Guideposts to best of science fiction, fantasy

July 26, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Readers who say "I don't like science fiction" don't know what they're missing. Science fiction has changed over the years to become the most inclusive, imaginative genre around.

But there's also a lot of schlock out there, so I'm proposing a simple guideline to help you find the best in science fiction and fantasy: follow the winners. Awards including Tiptrees, Nebulas and Hugos are given annually to the best novels and short stories.

The James Tiptree, Jr. Awards are given to the work of science fiction or fantasy published in one year that best explores or expands gender roles. The 1997 recipients are Candas Jane Dorsey for her novel, "Black Wine," and Kelly Link for her short story "Travels With The Snow Queen."

They will receive their awards in a ceremony at Readercon 11 to be held July 9-11, 1999, in Waltham, Mass. The guests of honor will be Harlan Ellison and Ellen Datlow.

Davis resident Karen Joy Fowler was one of the founding mothers of the Tiptree Awards in the early '90s along with Pat Murphy. James Tiptree, Jr. was the name used by the late science fiction writer Alice Sheldon, who found that her work sold a little better if publishers and readers thought she was a man.

In 1996, Ursula K. LeGuin won the Tiptree for "Mountain Ways," while Mary Doria Russell won for her novel "The Sparrow." Russell has just published a sequel to "The Sparrow," which is "Children of God" (Villard, $23.95, 1998).

In 1995 Elizabeth Hand won for "Waking the Moon" and Theodore Roszak won for "The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein."

Each year Murphy and Fowler appoint a panel of five judges to read and discuss among themselves the merits of gender-bending fiction published in the previous year. Anyone and everyone is invited to forward recommendations for novels and short fiction to Fowler at 457 Russell Blvd., Davis CA 95616, who will request copies for the judges from publishers.

At the end of a year of reading and deliberation, the judges choose a winner who is invited to the Tiptree Award ceremony to accept the award and prize money. Each winner receives $1,000. Tiptree ceremonies have been held at several WisCon science fiction conventions in Madison, Wis., as well as at Readercon in Worcester, Mass. (why isn't it called the WorceCon?), the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and at Potlatch in Oakland.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America also compiles a collection of novellas, short stories and essays published each year as "Nebula Awards."

This year, "Nebula Awards 32" is edited by science fiction writer Jack Dann, winner of the 1996 Nebula Award for best novella, "Da Vinci Rising," which is included in the collection (Harcourt Brace, $12, 1998).

British-born Nicola Griffith won the 1996 Nebula for her novel "Slow River," a wonderful imaginative piece of work. "Nebula 32" includes a Griffith short story, "Yaguara," an erotic horror tale involving a woman scientist exploring Mayan ruins in Belize.

Also included in the anthology is "In the Shade of the Slowboat Man," a short sweet love story by Dean Wesley Smith, which doesn't seem fantastical at all except that the heroine happens to be a vampire.

Then there's Harry Turtledove's short story "Must and Shall," which is set in New Orleans during World War II. New Orleans is occupied territory, occupied by Northerners for more than 75 years, since the end of the Civil War. Turtledove is known for his Civil War novel, "The Guns of the South," in which time-travelers from the present-day United States deliver automatic weapons to the South to help change the course of the war.

But the most chilling short story in the collection, and the short story that won the '96 Nebula, is "A Birthday" by Esther M. Friesner. Like the best science fiction or fantasy, it takes a while to figure out, to suspend this world and slide into that world. I don't want to spoil the surprise that unfolds as the reader begins to understand what's going on in Friesner's world. Let's just say it involves children and the great abortion debate.

Those who have read Kim Stanley Robinson's award-winning Mars trilogy and his just-released "Antarctica" (which was published in Great Britain eight months ago) and are still hungering for more Robinson material will be pleased to know that "Icehenge" (1984) has been republished.

"Icehenge" (Orb, $13.95, 1998) is Robinson's first Martian novel. It involves a mystery on Pluto where a space age Stonehenge is found. Is it a human or alien mystery? The secret lies in the chaotic decades of the Martian Revolution, read it and find out.

By following the award winners, you'll be directed to the best of today's science fiction and fantasy and you'll definitely become a fan.

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