Vonda McIntyre, editor,
Nebula Awards Showcase 2004:
The Year's Best SF & Fantasy

(Roc, 2004)

Chosen by the members of the preeminent science fiction and fantasy writers' association, SFWA, Nebula Awards Showcase 2004 is the most cutting-edge pass available into today's science fiction and fantasy. The book not only collects the hottest work currently on the market, but also gives an intimate glimpse into the fraternity of genre writers through the commentaries spaced throughout the book. Both aspects of the book reveal a writing community brimming with life and creativity.

One of the most popular themes in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2004 is creation; several of the stories deal with life made, destroyed or altered. Two of these, Richard Chwedyk's "Bronte's Egg" and Carol Emshwiller's "Creature," examine the results of human creation needs gone awry. Of all the stories in the book, these two are the strongest: Chwedyk's for his humor and surprising tenderness; Emshwiller's because of her empathetic characters and troubling ironies.

The excerpt from Ursula LeGuin's new novel, Changing Planes, examines, with her characterstic poetic wit, the concept of genetic tampering. Michael Swanwick's "The Dog Said Bow-Wow" is a lurid and clever twist on technological conspiracy theories and genetic mutation nightmares.

Several of the stories dip directly from the well of American history, like Neil Gaiman's imaginative take on American spirituality, as seen in the excerpt of his novel, American Gods, and Charles Stross's "Lobsters," a classic cyberpunk look at the ideological battle between capitalism and communism. Jack McDevitt's "Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City" opens a window onto a future historical moment from an unexpected viewpoint.

The remaining stories all pack a solid punch. Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" is a troubling thought-experiment on the nature of faith and what it means to love God. Adam-Troy Castro's "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's" is an entertaining hypothesis on the explorer's need for a piece of home. Megan Lindholm provides a strident attack on female genital mutilation in "Cut." And Katherine MacLean gives us a first-class mind-bender of the Orwellian style with her classic story "Mind Games."

The 39th anthology of Nebula Awards Showcase holds a finger on the pulse of science fiction and fantasy today. Though some stories are weaker than others, the overall quality of writing is high. Nebula Awards Showcase 2004 once again proves that not only are the genres of science fiction and fantasy growing, the writing remains powerful, evocative and socially stirring.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 22 May 2004

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