John Kessel, director of the creative writing program at N.C. State University, now holds an unusual record. “I am now the person who has gone the longest between his first and second Nebula26 years,” he says. “Pretty good, huh?”
The Nebula is the Oscar of science fiction and fantasy literature, awarded annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. At a ceremony in Los Angeles on April 25, Kessel received the Best Novelette award for his story “Pride and Prometheus,” a tale of Jane Austen’s Mary Bennet meeting one Victor Frankenstein and his creation.
Kessel last received the award in 1982 for another pastiche, his Captain Ahab-themed “Another Orphan.” Since then, he received seven more Nebula nominations, but no wins. “I’m the guy who won once then disappeared, as far as the Nebulas were concerned,” he says. “Actually, they might have forgotten I won, and decided, ‘Oh, Kessel’s been at this a while, he deserves something!’”
Kidding aside, Kessel says he had “a tear in my eye” when he was called up to the stage. “I love the university and I love being a professor, but I’m always a science fiction writer first, and these are my brothers and sisters,” he says. “So it meant a lot to win an award that was voted on by them.”
But what made “Pride and Prometheus” a winner for him? “There must be something in the air with Jane Austen,” says Kessel, referring to the recent bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. “But I was there first, dammit! And it’s one of my best stories, frankly. I write a lot of stories, and this is one I liked since I had the idea, and I’m extremely pleased that other people seemed to like it.”
Kessel plans to follow up his recent win by focusing on a new novel he’s been toying with for a while. “I’m going to try to take another wall this summer and make another attempt to get over the hump with it,” Kessel says. “I’m not known as a novelist, more as a short-story writer. Having won the award, it’d be nice to have a novel to sell in the next year or so.”
And he’s prepared to wait another 26 years for his next award: “My speech was, ‘Okay, those who want to win the Nebula in 2035, forget it.’”
But first, Kessel may wring more juice of his story yet: “Pride and Prometheus” is also up for a Hugo Award from the World Science Fiction Society in August.
“Pride and Prometheus” can be found in Kessel’s latest collection, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories, or online at www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/documents/Kessel-PrideAndPrometheus.pdf.
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