An Apology to Jaym Gates

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

Mike Resnick obit

Mike Resnick, March 5, 1942 — January 9, 2020

After Mike Resnick’s death, some people, Jaym Gates in particular, posted some of their thoughts about his career, most particularly his SFWA Bulletin piece in which he made some sexist remarks about historical women editors. I’m not the right person to dig into detail about that, but it represented part of a historical attitude that, even when held with superficially positive intentions (praise of said editor’s actual editing work, for example), clearly sent a message that for women in the field, one’s appearance can affect one’s reception. And that’s just wrong. No argument. (There is much more to unpack on that subject, and I’m not the person to do it. See Jaym’s post, or see some of the articles posted back then (2013).)

But I confess I was a bit bothered that this discussion happened immediately on Resnick’s death. I am culturally conditioned to follow the ancient Latin maxim “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” (say nothing but good of the dead). I mentioned my feelings on another person’s FB page. And I got some pushback.

I thought some good points were made by those who responded to me … One is that people who have been truly hurt by someone else have an understandably complicated reaction to news of that person’s death. At the very least, even if one disagrees with that person’s reaction, one ought to have sympathy, to try to understand why they felt they had to say what they said. Another point is that if the full story of a man’s life, his contributions, is to be offered, when will it be seen except when he’s in the news? Many of us have made posts celebrating the good Mike Resnick did — and make no doubt of it, he did much good for the field. But I acknowledge that he also caused harm — and those who have been harmed deserve a voice, too. A third point is that the voices of people traditionally marginalized — as women have been in our society and in our field — sometimes don’t get heard, or weren’t heard when it really mattered. (The Isaac Asimov stories should make that clear.) If it takes a little rudeness to make sure those voices are heard, that’s a price we ought to be prepared to accept.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Locus Award for Best Short Fiction: “Basilisk,” by Harlan Ellison

Saturday, January 11th, 2020 | Posted by Rich Horton

Deathbird Stories

Deathbird Stories (Dell, 1976). Cover by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon

In this time period the Locus Award for fiction went to novels, novellas, and short fiction, presumably both novelettes and short stories. (I’m not sure where the exact boundary between short fiction and novella was set.) Perhaps appropriately, the winner of the 1973 award, Harlan Ellison’s “Basilisk” is perhaps 7,000 words long, quite close to the current border between “short story” and “novelette” for both the Nebula and Hugo awards.

Harlan Ellison, who died in 2018, aged 84, was one of the most famous SF writers of my lifetime, and one of the most controversial. He also was one of the most celebrated, having won an astonishing 18 Locus awards, and been named SFWA Grand Master, as well as winning 8 Hugos and 2 Nebulas, and too many other awards for me to count.

Speaking personally, Ellison was one of those writers who, for the most part, I could admire without quite loving. A few of his stories were special to me – “On the Downhill Side” and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” occur off the top of my head – stories as different from each other as one might examine, but very effective. Much of the rest of his work struck me as impressive but overwrought, and often exchanging affect for effect, or choosing to impress instead of express. If you see what I mean. His technical skill, in the directions he chose, was astonishing, but the end results, at times, seemed a bit empty.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo Award for Best Novella: “The Word for World is Forest,” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

The Word for World is Forest paperback-small The Word for World is Forest paperback-back-small

The Word for World Is Forest (Berkley Medallion, 1976). Cover by Richard Powers

The great Ursula K. Le Guin won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1973, for “The Word for World is Forest,” which first appeared in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Again, Dangerous Visions. The story had been written several years earlier, and there exists a letter from Le Guin expressing her frustration with the time it took Ellison to get the story into print.

“The Word for World is Forest” has been a somewhat polarizing tale in Le Guin’s oeuvre for a long time. The conventional view seems to me, at this remove, that Le Guin missed the mark with this story: its tone is too shrill, the story is too preachy. It’s “Bad Ursula,” in a common formulation. And that’s been my position for a long time.

