Saturday, August 24, 2013

On inclusion in SFF

In the nearly 20 years I have been active in SFF, I repeatedly have told hundreds of aspiring writers – undergraduates, Clarion and Clarion West classes, workshoppers all over the place – that SFF is a welcoming field, that newcomers find ready encouragement and support from everyone: Grand Masters, best-selling authors, booksellers, editors, publishers, convention organizers, you name it. I have said that with all sincerity, believing it a universal truth, because that’s how it seemed to me from the get-go.

I now realize, in hindsight, that the happy situation I was describing all those years was not, in fact, universal. Countless students, colleagues, friends and, yes, loved ones have pointed out to me all along – directly and indirectly, gently and bluntly, by word and by example – that things were easier for me in SFF because I so well fit the expected SFF stereotype: straight white male highly educated English speaker and so forth and so on ad infinitum, right down the line. Those who presented differently had different experiences. This should have been obvious to me, as a rational and, indeed, professional observer of humanity, but it wasn’t, and I resisted seeing it, hearing it, knowing it.

That was bad enough. Worse was my habit, whenever fights broke out in the field over how women were being treated, or how people of color were being treated, or how blinkered we supposed visionaries were being, of (in effect) picking up my drink and quietly walking away and finding other people to talk to. I would stay out of it. Wherever my sympathies and conscience lay, I was content to let other people fight the battles and suffer the consequences. I was even proud of the fact that I did not speak out on these things, that I did not “get involved,” that I “got along with everybody.”

In short, I needed a brick upside the head. In a speech in Australia this summer, my friend and colleague Nora Jemisin finally supplied the brick.

Nora is talking about me, you see, when she talks about “the great unmeasured mass of enablers,” the people who, confronted by hatred and prejudice and irrationality, “say nothing in response,” the people who often “simply don’t notice” the prejudice on the march all around. And you know what? She’s right. In her stinging but accurate description, I recognize myself.

Nora’s right, too, when she suggests that SFF folks should “speak out about their misconceptions and mistakes, and make a commitment to doing better.”

Back in July, Nora’s speech moved me to try to write a manifesto, something on which I could collect signatures, maybe among fellow Nebula Award winners. Several friends and colleagues humored me and tried to help me with this, but it kept falling apart in my hands. I’m no good at manifestoes. So this is just from me, and about only me:

I am so busted.

I am sorry for my cluelessness.

I will do better.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

I won a Nebula Award!

My story "Close Encounters" has won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novelette, selected by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Here's the complete list of winners and nominees in each category. This was my first Nebula win and seventh nomination.

I wasn't able to attend the May 18 awards banquet, which was in San Jose this year, for the excellent reason that Sydney and I were attending a family wedding on the other side of the continent, in Virginia Beach. So I wound up sitting in the Founders Inn lobby very late that night, watching the live feed of the Nebula ceremony on my iPhone, so that I wouldn't wake Sydney.

Moments before Liza Trombi from Locus began to read out the names of the nominees in my category, a large and boisterous family invaded the lobby, so I could hear nothing, and had to run outside, just in time to hear Liza announce my story as the winner. Elated, I pumped my fist and danced on the sidewalk ... right out of range of the lobby Wi-Fi, so I lost my signal and missed awards administrator Steve Silver reading my acceptance speech in absentia. Here's what I said, via Steve:
This is a great honor. Thanks to the members of SFWA for the encouragement, and to my fellow nominees for the inspiration. Thanks to the editors of Fortean Times for the idea. Thanks to Mark Wingenfeld for research assistance, to Nick Gevers for commissioning the story, to Jim Goddard for editing it, to Pete Crowther for publishing it, to Gordon Van Gelder for re-publishing it, and to Chris Roberts and Kent Bash for illustrating it. More general thanks to my parents; to my classmates and teachers, especially at Clarion West 1994; to my students, especially Clarion  2004 and Clarion West 2005; to my editors, especially Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Jonathan Strahan; to ICFA, Sycamore Hill, Norton Island and the KGB Bar; to John Kessel, who grew me from a bean; and to my wife, Sydney, for everything. Finally, I’d like to propose a toast to Sydney’s cousin Andrea Ward and her groom Justin Wiley, who got married in Virginia earlier this evening; that’s where I am this weekend. May they have SFWA’s best wishes for a long, happy life together in this increasingly science-fictional world.
UPS is scheduled to deliver my Nebula to the house this coming Wednesday, June 5. In the meantime, here's a photo of it that my bookseller friend Glennis LeBlanc thoughtfully took at the banquet:

Nebulas are beautiful, aren't they? Nebulas make Pulitzers look like Employee of the Month certificates. (Not that I'd decline a Pulitzer, either.)

If you want to read my winning story, you've got a lot of chances. "Close Encounters" was first published in my 2012 collection The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, from PS Publishing. It was reprinted as the cover story of the September/October 2012 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, with a fine cover illustration by Kent Bash. Here's Lois Tilton's rave review of the story in Locus Online.

Since then, "Close Encounters" has been reprinted in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven, edited by Jonathan Strahan (Night Shade Books, 2013), and has been picked up by three upcoming year's-best anthologies: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 30th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin's, 2013); The Year's Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction Five, edited by Allan Kaster (AudioText, 2013); and Year's Best SF 18, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, 2013).

That would make five reprints, putting "Close Encounters" in a tie with "Zora and the Zombie" (2004) for my most-reprinted story. However, if "Close Encounters" also is in the next Nebula Awards Showcase volume, to be edited (I believe) by Kij Johnson -- and why wouldn't it be? -- that'll be reprint No. 6, and "Close Encounters" will be my new champ.

According to Mark R. Kelly's invaluable Science Fiction Awards Database, previous winners of the Nebula for Best Novelette include ... well, you can see the list here. It's a parade of classics, is what it is. Do I think my story is as good as (to pick only four) "Gonna Roll the Bones," "The Bicentennial Man," "The Screwfly Solution," or "Bloodchild"? No. Am I nevertheless ecstatic to be listed with them, now and in perpetuity? Absolutely.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A New Year's Eve news roundup

Secret Weapons. Agence France-Presse reports on researcher Ray Waru’s discoveries in New Zealand’s national archives, including a top-secret World War II effort by New Zealand and the United States to create a “tsunami bomb” that would devastate coastal cities (via The Anomalist):

Space Travel. Prolonged exposure to radiation could hasten Alzheimer’s among space travelers, says a new study in PLOS ONE. Lots of coverage, including ( and Science Daily ( 

UFOs. Saturday Night UFOria has posted a tribute to ufologist J. Allen Hynek, including the text of his speech at a then-classified 1960 symposium at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida (via The Anomalist):

Werewolves. Geneticist Ricki Lewis reports at on the latest genetic research into Ambas syndrome, a rare disorder that gave the world Fedor Jepticheff – whom P.T. Barnum christened Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Man – and may have influenced Hollywood’s depiction of werewolves: