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Peter S. Beagle will be the Next SFWA Grand Master

Thursday, January 25th, 2018 | Posted by Rich Horton

Peter S Beagle Grand Master-small

Is it OK to post now on the other significant SF news from Tuesday (happier news)? Because it does seem worthwhile to mention that Peter Beagle has been named the latest SFWA Grand Master.

I confess — somewhat bewilderedly — that I had not thought of him when I speculated on who the next GM might be. (I believe that’s because early in his career he was not a “core genre writer,” in that he didn’t publish in the magazines. (Yes, Fantasy & Science Fiction published “Come Lady Death,” but as a reprint.) That’s not a good reason, it’s just what I think must have made me forget him.) But on seeing the announcement, I thought, well, of course! Peter Beagle IS a Grand Master, and this is an award he eminently deserves.

I (with many other fans, to be sure) absolutely adore The Last Unicorn. And his other fiction is quite marvelous as well. I’ve used a few of his stories in my books.

I met him once, at an Archon I believe, and I was able to speak with him briefly. The main thing I remember is his mention of Robert Nathan as an influence, which seems quite clear — for instance, Nathan’s One Last Spring certain brought Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place to my mind.

(I do wonder, now, who the next GM will be? Will Kate Wilhelm finally get a long overdue nod? Or Carol Emshwiller? How about Michael Bishop? Gregory Benford? Nancy Kress? And I’m sure I’ve forgotten some obvious candidates.)

Rich Horton’s last Retro Review for us was the November 1962 issue of Amazing Stories. His website is Strange at Ecbatan. See all of Rich’s retro-reviews here.


  1. I was a little surprised, looking over the list, that Philip K. Dick was never a master. Nor J.G. Ballard.

    But looking at current candidates… I would include George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois.

    Others: John Varley, John Crowley, David Brin, Joan D. Vinge, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lois McMaster Bujold. Some younger candidates- Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, China Mieville.

    Comment by John ONeill - January 26, 2018 3:03 am

  2. John, I agree about Dick. I suppose that while he was well respected in the field during his lifetime, he wasn’t held in awe as he is now until posthumously?

    The only thing that surprises me about the Beagle announcement is that he wasn’t a Grand Master already. How many other living fantasy authors have his stature (especially with the loss of icons like Ursula Le Guin)?

    Comment by Nick Ozment - January 26, 2018 4:39 am

  3. We continued to discuss possible future Grand Masters in a Facebook thread, with contributions from people like Greg Benford, Jack Skillingstead, Gardner Dozois, David Gerrold, Piet Nel, and more.

    Here’s a summary of the list, divided into generations of a sort:

    Already “old enough”: John Varley, David Brin, John Crowley, Joan D. Vinge, William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lois McMaster Bujold, George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Kate Wilhelm, Nancy Kress, Carol Emshwiller, Gregory Benford, David Gerrold, Michael Swanwick, M. John Harrison.

    A step younger: Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, China Mieville, Ted Chiang. (I think the list of younger future candidates could actually be much much longer … N. K. Jemisin, for instance, just to name one writer who has achieved consistent success with a whole series of books.)

    One other out of the box, sort of, candidate: Cixin Liu.

    Comment by Rich Horton - January 26, 2018 8:29 am

  4. I’m a firm believer that the two reactions a SFWA Grand Master announcement should engender are “Of course, that’s the perfect choice.” and “I can’t believe [authorname] isn’t already a Grand Master.”

    Comment by Steven H Silver - January 26, 2018 8:29 am

  5. As to Philip K. Dick’s lack of a Grandmaster Award — he was simply too young when he died. This also applies to a couple further seemingly strange omissions: Roger Zelazny, Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish.

    C. L. Moore was intended to get one of the early Grandmaster awards, but she had Alzheimer’s at the time, and her family declined the award. The reason given was her health (and that could have been correct), but many of us have suspected it was the family’s hostility towards Science Fiction.

    Stanislaw Lem and J. G. Ballard seem like they would have been good candidates, but Lem’s battle with SFWA probably precluded him from the award, and I daresay Ballard was considered to have “left” the field.

    (Which reminds me — someone also suggested Michael Chabon as a writer (and, I believe, SFWA member) who, if he continues to write some Fantasy and SF, might build a Grandmaster worthy career.)

    Comment by Rich Horton - January 26, 2018 8:34 am

  6. Rich Horton,

    So it sounds like, as I suspected, the recipient must be living to receive the designation; and able to attend and physically receive the award?

    They’d better get one to Carol Emshwiller quick — she’s 96 years old!

    Comment by Nick Ozment - January 26, 2018 10:35 am

  7. There’s not necessarily a requirement the recipient must attend and physically accept the award, I don’t think.

    The award has been technically made posthumously once — in the sense that the author died before the formal award presentation. This was Alfred Bester, but in his case the award was announced while he was still living, but he died between the announcement and the Nebula ceremony at which the award would have been presented.

    I believe A. E. Van Vogt’s health was in serious decline when his award was made, but I don’t know if he attended the ceremony or not.

    Comment by Rich Horton - January 26, 2018 10:40 am

  8. Steven — I think your stipulations about the reactions a Grand Master announcement should elicit are spot on.

    That was certainly the case when, for example, Samuel Delany’s GM award was announced. Or, indeed, Le Guin’s. Or Gene Wolfe’s. Or indeed most cases.

    I freely admit there are a few cases where I did not have that reaction, and you could probably find unkind statements by me if you searched Usenet or certain now defunct online fora. But I don’t care to bring up those objections again, and at any rate, in many such cases, it was more like “Well, he should get one eventually, but not before a, b, or c… “

    Comment by Rich Horton - January 26, 2018 10:43 am

  9. For those with Facebook access, the comment thread Rich mentioned above is here:

    Also, shame on me for not mentioning it earlier: I think Peter Beagle is a fantastic choice for Grand Master this year.

    Comment by John ONeill - January 26, 2018 11:06 am

  10. > I believe A. E. Van Vogt’s health was in serious decline when his award was made, but I don’t know if he attended the ceremony or not.


    I believe he did attend. I remember the heartbreaking quote that several have shared from van Vogt after the ceremony:

    “I remember having been a writer, but I don’t remember anything I wrote.”

    Quoted by multiple attendees. Here’s Robert Sawyer:

    Comment by John ONeill - January 26, 2018 11:18 am

  11. Following the Bester presentation, a rule was instituted that the recipient needed to be living. Bester was, in fact, alive when he was announced as a Grand Master, however he died prior to the ceremony.

    Comment by Steven H Silver - January 26, 2018 2:49 pm

  12. Ahh … I had had the notion that the rule was always there, and that indeed the award to Bester was timed in part because it was known his health was poor, in the hopes that he would be able to accept it. And at least he was alive upon the announcement, so he knew about it.

    It seems to me that the award should be considered conferred when announced. Wouldn’t it be awkward to rescind it if someone else happened to die between the announcement and the ceremony?

    Comment by Rich Horton - January 26, 2018 3:07 pm

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