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March 12, 2006

If I Ran the Nebulas

Not that anyone's actually asking, but if I were in charge of the Nebulas, the awards the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America give out to honor the best writing in the genre, here's what I would do:

1. Put the awards on a calendar year schedule. The Nebula awards are currently on a "rolling" nomination schedule, which means one can nominate a novel for 12 months after it's published. For example, if your novel or story is published in June of 2006, someone may nominate you for the Nebula through June 2007. Now, if your work gets enough nominations from SWFA members (10 will do it) by the end of the calendar year of 2006, you'll go on the 2006 Nebula long list, from which the nominees are ultimately selected. However, if it doesn't get enough recommendations until 2007, then it'll go on the 2007 Nebula long list. In effect, one can win what is an annual award for a work that was put out two years previous.

Now, maybe that makes the Nebulas more fair for books printed up in the second half of a calendar year, but it also makes them stale; one of the Nebula nominees this year is Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which was published in 2004 -- and which has already won the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award. Whatever its inherent qualities as a work (I quite like it myself) it is old, old news. This also makes the nomination process more confusing than it needs to be, which is no good for anything.

Stale and confusing are not good things for an awards process to be. Simple solution is to get the Nebulas back on a calendar year schedule. I'm not entirely convinced books published later in a calendar year would be at a disadvantage; Clarke's Strange was published in the second half of its year (September) but won the calendar-year-oriented Hugo, as did Bujold's Paladin of Souls (Published October 2003) and Gaiman's American Gods (July 2001), and Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July, 2000). Indeed, four out of five of the most recent Hugo winners were published in the second half of their year (and four out of the five -- the same four out of five -- were also fantasy novels. Discuss).

Maybe SFWA writers will complain that they don't have time to read all the eligible books or whatever, what with all the writing they have to do, but, you know. The people who nominate for the Hugos have full, rich lives too, and yet they manage just fine. Also, if the Nebulas didn't look like were trailing every other genre award, people might care about them more. Yes, the Oscars are the last set of movie awards, and it doesn't hurt them. On the other hand, it's not like Sideways or The Aviator were nominated this year, either. The Academy stuck to the films in 2005.

2. Abolish the pointless and stupid Best Script Nebula. Because no one cares. As with the dramatic presentation Hugos, this is a downstream award, which is to say the award is given with the hope that the award giver will be recognized by the award recipient as worthy of attention. This is not a good place for an award to be. The Nebula is as likely to become a significant award for Hollywood as I am to sprout opposable thumbs out of my back; there aren't enough SFWA members actively working in Hollywood to justify its inclusion. Best to chop it out and focus the Nebulas on what the vast majority of SFWA members are themselves focused on.

3. Make the nomination process anonymous. When one nominates a work for a Nebula, SFWA notes the nomination and that it's you making the nomination, so the person whose work you've nominated and every other SFWAn who cares to look will see that you've done it. On one hand, it's nice to be able to say to a friend "dude, I recommended you for a Nebula," and then back it up with documentary evidence. On the other hand, it opens the process up to unseemly accusations of quid pro quo, in which people get nominated by other people in an endless backwashing circlejerk of gladhanding (yes, I intended to mash-up all those metaphors).

Authors don't need to know who recommended them; all SFWA needs to know is whether the person recommending a work is actually a SFWA member. This can be fairly easily done and will trim down the perception of incestuous recommending (and possibly any actual incestuous recommending as well).

4. Ditch the Nebula Weekend. There's some discussion among SFWAns about the utility of the Nebula Awards Weekend, which is the in-house get-together SFWAns have to have the Nebula awards banquet and to do some SFWA business. I've been a SFWA member for a few years now but I've not gone to one; from the program listings they don't seem to have a lot going on that's appealing for me. While that may contribute to a "relaxicon" feel, if I'm going to travel to a distant city, I want at least the option of doing more than sitting in a bar, watching fellow SF writers drink themselves blind. I did give some thought to going last year, when the Nebulas were in Chicago, but that was more because I had particular friends attending and because I went to school in Chicago than for the Nebulas themselves. This year they're in Tempe, where I didn't go to school and where none of my friends live nor plan to attend, and as I'm not nominated this year I can't see why I would want to go. Even if I were nominated I'd have to think about it.

