Ann and I are now in the process of reading for The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, which will appear in 2016. This huge anthology of well over 500,000 words will collect the best and most unusual SF stories from approximately 1900 to 2000. This requires a lot of reading and research. Every so often I will report back about current reading, although not in any systematic way. In fact, almost deliberately not in a systematic way.
In this case, all quotes are from Nebula Award Stories 16, edited by Jerry Pournelle, published in 1982.
Stories included, all from 1980:
“Grotto of the Dancing Deer” by Clifford D. Simak; “Ginungagap” by Michael Swanwick; “The Unicorn Tapestry” by Suzy McKee Charnas; “Rautavaara’s Case” by Philip K. Dick; “The Ugly Chickens” by Howard Waldrop; “Secrets of the Heart” by Charles L. Grant.
[Nebula Awards ballot for 1980 stories and novels.]
From Jerry Pournelle’s introduction:
“Campbell groomed a lot of writers…It was a traditional route, and it worked, but it depended, more than we knew, on editors like Campbell and Gold. But now it’s 1981, and Mr. Campbell is dead and Horace Gold has retired; and no one has come forward to replace them. Maybe no one can…But for whatever reason, there are few magazine editors working closely with new writers. One exception to that rule is my editorial assistant, John Carr….He doesn’t get to work with very many new writers, because we don’t buy many original stories [for our other anthologies]; but more than once we’ve received stories that aren’t good enough to publish—one was plain awful—but which show unmistakable signs of talent. They must be rejected, of course, but I’ve watched John Carr write nine-page encouraging letters. One result of John’s editorial work was that a writer got a cover illustration for his first published story. I wish that could happen more often; but we can’t do it, and not many others seem to be interested in trying.”
“This is a strange field. I’m editing the Nebula Awards volume, and there’s almost no chance that I’ll ever win a Nebula. There’s a fair chance that when I’m old and gray they’ll vote me a Grand Master, but I doubt I’ll ever write a story that wins.”
“It’s traditional for the Nebula editor to write about science fiction as literature, but I can’t do that. I don’t know much about literature.”
“Alas, it didn’t take long for the [Nebula] awards to become ‘controversial.’ There were accusations of lobbying and vote-swapping. Writers were accused of voting without reading all the contenders; other writers were castigated because they never voted at all. Each year’s Nebula Awards Ceremony saw one or another writer walk out in disagreement with the rules. Each year’s annual meeting saw introduced a resolution abolishing the awards.” [in a context of believing the awards have gone to “very good” stories]
From Michael Glyer’s report on SF fandom, “Whatever Weirdness Lingers”:
“Always before [at the Hugo Awards], Lin Carter had taken the stage to announce the Gandalf winner. Not in 1980. Carter was absent, and no trophy was on hand. When no one associated with the award appeared, Harlan Ellison and master of ceremonies Robert Silverberg improvised some zaniness and rescued the ceremony from an awkward moment. Was Carter’s absence a protest of what went on at the business meeting, fans wondered. Apparently not, as the available evidence showed no one had even manufactured [the] trophy.”
“Fandom contains as diverse a variety of people as ever: space technologists, strategic weapons specialists, computer programmers, students, filmmakers, unemployed, medical doctors, tax protesters, and endless teenagers…One of Norman Spinrad’s many attacks on fandom appeared in a January 1981 Publishers Weekly: ‘In part to blame for the frivolous label attached to SF are the egregiously visible bands of fans,’ Spinrad believes. ‘These are the groups done up in bizarre attire and behavior that cluster together at frequent cons… [They’re] largely responsible for whatever weirdness lingers around science fiction.
“In American society, science fiction offers enough of the whole cloth to costume every popular myth. Nowhere is this more literally true than at a science fiction convention. With distant echoes of Simon and Garfunkel, some fans are still looking for America, in long hair, beards, Levi’s with guitar in hand, quietly sharing grass in an upstairs room. Ironically, at the same time in another room, former Young Republicans smoke of the same leaf and echo a ‘Hallejulah Chorus’ now that Reagan has won.