Let’s begin with the obvious: I’ve already discussed the 1972 novellas, in my post about Arthur C. Clarke’s Nebula winner, “A Meeting With Medusa.” Here’s what I wrote:

So, did it deserve its Nebula? Well, in many years it would have. But not this year. Because this year there were two magnificent Frederik Pohl novellas: “The Gold at the Starbow’s End” and “The Merchants of Venus,” perhaps his two best stories ever. Add Joe Haldeman’s “Hero,” the first of the stories that became The Forever War. And even then, we haven’t come to the clear-cut best novella of 1972, one of the very greatest SF novellas of all time: “The Fifth Head of Cerberus,” by the late, incomparable, Gene Wolfe.

Does “The Word for World is Forest” stand with “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”? Ummm – no, not even close. I think it’s fair to say that the 1973 awards, both Nebula and Hugo, missed the boat completely. But, eh, that’s happened before. Perhaps not so often so clearly, but there are relatively few SF stories as great as “The Fifth Head of Cerberus.”

The fairer question is, does “The Word for World is Forest” stand up on its own terms?

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Forry Award: C. L. Moore

Saturday, December 7th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Astounding Science Fiction Judgment Night August 1943-small

Astounding Science Fiction August 1943,
containing “Judgment Night” by C.L. Moore

The Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS) began presenting the Forry Award in 1966 for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction. The first award went to Ray Bradbury, who, besides his towering achievements in SF, was a prominent member of LASFS. Over the years, the list of Forry Award winners is a curious mix of the obvious (Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, A. E. Van Vogt, Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, etc.), with those whose accomplishments are not as writers but still seem significant (Mike Glyer, Chuck Jones, Fred Patten, Ray Harryhausen), and with those whose importance I have probably unforgivably missed (Charles Lee Jackson II, Len Moffat, John de Chancie.)

The 2002 award went to the award’s namesake, Forrest J. Ackerman. Here I will confess a personal bias… If awards like the Campbell and the Tiptree are going to have their names changed, can the Forry Award retain its name for long? Some of my bias is undoubtedly unfair: I think Ackerman’s taste in science fiction was appalling. But that’s just “taste”, and surely he can be forgiven that, and his enthusiasm for the type of SF he loved was no doubt real. But his ethics as an agent, for one, were distressing. But much more seriously, there are credible accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of women fans, and indeed very young women, at least as young as 13. I can’t but feel icky about the worship some express towards him, and while I’m opposed to changing the name of the Tiptree Award, and ambivalent about changing the names of the Campbell Awards, it seems to me that the Forry Award (justified as it may be by Ackerman’s strong association with LASFS) is right out.

But that doesn’t mean the Forry Award winners (Ackerman himself excepted) should be thrown out with the bathwater. And the 1973 winner, C. L. Moore, qualifies as one of the “obviously worthy” winners.

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Rich Horton on Poul Anderson, Frederik Pohl, and L. Sprague de Camp

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Worlds of If May 1963-small Turn Left at Thursday-small The Continent Makers-small

Cover art by John Pederson, Jr., Richard Powers, and Bob Pepper

I know a lot of writers, and one of the reasons I hang out on Facebook is to find out what the heck they’re all up to. For example, this morning Rich Horton left this brief but intriguing update:

For the third day in a row, I have posted a Birthday Review compendium of reviews of older short fiction from an SFWA Grand Master. In this case, it’s for L. Sprague de Camp.

I checked out his blog Strange at Ecbatan, and sure enough, Rich has had a busy week. It started Monday:

Here’s my first Birthday Review is a while. (I’ve used up most of the birthdays!) This is a pretty significant one — Poul Anderson. He’d have been 96 today. This is a collection of reviews of magazine fiction (with one very late anthology story), including two serializations of a couple of his lesser known novels. And most of the stories here are not that well known either.

In a lengthy post, Rich reviewed 16 Anderson pieces from Super Science Stories, Worlds Beyond, Planet Stories, Space Science Fiction, Science Fiction Adventures, Cosmos, Galaxy, and many more. Here’s his thoughts on Anderson’s cover story for the May 1963 issue of Worlds of If (above left).

“Turning Point” is a neat little story. Kind of Cargo Cult in reverse. Humans come to an isolated alien planet, where the people apparently live primitive lives. But it turns out they are incredible geniuses, who simply never had the spur to develop technology. Once they see human tech, all bets are off.