I'm not at all opposed to SFWA doing something to celebrate the Nebulas, but I'm less than enthused about a large chunk of my membership money going to pay for an event I have no interest in attending and that apparently quite a few other SFWAns are ambivalent about.

Fortunately, I have a solution, and it involves something SFWA is presently critically lame at doing: Fan outreach.

5. Have the Nebula Awards at an already-established SF convention. The Nebula awards are (so far as I know) held sometime between April and June; there are any number of well-established and well-attended SF conventions in that timeframe that would probably be very happy to host one of the premier awards in science fiction (and if there aren't then the Nebula's problems run deeper than I imagined). The nominees could connect with fans and participate in a special track of Nebula-related programming as well as the convention's other programming; the awards banquet could be opened to con attendees or turned into an audience event outright. The Nebulas wouldn't have to be nailed down to a single convention year after year; conventions could bid to host the Nebulas, so SFWA could share the love.

What will the conventions get out of it? Aside from the added con value of hosting the awards, they're likely to benefit from the appearance of a reasonably high percentage of Nebula nominees and other SFWA members, which will make the con more attractive to more than the local SF fans. It'll also help raise the profile of the con in the local media, since a city hosting significant genre awards is likely to be a good story for any paper outside New York and LA (this also serves SFWA's purpose of raising the profile of the Nebulas in the general population).

So, basically, the con gives the Nebulas an established convention infrastructure in which to do its thing (at relative low cost to SFWA), and the Nebulas give the con some status. And one other thing, to sweeten the deal:

6. Introduce one Nebula awarded by fans. As a way of saying "thank you" to the con for hosting the  Nebulas, SFWA should establish one Nebula award that the attendees of the convention should be allowed to vote on: The Fan Favorite Nebula, celebrating the novel-length work attendees of the convention enjoyed the most (or felt was the most significant, or whatever) in the previous calendar year. The nominations would be decided by pre-paid members of the year's convention (and the attendees from the previous year, a la the Hugos), and the balloting for the winner could take place at the convention itself.

This achieves two things: One, it gives the con a concrete benefit in hosting the Nebulas -- something to sell attendance locally and nationwide -- and lets the con folk have a hand in making SF award history, which is not a bad thing. For SFWA, it could raise the consciousness of the entire Nebula award slate among fans and -- this is the most important thing -- give the fans an investment in the Nebulas that they don't currently have. The Nebulas are a great award and they're different than the Hugos in significant ways, and that's a good thing. But in the real world of fandom (heh), the prestige of the Nebula is a distant second to that of the Hugo, and one suspects the economic and reputational benefit of winning a Nebula is likewise diminished for the writer, relative to the Hugos.

More than that, allowing the fans to have their own Nebula would be an explicit recognition by SFWA that fans are critical to the life of SF genre publishing -- and by extension to SFWA itself. I suspect that SFWA is generally entirely opaque to readers of SF in general, and I further suspect that SFWA is increasingly irrelevant to fans. As the fan perception of SFWA goes, so goes the importance of the Nebulas as an award, and as a standard of quality, in the SF lit community.

Creating this one award will not substantially change the tenor of the awards (they will still be substantially different from the Hugos), but what it will do is make the Nebulas more relevant to the lives of the people who really care about SF literature. That's worth doing. I'm personally willing to sacrifice the pointless and stupid Script Nebula to get this one on the boards.

Okay, those are my thoughts. Now tell me why I have got this all wrong.  

