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[GUEST POST] Christopher J. Garcia on Who’s Missing From the Science Fiction Hall of Fame

Christopher J. Garcia is a writer, historian, fanzine editor (editor of The Drink Tank and co-editor (with James Bacon) of Journey Planet), and filmmaker from Santa Clara, California. He’s lost 16 Hugos in three categories, but managed to win Best Fanzine in 2011. He’s a Curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. He is also working on a fannish documentary series called 5 Cons.

Conversations at the Bottom of the Escalator
A Museumer Looks at a Hall of Fame

by Chris Garcia

What if we treated everything like a museum?

I think like that a lot. I mean I’ve been in the museum game for almost fifteen years, so it would make sense that it would have soaked in to my bones. I think about strange things like “How would I turn that novel into a 25K square foot exhibit?”, or “Where should I hang these prints to form a cohesive message about their unity of theme?”, or even “How much space do I need to put around that Hugo Award to have an ADA compliant path?” These are the questions that get to me, the ones that might explain why I’m typing this at 2:40 am instead of dreaming of a world where “Remedial Chaos Theory” beat Doctor Who for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form last year.

And whenever I think of Museums — and since I’m almost always thinking of Science Fiction and Fantasy in one form or another — my mind turns to things like the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

What’s that? You never knew there was such a thing? Well, there is, sort of. You see it used to be the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, started by the good people of the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at University of Kansas. They’d announce the new class every year at ConQuesT and then they’d do an induction ceremony at the Campbell Conference. Every year, four folks would go in: two living and two dead. That’s a good way to do it, as it recognizes that there’s no way you could keep up with the living folks who are worth inducting, and that someone’s worthiness doesn’t diminish once they kick the bucket. Starting in 1996, they inducted four every year, like some sort of clock-like device’s inner instruments.

Then, in 2005, there was a change. You see, Paul Allen, the other founder of Microsoft (formerly Traf-O-Data, and did I mention I was a Computer Historian?), had funded a museum in Seattle called the Experience Music Project, or EMP, and paid Frank Gehry a boatload of money to design what essentially looks like a giant cruise liner dropped prow-first from a height of roughly twelve thousand feet, and moved stuff in. You see, Paul’s a big science fiction fan, and there was extra space after moving in Jimi Hendrix’s guitars and what I can only assume is every t-shirt ever worn by the members of Nirvana. So, to fill said space, they designed and built a lovely exhibition space for the Science Fiction Museum and, as a part of it, had the Science Fiction Hall of Fame brought in!

Now, this led to a change.

You see, it had been all writers and editors, no artists, no filmmakers, no nothin’ else! It was pretty rigid, just writers and editors, plain and simple. Now, with EMP as the home, they started to induct artists, and filmmakers. It was a big change though they kept the 2 living and two dead concept, except for the two years they did five inductees, but that’s another story. The inductions were steady, are steady, and even when they folded the Science Fiction Museum when they opened the Icons of Science Fiction exhibition, and in June 2012, they put up a new Hall of Fame exhibit. They kept inducting folks and now there are 74 great inductees.

And I still can’t consider it a strong Hall of Fame.

You see, there is not a single inductee that I would say doesn’t deserve to be in there. Every one of them should be in there, at least when you look at each line of inductees for each individual years. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t argue that Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Theodore Sturgeon and Eric Frank Russell don’t belong in. Or Wilson Tucker, Kate WIlhelm, Damon Knight, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Or even Joe Haldeman, James Tiptree, Jr., James Cameron and Virgil Finlay. Taken in that manner, it’s a fine list, no complaints, way to go!

Of course, it’s not the names that make, but the ones that are passed over, that you have to consider.

You see, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame has done a good job if you look only at who they put in, but when you consider the acts that aren’t in, like KISS or Deep Purple or The Smiths. Those three alone call the decision-making process for the entire Hall into question. And when you add Yes and Warren Zevon, you’ve all but negated it! The reason those acts aren’t in? Well, for some, like KISS, it’s because the committee don’t see them as a serious band. The Smiths? They didn’t record for very long, though neither did Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, or Jimi Hendrix for that matter. Of course, there’s always politics at play in well.

This is also true of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, I imagine. Looking at who’s on the list and who is not, you’ve got to wonder what the knocks against some of the most significant names in the history of the field are.

First off, there’s Kurt Vonnegut. Arguably the author who was most adopted by the mainstream, by academia, by high schools, even. I did my Sophomore year writer’s project on KV, one of three SF writers on the State-approved list of choices. He wrote some of the top-selling science fiction novels of all-time, and some of the bet. Slaughterhouse-Five alone is the kind of novel that gets you Halls of Fame, and add to that Mother Night, Breakfast of Champions, and some great short stories, and you’ve got a sure-fire hit, no doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Except he hated being called a science fiction author.

