The 2019 SFWA Nebula Conference was held May 16-19 at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills in sunny California for the first of two years. There were 465 warm bodies of the record-breaking 475 registered members, compared to 356 in 2018. The hotel was comfortable, with spacious mingling areas, a well-appointed bar, and eateries within a few (albeit large) blocks.
Each attendee received a logo-adorned bag stuffed with books. The Mentor Meetup paired experienced congoers with newer attendees before panels started at 2:00 p.m. Programming focused on industry-relevant topics, such as “Catalog Copy Dos and Don’ts: copy is not a blurb, learn your d*mn terms!” with Jay Allan, Kaelyn Considine, Lee Harris, DongWon Song, and Michael R. Underwood; and “When Hollywood Calls” with S.B. Divya, Margaret Dunlap, Craig Miller, and Lettie Prell. Programming included a showing of the documentary The Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Morning offerings began with yoga sessions and designated quiet writing spaces. The Nebula Nominee Presentation took place Friday evening. Over 200 people went to “sponsored lunches” – lovely spreads of food served in the atrium lounge, provided through a sponsorship program. The mass signing was Saturday afternoon, with 132 signers, up from last year’s 88, including Steven Barnes, L.X. Beckett, Gregory Benford, Cory Doctorow, Isaac R. Fellman, Laura Anne Gilman, A.T. Greenblatt, Ellen Klages, R.F. Kuang, John Scalzi, SFWA’s newest Grandmaster William Gibson, astronaut Kjell Lindgren, and many more. SFWA sold books (many on consignment) through a book depot run by Sean Wallace.
Organizer Terra LeMay said, “In order to recruit additional volunteers, we have begun introducing some exclusive, volunteer-only programming items, including a session with literary agent DongWon Song, as well as an opportunity to tour SpaceX. We plan to expand our volunteer-only program items in 2020.”
On Saturday night authors, publishers, agents, and more crowded the cramped hallway outside the Grand Ballroom for the Pre-Nebula Reception, which featured snacks and a cash bar. 300 guests attended the banquet in the Grand Ballroom proper, up from last year’s 220. LeMay reported “230 concurrent viewers watched the livestream of the awards ceremony and 1,400 viewed the recording before the end of the weekend.”
Henry Lien opened the awards with performance group Emperor Stardust and the Eunuchs of the Forbidden City, dancing to “the new SFWA recruitment anthem ‘Come and Join Our Band’.” Bobak Ferdowsi, a system’s engineer at NASA’s JPL, AKA “Mohawk Guy,” was toastmaster and shared full-color images of Mars taken by the Curiosity rover.
Scalzi presented the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award (on behalf of John Johnston) to Lee Martindale, who served SFWA in many capacities, including mediation specialist, ombudsman, and director-at-large. Grateful, Martindale thanked Cat Rambo, her husband, and “the people who will come after me.”
The first of two Solstice Awards went to Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld magazine. SFWA President Rambo described Clarkesworld as “excelling in its treatment of writers, including one of the highest per words rate coupled with one of the fastest reply rates in the business.” Award presenter Regina Kanyu Wang cited Clarkesworld as beginning to publish translated Chinese language fiction in 2011, and subsequently working with Storycom to run 43 stories since 2015. Wang said, “I can talk about Neil forever… how generously he shares the knowledge and insights of the industry, how he protects the folks he trusts with no hesitation, and, of course, how he fights against zombie stories!” Clarke said, “I think the future of science fiction is global.” He thanked Wang and Ken Liu, as well as Sean Wallace and Kate Baker for being by his side for many years. He thanked his family “for supporting me and making this all possible,” and the science fiction community, saying, “I am so lucky to be with you all.”
The second Solstice Award went to Nisi Shawl. Rambo said that Shawl’s work “fostered dialogue about issues of race, ethnicity, and culture, raised awareness both inside and outside the fantastical fiction communities.” Presenting the award, Mary Anne Mohanraj talked about Shawl’s “Writing the Other” workshops, as well as her fiction, saying, “She’s done a lot of service to the field… a lot of what she does is service to humanity. In everything she does, she shows us how to be better writers, but also better people.” Steven Barnes accepted on Shawl’s behalf, saying, “In 2015, I participated in a very special one-time conference at Princeton, called Black to the Future…. I sat in a corner after the conference crying with joy. I had attained my life’s goal, I was living my dream, surrounded by my people’s success. This award is made of those tears of joy. Thank you for helping me own it.”