Posted by john at March 12, 2006 01:38 PM

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Nina Armstrong | March 12, 2006 02:02 PM

John-Thanks by the way, for answering my earlier question.However, the Nebulas are in Tempe NOT Tucson, which is 2 hours south.
Big difference. Sorry.

claire | March 12, 2006 02:13 PM

you've got this ALL wrong! tucson is lovely this time of year! you get the spring (which lasts, like, two weeks, so don't blink) you might get a little rain (which in tucson spring is lovely) and you get to lay out and get a tan in the midst of all the spring and the rain (trust me, tucson rain and tanning don't get in the way of each other much.)

oh. just read the comment above. yeah. tempe ... not so lovely. not bad though. hotter.

John H | March 12, 2006 02:34 PM

Wow, how wrong could one person be? (just kidding)

But seriously, I think you make some excellent points. Especially in the need for the SFWA to reach out to its fans. Conventions seem the most likely place for that to occur, with plenty to choose from already in existence.

John Scalzi | March 12, 2006 03:03 PM

Fixed the Tempe/Tucson thing.

sGreer | March 12, 2006 03:59 PM

Your calendar suggestions would certainly make it a lot easier to figure out (from an outsider/fan's POV) which books actually qualify. I've pretty much ignored Nebula awards because they bloody well don't make SENSE. It's like, why did that book win, when it's (as you said) "old hat"? It feels like the Nebulas sometimes are awarding stuff way behind the curve. If someone's won the Hugo, I tend to notice, but once I started getting explanations from writers about the Nebulas, I started tuning it out. It's just wonky.

A fan-favorite vote would be awesome. Sometimes with these sorts of things, it feels like those on the inside--the ones nominating, and the ones voting--really need to put down the crack pipe. Fans, I've found, don't always seem to be quite so inclusive. A good writer can sway them, even if the writer's peers are still enamoured of only those in their clique. Even if both peers and fans have different preferences, it might still balance things out...I'd hope.

Tom Nixon | March 12, 2006 04:38 PM

Nothing against Tempe and/or Tucson, but if you want people to come to your convention, you hold it elsewhere.

There is a reason that BEA is in Washington, D.C. this year, was in NY in 2005 and will be again in 2007 and will be in LA in 2008. Those are places that are going to draw larger crowds. Conveniently, those are also places that are typically cheaper airline destinations.

Vardibidian | March 12, 2006 05:39 PM

I'm down on the SFWA for a variety of mostly irrational reasons (essentially that they make a good friend grumpy), but I like the Nebulas. Yes, the schedule business is wacky, and if you go down a list of Nebula-winners and Hugo-winners, you will be perplexed by what was in competition with what, but that doesn't seem to me to affect the quality of the awards. And although a fan-fave award wouldn't be the end of the world, it would dilute the whole Nebula thing, which is that these aren't the fan awards, these are the writer's awards. Which is nice. A different perspective (even if, yes, a largeish percentage of people who attend WorldCon will in fact be writers by some definitions).
Mostly, though, my agreement and disagreement is shrug-level. The only thing I find perplexing is your suggestion to abolish the script-writing award. Clearly far more—I mean far more—people watch science fiction than read it. If you are reaching out to fans, then cutting most of them off at a stroke seems like a bad idea to me. I mean, what's a more likely scenario, two people arguing about whether which science fiction television show is best, then Googling or following some link and discovering the Nebulas list and becoming intrigued by a novellette, or two people arguing about novellettes and linking from there to a movie or TV show that sounds good?
If, on some level, the point of the Nebulas is to point reader/viewer interest to what is of reader/viewer interest, being downstream of a big pipe isn't that bad at all, I'd have thought.


John Scalzi | March 12, 2006 06:30 PM


"If you are reaching out to fans, then cutting most of them off at a stroke seems like a bad idea to me."

