Alaska author Michael Armstrong will be among the writers honored at the Nebula Awards Banquet on May 17 in San Diego, California -- but not for his writing.
Armstrong, of Homer, is the author of Alaska-based science fiction including the novels “After the Zap” and “Aqviq: The Whale.” He’s been a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for a quarter of a century. The writers’ advocacy group presents the Nebula Awards, considered among the top prizes in the genre of alternative reality. Previous winners have included Isaac Asminov, Larry Niven, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Chabon, who was recognized for “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” set in Alaska.
Prizes are given in categories relating to the length of the entry, from novels to short stories. Other awards include the Andre Norton Award for young adult fiction, the Ray Bradbury prize for dramatization (“Gravity,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and an episode of “Dr. Who” are in the running this year) and the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement, named after one of Armstrong’s teachers. This year it will be bestowed on another one of his teachers, Samuel Delany.
Armstrong himself will receive the Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award for his record of volunteer work for the group.
“Basically, I’m getting the award because I did not say 'no,’” Armstrong said in a phone call to the Homer News, where he has been a reporter for many years.
The commendation from SFWA noted his work developing model contracts for writers and helping authors understand the legal language of publishing, his membership on the board of directors and his service as a juror for the prizes.
“It was a lot of reading, but fun,” he said. “It was interesting to see how a consensus was reached, but it turned out to be a lot of work.”
The SFWA citation particularly praised Armstong’s participation with the Grievance Committee, which helps arbitrate disputes between writers and publishers. “His record of successfully closing cases (as in getting our members what they’re owed) is exemplary,” wrote SFWA president Steven Gould.
Armstrong said much of the committee’s work is confidential, but he admitted that it gives him a great deal of satisfaction when he intervenes with a big publishing house and gets an agreeable resolution.
“Because of the nature of the work ... it quite literally goes thankless,” Gould said of the position. “Unlike other volunteers, GriefCom folk can’t tout individual achievements.”
He can, however, speak about the unusual role of “rock wrangler,” also cited in the commendation. The coveted Nebula trophies are blocks of Lucite variously decorated with “interesting looking rocks.”
“I know some people with knowledge of gems and minerals here in Homer,” Armstrong said. He had one Homer friend come back from rock collectors’ conventions with various special stones, which he then sorted and assigned to the various awards and sent off with instructions to the trophy maker in the Lower 48.
“It’s the closest I ever got to handling a real Nebula Award,” he said.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.