the intertext in my mind, I would just be puzzled by it. Glamour in Glass is more successful, being less tethered to source material, but it’s ultimately less fun than the first novel in the series (which was also nominated and didn’t win), and its science fictional aspects are badly considered. (Badly. Is word.)
So that leaves us with 2312, The Drowning Girl, and The Killing Moon. Really, any of these could be awarded the Nebula and I wouldn’t be surprised. All three are written by established sff writers who are decidedly in control of their game. Much as I love The Drowning Girl so far, it is a difficult novel with a difficult narrative voice. Despite how into it I am, I keep having to take breaks from Imp and her craziness – using her own term on herself – because, as she says, the ghosts are infectious. The novel is not approachable the way its main character is not approachable, cut through with all kinds of deflective ticks. I think that’s grand, but it’s not the sort of thing that wins awards. (And I’m not saying readers are stupid for not loving this or anything; the heart wants what it wants.)
The Killing Moon too has difficult main characters, though the sheer level of craziness is not at the level of The Drowning Girl. But the high fantasy world is richly drawn, with a coherent and thoughtful magical system, and a believable political conflict. Compared to Throne of the Crescent Moon, which reads as Arab/Persian culture with the serial numbers filed off – and, I totally get that running a slash through Arab/Persian is a hugely insensitive thing to do, yet still I do it - The Killing Moon runs its vaguely ancient Egyptian culture with less reliance on actual cultures both extant and ancient, which I count as a plus. I’d hedge and say this is the likely second choice to be awarded the Nebula.
But what it comes down to is that 2312 is the only novel nominated that is traditional science fiction. Which is weird, right? That five of the novels nominated would be fantasy of one stripe or another, and only one your daddy’s space opera? I think both The Killing Moon and Glamour in Glass have magical systems so tightly defined as to read as science fictional in a way – there are rules, and epistemologies – but they don’t have the gee whizziness of space exploration at their backs. So I think that voters inclined to the strictly science fictional will vote for the only book that registers their predilections, for better or for worse.
I fairly loved 2312 myself, so this is not a bad choice. Also, and this is going on hearsay because I haven’t read much Kim Stanley Robinson, but I am given to understand that some readers were bored to death by the extremely wanky hard sf tone of the Mars trilogy, and while wanky hard science is in evidence in 2312, it’s not the main or only thing. I feel like KSR is going to be awarded the Nebula the way Bob Dylan was awarded the Grammy for Time Out of Mind. Sorry we fucked up and never gave you an award for Blonde on Blonde, and it’s also good to see you’re out of whatever you were doing in the 80s. (See also: the Nebula for Blackout/All Clear, because that’s not Willis’s best work by half.) Which is not to say that 2312 isn’t pretty freaking great, nor Time Out of Mind. Just that it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
Tune in next week to see how full of shit I am.
I was right! Of course.