Huh? It's not like the fans vote on the Script Nebula anyway, so I don't follow your reasoning there. Also, as a practical matter, the fans who are at an SF convention are usually quite fluent in the literature end. In any event, filmed and televised SF doesn't need its profile raised at the mement; SF lit does.

Sandra McDonald | March 12, 2006 06:34 PM

I find the Nebula schedule confusing, yes. And the awards can be stale, as with Jonathan Strange.

As for the fantasy novels winning more than the sf ones, well, it is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFFWA is too long, apparently :-)) but fantasy, in general, is more popular than sf, isn't it?

John Scalzi | March 12, 2006 06:40 PM

I haven't the slightest problem with fantasy titles winning more Hugos than SF books, actually.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 12, 2006 07:27 PM

I agree that the nomination process should be anonymous; the way it's done right now--and the fact that anyone can recommend as many works as they like--is a recipe for the most discreditable sort of logrolling. Or at least the appearance thereof.

The other thing the Nebulas need is for the final voting to be fully reported, the way the Hugos do it. Of course voting should be anonymous, but we should know who came in second; who came in third; how the preferential ballot "ran off"; and so forth. These are the things democratic systems report to their stakeholders. At the moment the Nebulas have transparency where it does the most harm and opacity where transparency is most needed. I don't think the contemporary powers-that-be in SFWA really grasp how badly their award's reputation has eroded in the last ten years.

As for where the Nebulas should be held, I have a radical idea: New York City and California, the way it was done for nearly thirty years before SFWA turned into, in essence, a fan organization for aspiring writers. The idea was that having the Nebs in New York every other year would bring everyone into contact with their publishers, agents, etc.; and having it in California would encourage contact and mixing with the rest of the entertainment industry. It worked well enough. It didn't change because the system was broken; it changed because local groups of SFWAns and their friends wanted the fun and glory of hosting the Nebulas. All well and good, but cui bono?

I've been to some wonderfully well-run Nebula weekends in places in neither NYC or CA--for instance, two excellent ones in Kansas City, both through the efforts of Robin Bailey--but at the end of the day the point isn't to hold the 567th 200-person con on the North American con circuit, it's to help SFWA's members stay connected with the sources of their income. Those sources don't primarily live in Atlanta, or Tempe, or Kansas City.

Bruce Arthurs | March 12, 2006 11:20 PM

I've been in SFWA for at least fifteen years, and there's been ongoing/interminable discussion/argument inside SFWA about the Nebulas for every one of those years, and a lot of years before I joined. So my response to most of your suggestions is to roll my eyes and mutter, "Not AGAIN."

But I'll disagree with Patrick (I do this sometimes) about keeping the Nebula Weekends on a New York/LA axis.

There's already a regular New York event, the Author/Editors Reception, that provides the "bring everyone into contact with their publishers, agents, etc" occasion Patrick favors. From what I've heard of it, it's a very business-oriented event, where deals are made, authors and agents scout each other out, etc.

The Nebula Weekends have more of a social atmosphere, but there's still a good deal of networking and dealmaking going on there.

And... because it moves around the country, SFWA members who would have difficulty affording or arranging to get to a coastal event* have an occasional event they can attend. Where they too can network with and make their name & personality known** to other writers, editors and agents.

*like, say, me. Los Angeles would be feasible on occasion (I made a number of one or two-day flying trips there back when I was trying to sell movie scripts), but New York is pretty much out of the question.

**sometimes detrimentally

John Scalzi | March 13, 2006 12:12 AM

Bruce Arthurs:

"So my response to most of your suggestions is to roll my eyes and mutter, 'Not AGAIN.'"

Yes, I can see how it's irritating that people offer suggestions on the Nebulas, especially considering how perfectly well they're being administered today.

John Joseph Adams | March 13, 2006 08:00 AM

Bruce Arthurs said:
**There's already a regular New York event, the Author/Editors Reception, that provides the "bring everyone into contact with their publishers, agents, etc" occasion Patrick favors.**

I believe that the Author/Editors Reception was created precisely *because* the Nebulas were no longer being held in NY on a regular basis. If the Nebulas returned to NY, I expect there wouldn't be a need for the Reception--SFWA would encourage anyone planning to go to the Reception to just come to the Nebulas instead.

