Winners That Are out of This World

Article excerpt

Nebula Awards Showcase 2000 Edited by Gregory Benford Harcourt

288 pp., $15

This collection of science fiction includes stories that earned the Nebula Award - the Academy Awards of science fiction - chosen by the voting members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association.

In addition to including the winners from 1998, the editor, Gregory Benford, has added several pieces that were nominated, as well as some nonfiction essays that discuss science fiction as a social force.

In his helpful introduction, Benford contends that science fiction "takes on ideas long before general culture would face them" and yet "remains largely neglected by the conventional literary world."

Winning the award for best novel is Joe Haldeman's "Forever Peace" (an excerpt is reprinted in this volume). A Vietnam vet, Haldeman describes how soldiers might conduct battles in the future. Advanced soldier teams place their bodies into exoskeleton shells and jack their minds in a shared network where the platoon operates as one person. Each person manipulates his own Remote Infantry Combat Unit, a remote-controlled mechanical "soldierboy" that goes out into combat, while the operators stay protected in an underground base.

Although at times Haldeman's prose is poetic - "thin blue moonlight threading down through the canopy of leaves" - it also reverberates with the icy violence of war.

Sheila Finch's novella "Reading the Bones" describes the life of a "lingster," one who translates alien languages. Assigned as a translator to the human colony's deputy commissioner, Ries Danyo is learning to speak with the Freh, the indigenous population. However, he has become a washed-out drunk who feels sorry for himself after the death of his wife.

Over the course of the story, he learns to better appreciate the alien culture as he attempts to save the lives of the deputy commissioner's daughters after their parents are killed by Freh assassins. Fleeing a civil war, Danyo heads into the mountains to a human base camp. …