Myriad science fiction and fantasy awards are given but not so many that it goes unnoticed if they skip a year. Here are four sff awards that have missed a beat, with an assessment of whether we’re likely to see them again.
JOHN W. CAMPBELL MEMORIAL AWARD
LAST GIVEN: 2019
Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss established the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel of the year following the editor’s 1971 death. The juried award was first presented in 1973. It came to be frequently presented at the University of Kansas Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s (CSSF) Campbell Conference (renamed “Gunn Center Conference” in 2019).
However, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel has not been given since 2019. A number of awards were forced on hiatus by the pandemic but before that began the Campbell was already in trouble over strong challenges to the reputation of its namesake.
In Jeannette Ng’s acceptance speech at Dublin 2019 for a different award also named after the late editor she called Campbell a fascist who exalted “the ambitions of imperialists and colonizers, settlers and industrialists”, stirring enough controversy that the sponsors promptly renamed it the Astounding Award. And a week later, Chris McKitterick, then the CSSF Director, announced that the Gunn Center (CSSF) was changing the name of the annual Campbell Conference and was “discussing alternatives” for the Campbell Memorial Award.
The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction acknowledges and condemns the problematic words and actions of John W. Campbell.
We had already been discussing changing the name of the Campbell Conference to the Gunn Center Conference, which is in any case more accurate…
As for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science-fiction novel of the year, the Center directors and Award jurors are currently discussing alternatives; when a decision is made, we will announce it.
However, by November 2021 McKitterick had left the Gunn Center for another job under the umbrella of the University of Kansas’ Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI), and the following month the CSSF got a new director. Despite the CSSF’s then-Associate-Deputy Kij Johnson saying, “The Gunn Center remains in control of the Conference and the Campbell Award, and it will be up to them to decide what comes next,” what happened is that the Center continued running the Sturgeon Award and did nothing with the Campbell Award. Whether they wanted to may have been a moot question — McKitterick says the CSSF doesn’t own the rights. On his own Campbell Award website he wrote, “The new English SF Center does not own or manage the Award, and its Chair [McKitterick] and jury are seeking a new host organization friendly with our history and mission.”
When the award was last given in 2019 the jury members were Gregory Benford, Sheila Finch, Paul Kincaid, Christopher McKitterick (Chair), Pamela Sargent, and Lisa Yaszek.
Jury member Gregory Benford said in 2021, “No clear message yet on the award. We’ve gotten so little from NYC publishing last year and this, we can’t do it. Next year, yes. On the name: we’re divided, with no clear other choice. (I favor keeping just JWC award.)” However, there was no activity throughout 2022 either. Then at the end of the year, unfortunately, Gregory Benford had a major stroke. Although Allen Steele offered a positive update, it would be surprising if Benford resumed work on a literary jury.
With no sponsor, years having passed without a decision on a new name, an award jury divided over making a name change and likely to lose its most highly-awarded member for health reasons, the Campbell Memorial Award has probably come to the end of its run.
Prediction: The award has “joined the choir invisible”.
JAMES WHITE AWARD
LAST GIVEN: 2019
The James White Award, established in 2000, offered non-professional writers the opportunity to have their work published in Interzone, the UK’s leading sf magazine. The winner received a £200 prize. The competition was open to original, unpublished short stories of not more than 6,000 words by non-professional writers.
Quoting the administrator Martin McGrath, their Facebook page announced in August 2020 that “Due to technical issues with the current website, and problems caused by a certain global crises beyond our control, we have not been able to set a timetable for this year and, with a great deal of reluctance, we have concluded that it will not be possible to schedule the competition in 2020.” The text ended with a promise to return in 2021, but there have been no further posts on that page.
In mid-2022 Andy Cox was struggling to produce his final issue of Interzone before handing over to Gareth Jelley, who seems to have found it hard going, with his first issue not seen until this year (dated January, reached subscribers in February) and the second still awaited despite hopes of return to a bimonthly schedule. Therefore he probably has not even been asked about continuing the James White Award.
Prediction: “This is an ex-award.”
LAST GIVEN: 2022
The Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans are presented by the African Speculative Fiction Society, an organization of professional and semiprofessional African writers, editors, publishers, graphic artists and film makers. The group was founded in 2016, and the awards were given for the first time in 2017.
For the first three years the Nommo Awards ceremonies were held at the Aké Arts & Book Festival in Nigeria. The 2020 ceremony – which had already been taken online due to the pandemic – was postponed out of respect for the people injured in protests then occurring in Lagos and other Nigerian cities. After a delay the virtual ceremony went ahead. The next two ceremonies moved to North American venues, with the 2021 awards given at the World Science Fiction Convention, DisCon III, in Washington, D.C. and the 2022 awards at Chicon 8 in Chicago.
Since the Chicon 8 ceremony there has been no Nommo Awards activity. The African Speculative Fiction Society reportedly said they were suspending it to restructure the organization. While I know the organization wants to do more than just give an award, the Nommos have been successful in drawing attention to some good sff writers.
Prediction: We hope it will soon be ready to fly again.
LAST GIVEN: 2021 (for work published in 2020)
The Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists established the Chesley Awards in 1985 as a peer award to recognize individual works and achievements during a given year. They were initially called the ASFA Awards but were later renamed to honor the famed astronomical artist Chesley Bonestell after his death in 1986. The awards are nominated and decided upon by ASFA members.
ASFA called for suggestions of quality work published in 2021 for use in formulating a 2022 Chesley ballot, however, no ballot went out and no awards were presented. The inability to present awards was attributed to the organization’s lack of volunteers.
In late spring of 2023 a new call for Chesley suggestions went out. Then on July 10 ASFA announced, “We are now in the process of putting together our curated nomination list”.
Prediction: The Chesleys may have been “simply stunned.” They show promising signs of life.
[Thanks to David Langford for an assist on the James White Award.]