Slow Sculpture, by Theodore Sturgeon

Second paragraph of third section (depending how you count the sections):

Early sun gold-frosted the horizontal upper foliage of the old tree and brought its gnarled limbs into sharp re-lief, tough brown-gray creviced in velvet. Only the companion of a bonsai (there are owners of bonsai but they are a lesser breed) fully understands the relationship. There is an exclusive and individual treeness to the tree because it is a living thing and living things change—and there are definite ways in which the tree desires to change. A man sees the tree and in his mind makes certain extensions and extrapolations of what he sees and sets about making them happen. The tree in turn will do only what a tree can do, will resist to the death any attempt to do what it cannot do or to do in less time than it needs. The shaping of a bonsai is therefore always a com-promise and always a cooperation. A man cannot create bonsai, nor can a tree. It takes both and they must understand one another. It takes a long time to do that. One memorizes one’s bonsai, every twig, the angle of every crevice and needle and, lying awake at night or in a pause a thousand miles away, one recalls this or that line or mass, one makes one’s plans. With wire and water and light, with tilting and with the planting of water-robbing weeds or heavy, root-shading ground cover, one explains to the tree what one wants. And if the explanation is well enough made and there is great enough understanding the tree will respond and obey—almost.

Next in my sequence of joint Hugo and Nebula winners. When I first read this in 2000, I wrote:

The brilliant young scientist who is embittered because the world will not accept his work cures and falls in love with the girl who will help him learn once again what it is to be human. The rather magical tone of the story lifts it above the cliche – just.

If anything I liked it rather less on this reading. The protagonist is a wizard rather than a scientist, operating courageously without peer review or external funding. The love interest comes out of nowhere and exists only to be cured and fall in love with him. The tone is indeed well executed (see above), but strikes me as rather less special now than it did eighteen years ago. I guess it may be better written than most of the stories it was competing with; as far as I can remember I have read only one (see below) which I liked rather better.

This was the one and only year when all of the Hugo winners in the written categories also won Nebulas and vice versa. "Slow Sculpture" won the 1970 Nebula for Best Novelette, and the 1971 Hugo for Best Short Story; there was no 1971 Hugo for Best Novelette, and the 1970 Nebula for Best Short Story was No-Awarded (the first of only two No Awards in the history of the Nebulas; the only other occasion was the 1977 Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation).

The only other story on the final ballot for both Hugo and Nebula against "Slow Sculpture" was "Continued on Next Rock", by R.A. Lafferty. On the Hugo ballot for Best Short Story, and also on the No-Awarded Nebula ballot for Best Short Story, was "In the Queue", by Keith Laumer. The other nominated stories in the shortest fiction categories that year were:

Hugo for Best Short Story:

  • "Jean Duprès", by Gordon R. Dickson
  • "Brillo", by Ben Bova and Harlan Ellison

Nebula for Best Novelette:

  • "The Asian Shore", by Thomas M. Disch
  • "The Shaker Revival", by Gerald Jonas
  • "The Second Inquisition", by Joanna Russ
  • "Dear Aunt Annie", by Gordon Eklund

Nebula for Best Short Story (winner was No Award):

  • "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", by Gene Wolfe
  • "Entire and Perfect Chrysolite", by R. A. Lafferty
  • "By the Falls", by Harry Harrison
  • "The Creation of Bennie Good", by James Sallis
  • "A Dream at Noonday", by Gardner Dozois
  • "A Cold Dark Night with Snow", by Kate Wilhelm

The only two of these that I am sure I have read are "The Second Inquisition", by Joanna Russ, which is the narratively subversive final chapter of Alyx, and the early Gene Wolfe classic "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories". I liked both better than “Slow Sculpture”.

Next up, Fritz Leiber's "Ill Met in Lankhmar", which won both that year's awards for Best Novella; and after that, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, which won both the year’s awards for Best Novel.