Really Slow Glass

“One more step on the way to making Wonder Woman’s invisible plane…and, coincidentally, Scotty’s ‘transparent aluminum…,'” writes Maureen Martin, pointing out LiveScience’s article “Glass Wings” to readers of Chronicles of the Dawn Patrol.

Royall is part of a group of scientists who think that if you wait long enough, perhaps billions of years, all glass will eventually crystallize into a true solid. In other words, glass is not in an equilibrium state, (although it appears that way to us during our limited lifetimes).

“This is not universally accepted,” Royall told LiveScience. “Our work will go some way to making that point more accepted. I think there is a growing weight of evidence that certainly many glasses ‘want’ to be a crystal.”

The Unpredictable Best Novel Hugo

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was announced as the winner of the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel over the weekend. A week ago there was a small debate here about whether winning the Nebula had conferred “front-runner” status on Chabon’s novel. Now with a Locus Award to its credit, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union surely is the favorite of bookmakers as well as book readers.

Or is it? How valuable are SFWA’s Nebula Award and the Locus Awards for predicting the Hugo-winning Best Novel?

They aren’t worth a darn, as it turns out.

The Hugo Awards were first given in 1953, SFWA’s Nebula Award in 1966, the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1971, and for Best Fantasy Novel in 1978.

Originally, there was a strong pattern of duplication. For seven of the first nine years of the awards’ co-existence they practically marched in lockstep, with the same novel winning all three.

Then, from 1980-1987, the Hugo-winning novel also won either the Nebula or the Locus Award almost every year – and Brin’s Startide Rising, 1984, and Card’s Speaker for the Dead, 1987, won all three. Only C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, the 1982 Hugo winner, failed to collect either of the other awards during this eight-year span.

Over the next 12 years, 1988-1999, the Nebula fell out of step, matching the Hugo winner only twice. But Locus Awards were voted to 10 of the 13 Hugo-winning novels (13 because there was a tie in 1993). During this period, only Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book (part of the 1993 Hugo tie) won all three awards.

For the last 8 years (2000-2007) there has been no consistency at all. Five the past eight Hugo-winning novels won neither the Nebula nor Locus awards.

However, two Hugo winners, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2002) and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls (2004), scored all three awards. Interestingly, in both cases, it was the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel that completed the hat trick. The only other Hugo winner to receive another of the awards during this period was Vinge’s Rainbows End, which was voted a 2007 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

Has there has ceased to be a significant overlap between Hugo voters and the pros who vote for the Nebula, or the general public who vote in the Locus Poll?

Despite there being numbers of SFWA members with Worldcon memberships, people who can actually vote for the Hugos, it’s obvious that Best Novel Hugo parted company with the Nebula long ago — they’ve only had a common winner four times in the past 20 years.

Now and then lightning will strike — even again and again and again, as in the old song — and a book will sweep. But the recent trend has been for there to be no lightning at all, for the Hugo winner to march to its own drummer. The divergence between the Hugos and the Locus Awards is fairly recent and invites the question — Why did things change? Speculation, anyone?

See the annotated list of Hugo-winning novels behind the cut.

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Denvention 3’s Classics of Science Fiction

Denvention 3 accepted John Hertz’ suggestion to program discussions of the “Wonders of 1958,” selected classics of science fiction. Read up and join in! The list of books and John’s notes appear on the Denvention 3 website. But let me save you a click —

Mile Closer to the Stars – Classics of Science Fiction
Book discussions led by John Hertz

We are in the golden-anniversary year of 1958, a golden year for science fiction. We’ll celebrate with five Classics of SF book discussions on books published that year and still famous, often reprinted, worth re-reading or first reading now. Look for them in the program grid as “Wonders of 1958.”

James Blish, A Case of Conscience and The Triumph of Time
Some call Conscience Blish’s finest book. Is it science fiction? Is it a story? Is its best moment when the Pope says “What did you do about it?” In the same year came the last of the four Cities in Flight novels. Is it a success standing alone? How does Time compare to Conscience?

Algis Budrys, Who?
This penetrating study of identity, loyalty, uncertainty may be both more bleak and more hopeful than it seems. If there is a sermon, it is preached by silence. Budrys is known for his deftness and timing; here too are poetry, a fundamental grasp of tragedy, and the surprises of love.

