Thursday, April 30, 2009

Classic science fiction and the Nebula Awards

I bought three books of classic science fiction today. This was inspired in part by the Nebulas.

When I was in Los Angeles last weekend, I was deeply impressed by the sense of community in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There was a beautiful song by Janis Ian that mentioned in its lyrics at least ten different titles of famous science fiction stories. There was the gratitude for science fiction as an early life-changing experience expressed (humorously) by Chuck Lorre, who gave the keynote speech. Most interesting in this regard was a speech given by Grandmaster title awardee Harry Harrison. He spent several minutes reminiscing about a trip to South America he took with a large number of science fiction writers - who was there, what they did, even how one of them nearly drowned in the surf. He mentioned many, many famous names. Some people there may have felt that the speech was too long, or that he was name-dropping, but I could have listened to him a lot longer. To me, what he was doing was creating a world for us - a world he wanted to show us so it wouldn't be lost, and one where we now were coming to belong. In a way, everyone there was contributing to the same vision: a vision of science fiction and fantasy not so much as a field, but as a community that maintained its continuity over generations. I found this very touching, especially since I felt I was being welcomed into the group as someone who could help carry this wonderful tradition forward.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of my books. I want to get a taste of what these early writers accomplished, and I think it will help me understand both the SFWA community and writing itself.


  1. So? What are the books you ordered?

    I know exactly what you mean about the sense of community. I've never been able to attend cons or events, but even still picking up a new, even if it's just new to me, SF/F book or the latest issue of Analog or Asimov's makes me feel like I'm hooking into a network, a community of likeminded souls. I love Nineteenth Century British literature, and I love Medieval literature, but the sense of connection, of being part of a group with its own history and culture, just isn't there when you pick up a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson or Charlotte Bronte or Charles Dickens. You're a reader, an individual reading an individual story. Reading criticism gives you a little bit of a similar sense, that you are connecting with previous people who have enjoyed or intensely studied the book you're reading, but the similarity is really very tenuous.

    I donno. Maybe it's just that, except for the earliest SF/F writers; Verne, Wells, Burroughs, SF/F writers are people of our own time. I've seen film clips of Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clark was always getting quoted on some scientific topic or other. Jane Yolin lives right here, not just in my home state of Massachusetts, but in my home region of western Massachusetts. Madalyn L'Engle lived just over the border in Connecticut. One reads articles by these writers, or in this modern age reads their web sites and blogs. Just as fandom is immediate, the writers themselves are immediate in SF/F. So it's a very emotionally satisfying genre.

  2. One of the books was an SFWA Grand Masters anthology, another was a classic science fiction anthology, and the third was three novels (really novellas) by Damon Knight. I was looking for a particular story, because I'm going to be doing a Ridiculously Close Look piece soon.

  3. Insanely jealous...and hoping I can make it to WorldCon here in Melbourne in 2010. :)