Tradition has it that the game of Nebula was invented in 1965 by SFWA founder Damon "Abner" Knight. In a moment of weakness, Knight nailed a peach basket containing a cube of Lucite, a shard of the Crystal of Immortality, and a container of Elmer's Nontoxic School Glitter twenty feet up on the broad side of Hugo Gernsback's barn.
Tacked beneath the basket was the first draft of the Nebula rules, which read, "Whoso pulleth out this crystal of this cube is rightwise King born of all fandom."
Gospel truth. I heard it from a friend whose buddy's sister channels a dead white guy who was actually there. What more proof do you need?
Both coveted and condemned, treasured and scorned, the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Awards have arguably been the centerpiece of the association's emotional life. What with real or imagined cliques, conspiracies, and feuds--not to mention alleged campaigning, logrolling and back-scratching--the Nebula process has at times been conducted with all the decorum of a rugby scrum.
As more than one Gray Eminence among us has observed, the shadow of the Nebulas sometimes threatens to eclipse the professional life of SFWA. Certainly, the volume (in bulk and decibels) of Nebula-related letters in Forum has occasionally drowned out the quietly essential work of the Grievance Committee, the Contracts Committee, and SFWA's volunteer labor.
We've wrangled about the rules, the categories, the rules (again), the NAR and its editors, and the rules (still) with enough energy to send a metric ton of remainders to the moon.
But there's no getting around the fact that the history of the Nebula Awards is part of the history of our organization, and of three decades of our literature. The Nebulas document changing tastes and growing pains, the passing of scepters and the passing of giants.
And we all know there's more to the story than the dignified list of winners presented elsewhere in this issue. Start with the human dimension--envy, glee, heartbreak, and triumph. And for spice, there's nose-thumbing, king-making, smacking-upon-the-knee-with-a-police-baton, and the annual game of guess-the-jury-selections.
Awards stir our blood. Even when we're pretending otherwise.
So out of respect for the competitive, approval-hungry,
horse-race-rooting, tea-leaf-reading side of each of us (not to
mention the fear that if we fail to learn our history we're
doomed to repeat it), here follows
The Abstract's database has been updated to include the results of the 1995 season. Also, thanks to a tip from Mark Kelly, the records of the 1975 season have been corrected to include some previously unavailable player rosters from that year's expanded playoff format. Those additions reshuffled the names slightly on several of the following lists.
Since its founding, SFWA has presented a total of 125 Nebulas in the fiction categories (plus three Dramatic Presentation and fourteen Grand Master awards).
Thanks to ties in 1966 and 1965, respectively, there have been 32 awards each in the Novel and Novella categories. Due to the No Award vote in 1970, there have only been 30 Short Story awards.
SFWA's version of the record-book asterisk comes from the 1965 and 1975 Nebula years, when there was no Preliminary Ballot. The expanded Nebula ballot in 1965 had 70 nominees (an average of more than ten per category); the 1975 ballot had a total of 46, including eighteen Novel nominees. After 1975, new rules trimmed the ballot to no more than six nominees (plus ties, if any) in each category.
In all, 766 works by 269 writers or writing teams have been
nominated for the fiction Nebulas. Seventy-four different writers
have collected Nebulas for their mantles. (The rest received as a
parting gift the official nominees' mantra, "It's an honor
just to be nominated," and two drink tickets for the cash
Male writers dominate both the Nebula nominations and the awards, accounting for 74% of all works nominated and 70% of all winners. (Whether this echoes a tilt in the membership or in the bookstores, reflects a bias for high- testosterone SF over FFWs, or is mere statistical noise, I leave as an exercise for someone with much more free time.)
Once on the ballot, female writers gain some ground,
apparently at the expense of collaborations.
Nominated Nominees Winning Winners Works (%) (%) Works (%) (%) Male Writers 570 74% 195 72% 87 70% 53 72% Female Writers 177 23% 56 21% 36 29% 19 26% M-M Collab. 15 2% 14 6% 1 <1% 1 1% m-f collab. 4 1% 4 1% 1 <1% 1 1% f-f collab. 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% 0 0% totals: 766 269 125 74
As shown above, eighteen partnerships have placed nineteen works on the Nebula ballot. Two of the collaborations were three-sided affairs. Only one writing team has hit the ballot more than once: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. And only two collaborations have been winners: Gordon Eklund and Greg Benford (1974-nvt), and Spider and Jeanne Robinson (1977-nva).