And that’s a problem, it would seem. Now, I can see the argument “well, if he doesn’t want to be called a science fiction writer, then we shouldn’t put him in!” being a worthy excuse while he’s alive, but KV’s been dead for more than 5 years. He had a tremendous impact on science fiction, especially on young writers. He’s a HUGE seller, has been studied for a few decades, and should be a writer included alongside Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and such. In fact, looking at the list of Hall of Famers, you can make a much stronger argument for Vonnegut than Tucker, Anderson, or even Haldeman. Now, knowing that he wasn’t a fan favorite, I can see why he wouldn’t go in, but dammit, he should!

Another author, no doubt worth putting in, is a guy named Will F. Jenkins, a.k.a. Murray Leinster. The guy wrote some of the best science fiction of the period before the Campbellian Revolution, and afterwards. His stories “A Logic Named Joe”, “Proxima Centauri”, “Sidewise in Time” and “First Contact” were all impressive stories, helping to form what the field of science fiction would evolve into. Of all the most impressive writers of the 1930s and 40s, Jenkins/Leinster is the only one who’s not in.

And of course, there are others, like Cordwainer Smith, or Douglas Adams, or R. A. Lafferty, or Carol Emshwiller, or even L. Sprague de Camp. Any of them would be not only worthy entries, and for each of them I could think of folks who are in whose place they would be better fit for.

As for editors, there’s two names that come to mind – Stanley Schmidt (or should I say Hugo-winner Stan Schmidt!) and Charles Brown. Schmidt edited Analog for longer than many readers today have been alive. Charlie edited Locus, changed the way people interacted with science fiction and defined the form known as the semi-prozine. Both of them should be in, no doubt.

The Hall inducted David Bowie this year, which was nice, but if the first musician inducted in isn’t George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, then something’s wrong. NO ONE introduced science fiction to a wider community than Clinton and his compositions dealing with Funkentelechy, The Placebo Effect, Starchild. and Sir Nose D’VOidoffunk. While David Bowie is known for a few science fiction related songs, and probably the entire album of Ziggy Stardust, P-Funk made a career out of science fiction themes and put on a helluva show. If they go in next year, I’ll be happy enough.

Filmmakers? Well, they’ve actually done a pretty good job. They got Lucas, Ridley Scott, Spielberg, Cameron, so there’s all the folks I would put in with two exceptions: the legendary Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey) and David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners, pretty much every other messed up movie made since 1975). There are others, but those are the ones that really HAVE to be in.

Art they’ve done pretty good with so far as well, Yeah, I could think of one or two, but if you’ve got Ed Emshwiller, Frank Kelly Freas, Frank R. Paul, and Richard Powers, you’ve got an excellent base. With the possible exception of Heironymous Bosch, and perhaps a couple of comics artists, there’s no one I would consider before those folks.

Television is interesting. They got Roddenberry, they got Rod Serling. Can you think of anyone else worthy of induction? Joss Whedon, maybe. JJ Abrams if he gets another LOST or the like. Perhaps Newman, Weber, and Wilson for creating Doctor Who. To tell the truth, there’s not a lot of folks that I would say are Hall-worthy in the field of Television, perhaps because television fails to get science fiction right so often.

So, I’ve got issues with the SF Hall of Fame, and I’m sure you do too, and likely in different directions, which is OK, because it means we can all fight it out in the comments!

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] Christopher J. Garcia on Who’s Missing From the Science Fiction Hall of Fame

  1. Disclaimer: My personal opinion.

    I hate halls of fame and awards especially for art. What do they mean? Are the criteria anything but subjective and arbitrary? If a person is elected in 2013, would they still be elected if they came up for a vote in 2043? Is Author X a better writer than Authors A through W? How is Author X better? Makes less mistakes? Knows how to use commas well? Was the most “influential” to this group of writers and readers although that group of writers and readers couldn’t give a damn?

    Or is it something tangible? How many books or stories they sold? Can’t wait until E.L. James makes a hall of fame.

  2. Kubrick is a definite ‘miss’; Hawkwind for music; if inductees are drawn internationally, they are definitely missing by not having Gerry Anderson for TV (Super Car, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Thunderbrids) and – AND – what about Irwin Allen? Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, Lost in Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea).

    I appreciate that there has to be a process, but perhaps a better way to have started off would have been a larger slate of initial inductees from the no-longer-with-us side, in all categories and THEN go to a two living, two posthumous system. Get everyone who arguably deserves to be in (and can’t lobby for themselves anymore) there in there, then start turning over rocks for the deserving but not high profile.

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