Toastmaster address at WFC 2007

Toastmaster Address, World Fantasy Awards 2007

This was the toastmaster address GGK delivered at the World Fantasy Awards banquet in Saratoga Springs, at WFC 2007. It lacks the ad libs and the laugh track, but does have an addendum with the names of the nominees and their works – which is useful, as you’ll see. It is copyright-protected, and used with permission, but other sites are free to link if they want to make it available.”

I’m going to be very brief here, and ambush you later after everyone’s been mellowed by a drink or two and some food. I never want to stand between an audience and their lunch. I simply want to make clear how privileged and pleased I am to be your toastmaster this afternoon, and to welcome you to the banquet and the World Fantasy Awards ceremony to follow.

Our itinerary is simple: we’ll eat and drink, nominees will pretend to eat and will drink. I will then attempt to divert you with some after-dinner remarks, and then I’ll hand the podium over to two of the administrators of the World Fantasy Awards for the awards ceremony. We will have a short break right after lunch, and will open the doors for convention attendees to enter and see the ceremony.

What I’d like to do right now is invite you to salute some people who deserve it. I am speaking, of course, of our guests of honor. Will you join me in recognizing once more: Carol Emshwiller. Kim Newman. Lisa Tuttle. Jean Giraud – Moebius.

I also want to take a second to acknowledge and honor five people to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for the ceremony that will be the culmination of this afternoon’s banquet. From the outset the World Fantasy Awards have been ambitious, distinguished, and focused on widening the reach and profile of the genre. Please join me in saluting the awards administration committee who have been responsible for this for a long time now: John Douglas, Jo Fletcher, David Hartwell, Pete Pautz, and Rodger Turner.

Thank you. And now to lunch. If I say, ‘I’ll be back’ I’m going to hope – optimistically – that this is treated as a promise not a threat.


Welcome to the true horror of a somewhat horror-themed weekend – the after-dinner speech, by a Canadian.

I should tell you that I consulted one of the convention committee as to the preferred length for these remarks and he emailed back that 45 minutes or so seemed about right. Before the stampede for the doors begins, let me assure you that I double-checked with the unflappable Joe Berlant, the chair for this year. Joe suggested that rather less was rather more … customary. I agree. If everyone behaves, especially the British, I may even take a third off for good conduct. The Canadians will be polite. I have no expectations of the Australians, so no one else will suffer for what they do.

It would be, of course, a slam dunk to start off with some jokes, there’s a lot of material in this room. Consider: David Hartwell is here. He’s wearing a tie. I’m halfway home! I’m a bit contrarian though, and I also have a thought. In this room, this company, I’m not as afraid as I might be elsewhere these days, to admit to thinking.

This is, of course, a celebratory afternoon, of a genre, of excellence within it. But it seems to me that ghosts are a theme of the weekend, and that remembrance, and context, are central to any celebration. Stephen Jones has provided us, again, with a listing in the program of those we’ve lost this year. It is a service to a genre that is often concerned with the past, and is still working to define its future. It is a resonant list of memorable names. It includes figures such as Lloyd Alexander – important in my own family for more than 40 years, Jim Baen, Octavia Butler, Mike Ford – whose dragon stopped waiting far too soon, David Gemmell, Madeleine L’Engle, Fred Saberhagen, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Williamson.

Everyone here could name people I should have mentioned just now – and they’d be right. But that’s what Steve’s full list is for. I wanted to offer some figures who have been cited and honored in rooms such as this over the years, because I’d like to take a moment to single someone else out, for a few very specific reasons.

One is that loss is recent and is also premature. Another is that the figure’s impact on the place of fantasy in the culture is colossal. And the third is that his work, his story, was left unfinished … I cannot imagine a writer, or a reader, in this room who will not feel the impact of that last, if they think about it.

I refer, of course, to the fact that two months ago James Rigney Jr, better known as Robert Jordan, died well before his time. It seems apt that this gathering of writers and editors and readers devoted to fantasy, and celebrating it, pause briefly, to acknowledge that.

John Clute, no lesser figure, said of Jordan’s magnum opus, “when complete, the sequence will almost certainly constitute one of the major epic narratives of modern fantasy”. It was never complete. He died at 58.

There has always been a tension between writers who aspire to high art, enduring work, and those who pursue popular success, defining themselves as entertainers. The literati disdain the commercial while envying their bank accounts, and the bestsellers often regard the artistic as elitist and unreadable and the twain don’t do a lot of beer-drinking together.

