10 Nebula Award Winners You Should Put on Your TBR

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Lyndsie Manusos

Senior Contributor

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

Early June marks the latest round of Nebula Award winners. I’m writing this post before the awards, so by the time this goes live, the winners will have been announced. Congratulations to them all! As both an admiring reader and aspiring writer in the science fiction and fantasy genres, the Nebula Awards is an important annual event. As a writer, it’s a chance for me to support writers and friends in my community when they’re nominated and/or win. As a reader, both in regards to the nominees and winners, if I haven’t read them already, they’re immediately added to my TBR.

The Nebula Awards also signal emerging writers to watch, especially in regard to the shorter fiction categories (novella, novelette, and short story); nominees in those categories might not have a book out yet, but keep an eye out!

But Wait, What Are the Nebula Awards?

For friends and family who are not familiar with these awards, I describe the Nebula Awards as akin to the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Nebulas are voted upon by the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association. To become an active member of SFWA—and therefore nominate and vote in the Nebulas—one has to have a certain amount of pro publishing credits to their name. It’s an honor to be nominated and/or win in a category, as it’s voted by one’s peers.

A Very Brief History

Around since the 1960s, the Nebulas have continued to be a beacon in the SFF community of writers to watch and stories to read. According to the SFWA website, what originated as a proposal to do an anthology of stories in 1965 evolved into a ballot and awards banquet:

Since 1965, the Nebula Awards® have been given each year to outstanding novel, novella, novelette, and short stories eligible for that year’s award. The Damon Knight Grand Master, SFWA’s award for lifetime achievement in writing science fiction and/or fantasy, is an honor presented annually to no more than one living writer. It was inaugurated in 1975 and was renamed in 2002 after the organization’s founder, Damon Knight.

About the Nebulas” – SFWA

As time passed, the SFF community evolved, and so did the Nebulas, with new awards to showcase different genres and mediums. The Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction was added in 2005, followed by the Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation in 2009, and the Nebula Award for Best Game Writing in 2018. The banquet also evolved into what we now know as the SFWA Nebula Awards Conference, which can be attended in-person or virtually.

And don’t worry, the idea for an anthology was not thrown out. Winners are showcased in an anthology volume each year.

Nebula Award Winners

To win a Nebula is to win recognition by SFWA voting members and, for avid readers in the SFF community, a chance to be read and recognized by a larger audience. For this particular article, I am going to focus on Nebula Award winners from the past 10 years, as this is the work I am most familiar with. I personally chose winners whose careers you should take an interest in. Check out their other stories, or take note of their forthcoming work. Again, to utilize my own expertises, I am focused on the categories of novel, novella, novelette, and short story.

In March 2024, fellow Rioter Chris M. Arnone put together a magnificent list of “The 10 Best Hugo Award Winners to Check Out.” To avoid overlap with Hugo winners—because it’s not uncommon for a work to win both a Hugo and Nebula award in a given year—I am purposefully not including works listed in Arnone’s article. That way, more authors get a spotlight!

These stories have inspired me as both a reader and writer, and I hope they’ll inspire you, too.

10 Nebula Award Winners to Add to Your TBR

Cover image of the July/August 2014 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

2014 Best Novelette

This is a vampire tale unlike anything else you’ve read.

It follows Key in a world where vampires have taken over. During the onset of the war, at 16 years old, Key discovers a vampire in her family’s shed. She could have killed him, but she didn’t. In turn, he could have killed her.

After the war is over, with the vampires reigning, humans are raised and bred in facilities to be used as food for the vampires. Key is rewarded for her actions and acts as caretaker at such a facility, making sure humans are healthy for their purpose, without being food herself. She pines for the vampire she saved, in hopes she might be turned, but time passes. When the opportunity finally comes, Key must consider her own humanity, what she’s allowed herself to feel over the years, and what she’s taken for granted. What is the nature of survival? The ending will cling to you.

This story is also in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s stunning collection Reconstruction: Stories, published by Small Beer Press in 2021.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire Book Cover

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

2016 Best Novella

Every Heart a Doorway is the first book in the ongoing Wayward Children series that is achingly beautiful and so necessary. It centers Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a place for children who have slipped through doorways at some point in their life, doorways that lead to other worlds. Nancy found her Door once, and she longs to return. Eleanor West’s home is supposed to be a safe place, a place where she’s understood. But when Nancy arrives, a terrible event occurs, and Nancy and her schoolmates must work together to find out the truth.

The Wayward Children series went on to win the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Series.

cover image of Apex Magazine, Issue 99, August 2017, which includes the Nebula Award winner "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience" by Rebecca Roanhorse

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™️” by Rebecca Roanhorse

2017 Best Short Story

In August 2017, Apex Magazine put together an issue on the celebration of Indigenous American Fantasists. This issue includes Rebecca Roanhorse’s cutting and necessary story. Told in the second person, you are Jesse Turnblatt. You are an Indigenous person who works for a popular VR company that provides rich white people with a “spiritual experience” of Native life. As Turnblatt, you consider a Custer’s Last Stand special, but your boss says customers don’t want to ride into battle, “especially if the white guy loses.” What follows is a bleak, razor-sharp story that takes on cultural appropriation, Hollywood whitewashing, and those who falsely claim Native heritage.

