SFWA Grand Masters

As you may know, Connie Willis will be named an SFWA Grand Master at Nebula Awards weekend this May. She joins a long, distinguished list of recipients going back to the first honoree, Robert Heinlein, in 1975. (Sorry for the link to La Wik, but the link from Google’s search results to SFWA’s page of winners 404s at this writing). She has earned the honor through her long career of steady productivity and multiple Hugo and Nebula wins, along with her stature in the sf/f community.

Reviewing that list got me wondering a few things.

Who will be named a Grand Master in 2013-2015?

The three biggest names missing from the list of recipients are Gene Wolfe, Larry Niven, and Samuel R. Delany. All three have long careers with multiple Hugo/Nebula wins, critical acclaim and influence within the field (and Wolfe and Delany outside it). They represent three very different strains of sf, all valid contributions to the genre dialogue. I’d be astonished if at least two of them did not win in the next few years.

Who will be named a Grand Master in 2015-2025?

This is a much fuzzier category. The “Killer B’s” (Benford, Brin, and Bear) are on the short list. Dan Simmons writes excellent sf, but not enough of it, and the thirtieth anniversary of his first Hugo/Nebula winning novel won’t come until 2019. William Gibson has publicly moved away from sf, and though you can do that, you can only be named an SFWA Grand Master if you publicly come back. (See Silverberg and Ellison). Orson Scott Card meets the longevity and multiple awards criteria, but his recent political expressions might be held against him by some SFWA members. I’ll mention Walter Jon Williams as an underappreciated writer who merits consideration.

If there were a Posthumous Grand Master award, who should win it?

To clarify, only living writers can be named Grand Masters. So for a posthumous equivalent, Roger Zelazny and Octavia Butler are the two names to consider. Tiptree and Cordwainer Smith both had short careers. Kornbluth and Kuttner also had short careers and died so long ago (1958) that their work is fading from memory. (Plus, where does Kuttner end and C.L. Moore begin)? Gordon R. Dickson occupies much the same fiction space as Poul Anderson and doesn’t merit inclusion for that reason (said by someone who reread Time Storm about five times in high school). Frank Herbert comes close, but other than Dune and its sequels, his work is also fading from memory. Seriously, name three non-Dune Herbert novels without resorting to a search engine.

Who was named a Grand Master who didn’t deserve it?

Not to rag on him, but van Vogt. Bits of his work stick in my mind: “the right to buy weapons is the right to be free” and the slingshot ending “This is the race that will rule the Sevagram.” But the clunky writing and rubber science are things no one can read these days with a straight face. Better to have named him an Author Emeritus and let Damon Knight win the judgment of history.