Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Most Influential Writing Contest in Science Fiction History

Once again this year I attended the annual Writers and Illustrators of the Future Awards Ceremony in Hollywood, California, again at the Roosevelt Hotel; this despite last year’s editorial on the subject, which was thought but some a tad too snarky. Still, I received my invitation and I accepted and I was even seated in the third row, next to Amelia Beamer and Gary Wolfe (attending for Locus Magazine), right behind the first row of contest judges (Kevin J. Anderson, K.D. Wentworth, Tim Powers, et al) and the second row of TV actors (none of whose names, alas, I caught, but who I gathered were familiar to many in the audience) who, over the course of the evening, got up one by one to do their duties handing out the trophies to the various quarterly writer and illustrator winners.

The event was very similar to last year’s, conducted to a polished level of Hollywood professionalism (and hyperbole) unmatched by any other science fiction awards ceremony — as noted by Mike Resnick, one of the newest contest judges, in his turn as an award presenter. The ceremony was somewhat tighter than last year’s, with the choreographed photo ops for each winner shortened, and with only a single featured speaker. This year it was June Scobee Rodgers, widow of space shuttle Challenger pilot Dick Scobee, who has subsequently made a career of promoting the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which provides simulators for various kinds of space missions to students. Her speech, though obviously rehearsed and refined in many deliveries, was nevertheless heartfelt, and moving.

Following her speech, there was a special presentation from a representative of the Cultural Affairs Department of the United Arab Emirates (actually he was described as being from Dubai, and he was sitting right next to Amelia at the end of the third row) to honor the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard and continuing Writers/Illustrators of the Future Contest. A grand trophy was passed and accepted.

And then the many quarterly winners of the contests were announced, each marching up to the stage to accept and thank the judges, their family supporters, the previous week’s workshop, and in most cases, L. Ron Hubbard. Each pair of writer/illustrator winners was presented by a different pair of presenters, usually a writer judge and an illustrator judge, but sometimes including one of the aforementioned Hollywood actors sitting in the second row.

The Gold Award Winners — not previously revealed, and chosen from the four quarterly winners of the respective contests — were writer Laurie Tom, author of the story “Living Rooms”, and illustrator Seth J. Rowanwood, who in the anthology L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XXVI illustrates Jason Fischer’s story “The House of Nameless”. (The illustrators, it’s worth mentioning, do twice the work, in a sense, as the writers — first they submit samples for judging, and once they win or place, are assigned to illustrate one of the winning stories, which illustrations appear in the anthology. The writers are judged on the stories that appear in the anthology.)

The final event was the announcement by editor Kevin J. Anderson of a special hardcover anthology, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future: The First 25 Years, which includes a selection of stories and detailed profiles of all the judges from the past quarter century.

Then followed the reception, where stacks of the paperback WotF Vol. XXVI were available for free and a table of the hardcover WotF: The First 25 Years were available for purchase, with all the writer and illustrator winners stationed around the room for signatures.

I moseyed about, chatting with Gary and Amelia and with Dani and Eytan Kollin, brother authors of The Unincorporated Man its sequels, who were interviewed by Amelia and Gary the day before for eventual publication in Locus Magazine. I had not met either of them (nor, I must admit, have I read their books, but then, see previous blog entry), but in person they are personable and striking (and different) and I look forward to reading their interview.

A final comment – the video presentation about the influence of the past quarter century of contests, with interviews of various winners, was impressive for the number of recognizable big names who have association with the contest — Nnedi Okorafor, Scott Nicholson, Carl Frederick, Dave Wolverton, and on and on… but wait, Nnedi Okorafor? She was a winner? That must have slipped my memory. So, just now as I was writing this, I checked the database — here is the list of Writer and Illustrator Grand Prize winners — and upon further investigation (I had to dig out my copy of the LRH presents WotF Vol. XVIII) discovered that Nnedi Okorafor was a “published finalist” in that anthology, for a story that didn’t actually place 1st or 2nd or 3rd in any quarter of that year’s contest, much less win a Grand Prize….

So — the video was a valid representation of the impact these contests have had on writers, and illustrators, over these many years, and it was indeed impressive. Judging from those interviews, and comments from the winners who accepted their awards this Saturday evening, the week-long workshop with the various big name authors and artists was as influential on their motivations and future careers as was winning the contest itself. At the same time — there is that element of Hollywood and hyperbole in the whole contest presentation, of, as they describe it, the most influential writing contest in the history of science fiction.