Robert Heinlein, Methuselah’s Children
By painting portraits Heinlein repeatedly asks the next question.  What if your lifespan was two hundred years?  What if you didn’t care?  If you are hunted, should you run?  Where should you go?  Here too is the first and perhaps best of Lazarus Long.  Extra credit: compare the carefully rewritten 1941 version in the July-September Astounding.

Fritz Leiber, The Big Time
Spiders are the good guys, and our hero is a woman.  The first Hero was a woman too, go look up Leander.   Indeed this is a very classical book; it preserves the unities of time, place, and persons, which is mighty strange, considering.  There’s slashing drama, and if you’ve never been a party girl, it might not be what you think.

Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao
With four worlds in the spotlight, one populated by fifteen billion, this is a story of one boy and one man.  Knowledge may be power.  Concentration and diversity may each be extreme.  The characters say linguistics is the science here; perhaps it is really cross-cultural study, or patience.  Vance’s own language is the gold.

This Week in Words: Nerdgassing

Early in June, John Scalzi invented the word “nerdgassing” It’s a wonderfully evocative word that means just what you think. But feel free to duck over there and read the definition. And the examples. And the comments. Enough fascinating stuff that I’ll probably need to rename this post “Next Week in Words” by the time you remember to come back.

When somebody invents a new word, how do you predict whether it will become popular? My suggestion is to try substituting it in a famous movie quote. The word should be a hit if it sounds good coming out of the mouths of famous actors and actresses…

From Spartacus:
Kirk Douglas: I’m nerdgassing…
Tony Curtis: No, I’m nerdgassing!
Everybody: I’m nerdgassing! I’m nerdgassing!

From Casablanca:
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that nerdgassing is going on in here!
Croupier: Your iPod, sir!

From Sunset Boulevard:
Norma Desmond: We didn’t need nerdgassing. We had faces.

From Jerry Maguire:
Renee Zellweger to Tom Cruise: You had me at “nerdgassing.”

From Apocalypse Now:
Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall): I love the sound of nerdgassing in the morning!

From Taxi Driver:
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro): You nerdgassing to me? You nerdgassing to me? You nerdgassing to me? Well, who the hell else are you nerdgassing to? You nerdgassing to me? Well, I’m the only one here.

Yes, our judges say it’s a winner!

It’s Not Chris Garcia?

Rembrandt Laughing

“Rembrandt Laughing” just sold for $4.5 million to someone who correctly guessed that it was by the artist himself. An auction house valued it at only $3,078 last October when it was believed to have been painted by one of Rembrandt’s students or an imitator. Chris Garcia and Rembrandt van Rijn – twins separated by three centuries.

Top 50 Novels of All Time Poll has reported the results of’s poll to select The Greatest Novel of All Time. These things are always good for a laugh and a cry — many thanks to SF Awards Watch for posting the link.

With Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird at the top, Tolkien’s triology second and the first book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series third,’s list appeals to my tastes far more strongly than most. But I was surprised to see some other bestselling authors make the list with novels that weren’t what I believed to be their most highly-respected works.

J.K. Rowling got on the board with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — not the Hugo-winning Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Stephen King is represented by It – not what I’d have guessed is his most popular book, and not my favorite (which is either The Stand or Salem’s Lot).

Popular lists tend to be dominated by the favorites of a determined minority of voters. For example, you can still visit’s poll of the 2003 Hugo nominees and see where Plokta outpolled Emerald City in the Best Fanzine category, 10,186 to 643. (Never mind that the eventual 2003 winner was Mimosa.)

There are lists of Greatest Novels all over the internet, but the pair posted by Random House’s Modern Library readily illustrate that every list seems to be the product of an agenda, especially in the internet age.

The Modern Library’s first list, composed by a board, follows canonical lines. James Joyce’s Ulysses and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are numbers one and three. The rest of the list is dominated by the books English professors were assigning me as required reading when I was in college.

The Readers’ List,” on the other hand, is the result of a 1998 poll of the general public in which 217,520 votes were cast. Two novels by Ayn Rand head the list, two more of the top 10 are by L. Ron Hubbard, and elsewhere appear probably every novel written by Charles de Lint (certainly not a “Who?” but come on now…)

Popularly selected lists of “the greatest” are always a trainwreck. I’ve never forgotten the summer of 1975 when “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas was chosen the Greatest Song in the History of Rock’n’Roll by the listeners of CKLW – relegating to second place the more plausible candidate, “Hey, Jude” by The Beatles.