Monthly Archives: June 2008

Report from SF Hall of Fame Ceremony, 2008

Last Sunday I wrote up my experience attending this year’s Locus Award banquet in Seattle, and only now after a busy week have I found time to sit down and write up my notes on the Science Fiction Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, which took place later the same day, Saturday the 21st of June. As before the event was held in the “Sky Theatre” of the Science Fiction Museum, housed in the same Frank Gehry-designed building that houses the Experience Music Project (EMP), adjacent to Seattle’s famous Space Needle; an effect of any Frank Gehry building (I’ve also been in Los Angeles’ Disney Hall) is to completely dissociate one’s presence *inside* the building from any sense of the exterior structure. It’s a different universe. Appropriately, at least in this case.

As in previous years the event took place in the after-dinner hours, the doors open at 7:30, with coffee, wine, port, and desserts served until 8:30, when the ceremony actually began. I was assigned to a table over on one side where I found myself next to Peter Beagle, whom I’d never previously actually met, and Robert Sheckley’s widow; we chatted, mesmerized by Beagle’s mellifluous voice. The Sky Theatre’s huge electronic screen flowed with continuously moving pixel bars, while the underlit jellyfish-like sculptures hanging high above gently undulated with the air currents…

Connie Willis was this year’s Master of Ceremonies, striking a more serious tone than the comedic shtick of her Locus Awards performance earlier in the day. There was a moment or two of self-deprecating hesitation, but at this event Connie provided a thoughtful introduction to the event by describing four things that she thought *should be* inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame but that never would be:

  • Miles Breuer, and all the other forgotten pulp meisters whose stories inspired those writers who went on to become Hall of Fame inductees — Pohl, Sturgeon, Williamson — who’d gone on record citing a particular now-forgotten story as the inspiration to their careers as a writers;

  • Similarly, all the non-science fiction influences that inspired such careers;
  • And again, all those really awful stories and films that served as inspirations that one would nevertheless never admit to actually liking — Octavia Butler ‘fessed up to Devil Girl from Mars, Frederik Pohl to Just Imagine, Connie herself to Volcano;
  • And finally, that feeling you got from that film or story or book you can’t identify, having long ago forgotten, about the alien invasion or the time traveler or the spaceship landing on Mars, whose core iconic message nevertheless served as the basis for your belief in the power of science fiction…

All these are part of the Hall of Fame too.

In a change from previous years, there were no mini-documentaries projected onto the Theatre’s master screen to summarize each inductee’s career; instead, each honoree was introduced by someone who provided that summary as a personal account. The sequence began with Peter Beagle, who read a lengthy letter from Frederik Pohl about the careers of Ian & Betty Ballantine, from their start with Penguin Books in the late ’30s through their golden age with Ballantine Books in the early ’50s, publishing any number of future classics, to their save-the-Earth efforts in the late-’60s early-’70s publishing nonfiction. It was long–but Beagle’s mesmerizing voice kept the audience engaged. Charles Brown accepted for Betty, who was unable to attend, reading a (shorter) account from Robert Silverberg, and offering his own perspective on the importance of the Ballantines to the history of SF publishing.

There was a curious interconnectedness to this year’s four inductees, almost as if it had been planned that way. Next came Jack Womack, introducing living Hall of Fame inductee William Gibson, who commented about having read all those early books published by the Ballantines — with all those Richard Powers covers — and about how Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone confirmed for him the arrival into popular culture of science-fictional ideas, no longer relegated to obscure paperback racks.

Then came David Hartwell, with a detailed and insightful account of the career of artist Richard Powers — whose career was established when the Ballantines chose him as the signature cover artist for their books in the 1950s — who introduced surrealism into SF art, and whose career then waxed and waned over the decades as tastes in book covers changed. His honor was accepted by his son, Richard Gid Powers.

Finally came TV writer/producer Marc Zicree to introduce posthumous inductee Rod Serling for his TV series The Twilight Zone; Zicree, of course, began his career with the still essential book on the show The Twilight Zone Companion, and his introduction was another detailed, insightful, fascinating account, this time of Serling’s war experience, his early TV successes, and the censorship that drove him to disguise his messages as science fiction. He was also perhaps the earliest example of a writer whose vision dominated the production of a TV show, inspiring any number of others, from Gene Roddenberry to Ronald D. Moore to Damon Lindhof and Carlton Cuse — I mention this because it caused me to reconsider an earlier post about TV writers and producers here on this blog. His honor was accepted by his daughter, Anne Serling Sutton.

