Nebula Awards for 2006

The results are in from the Nebula Awards® banquet put on by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and here are the 2006 Nebula Award winners:

  • Novel — Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
  • Novella — “Magic for Beginners,” by Kelly Link
  • Novelette — “The Faery Handbag,” by Kelly Link
  • Short Story — “I Live with You,” by Carol Emshwiller
  • Script — Serenity by Joss Whedon
  • First annual Andre Norton Award for young adult SF — A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
  • Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement — Harlan Ellison
  • Author Emeritus — William F. Nolan

Congratulations to all! You can view photos from the event at http://www.midamericon.org/photoarchive/06neb01.htm.

To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize

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I don’t know how much coverage this story has been getting outside the Boston area, but a big story in the Boston Globe lately has been the rise-and-fall saga of 17-year-old novelist and Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan. Viswanathan’s novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” was published to great fanfare, then challenged by another author and publisher as being uncomfortably similar to a Megan McCafferty novel called “Sloppy Firsts.” “Opal Mehta” was withdrawn from retail stores—something like 50,000 hardcover copies!—with the promise of a revised edition. But with new revelations that some passages are uncomfortably similar to passages in Meg Cabot’s “The Princess Diaries,” the book has now been cancelled altogether. You can read a fuller summary on boston.com (you’ll need to register to view it).

It is, of course, impossible to know whether this young author knowingly plagiarized passages from other books, or simply unconsciously and unwittingly imitated works she had read and loved (which she insisted was the case). I felt considerable sympathy for her, at least before the later revelations emerged. All writers absorb thoughts and words and images from books and stories they read, and all that goes into the cerebral, intuitive percolator along with experiences from life. A young writer with relatively little life experience is naturally going to draw more on what she’s read (and seen on TV), relative to experience, than she will ten or twenty years later when she has more real life to draw from. As my friend, writer Rich Bowker said, “When I was that age, whatever I wrote pretty much sounded like the last book I’d read.” And I think that’s pretty universal.

On the other hand, plagiarism has become a common disease in today’s world. Students plagiarize. The CEO of Raytheon borrowed heavily from others, without giving credit, in a booklet of management advice—and now he’s not going to get his next raise. (Shed a few tears, people!)

This Harvard student was under pressure to produce a book to fulfill a half-million dollar, 2-book contract with Little, Brown (that’s right—half a mil to a first-time novelist for an unwritten book—why don’t I get those kinds of contracts?), and she was working with a big book packager, Alloy Entertainment, which “helped shaped her book” and incidentally shared in the copyright. So the situation was ripe for corruption. Why would a publisher offer that kind of money for an unwritten first novel to begin with? Was it because she’s young, beautiful (the Globe has printed her picture repeatedly), and smart? Was it because the book packager was a reliable creator of commercial successes? Damned if I know.

But as I think about this case, and all the other recent cases of award-winning writers who have fallen in disgrace when it turned out they lied or faked research or, yes, plagiarized—and when I think about the distressing number of cases of scientists who have falsified their research—I want to stand up and holler to the world: DON’T LIE AND CHEAT, YOU MORONS, BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO GET CAUGHT!

And then, after a while, I calm down again and fume about politicians instead. Them, we expect to lie and cheat.

Galactica Website

It seems I’m getting a lot of visits here from people who found a mention of my Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries novel on http://www.gateworld.net/galactica/. Hi everyone! Yes, it’s true that you can read here a lot of my thoughts on writing BSG. But you’ll have to scroll down a ways. There are probably half a dozen entries, if you look far enough. (Or do a search.) Anyway, welcome and feel free to look around the place. It’s small, but we’re all friends here.

Back Home, BSG Off to Tor Again, and…

What? Galactica—again? Yes, this time I had the page proofs for the mass market paperback edition to correct. (We won’t mention that the proofs were mailed by mistake to Craig Gardner, who wrote the second book, and who fortunately lives just a few blocks away.) This meant reading through the book again—actually, for the first time since I corrected the proofs for the trade edition. Why should I have to do this? you might ask. Well, partly because the typesetting has been adjusted for the smaller page size, and sometimes errors are introduced when that’s done. But mainly it’s to catch all the stupid mistakes we missed the first time around. Yes, it’s true.

I know this makes it sound like we’re careless when the first edition goes out, but that’s not true. It’s amazing how many errors can sneak by multiple proofreaders (including yours truly), who are all doing their best to catch the little buggers. And then there are the occasional infelicitous phrasings or word choices that any one of said proofreaders (including yours truly) should have caught—but didn’t. Things like the phrase “for a moment” appearing three times in a paragraph. Yeesh.

So it’s done. And you know what? I really liked reading the book. I consider this a positive sign.

Oh—the wrestling. Alexandra placed third in the Ohio state girls tournament in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. It wasn’t a huge field. But lemme tell you, some of those girls who are wrestling in Ohio are tough hombres! (You should forgive the expression.) I’ll try to snag a few stills off the video we shot and get them up soon.

With my sister Nancy as tour guide, we also visited the campus of Kenyon College, which is right down the road from where the tourney was held. We admired their fantastic new athletic Taj Mahal, and sought out advice and info from fellow SF author/biology professor Joan Slonczewski.

We arrived home, well after midnight on Sunday night, exhausted but happy—greeted by wife and other daughter, and dinner laid out on the table! Who could ask for more?

The Old Negro Space Program

There’s a short dramatic work that had to be declared ineligible for the Nebula for technical reasons*, but it’s a lot of fun to watch (free online), and at the same time delivers a punch. It’s called The Old Negro Space Program, and was created as a labor of love by its…creator…a fellow named Andy Bobrow. Give it a look. It’s only ten minutes long, and is a very witty ten minutes.

