Thursday, September 23, 2010

Science Fiction Lexicography: Kumquat Haagendasz

I close out my two-part series on the less-documented slang of sf prodom with another neologism from the ever-inventive uberworddorker Gardner Dozois.  Today's entry is near and dear to my heart and to that of everybody who ever held the title:

Kumquat Haagendasz

The term is, as should be obvious to you, derived from Frank Herbert's blockbuster novel, Dune.  In it, the Bene Gesserit witches are working to breed a Kwisatz Haderach, who will be the next major step in human evolution.  The Kwisatz Haderach is a kind of secular messiah whose coming was predicted long beforehand.

The Kumquat Haagendasz, similarly, is a literary messiah, the new kid on the block who's going to save science fiction from boredom, irrelevance, and whatever other sins it's currently suffering from.  The title is necessarily held by a new writer who suddenly bursts out of obscurity with work that dazzles and impresses other writers.  It's an evanescent honor which quickly fades as the writer becomes generally known and turns into a Name.

Once upon a time, children, back in 1980 when my first two published stories placed on the Hugo ballot in the same category, I myself was briefly the Kumquat Haagendasz.  After which, if my leaky memory serves me correctly, the title fell vacant for a couple of years before being assumed by William Gibson.  Other Kumquat Haagendaszen (Haagendaszii?) include Neal Stephenson, Somtow Sucharitkul, Karen Joy Fowler, China MiĆ©ville, Kelly Link, and Geoff Ryman -- though this is by no means an inclusive list.  Hannu Rajaniemi shows early signs of being the next in line.

I don't know exactly when Gardner coined the term, but I vividly remember my pleasure when he conferred the title upon me in 1980.  Which means that it predates National Lampoon's Doon, a parody novel written by Ellis Weiner and published in 1984.  Somtow held the august term before I did, but I'm guessing it was his story "Mallworld" that pushed him into full messiah-dom, so he only held hte title for a few months.

Kumquat Haagendasz is a particularly nice term because it supplants "Great White Hope," with its overt racism, and because it's inherently self-mocking.  Which prevents the recipient from taking him- or herself too seriously.

Although, as you can see, the flattery of the term and the fact that it's applied very early in one's career can lead a writer to take it rather more seriously than you would expect.


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