Fall 2011 Book of Honor/Programming Progress Report

At Potlatch 20 we promised to involve the membership more in the Book of Honor selection. However this turns out to be more difficult than you might think! In the end the logistics of creating and managing a process that involved the entire membership proved insurmountable for this year. With time running out, we punted. The truth is we need to pick a BoH and we need to do it now.

Why? Well, for one Potlatch programming tends to be built around the BoH to some extent. How great an influence on programming choices the BoH exerts varies from year to year and there have been years without a BoH, but it is still something to keep in mind. Considering that we have no guests and all our panelists are drawn from the membership, we need to tie these kinds of things down before too much of the programming is set in mud brick.

In any case, one programming item I can promise for Potlatch 21 is a discussion of what makes for a good BoH. The purpose of this is manifold; including educating the membership as to the decision-making process a ConCom goes through, getting input from the membership as to what makes for a good BoH (from their viewpoint), and discussing alternative models for choosing a BoH in the future. What happens from there will depend on who takes up the reigns for Potlatch 22, 23, 24, and so on.

We’ve discussed potential BoH’s at length internally and have considered everything from the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to Feersum Endjinn by Ian Banks. Finally the Potlatch 21 ConCom narrowed down the choice to the following four novels:

Why these books? Well, obviously, these are all books our ConCom feels worth honoring and celebrating. Moreover, these are all books that have been mentioned by others in the Potlatch community as good choices.

Some, like Canticle and Stars, are traditional ‘safe’ choices for a Potlatch BoH. Dragonflight is, frankly, a bit lightweight when placed in such august company, but it has a history (first novella Hugo and Nebula by a woman) that lets us expand our programing into gender issues and female genre writers in general. (Yes, that was already done at Potlatch 4, so?) Neuromancer breaks the ‘the author must be dead’ rule, but it’s Neuromancer! (Who doesn’t want to deconstruct Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, especially as to how well it holds up to our actual future-now of computer-mediated lifestyles and out-of-control global corporations?)

So that’s the list. We (the Potlatch 21 ConCom) intend to make a final decision in the very near future, so watch this space! Feel free to comment here with your own input as well.

In the meantime, we’ll continue working on panel ideas and will be sending out programming questionnaires to the membership soon. So, if you haven’t purchased your membership, please do so without delay. We wouldn’t want to miss what you have to say at Potlatch 21!

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11 Comments

  1. Posted December 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    McCaffrey’s won the Novella Hugo for a shorter portion of Dragonflight, “Weyr Search” — she definitely didn’t win for any of the Pern novels. And there isn’t a single book called Dragon Riders of Pern — would you be wanting to include all the books in the series to as the Book of Honor? You sort of imply that you want to include all of Gibson’s S”Sprawl Trilogy”, but if so why just name Neuromancer?

    All that said, I think the Bester is a more interesting choice for discussion than any of the others, though the Miller has some very interesting discussion points about religion that could grow out of it. The Bester is a historically important book in the field, dated (and with some real problems) in ways that might help us to understand better how the field has changed and what we come to it for.

    • jackwilliambell
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Ah… Yes I meant ‘Dragonflight’. I will edit the post appropriately.

  2. Posted December 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    My vote would be for A Canticle for Liebowitz, followed by The Stars My Generation.

    Tom, I think we could pick Neuromancer and then have at least one panel about the rest of the series. Neuromancer makes the most sense if that’s the choice if for no other reason than it’s the first and the most well known.

    • jackwilliambell
      Posted December 9, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      The Stars my ‘Generation’? Was that like the follow up series to The Stars my Destiniation? :-)

      You are correct as to what I meant with Neuromancer.

    • Posted December 18, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Strongly suggest adding a “google+” button for the blog!

  3. Bluejack
    Posted December 11, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m also in for “A Canticle for Liebowitz” as my top pick. It’s always been one of my favorites; I have not re-read it in at least a decade (and hope it still holds up), but most of all, I think it’s a topic rich for discussion!

  4. Dan Trefethen
    Posted December 19, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    “Canticle” is a meaty novel for discussion, but I hesitate because we discussed religion in SF recently with “Lord of Light” (albeit Buddhism). I vote for Neuromancer: It’s the transformative novel that set the tone for 21st century SF – so we can review how attitudes have changed since Gibson posited it in the early 80s. (And if we’re really lucky, Mr. Gibson might even be willing to attend!)

    • Posted December 19, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree with you about Neuromancer, except wanting Mr. Gibson to attend. One of the reasons for the (sometimes applied) ‘the author must be dead’ rule for Potlatch BoH is the fact it is probably a bad idea to deconstruct a book with the author in the audience, much less on the panel.

      Not that he would be unwelcome, but there it is.

      OTOH, right now the voting is going heavily towards Canticle. Not my first choice and we have already explored themes of religion (as you say) and post-apocalypse (with ‘Earth Abides’). However there is still plenty of room to focus on Canticle’s theme of cyclic civilizations collapsing and rebuilding by borrowing from the past. Plus we can touch on the religion/post apocalypse and we can finally treat librarians as the heroes they are!

      • Posted December 22, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        I would rank them as follows:
        Neuromancer in first place because of the impact on the SF field and the possibility of some great discussions being generated.
        Dragonflight and The Stars My Destination as tied for second place.
        A Canticle for Leibowitz as fourth place. I admit that it has been many years since I read it but memory is that I did not find it all that great a book at the time.
        Of course we want to pick a book which will generate interest and which people can find time to re-read before Potlatch. As far as which of the works has been most influential on the field if probably depends on what type of SF you read; Neuromancer has had great impact on certain types of SF and Dragonflight on other types. Personally I think Neuromancer would make a great discussion book.

  5. Tom Becker
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    The original criterion for a book of honor was a book that is widely known but is not as widely read. The original book of honor for Potlatch 2, Frankenstein, was perfect in that respect. It’s a tough act to follow. Every Potlatch book of honor discussion has had to reinterpret and reinvent the criteria in some way. The way I like to express it is that the book of honor should help to spark connections between all the parts of the discussion that is Potlatch. A book of honor that is widely known helps because it has more connections to other things of interest in our culture, and also because more people can talk about it. A book of honor that is more widely known than read is ideal because it is more likely to reward those who read it.

    Please note that there is no dead author rule. There is of course a very strict no Guest of Honor rule, and we don’t want the BoH author to become a de-facto GoH. So I think the real rule is that the BoH author must either be unlikely to attend (because of distance in either time or space), or must clearly understand that they are not a GoH.

    The Stars My Destination is one of my all-time favorites. It is so energetic and creative. I think it will never get old and it deserves to be rediscovered by every generation. It’s a great book for discussion because it literally throws off so many sparks, and because the ideas connect to so many other things. You know, of course, that it is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo?

    Neuromancer would be a good BoH. Fifteen years ago I would have thought otherwise, because everyone read it. Now maybe it’s less read, but in the meantime its future has become our present. Gibson has not attended Potlatch before, and my guess is that he would not attend this one, but if he did, I’m sure he would be totally cool about attending as a regular member. He’s an old fanzine fan.

    Dragonflight would make a good Potlatch BoH, but unfortunately the author is recently dead, and that tends to make for a discussion that is less about the BoH and more about mourning the author as a dead GoH. Please wait a few years and then it would be a great book to pick up.

    It’s been a long time since I read A Canticle for Leibowitz. I remember liking it but not much detail, just a melancholy feeling. Maybe that means you should pick it, and get me to read it again.

    • Posted December 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for the context. And for the thoughtful descriptions of the candidate books.