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The Hugo Losers Party

August 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm
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The first Hugo Loser Party was held in my room in the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, during Big Mac, the first KC worldcon, MidAmericon. In the years and decades since the party has become somewhat of a worldcon tradition, and it has always held right after the Hugo ceremony… but that first one was held the following day, on a Monday.

It was an impromptu thing. The night before, at the ceremony proper, I had lost two Hugos — one to Roger Zelazny (novella) and one to Larry Niven (novelette). The winners had been celebrating afterwards, making the rounds of the parties with their Hugos in hand (except for Niven, who had dropped and broken his while exiting the stage). I remarked to Gardner Dozois — who at the time proudly claimed the title of Bull Goose Loser, the fellow who had lost the most awards without ever winning one — that we losers needed a party too. He thought it was a great idea, and somehow it was decided to hold it in my room. Which, mind you, was not a suite, but just an ordinary double, though it did have the advantage of being at the end of a hall, right next to the door that led out onto the pool deck, which would prove to be a crucial advantage.

Being losers, we had no money for booze or refreshments, but Parris and some other friends took charge of that, making the rounds of all the Sunday night parties (publisher parties, bid parties, even the con suite) and scrounging their leftovers. We ended up with some jugs of Gallo, some box wine, a bathtub of assorted bheer (some generic), and some stale pretzels and cheese curls. There may have been peanuts too. At this stage, I forget.

In any case, it was a great party. A legendary party. One of those parties where everything comes together just perfectly to create magic. I got as drunk as I have ever been in my life, and ended up standing on a dresser, leading the crowds in chants of LOOOOOOOOOSE (a play on Bob Tucker’s famous SMOOOOOOTH, with jug wine passed from hand to hand instead of Beam’s Choice). Gardner stationed himself at the door, like a herald, and announced each new arrival and whether they were a loser, or one of those hated winners. Losers were greeted with cheers and applause. Winners were boooed mercilessly, and sometimes pelted with peanuts and cheetos until and unless they proclaimed themselves to be true losers, and explained why. When Joe Haldeman appeared, having just won the Best Novel Hugo the night before for THE FOREVER WAR, the fans seized him, lifted him off his feet, carried him outside, and flung him into the hotel pool. (Fandom was different in those days).

((Okay, okay, Joe did get thrown in the pool, but it did not happen quite the way I tell it. But my version is better. When truth becomes legend, print the legend)).

The party raged all through the night, until the sun came up over Kansas City. (Fandom was younger in those days). Everyone came, though some (the humorless and stuffy) did not stay. LOCUS later proclaimed it the best party at the con.

So of course we had to do it again the following year, at Suncon.

A bit more planning went into that second party. That one was held the same night as the Hugos, which would henceforth be the tradition. Gardner and I still ran it. Of course, we still had no money for booze or snacks, but this year, instead of scrounging, we hooked up with a publisher and borrowed their suite and refreshments. Ace was our co-host that year, I believe. A much tonier party than the first one, but still fun, if not quite as raucous as year one. It was counted a great success for Ace… and thereafter, publishers began to court Gardner and I for the right to host the party. Every year we had a different partner. Berkley, Pocket Books, Baen, Bluejay… each of them joined forces with us for one or more Hugo Losers Party.

In 1980, at Noreascon II, I committed the ultimate sin for a Hugo Loser by winning two Hugos. When I turned up at the party with them in hand, Gardner was waiting with a spray can of whipped cream. He nailed me instead the door, turning my head into a sundae. He even had a maraschino cherry to put on top. (Sadly, no one seems to have taken a picture). (I did get my revenge years later, when Gargy began winning Hugos every year).

That double win had endangered my status as a loser, Gardner warned me, but I returned to his good graces the next year at Denvention II, when I lost again, this time to Gordy Dickson. And I’d been so confident of winning that I’d even rented a tuxedo. You can see me in it up above in the icon. It was crushed red velvet, and the lovely Parris said it made me took like a singing waiter in an upscale Italian restaurant. Rusty Hevelin was Fan GOH at Denver, and the con had given him a huge suite, so that year we borrowed Rusty’s room for the party rather than partnering with a publisher. Denvention became another legendary party. That was the one where I presented Howard Waldrop with the fake F&SF cover. He was up for “The Ugly Chickens” and we all expected him to win, since he’d taken the Nebula earlier that year for the same story. But he lost too, also to Gordy Dickson, so his victory gift became a consolation prize. The party got so crowded that Rusty finally got on a table and shouted, “If you are not a Hugo loser, or do not KNOW a Hugo loser, please leave.” I don’t think many did.

That was 1981. I continued to run the party for a few more years after that, usually teaming with a publisher… but in 1985 I went out to Hollywood to work on TWILIGHT ZONE, and I no longer had the time or energy to organize worldcon parties. I don’t recall exactly how or when the torch was passed, but it was. The parties went on, but I was no longer the one doing them.
I believe it was sometime in the 1990s when the Hugo Losers Party somehow became a quasi–official worldcon function, and a tradition arose — don’t know how — of each of them being hosted and run by the following year’s worldcon.

