Been on a Nebula kick for the past few months so when I saw this anthology at a local bookstore, I grabbed it immediately. I'm very grateful that a number of the recent Nebula nominees for short story are accessible online and getting to read an anthology like this really helps me to broaden my range. Two of the 2008 Nebula winners are also favorites of mine, Peter S. Beagle and Elizabeth Hand, so purchasing this was a doubly easy choice.
The anthology opens with Ms Hand's "Echo," a post-9/11 tale addressed to an unknown 'you,' (at least in the story; Ms Hand makes it clear in her brief introduction that this short story was inspired by her own epistolary relationship with a journalist). I've always wished that I wrote as well as Ms Hand does. She has a very fluid rhythm that is tempered with the right amount of emotion. "Echo" is followed by James Patrick Kelly's novella "Burn," which takes place on the planet Walden, where a colony of humans live a very tech-lite existence and have to deal with the aliens still living with them. Okay, I really did a bad job of summarizing that. What I liked about "Burn" is that the characters are very flawed and well-realized and reminds me a bit of how Ray Bradbury approaches the sci-fi elements in his short stories. My favorite of course is Mr Beagle's "Two Hearts," a novelette which continues (or ends?) his famous The Last Unicorn. I've read this before and re-reading it still manages to stir the same emotions I had during the first time. Mr Beagle convincingly uses the young girl Sooz' voice in narrating this story. I think you have to know the characters of The Last Unicorn well to fully appreciate this, though.
Also included in this collection are three science fiction poems (a first for me to read), nominee Eugene Mirabelli's "The Woman in Schrodinger's Wave Equation" (which I also enjoyed), Grand Master James Gunn's "The Listeners" (a sad yet lovely story for any SETI supporter -- yes, I have SETI@home), and an excerpt from Jack McDevitt's Seeker, the Nebula winner for best novel. This is really making me look forward to seeing and reading more Nebula anthologies available locally. I know there are more riches and depths waiting out there.