The John W. Campbell Award for IN WAR TIMES–Best Novel of 2007
We had a terrible time getting to Lawrence, Kansas, where the ceremony was held.
I really wanted my father to be there too. He was 87, and absolutely hates to travel by plane, although he once loved it. This has mostly to do with airlines becoming “cattle cars,” and security, which confiscated the pocket knife his father had given him a few years ago. But he readily agreed, braved the awful world of airports, and got there a day ahead of me.
My husband and I planned to travel the day of the award. I also wanted my husband to be there, and he was unable to leave until then.
First, I thought we would miss the flight because of a traffic jam we encountered on the way to the airport; we had to double back and take another route. Ha. The Continental flight was delayed, almost boarded, delayed, and then finally we were at the gate “awaiting fuel,” and then taxied out to wait for another forty-five minutes for our forty-five minute flight, where we would get the connection to KC. During that time I had a small nervous breakdown, and called the airlines to see if there was another way I could get to KC if I missed the connection–which we had been repeatedly assured we would not miss. There was no other way to get there; all seats were sold. We were told to pull down the shades to “conserve fuel.”
I called Chris McCittrick and told him of my dilemma, and said that my father might have to accept the award.
When we finally got to the hub, of course the flight to KC was long gone. In airports I am either very laid-back and basking in a forbidden pleasure–expensive magazines like Vanity Fair, Discover, Harpers, and Scientific American, which I do not usually buy on the newsstand, or reading one of the ten books I carry, or writing–or running like hell to make a connection. I always assume this will be the case, and always wear running shoes when I travel. En route to my interview last March for the post of Professor of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, I arrived two hours before the plane was to leave, only to have my security line moved here and there until, fifteen minutes before the door was to close, when I was still way back in the latest line, I called the head of airport security. “Uh, yes, we do have a situation,” he said. “Go straight to the front of the line and tell them to let you through.” I had been afraid to do that because that might delay me further–I might be strip-searched or something. The year before, at Dulles, my eighty-six year old mother, in a wheelchair with limbs twisted from rheumatoid arthritis, whose legs could not be touched without her involuntarily screaming from pain, got a guest pass with myself and my sister to accompany my sixteen-year-old neice to her flight, and security yelled at her to stand up and walk, and finally put her through a special line where they poked and jostled her–so very, very mean. Anyway, on this occasion, after I got through the line I grabbed my shoes and ran with my socks, towing my carry-on bag, up and down stairs and hither and yon to the gate, where they were waiting for me with the door open, all loaded. “We were wondering when you would get here,” the flight attendant said, and they shut the door behind me.
We got stand-by tickets to a later flight to KC which would get me there with just enough time to rent the car and speed to Lawrence. While we waited, I refined the acceptance speech and went to the elite club and had them fax it to Chris. On the plane, I added a lot of flourishes about how The Future that was developed in the thirties, forties, and fifties, seemed to have fallen into the hands of bean-counters who didn’t even know how it was supposed to work, which is not in this version. If I run across it, I will amend this post.
So. I arrived, and Kij Johnson had kindly taken my father out to dinner with their group, and Jason Ellis chatted with him about the book and about jazz, and I threw on my clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and hastened to the ceremony, where
Paul Kincaid gave a marvelous speech about the book, and introduced me:
I gave my acceptance speech:
It’s a very great honor to accept the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for In War Times.
I thank the committee for the work they did during the selection process. Having been on several juries myself, I know how much time and effort—how much reading and discussion—they did in order to make this choice. I also thank my husband, Joseph Mansy, for his continuing support and understanding during the strange and fitful process known as writing a novel. And I thank my editor, David Hartwell, for seeing the value of the book, and working on it through several incarnations.
In War Times is the result of listening to my father’s stories about England and Germany during WWII since I was a child. With several years of chemical engineering under his belt when he enlisted, he was in an ordnance company that assembled war materiel in England the year before the invasion. He was then stationed in Germany, a few miles from the Rhine, in a little town called Muchengladbach, several months before Germany surrendered. His slice of the war is not much recorded.
He was, and still is, a great fan of jazz.
When I started writing the book, I transcribed tapes of his stories, but pretty soon, I’d just call him and say, “Write down the story of how your company got the couch for your day room from Goebbel’s castle.” Soon, he was simply emailing the stories I wanted, and we worked on the book together. As those of you who have read the novel know, Sam Dance, the main character, maintains a journal. Although I hasten to say that he is not Sam Dance, those journal entries are actually my father’s words and stories , and are not just of his war time experiences, but of his later experience as a fire protection engineer working for the government in various capacities, including for the space program. He was my first and main reader. His contribution was invaluable.
My father, Thomas Goonan, is here tonight, because I wanted him to receive recognition for his work on in wr times. Stand up, Dad.
Thank you so much, Dad, for everything.
If any of you want to talk about WWII, technology, or jazz, not necessarily in that order, he’s the guy to talk to.
I include my mother, Irma Knott Goonan, who passed away last October, in these thanks. During the war, she did not work for the OSS, but for Dow Chemical. However, she did fly for the Civil Air Patrol, and her spirit—outgoing and large– informs the character of Bette.
In 1959, CP Snow famously claimed academe had split into two cultures—that of literature, and that of science. He thought that was an unfortunate development, as do I.
This award is even more meaningful to me because I have learned to write science fiction from the ground up, as it were. I did not come to this task with many templates in my head. I only knew that, when I was young, as most writers report, that I wanted to be a writer. The literature part of the equation was pretty firmly in place; I got a degree in very old literature from Virginia Tech. But I became interested in science after becoming a Montessori teacher in order to support myself while becoming a writer. Dr. Montessori, the first woman to get a medical degree in Italy, in 1896, was a scientist. I started a school that grew to 100 children, ages two through nine. Initially a skeptic, I saw how well it worked. And I became interested in science. At that time, scientists who could also write well, like Freeman Dyson and Lewis Thomas, were publishing books about their astounding—reference intended—experiences in trying to understand what we and the universe are all about. I haven’t stopped reading about science since.
I believe that science fiction has the power to do everything that great literature does, and more—it unites the two cultures.
I’m very thankful that my own small contribution to this endeavor and to the conversation that is science fiction has received this recognition.