John--you should post this to the SFWA Lounge on SFF.net if you want to generate more discussion, or at least get your ideas seen by SFWA decision makers. Of course, if you do so, and someone likes your ideas, you're likely to be roped into being on some committee...

David Bratman | March 13, 2006 08:07 AM

This former Hugos administrator generally agrees with your suggestions about the Nebulas. In fact, up until your explanation I wasn't quite sure how the nomination window for Nebulas worked. Thank you.

An additional reason for suspecting that attaching the Nebulas to a floating series of cons would work is that the Locus Awards and (IIRC) the Canadian national SF awards work that way. Prior to being given out at floating cons, the Locus awards weren't given out at all: they were just announced in the magazine. A ceremony raised the profile of the awards and gave the cons a solid evening anchor event. Everybody's happy.

Patrick's suggestion of turning the Nebula banquet back into a serious industry event would also work, it seems to me.

I do have some quibbles on your comments on the Hugos, however.

First, the fact that Hugo Best Novel awards tend to go to books published in the second half of the year might be affected by the fact that Hugos are not nominated continuously as Nebulas are, but in a single window near the start of the following year. This might cause a small lean towards books recently-published and hence at the front of the nominators' minds. Or maybe not.

Second, you say that the Dramatic Presentation Hugo "is given with the hope that the award giver will be recognized by the award recipient as worthy of attention." Well, there is that hope, yes (a hope often fulfilled, by the way), but that's not the purpose of the award, if that's what you're implying. The purpose of the DP award is to recognize that there's a lot of good DP SF these days. Which is why there are now two of them: one award just wasn't fair for covering the field.

While it's delightful to find a winner who actually appreciates it, the purpose of the Hugos should be to recognize good work, not to maximize the number of smiling faces onstage. Not all the DP winners will care much, but then, there have been fiction Hugo winners who didn't seem to care all that much either.

David Bratman | March 13, 2006 08:10 AM

re floating awards: And the Tiptrees; good lord, how could I have forgotten the Tiptrees?

Bruce Arthurs | March 13, 2006 08:49 AM

"Yes, I can see how it's irritating that people offer suggestions on the Nebulas, especially considering how perfectly well they're being administered today."

John, it's not irritating, it's just tiring. The sheer amount of verbiage expended on arguing about the Nebulas in SFWA's in-house journal would fill at least a five-volume trilogy. And let us not even mention how many phosphors have died for this subject on-line.

And as far as I can tell, the actual administration of the awards, under the current set of rules, proceeds just fine. You can set up a system to nominate and tally votes for an award, but you can't really do much to affect how and why people cast their votes. (Yes, there's a lot of log-rolling and vote-swapping for the Nebs. It's also officially disparaged and discouraged.)

And yes, a calendar year basis for nomination makes more "sense" and would be a lot easier to administer. But the one-year-window basis currently in effect IS "fairer". Both sides have points to make, and both sides DID, for years, before it was changed to the current system.

John, if you had a magic wand you could wave and put all your suggestions into effect, I wouldn't object. But the incessant arguing about the Nebs has just tired me (and a lot of other SFWAns) out over the years.

To me, the very best SF Award was the Pretty Good SF Award given out by Jerry Oltion for a while. It had a voting membership of one: Jerry Oltion.

And when you cme right down to it, isn't the very best "award" one can get a word-of-mouth recommendation from a reader?

John Scalzi | March 13, 2006 08:59 AM


"John--you should post this to the SFWA Lounge on SFF.net if you want to generate more discussion, or at least get your ideas seen by SFWA decision makers."

