The Preface That Never Was
(The sixth volume of my John W. Campbell Awards/New Voices anthology series had been completed and delivered and was weeks away from publication when Bluejay Books collapsed in late 1986. 1 was not able to find another publisher to continue the series, so JWC-6 was never published. This was my preface to the book, which has hitherto been seen only by the handful of critics and reviewers fortunate enough to have a copy of the [very rare] bound galley.)
Like the white rabbit, we’re late, we’re terribly late, but that’s hardly an excuse not to go to Wonderland, so snatch up your hat and coat if you will, and hurry down the hole. This way, and quickly now . . .
Welcome to the John W. Campbell Awards, Volume 6.
JWC-6 is the latest (no pun intended) manifestation of an anthology series that began in 1973, under the title New Voices. It was that year, in Toronto, that the World Science Fiction Convention awarded the first John W. Campbell Award to the best new science fiction writer of the preceding two years. A modest, soft-spoken fellow named Jerry Pournelle won that first-ever Campbell, with George Alec Effinger running him a very close second, so close that the Torcon committee gave Effinger a special runner-up plaque.
I was among the other four finalists that year. Losing didn’t bother me — I figured it was an honor just to be nominated. It was the first award my writing had contended for, and it meant a lot to me.
The Campbell Award was named in honor of the late, great John Wood Campbell, Jr., who edited SF’s dominant magazine — first called Astounding, later Analog, for those of you who came in late — through three tumultuous decades, until his sudden and untimely death in 1971. Campbell singlehandedly transformed the face of the field when he took over the editorial reins of Astounding from F. Orlin Tremaine, and began publishing a whole new generation of writers in place of the literary dinosaurs who had ruled the pulp jungle before he arrived. Before he was done, he’d created something called the Golden Age of Science Fiction.
One could say that John W. Campbell liked to discover, hone, and encourage new writers. One could also say that Moby Dick was a whale, that Stephen King sells a fair amount of books, and that it would take rather a long time to walk across the universe. Campbell imposed no filters between himself and the aspiring writers, employed no assistants or ”slush pile” readers — he personally read every battered manuscript that came over his transom, and as often as not responded with letters of criticism and encouragement that were as long as the stories he was rejecting, so long as he’d caught the scent of fresh young talent.
Did it work? Do the names Frank Herbert, Jerry Pournelle, Ben Bova, Gordon R. Dickson, and Poul Anderson ring any bells? How about Harry Harrison, Stanley Schmidt, James H. Schmitz, George 0. Smith, Anne McCaffery? Ever hear tell of Hal Clement, L. Sprague de Camp, Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, L. Ron Hubbard, or James Blish? Perhaps the names Isaac Asimov, A.E. Van Vogt, and Robert A. Heinlein seem familiar? The list goes on and on. Besides his discoveries, who were legion, he rediscovered talents like Clifford Simak and Jack Williamson (who talks about Campbell as man and editor in the introduction that follows), and even printed the first stories of writers as unlikely and diverse as Norman Spinrad and Howard Waldrop.
The award could not have a more fitting patron, nor the man a more appropriate honor. From the day it was first instituted, under the sponsorship of the Conde Nast Publications, publishers of Analog, it was clear that the Campbell Award was destined to become a tradition, and so it has. Since 1973, the award has been presented annually by the World Science Fiction Convention, continuing even when the magazine that conceived it, Analog, was sold by Conde Nast, and Davis Publications stepped in to assume the role of sponsor. Although it is not a Hugo Award, the Campbell finalists and winner are chosen in precisely the same manner as the Hugos, by fan nomination and vote, and it is the only non-Hugo award presently allowed on the annual Hugo ballot. A Campbell nomination was, and is, a splendid way for a newcomer to SF to launch his or her career, and assures the winner of plenty of attention in the years to follow.
Which brings us back to Toronto in 1973, and the one thing the brand-spanking-new Campbell Award seemed to lack (besides my name on the winner’s plaque, that is): a book.
