Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gene Wolfe named SFWA Grand Master

Gene Wolfe, it was announced today, will be recognized with the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement. The award will be presented next year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at their annual Nebula Awards banquet.

I’m pleased for Wolfe, of course, although I did wonder why it had taken SFWA this long to recognize one of the giants of science fiction and fantasy.

There are three principal lifetime achievement awards in the field: the SFWA Grand Master Award, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the World Science Fiction Convention Guest of Honor. Until today only 10 people have been the recipient of all three. Gene Wolfe becomes the eleventh person.  He was the Worldcon Guest of Honor at Aussiecon Two in 1985, and he won the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1996.

The triple winners are an interesting group of people. Some that might be expected, such as Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, and Jack Vance. There are only two women on all three lists (Le Guin and Andre Norton), which is sign of where we’ve been but hopefully not a sign of where we are headed on gender issues.

There are some major authors who were overlooked by all three acknowledgements of lifetime achievement: Philip K. Dick, Joanna Russ, and James Tiptree (Alice Bradley Sheldon) for instance.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Locus All-Centuries Poll revisited, or the season of regret

I made my ballot for Locus All-Centuries Poll public a few days ago, and looking around the web I’ve spotted several fine ballots. I knew there would be stories and entire novels I had forgotten to put on my ballot for the Locus All-Centuries Poll. I didn't realize there would be so many.

Niall Harrison’s ballot (continue here) names Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson as the number one best science fiction novel of the 20th Century. I think it’s an excellent choice. It’s one of my favorite SF novels of the 20th Century and it didn't cross my mind to put it on my ballot. I think the title on Harrison’s list that left me the most stricken was We Who Are About To ... by Joanna Russ, which made a huge impression on me and I wish I’d remembered it when I was creating my ballot.

Rich Horton’s ballot (follow here) includes The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, which I did consider and could easily have included on my ballot. I’m not sure how it got crowded off of my list, but it did.

Ian Sales’s ballot (follow here) has Coelestis by Paul Park as his number one choice for best science fiction novel of the 20th Century, which is a brilliant choice. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and I can’t imagine how I forgot it. It’s very bleak, of course. Not that I would shy away from it for that reason. After all, I have Light by M. John Harrison as my top choice for best 21st Century SF novel.

Cheryl Morgan’s ballot (follow here) has Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, which is a fine and massive novel. I did consider putting a John Brunner novel on my list. My choice would have been Shockwave Rider, if I could have found more room on the list.

Martin Lewis’s ballot (follow here) for best fantasy novel of the 20th Century has The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick, which is an excellent choice. I’m not sure which title I would have replaced on my ballot, but I’d like to think there would be room for a Swanwick novel.

Nina Allen’s ballot (follow here PDF) lists Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut among many other great choices. They are both particular favorites of mine.

Nina Allen, in her Locus Poll roundup (follow here), saves her highest praise for Matthew Cheney’s ballot (follow here), and deservedly so. It is the most amazing, genre boundary crushing list I've yet seen, filled with Franz Kafka, J.M. Coetzee, Vladimir Nabokov, and many other brilliant choices.

My own ballot (follow here) shares some overlap with each of the varied ballots I've mentioned above, a fact which is oddly wonderful and somehow reassuring. In addition to exact duplicates, in many cases we've chosen to recognize the same author with different and equally valid choices of story or novel.

By now it should be apparent that my lists would be double the size that the Locus Poll allowed and I would still be paralyzed by what I was leaving off. Each one that I left off gives me a pang of regret.

There are some novels and stories on each of the ballots I just mentioned that I haven’t read. I regret those, too, since in many cases I've had them in mind to read for quite a while.

Then there are the stories that I know I've read, yet I simply don’t remember. For instance, the novella “Great Work of Time” by John Crowley, which appears on ballots by Niall Harrison, Rich Horton, Ian Sales, Matthew Cheney, and it was mentioned (with great regret) by Gary K. Wolfe on the most recent Coode Street Podcast (follow here). I’m a great admirer of Crowley’s work and I know I read this novella perhaps 20 years ago, but it has vanished from my memory. I know that I’ll be rereading “Great Work of Time” and that Crowley’s work stands up to rereading in a way that few authors do. (Who was it who said: a first reading is like a first impression, it’s the second reading where the real appreciation begins?)

In the current Coode Street Podcast, just mentioned, Jonathan Strahan patiently compels Gary K. Wolfe to name the single best SF novel of the 20th Century. Eventually Wolfe names A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and defends his choice intelligently and articulately. It’s a fine choice, I think, and his reasons are well worth hearing. In turn, Strahan names Neuromancer by William Gibson as his choice for the single best SF novel of the 20th Century. It's a novel that I don’t think has aged nearly as well. Wolfe nails it with his retort: “You’re confusing ‘game changing’ with ‘best.’”

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Locus All-Centuries Poll, or how I cut off both of my Hands

See, there were two stories by Elizabeth Hand that I wanted to get onto my submission to the Locus 20th and 21st All-Centuries Poll, unfortunately there were so many other stories that couldn’t be denied a place on the poll that I ended up cutting both of the Hand stories.

Okay, it’s a cheap metaphor for how painful it was to pare down my lists of best science fiction and fantasy stories of the past 110 years. Sue me. It was painful to leave stories off the lists. Then the Locus Poll expected me to rank the stories in each category, which was just as painful as leaving others off the list entirely.