They're having their own discussion of it there, in which some points I've raised here are being raised by others (I think the fan Nebula is wholly my own, however). Some of them may eventually find their way this direction. If you want to link to it in the Lounge, of course, be my guest.

Bruce Arthurs:

"John, it's not irritating, it's just tiring. The sheer amount of verbiage expended on arguing about the Nebulas in SFWA's in-house journal would fill at least a five-volume trilogy. And let us not even mention how many phosphors have died for this subject on-line."

Well, SFWAns will worry down any damn subject until there's nothing there but dust, so this isn't entirely surprising.

Re: Administration -- I'm sure the Nebulas are run perfectly competently under the current set of rules. I just don't think the current set of rules is optimal, for the reasons I note above. People free to agree, disagree or not to care, of course.

"And when you come right down to it, isn't the very best 'award' one can get a word-of-mouth recommendation from a reader?"

Yes, particularly if her name is Oprah.

Christopher | March 13, 2006 10:13 AM

I'm down with all of that except #6, and I only don't like #6 because viewing your whole proposal as an omnibus bill then #6 is the poison pill. I think PNH may be right about his observations about SFWA as an organization and about an NYC/LA axis making sense (and I'll throw in Boston and San Francisco every once in a while, what the hell?) and with JJA about you posting this in the Lounge.

In other words, I've just typed the blog comment equivalent of standing off to the side with my hands in my pockets saying "Yep. Yep, that's right."

Kelly Brown | March 13, 2006 10:43 AM

It seems a bit odd to put a fan award in the Nebulas when we have a whole set of fan awards with the Hugos. It's a nice seperation of church and state.

Despite an affinity for archaic rules I do think your other suggestions will go along way in lowering the confusion around the Nebula's process but on the gripping hand...

Right. So what I'm saying is I disagree strongly with the fan award Nebula idea but all the others are worthy of debate but if we're giving up ancient ritual and funny handshakes, the US has to go metric; No furlongs per fluid ounce anymore.

John Scalzi | March 13, 2006 10:53 AM

Kelly Brown:

"It seems a bit odd to put a fan award in the Nebulas when we have a whole set of fan awards with the Hugos. It's a nice seperation of church and state."

Well, except that lots of people who vote for Nebulas also vote for Hugos (I do). So I don't know that the separation is all that significant even right now, at least in one direction.

Vardibidian | March 13, 2006 11:15 AM


My point wasn't that fans would be cut off from voting on the awards, but that they would be cut off from arguing about the awards. Which is the fun of awards, anyway.

I agree that film/tv doesn't need its profile raised, and that the Nebulas couldn't do that anyway if they wanted to. We agree (I think) that if anything, it's the reverse, that some fan of Battlestar Galactica or Galaxyquest for that matter will notice the Nebulas because their fave rave got one, or (just possibly) that some fan of Futurama or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind will discover that their
fave rave didn't get one, and then they'll look at the list.

I just don't know why you think that's a bad thing for the Nebulas.


John Scalzi | March 13, 2006 11:28 AM

Well, I explained why I think it's a bad thing for the Nebulas in the entry. And anyway, while I think there's a need to be SFWA to be more engaged with fans, I think there's both a limit to fan service and to mission creep when it comes to the awards. Space-themed video games sell more more than SF-books, but it does not follow that SFWA should create a video game Nebula, even if the fans would love it (there's a video-game Hugo this year, however, and I think that's dandy).

SFWA is in practice almost entirely concerned with literary SF/F; it's not unreasonable to question the appropriateness of it issuing awards outside that sphere. SFWA rationalizes its movie award by awarding it for best *script,* but that's a very slender thread of attachment, indeed.

Laurie Mann | March 13, 2006 01:19 PM

I agree with your comments on the "calendar year" thing; I think the current "floating time" for nominations is rather silly and confusing.

I disagree strongly with adding a fan vote to the Nebulas. The Nebulas are SFWA's awards, the Hugos are the fans' awards. Let's leave them that way.