The Hugo Award had a book. The Nebula Award had a book. But back in 1973, 1 hadn’t been nominated for those awards, and I had been nominated for the Campbell, which did not have a book. It seemed damned unfair to me, and I said so loudly at one of the Torcon room parties, and when I did two men named Dave turned to look at me. One of them was Dave Harris, editor of Dell’s SF line. The other was Dave Hartwell, SF editor for Berkley. Both of them agreed that an annual original anthology of stories by the Campbell Award finalists was a dandy idea, and since I was the one talking about it, I ought to go and do it.
Thus are editors born, midst bathtub beer and crowded rooms. By the time Torcon was over, I’d spoken to all of the 1973 nominees but one, and had verbal commitments for stories. The verbal commitments soon became letters of guarantee, and by the end of the year the proposal for an anthology series to be called New Voices: The Campbell Awards Nominees was thumping down on editorial desks all over New York.
As it turned out, for various obscure and complex reasons that I don’t entirely remember any more, neither of the men named Dave wound up publishing New Voices, but it was swiftly signed up by Ellen Couch of Macmillan. For various additional obscure and complex reasons, Macmillan did not get around to publishing the first volume of what it titled New Voices in Science Fiction until 1977, and we’ve been struggling to catch up ever since, and not doing too swift a job of it.
That doesn’t keep me awake too many nights, however; it would be nice to be able to set my watch by the Campbell Award anthologies, but I’ll settle for being able to read and enjoy them. The important thing is not how prompt it is, but how good it is.
As I write, the Campbell Award is twelve years old and counting, and it’s possible to look back and get a pretty good idea of how it’s done. The record is impressive. At the back of this volume you’ll find a history of the award, listing all the nominees and winners from 1973 through 1985. The list reads like a Who’s Who of the hot young SF talents of the 70s and 80s. Inevitably, there are a few writers whose careers did not fulfill their early promise, but they are far outnumbered by those new voices who went on to become major contributors in our field.
To my mind, the diversity to be found among the Campbell finalists is even more impressive than their success ratio. As might be expected of an award named after John W. Campbell, it includes the hard-science writers like James Hogan and Charles Sheffield, but the ballots have also found room for high fantasists like Stephen R. Donaldson and Elizabeth A. Lynn, for horror writers like Lisa Tuttle and the late, brilliant Tom Reamy, for all kinds of humor from the black wit of George Alec Effinger to the puns of Spider Robinson, for the space opera of Jack Chalker and Barry Longyear, the character studies of Alan Brennert and Robert Thurston, the avante garde prose of Carter Scholz, the unique future visions of John Varley, the romanticism of Joan Vinge and M.A. Foster, the aliens of Cynthia Felice and C.J. Cherryh, Bruce Sterling’s cyberpunk pyrotechnics and Lucius Shepard’s startling range and depth.
Which brings us to the volume in hand, and the class of 1978.
The 1978 worldcon was called Iguanacon, and it was held in Phoenix, Arizona on the traditional Labor Day weekend. There were five finalists contending for the sixth Campbell Award, chosen by the fans from among all the new writers who had made their professional debuts during 1976 or 1977. The nominees were Orson Scott Card, Jack L. Chalker, Stephen R. Donaldson, Elizabeth A. Lynn, and Bruce Sterling. Chalker was making his second run for the award, having lost out to C.J. Cherryh in the 1977 competition; the other four were new to the ballot.
When the envelope was ripped open, Orson Scott Card was the winner.
Card’s victory was regarded at the time as something of an upset; Donaldson and Chalker had been the favorites going in, and most of the fan handicappers seemed to think the fight was between them. As with every award, and especially with the Campbell, there was a fair amount of second-guessing and armchair quarterbacking afterwards. The class of 1978 was an unusually diverse one, among them representing just about every major school, style, and sub-genre in SF and fantasy, and opinions ran hot and heavy about who was good and who wasn’t, who would last and who would fall by the wayside.
