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.