There's been more outreach to fans over Nebula Weekend since at least the late '90s. As a longtime fan, I was under the impression we weren't welcome at the banquet. I later heard not only was that wrong, but that some years SFWA liked to have fans involved in running the weekend. So I wound up serving as the local coordinator for Nebula weekend in Pittsburgh in 1999. It seemed to go over fairly well (when the biggest problem I heard about was the last-minute substitution of chicken alfredo for the vegetarian alfredo dish, well...).

I also went to the Nebulas in 2000 and 2003, and may go again next year (though that's more dubious now since Jim and I have just mortgaged our future to buy a big house out in the country).

I have mixed feelings about conjoining Nebula weekend and a regular SF convention. It might work, but adding:

a huge banquet
several fuction rooms used most of the weekend
an additional hospitality suite

might not work at many conventions. Many conventions don't have the extra space.

Dawn B. | March 13, 2006 07:08 PM

I don't like adding the fan award. I do like that the Nebulas are (nominally) the more 'high brow' award in that it isn't just fans, but writers/editors/professionals voting on stuff. I like that the Hugos & Nebulas are different.

I do like going to a calendar year system.

I do like not having it be a full Nebula weekend and PNH's idea of NY/CA. I see the point having it be more 'local' for various authors, but I really do think having it where there is the media that they connect with is better. Compromise: NY/CA/Middle America (Chicago?) on a rotating basis.

I don't think latching the Nebulas onto a pre-existing fan weekend con is the best idea. I think that SFWAns should figure out a way to make the Nebula week serve for more than just a weekend dinner. Maybe like many of the romance writers cons where there is pitching time with editors or more 'pro' panels than you get at a standard fan con.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 13, 2006 07:42 PM

Although John Joseph Adams is trying to argue my "side" on the issue of where the Nebulas are held, I believe he's mistaken about the Authors & Editors party; I'm pretty sure it was happening annually well before the Nebulas stopped rotating between NYC and California. I attended my first one in 1985.

Over to a slightly different aspect of the argument, I completely reject the idea that the Nebulas are "the pro award" and the Hugos are "the fan award." The Nebulas are the SFWA award. The Hugos are the Worldcon award. There are dozens and probably (by SFWA admission standards) hundreds of "pros" who aren't members of SFWA. Many of them nominate and vote in the Hugos. There are also a lot of people with extremely marginal "credentials" in SFWA. SFWA always wants you to believe that it's roughly coterminous with the world of "science fiction professionals" but the plain fact is that it ain't so. (Nor are the Nebula winners a more "highbrow" group, as history clearly shows.)

Laurie Mann | March 14, 2006 05:41 AM

PNH, you might disagree, but the Nebulas are given out by SFWA (a group that requires some sort of professional standing for membership) and the Hugos are given out by members of Worldcon (a conference that only requires you have obtained a membership to it). I never mentioned "highbrow" merely defined "pro" vs. "fan." YMMV

Michael A. Burstein | March 14, 2006 08:20 AM


As one of the people who pushed to have a Script Nebula established in the late 1990's, I disagree with your second point. I've heard many arguments for and against the Script Nebula, but I will tell you the one argument I've always stated in favor that no one has ever refuted well enough to convince me otherwise.

SFWA allows people to join on the basis of publishing and selling either a novel, three short stories (including novelettes and novellas), or a professionally produced script. The way I see it, if SFWA is going to allow people to join on the basis of scripts, SFWA should also be giving a Nebula for Best Script as well. Otherwise, it appears churlish, as that becomes the only category for which people can join but can't be honored.

