Monthly Archives: April 2009

At the Nebula Awards

I’ve missed the past couple years’ Nebula Awards, but this year the ceremony was in my neighborhood, over at the University of California at Los Angeles, UCLA, my alma mater (B.A., Math). The event was scheduled in conjunction with the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, a popular event held on the campus that I’ve only ever attended once about ten years ago (despite of course being quite a book person myself, in a city rather unfairly regarded as unliterary) — the festival is rather like a farmers’ market version of a dealers’ room, with occasional panels of celebrity writers held in nearby lecture halls. Similar enough to SF cons that I haven’t felt the need to attend ever again…

SFWA’s event was staged in Covel Commons, a sort of combined student union/conference facility in the northwest corner of the UCLA campus amidst several dorm halls, a building that didn’t exist way back when I attended the university (like half the buildings on campus, it seems). The top floor banquet hall opens onto a terrace with a fine view of the campus and city beyond, and that is where I arrived — after some back and forthing to find the central campus Parking Kiosk to purchase entrance to the parking structure next door to the Commons — to find Jim Kelly and Greg Benford, to meet David Schwartz, say hi to Connie Willis, and run into old college pal Kenn Bates.

The banquet began at 7:30. I sat at a table with Amelia Beamer, sole Locus HQ representative at the event, and Gary Wolfe, with Ellen Klages, Madeleine Robins, Tim & Serena Powers, and David Smeds. The ‘sea bass’ was actually Chilean Sea Bass, and quite good; the others reported the filet was quite decent as well. All the tables were provided with bottles of red and white Frog’s Leap wine.

After opening remarks by Christine Valada, toastmistress Janis Ian sang a science-fictional version of her signature hit “At Seventeen“, which began

I learned the truth at 17
That Asimov and Bradbury
And Clarke made up the special shelf
that (something something) ABC…

–except that I don’t remember exactly the last couple lines. The song continued with a remarkable number of SF’nal allusions, from Odd John to titles by Resnick and Willis and Asimov and a host of others, and each verse ended with

You are no more alone
So welcome home

The handwritten lyrics were to be auctioned at a special SFWA auction later in the evening…

Then followed a humorous Keynote Speech by Chuck Lorre, a Hollywood sitcom writer best known currently for The Big Bang Theory

The awards presentations themselves went on quite some time, what with no fewer than six associated awards — the Andre Norton Award, the Solstice Award (three of them), the SFWA Service Award, the Bradbury Award, the Grand Master Award, and the Author Emerita Award — before the Nebulas proper.

Highlights of those included the Bradbury Award to Joss Whedon, who was not present but whose acceptance speech was played from a YouTube video — note his use of “fictionalized scientifics”, “fi-sci”; the Grand Master, presented by the always eloquent Robert Silverberg to the jolly but at times incoherent Harry Harrison; and the Author Emerita, to M.J. Engh, who spoke of the loners of the world and who offered to go on speaking another hour and half.

Of the Nebula winners, only John Kessel was present to accept his award, and he was clearly thrilled to have won. He noted that it had been a full 26 years since his first Nebula win — for novella “Another Orphan” — and he was putting SFWA on notice that he expects to be back in another 26 years — that would be in 2035 — to pick up his third.

Just before the final award, the novel award to Le Guin’s Powers, Jane Jewell and SFWA President Russell Davis gave special thanks to organizer Christine Valada, who had lost her house recently in one of the Southern California wildfires…

(Statistical note — with this win, Le Guin has now tied Connie Willis for the most number of Nebulas ever, six, and she now leads everyone with the most number of Nebulas for novels, four (for The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, Tehanu, and now Powers. Heinlein and Bujold have won four Hugos for novels, but no one until now has won four Nebulas for novels. …I haven’t had a chance to check out John Kessel’s claim about a 26 year record between first and second Nebulas, but will do so soon.)

I hung around after the awards for a bit, but the post-awards party was back at the hotel, so I went home. I drove back over to the Luxe Hotel on Sunset Blvd on Sunday morning, to meet Gary Wolfe and Amelia Beamer — amidst a busy Sunday morning banquet event held by some local temple — as they finished an interview with Larry Niven and checked out of their rooms. We had a leisurely lunch, again with Ellen Klages and Madeleine Robins, until it was time for Gary to head to the airport, and Amelia and Ellen and Madeleine to drive home to the Bay Area.

Furiously In Work

The redesign is furiously in work; the CSS team is daily battling over which tags should be in the homepage style sheet and which in lower level sheets; the graphics team is tired of resizing and rebuilding gradient files again and again, and warns us against too many drop-shadows; the Blogger team is weary of dumbing down its template tags to match the basic tags that the other teams only know how to build. The javascript team is supplying interesting solutions, but too many. The benchmarking team keeps reminding us of how other far better websites solve their hierarchy and layout problems… though somehow their solutions never quite fit here. But the battles will be resolved soon, and a unified solution will be the result. Or at least more unified. Less an assemblage of static pages and vaguely similar blog posts, more a site where the patchwork is not so evident. Less an amateur site, more a semi-semi-professional site, or at least an incredible simulation of a semi-professional publication. But don’t let us get started on ‘semi-professional’.

Spring on Medina Road

It’s Spring on Medina Road, here at the edge of the Los Angeles metropolis along the northern base of the Santa Monica mountains, just over the ridge from the beaches and mansions of Malibu where it’s always fresh and moist, and that means a new batch of marigolds and petunias in the planter boxes on our balcony overlooking the San Fernando Valley, where it’s comparatively hot and arid. We even installed a new jasmine vine at one end of the balcony, to replace the one that died of summer heat a couple years ago while we were away on vacation overseas, in a big clay pot that we hope will hold moisture longer than those shallow wooden planter boxes. In the soft spring air, the flowers smell divine.

It’s April 1st, and so that means another year of April First Foolery — our tenth annual edition, in fact, beginning with the 2000 posts, which were inspired by a certain magazine publisher while chatting poolside a couple weeks earlier at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts; we even did a fake April magazine profile then, where even the book reviews were jokes. This year’s alarmist headlines are, of course, a riff on Huffington Post.

Multiple levels of background projects continue; a redesign of the homepage, with section pages echoing a common layout and menu display, is 90% done, and should be posted by this coming weekend (–well, real soon now); the awards index design refresh is done and regular updates are underway; the background expansion of the awards index — I still haven’t figured out what to call it, or quite how to present it, but it will be done — is making progress.

Meanwhile I’m not reading much, nothing in the past 3 months aside from portions of nonfiction books by Malcolm Gladwell and Julian Baggini and Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, but I’m feeling compelled to change that soon. Just as I intend to resume regular postings of Monitor Listings on the website… in part abashed by emails from authors hurt that their books have not been more promptly posted there. (They noticed!)

No travel plans this year, aside from a trip next month to the Bay Area to attend the graduation of my partner’s son from UC Berkeley. Given the new News Blog, the Locus (magazine) editors can post breaking news from conventions and awards banquets, so my presence at such events is even less necessary than it has been; I won’t be missed. And I’m thinking it prudent to play it thrifty for a while.