Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's Not a Contest.

For two years people in the field and journalists have been less than cautious in their terminology regarding the Nebula Award.  The Nebula, a handsome tower of acrylic and stone, is awarded to stories in each of four categories; short fiction (<7500 words), novelette (7,500 - 17,500 words), novella (17,500-40,000 words) and novel (>40,000 words).  Every member of SFWA is eligible to vote on a preliminary list and for each of the top selectees.  The nomination and selection processes are embedded in a set of iron-clad and objective rules.

The Nebula is awarded for literary excellence alone.  This means that the top story demonstrates that the author has mastered the craft of writing, has developed the chops to tell a compelling story, and has proved that they have mastered the genre sufficiently to rise above all other nominees.  Although it seems trite, being among the final selectees really is as much an honor as getting the award itself.  I defy anyone to deny that the final list of Nebula nominees contains a single case where the quality of the work is less than superior and should not stand as an exemplar of its category.

Nevertheless, in our sports-crazed culture there exists this concept of winners and losers and that sort of language creeps over into the Nebula.  Let me be perfectly clear; the Nebula selection process is not a contest among writers, for such implies that one story is "better" than others.  The final selection is based more on the voters' individual tastes and preferences than against an objective standard save literary value.  Language such as winners and losers should never be used in articles, speeches, or even (Ha, like I could make this stick) on an individual's web site.  I recently wrote admonishing letters to newspapers about using terms such as winnerwon, etc and begged them to amend their style guides for reporting professional awards.

The other mistake often made is to suggest that one category is more important than the others.  I have know Hugo and Nebula Awardees for the novel that could not write a short story if they wanted. Conversely, many short story writers find the prospect of writing in the long form unattractive.  From my own experience it takes as much creative and artistic craft to write shorter as it does to stretch out the word count.  A Nebula nominated novella is not superior to the short story candidate, neither does the novel list represent works more prestigious than the novelettes.   To state otherwise is disrespectful to the authors and the field.

 My plea to you is to mind your words so as not to disrespect those hard working authors who fail to possess the acrylic tower.

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