“The Liar,” by John P. Murphy (F&SF)
A man in a small New England town with a supernatural gift for lying discovers a series of deaths that can’t be coincidental, and he must prevent the next one. A simple story, it rises to remarkable by the telling: the matter-of-fact humility and humor of the narrator. The Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine introduction describes it as Garrison Keillor writing a Stephen King story. Yes, it’s that good – and worthy of a Nebula.
“Runtime,” by S. B. Divya (Tor)
A woman hopes to win a race and use the prize money to improve the lives of herself and her family. But the race involves high-tech, body-enhancing equipment, and what she has is second-hand and second-rate. Will her determination help her win? Will ethics get in the way? This is a traditional, well-told science fiction adventure story. Also worthy of a win.
“The Ballad of Black Tom,” by Victor LaValle (Tor)
Charles Thomas Tester, a young man in Harlem in 1924, is a small-time hustler who finds himself invited to participate in a much larger and much less licit venture. The result is a traditional, well-told (can I say that again?) horror story. I guessed fairly early on what this larger venture entailed, and I was right, which only added to the suspense because I knew how badly things were likely to go for Tommy and a lot of other people. Yet another story worthy of a win.
“Every Heart a Doorway,” by Seanan McGuire (Tor)
What happens to children who travel through a magical door or mirror or painting and spend time – maybe years – in a fairyland or underworld or another other-worldly world? When they return, they often adjust to this world poorly, and their parents understand nothing and want their old child back. But there is hope: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. However, things don’t go well. This nominee, with its constant clash between ordinary and outlandish, deserves to win, too.
“A Taste of Honey,” by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)
This is a love story with no real happy ending, despite having more than one ending. The writing is lush and sensual, although the scenes jump from storyline to storyline in a way that sometimes left me confused. This is not quite my favorite because I’m not fond of fantasies where the pieces fit together too well: to me they seem to show the author’s hand. That said, the quality of the work, the writing, and the imagination behind it can’t be denied, and this could also deserve a vote.
“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe,” by Kij Johnson (Tor)
Vellitt Boe, a university professor, must travel from the dream lands to the waking world to find a missing student. The trip is long and slow and fascinating at every step due both to the strange, awe-instilling landscape, and to the amazing personality of Vellitt Boe, who infuses the trip with meaning and longing for her youth and for adventure. This is a quest story, and can I say “well-told” one more time?
I love every one of the novellas. Since I can only vote for one, I’m going with "Dream Quest" because of its deep characterization of Vellitt Boe, but I’ll cheer for the winning novella, whichever one it is. They’re all good.
— Sue Burke