The night unfolded like a montage at the start of a dystopian story, eliciting a range of emotions that don’t necessarily fit together.
As West Seattle author Cat Rambo was being feted during the online 2020 Nebula Awards on May 30, she was also watching as police clashed with protesters in dozens of cities across America — including her own.
It was the very thing speculative fiction writers have been forecasting for a long time.
“Well, it was good to be reminded of the importance of stories and storytelling and how those are one of the ways that we kind of move out of this, one would hope,” Rambo said.
Rambo won best novelette for her story “Carpe Glitter” during the 55th annual ceremony hosted by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). The Nebulas are one of the top awards for speculative writers, and her win was an acknowledgment of Rambo’s place in the community — and the result of hard work that also recently netted her a book deal with major publisher Tor Books.
“She’s one of the hot new writers, which is something that comes along every generation or so,” said Greg Bear, a Seattle writer and close friend of Rambo’s. “And they’re very cool and they replace us old farts, and do a good job of it.”
She was also celebrated for her work as the preceding two-time president at SFWA, an organization that was in financial circumstances described as “dire” when she took over. Rambo guided the organization to nonprofit status, expanded the membership base by including independently published authors, small publishers and game writers, established mentorship programs and completed a refurbishment of the 55-year-old organization.
Though her presidency ended last year, the legacy of her work was on full display during a vibrant awards ceremony and conference, a gathering forced online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She’s the reason that SFWA was able to do this pivot because she put the organization on such firm financial footing,” said Mary Robinette Kowal, SWFA president, during the awards, adding: “She was such an amazing president for five years. Let me say that again. She was president of SFWA for five years. Five.”
Asked to give a speech that Saturday night, the webcast from her delightfully book-cluttered office turned into a toss-the-script moment.
“I had a pretty speech all prepared, but the news this morning convinced me to throw that all away,” she said of the developing clashes around the country between protesters and law enforcement after George Floyd was killed by arresting police in Minneapolis last week.
She noted that the SFWA was started by a small group of writers who wanted to look out for their fellow writers. The need for that mission has only been reinforced in a time of pandemic and pandemonium.
“I want to say we must continue to look out for each other,” Rambo said in her speech. “It is difficult to tell stories when the world is burning. It is difficult to feel like we matter when it is — but we do. All writers, not just in speculative fiction but all genres, do three things: When times are hard, we write the stories that help create a better tomorrow, we write the stories that give our readers respite and a moment of peace when they need it, and we write the stories that ensure everyone regardless of identity and privilege see themselves as a hero and know they matter.”
“Carpe Glitter” is such a story. The novelette, a designation for a work that falls between 7,500 and 17,500 words, tells the story of Persephone Aim. She’s willed her grandmother’s estate and must sort through the magician/hoarder’s possessions. Along the way she finds a powerful artifact that could change her future.
Though the book’s premise is fantastical in nature, Rambo thinks her fellow writers felt something real resonating from the story when they cast their votes.
“I think part of it is it’s about those problems in families that get handed on for generation after generation and the sort of intense wars that can go on between members of a family, and also how grudges can sort of get handed down for generations,” Rambo said. “And I think, for people, we see that in action a lot of the time.”
Described by one reviewer as Shirley Jackson meets “American Horror Story,” “Carpe Glitter” is a mash-up of ideas, styles and genres. That approach is something Rambo’s perfected over the course of publishing more than 200 stories, two fantasy novels for Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press (with a third on the way) and five collections.
Bear said a Nebula win carries special cachet because its voters are your fellow writers who are paying attention to things like style and invention.
“I think what Cat captures here is … something that becomes a writers’ story because of the skill and craftsmanship she puts into it,” said Bear, who has won five Nebulas. Rambo “impresses the hell out of her fellow writers, who are a very jealous crowd. I’m afraid to say they don’t always reward excellence, but in this case she succeeded beautifully.”
Rambo is at it again with her first novel for Tor Books, the gold standard in science fiction and fantasy publishing. “You Sexy Thing” is out in January. She describes it as a space opera involving a band of ex-military members who start a restaurant aboard a space station. A package arrives, things start exploding, they steal an intelligent spaceship and, zoom, away we go.
It’s the first of a three-book deal, a state of being she’s been working toward most of her life.
“It’s kind of cool because I’m sort of finally cracking it,” Rambo said. “I kind of feel like (writing this series) is my next couple of years.”