This story went onto win the Hugo Award and Sturgeon Award and rightly so. If you like Roanhorse’s work, her Sixth World series is stunning, as well as her latest book Tread of Angels.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by P. Djèlí Clark

2018 Best Short Story

Published in the now-defunct Fireside Magazine, this story centers the fantastic and then becomes devastatingly real. Clark, who I will list twice in this article because his work is brilliant, weaves a tale of how the first president of the United States acquired nine teeth of formerly enslaved people. Told in vignettes, utilizing the speculative with historical details—which Clark does with absolute mastery—this tale will burn a place in your heart and mind.

This story also went on to win the 2019 Locus Award for Best Short Story and was a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

cover image of novelette "Two Truths and a Lie" by Sarah Pinsker

Two Truths And a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker

2020 Best Novelette

I love novelettes. Too long to be a short story, but too short to be a novella, and yet novelettes contain multitudes. Pinsker’s haunting tale is no different, following pathological liar Stella as she returns to her hometown, remembering the local TV show she and her friends used to be a part of and the unsettling host who knew too much.

If you love Pinsker’s work, check out the short story collection this story resides in, Lost Places.

Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell

2020 Best Short Story

Published in Diabolical Plots, this story is everything you’ve wanted in a haunted house story, with a whole lot of heart.

The house on 133 Poisonwood is for sale, but more importantly, it’s lonely. Unlike other haunted houses (Hill House, Hell House, etc.), where the houses might kill or “eat” people, 133 Poisonwood Would Never. It prefers gentler hauntings. When a father and his rambunctious daughter Ana view the house, perhaps 133 Poisonwood doesn’t have to be lonely anymore. What follows is a tale of a family in need of a loving home and a home so achingly willing to provide it.

If you love the charm and deep connection Wiswell so skillfully creates, I highly suggest reading his debut novel, Someone You Can Build a Nest In.

cover of An Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark, a Nebula Award Winner

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

2021 Best Novel

Reading this novel was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had as a reader. My introduction to Clark’s work was with the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which is set in the same world and precedes A Master of Djinn. Both set in an alternate 1912 Cairo, where alchemy and magic are real, A Master of Djinn follows Fatma el-Sha’arawi, the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Fatma is one of the Ministry’s best agents, and when a member of a powerful brotherhood is murdered, Fatma is assigned the case. But there’s a problem: the murderer claims to be Al-Jahiz, who opened up the veil between the mundane world and magic 50 years prior. Fatma must get to the bottom of it before these events engulf the city in unrest.

Cover of And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed, a Nebula Award Winner

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

2021 Best Novella

This is one of my favorite Nebula wins of all time, and one of my favorite writers as well. Published by Neon Hemlock Press, which I did a spotlight article on in 2022, And What Can We Offer You Tonight is a lush and haunting tale of justice following Jewel, a courtesan who works in a luxurious house. Jewel’s friend is murdered by a client, but then miraculously comes back to life. In a drowning world where the government can cull the population based on citizens’ mistakes, Jewel and her friend must forge a path of revenge.

What’s great about this win is not only was it Neon Hemlock’s first Nebula win (small presses for the win!), but was made possible by Martha Wells. Wells, already an established and award-winning writer, declined her nomination that year. It paved the way for three more speculative novellas to be added to the Nebula finalist ballot, including Mohamed’s novella. It went on to win.

Babel book cover

Babel by R.F. Kuang

2022 Best Novel

Kuang is a prolific and award-winning writer, making a fiery debut with her breathtaking Poppy War trilogy. Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is a sweeping dark academia tale of magic that addresses the oppressions of colonization and tackles the question of whether powerful, longstanding, oppressive institutions can be taken down from within.

The story follows Robin Swift in the early 1800s, who was orphaned by cholera in Canton. Robin is taken in by Professor Lovell and trained in multiple languages and facets of knowledge, all in preparation to enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—AKA Babel. There, Robin also learns of the art of silver-working, or the art of manifesting meaning using enchanted silver bars. With this power, Britain became unstoppable in global expansion. As Robin gains more knowledge and power himself, he must decide whether he will his thirst for knowledge will aid Britain’s expansion, or find a way to tear it all down.

cover image of the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of Uncanny

Rabbit Test” by Samantha Mills

2022 Best Short Story

Last but certainly not least is the winner of the 2022 Best Short Story. In a time where we seem to be regressing in the rights of bodily autonomy, Samantha Mills’s story fires an arrow with this story.

It follows Grace, who becomes pregnant in a time much like our own, but with technological advances that weaponize pregnancy detection and make it almost impossible to terminate without detection or brutal repercussions. Interspersed throughout the story is information about pregnancy tests across history, including the “rabbit test,” in which rabbits were injected with a possible pregnant person’s urine, and if positive, the rabbit’s ovaries would reflect this. Grace, and her daughter, Olivia, must navigate a world where their bodily autonomy and their choices become more and more limited. It is a dark story, but I encourage you to read it and not look away.

Be sure to check out Mills forthcoming debut novel, which I am sure will be another powerful hit, The Wings Upon Her Back, from Tachyon.

Dig Deeper: Don’t Just Read the Winners

The winners of the Nebulas are absolutely talented and amazing individuals, but I also encourage you to read the finalists, and beyond that, read the issues of the magazines mentioned, as well as books from the mentioned presses/publishers.

Because, while the Nebulas and Hugos are excellent ways to see what’s happening in the SFF community, they are merely the tip of a very large iceberg of exceptional, groundbreaking work. To get started on your exploration, check out some of these articles: