I’ve made my life in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, and an awful lot of people helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. But if I may echo something that Robert A. Heinlein once said, you can never pay back the people who helped you when you were starting out… but you can pay forward, and give a hand to those coming after.
With that in mind, I’m pleased to announce that I will be funding a new scholarship for the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Workshop. Held every summer at the University of California San Diego under the auspices of the Clarion Foundation, the workshop’s roots go back the 1960s and Clarion College in Pennsylvania, where it was founded by Robin Scott Wilson, Damon Knight, and Kate Wilhelm. Its alumni include more professional sf and fantasy writers than I can possibly hope to name, and the list of Clarion instructors over the years is a veritable Who’s Who of our genre.
Many of the students at Clarion already receive financial aid through a variety of existing scholarships and grants that cover all or part of their expenses, but there’s always need and there’s never enough money, and it’s my hope that this new scholarship will offer an opportunity to one more worthy applicant who might not otherwise have been able to afford the experience. It will be a full scholarship, given annually, and covering tuition, fees, and lodging for a single student for the full six weeks of intensive writing and criticism that is Clarion.
We’ll be calling it the Sense of Wonder scholarship.
The award will not be limited by age, race, sex, religion, skin color, place of origin, or field of study. The only criteria will be literary.
The first science fiction novel I ever read was Heinlein’s HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL, a book that begins with a boy named Kip in a used spacesuit standing in his back yard, and goes on to take him (and us) to the moon, and Pluto, and the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, along the way encountering aliens both horrifying (the Wormfaces) and benevolent (the Mother Thing), as well as a girl named Peewee. In the end it’s up to Kip and Peewee to defend the entire human race when Earth is put on trial. I had never read anything like it, and from the moment I finished I wanted more; more Heinlein, more science fiction, more aliens and spacesuits and starships… more of the vast interstellar vistas that had opened before me.
Since then I have read thousands of other science fiction novels, and written a few myself. Modern imaginative fiction is a house with many rooms, and I’ve visited most of them. Cyberpunk, New Wave, magic realism, slipstream, military SF, dystopias, utopias, urban fantasy, high fantasy, splatterpunk, the new weird, the new space opera, you name it. I’ve sampled all of it, and I’m glad it’s all there, but when it comes right down it, the SF I love best is still the SF that gives me that sense of wonder I found in that Heinlein book almost sixty years ago, and afterwards in the works of Roger Zelazny, Jack Vance, Alfred Bester, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jack Vance, Andre Norton, the early Chip Delany, Jack Vance, Frank Herbert, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, Eric Frank Russell, Cordwainer Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, and so many more. (Did I mention Jack Vance?) I love the aliens, be they threatening or benevolent, the more alien the better. I dream of starships, strange worlds beneath the light of distant suns. I want the sights and sounds and smells of times and places and cultures colorful and exotic. That was the sort of science fiction that I tried to write myself with the Thousand Worlds stories that made my name in the 70s, when I was just breaking in as a writer.
It’s my hope that this new Clarion scholarship will help find and encourage young aspiring writers who dream the same sort of dreams, that it will give a small boost up to the next Roger Zelazny, the next Ursula Le Guin, the next Jack Vance.
One student will be selected every year. The recipient of the first award is LUCY SMITH, an English writer and recent student of archaeology who has been making stories for most of her life. She has just begun tweeting at @subterranape, and can usually be found in London. I have yet to meet her, but I hope that she enjoys her six weeks at Clarion, and that the lessons she learns there will help her develop her talent and master her craft. And in the years and books to come, I hope that Lucy Smith will take us to the stars, and show us wonders.