an author looking over an alien landscape.
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 commercial successes.

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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