On Mixed Marriages

I’m a teensy bit surprised, even given the low feedback to anything posted on the website (which is a good thing, I try to think), that there’s been no comment yet about Gary Westfahl’s essay posted yesterday morning, Notes from a Mixed Marriage, Or, The Lady and the Monster, which is all about a sci fi guy living with a non-sci fi partner. I would think this is not an uncommon situation.

My own situation is similar enough that I empathized with Gary’s essay, even as I noted that Gary (being for this website a film reviewer) focused his essay on film, and not at all on books, or the activity of reading. My own situation has analogous issues, but more related to books and reading than to seeing movies. I try not to think of myself as especially disadvantaged; I must reasonably assume that every relationship has issues of preferences and priorities that, to some degree, are worked out sufficiently well to maintain the health of the relationship…

Yet I still have this abiding curiosity about how other ‘mixed’ relationships do manage this. In my own case, my partner is not a book person at all, and has been given to opine, over the past 9 years, that reading is something only young people or single people do; that people in relationships do things together, like going on trips, going out to shows or restaurants, or doing pretty much anything as long as it’s together; reading, being a solitary activity, is essentially a selfish, self-indulgent thing to do.

That has been the ongoing issue in our relationship, which is why I spend more hours per week watching whatever happens to be on the Food Channel, or watching Dancing with the Stars, than in reading any kind of book. If I find time to read, it is in the interstices of our mutual schedules, and is in inverse relation to however much time I put in on the website (which consequently, lately, has been very little). I’m not completely happy about this, but I try to work around it as best I can, and I recognize it is as the cost of maintaining this particular relationship. And the cost of doing some small service to the SF community, at the expense of actually participating in it in the sense of reading the books that are its reason for existence. We have friends, I should say, but not book friends; I don’t have much interaction with SF people except for attending con’s once or twice a year.

Still, I expect this will change presently; the current website upgrade activity will level off to some new plateau, I expect within a few months, and I’ll work my way back to my pursuing my appetite for reading, ideally attaining, at least for a time, my ideal of 100pages/day that I was maintaining a couple years ago. I have this huge stack of books waiting to be read. I know everyone says this, but I bet my stack is larger than yours.

Awards Site Branding

As I work various enhancements and expansions to the Awards Index site, and comparing the design and layout to various other prominent awards sites, I can’t help but noticing that the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards is seldom linked from other sites. It doesn’t seem to have much of a profile, or presence. I visit both the Hugo Awards site and the Nebula Awards site, for example, and notice, most obviously, that neither site has indexes to nominees; there is no way I can look up Connie Willis, or Neil Gaiman, and find out how many nominations or wins they have for those respective awards. You would have to search through the annual listings and tabulate them manually. Whereas the Locus Index to etc. has had such nominee indexes for a decade now. One might think proprietors of those other sites might have noticed. Apparently not. (Yet they do link to a couple other SF awards sites, which similarly lack indexing.)

Is this an issue of branding? Does the “Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards” sound too much like merely an index to the Locus Awards?

I am thinking in the direction of renaming/rebranding/re-URLing the awards index. Or is something else going on that such changes would not address? Comments welcome.

10 Years of Index to SF Awards

The Locus Index to SF Awards is just past its 10th anniversary online, I just noticed, as I finished the latest update and started uploading files. The first posting was quite modest — only the 10 or so ‘major awards’. It’s expanded over the years, and of course I’ve been planning to expand it even further almost since the beginning, as longtime attentive readers of this blog will recall. At the risk of repeating unfulfilled promises, I really do still plan to implement those expansions, and I’m more confidant in the near-term prospect of doing so by the recent success in managing to updat the main Locus Online site on a regular, daily basis. (In part, that has to do simply with project management tricks of breaking big tasks into teeny-weeny tasks, planning to do at least some task *every day*, and setting up a system to take credit for each and every task in a positive-feedback, self-reinforcing loop.)

On the other hand, I’m not sure that I’ll ever produce a version on CD ROM, as advertised on the Awards Index homepage. Bill Contento does this with his Locus Index to Science Fiction, and he sells a handful of copies a year (so far as I can gather), but then he doesn’t post the entire index online for free, as I still do with the awards index…