Congratulations to the 2021 Nebula Award Finalists!

Although the Nebulas aren’t one of the awards I tend to cover on my annual beat, I’m paying attention this time around for a writing project that covers SF/F published in 2020. I don’t have a lot to say about the latest round of finalists themselves – the only one I’ve read is N. K. Jemisin’s The City we Became – but I do have some thoughts on the general make-up of the ballot.

In particular, I’m wondering how many of these works I’ll be covering when I’m reviewing the year’s Hugo Awards. The Nebula novels tend to have a three-book overlap with the Hugos (at least, they have done the last few years) and it seems a dead cert that we’ll be seeing both the N. K. Jemisin and Martha Wells novels on the Worldcon ballot. The others are up in the air, though. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic has been getting considerable buzz – but bear in mind that the same author’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, which won last year’s Nebula, didn’t even make the Hugo ballot.

Cora Buhlert, more familiar with the finalists than I am, notes some of the recurring traits on the ballot – namely, revisionist takes on Lovecraftian horror and the strong presence of African authors.

Courtesy of File 770, here’s a complete ballot with links to online copies (either full or excerpted) of the stories:

Continue reading “Congratulations to the 2021 Nebula Award Finalists!”

Defining Traits of 1920s Science Fiction


My month-by-month retrospective of Amazing Stories is very near the end of founder Hugo Gernsback’s term as editor, and after that I’ll be mere months away from the end of the 1920s. This got me thinking about the period of science fiction I’ve been covering: an intriguing transitional period between the nineteenth-century authors who did so much to establish the genre, and the Campbell-dominated “golden age” that followed. Here are a few defining traits of 1920s magazine science fiction that I’ve picked up on…

Alien worlds aren’t always in space: As with subsequent decades, science fiction of this period often involved encounters with new life and new civilisations. Looking back, though, a remarkably low proportion of those civilisations are to be found on other planets. Authors frequently placed their alien societies under the Earth’s surface, or under the sea, or in another dimension, or right under our noses at microscopic size, with the distinctions often being superficial (the people living in Atlantis or beyond the infra-red could just as easily have been living on Mars). Only later would other planets become the default home for an alien society.

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More Hand-Wringing on the Torture Bus

Last week I wrote about blogger Samuel Collingwood Smith and his attack on author Jason Sanford over a horror story written by the latter. My response focused mainly on Smith’s post, but really, the comment section deserves its own reply. If you’re familiar with the moral panics over horror comics in the fifties and horror videos in the eighties, you’ll know exactly what Samuel Collingwood Smith and his readers are trying to stir up.

Sanford’s story (“The Wheels on the Torture Bus Go Round and Round”) struck me as rather tame as far as the horror genre goes, and I got the feeling that Smith’s commentators were either feigning outrage (bear in mind that the attacks on Sanford were spurred by his research into violent right-wing rhetoric at the Baen Books forum) or had simply never read a modern horror story before. My impression was reinforced when I posted the story at a community of horror readers (namely, r/weirdlit) and they generally agreed with my assessment of it:

I think it’s rather tame honestly. It’s not gratuitously violent or anything. A little dark, but you expect that from the title.

Yeah, this was not nearly as bad as the title led me to expect. It’s definitely grim, but not graphic. It’s also quite good in my opinion.

A pretty tame great-great-grandbaby of the Lottery and similar.

It’s slightly unsettling and really slickly executed. I admire the craft that went into it. Almost New Yorkery.

i was surprised by the ending – i thought there would be more of a twist… did i miss something? but no, don’t see the controversy at all.

Now we’ve established what horror enthusiasts make of the story, let’s delve into the twilight zone that is Samuel Collingwood Smith’s comment section…

Continue reading “More Hand-Wringing on the Torture Bus”

The House of Eddas: the Death of Balder (Sort Of) in Journey Into Mystery #107

Thorgarg0This month’s main story is “When the Grey Gargoyle Strikes!” After some more scenes of Don Blake/Thor pining over Jane, we get a new villain: French chemist Duval, who turned his hand to stone in a laboratory accident (“Ohh! I have carelessly spilled the potion on my hand!”) Not only is this appendage permanently made of rock, but anything it touches – except, conveniently, Duval’s glove – is similarly turned to stone for half an hour. With this trick up his sleeve, Duval is able to both petrify his victims and transform himself into a stony-skinned supervillain, with the ultimate aim of stealing Thor’s hammer and obtaining immortality – this is, I believe, the first time the comic has established that the weapon gives the user longevity.

The Grey Gargoyle is the first street-level villain introduced by the comic since Mr. Hyde back in issue #99; between the two, every opponent faced by Thor has either been an Asgardian antagonist or someone recycled from an earlier issue. And once again, we see the at Lee and Kirby still viewed Thor as, ultimately, a conventional superhero who went up against conventional supervillains: a gargoyle-themed evildoer who turns people to stone could easily have been cast as a denizen of Utgard or an offspring of Loki, but instead he’s given a mad scientist origin.

Continue reading “The House of Eddas: the Death of Balder (Sort Of) in Journey Into Mystery #107″