A few years ago Stephen King – an award nominee this afternoon – spoke at the National Book Awards where he was being acknowledged for his life’s work, and he lambasted a glittering crowd for not adequately honoring popular fiction. He said, “I have no patience with or use for those who make a point of pride in saying they’ve never read anything by John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark…”

That same day, Shirley Hazzard, who had just won the National Book Award, disagreed, saying she had too little time left to live and read, that she would focus on Shakespeare and Conrad. She said, “I want to say in response to Stephen King, I don’t think giving us a reading list of those who are most read at this moment is much of a satisfaction.”

Both writers are people I respect and I will cravenly say here that I think both are right. Because, and this is the point, these are decisions that we all make for ourselves. We all assess what we value, how we want to spend our leisure time, or even if we want to call reading ‘leisure time’ – as opposed to necessary oxygen – and there is no formula, no rule.

This brings me back to Jim Rigney, Robert Jordan. On the Locus website I noted, in preparing these remarks, that he was never in his life nominated for a World Fantasy Award, for a Nebula, for a Hugo. Those encompass judge awards, peer awards and fan balloting.

I will not stand here and argue – nor am I in a position to assess – whether this is appropriate or not. What I can say, what I’d like you to consider, is that a mature, increasingly important genre has a need – a defining need – for literary work and for the entertaining bestsellers.

And – further – that the popular successes are central to any genre’s emergence at the centre of a culture. From 1990 forward, Robert Jordan produced bestsellers. Jokes were made about forests destroyed for the print runs. He brought innumerable readers to fantasy; for better or worse he consolidated the template of the multi-multi-volume series. He became the New York Times bestseller list face of fantasy. Whatever one thinks of that, every person in this room can rattle off, as easily as I can, the writers who followed and even those who preceded Jordan, who gained a significant boost from the success of his work – and from his personal generosity in offering support to their books. George Martin has said as much in print. I can affirm that response myself: his generosity as
a reader towards work very different from his own. And is there anyone here who’d want to deny that J.K. Rowling built upon his entrenching of the ongoing saga in shaping – and selling – her own?

We need to be large enough as a genre to acknowledge this without condescension. To note that editors and writers and publishers in this field flourish today because of Jordan’s impact, that readers of fantasy find their favored genre centered in the culture now, and that the very recent, untimely passing of a profoundly important figure is worth remembering at the outset of a celebration.

At Jewish weddings a glass is always shattered to affirm that one remembers loss amid joy. Whether you raise a glass in your mind’s eye, or break one in remembrance, I invite you to take a moment to remember Robert Jordan.

And now…now that the frivolous, laugh-a-minute, part of my remarks is done, we can get serious. No. Trust me. I wouldn’t do that to you. But what would I do to you?

Well now, as I contemplated the list of nominated people and works for today, as I mused and pondered and reflected and meditated upon it, another thought – I’m sorry to say – occurred to me.

We are storytellers here, we live by and through our tales. We need a story this afternoon. And in telling it, I need your help. Find your water or wine glasses and an item of cutlery. I prefer spoons by the way. It is usually regarded as bad form, even in Australia, to throw knives at the toastmaster. What are you asked to do? You’ll figure it out, this is a room full of very clever people. And so let us create together the first-ever World Fantasy Fairy Tale.

Twilight was descending upon the kingdom. An autumn evening, unseasonably warm, benevolent. Within the palace, a figure strode to a tall window, to look out upon manicured lawns in the light of the setting sun. This figure was, of course, the monarch, the much-loved, long-reigning King-comma-Stephen.


Come on. Ding away. Thank you. And incidentally, he’s a protagonist, he comes back, you do not need to ding every time. Indeed, we have people watching to penalize double dinging. On the other hand, we are also keeping track of which table dings first, most often, and that table will – I am delighted to announce! – share a World Fantasy Award. We owe thanks for this to Pete Pouts, David Hartwell, John Douglas and the world fantasy awards committee.

David. David, I’m joking! Really. Gods, I’ve never seen him look so worried … his, his tie has gone white! Looks good, actually, David. Back to the tale!