Peng Shepherd presented the award for Short Story to Phenderson Djèlí Clark for “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington”. Pablo Defendini accepted for Clark, who thanked SFWA, Fireside, and “all of the readers who believed in this magic.”
The Andre Norton Award was presented by Christine Taylor Butler to Tomi Adeyemi for Children of Blood and Bone. Adeyemi accepted via prerecorded video, saying, “It means a lot to be recognized by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.” She paraphrased Toni Morrison, saying, “If you don’t have the book you want to read, write it, and that’s what this was for me. It’s amazing to me that other people want to read it, but it’s extra amazing when it’s nominated for such a prestigious award.”
The Damon Knight Grand Master Award was presented to William Gibson by Rambo, who said, “To be a SFWA Grand Master is to be a speculative fiction writer that has shaped the genre and made it what it is today. William Gibson fills that role abundantly.” Accepting the award, Gibson said, “I’m more grateful than I can decently articulate.” He talked about his early years reading publications by editors Cele Goldsmith and Judith Merril, specifically their effect in making science fiction his “native literary culture;” and about editors who supported him, including Terry Carr, who commissioned Neuromancer, as well as Ellen Datlow, Susan Allison, Jessica Ward, and others. He finished by saying, “You’re all very kind, and thank you very much.”
Gibson’s speech was followed by the In Memoriam.
Steven H Silver called for applause for the organizers and volunteers of the conference. On behalf of SFWA he introduced Jim Hosek and Aimee Picchi to the audience and presented orbs to Joyce Lloyd and Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink for their help with the conference venue.
Meghan Ciana Doidge presented the award for Novelette to The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander. Bolander thanked partner Ben, saying, “The only reason I’m standing here right now is because of him.” She thanked Tor.com, Irene Gallo, Marco Palmieri, Clarion teachers and classmates, and John Joseph Adams. She said, “If anybody has got something really weird out there that they don’t think can sell, you should write it anyway, because I am proof that it could happen.” She finished by saying, “If you get a chance, like, ten seconds, think about the people who made what you’re wearing. Your shoes or whatever. I mean, these girls died for these watches, these girls who worked in the radium factories.”
Ajit George presented the inaugural award for Game Writing to Black Mirror: Bandersnatch by Charlie Brooker. Michael R. Underwood accepted on Brooker’s behalf, who thanked SFWA and “everyone involved in making Bandersnatch come to life…. Here’s to forging ever stronger connections between writers of science fiction and fantasy in every form from prose to games and more. Thank you.”
Melinda Snodgrass presented the award for Best Novella to Aliette de Bodard for The Tea Master and the Detective. Fran Wilde accepted for de Bodard, who thanked Yanni Kuznia, Geralyn Lance, Bill Schaffer, Gwenda Bond, her agents and editors, friends, and “everyone who spread the word, nominated this, and voted for it. I wrote this book for fun…. The truth, of course, is that writing matters. It is frivolous, it is self-indulgent; but it is also necessary. It is breathing, space, an act of resistance, and escapism on my own terms.”
Rockne S. O’Bannon presented the Ray Bradbury Award to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Writers Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman accepted, saying, “It’s very humbling to be in this room and to receive this from all these really smart people…. It means a lot that this award is named for Ray Bradbury… all of Bradbury’s work showed me that you can ignite a kid’s imagination and call them to their highest values, and that’s what we wanted to do with this movie.” They thanked everyone in attendance, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Brian Michael Bendis.
The award for Best Novel was presented by Tananarive Due to The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. Kowal said, “There are so many people to thank, that I won’t be able to thank them all in the detail that they deserve…. I do want to recognize Alyshondra Meacham, Liz Gorinsky, Seth Fishman, Robert Kowal, Mom and Dad, Kjell Lindgren, Cady Coleman, Chanie Beckman, Sheyna Gifford, Derek Benkoski, Stephen Grenade, and all my beta readers. Writing Excuses gang. There is a scene in this book in which Elma, my main character, finally acknowledges that she has anxiety and goes to get help. My own journey is with depression, but I did not get help until I was forty-five. That scene is a direct transcription of my conversation with my doctor. I had stopped writing. But I only went in because I had begun to recognize myself in descriptions in books and conversations with friends. So thank you to everyone who has been honest and open about their journey with mental health. This book would not exist without you. Thank you.”
The next Nebula Awards Conference is planned for the Marriott Warner Center in Woodland Hills CA, May 28-31, 2020.
–Arley Sorg. Photos by Liza Groen Trombi and Arley Sorg
This report and more like it in the July 2019 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.