After the ceremonies, as usual, the SF Museum itself was open for browsing. Little had changed since last year — there was a wall of Richard Powers paintings set up specially for this event, and a room downstairs that last year featured a gallery of paintings was occupied now by someone’s enormous collection of toy robots. But the Star Trek chair and Lost in Space model still dominated the main entry room. A couple people I talked to spoke of a plan by the museum to extend its purvue into fantasy and even horror, a somewhat controversial move.

I hung out for a while, chatting with various folks including Marc Zicree and Elan Ruskin…

On a final note of interconnectedness, my once-every-five-years-or-so chat with Marc Zicree was coincidental with a scheduled appearance at my workplace the following week — now this past Tuesday — of George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek, of course) whom Zicree had directed in that Star Trek: the New Voyages episode that has been nominated this year for both a Nebula and a Hugo, and which Zicree had sent me a copy of on DVD. I never got around to writing up my reaction to that, but I will do so soon, along with an account of that George Takei event….

Notes from Locus Awards Weekend, 2008

This year’s weekend was a confluence of three events, up one from two in the past couple years: the Locus Awards, the SF Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, and this year the kick-off of Clarion West’s six-week summer program for new writers. To highlight the last, Clarion West sponsored a live interview of (Hall of Fame inductee) William Gibson, conducted by uber-librarian Nancy Pearl, famous for her wide-ranging recommendations on NPR. That event was Friday night at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus a few miles northeast of the Space Needle and Marriott Hotel where the other events took place. The interview last an hour, and was recorded and taped, though I don’t know how or when it might become available. Pearl is an effective interviewer in that she asks a question and lets the interviewee fully respond, without interruption or redirection; she lets the interviewee determine the conversation, rather than having any pre-set agenda of her own.

Gibson talked about how he reads so little genre SF in part because the packaging is so ugly; how he’s native to SF, but not a nationalist; how JG Ballard has always been far more important to him than RA Heinlein; how he’s liked recent books by Charles Stross, Junot Diaz, and Michael Chabon; and perhaps most interestingly, how his own novels start with tiny seeds and then grow, like an accumulation of rubber bands into an ever-enlarging ball with a single knot at the center, in order to ‘explain’ and justify the initial image. The knot at the core of SPOOK COUNTRY, for instance, was the video image at the beginning of chapter two…

Saturday there were the usual panels on short fiction and the future of SF, not unlike the two panels last year, with Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Bill Gibson, Jack Womack, and moderating them Charles N. Brown. The Locus Awards banquet followed at 1p.m., with the Hawaiian shirt contest conducted a bit differently than last year. This time three ‘celebrity judges’ (instead of audience applause) determined finalists; then Connie quizzed them about SF and Hawaiian shirts, with the winner the finalist who answered the most questions correctly…

Though few of the actually winners of the Locus Awards were there, there were enough other celebrities and stand-ins that the ceremony was entertaining. Gardner Dozois accepted for F&SF, and for his and Jonathan Strahan’s anthology THE NEW SPACE OPERA, and then for Neil Gaiman’s novelette — and for the last Gardner continued the Locus Award tradition (begun last year) of performing an interpretive dance to express the recipient’s gratitude. Amelia Beamer accepted for Shaun Tan, who’d sent a cut-out action figure of himself, to which Connie applied a miniature Hawaiian shirt and lei. Jennifer Brehl was on stage most often — she accepted for Ellen Datlow, for Joe Hill, and for Terry Pratchett, and since the Locus Awards include scrolls to the publishers of the winning works, she also accepted those for HarperCollins/Morrow/Eos for the anthology, 1st novel, fantasy novel, and sf novels (quite a sweep there; I hadn’t even noticed it, and I counted the ballots!). Bill Gibson did perhaps the most entertaining acceptance, expressively reading a speech from Michael Chabon about the high standards of both Locus reviewers and Locus readers….

Saturday evening was the Hall of Fame ceremony, but I’ll have to write that up later–time to pack, and head for the airport and home.