It’s been a fair while since 1978. The debates conducted in the apresHugo parties in the suffocating heat of Phoenix are a fading memory now, and it turns out the Campbell Class of 1978 fooled everybody — they all went on to become raging successes.
No one who has ever looked at the SF shelves in any bookstore in the land could possibly be unaware of Jack Chalker. Since his early books won him his place on the Campbell ballots two years running, Chalker has published more novels than any other finalist from the class of 1978, probably more than any other Campbell finalists from any year, and possibly more than the sum totals of some classes before and after. Novels, series, trilogies, and tetralogies flow his word processor in a rushing torrent, with occasionally a short story bobbing up for air.
Bruce Sterling was perhaps the least known of the Campbell finalists in 1978, but today there’s hardly a fan alive who wouldn’t recognize the by-line of the opinionated Texas scribe who has come to be the defacto head of SF’S latest literary movement, the “cyberpunks” or “outlaw technologists” who have produced some of the most memorable, hard-hitting, and controversial fiction of the 80s. Sterling himself is the author of Involution Ocean, The Artificial Kid, and the recent, highly acclaimed Schismatrix, and his series of Shaper/Mech stories and offbeat fantasies have won him a devoted and growing readership. The head cyberpunk regularly appears on Hugo and Nebula ballots now, and it’s only a matter of time until he wins one of those trophies. What’s even more frightening is that Sterling just now seems to be hitting his stride.
Elizabeth A. Lynn has already taken home some trophies, a matched pair of busts of H.P. Lovecraft given her by the 1980 World Fantasy Convention for her novel Watchtower and her short story, “The woman Who Loved the Moon.” One of the most eloquent and original voices in modern fantasy fiction, Lynn is perhaps best known for her superb Chronicles of Tornor trilogy, but her recent young adult novel The Silver Horse is sure to broaden her reputation to new fields.
Anyone who needs to be told who Stephen R. Donaldson is has been living on Neptune since 1978. Yes, that Stephen R. Donaldson, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Stephen R. Donaldson.
And as for the winner, Orson Scott Card went on from the Campbell to compete for Hugos and Nebulas on a regular basis, to become one of the field’s most opinionated, articulate, and diligent critics, and to create a broad and distinguished body of work that included everything from hard SF to horror to fantasy.
Of the Campbell Award, Card says, “The Campbell Award, which was given to me by surprise, by strangers, had a powerful effect on my confidence in my ability to move people with prose fiction. Until that time I had been sure only of my playwriting, and fiction was still something of a lark. The award changed my direction. I began to concentrate most of my efforts toward mastering the techniques of telling stories to an invisible stranger. I’m still working on it. But it’s a wonderful road to travel on, and it was the Campbell Award that firmly set me on my way.
“Now, looking back, I marvel that I received the award. The common wisdom today is that to win the Campbell Award, you must either be a novelist or well known among fans. I had never been to a science fiction convention; I had not published a book; indeed, at the time of my voting only three of my stories had appeared, and only one of them, Ender’s Game, had attracted any attention. I believe it speaks well of fandom that the award could be won by an outsider with a very small body of work. And I do feel a tingling, now and then, of an obligation to make sure that the rest of my work is of such a quality that in future years people will not read my name on the list of Campbell Award winners and say, ‘They gave the award to him?’ I owe that much, at least, to the winners who deserved the award far more than I.”
As I write, Card’s latest novel, Ender’s Game — appropriately enough, an expansion of the short story that launched his career and helped him win the 1978 Campbell Award — bids fair to sweep the novel category for this year’s Hugo and Nebula. There’s many a surprise in the awards game, as Card himself proved one hot night in Phoenix, but regardless of how many trophies Ender’s Game ultimately takes home, one thing is clear — Orson Scott Card, like the rest of the Class of 1978, is here to stay, and the readers of SF are all the richer for it.
George R.R. Martin