A select circle of 27 writers have shown they can hit with power to all corners of the field, earning nominations in all four fiction categories:
Brian Aldiss Bruce Sterling Connie Willis Gardner Dozois George Alec Effinger Greg Bear Jack Dann Joanna Russ John Varley Kate Wilhelm Keith Laumer Kim Stanley Robinson Michael Bishop Norman Spinrad Pat Murphy Poul Anderson Robert Silverberg Roger Zelazny Samuel R. Delany Suzy McKee Charnas Thomas Disch Ursula LeGuin Vonda McIntyre John Kessel Maureen McHugh Gregory Benford Avram Davidson
Of that group, only Greg Bear and Connie Willis have won Nebulas in all four fiction categories.
Fifteen writers and two writing teams collected a Nebula the first and only time they were nominated. But only one writer with more than one nomination has won every time they were nominated--Arthur C. Clarke.
Only seven writers have turned the trick of winning more than one Nebula in a given year. Connie Willis has done it twice (1982, nvt-ss, and 1992, nov-ss). The others: Roger Zelazny (1965, nva-nvt), Samuel R. Delany (1967, nov-ss), Robert Silverberg (1971, nov-ss), Ursula LeGuin (1974, nov-ss), Greg Bear (1983, nva-nvt), and Pat Murphy (1987, nov-nvt).
Robert Silverberg owns the most remarkable run of consecutive Nebula nominations, with Novel nominees in six straight years (1967-1972). To cap the streak, Silverberg had two novels nominated in 1972, a feat matched only by Philip K. Dick on the expanded 1965 ballot.
Trilogies, future histories, shared universes and open-ended series are ever more dominant on bookstore shelves and best-seller lists, but they haven't found equal favor with Nebula voters--yet.
Of the 32 Best Novel winners, 28 were stand-alone novels when
nominated (though at least six of them launched or spawned
sequels or series). The exceptions that defied the odds were
penned by Gene Wolfe (1981), David Brin (1983), Orson Scott Card
(1986), and Ursula LeGuin (1990).
The Hugo and Nebula represent significantly different voting populations. But over the years, there's actually been a very high degree of correspondence between SFWA's Nebulas and fandom's Hugos, despite persistent talk about the Nebula being the genre's literary award and the Hugo its popular award.
Forty-eight Nebula-winning works (38% of all winners) have also garnered Hugos. Another 46 Nebula winners (37%) were Hugo nominees. Only 31 times (25%) has a Nebula-winning work missed the Hugo ballot.
The correspondence has been strongest for novels (15 of 32 winning both awards, 27 of 32 nominated for both) and weakest for short stories (7 of 30 and 17 of 30, respectively).
In 1970, every Nebula winner also collected a Hugo.
Seven other years (1966, 1969, 1975-77, 1979, and 1983) found every Nebula winner either a Hugo winner or nominee.
Only twice, in 1968 and 1987, have the Nebula and Hugo voters elected completely different slates.
The short story category boasts the most nominees (128) and the fewest individual winners (24). Six writers have collected double laurels: Connie Willis (1982, 1992), Kate Wilhelm (1968, 1987), Gardner Dozois (1983, 1984), Ed Bryant (1978, 1979), Harlan Ellison (1965, 1977), and Robert Silverberg (1969, 1971).
Most frequently nominated: Harlan Ellison 6 Gardner Dozois 5 Howard Waldrop 5 Kate Wilhelm 5 Gene Wolfe 5 Isaac Asimov 4 Edward Bryant 4 Fritz Leiber 4
(Eleven other writers have received three Short Story nominations each.)
The Novelette nominees number 120, of which 28 have gone home from the banquet happy. Three writers have bookend trophies: Connie Willis (1982, 1989), George R.R. Martin (1979, 1985), and Poul Anderson (1971, 1972).
Most frequently nominated: Ursula LeGuin 8 Connie Willis 5 Roger Zelazny 5 Poul Anderson 4 Jack Dann 4 Harlan Ellison 4 George R.R. Martin 4 Mike Resnick 4 Michael Swanwick 4 John Varley 4
(Thirteen other writers have received three Novelette nominations each.)
There have been 29 different winners in the Novella category, drawn from a palette of only 95 nominees. Three writers have garnered multiple Novella awards: Robert Silverberg (1974, 1985), John Varley (1978, 1984), and Roger Zelazny (1965, 1975).