I do have to admit that I am disappointed by the membership's lack of involvement when it comes to recommending scripts. Back in 1998, when we sent out the referendum that created the Script Nebula, 63.5% of the membership who returned their ballots voted in favor of restoring some sort of Nebula for Dramatic works. I'm surprised that more of those members don't seem to have chosen to follow through on their decision by recommending works. (I'm also interested in noting how some of the same people who condemn the so-called "log rolling" also condemn the Script Nebula, as it might very well be the one Nebula that can't fall prey to log rolling. Then again, maybe that has something to do with the low repsonse? Only speculating.)

The one argument I ever heard that I felt addressed my point above was from Lawrence Watt-Evans, who noted that only a tiny handful of members actually join solely on the basis of scripts, and that therefore SFWA is not necessarily qualified to judge such a Nebula. It's true that not a lot of screenwriters are members, but the potential is there. Theoretically, a slew of SF/fantasy screenwriters could decide to join SFWA, but eliminating the Script Nebula isn't going to encourage them.

Lawrence suggested that perhaps SFWA should then eliminate scripts as a qualifying category. I personally think that would be a mistake, but if SFWA did that, I would then be willing to admit that the Script Nebula no longer had a place in the organization.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 15, 2006 01:39 PM

I have to say that of all the possible arguments for a Best Script Nebula Award, the fact that SFWA accepts scriptwriting as a credential for membership seems the least logical.

What should SFWA accept as a credential for membership, and what kind of work should be eligible for SFWA's awards? These questions have always had two different answers. Fiction published in venues that wouldn't be accepted as a membership credit has always been eligible for the Nebula Award, on the very sensible grounds that if (for instance) a short story published in a fanzine was genuinely good enough to get the votes of the members, there's no reason in the world it ought not win the award. Additionally, stories written by non-members of SFWA have won many, many times. In other words, the apparatus of SFWA membership and the apparatus of the Nebula Awards have always operated according to different standards, because they answer to different needs. So it's a complete non sequitur to assert that SFWA needs to give out a Best Script award merely because it accepts (some) scriptwriting as a credential toward membership.

Michael A. Burstein | March 15, 2006 07:37 PM

Patrick, I personally don't see my argument as illogical. But I happen to disagree with you on the premise you presented: I think that any work that can serve as a membership credential should also be eligible for some sort of Nebula.

Even if I agreed with your premise, though, that membership credentials and award eligibility should be different, I'm not sure I understand how your main example works against having the Script Nebula. You note that stories published in fanzines which would therefore not allow them to serve as membership credentials should still be eligible for a Nebula. But in other words, it seems to me as if you are saying that the Nebulas should be _more_ open to works than membership credentials. In that case, shouldn't the Nebulas at the very least be awardable to all sorts of works that would allow people to join SFWA?

I can't think of any reverse example, of a work that is eligible for membership but not for a Nebula. But there will be plenty if SFWA ever decides to get rid of the Script Nebula.

As for stories written by non-SFWAns, of course they should be eligible for the Nebula, even if the writer has chosen not to join. But to tell a particular type of writer that SFWA will be more than happy to take their money, but doesn't think the type of writing they do is worth honoring...again, that seems illogical to me.

(I suppose this also works as an argument to eliminate the Nebulas entirely, which some members have also suggested every so often. But I like the idea of the Nebulas, so I won't go there.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 16, 2006 01:39 AM

"You note that stories published in fanzines which would therefore not allow them to serve as membership credentials should still be eligible for a Nebula."

No, I note that they are. (And it's right that they should be.)

As for the rest, I merely observe that this is how SFWA went from being a powerful pressure group to the SF equivalent of a high-school Key Club.

Michael A. Burstein | March 16, 2006 08:24 AM

"You note that stories published in fanzines which would therefore not allow them to serve as membership credentials should still be eligible for a Nebula."

No, I note that they are. (And it's right that they should be.)

I agree.

As for the rest, I merely observe that this is how SFWA went from being a powerful pressure group to the SF equivalent of a high-school Key Club.

I'm not quite sure what you're referring to. Are you referring to the continual SFWA discussion over internal matters, as opposed to external matters, or something else entirely?

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