Not a Blog

Me and the Hugos

April 8, 2015

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Let me begin with the basics:

Who owns the Hugo Awards?

You know, looking back, I am probably partly to blame for some of the misconceptions that seem to exist on this point. For years now I have been urging people to nominate for the Hugo Awards, and saying things like “this is your award” and “this award belongs to the fans, the readers.” I felt, and still feel, that wider participation would be a good thing. Thousands of fans vote for the Hugos most years, but until recently only hundreds ever bothered to nominate.

Still my “it is your award” urgings were not entirely accurate.

Truth is, the Hugo Awards belong to worldcon. The World Science Fiction Convention.

The first worldcon was held in 1939, when 200 fans got together in New York City. The first Hugo Awards were given in 1953, at a worldcon in Philadelphia. No awards were given in 1954, but in 1955 they returned, and have been an annual tradition ever since. Me, I was five years old in 1953, so it was some years later when I became aware of the Hugos. Can’t recall exactly when. I did become aware, though… and I soon learned that “Hugo Award Winner” on the cover of a book meant I had a damned good read in my hands.

I attended my first worldcon in 1971. Noreascon I, in Boston. By then I was already a “filthy pro,” with two — count ’em, two — short story sales to my credit, and another half-dozen stories in my backpack that I thought I could show to editors at the con. (Hoo hah. Doesn’t work that way. The last thing an editor wants is someone thrusting a manuscript at him during a party, when he’s trying to drink and flirt and dicuss the state of the field. What can I say? I was green. It was my second con, my first worldcon). In those days, the Hugo Awards were presented at a banquet. I did not have the money to buy a banquet ticket (I was sleeping on the floor of a fan friend, since I did not have the money for a hotel room either), but they let the non-ticket-holders into the balcony afterwards, and I got to watch Robert Silverberg present the Hugos. Silverbob was elegant, witty, urbane, the winners were thrilled, everyone was well-dressed, and by the end of the evening I knew (1) I wanted to be a part of this world, and (2) one day, I wanted to win a Hugo. Rocket lust. I had it bad.

((Never believe anyone who states loudly and repeatedly that they don’t care about awards, especially if they don’t care about one award in particular. Aesop saw through that okey-doke centuries ago. Boy, them grapes are sour. If you don’t care about something, you don’t think about it, or talk about it, or try to change the rules so you get one. The people who keep shouting that they don’t care if they ever win a Hugo are the ones who want one the most, take that to the bank)).

Two years later, the worldcon was in Toronto… and I still did not have enough money for the banquet, even though I was an awards nominee. Not for a Hugo, though. That was the first year they gave the John W. Campbell “new writer” award, and I was one of the nominees. Toastmaster Lester del Rey, for reasons known only to him, presented the awards in reverse order, starting with Best Novel and ending with this new award, so by the time he got to the Campbell, the hall was largely empty except for the nominees. I lost. (But went on to sell an anthology of stories by the Campbell nominees, so in that way the award did a huge amount for me). But hey, it was an honor just to be nominated. (It really was. It really is).

The next year, in Washington DC, I lost my first Hugo. “With Morning Comes Mistfall,” nominated in Short Story. The same story lost the Nebula earlier that year. (By a single vote, the sitting SFWA president told me afterwards… which impressed on me right then that Every Vote Matters). At Discon I finally had enough money to buy a banquet ticket. I sat at a table with several other nominees. They all lost as well. Meanwhile, one table over, the rockets were piling up. We all made jokes about being at the wrong table.

Then came 1975. Worldcon was in Australia. I could not afford to go, even though I was once again a Hugo nominee, this time in novella. “A Song for Lya” became my first Hugo winner, in an upset over the Robert Silverberg novella that had earlier won the Nebula. Ben Bova (editor of ANALOG) accepted on my behalf. I was sleeping when they rang me up to tell me. Thought I was dreaming. But no, it was real. The rocket arrived a few months later (Ben Bova gave it to Gordy Dickson who gave it to Joe Haldeman who presented it to me at Windycon).