No June Gloom

Not much to report here lately. Los Angeles is famous for having a late Spring period of “June gloom” (and sometimes “May gray”), when the coastal overcast extends inland, providing unusually cool temperatures and a distressing lack of sunlight. But the weather here is wopperjawed (is that a word?) here as it seems to be everywhere lately, it seems, there’s no June gloom this year. It’s hot and in the 90s this week.

The death of Algis Budrys broke just as I’d almost finished setting up Graham Sleight’s Locus column from several months ago — not a trivial task, what with chasing down cover images for all those various editions; I resorted to scanning my own 1st edition copies of Bear, Simmons, and McAuley when Google Image searches failed me — when, coincidentally, Graham’s column about Budrys had just run in the June issue. Given the timeliness of events, it seems appropriate to break the belated sequence of Graham Sleight posts and go with the Budrys asap — I’ll try to get to that tonight or tomorrow.

I’m on the hook to post a review of THE INVADERS tv show, recently released on DVD. I’ve still only watched half dozen episodes, and will try to watch a few more before writing it up, though I have some thoughts about the show as they relate to current TV (and the Harlan Ellison post recently) that don’t actually depend on seeing the complete season…

Finally I’ll be in Seattle Friday afternoon through Sunday morning, to witness the presentation of the Locus Awards, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductees. Will report on those events this coming weekend.

Writers, Producers, and Harlan Ellison

As I mentioned last time, having seen an advance DVD of an upcoming film documentary about Harlan Ellison (which does not, as an aside, completely avoid not mentioning the LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS) prompted me to pull down from my shelves a 1995 Borderlands Press edition of Ellison’s famous Star Trek teleplay, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, which is of course the subject of a decades-long dispute between Ellison and ST creator Gene Roddenberry and his defenders over the compromises Ellison’s original version underwent by the time it was filmed and aired. The book includes a 45-page introduction by Ellison recounting the matter and describing how Roddenberry consistently misrepresented his original version — “He had my Scotty dealing drugs!”, Roddenberry would claim, though Scotty wasn’t even in the original draft — as well as afterwords by David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana, and others. The most interesting of these is Fontana’s, in which she reveals exactly who rewrote Ellison’s script to turn it into the filmed version — Gene Coon, who added the humorous “Chinese rice picker” bit; then Fontana herself, who added the running joke about the ever-expanding jury-rigged tricorder; and finally Roddenberry, in order to make it more “Star Trek-like”.

(Oddly, the book includes two pre-script ‘treatments’, prose descriptions of the story, but the earliest of these is one already semi-disowned by Ellison via his infamous pseudonym “Cordwainer Bird”; this version introduced the transformation of the Enterprise into a pirate ship after Ellison was told that every story had to put the Enterprise itself in danger… and this pirate or renegade ship theme survived even into Ellison’s final, award-winning script. (Though it was lost in the aired version, in which the Enterprise simply wasn’t there anymore.) Why doesn’t the book include Ellison’s original treatment..? Don’t know.)

This famous, contentious example of the conflict between TV writers and producers is, I think, a great exception. My understanding has been that the rule of thumb about “Stage is a writer’s medium; film is a director’s medium; TV is a producer’s medium” is largely true. Roddenberry was right to require scripts for his TV show to fit the pattern and premise he had established. Which is not to say that Ellison’s script wasn’t far superior to the aired version. Just that Ellison, when you read his defense of this incident and his other experiences in TV (such as insisting a set decorator use exactly the description of props he supplied in his recent “Master of Science Fiction” script, this in the documentary), clearly desires to be not only writer but also director and cinematographer and film editor. Yet television, as far as I can tell, has rarely if ever worked this way. Current TV series, which all seem to feature ongoing story arcs, would seem to require the overarching supervision of their producers more than ever. You hear a lot about Lost producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof; when have we ever heard about the writers of any individual episode?

Then just in the last week, three notable Star Trek creators died, and I realized that the most recent of these, co-producer Robert H. Justman, arguably had greater influence over the series — especially The Next Generation — than Joseph Pevney or any other frequent director or writer…. which is why I posted a brief obit for him, too, on Locus Online.

More on the Ellison doc soon.