Archive for Thursday, July 8, 1999


July 8, 1999


Science fiction and fantasy writing will be celebrated at the 1999 Campbell Conference at Kansas University.

When three aliens produce an offspring together, it is not the typical romantic scenario.

This prospect in James Patrick Kelly's short story "Lovestory" may seem a little far-fetched to the skeptic. However, James Gunn, professor emeritus at Kansas University and director of KU's Center for the Study of Science Fiction, urges a serious consideration of the story.

"At its best, science fiction tends to persuade readers to consider their own condition not as simply traditional and unquestionable, but to look at it from outside," Gunn said.

Kelly, of Portsmouth, N.H., is one of 11 finalists for the 1999 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for the Best Short Science Fiction of the Year. The winner will be announced Friday at a dinner at KU's Adams Alumni Center.

The dinner also will include the presentation of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for the Best Science-Fiction Novel of the Year. Four 1999 inductees to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame also will be announced. The Hall of Fame is jointly run by the KC Science Fiction and Fantasy Society and KU's Center for the Study of Science Fiction.

In addition, Pamela Sargent, a science-fiction writer, will present a lecture about the field at 7:30 p.m. today in room 100 in Smith Hall.

The Sturgeon finalists were chosen by a committee of 25 reviewers and editors of science-fiction short stories. Gunn chose the 11 finalists along with Frederik Pohl, a Chicago writer-editor, and writer Kij Johnson.

To decide the award winner, the Sturgeon finalists' work was then submitted to one of the children of the late Theodore Sturgeon, a science-fiction author-editor for whom the award is named, Gunn said.

The Campbell Award is the namesake of John Campbell, the late editor of Astounding Science Fiction, a science fiction magazine now called Analog. The novels are nominated by science-fiction editors and publishers nationwide. Gunn chairs the seven-member Campbell selection committee.

The awards have been held at KU since 1978. Throughout the years, Gunn and his colleagues have witnessed trends in the literature genre.

"Because science fiction is a literature of change, it tends to change to keep up with changes it's dealing with," he said.

Major trends include the blending of science fiction and fantasy in the late 1980s. Most trends, Gunn said, later become incorporated into mainstream literature.

In keeping with the field's changes, the finalists' writing constantly varies. This year's overall writing quality was high, several committee members said.

"This year they tended to be all well-written and full of interesting ideas of imagined experience," Gunn said.

Pohl agreed.

"They were all quite good," he said. "Some years I run across some real turkeys."

Some works discussed the near future or alternate histories. In Ian R. MacLeod's short story, "The Summer Isles," Great Britain loses World War II and has a Hitler-type leader afterward.

No Kansans were among the finalists, who included professional and part-time writers, Gunn said.

Although the awards are the weekend's highlight, they precede the annual two-day Campbell Conference Saturday and Sunday. This year's roundtable topic, "Science Fiction on Television," focuses on how science-fiction television programs impact the written genre.

Gunn said most participants who attend the Campbell Conference are his students, writers from around the country and science fiction fans and readers.

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What: The Campbell Conference, a two-day meeting focusing on science fiction and fantasy writing.

When: Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Kansas University.

Special event: Lecture by science-fiction writer Pamela Sargent, 7:30 p.m. today, room 100, Smith Hall.

For more information: Call James Gunn at 864-3380.

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