by Paoli du Flippi
DATELINE: Hollywood, March 1, 2018
This year’s campaigning for the coveted Nebula Award given by the Super Fantastika Writers of America has been marked by “lies, disinformation, nasty tricks, vicious personal slurs, impossible promises, bribes and actual physical assaults,” says SFWA President Jennifer Lawrence, in a recent interview conducted during a bit of downtime on the Tinseltown set where she is finishing the filming of The Hunger Games VI: Daughter of Katniss versus the Borg: The Mashup Reboot, based on the polymath star’s own novel that earned her admission to SFWA and its presidency in the first place.
“It’s a real shame,” President Lawrence added, “that the actions of past-President John Clute ever opened up the Nebula Award process to this kind of despicable gutter politicking. I know his intentions were honorable and all, but he should have foreseen that a group of desperate, competitive, insecure and egomaniacal writers would automatically exhibit the innate capacity and intent to subvert the system for their individual advantage. And to troll all their hated rivals.”
Asked what kind of reforms she contemplated, President Lawrence said, “I intend to sponsor a By-laws amendment that would revert the voting procedure to pre-2014 standards, when nothing more than some moderate peer-to-peer logrolling occurred, along with the occasional cheesecake or beefcake or cat-centric photo on Facebook or Twitter. Meanwhile, though, we’re stuck with the current degraded shambles.”
Those stunned yet captivated fans following the bloody, vile and senseless combat, especially younger readers (such as those who recently took up literacy thanks to the latest Corning-brand Vitrine Retinal Prozzies), might be bewildered as to the roots of the contemporary literary slaughter. But the history is a simple one.
Prior to the 2014 election of the Solstice-Award-anointed-and-stoked critic John Clute as the President of the SFWA (then known as the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, but soon redubbed by its new leader), multiple Nebula awards were given to a variety of works which contended against one another based on their format of publication: screenplay, novel, short story. All types of fiction contended willy-nilly for the same category of award. Thus, a fantasy novel might vie with a science fiction novel for the top spot.
But President Clute mandated differently, and his position was soon embodied in the rules of the organization.
“The house of fantastika is a mansion of many rooms,” President Clute famously declared. “It makes no sense for the Gordon Ramsays of the kitchen to be trotting their crème brulee into the bedrooms of the Kim Kardashians, while down in the basement the DIY, garage-hacker Steve Jobses are left to act in loco parentis the pubescent Elle Fannings.”
Once decoded, Clute’s ten-thousand-word speech meant simply that he wished every subgenre of fantastika to mount its own annual slate of candidates across all formats. Then each slate would contend against all the others, with winner-take-everything results.
His landmark speech concluded, “I’ve always averred that the Real Year of every piece of fantastika is the year in which it was written, regardless of internal chronology. But I neglected to mention that every Real Year has its own particular flavor, or essenz des zeitgeistes. This new form of polling will tell us precisely what kind of year we are living in, thus allowing us to chart the development of our literature with high precision. And generate many papers for ICFA.”
The first election under Clute’s new rule, in 2015, consequently saw Cyberpunks arrayed against New Weird; Paranormal Romances versus Young Adult Dystopias; Epic Fantasy vying with Steampunk; and Alternate History beating up on Thrillers. Of course, the matches were not so exclusively paired as all that, since each subgenre changed its target of vituperation depending on who seemed weakest and who had most recently attacked them. Alliances were made and broken at a phenomenal rate. Slurs, accusations, and a long string of tedious public debates ensued. And the internet was roiled as never before. Observing his handiwork, Clute opined, “This is truly a case of bellum omnium contra omnes, but paradigmatic shifts were ever thus.”
The winner of the 2015 race proved to be the darkhorse candidate of Gonzo Transrealism, which had fortuitously managed to assemble a strong annual slate, including Rucker, Boudinot, Fintushel, Tidhar, Moore and Di Filippo. The Gonzo Transrealist promise of free drugs during their room party at Worldcon, while much criticized, tipped the balance.
Bruised and chastened by the carnage of 2015, the various parties of fantastika conducted relatively mild campaigns during the elections of 2016 and 2017. But in the current year, having licked their wounds, nursed their grudges, and mastered new tactics, the candidates have been escalating the competition to brutal new levels.
The Space Opera party, led by Alastair Reynolds, has threatened to abandon Earth entirely if they lose. “Our ship, the Trantorian, is already being constructed in low-Earth orbit. Whether we use it strictly within the solar system, beaming back fresh novels, or accelerate to near-light speeds, thus imposing a relativistic embargo on any new writings, is totally up to the electorate.”
The position of the Singularitarians is perhaps best expressed by Charles Stross, who says, “Every vote for any other party is a deliberate dumbing-down of the mass consciousness of the planet, and thus unforgivably delays our glorious moment of posthumanism.”
After the highly public and deadly physical confrontation between Laurell Hamilton and Amanda Hocking—during which their secret werewolf identities were revealed in a bloody chaos of claws and teeth—the Urban Fantasy party is struggling to renew the fervor and support of its horrified and decidedly de-squee’d members.
When the Cyberpunk party was caught inserting malware into the gene readers of the Biopunk Party, any fallout in the political arena was overshadowed by the marauding mutant lifeforms that subsequently escaped from Biopunk headquarters. Even after his broadcast apology, Cyberpunk leader Richard Morgan was the subject of a virus-laden letterbomb sent by Biopunk leader Lauren Beukes.
Mundane SF spokesperson Geoff Ryman sought to curry favor with the voters by announcing that any increase in royalties accruing to a win by his party would be donated to the homeless refugees of the Indian Point, New York, nuclear meltdown. His charitable promise was immediately derided by Cory Doctorow of the Netizen SF party, who proclaimed that Ryman’s profits would derive from “copyright hogs and trademark barons.”
Brandon Sanderson’s swordplay demonstration at a Heroic Fantasy rally took a fatal turn, as he accidentally lopped off the head of a young volunteer from the audience. But pundits are claiming that the accident has secured him more voters than it lost.
And one final notorious incident is attributable to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Fiction party. A psilocybin-fueled swim by party leaders with a pod of dolphins off the coast of Borneo resulted in a rift in the spacetime continuum that briefly allowed a parallel universe to overlay our own baseline reality, transubstantiating all hierarchies and subverting individual identities for an uncomfortable interval.
These incidents grabbed headlines throughout early 2018, but were hardly alone in doing so. Each day’s hungry, remorseless newscycle brought more accounts of chicanery, fist-flailing, libel and slander, as the various factions of the fantastic fiction universe sought to claim the prestigious Nebula trophy for its party. That they would stop at nothing soon became clear.
But how any of the writers will find time to pen next year’s fiction contenders remains the last unsolved mystery.