Most frequently nominated: Robert Silverberg 8 Michael Bishop 7 Kate Wilhelm 6 Avram Davidson 5 Frederick Pohl 4 Lucius Shepard 4 Gene Wolfe 4
(Eleven other writers have received three Novella nominations each.)
From the roll call of 112 writers nominated, 26 different writers have garnered awards in the Novel category. Ursula K. LeGuin has won three times (1969, 1974, and 1990). Other multiple winners are Orson Scott Card (1985, 1986), Arthur C. Clarke (1973, 1979), Frederik Pohl (1976, 1977), and Samuel Delany (1966, 1967).
Most frequently nominated: Robert Silverberg 9 Gene Wolfe 9 Poul Anderson 5 Philip K. Dick 5 Gregory Benford 4 Orson Scott Card 4 Samuel R. Delany 4 Robert A. Heinlein 4 Ursula K. LeGuin 4 Frederik Pohl 4 Roger Zelazny 4
(Eleven other writers have received three Novel nominations each.)
Most nominations without an award:
Tom Disch 9 Jack Dann 9 Avram Davidson 9 Bruce Sterling 7 R.A. Lafferty 6 Norman Spinrad 6
(Three writers are tied with 5 nominations.)
Robert Heinlein installed 1974 (deceased) Jack Williamson 1975 Clifford Simak 1976 (deceased) L. Sprague de Camp 1978 Fritz Leiber 1981 (deceased) Andre Norton 1983 Arthur C. Clarke 1985 Isaac Asimov 1986 (deceased) Alfred Bester 1987 (deceased) Ray Bradbury 1988 Lester del Rey 1990 (deceased) Frederik Pohl 1992 Damon Knight 1994 A.E. van Vogt 1995
The writers who appear on the three lists below arguably make up SFWA's modern-era All-Star Team. Collectively, they're SFWA's most honored writers of the last three decades--found outstanding for both the quality and the breadth of their published ouvre. These are the writers whose work SFWA most clearly commends to the world as consistently worth reading.
1. Robert Silverberg 21 2. Gene Wolfe 18 3. Kate Wilhelm 17 4. Michael Bishop 15 Ursula K. LeGuin 15 6. Roger Zelazny 14 7. Harlan Ellison 13 8. Poul Anderson 12 9. Greg Benford 11 10. Samuel R. Delany 10 Fritz Leiber 10 Fred Pohl 10 Kim Stanley Robinson 10 Connie Willis 10
(Seven authors are tied with 9 nominations each.)
1. Connie Willis 6 2. Robert Silverberg 5 Ursula K. LeGuin 5 4. Greg Bear 4 Samuel R. Delany 4
(Eight authors are tied with 3 awards each.)
Minimum, three nominations.
1. Arthur C. Clarke 1.000 (3/3) 2. Connie Willis .600 (6/10) 3. Joe Haldeman .600 (3/5) 4. Greg Bear .500 (4/8) 5. Lois McMaster Bujold .500 (2/4)
Bellowing at the umpires, bemoaning the bad-hop hits, second-guessing the manager, and insulting the management is good sport, of course. But at the end of the day, when you're back in the SFWA clubhouse and looking at the names over the lockers, you realize that somehow we ended up fielding a team no one need apologize for. Undoubtedly, there are others equally worthy--but everyone belongs.
As Ring Lardner said, you could look it up.
See you next spring.
Abbreviations: nov=novel, nva=novella, nvt=novelette, ss=short story
The author gratefully acknowledges the following sources: The SFWA Bulletin (1979-1995); LOCUS, Charles N. Brown, editor (1981-1993); The SF Book of Lists, Maxim Jakubowski and Malcolm Edwards (1965-1981); Confiction 1990 Programme Souvenir Book. Thanks also to Robert Sawyer, Mark R. Kelly, Ian Randal Strock, Peter Heck, Gardner Dozois, John Barnes, Dave Smeds, Mark McGarry, Mary Frey, and the rest of the Ad-Hoc Online Trivia Squad. All information believed correct as of 10/96 (but the last version contained mistakes, and this one may, too). Send corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org or to my address in the SFWA Directory.
Copyright 1995, 1996 by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. All rights reserved. Feel free to establish a link to this page, but this essay may not be copied or reprinted in whole or in part in any form tangible or digital without the author's express consent.
Last Revised: October 2, 1996
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