20th Century Best SF Novels
1: The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
2: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
3: 1984 by George Orwell
4: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin
5: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
6: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
7: Pavane by Keith Roberts
8: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
9: Neverness by David Zindell
10: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

You’ll notice there’s no Heinlein, Asimov, or Clarke; no Dune by Frank Herbert. While I have affection for their novels, my opinion of their work has faded a bit over the years and it’s time to move along and recognize great work that might otherwise be ignored. I knew I had to get a Samuel R. Delany title on the list and it was hard to choose, since I think Nova and The Einstein Intersection are brilliant. Somehow the multifaceted Dhalgren stood out. I was pretty sure I was going to get a Bruce Sterling novel on this list, either Holy Fire or Schismatrix, and yet it didn’t happen. Also, I’m pretty sure Engine Summer by John Crowley belongs here. And maybe A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. Perhaps if I had the list to do over again in a couple weeks it would be different.

20th Century Best Fantasy Novels
1: Little, Big by John Crowley
2: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
3: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
4: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
5: Peace by Gene Wolfe
6: Was by Geoff Ryman
7: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
8: The Innkeepers Song by Peter S. Beagle
9: The Last Coin by James P. Blaylock
10: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Lord of the Rings isn’t there, is it. No apologies here. Tolkien’s work is important. Still, I’d rather use my vote to recognize the work of others.

20th Century Best Novella
1: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
2: Souls by Joanna Russ
3: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance
4: The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
5: Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber
6: 24 Views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai by Roger Zelazny
7: Her Habiline Husband by Michael Bishop
8: The Star Pit by Samuel R. Delany
9: The Big Front Yard by Clifford Simak
10: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin

I had a tough choice for which Zelazny novella to pick. Eventually “24 Views of Mt. Fuji” won out over “He Who Shapes.” I wanted to get Kage Baker’s “Son Observe the Time” and Elizabeth Hand’s “Last Summer at Mars Hill” on the list. Alas.

20th Century Best Novelette
1: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
2: Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight by Ursula K. LeGuin
3: Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy
4: Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones by Samuel R. Delany
5: A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny
6: Black Air by Kim Stanley Robinson
7: Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith
8: E for Effort by T. L. Sherred
9: The Little Black Bag by C. M. Kornbluth
10: Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester

It was hard to choose which Kim Stanley Robinson novelette to include. “Black Air” just edged out “The Lucky Strike.” Other novelettes that were edged out were Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God” and “A Martian Odyssey “ by Stanley G. Weinbaum.

20th Century Best Short Story
1: Or All the Seas with Oysters by Avram Davidson
2: Sur by Ursula K. LeGuin
3: When It Changed by Joanna Russ
4: A Romance of the Equator by Brian W. Aldiss
5: Day Million by Frederik Pohl
6: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe
7: Narrow Valley by R. A. Lafferty
8: I See You by Damon Knight
9: Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellision
10: Love is the Plan the Plan is Death by James Tiptree

Two short stories it was particularly tough to leave off were “Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel R. Delany and “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw.

Here we shift to the 21st Century, defined in the poll as the years 2001 to 2010.

21st Century Best SF Novels
1: Light by M. John Harrison
2: Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
3: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
4: The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
5: In War Times by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Harrison’s Light can be read on its own, or as the first volume of a trilogy that continues with Nova Swing and Empty Space. Goonan’s In War Time should be read as the first half of a duology, concluded in This Shared Dream. I would have liked to have an Ian R. MacLeod novel on the list, perhaps House of Storms. Other painful omissions include The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and The City and the City by China Miéville.

21st Century Best Fantasy Novels
1: Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin
2: Great Roumania (four volumes) by Paul Park
3: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
4: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
5: The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

Great Roumania by Park is a single novel published in four parts, starting with A Princess of Roumania. Series of this type are difficult to accommodate in polls, but it makes little sense to vote for the first volume alone.

21st Century Best Novellas
1: Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
2: Breathmoss by Ian R. MacLeod
3: Vishnu at the Cat Circus by Ian McDonald
4: Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance by Paul Park
5: The Chief Designer by Andy Duncan

I could have chosen MacLeod’s “New Light on the Drake Equation,” but “Breathmoss” is one of those stories that snuck up on me and I’ve never been able to forget it. There were a bunch of Robert Reed novellas that I would have liked to add to the list, such as “A Billion Eves” or “Dead Man’s Run.” And I painfully chopped off another Elizabeth Hand novella, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon.”

21st Century Best Novelettes
1: Second Person, Present Tense by Daryl Gregory
2: The Witch's Headstone by Neil Gaiman
3: The Bordello in Faerie by Michael Swanwick
4: Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford
5: Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi

“The Bordello in Faerie” by Michael Swanwick is one of the few stories I chose that wasn’t on the Locus reference list. It’s a young man’s coming of age story told by way of his sexual experiences with a variety of fantastical women. I found it to be unforgettable.

21st Century Best Short Stories
1: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
2: The Pelican Bar by Karen Joy Fowler
3: Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan
4: The Faery Handbag by Kelly Link
5: The Night Whiskey by Jeffrey Ford

I would have liked to include “Booth’s Ghost” by Karen Joy Fowler here. That would have meant pushing “The Pelican Bar” off the list and I couldn’t let that happen.

Related links:
Locus Online
Locus All-Centuries Poll reference lists: 20th Century novels, 20th Century Short Fiction, 21st Century novels, 21st Century Short Fiction.