Friday, July 18, 2008

SFWA's New Grand Master

SFWA has announced that the "Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master" for next year will be Harry Harrison, getting a jump on the April event and continuing the new regime's apparent policy of clearing their desks of all work as quickly as humanly possible.

This is a really, really early announcement, isn't it? I thought typically this news came out early in the year, two or three months before the Nebula Awards Weekend. I hope that doesn't mean that Harrison is very ill, but that's what came to mind first.

SFWA is digging deep into the apple barrel for Grand Masters at this point, choosing prolific and long-lived writers who each wrote a few seminal works but aren't the overarching giants of the field. (On the other hand, that description also fits just as well some of the very earliest Grand Masters, like Simak and Williamson. Grand Masters have only rarely been as "Grand" as they might possibly be.)

Personally, I read a lot of Harrison in my formative years, and enjoyed his books, particularly the "Stainless Steel Rat" novels. Most of those books, though, don't really hold up now. I suspect he's really getting the Grand Master-ship because he survived so long and because of Make Room! Make Room! (I also read a lot of Ron Goulart in those days, and I don't seriously expect to see him made a Grand Master any time soon; I'm not claiming I had wonderful taste at the age of twelve.)

I'm not complaining, exactly -- this is SFWA's award, for people who SFWA really likes, and it has never been explicitly for "great writers" -- just noting that I would put Harrison on a lower level than such recent winners as Le Guin, Silverberg, and Ellison.

And SFWA has now given a Grand Mastership every year since 2003 -- seven in a row. They also gave out GMs for seven years straight from 1994 to 2000, after a much more leisurely pattern in the award's first twenty years. It's hard to avoid thinking that SFWA is trying to hand these out to as many of their older friends and colleagues as they can, as quickly as they can, before those older writers die. Again, it's their award, so they can do what they want with it. But if they want to use the Nebulas to increase their prominence and influence -- as has been repeatedly suggested -- then loading up with a bunch of GMs might not be the optimum strategy.


The Brillig Blogger said...

I made this same point to Michael Capobianco last year, and just this week to Russell Davies, that I think the Grand Master award and for that matter any award that may be given but which does not have to (such as the SFWA Service Award) is made much more meaningful when it's occasionally not given. If every so often there isn't anyone worthy of being Grand Master, it says something different than even the perception of "well, we had to give it to someone."

& I too like Harrison's work. I treasured by SFBC omnibus of the TO THE STARS trilogy, read some of the Stainless Steel Rat books, but no, he's not the first person who comes to mind when I think Grand Master. But I'm the guy who thinks there shouldn't be one every year.

Paul D said...

Joe Haldeman still isn't a Grand Master right?

Anonymous said...

Joe Haldeman isn't quite old enough yet, nor is Connie Willis. I also, am not sure it should be given every year.
I think however, that this board wants to put it's own stamp on it so to speak.
I am surprised at the announcement-the 'rule" has typically been that it can be announced ahead of time if the person is going to be at the Nebulas and they can use that person to help get publicity for the Nebula weekend. However, i suspect that this board wrangled less over it than some, and Harrison may indeed be that ill-hard to say.
Catherine Asaro did tell me that the year Anne McCaffrey was chosen the board did some wrangling over who was in worse health, so.

Russell and Sherri Davis said...


It is early. In fact, it may be the earliest a GM has ever been announced. I was asked about this by Ian Randal Strock at SFScope.Com and answered him here:

To put your mind at ease, so far as I know, Mr. Harrison is in fine health.

In regards to the person chosen for the Grand Master, I tend to think that it's very much a "your mileage may vary" kind of thing. I'm very pleased to have been involved in giving it to Harry Harrison - his influence and impact on the field are pretty undeniable and he's had a fine career, worthy of recognition.

I can also see Mr. Bilmes point that too many of them isn't a good thing. That said, due to a lack of *not* giving them, we've sometimes missed the opportunity to do so in very critical cases, such as Algis Budrys, Philip K. Dick or Theodore Sturgeon to name a few.

That said, I appreciate your comments and point of view, and hope you'll continue to share your insight about SFWA activities with your readers.

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