First of all, congratulations to all of the winners and nominees for the 2010 Locus awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy.
I suppose I could have actually attended some of the festivities, given that they took place just across the lake in Seattle. I wasn't paying close enough attention. Maybe next year.
Somehow, this year I have been paying enough attention that I've actually read many of the winning and nominated stories a priori, rather than catching up to them post facto, which is my usual modus operandi. Looking back, I probably read one or two winners from 2008 and 2009 before they got awards. For quite a while before that, I was totally not paying attention and barely kept up with any.
I think my greater hip-ness this year is due to following the blog and/or Twitter feeds for several prominent authors. My desire to become an author, though perhaps not an award-winning one, has pushed me to pay better attention to what's happening in the industry. As such, and as I look at this year's Locus winners, I actually do see what might be termed a trend: the novels are all Earth-bound.
Starting with the winner for Science Fiction Novel, Boneshaker (Cherie Priest), we have a science fiction story not only not set somewhere out in space, but set on an Earth of the past that never was. There's a lot of this going around. I like it. But it's not Ringworld. One of the nominees that's already on my to-be-read list, Galileo's Dream (Kim Stanley Robinson) sounds like it involves a bit more outer space and future. But then the winner for Young-Adult Novel, Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld), is back on Earth in the steampunk mold. This time in the era of WWI, rather than the Civil War.
My perception of fantasy novels is that they are generally set in some indefinite past time and place (e.g., Middle Earth). This year's Fantasy Novel winner, The City & The City (China Miéville) ignores that and takes place in some indefinite present time and an indefinite Earth-bound pair of cities. A very trippy read, but also close to home.
The three nominees for First Novel of which I have first hand experience or knowledge, including the winner, The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi), are also very down-to-Earth. The Windup Girl is a hard science-fiction novel where the science of the future has been pushed back to rely on technology of the past, due to oil shortages and greenhouse gasses. Lamentation (Ken Scholes) seems like it might be on Earth and hints that it's in some post-Apocalyptic future (or could it be on another planet, ala Le Guin's Dragonriders?). And Norse Code (Greg van Eekhout) is pretty obviously (based on the sample chapters I saw) set in the gritty urban streets of Earth.
So does any science fiction get the reader into outer space or into the future? I have to admit I'm not current on short stories or the other short forms, like novella and novelette. And I haven't read or gotten familiar with the other novel nominees. But judging by the titles, I'm guessing at least some of them do. And I know for sure that the winner for Anthology does. I'm several stories into The New Space Opera 2 (Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds.) and it's chockablock with characters and settings that are not of the the Earth or of its past.
Will the Earth-bound story continue to dominate science fiction and fantasy awards? It seems like there is an awful lot of action in the steampunk, alternate history, and urban fantasy realms of fiction. I'm sure that these up and coming authors will continue to charm us with visions of Earth past, present, and future. I'm just as sure that there are other authors who will beguile us with stories set on other planets and in other galaxies.
In the meantime, though, I hope that there will always be room for down-to-Earth adventures. So I'd better get back to work and finish my science fiction mystery story set in an alternate 1950s where we're about to get the space age for which we wished.