I have won a few more Hugos since, most notably at Noreascon II, where I won two. That was especially satisfying. The same city, the same hotel, and the same toastmaster as in 1971, when I’d stood in the balcony lusting after rockets. Dreams can come true, I told the crowd when Silverbob gave me the first Hugo. When he gave me the second, he chided me for being greedy. The crowd laughed, and so did I.

I will always treasure those memories. One of the greatest nights of my life.

I returned to losing the next year, at Denvention. Have won a few and lost a few more in the years and decades since. But I never fail to attend the ceremonies, and I never ever fail to nominate and vote (well, okay, I think I missed a year in there when I lost track of the date).

That’s the short version of Me & the Hugos, or What the Rocket Means to Me.

You will all have noted, no doubt, a common thread here: worldcon.

The Hugos belong to worldcon.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, worldcon was the center of fandom. It was the oldest convention, the largest convention, the annual “gathering of the tribes” where fans of all sorts got together. Regionals were few and far between until the 70s, and even when they became more numerous, none of them ever came near Labor Day, worldcon’s traditional dates. Comics fans came to worldcon, “media fans” came to worldcon (though the term “media fan” did not exist), costumers and filk-singers came to worldcon, game-players came to worldcon (though there was not much gaming, and the term “gamer” did not exist either). In time, though, as each of these sub-fandoms grew larger, they began to split off and form their own conventions. Suddenly you had comic cons, and Star Trek cons, and costume cons, and so on. Worldcon still offered panels and tracks for these areas, but fans whose main interest was in Trek or comic books or costuming began to drift away. The World Fantasy Con was born, for those whose interest was more in fantasy and horror than in SF. “Book cons” were born, like Readercon, for the prose lovers.

Worldcon continued… but the steady growth that had characterized worldcon through the 60s and 70s stopped. That 1984 worldcon in LA remained the largest one in history until last year at London. Meanwhile San Diego Comicon and Gencon and Dragoncon grew bigger than worldcon… twice the size, ten times the size, twenty times the size… Dragoncon even went so far as to break with a half-century old fannish tradition by moving to Labor Day, worldcon’s traditional date, a date that had up to then been inviolate. And why not? Dragoncon’s attendees were fans, sure, they were comics fans and Star Wars fans and cosplay fans, and some were even book fans… but they were not “trufans,” as that term was commonly used, and they didn’t care when worldcon was.

(The term “trufans” is an unfortunate one in this argument, since some of the Sad Puppies and their supporters take it amiss, and understandly, when told they don’t qualify. The term is a very old one, however, probably dates back to THE ENCHANTED DUPLICATOR, a parody of PILGRIM’S PROGRESS about the search for “true fandom.” Like “SMOF,” it is at least partially a joke. And if any of this paragraph makes any sense to you, you are undoubtedly a trufan… but don’t worry, you don’t need to know what a mimeograph machine is to be a real fan, I swear).

You can still make a case for worldcon being the center of fandom as recently as 1984… but after that, well, “fandom” began to assume new meanings. There was no longer just one fandom, there were several. Comics fandom, media fandom, etc.

That’s all great. I have attended many comicons over the years (I attended the very first one, even before my first SF con). I have written for TV and film, and been a guest at media cons. I love comics, I love TV, and I love film… but most of all, I love books, which is why I go to worldcon every year. There are many fandoms now, but worldcon fandom is MY fandom.

And worldcon fandom owns the Hugos.

Worldcon fans invented them, tended them, wrote the rules, designed the rockets. Worldcon fans tradmarked the name, and defended the mark when other (non fannish, none SF) groups tried to give their own Hugo awards. And it is because of all this history, all this passion, all this care, that the Hugo has remained the most prestigious and best known award in our field.

(In my Not So Humble Opinion, anyway).

