Back in 2017, I announced that I would be sponsoring an annual scholarship to the Clarion Writers Workshop in San Diego. I named it the ‘Sense of Wonder’ scholarship. This is what I said then:
” 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 knew I wanted more; more Heinlein, more science fiction, more aliens and spacesuits and starships… more of 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. “
This year’s winner of the Sense of Wonder is JAMIE WAHLS.
Here’s the official press release from Clarion:
Clarion Workshop Announces George R.R. Martin’s
’Sense of Wonder’ Scholarship Recipient
BERKLEY, Calif. — Jamie Wahls had his plans in order after receiving his acceptance to the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop. Then George R. R. Martin picked up his tuition by awarding Jamie this year’s Sense of Wonder Scholarship.
The scholarship, administered by The Clarion Foundation, seeks to encourage aspiring writers who strive to capture that sense in stories which cross the vast vista of interstellar space. The workshop, now in its 51st year, is hosted at the Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego.
Wahls’ short fiction about transhumanism, regret, people falling in love with spaceships, galactic stewardship, and the dangerous security flaws in our mental architecture can be found in places like Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld. He works at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkley, Calif., a nonprofit that researches the question of how to make super-intelligent machines safe and useful.
His day job sounds challenging enough. When asked about why he also writes science fiction, Jamie responded:
“Why do I write? I grew up reading 1950s science fiction, and I am very glad I did. It had its flaws, sure — our culture is now more progressive in many wholesome and clearly good ways — but that era had an underlying sense of possibility and determination that I found noble; a deep, unembarrassed belief that the future could and would be brighter than today, and the raw, bastard resolve to seize that future and bring it to all humanity.
“Nowadays, few of us had our formative years in the shadow of total war. This era’s Great Causes are important, still, terribly so — but they’re subtler, and therefore harder to feel certain about. It makes us … embarrassed to care too deeply about something. It makes us shy to believe in something truly wondrous.
“But! As text conveys knowledge, fiction conveys experience. I want to show characters fighting for things that are actually worth fighting for — such as a really, really good future for all of humanity. I want the next generation who grow up reading this to say ‘yes, that’s the sci-fi future I demand — that’s the one that’s anywhere near good enough.’
“Because settling for anything less will mean we, as a civilization, will slouch onward into one of the boring dark corporate dystopia futures, if we get a future at all.”
Kim Stanley Robinson, celebrated science fiction writer and board member of the Clarion Foundation, said of Wahls, “One of the great delights of reviewing stories during application season for Clarion is coming across talents like Jamie’s. For George R.R. Martin to support up-and-coming writers through his ‘Sense of Wonder’ Scholarship is a tremendous gift to the next generation of science fiction authors.”
Find more about Wahls at what he describes as his “brutally minimalist” website jamiewahls.com. His twitter account is @Jamie Wahls.
The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop is an annual six-week immersive workshop taught by a rotating staff of renowned science fiction and fantasy writers. The application period for the 2020 workshop opens in December. More information is available at theclarionfoundation.org.