by Laura Gilman
Terrible. Not quite as bad as Sawyer's Wake, but pretty far up there on the quotient of 'why the hell put this on a shortlist?' It started out somewhat engaging, then a page and a half later turned irritating, then got more and more stale before it hit rock bottom. That was about page twenty, and after that it never really improved. There's the stock, utterly by the numbers approach to character situation and plot. Character coming from adversity, rising social position as coming of age that explains the environment to the audience, emerging into prominence just in time to combat a world-threatening magical evil. Add that to an unconvincing setting (does everything in their society revolve around magic wine?) a complete refusal to seriously consider the practice of slavery on a psychological or social level, and it's a pretty dire book. Then there's the problem with the whole thing being incomplete because it's just the start of a sparkling new trilogy and my frustration grows considerably that the author couldn't give anything more solid or creative in the setup.
So, at this point I've read all of the Nebula shortlist books. Overall it's still a strong year. The presence of three excellent books (The City, Windup Girl and Finch) are enough to secure that, even if two are mixed verging on mediocre (Boneshaker and The Love We Share) and one, (Flesh and Fire) is just bad. Of those options my pick would obviously be one of the first three, and in quality I don't see Finch as quite in the league. I suspect I'm going to have to reread both to be sure of which one will be my primary vote for the Hugo voting.
On that vein, I'm now in a position to definitively compare the Hugo and Nebula shortlists. Three items are, as said above, identifcal. Of the others, ultimately Palimpsest, Julian Comstock and Wake compare favorably to Finch, Love We Share and Flesh and Fire, making the Hugo the stronger list. Wake is still the weakest item there, but Valente's effort is still stronger in the end than VanderMeer's, and Julian Comstock is vastly better than the bottom two Nebulas.
Worse than: The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
Better than: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer