Although the SFWA, the organization which votes for and bestows the Nebula Awards, is supposed to stand for the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America it instead in all sense and purposes stands for the Speculative Writers of America. I cannot imagine why the official change hasn't occurred yet. If there happens to be any science fiction in any of the stories awarded that's just plain happenstance. For those that have followed the field of science fiction, this is all old news. But there may be some out there that have heard that the Nebula Award used to be bestowed to the best science fiction novels and shorter stories of the year. That used to be true, until 1987. From that year forward, for four straight years, the Nebula was award to four subpar novels, no less than three being fantasy. The key thread I can see of these novels were they were written by women. Also 1987 saw the deaths of Robert Heinlein and Alfred Bester, male authors considered by feminists as being sexist. A few years later, the death of Isaac Asimov ended the old guard of science fiction. OK, so Robert Heinlein, Alfred Bester may be considered sexist, and times change, and there are new science fiction writers emerging. But is this the solution, swinging the pendulum completely to the other side, and awarding anti-Heinlein, pro-feminist novelists? Sure, it's great to recognize female writers, but now the Nebula becomes a political commentary instead of an award for the best science fiction of the year. And these series of four novels culminated in a feminist novel by Ursula K. LeGuin, one of the greatest science fiction writers of any gender, into which she pours her derision and bitterness and hatred. It was nauseating to read that novel, and she did it by exploiting her famed Earthsea series. Feminist stories started pouring out about this time. On the horrors of menstruation, pregnancy, custodians not be attracted to female monkeys. It pains me to have to write this, but once I've seen the seminal LeGuin put out a novel on feminism, then to me, no SF female writer was to be trusted afterwards. 1987 is the breakpoint; before that time there weren't any problems with female novelists. LeGuin, C.J. Cherryh put out wonderful novels. Officially in 1991 the SFWA changed its name to include fantasy. This was by then only a formality to that which had already occurred. The schism between science fiction and everything else just grew further apart from there. Damon Knight, the FOUNDER of the SFWA in 1965 himself wrote in 1989, the Nebula was not meant to be awarded, and should not be awarded, to fantasy. Well, whatever factions that supported that ideal failed miserably, and the factions supporting speculative fiction reveled in their victory. In Nebula Awards 27, the short story collection for 1991, Kathryn Cramer writes on the name change: "(a)lthough the advocates of genre apartheid make a convincing case for SF's (science fiction's) artistic and intellectual purity, they have clearly lost the war". Does anybody that wants to read science fiction appreciates being compared to a repressive, racist regime? Anybody? That's the arrogance of speculative fiction writers. She writes further: "(a)t this point, their only viable option would be to found a new organization with strict membership requirements". You know, this may not be a bad idea, no really. Years ago race car drivers broke away from the chief race car organization at the time and formed Nascar and look at the popularity of Nascar today. The highlight of the old organization used to be the Indianapolis 500. Does anyone even remember the Indy 500 anymore, does it even exist? And I'm sure the speculative writers would like this comparison as Nascar is considered low-brow. So... form a new organization with the `strict membership requirements' being writing (*gasp*) science fiction? The speculative writers shanghaied an elegant, prestigious, and well known organization for their own purposes because they were too gutless to form their own. Or do they know that there is little interest in speculative fiction. What is the following of speculative fiction in it's pure form, which is stripped of any science fiction? Science fiction has a large, loyal following accrued over the years, over decades. Yes, I could see the advantage of a coup within the SFWA. Why call it speculative, well it's not even clear if its fantasy. And since there's so little science, calling it science fiction would be a misnomer if not a blatant lie. In 1996, the SFWA even awarded the Nebula to lesbianism. Now this can be a protective, nasty group. One critic of the novel received 25 out of 28 unuseful notations, and that number is continually climbing. That novel had the protagonist using the net for her purposes, that's the extent of science fiction in the novel. And the publisher proclaimed it a brilliant blend of genres. To even say that novel had a veneer of science fiction is stretching it. I thank the heavens above that there exists the Hugo awards, since there's still at least one organization that can help guide one regarding the best ScF of the year. It used to be growing up you would hear of sf novels by word of mouth, from friends, but as you left college and old friends and started careers and accumulated massive responsibilities on your time and efforts, if you still wanted to follow the cutting edge of ScF, you had to turn to other sources, and that was the beauty of the Nebulas and Hugos. Well the Nebulas are now unreliable. Sure, the Hugos, which are voted on by readers of sf, has it's faults. Typically they tend to follow more established writers. So a very good book by a new writer may get overlooked by a good book by an established writer. However, superb books are recognized, and relatively unknown newer writers have been recognized. Once Lois McMaster Bujold became recognized, she started winning, and still is, a Hugo almost every other year.
Do you know what speculative fiction is? It's fiction. Wind and Wuthering, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair would be considered speculative fiction. Why? because these events didn't really occur and the author speculated them. I'm not sure Dicken's Christmas Carol would be accepted by the SFWA. Entities going backward and forward in time, whoa, that smacks too much of space opera. There's been so many essay's written on `what is science fiction?' that if all were printed to paper hard copies they would effect the gravitational rotation of the planet. And with all that's been written, all the analysis, they still screw it up! The SFWA is bored, they consider everything that could be written in science fiction has been written. They want to write about Mayan spirits, magical amulets, auras, female monkeys being spurned by men for porno, lesbian's first coming out experience. And you know, having different elements in a story can make for great science fiction, except when they make up 99%+ of the story. The Blind Geometer by Kim Stanley Robinson, the 1987 Nebula novella winner was about a blind mathematician. And it was a great story talking about blindness, *but* it was science fiction too. Women though are thinking why the heck when writing science fiction do they have to be constrained by writing science fiction. It's unreasonable! They wanna write what they wanna write. And darn it, if it's going to be Mayan spirits, or magical amulets, or auras they're going to write it and if any science fiction-apartheidist says it's not SF, they're going to change what SF means. To take it another step, in 1992 Karen Fowler wrote Sarah Canary which of course was a finalist for the Nebula. In it the protagonist is a speechless birdlike female entity and is *of course* oppressed by males to be understood. Now, does anyone see the irony here? That Fowler has to use words from an item called language used for speech, and occasionally communication, to write about the horrors of having to use words and language. I guess her sending out her message telepathically wasn't working. One would hope that language could be used by both genders, but apparently it's only used by some to complain about having to use it.
