Who knows most, doubts most. —
So a new fight has erupted in science fiction over the fact there have only been 4 women given the Grand Master award by SFWA. One should keep in mind that there have only been 30 given thus far. You can find a list here Grand Masters. (Apologies for it being a Wiki entry, the entry over at the SFWA site is out of date.) In addition the recipient has to be alive to receive it and have had a major impact on the field. When this award was first instituted it was understandable that the SFWA presidents wanted to honor writers in our field who were elderly when the award began in 1975. It was natural that the first awards would go to Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, Williamson. Also, SFWA was a bit of a boys club back in the day. I expect we will see more women being awarded this honor in the future. The point of all this is that the kurfluffle inspired me to pull out one of my old paperback novels by Andre Norton who was made a Grand Master in 1984. This particular book was CATSEYE.
Norton is very dear to my heart. My journey into science fiction began with Burroughs, next I discovered Norton and then the Heinlein juveniles. So rather than think about this latest tempest in a tea pot I sat down to recapture a bit of my childhood. The first thing I noted was how slim was the volume. 189 pages for a paperback. Next was her ability to immerse me immediately in the sense of loss and longing of the protagonist — a young man who had lost his world, lost his family, lost all status and was fighting to regain at least a modicum of respect. Yes the technology as described seems quaint by todays standards, but it didn’t matter. Once again I was swept away exploring the underground city built and abandoned by aliens centuries before. My companions were two foxes, two cats and a kinkajou, and I loved it. So often Norton wrote about the outsider which spoke strongly to me. I was a nerd before the word was coined, a geek before it was cool. I was the outsider — a fairly brainy girl who loved science fiction and hated dolls. Who dreamed of having adventures on distant planets.
Her other gift was an ability to rocket a story along (pardon me, I couldn’t resist). I sometimes think that in our effort to win respect and legitimacy from the literary types (which we never will) we forget the core strength of science fiction — actually of any genre book whether it be S.F., mystery or romance — that we tell rollicking good stories. We’re not afraid of plot and action.
So I guess I should thank the latest furor. It got me back reading Norton, and I think it’s time to re-read a few more of her books — The Time Trader series, Witch World. She was a great writer. A Grand Master. And well worth a read even today. Now that I think about it Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast (both Heinlein books) are also beckoning.