Return to Home BaseA Slightly Irreverent Look at
SFFWA's 31-Year Love-Hate Relationship
With The Nebula Award

by Michael P. Kube-McDowell

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 Unofficial SFWA Nebula Awardball
Statistical Abstract and Trading Card Album

Notes on Version 3.0 (1996)

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.

Pre-Game Warmups

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 bar.)

Divisional Play

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 

Tinker to Evers (to Chance)

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).

Quadruple Threat Club

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

Hitting For The Cycle

Of that group, only Greg Bear and Connie Willis have won Nebulas in all
four fiction categories.

Batting A Thousand

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.

Career Seasons

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).

Longest Hitting Streak

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.

The World of Series

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).

Meanwhile, Over On The Senior Circuit...

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.

Nebula Trivia and Curiosities

Singles (The Short Story Award)

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,
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.)

Doubles (The Novelette Award)

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.)

Triples (The Novella Award)

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.)

Home Runs (The Novel Award)

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.)

It's A Game of Inches

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.)

The SFWA Hall of Fame (The Grand Masters)

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

Tonight's Starring Line-up

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.

Most At-Bats (most nominations, all categories, through 1995)
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.)
Most Hits (most awards, all categories, through 1995)
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.)
Career Batting Average (awards/nominations, through 1995)
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

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 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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