Former Writers of the Future winner Eric J Stone has won one of science fiction's major prizes this year, taking home a Nebula for his novelette That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made. He's also up for a Hugo at this year's Worldcon in Reno.
This is exciting, both on a personal front as well as for what it hopefully means for the near-term direction of the genre.
Personally, it's awesome because Eric's triumph is the latest in a string of successes for the Writers of the Future 26 circle and its mentors--Eric being one of the latter. It comes hard on the heels my fellow WTOF 26ers Jason Fischer and Tom Croshill recently landing book contracts for anthologies of their short stories, as well as Brad Torgresen winning a reader's choice Anlab award from Analog Magazine for his novella Outbound. That and the Kindle version of Steven Savile's Da Vinci Code-style thriller Silver rocketing up to #4 on Amazon.UK's overall bestseller list.
So these are heady days for both peers and mentors at the moment.
At the same time, the successes of both Leviathan and Brad's Outbound appear to be a confirmation of what I've droned on and on about in my People who Used to Read Science Fiction articles. Namely that there remains a large, under-served collection of former and potential genre fans who crave optimistic, ideologically moderate works of original literary science fiction. These are many of the same people who used to make up the backbone of our fan base before literary SF started going south in both sales and cynicism during the 1990s.
It's also good to see that these two works feature protagonists of moderate religious beliefs. Science fiction unfortunately has followed the trend of 'high' literature in presenting a picture of faith in which believers are depicted as hypocrites or extremists.
In my travels around the world, from East Asia all the way to the turbulent Balkans in the late 1990s, the vast majority of human beings whom I met were religious believers of moderate persuasion. The same holds true here at home in the US. For me, not only has the presentation of religion in science fiction been fairly non-representative of its day-to-day practice, but I suspect that this largely hostile mode of depiction has been a factor in alienating so many former readers.
For due disclosure purposes, I should mention that I am not particularly religious. I'm probably best described as a cheerful agnostic or long-lapsed Buddhist in my outlook. Most of my religious experiences in life have come from moments of immersion in natural world--as readers might have guessed from the photos on this blog. My intellectual senses of wonder, awe, and dread are stoked primarily by the explanations of science and the many narratives of human history. The fusion point between those two broad areas--the meeting between the human and natural worlds--is where I sense transcendence in lower, primal orders giving rise to new levels of complexity and higher modes of being.
So, here's hoping that we see more moderate religious believers in genre writing. It's not only more representative of the human community, but it also may play an important part in allowing us to recapture our fan base.