Book of the Stars, Stars of the Books

The 2008 Nebula Awards ceremony comes to Austin

Book of the Stars, Stars of the Books
Illustration by Nick Derington

The 42nd annual Nebula Awards ceremony will shine bright as magnesium in the Omni Hotel Downtown during this final weekend of April. Or, if not quite of magnesium intensity, at least with something akin to starlight.

It's the science-fiction and fantasy industry's version of the Oscars, this ceremony, where the writers of the best novel, novella, novelette, short story, and script in the past year (as judged by genre professionals) will be celebrated amid parties and panels and booksignings and so on – propeller beanies strictly optional. Usually this event reveals itself in some venue far beyond the borders of the Lone Star State; for 2008, though, the powers that be among the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America have chosen our hippie-riddled and tech-enhanced sprawl as the one in which to champion their favorite fiction and spend a bit of their quill-gotten booty. Of course, writers don't actually use quills to earn their booty, these days; we're all cybered up with microthin laptops and ergonomic keyboards and PDAs and other such apparatuses, as we're pretty much already living in some version of the future(s) that these SFWA people have been writing about for decades.

Back in 1965, when the smallest computers were approximately the size of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, the first Nebula Award for best novel went to Frank Herbert's Dune. (You may recall – or perhaps you've tried to forget – the David Lynch film version of that classic, with Kyle MacLachlan as a blue-eyed dope fiend and Sting dressed in a sort of art deco monokini.) Now, 43 years later, the nominations for best science-fiction novel are Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell, The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman, The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson, and Odyssey by Jack McDevitt.

So maybe you want to attend the Nebula Awards this year because you can't wait to find out who won in that category or who won in the others. Or maybe you want to attend because ... uh, well, why would someone – someone who's neither up for an award nor a member of SFWA, some struggling unum out of the amateur pluribus – want to attend this skiffy shindig?

Luckily, it doesn't take the investigative circuits of an R. Daneel Olivaw to discern the answer. Why, one need look no further than the IT department of this local alt-weekly. It turns out that the Chronicle's own Fred Stanton is an aspiring science-fiction writer himself (non-SFWA, only a single recent sale to his name) and will be going to, for the first time, these storied awards. And why?

"I was told there would be drinks," says the affable computer specialist, wiping a few smears of html from his pale hands.

Austin Chronicle: No, Fred, I mean for real.

Fred Stanton: Because it's a good chance to network with people – there'll be other authors there and agents and editors. I suppose I've been thinking, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I might take an agent or editor hostage long enough for Stockholm syndrome to set in.

AC: [Laughs.] But what about the awards themselves? Have you read any of the nominees?

FS: Well, Jennifer Pelland had a short story, "Clone Barbecue," in an issue – the second issue – of Space Squid. And she has a short story that's been nominated for a Nebula this year.

AC: But the nominated story's not "Clone Barbecue"?

FS: No, it's called "Captive Girl."

AC: And what did you think of –

FS: I haven't had a chance to read it yet, actually.

AC: But so what brings "Clone Barbecue" and, uh, Space Squid to mind?

FS: I'm in a writers' group with the three editors of Space Squid.

AC: Ah. It sounds pretty incestuous already, this Nebula stuff.

FS: Oh, there's a fair amount of who-knows-who. Which is more or less unavoidable, I think, because skill and talent won't get you anywhere unless someone knows that you have it.

AC: Are there other people in town you know who're going to the awards?

FS: I know a new author, Patrice Sarath, whose first novel [Gordath Wood] is coming out in June. She got invited to be part of the mass booksigning session hosted by BookPeople – which is also part of the Nebula event at the Omni. She'll be signing copies of a short-story anthology that includes work by her and a few others from one of the writing groups I'm in. The anthology's called Tales From the Secret City.

AC: And the writing group?

FS: Cryptopolis. It's the more advanced of the two writing groups I'm in. The other group is the science-fiction, fantasy, and horror study group of the Texas Writers' League. It's known as the SlugTribe.

AC: The SlugTribe.

FS: Yes.

AC: And the other one, Cryptopolis, is more ... advanced, you say?

FS: Well, it essentially is. The SlugTribe is more basic – not in a demeaning way, but simply because it consists mostly of starting authors who are largely unpublished but who are honing their craft and being mentored by people who have publication credits. Cryptopolis is a more advanced group because it's a group where already-published people are working hard on getting more work published. They've already found their voices, to a large extent. They've found their styles, and they've placed a couple of stories. And now they're trying to make certain that they can go on to build actual careers.

And they'll likely be found at the Omni this weekend, these toilers in (we'll suggest temporary) obscurity – rubbing elbows and trading quips and trivia with the likes of Ardath Mayhar (author emeritus), Joe R. Lansdale (toastmaster), Michael Moorcock (grand master), and a roster of hopeful nominees and their friends. You're welcome to join them, if you can afford the registration fee ($50, but more if you opt for the banquet) and have an interest in fiction of a distinctly speculative sort. Perhaps the next couple of days will be a bit overcast, even, and the big Texas sky will appropriately be the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.  

The 2008 Nebula Awards (and related events) take place Friday-Sunday, April 25-27, at the Omni Hotel Downtown (700 San Jacinto). For more information or to purchase tickets, see

To find out more about the SlugTribe science-fiction, fantasy, and horror-fiction writing group, visit To learn more about other Austin-based writing groups, visit Space Squid can be found online at and at BookPeople, Dragon's Lair, and MonkeyWrench Books.

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Nebula Awards, Fred Stanton, the Slug Tribe, Jennifer Pelland, Patrice Sarath, Space Squid

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