Read Rich’s complete tribute to Poul Anderson here. Next up was the centenary of Frederik Pohl’s birth, which Rich celebrated with another lengthy review survey yesterday.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 First Fandom Award: Clifford D. Simak

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

Simak city permabooks-small Simak Way Station-small Cemetery World Simak-small

First Fandom was organized in 1959 to celebrate those who had been active science fiction fans since 1938, that is, “before the Golden Age.” (Some define true “first fandom” as dating to 1936 and before.) One of the founders, and first president, was Robert Madle, who is still alive, approaching his 100th birthday.

Beginning in 1963, a First Fandom Hall of Fame Award was instituted, given to a fan active prior to 1938 who was deemed to have given great service to fandom. Over time, as fans of that vintage became rarer, two categories were established: Dinosaurs, who had to have been active prior to the first Worldcon, in 1939; and Associate Members, who have to have been active for at least 30 years. The Hall of Fame Award can be given to anyone active in fandom for at least 30 years.

At the 1973 Worldcon, the First Fandom Hall of Fame winner was Clifford D. Simak. Simak (1904-1988) was born in rural Millville, WI, and much of his fiction reflected that “pastoral” background. His primary career was as a journalist, and he worked for the Minneapolis Star beginning in 1929, retiring only in 1976. He began publishing SF in 1931 with “The World of the Red Sun” in the December Wonder Stories. Simak’s early pulp fiction (which included some Westerns as well as SF) was fairly minor, but he started to make a mark writing for John W. Campbell’s Astounding beginning in 1938. His novel City (1952), a fixup of a number of 1940s stories, won the International Fantasy Award. He won three Hugos, most notably for the 1963 novel Way Station, but also for “Grotto of the Dancing Deer” as late as 1981. He also won a Nebula, and his story “The Big Front Yard,” another Hugo winner, appears in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume IIB. His last novel, Highway of Eternity, was published when he was 82.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 John W. Campbell Memorial Award: Beyond Apollo, by Barry N. Malzberg (plus Special Award to Robert Silverberg for Dying Inside)

Sunday, October 20th, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

beyondapollofirsted-small Beyond Apollo Pocket-small Beyond Apollo Carol and Graf-big

Beyond Apollo (Random House, 1972, Pocket Books, 1979, Carrol & Graf, 1989). Covers by Roger Hane, Don Maitz, and unknown

Two separate awards were established in 1973 in memory of the profoundly influential long time editor of Astounding/Analog, John W. Campbell, Jr., who had died in 1971. We have already covered the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (which has just been renamed the Astounding Award), which went to Jerry Pournelle.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award is given for the Best Science Fiction Novel of the year. It is a juried award. It was first established by Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss, to, well, let’s reproduce Harrison’s words:

When John died it was a blow to all of us. After the memorial service a number of his writers were talking, and out of the talk came the Astounding anthology, what has been called the last issue of the Campbell magazine. It was a good tribute to a good editor. There is another tribute I think of just as highly, the award for the best SF novel of the year presented in his name and memory. An award I am sure he would have loved because it instantly became involved in controversy when the first prizes was presented. How John enjoyed a good argument and a good fight! That this fight sprawled through the letter columns of Analog for some months would have cheered him even more.

The first award was presented at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The jury for the first award consisted of Harrison, Aldiss, Thomas Clareson, Willis McNelly, and Leon Stover.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: The 1973 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Rich Horton

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Galaxy and IF magazines serializing Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in 1972. Covers by Jack Gaughan

In 1973 the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for Best Novel were each won by The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov. The Gods Themselves also won Australia’s Ditmar Award for Best International Novel.

Isaac Asimov had won two previous Hugos, but neither was a “Regular” Hugo – he won a Special Award for his F&SF Science articles in 1963, and in 1966 the Foundation Series was named Best All-Time Series, a one-time category, beating out (to his expressed great surprise) Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History, Doc Smith’s Lensmen novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Asimov had largely stopped writing fiction in the late 1950s, slowing down to roughly a short story a year through the 1960s. Beginning in the early ‘70s, however, he began to produce more fiction, including the Black Widower mysteries, and some more SF. Robert Silverberg coaxed a story out of him for his new original anthology series, New Dimensions, and Asimov wrote “Plutonium-186,” but soon realized it should be a full novel. (He gave Silverberg another story, “Take a Match.”) “Plutonium-186” became The Gods Themselves, his first novel in 15 years (not counting the novelization of the movie Fantastic Voyage.)