Gazing down through the window the king made a decision: he would go outside to enjoy the last of the light. Preparations were swiftly made, and moments later King, Stephen strode down stone steps and through torches lining a gravel path. ‘It is a NOVEMBER evening for SHARYN splendor,’ he said. ‘See how mild it is, and the STRANGE HORIZON.’
The monarch and his courtiers and LADIES OF GRACE made their way to an gazebo lit with candles and strewn with a profusion of silk and satin, many-colored KUSHNERS. (I happen to know that Ellen had to leave early and is in San Diego by now so I feel mildly safer about this one!)
Musicians stood by, with flute and lute. ‘I am in a mood for a love song,’ said the king.
‘Love is worth TWENTY EPICS! Play me a tune of L’AMORA.’
The music began. The king took a CUPP of wine. (That was easy! Check your nominee lists!) He reached into a crystal bowl for a royal handful of PICACIO nuts. The court stood or reclined among the KUSHNERS, at ease, as the singers offered WANDering WORDS … Suddenly the figure of a palace guard could be seen running IN THE NIGHT GARDEN.
Before the king, he fell to his knees in fear (perhaps the toastmaster also should?).
‘Your majesty,’ he cried, ‘I have terrible tidings to relate! A dreadful creature has been seen, ravaging outside this garden. It is … a giant WOLFE!’
‘A giant wolfe,’ murmured King, Stephen. ‘Could it be Fenris Wolfe, that heralds the end of time?’
‘No, majesty,’ said the trembling guard. ‘I think this one is Gene, actually!’
‘Ah,’ said the king, ‘he’s done something about the end of time, as well. Torturers, I remember, with RED SPIKES. We shall have to send my knights and wizards to deal with him.’
But just as a courtier rose to relay this command, another guard could be seen rushing from the far end of the garden. This NEWMAN, too, fell to his knees.
‘Majesty,’ he cried, ‘there is another one now! There are … two WOLFES!’
‘That’s wolves, actually,’ said the king, who was a stickler for grammar.
‘Not this time, your majesty,’ said the guard. ‘These wolfes have CROSSED PLAINS and mountains and JOURNEYED INTO THE KINGDOM.’
With those words it seemed as if a chill WINDLING swept the autumn grasses, there at the bottom of the garden.
Count Hartwell murmured, ‘I had not thought the windling could sweep DATLOW.’
‘I had not thought the toastmaster could sweep DATLOW,’ replied the Duke of Douglas.
‘You saw them?’ said the king.
(Stand by. Be ready.)
‘I did!’ said the guard. ‘They KLIMAed up the riverbank, just by the RICKERTY bridge that replaced the FORD of the stream and the old ROWEboat!’

(Thank you. You are all dinging very well. Especially JILL THOMPSON and GLEN HIRSCHBERG… That was cheating, I know, but I never said I wouldn’t – and you go ahead and pun on Hirschberg, or ‘American Morons’ in a fairy tale, why don’t you!)

‘What were they doing?’ quoth the king.
‘It was terrible,’ said the guard.
(I’m afraid it will be. Glasses and spoons ready?)
‘They loped over hill and over LANSDALE. I heard them HOWLE, I saw their evil GRIN! I watched them devour PARTRIDGES and CRANES in a DARK HARVEST of GRATIFIED DESIRE. Then … they went among the artist colony and slaughtered the MILLER and his beloved FOSTER SHAUN! And then, and then …’
‘BLOOD AND THUNDER!’ cried the king. ‘ This better not be a HOAKs!!’
‘I, I, can hardly say it…’
The Duke of Douglas looked at Count Hartwell … ‘If he pauses, this isn’t going to be pretty.’ The Count’s face had gone ASHER, like his tie.
The guard’s face was just as pale. ‘I saw them take her, your majesty. I saw them steal away … with … with PETE PAUTZ’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER!’
A low moan was heard! Knives were drawn in the gazebo.

(Not you guys. I said spoons, remember! You do not have the PRIVILEGE OF SWORDS! No LYNCH mobs allowed!)