“Except for the probability that Spinrad meant to condemn them all, either group might agree to look askance at the costume selection of some young fans appearing at recent conventions. Stimulated by the imagery of Star Wars, the number of jackboot-and-leather-vest wearers has increased, in parallel with khaki-clad mercenaries with plastic mortars and aluminum copies of submachine guns. These fantasies of violence are not to be confused with those in reality who poke a shotgun out of the window of a moving Chevy and murder a rival gang member. The latter are unarguably malicious. But one can speculate that what a fifteen-to-twenty-year-old wants, either in a gang or in a paramilitary costume, is a sense of mission in the world, and recognition. At a convention, this is basically innocent.” [from there, the report goes on to acknowledge “at least one behavior problem involving a sword” per con and the presence of fake weapons soliciting the attentions of a SWAT team at the Disclave con]
From Bill Warren’s article “1980: The Year in Fantastic Films,” which includes analysis of The Empire Strikes Back, Altered States, Saturn 3, Flash Gordon, and more.
[“SFWA used to award a Nebula for Best Dramatic Production. I ought to know; I invented it…A few years later, SFWA, by a narrow vote, abolished the category. Two reasons were given. The first appealed to the cheese-paring faction: the Nebula trophy costs over a hundred dollars and a Best Dramatic Production trophy won’t often go to an SFWA member. Better to put that money into SFWA parties.” – from Pournelle’s intro to the movie article]
“Of the two new characters in [The Empire Strikes Back], dramatically and technically Yoda is a triumph. Yoda is, in fact, a Muppet. The voice and manipulator of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, Frank Oz, also manipulates and vocalizes Yoda, and his is an Oscar-worthy performance…The other new character, Lando Calrissian, is much less interesting. In this case, the failing is less that of the script than of Billy Dee Williams, who, as Lando, is largely charmless. Whatever the real reason for casting a black actor as Lando, George Lucas…could have found a more appealing performer. Sidney Poitier, Glyn Turman, James Earl Jones (in body), and Harry Belafonte are not only more appealing than Williams, but are better actors.”
“There were some good things about [Flash Gordon]. As Ming the Merciless, Max Von Sidow is so fine that he sails over the arch lines he was given. While others in the cast read their lines as they meant this silly drivel to be taken at face value.”
From Aldys Budry’s essay “What Did 1980 Mean?”
“Science fiction proceeds in steps, or seems to. In hindsight, we identify a Golden Age of what was then called Modern Science Fiction, from roughly 1939 to 1949. Noting that John W. Campbell, Jr., its founder, assumed editorial direction of Astounding Stories in 1937, we can postdate a period beginning with Hugo Gernsback in 1929 in which ‘scientifiction’ evolved, via ‘superscience stories,’ into ‘science fiction.’ In 1950 we find Galaxy magazine emerging; by 1951 a whole new generation of writers, prominently featuring Robert Sheckley, Philip K. Dick, William Tenn, James Blish, Cyril Kornbluth, and Frederik Pohl, is well on its way to creating what might be called Post-Modernist science fiction. The early 1960s saw the flourishing of England’s ‘New Wave,” which has since become everyone’s wave, just as each previous one of these short generations still flourishes within us.”
“…1971 to 1980 was the Women’s Decade, with all that that implies. A majority of the important new novelists were female, representing an unprecedented situation when one considers that for many years it had been politic for women SF writers to hide behind nominally male bylines, and even so, there had not been all that many of them.”
“…when the SFWA membership—as distinguished from prominent SF community articulators—is polled for its opinion on the year’s best, there is a spontaneous tacit recognition that general literary standards fall short of encompassing all the excellences possible to SF…It may be that all literatures in some way find their ultimate validation not in their prose but in the social hopes they sustain. It may be; in SF, the possibility seems more clearly visible than anywhere else. SF is not intrinsically just another sort of Western or crime story [but] a separate literature, for all that it shares with all other literatures the property of containing much that inept, cynical, or shortfallen. The Nebula Awards and this anthology are testimony that nevertheless it is capable of unique and effective literary attainments. And that, in a sense, is what 1980 meant.”