Your Name In Lights

Another bit of kudos for late SF author Robert Heinlein: the US Naval Academy, from which Heinlein graduated in 1929, wants applications for the brand-new Robert A. Heinlein Chair of Aerospace Engineering, which is to be filled by August 2001. Naturally this set me wondering about a possible future David R. Langford Chair of SF Columnwriting at Oxford, teaching courses in Deadline Avoidance and Creative Padding ...

How else can mere SF writers have their names go down in history? You have to be fairly upmarket to appear on an official "So-And-So Lived Here" plaque, like the one on George Orwell's old place in Hampstead. Today's trendy thing is to have an asteroid named after you. So asteroid 5020 is called Asimov, 6371 is Heinlein (him again), 2709 is Sagan (though possibly not for his SF novel), and 1721 is Wells.

Not so many SF people have given their names to Moon craters. Maybe it's cheating to count Plato, whose Republic is right at the beginning of the Utopia tradition but isn't terribly science-fictional. Another crater man, Kepler, wrote about demon-powered travel to the Moon in 1609, though mostly as a way of popularizing his astronomical theories. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who with his usual touching modesty would doubtless like the spectacular crater Tycho renamed Clarke, scored a near miss in 1971 when Apollo 15 astronauts driving the lunar rover thought of him and named a smallish crater for his novel Earthlight.

Another cunning strategy for immortality is to have literary things named after you. Isaac Asimov is doing well here, since Asimov's SF is still one of the world's top fiction magazines. Not so lucky was Marion Zimmer Bradley, whose subtly named Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine lasted only about a year after her death in 1999. Of course we all remember Vargo Statten SF Magazine (1954-1956), named for the pseudonym of a British author still on the tip of every fan's tongue, John Russell Fearn.

Better, perhaps, to have your name attached to a major award. Early SF magazine entrepreneur Hugo Gernsback has been remembered in the Hugo Awards ever since 1953, and many people assume that the major award given by the SF Writers of America must commemorate his brother Nebula Gernsback.

Further authors with glittering prizes named after them are August Derleth (fantasy), John W. Campbell (new writers), John W. Campbell again (SF novels), Philip K. Dick (US paperback originals), L. Ron Hubbard (scientology, no, I tell a lie, new writers again), Bram Stoker (horror), and Theodore Sturgeon (short stories). Some were unlucky: the James Blish and Jules Verne awards fell into obscurity and vanished, though an Australian award for SF criticism still carries the name of Blish's critical pseudonym William Atheling Jr.

Naturally the mighty ego of Sir Arthur C. wasn't going to wait around for posterity to name an award in his honour. In 1987 he launched his own, for best SF novel published in Britain, and could afford to put up a thousand-quid prize. Numerologists still ponder the complex reasons why this year's Clarke Award kitty has been boosted to £2001.

There's my cue. Once I win the lottery, I'm announcing the Langford Awards for various high achievements. Best SFX Columnist Living In Reading? Most Gratefully Received Final Book Of An Interminable Fantasy Series (to be nicknamed the Xanthopsia Award)? Rudest Libel Of Deceased Author, Preferably L. Ron Hubbard? Largest Bribe Paid To The One-Man Jury? Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, here in Reading, they recently created an, er, unusual tribute to Oscar Wilde – who wrote several fairy tales (no coarse jokes, please) and so counts as a fantasy author. Since he was famously banged up in Reading Gaol from 1895 to 1897, I've long thought an "Wilde Slept Here" plaque by the prison gate would be appropriate.

Instead, the path between HM Prison and the canal has been tarted up as the Oscar Wilde Memorial Walk, featuring ornate iron railings blazoned with the repeated phrase "Oh beautiful world" (something he understandably said a lot on the day they let him out), and bright red love seats with little gold feet. These are carefully placed so that couples of whatever sex will sit facing opposite ways, one looking towards the canal and one at the huge blank brick wall of Reading Gaol just a few yards off. What a scenic view!

Perhaps Wilde, that witty man, would have appreciated having a memorial that makes so many visitors giggle.

David Langford would settle for having all his own books back in print. Some hope. • This column contains a bit of misinformation, whose source I can no longer remember. Asteroid 6371 was in fact named for the German meteorite enthusiast Dieter Heinlein, who e-mailed me about this....