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Off On A Tangent: F&SF Style
Presentations and Speeches
It is usually the case that the presentations of the John W. Campbell, Jr. Memorial Award for Best SF Novel of the Year and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Story of the Year, take place conjointly at the University of Kansas, Lawrence following a Friday evening banquet. This year however, the ceremonies moved thirty-five miles to the east, to Kansas City, MO, and were held in conjunction with the Robert A. Heinlein 100th Anniversary Centennial at the Westin Crown Center hotel during the weekend of July 6-8, 2007.
There are many awards handed out in the fields of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror these days. Each has its own selection process for determining a winner and, unless one is an insider, even many in the field surprisingly do not know how every individual award is nominated on and eventually awarded. By raw vote of any given membership using the Australian ballot system to determine winners? A strictly juried award? A preliminary long list open to editors and critics narrowed down by vote points, then a short list given to a jury? By raw vote of any given membership, the highest one or two vote-getters then automatically placed on a final ballot along with those chosen by a jury who then ultimately decide the winners?
It can all be very confusing.
With this in mind, we present below not only the winners of this year's John W. Campbell, Jr. and Theodore Sturgeon awards (along with introductory remarks and acceptance speeches), but information about each award and its selection process. All such information is copyrighted and used with permission of James Gunn, and may not be reprinted without permission. For further information about the awards we direct your attention to the website below, which also contains a wealth of information on many subjects of scholarly interest, including articles, speeches, papers, lists of all past Campbell and Sturgeon winners, and much more. We thank James Gunn for the use of this material, and the various authors' permissions to reprint their remarks: Elizabeth Anne Hull, Ben Bova, James Gunn, and Robert Charles Wilson.
Following Robert Charles Wilson's acceptance speech as this year's winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, we have added a "mini-interview," where the author gives his thoughts on several topics of current interest and debate.
The J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction website can be found at: http://www2.ku.edu/~sfcenter/.
The 2007 Campbell and Sturgeon awards were presented Friday evening, July 6, 2007.
The Award was created to honor the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, which is now named Analog. Campbell, who edited the magazine from 1937 until his death in 1971, is called, by many writers and scholars, the father of modern science fiction. Writers and critics Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the award in Campbell's name as a way of continuing his efforts to encourage writers to produce their best possible work.
The first Campbell Award was presented at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1973. Since then the Award has been presented in various parts of the world: at California State University at Fullerton; at St. John's College, Oxford; at the World SF Writers Conference in Dublin; in Stockholm; at the World SF meeting in Dublin again; and since 1979 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
The Campbell Award is the only award of the three [Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell; dt] selected by a committee small enough to discuss among its members the novels published during the year and to arrive at a consensus choice. The current jury consists of Gregory Benford, Paul A. Carter, James Gunn, Christopher McKitterick, Farah Mendlesohn, Pamela Sargent, and T. A. Shippey.
Nominations come from the science-fiction publishers as well as individual jurors. Nominations are usually requested in December by Chris McKitterick in the United States and Farah Mendlesohn in the United Kingdom, and the jurors read and debate the merits of these books through April. This process produces a list of finalists based on jurors' rankings, and the final decision is made after vigorous debate on the merits of the finalists during May. The winning author is usually contacted in May and invited to attend the Campbell Conference; the winner often attends the last day or two of the SF Writers Workshop, as well.
(Best Novel 2007, for work appearing in 2006)
Elizabeth Anne Hull
It is fitting that, with the John W. Campbell, Jr. Memorial Award, we are today honoring the man who succeeded Analog's great editor, John W. Campbell, Jr., Ben Bova. As most of you probably are aware, Bova went on to edit Omni, the magazine that gave Ellen Datlow her start in the sf field.
Over the years, Bova has been responsible as an editor for discovering many talented sf writers, among them the prolific Orson Scott Card, and Bova's won the Hugo for editing six times. He's also a past president of the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America.
I've known Ben for thirty years, having met him at the 1977 SFRA meeting in Evanston, Illinois, where I taped an interview with him for use in my classroom. I sort of mislaid the tape when I retired, so I can't quote verbatim, but I do remember our discussing the ways his editing experience had influenced his own writing, especially in creating narrative hooks, pacing and plotting, creating a setting, and developing characters. And it's as a writer that we're honoring him now.
One of the questions I specifically recall asking in that interview then was, "how do the novels that you write for young adults differ from those for adults?" His answer was (paraphrasing): "the ones for kids don't have sex in them. Otherwise, I don't write down to the children." I thought that was a good answer.
Titan is the latest in Bova's series of interconnected novels known as "The Grand Tour," chronicling humanity's struggles to colonize our solar system; but the reader does not have to have read any of the others in order to understand and enjoy this one. The complex plot is nearly perfect in creating suspense while Bova's cool journalistic reportage avoids melodrama.