The novel was first serialized in a strange way. Galaxy and If were sister magazines, each published bi-monthly. So the three (fairly separate) parts of The Gods Themselves appeared in Galaxy for March-April 1972, If for March-April 1972, and then Galaxy for May-June. The hardcover appeared from Doubleday in May.

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New Treasures: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019, edited by Rich Horton

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019-smallThe latest volume of Rich Horton’s Year’s Best snuck up on me. I know, I’m supposed to be on top of these things. For some reason I was expecting it later in the year, but it popped up in my Amazon cart last week, in stock and everything.

Rich produces my favorite Year’s Best every year, but hasn’t always seemed totally comfortable with all the trappings of being an editor. He hasn’t shown the same enthusiasm for lengthy introductions or Yearly Summations that Gardner Dozois famously did, for example. But in the last few years Rich seems to have really found his voice, and these days I find I really enjoy his intros. He avoids Gardner’s critical edge, for example, focusing instead on the collegial nature of the science fiction community.

This year he gives an affectionate shout out to his nominal competitors for your Best of the Year dollars, including editors Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, Neil Clarke, and even Gardner, who passed away last year, shortly before his Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection was released, ending an era. Have a look.

There are a lot of Best of the Year volumes in our field, and frankly I recommend them all. One of the features of SF in 2018 is how much of it there is. There’s enough short fiction that the Hugo shortlist can very nearly ignore men, and still be mostly full of strong stories. (There are a couple of duds, but so it always was.) There’s enough that both the Hugo and Nebula shortlists can completely ignore the traditional print SF magazines (F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog, and Interzone, let’s say), and still be mostly full of strong stories. How then to resolve that issue? Read as many of the Best of the Year volumes as you can, I say! (And, hey, why not subscribe to one of the print magazines, if that’s possible? And try some original anthologies as well.)

The main distinction, of course, for each of these books is the editor’s individual tastes. (Or so Hannibal Lecter tells us)… if I think my book is the best — and I do! — it’s for the obvious reason that my personal taste aligns pretty closely with the editor’s! But that said, I am abashed year after year to realize that Jonathan or Ellen or Neil or one of the other editors, (or, sigh, Gardner!) has chosen a gem or two I really should have taken myself.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for the 2019 volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy.

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Vintage Treasures: Cold Iron and Sister to the Rain by Melisa Michaels

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Cold Iron Melisa Michaels-small Sister to the Rain-small

I was preparing a Vintage Treasures article on Melisa Michaels on Saturday, and particularly her two-volume urban fantasy series featuring private eye Rosie Levine, Cold Iron (1997) and Sister to the Rain (1998), when I stumbled on this disturbing Facebook post by Rich Horton:

I have just learned that Melisa Michaels has died. I knew she had cancer, and she had recently reported that there wasn’t much more to be done, but it’s still sad news, and it seems to have come more quickly than she thought.

But I wanted to celebrate her — she was one of the first people to, as it were, welcome me to the SF community, when I first went online, and when I joined SFF Net. We had many great conversations (online) about SF and other matters. She is one of the people I really owe a debt to for helping me make friends in this field.

I read her novels, the Skyrider SF series and the Rosie Levine Fantasy/Mystery series, with much enjoyment… Melisa always made tremendous contributions to SFWA — as I recall, she was the first webmaster of the SFWA web page, right at the dawning of the WWW. I didn’t keep close track of her later on, especially after the demise of SFF Net, but we had reconnected to a small degree on Facebook. I offer condolences to her family, and I celebrate a life well-lived.

I didn’t know Melisa the way Rich did, but I was still very saddened by the news. And I thought we could help celebrate her life here by showcasing her novels. Rich discussed Cold Iron when it first appeared over 20 years ago; here’s an excerpt from the review at his website, Strange at Ecbatan.

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