IN MEMORY OF DAMON KNIGHT
Model design by Helen E. Davis
Damon Knight is so rich a subject for discussion that even assembling a
complete set of simple facts is difficult. Almost all of his major work
is in print, and his novels are available electronically for less than a
dollar a volume if you own a suitable device. His final, nonfiction,
book, Will the Real Hieronymus Bosche Please Stand Up? is available at
But it is as critic, editor, and teacher that Knight may have had his
greatest impact on speculative fiction, doing everything from writing
reviews -- for which he won a Hugo in 1956 -- to being the cofounder of
the Milford Writers' Conference along with his wife, Kate Wilhelm.
In 1965 Knight sent out a notice he was starting the Science Fiction
Writers of America, and anyone who wished to join should send three
dollars for the first year's dues. He was not the first to try and
organize SF writers, but he was the one who succeeded.
Lloyd Biggle, then Secretary-Treasurer of the organization, suggested
they might produce a book to sell and build up the treasury. They did,
and the advance was so handsome they felt they could throw a posh event
to celebrate their new award and winning authors. Biggle and Knight's
wives combined their talents to design an award. Two locations, one in
New York and the other in California, were booked and the whole affair
went off in great style.
Except that when they tallied their bills they found their splendid
trophies and fine dinners had cost them more than the advance for the
first Nebula anthology. Fortunately this did not deter them, and
thirty-seven year later, the Nebulas are still going strong, as is SFWA,
now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
It all seems a long time ago and yet only yesterday, depending on
whether you count years or familiar books. It says something that all
of the Nebula-winning novels are almost always in print, a continuous
So what were the first winners? The answer tells us a great deal.
Harlan Ellison won the first short story award for 'Repent, Harlequin,'
Said the Ticktockman, the struggle of a nonconformist in a society
where wasting time is so vile a crime that what is wasted is subtracted
from the person's life span.
Roger Zelazny won the novelette award for The Doors of His Face, the
Lamps of His Mouth, a Moby Dick of a story set on Venus when it was
still a water world.
He then tied for novella with Brain Aldiss -- who flew from England for
the New York Ceremony. Zelazny's winner was He Who Shapes, about a
psychiatrist who treats his patients in a virtual world and loses his
own grip on reality. Aldiss' winner was The Saliva Tree, which tells
of an English farm whose people must grasp the nature of an alien menace
before it grasps them.
The novel winner opens, "A beginning is the time for taking care that
the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit
knows. To begin your study of the life of Muad'Dib, then take care that
you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah
Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate
Muad'Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis. Do not be deceived by the
fact that he was born on Caladan and lived his first fifteen years
there. Arrakis, the planet known as Dune, is forever his place. --From
"Manual of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan."
Dune: novel, novel series -- with yet another book out this year by
Frank Herbert's son and a co-author -- David Lynch movie, and a Sci-Fi Channel
mini-series which is still going strong. And so are the organizations that
Knight helped found.
(Freely edited and adapted from Catherine Mintz' speech given at The
Second Annual Nebula Event in Philadelphia, April 26, 2002.)
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