The situation is this: It's set in the near future, at the end of this century, in 2095 and 2096. The colony ship Goddard, carrying some ten thousand people, has reached orbit around Saturn and sent down to Saturn's moon Titan an exploration vessel, Titan Alpha. But Alpha has gone dead, and the scientists must discover why and decide if and how it can be fixed.
I found Titan absolutely compelling reading, a book I hated to put down to eat and sleep, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading a second time in order to write this speech.
It is definitely an adult novel, involving realistic human sexuality, but it could be read by teenagers. It has a neo-Freudian twist: sometimes people don't just sublimate their sexuality, but consciously put other goals-like scientific curiosity or the acquisition of power-before sex. Clearly, we all hunger for love and respect. The novel develops complex characterization of a huge cast with believable motivation for minor as well as major characters, people from all corners of the globe, with nearly every imaginable ethnicity and color of skin. Roughly half of the characters are male and half female. Every person has some knowledge, expertise, or insight to contribute to their collective scientific mission. It's a world I would like to inhabit.
The major themes it deals with range from the tension between women's reproductive rights and overpopulation threats, to environmental protection and respect for life in all forms, to abuse of political power and the "spin" that those in power exert to maintain their position, to our thirst for respect as well as for revenge, and the human urge to survive, even when life seems darkest.
In this novel, Bova exemplifies the principle I believe about human psychology: no sane human beings, even liars and weaklings, see themselves as bad guys. Woven throughout the narrative, the story deals with expedient lying, both the "white" lie and the darker variety. Bova's scientific background gives the whole narrative a verisimilitude that makes me (as Kij Johnson once put it) swoon trusting into the fiction, letting it take me along for the ride.
People who are not usually sf readers sometimes act as if the noblest thing that the genre can do is generate excitement in readers and make them want to learn more about science or even become scientists-and perhaps they're not entirely wrong. After I finished the novel I came across two articles in the May 2007 issue of Science on the tholins in the atmosphere of Titan, and, although these articles were quite dry and bloodless (as I suppose science articles must be to be credible), I was moved to read them. However, Titan is anything but boring.
It is my pleasure to present to you, the winner of the Campbell award for best sf novel published in 2006: Titan by Ben Bova.
Ben Bova began his brief acceptance remarks by saying he was sitting in the Atlanta airport trying to figure out what he was going to say here, when a joke came to him. His acceptance remarks were comprised of this joke. Since jokes rely heavily on delivery, timing, and audience reaction, we shan't try to tell it here, save to mention that it involves a man lost in the woods, a hungry bear, and God. Just as the bear ends up thanking God for the bounty granted him, so too did Ben thank all concerned for the bounty bestowed upon him and his novel Titan. And for the record everyone laughed at Ben's joke.
For its first eight years (1987-1994), the Sturgeon Award was selected by a committee of short-fiction experts headed by Orson Scott Card. Beginning in 1995, the Sturgeon Award became a juried award, with winners selected by a committee composed of James Gunn, Frederik Pohl, and Judith Merril. After the 1996 Award, Judith Merril resigned and was replaced by Kij Johnson, the 1994 Sturgeon winner; in 2005, George Zebrowski joined the jury. Since 1999, one of Sturgeon's children has also participated in this process, usually Noel Sturgeon.
The current jury consists of James Gunn, Kij Johnson, Frederik Pohl, George Zebrowski, and Noel Sturgeon, Theodore Sturgeon's daughter.
Nominations come from a wide variety of science-fiction reviewers and serious readers as well as from the editors who publish short fiction. Nominations are collected during the winter by Chris McKitterick, who produces a list of finalists based on nominators' rankings. The jury then reads all of the finalists and debates their merits during the spring. The winning author is usually contacted in May and invited to attend the Campbell Conference; the winner often attends the last day or two of the SF Writers Workshop, as well.
The Sturgeon Award is presented during the Campbell Conference Awards Banquet at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, as the focal point of a weekend of discussions about the writing, illustration, publishing, teaching, and criticism of science fiction.
(Best Short Fiction 2007, for work appearing in 2006)
Consider the 22nd Century. Work is done by artificial intelligences and robots. Everyone gets a basic minimum distribution-the Dole. Nobody has to work, but many do in order to get a few more of the good things of life. The population has dwindled. Life has been extended, even past death by means of neuro-prosthetic arrays. What remains for people to do: only entertainment and the law, says Toby's dead grandfather.
The story centers around an eccentric artist in the subterranean ghetto called Doletown, whose art form is death. By means of neuro-prosthetic arrays he is able to duplicate a living creature in electrosensitive facsimile gel. When he cuts the connection between the two, the duplicate dies in thirty seconds, expiring in agony. But which is the duplicate neither of the creatures can be sure until it dissolves.
