Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joe Haldeman Will Be the Next SFWA Grand Master

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced today that Joe Haldeman will get the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master award at next year's Nebula Award ceremonies. (I saw the story first at Locus Online.)

I'm torn in my reaction: I like Joe personally (I had dinner with him once, I believe at another Nebula award weekend, and he's one of the greatest menschen in SF), and I wish him well. I've read a number of his book with great pleasure, and one of his stories so affected me in the '80s that I unwittingly rewrote it for a creative writing class. (I realized the copying, though none of my fellow students did -- I was the designated genre fiction guy in the first place.) And The Forever War is definitely one of the major books in the field.

On the other hand, the rest of his work isn't quite as obviously trend-setting; he's written plenty of good books, but probably only that one great one. And the timing of the announcement, so soon after Joe's recent health problems, reinforces the image of the SFWA Grand Mastership as an award to the generally liked SF writer who is closest to death. That's a grisly thought, and I hope Joe will confound that reputation, much like Jack Williamson did before him. But it is the reputation of this award, and giving it to Joe Haldeman practically the moment he leaves the hospital does not tend to lessen that reputation.

SFWA has now had a Grand Master every single year since 2003. I humbly submit that the SF field does not actually have as many "Grand Masters" as SFWA would like it to, and that the award should be allowed to lie fallow some years in order to increase its prestige. I admit that SFWA has never followed my advice before, and is unlikely to do so in this case, but I'll say it nonetheless. The award may need to be straightjacketed, as it was in the past -- only so many to be awarded in a decade, or something similar -- to make this happen, but it would be worth doing to protect and maintain the prestige of the award.

Oh, and, while I'm complaining, "Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master" is still too long and a bit silly-sounding; it evokes a minor building on the campus of a third-rate college. I understand the urge to recognize Knight's work, but, for SFWAns, all they need do is remember Christopher Wren -- SFWA is his memorial.

2 comments:

Carl V. said...

I'm really pleased for Mr. Haldeman as I have enjoyed those works of his that I have read, but the timing does leave one wondering about the motivation of the committee despite the fact that he is, in my opinion, a worthy writer.

And I agree about the name of the award. It is all well and good to honor someone with an award named after them, but (and I don't mean this as an offense to the author or his family) Damon Knight always sounds to me like one of those made up names in a cliched urban fantasy novel.

Mary Robinette Kowal said...

To reassure you... Russell made the decision before Joe went into the hospital but it takes time to ratify things. When we learned he had gone into the hospital, we held the decision hoping to avoid the "death" speculation.

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