The SFWA doesn't care what you, the reader, thinks, they know better. And it's not as if time has shown the power of these past winners, the novels on Mayan spirits and magical amulets are out of print; usually a sign of a book's lack of interest to readers. So, what can be done? Well... all we as readers can do is refuse to buy any of their `award winning' SF anthologies, like this one. Oh, well, the SFWA doesn't want you to do that. Well, there you go. So we, the readers, are oppressing these speculative writers that have taken control of the SFWA. And what is that oppression? 1) that we want to read science fiction, and 2) that it's good, heck, maybe even great science-fiction. Well, can you live with yourself for these horrid demands? Can you? So for now we have to rely on the Hugo awards. Irony is that the Hugo award winners are written by science fiction writers that are most likely in the SFWA. I wondered if they hold the Hugo's in contempt, as in what the hell do fans know about what good science fiction is. I saw the Amazon cover of Hugo Award Winners IV and it's hard to see but it looks like a garish 50's cover with a monkey girl swinging by a pendulum (hanging from somewhere unknown) in the midst's of multi-colored planetoids. That's how much contempt there is for science fiction readers. Speculative writers think of you as low-browed Neanderthals, walking around with your knuckles scraping the floor, chanting: `gimme space opera, gimme military SF'! And the term space opera I'm sure isn't meant to be a term of affection. What's space opera?, oh, anything that takes place in space. Vernon Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, this highly imaginative galactic-wide conflict was tagged as `space opera' and `simpleminded' to boot. Why was it called space opera?, because it didn't write about lesbianism or the horrors of menstruation. Another term used for science fiction is to call it Campbellian (for John Campbell, one of the original SF magazine editors) and for those that remember their Geology 101, this sounds similar to `Precambrian', a 4 billion year ago era termed for the start of the formation of the earth. Speculative writers and critics of their ilk like these comparisons, as well as to compare old guard SF to the dinosaurs. They consider their own nifty `broad' speculative fiction stories to the shrews living at the feet of dinosaurs. Yet ironically enough, the first I could see of the term `speculative fiction' is from 1947 from the writer that speculative fiction writers/critics apparently despise: Robert Heinlein.
Let's not give up hope on good science fiction. One of the things that was great about Star Trek was the positive vision of the future, where money, racism, planetary wars have been eliminated. And in cautionary tales were the warnings to help that we *don't* screw up, and continue to try to make this a better world. So that should go for the future of science fiction. I don't know the internal politics of the SFWA, but I'll venture a guess that there are some that want to write good science fiction and also want that to be recognized (via awards). And good science fiction does *NOT* have to mean military SF or star wars-ish space wars. You know, these so called speculative fiction stories aren't even original. Back in the Mesozoic era of science fiction, more concisely 1975, the Nebula award for novelette was given to Tom Reamy for his `San Diego Lightfoot Sue', a somewhat sleazy homosexual/bisexual-ish tale. But it was certainly an interesting story and in it was a tender love story. I can still remember the female character saying `Oh hell" as she realizes she's falling in love with the male character, who already loves her. And in this story was no more science fiction than devilish effects from mysticism. But it was such a refreshing tender tale that so what, some change, some differences, are OK. But now, every Nebula winning story has to be like this (and not even as good), and heaven forbid if it should have anything that smacks of science fiction. To highlight even further the differences, since 1995, with one novella exception, there have been NO overlaps between the Nebula and Hugo short-fiction winners! This is a bad, bad sign. And since the Hugo voters are doing what they always do, voting for what they like, one has to look at the SFWA's Nebulas. One day looking back and recalling this SF time period and what to call it, (like looking back at the 50's and calling it the Golden Age of Science Fiction), one could call it the Experimental Age. Where writers wanted to shake off the `science fiction' moniker and call themselves something the mainstream hasn't heard before but sounds cool like `speculative fiction', become the next Ayn Rand and have their works recognized like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. So instead of `the skies the limit' like 70's SF was, it's now `the empty dirt lot's the limit' and the race is on on how far to push the limit's of SF, ie how little science fiction can be in a story and have it recognized as SF. You can't help but wonder though if all these speculative writers are going to be like the proverbial hair metal bands, who one day wake up from their SpF haze and go 'it used to be about the science fiction man'. So for now, let's not give up hope. Let us huddle in our caves during the Speculative Fiction Nuclear Winter, gather around our campfires for warmth with what ever good science fiction we can locate from word of mouth or Amazon reviews. Right now, I've look at pre-1987 Nebula award finalists for some salvation. I'm even reading some cyberpunk, a subgenre I hated but now seems good by comparison. I am even going back, in irony of ironies, to Robert Heinlein for science fiction to read. But let us check back periodically on the status of the SFWA, maybe every once in a while though some review, they may even give an award to science fiction that's good, and then maybe we can purchase their award anthologies then. Good luck to you in your quest for up to date cutting edge science fiction. I'll try to write Amazon reviews when I come across any, hopefully you'll do the same, we'll use the Hugo's as guidance, and keep an occasional weary eye on the Nebula awards and their annual anthologies like this one.