Is it living? Only as a facsimile. Does it have a soul? It is a machine and can have no soul, according to the artist and the law.
I'll tell you no more about it except that this exceptional story is "The Cartesian Theater," and its artist is Robert Charles Wilson, who deals not in death but in the words that sustain. "The Cartesian Theater" draws its name from a speculation by Descartes that the self, the human sense of identity, is a kind of internal gnome hooked up to the outside world through the senses, and the artist in death attempts to externalize a Cartesian self.
I can't refrain from mentioning that a few years ago Robert Charles Wilson shared the Campbell Award for the best SF novel of the year with Jack Williamson, and that he has been called, by no less than Stephen King, "probably the finest science-fiction author now writing."
A few weeks ago I received an email from Dr. Gunn saying, essentially, "We'd like to give you an award on July 6th." As I was reading I got a phone call from my periodontist saying, "We'd like to give you oral surgery on July 10th." My first thought was: The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. My second thought was: no matter what terrible thing my dentist is doing to me on the 10th, I'll be looking him in the eye and thinking, "I have a Sturgeon Award, and you don't."
It's especially pleasing to receive an award that acknowledges what I think of as "core" science fiction-not "hard sf," but the long tradition of science fiction that extends from Wells through writers like Heinlein and Sturgeon to the present-a literature with a century-long tradition, a literature I learned to love at an early age, and a literature, I believe, which still offers writers a vast field of exploration and has supplied us the tools with which that exploration can be conducted. When I wrote "The Cartesian Theater," as well as "Julian: A Christmas Story," I was aiming at the heart of that tradition-and since both stories were finalists for this award, I seem to have bowled one down the middle.
I'm grateful to the judges and to the Campbell Conference for carrying forward that tradition in such a thoughtful manner and for generously making me a part of it.
Dave Truesdale: Would you mind expanding on what you mean by "core" SF, and why you think it offers writers such a vast field of exploration?
Robert Charles Wilson: By "core SF" I mean science fiction that recognizes the long and interesting history of the genre, and is written from within that tradition or at least in a knowledgeable response to it.
Modern science fiction (meaning SF since H. G. Wells) does something that seems to me unique: it brings the sensibility of literary realism to the subject matter of fantasy. It opens the window of the imagination without slamming the door on rationality, in other words. That constitutes a sort of "artistic restraint," I suppose, but any art form is created within such restraints and sometimes created by them. (We wouldn't have haiku if we did away with that pesky 17-syllable rule, for instance.) Wells-and all his heirs-invented a way to imaginatively explore the vast range of human questions that the scientific worldview invites, and they devised a rather clever set of tools for doing that.
I don't hold any brief against fantasy, slipstream, quasi-mainstream, peripheral SF, or any other style or means of writing fiction-in fact I don't believe in any literary manifesto that extends beyond the reach of the writer's own pen. All I'm saying is that we've inherited something unique, valuable, and maybe even slightly fragile in the collective entity "modern science fiction" -and we ought to acknowledge it and treasure it.
DT: Why do you feel SF gets such short shrift among a number of Literary critics, even today? What are your feelings on this entire issue?
RCW: In other words, where were we when they were setting up the Canon? I suspect we were simply on the wrong end of the well-publicized debate between H. G. Wells and Henry James on the subject of "the novel of character" as the only worthy form of writing. We started out eccentric, that is, and we were more or less ostracized (or trivialized) for it, and the end result was that we flourished in places where the bright light of literary respectability seldom shines-children's books, pulp magazines, etc.
But what we do is intrinsically interesting-or so it seems to me-and the field attracted writers far too talented to be ignored, even if they didn't fit comfortably into established categories. Thus the periodic discovery of works "too good to be science fiction," as if the concept "good science fiction" was some kind of implausible oxymoron.
That kind of thinking is pretty deeply entrenched in the literary discourse-consider some of the reviews of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, to take just one example. For certain critics, it's almost a reflex action. But it's also pretty self-evidently silly, and these days there are lots of places where SF does get its critical due. My own books have been or are being taught in several Canadian university courses, and without condescension, and the same is true of many other writers.
DT: Thanks very much for your time.
RCW: You're most welcome.
Titan by Ben Bova was published in hardcover by TOR Books in March, 2006, and was edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
"The Cartesian Theater" was published in trade paperback in the original collection Futureshocks (ROC, January, 2006) and was edited by Lou Anders.
July, 17, 2007
Dave Truesdale began the short fiction review magazine Tangent in 1993. Since then, it has been honored with 4 Hugo nominations and 1 World Fantasy Award nomination. For several years in the 1990s, he was deeply involved with the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and in 1998 was a World Fantasy Award judge. He edited the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1999-2002. Tangent Online can be found at www.tangentonline.com.
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