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….

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