Reading this book fascinated me on several levels. First of all, it’s an old Pocket Book edition that retailed when it came out in 1972 for 95 cents. I bought it in excellent condition at a science fiction convention for one dollar. It’s a slim volume that fits comfortably in the inside pocket of my jacket; they don’t make them like that anymore.
Additionally, the book brought a great feeling of nostalgia. I was nineteen years old when it came out and just beginning to explore the many wonders of science fiction and fantasy and basking in the realization that my life’s work was to be a writer. The following year I would attend the 1973 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop after having just turned twenty. I’m sure I read this book back then; I devoured all the Nebula Awards volumes I could find at the local library.
All the stories in the book are at least entertaining and at most masterful. It’s not what I would consider one of the best Nebula volumes, but it has some good material. Theodore Sturgeon’s “Slow Sculpture” is a very carefully written, nuanced piece of work.
In the early 1970s, the New Wave, epitomized by the works of Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delany, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin, and others, was pounding furiously on traditional science fiction’s shores. The groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions edited by Harland Ellison had recently been published. The field was split between traditionalists who abhorred the new freedoms in subject matter, style, and sexual explicitness and new voices who celebrated the opportunities for openness of artistic expression. This volume, I think, leans towards the traditional after a New Wave sweep of the Nebulas the year before. “Slow Sculpture” and “Ill Met in Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber, a fantasy novella, the two winners, represent traditional approaches to storytelling.
This year was the first and only year that no award was given in the short story category. Three short stories are presented in this volume, and any one of them might have won. In fact, the toastmaster Isaac Asimov mistakenly announced that Gene Wolfe won the award. I have always felt that not giving out an award that year was a shameful mistake. The award is given to the best story of the year, not the best story as compared with other years. One of the writers who were nominated should have won it. I have since read many Nebula Award winning stories, and a number of them were inferior to the stories that were nominated but did not win in 1970. I can’t help but think that there were some elements of the New Wave struggle involved in the decision. Stories from Damon Knight’s anthologies Orbit 6 and Orbit 7 dominated the short fiction nominations that year; in fact, six out of the seven short story nominees were from Orbit. Was the voting of “no award” a reaction to the predominance of New Wave selections? Who knows now, almost five decades later? Suffice it to say that I hope that Nebula voters never again make the same mistake of voting “no award” in any categories and thus disappointing the nominated authors.