Other conventions have other awards. Wiscon has the Tiptrees. The World Fantasy Con presents the World Fantasy Awards, or Howards. The Bram Stokers are given by the HWA, the Nebulas by SFWA. Libertarians have the Prometheus Awards, though I don’t know where they give them out. I just came back from Norwescon, where they handed out the Philip K. Dick Award. We used to have Balrogs and the Gandalfs, but they went away. The Japanese have the Seiun awards, the Spanish have the Gigameshs, the Czechs the Newts. Australians have Ditmars, Canadians Auroras. Gamers have Origins Awards, comic fans have Inkpots and Eisners.

I don’t denigrate any of these awards. I’ve won an Inkpot, I’ve handed out an Eisner. I won a Balrog too, but it was smashed before it reached me. I have a Newt and a bunch of Gigameshs and even a Seiun. Awards are cool. Awards are fun. Or should be. I don’t expect I will ever win a Tiptree or a Prometheus or a Dick, but that’s fine, I applaud them all the same. Writing is a hard gig, man. Any recognition is a plus. Big or small, any award is a pat on the back, a way of saying, “hey, you did good,” and we all need that from time to time.

If the Sad Puppies wanted to start their own award… for Best Conservative SF, or Best Space Opera, or Best Military SF, or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be… whatever it is they are actually looking for… hey, I don’t think anyone would have any objections to that. I certainly wouldn’t. More power to them.

But that’s not what they are doing here, it seems to me. Instead they seem to want to take the Hugos and turn them into their own awards. Hey, anyone is welcome to join worldcon, to become part of worldcon fandom… but judging by the comments on the Torgesen and Correia sites, a lot of the Puppies seem to actively hate worldcon and the people who attend it, and want nothing to do with us. They want to determine who gets the Ditmars, but they don’t want to be Australians.

The prestige of the Hugo does not derive from the number of people voting on it. If numbers were all that counted, worldcon should hand the awards over to Dragoncon and be done with it. (Though I am not sure that Dragoncon would care. Years ago, the LOCUS awards used to be presented at Dragoncon. I attended one of those ceremonies, the last time I went to Dragoncon. Charles Brown handed out the awards in a cavernous hotel ballroom that was ninety per cent empty. The same ballroom was filled up standing room only for the following event, a Betty Page Look-Alike Contest. Which tells you what Dragoncon attendees were interested in. Which tells you what Dragoncon attendees were interested in… and hey, I like Betty Page too. A few years later, LOCUS moved its awards to Westercon, where they always draw a big crowd.

The prestige of the Hugo derives from its history. The worth of any award is determined in large part by the people who have won it. Would I love to win the Hugo for Best Novel some day? You’re damned right I would. But not because I need another rocket to gather dust on my mantle, as handsome as the Hugo trophies are. I want one because Robert A. Heinlein won four, because Roger Zelazny and Alfred Bester and Ursula K. Le Guin and Fritz Leiber and Walter M. Miller Jr and Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl and so many other giants have won the same award. That’s a club that any science fiction and fantasy writer should be thrilled to join.

Only… here’s the caveat… I wouldn’t want to join the club because I was part of someone’s slate, or because my readers were better organized or more vocal than the fans of other authors. It is not easy to win a Hugo, and it is especially hard to win the Big One — Hugo voters a tough crowd, one might say — but if that honor ever does come to one of my books, I hope it is because the voters did actually, honestly believe I wrote the best novel of the year, a work worthy to stand on the shelf beside LORD OF LIGHT and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and STAND ON ZANZIBAR and THE FOREVER WAR and GATEWAY and SPIN and…

Elsewise, hell, what’s the point? I can go down to the trophy shop and buy myself all the bowling trophies I want, if the point is just the hardware.

Which brings me to the subject of campaigning, but I will address that another day, in another post. I have a couple of other things I want to discuss first.

[[Once again, comments and dissent are welcome, but I expect courtesy from all parties. And yes, that means those of you who are on “my side” as well. Let’s not throw around insults, or charges of misogyny and racism, please. And Puppies, sad or happy, if any of you feel inclined to reply, please avoid the term “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs. I am happy to call you Sad Puppies since you named yourself that, but I know of no one, be they writer or fan, who calls themselves a social justice warrior. Offending or insulting posts will be deleted. We can disagree here, but let’s try for respectful disagreement.]]

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