I've finished reading the short stories on the preliminary Nebula ballot -- not a long task, since there are only seven of them. My favorite is still Andy Duncan's "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse." Like all Duncan stories, it's difficult to say briefly what it's "about." Maybe it's about what miracles mean, what grace means, and why extremes are needed to bring about both. Or not. The story has layers and allusions and wonderful metaphors, like this one about a church secretary:
Wreathed in cigarette smoke, Miss Ingrid fielded dozens of telephone calls in an eight-hour day, none of which were for her, and while she always managed to correctly record addresses and phone numbers on her nicotine-colored note paper, the rest of the message always emerged from her smudged No. 1 pencils as four or five words that seemed relevant at the time but had no apparent grammatical connection, so that reading a string of Miss Ingrid's messages back to back gave one a deepening sense of alarm and mystery, like intercepted signal fragments from a trawler during a hurricane.
This sentence, Jamesian in its 99-word-long complexity, made me laugh out loud.
I also liked Jennifer Pelland's "Captive Girl," perhaps the most horrifying story I've read in a very long time. It's not what the aliens do to humanity in this story that's so horrifying; it's what we do to each other in the name of love.
Finally, I enjoyed David Levine's "Titanium Mike Saves the Day," a neat story about the importance of stories.
It's worth noticing that of the seven short stories, only two appeared in the "big three" digest magazines, and that two are from an on-line magazine, HELIX, that I hadn't even heard of before. The publishing times, they are a-changin'.
On to the novelette category.