As the king rose to his feet there was a sudden, horrifying snarl heard. The assembled people turned as one, forgetting their intent to kill the toastmaster. And, as one, in the torchlight, they discerned the enormous Wolfe that had leaped the wall and entered the DREAMlike HAVEN of the garden. It approached, slowly.
‘I knew it!’ cried the king. ‘That’s Fenris Wolf!’
‘No, no your majesty!’ said the Duke of Douglas, ‘That one’s just Gary!’
And lo, on those very words, the Wolfe did rise up upon its hindmost legs. And the Wolfe spake. And the Wolfe did say:

Gary Wolfe, nominee, and Locus reviewer, and splendid good sport, herewith stood up from his (pre-arranged) table near the front, and with a hitherto hidden wireless microphone, approached the podium, carrying his remarks behind a copy of Locus, and declaimed:

“Unaccustomed as I am to public spaking …

Locus Looks at Books: Gary K. Wolfe

In all my years of reading and reviewing speculative fiction, few stories have posed such a paradox as Guy Kay’s ‘World Fantasy Fairy Tale’. It is all glittering surface, image, setting, a ripple of words – I think I even spotted one or two puns! But for a writer hitherto known for sweeping narrative what has happened here? The narrative is flat, almost absent, the characters uncompelling. And consider the opportunities missed. Instead of the banal King comma Stephen (and
as a digression: why do sf writers think they need random punctuation marks to make names interesting?) … instead of the king, an obvious, pallid homage to Duke Orsino in “Twelfth Night”, and the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern duo, Count Hartwell and the Duke of Douglas, the author had a glorious chance. Why, why did he not do more with the charismatic, sexy characters of the two Wolfes? Or at least one of them! The bearded one! And this reviewer would have liked to see much more of Pete Pautz’s Beautiful Daughter!

On the other hand it must be acknowledged that the ‘World Fantasy Fairy Tale’ is risky, groundbreaking work that blazes a path for future efforts by others in coming years. A prospect that will be greeted with amused anticipation or sheer, stark horror depending on one’s point of view.”

Gary reclaimed his seat to much-deserved applause.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, of grace or otherwise, it is time for me to say adieu. Much as a writer hates to give a critic the last word, it is easier if the writer wrote the critic’s words – and how often do we get that chance, come to think of it? Which is to say Gary Wolfe deserves another gallant round of applause for splendid good sportsmanship, and carries no blame whatsoever for the foregoing.

You have been generous and patient with an unwontedly serious opening, and indulgent of the extreme frivolity that followed. It is more than I deserved: so from me to you, no strings, no puns, my thanks.

Here is the nominees list, with names used bolded.

Lisey’s Story, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton)
The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner (Bantam Spectra; Small Beer Press)
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch (Gollancz; Bantam Spectra)
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Soldier of Sidon, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

“Botch Town”, Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream, Golden Gryphon)
“The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train”, Kim Newman (The Man from the Diogenes Club, MonkeyBrain)
Dark Harvest, Norman Partridge (Cemetery Dance)
“Map of Dreams”, M. Rickert (Map of Dreams, Golden Gryphon)
“The Lineaments of Gratified Desire“, Ysabeau S. Wilce (F&SF 7/06)

Short Fiction:
“The Way He Does It” (?), Jeffrey Ford (Electric Velocipede 10 Spring ’06)
Journey Into the Kingdom“, M. Rickert (F&SF 5/06)
“A Siege of Cranes“, Benjamin Rosenbaum (Twenty Epics, All-Star Stories)
“Another Word for Map Is Faith”, Christopher Rowe (F&SF 8/06)
Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy)”, Geoff Ryman (F&SF 10-11/06)

Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard, Scott A. Cupp & Joe R. Lansdale, eds. (MonkeyBrain and the Fandom Association of Central Texas)
Salon Fantastique, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds. (Thunder’s Mouth)
Retro Pulp Tales, Joe R. Lansdale, ed. (Subterranean)
Twenty Epics, David Moles & Susan Marie Groppi, eds. (All-Star Stories)
Firebirds Rising, Sharyn November, ed. (Firebird)

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
The Empire of Ice Cream, Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon)
American Morons, Glen Hirshberg (Earthling)
Red Spikes, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin Australia; Knopf)
Map of Dreams, M. Rickert (Golden Gryphon)

Jon Foster
Edward Miller
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Jill Thompson

Special Award: Professional:
Ellen Asher (For work at SFBC)
Mark Finn (for Blood & Thunder: The Life of Robert E. Howard, MonkeyBrain)
Deanna Hoak for copyediting
Greg Ketter for DreamHaven
Leonard S. Marcus, ed. (for The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy, Candlewick)

Special Award: Non-Professional:
Leslie Howle (for her work at Clarion West)
Leo Grin (for The Cimmerian)
Susan Marie Groppi (for Strange Horizons)
John Klima (for Electric Velocipede)
Gary K. Wolfe (for reviews and criticism in Locus and elsewhere)

© Guy Gavriel Kay

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