*By technical reasons, what I mean is, the rules** said it wasn’t eligible. I’m not discounting the possibility that the rules are screwy. (I’m on the committee charged with interpreting the rules, so I’m allowed to say things like that. Though come to think of it, so is anyone else.)

**If you’re having trouble sleeping tonight, you could always settle in with the Nebula Rules, which you can read online 24/7, at the link I just gave.

Nebula Awards Final Ballot

Finalists for this year’s Nebula Awards have been announced. They are:

Novel
Air by Geoff Ryman, Camouflage by Joe Haldeman, Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, Polaris by Jack McDevitt, and Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright

Novella
“Clay’s Pride” by Bud Sparhawk, “Identity Theft” by Robert J. Sawyer, “Left of the Dial” by Paul Witcover, “Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link, and “The Tribes of Bela” by Albert Cowdrey

Novelette
“The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link, “Flat Diane” by Daniel Abraham, “Men Are Trouble” by Jim Kelly, “Nirvana High” by Eileen Gunn and Leslie What, and “The People of Sand and Slag” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Short Story
“Born-Again” by K.D. Wentworth, “The End of the World as We Know It” by Dale Bailey, “I Live With You” by Carol Emshwiller, “My Mother, Dancing” by Nancy Kress, “Singing My Sister Down” by Margo Lanagan, “Still Life With Boobs” by Anne Harris, and “There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes

Script
“Act of Contrition”/”You Can’t Go Home Again” by Carla Robinson, Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, (2-part episode of Battlestar Galactica); and Serenity by Joss Whedon

Not a Nebula, but to be awarded at the same time, the first annual award for outstanding Young Adult SF or fantasy novel:

Andre Norton Award
The Amethyst Road by Louise Spiegler, Siberia by Ann Halam, Stormwitch by Susan Vaught, and Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black

The Nebula and the Andre Norton Awards are voted on and conferred by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Winners will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet in Tempe, Ariz., on May 6. (I won’t be there, I’m sorry to say, but best wishes to all the nominees.)

If you look at the same list at SFWA.org, you’ll find links to online copies of many of the shorter works.

More on Octavia Butler

A fine remembrance of Octavia Butler appeared in the Washington Post.

I heard from a friend in Seattle—who isn’t even an SF reader—that a memorial reading is planned, in which many SF writers from the Northwest will take turns reading from her work. That seems very fitting.

Too much death and threat of death around lately. I have one dear friend whose husband is dying of cancer, and another good friend whose health is failing and whose life has been so hammered by legal and financial injustices that he is dependent upon charity for medical care.

We all know that life isn’t fair. But sometimes you really wonder.

We Lose Another Great: Octavia Butler

Science fiction author Octavia Butler died last weekend, following a fall outside her home in the Seattle area. And the science fiction world, and all of the world, have lost another great treasure. She was the first black American woman to rise to prominence as a science fiction writer, and the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. She was also widely acknowledged to be one of the finest writers in the field, regardless of race, gender, or another other arbitrary distinction. By the time you read this, there will probably be a number of stories online, but the two I saw first were from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Chicago Tribune.

I never knew her personally. But I feel her loss as a blow to the community I’m a part of—really, two communities, the one of humanity, and the more narrowly defined one of science fiction lovers. It also makes me think once more about the fleeting nature of life on this world, and how it seems a shame to do anything but try to use our time well.

Writing Dialogue: Get Fuzzy

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Followers of Get Fuzzy know that Bucky Katt has been hard at work on his film project. I’ve already mentioned it as guidance in how (not) to workshop a script. Today there’s a good illustration of a quick and easy way to…um, make sure that your dialogue is vivid and realistic. Check out today’s Get Fuzzy. Give a man a piece of dialogue, and he’ll write for a day. Teach him to write dialogue, and he’ll write for a lifetime.

And if you haven’t been following, jump back a few weeks in the archive and work your way forward.

Boskone, and News about Galactica

Well, I had a thoroughly pleasant time at Boskone. This took me a little by surprise, only because I was feeling all grumpy and not really in the mood to go out. I had to, though, because I was scheduled to be on panels. And once I got there and started seeing old friends, and making some new ones, I got into the spirit of it. I also thought this was the liveliest and most interesting Boskone I have seen in a number of years.

One pleasant result was encountering some fans who had already read Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. The feedback was all good. Perhaps the nicest was from a young woman who happens to be a Commander in the US Navy, and who is about to become captain of a guided missile destroyer. She said she thought I’d captured the feel of the story very well—and I took that as significant praise, coming from someone who actually knows what it’s like to run a military vessel. (The only ones I have ever been aboard have been museums, rather like what Galactica was scheduled to become before the pesky Cylons interfered.)

An encouraging sidelight was hearing from one of my writing buddies that he’d met with his editor and confirmed the sale of a new trilogy. Earning a living as a writer is not easy for any of us, and he’s no exception. I don’t know if I should mention his name here, so I’ll just say that it rhymes with Craig Shaw Gardner, and his writing style is very similar. I’ll let him announce the details once everything’s been inked.

And finally, I came home to see an email from my editor, telling me that Galactica has sold to a British publisher and has had a book club sale. Given that my biggest rationale for writing the book was to get my name back in front of the public (I didn’t know then that I was going to enjoy Galactica so much), this is very good news indeed. More readers, and—who knows—maybe even a little more money, in the long run.

(Which reminds me of something I want to write about—readers versus money. But later. Remind me if I forget.)

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