The Nebula is one of the highest awards in science fiction. Once you win it you pretty much have to get a house and a dog in the country, take up fishing, and talk about how you and your agent are always fighting over your latest bestseller.
Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is our first Nebula finalist (Arthur C. Clarke won it 3 times, but I think Britain will be annoyed if we claim him). He grew up in a in shack in a slum in Colombo. He dropped out of school. And, like most Sri Lankans, he’s been impacted by terrorism hitting close to home.
What did this kid with no future do? He worked his ass off and made one for himself. If you’ve not lived here, let me give you some context. Sri Lankans are not sold a fantasy of an ‘American Dream.’; no one is told they’ll get what they deserve if they work hard enough. We’re manipulated, intimidated, and taught apathy by ‘Old Boy’ power structures and elite cliques, that do whatever the fuck they like. Ignore traffic laws? The cops will get you. Unless you’re driving a fancy car and you say the magic words:
“Do you know who my father is?”
That’s the world this slum boy had to fight his way up in. And he did so, with integrity, hard work, and stopping to help anyone else he passed on the same ladder (though, like Harlan Ellison, his mouth cost him a few points along the way). People like me.
How far did Yudha get? Here he is, at 25, giving a TEDx talk:
By the way, to do this talk, he had to turn down an invitation to speak on a panel at Bangalore Lit Fest with Bruce Sterling.
He works at a big data research nonprofit (yes, big data nonprofit) named Lirneasia, which is pretty much Sri Lanka’s Seldon Foundation. Last year, he was invited to DC to present his work on migration, trade-and Facebook:
The whole time, Yudha wrote. Angry blog posts. Tech articles. Arcane philosophy [there are too many damn Stoics quoting Marcus Aurelius in this damn town. Seriously]. And of course, science fiction. His first piece, The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne, about a rich, useless, Colombo layabout who goes on a one-way mission into space, was an instant hit. How he got Sri Lankans to read about black hole physics I do not know. It got him noticed by his agent (who hasn’t noticed me, have you Kanishka?), and by Harper Collins. Harper Collins flew him over to India for a five book deal, including Numbercaste.
Numbercaste deserves its own damn article (this it not that article). A book that took him 3 years of research, that extrapolates a ‘move fast and break things’ style social media firm that finds it’s use of a social metric to rate people is a terrifying tool of social control (all its’ nightmares are about to come true by the way, as China implements Sesame Credit upon 1 billion humans).
If he had had the arrogance to submit Numbercaste, it would have swept every damn Sci Fi award it stood for. If you don’t think so, go read it, and tell me what you think then.
Numbercaste has also just been optioned for a movie by the people who made Black Mirror.
He’s moved on, and has several book deals. Through all this, he still makes the time to support local writers; teaching what he’s learning, encouraging us to join anthologies, and get out there and talk to other writers. He set up a Facebook group specifically to encourage local writers to dive into the larger market of Amazon (which is the most level playing field out there), and write the best we can.
Messenger is a story Yudhanjaya co-wrote with Indian-American Ronnie Virdi. Messenger is a story set in India, where South Asian-themed mecha fight foreign invaders (from space, yes, but also foreign).
At first I was taken aback (I think Oumuamua being exactly what it is, a rock from another solar system, is quite wonderful enough; and silicon-based life is a battleground topic), but I hadn’t stopped to think about the risk and audacity of presenting Western readers with a South Asian story. Do they get us? Don’t they really believe we secretly travel around on elephants? What is Kali to them, besides Kali-Ma!
It was Nebula-worthy, that’s what it was to them.
When the finalists were all publicly announced is the point (as far as I am concerned) he became the brown Cixin Liu. Consider:
both came from extreme poverty
both write great science fiction
both are now being recognized by Western readers, who are receiving them very well.
Now, let’s get to the shit that no one asked for.
Retired Marine Colonel and SFWA member, Jonathan Brazee posted a list of the indie writers in the running for this year’s Nebulas (Nebulae) on the 20to50k Facebook page. Brazee said not to consider it a voting slate, and for people to vote for those on the list they thought wrote the best stories:
If you can’t access the group, below is a pic of the post taken by Camestros Felapton, who raised an eyebrow over what seemed to him suggestive of a voting slate. He presented information, voiced a concern and ended it with something perfectly respectable:
“Slate? Not a slate? Is it an issue if it is? Some of those questions depend on the culture of the award. The Dragon Award is 100% fine with this approach and the Hugo voters would see it as an anathema. I’m not a SWFA member, so it’s not my call to make regarding the Nebulas.”
You can read his blog post here.
So Annie Bellet read this, and her reaction was not as respectable as Felapton’s. Here’s her Twitter if you want to read this for yourself rather than my curated selection: https://twitter.com/anniebellet
To be fair, there’s not much there. It’s just a crass accusation of an organized attempt to rig a ballot (which is irrelevant by the way: the voting is all nice but it is not the final decider of who wins. Almost like - gasp! - the Nebulas(ae) have a built-in mechanism to cap mob rule).
She then proceeds to denigrate the finalists:
To make this about herself:
To argue that Brazee saying ‘this is not a slate’ is precisely not what he meant:
Cast shade on the finalists:
Excuses herself for doing so by saying ‘no I’m not’, which somehow she can’t see would therefore apply to Jonathan Brazee, and invalidate her entire argument:
And then, just to be on the safe side, plays the gender card:
We are Sri Lankans. What card we play to trump that? Pick!
Foreign brown people
Foreign brown people from tiny country
Foreign brown people from tiny country with our first Nebula finalist (not even Nebulae!)
Terrorism survivors (big time.)
Cultural appropriation / victimized
Exoticized / Fetishized
No no your the savages
We’re on an island, STOP DRIVING CLIMATE CHANGE
(My wife is also having a pop at her, so that’s gender covered, too.)
So Yudha, engages her.
The exchange ends with her accusing him of being stupid or complicit in a crime:
From there is goes all down hill. It’s on Yudha’s Twitter. It has such gems as these:
It’s instructive watching her likes and retweets drop like a stone as her own followers start to wonder where the hell this is going.
It’s a real shame Arthur C. Clarke didn’t live long enough to see a Sri Lankan become a finalist.
But at least it’s a mercy he never got to see Annie Bellet.