All of the fiction awards — for short story, novelette, novella, novel, and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult novels — went to women authors, and Mad Max: Fury Road (a film NPR's Chris Kilmek called a "boldly feminist chase flick") won the Ray Bradbury Award for dramatic presentation. (The Solstice Award — given occasionally at the discretion of the SFWA board to people who've made a big impact in the field — did go to a man, the late Terry Pratchett.) In some ways the winners, and the full nominating ballot they were chosen from, represent a local, genre-specific eddy of change in the larger ocean of literature.
"I think it is a product of our time that great stories, diverse stories, are appearing and being celebrated," says Sarah Pinsker, whose story "Our Lady of the Open Road" won best novelette.
The Nebulas are nominated by and voted on by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), an organization made up of working writers, editors, and other publishing professionals. They're given out during the group's annual conference, which is dedicated to celebrating, educating, and supporting genre writers.
This year's celebration started with the presentation of the SFWA Grand Master award to C. J. Cherryh, honoring her lifetime contributions to the science fiction and fantasy field. Then, in category after category, authors like Alyssa Wong, Nnedi Okorafor, and Naomi Novik took home glittering nebulae and planet replicas encased in clear Lucite.
To some observers, this might signal a dramatic shift in the science fiction and fantasy genres, which are often perceived as being a (white) boys' club that's only recently begun to diversify. But that's not the whole picture, as the Nebulas themselves prove. This isn't the first time women have swept the awards; you have to go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the very beginning of the Nebulas, to find a group of years dominated by men — and even then the list of nominees included women and one of the men consistently winning was African-American author Samuel R Delany.
This weekend's winners reflect many different types of diversity beyond gender. Half are women of color, half are self-identified queer women – which mirrors the overall diversity of the ballot. 24 out of the 34 works nominated for the award were written by women from multiple racial and cultural backgrounds and a spectrum of sexual orientations. Of the 10 works by men, five of them were written by people of color and queer authors.
"The Nebula ballot is everything a ballot should be in this community," said Brooke Bolander, author of the nominated story "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead." "It's diverse, it's wide-ranging, and it includes amazing stories by amazing authors."
That's an important point, given the ongoing conversation about diversity happening now in speculative fiction circles. The Hugos — the other major awards in the genre — are nominated by fans. Last year and again this year, Hugo nominations have been affected by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups, who campaign against what they see as affirmative action-based nominating and voting in the Hugo and Nebula awards.
But "people want these stories," says Alyssa Wong. She was the first Filipino author to be nominated for the Nebula award last year and is now the first to win it for her 2015 short story "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers." Though she says she's seen some Puppy-style criticism of her success, most of the reaction has been positive.
Readers "want to read stories from the points of view of people who have been historically been locked out of the genre," Wong says. "'Hungry Daughters' is about a group of women who are all Asian-American and all from very different backgrounds, all of whom feel isolated in some way ... But clearly this is not just Asian-American audiences who this is resonating with. I'm appreciative that people are reading more widely now. It means more opportunities — not just to be published, but to be seen."