Some very nice Hugo Loser Parties have been held under that arrangement, but over the years I could not fail to note that the party was drifting further and further away from its roots. Some years it was very fancy indeed, with champagne and chocolate Hugos and lavish buffets. Winners were allowed to attend, unmocked and unmolested. To avoid the crowding that had marked the party in Rusty’s suite, door dragons appeared, armed with lists of invited guests. If you weren’t on the list, you were turned away. Even GARDNER was turned away one year. Depending on the location, the lists got more and more restrictive. Once the party had been open to anyone who had ever lost a Hugo; now only those who had lost that year (or won that year) were allowed in. These quasi-official parties often closed down early, only a couple hours in. And, the ultimate outrage, finally even the name ‘Hugo Losers Party’ was jettisoned, since some of the humor-impaired and irony-deaf among us found it offensive. (No doubt the same crowd who forced Oscar presenters to say “And the Oscar goes to –” rather than “And the winner is –” ) Everyone still CALLED it to Hugo Losers Party, mind you, but officially it was now the “Post-Hugo Nominees Reception.”

The nadir was reached last year at Loncon, when Sasquan threw the most dismal party in history in a brightly-lit function room with nothing to eat, hardly anything to drink (the booze was gone before three quarters of the guests arrived), and the most officious door dragon in worldcon history, so intent on checking her lists that the queue stretched all the way down the hall, and people were giving up and going away rather than wait. I still managed to have fun there, mind you, but even though I had just won a Hugo for GAME OF THRONES, no one sprayed me with whipped cream, made me wear a funny hat, or spoke a mocking word to me.

That was when I first began to think that maybe it was time I took the party back.

That resolve solidified when the Puppy Wars broke out. I knew that KC folks would be throwing an official Post-Hugo Nominees Reception following the Sasquan Hugos, and I was certain it would be a LOT better than that farce in London (the KC fen know how to party)… but it seemed to me, after so many months of anger and division, something more was called for. The KC bash would be at a bookstore, would be restricted to this year’s losers (and winners), would be relatively sedate, and would doubtless end after a few hours. I wanted something old school. I wanted to go back to our roots. I wanted to have a blast, to howl at the moon and dance till dawn and mock the winners and console the losers, the way we used to.

So that’s what we did.

As it happens, I am not as poor as I was in 1976, so we did not need to scrounge for booze from other parties, and we could afford something nicer in the way of refreshments than peanuts and pretzels and cheezy poofs. Remembering the great crush of 1981, and being all too aware of the problems all cons are having with room parties of late, I decided against having the party in my suite and went off-site instead, to a swell Victorian house/ wedding venue called the Glover Mansion, a short cab ride from the hotel. The Glover was big enough to accomodate 250 guests, or maybe 300 if they really really liked each other and the fire marshall didn’t come calling.

So we rented the hall, had invites printed up, ordered up a great spread of hors d’oevres and cheeses and salads, engaged a local band, hired a limo to ferry the losers back and forth from the con hotels and the KC party, and had a huge custom cake baked, with crashing rockets and rogue moons and other cool SF decor. My faithful minions convinced me that we could not throw anyone into a pool or spray them with whipped cream in 2015, since we are all old now and wear expensive clothes, so instead we decided we would make the winners wear coneheads. That worked out pretty well, as WIRED documented in their account of the bash.

We did have a few bumps starting out, since the Hugo ceremony ran longer than expected, and many of our guests wanted to stop at the KC party before heading for ours (for the record, KC did a great job with their Post-Hugo Nominees Reception, and I wished I could have lingered there longer and had some of that great Kansas City bbq). But once we got going, we kicked ass. The food was terrific, the Glover was amazing — we had the whole place, with two bars, big rooms on the ground floor, smaller rooms upstairs with comfortable seats and old SF movies playing, extensive grounds and gardens — and our band, the Misfit Toys, rocked . No jug wine was on offer, but we had a special cocktail, the Demolished Fan, named in honor of Alfred Bester’s THE DEMOLISHED MAN, winner of the 1953 Hugo for Best Novel. People talked. People laughed. People pontificated on the state of the field and the future of our genre. People flirted. People danced. I don’t know that anyone actually had sex at the party, but I am hopeful that a lot of the guests had sex afterward. We mocked the winners and cheered the losers with our old tried-and-true Losers Party refrains: “You wuz robbed” and “Wait’ll next year” and “It’s a honor just to be nominated.” (Which it is actually).

WE HAD FUN. Which is what the Hugo Losers Party is all about. What cons are all about.

And if ever there was a year when merriment was needed, it was this year. This was the year when everyone lost, I fear.

Not all the losers were there, to be sure. I had a pocket full of invitations throughout the con, as did Parris and my minions Raya and Jo and Tyler, but even so, we missed people. I never saw Mike Glyer, who I was especially eager to invite, since he had attended the first Hugo Losers Party in 1976, and had done such a great job of covering Puppygate in File 770. But we did get Liza and the LOCUS crew, and it was Charlie Brown and LOCUS who named that first party the best at Big Mac. I looked for Toni Weisskopf at the Hugo ceremony, but never found her. I saw John Joseph Adams at the ceremony, but he somehow escaped me during the picture-taking afterward, and my efforts to track him down at the KC bash came to naught. I never found Jo Walton, though I got messages that she was looking for me. There were others I missed as well… and some who were not invited. NO ASSHOLES, the invite warned. We had a small list, and no, I won’t tell you the names on it… but we wanted this party to be about joy and celebration and togetherness, not division, anger, and ugliness.

In that we succeeded. We had a great crowd. Old and young, fan and pro, male and female, gay and straight and trans, losers and winners, editors and publishers and artists and writers, all dancing and laughing and drinking and having fun. It wasn’t as crowded as that party in Denver, no, but there were probably more people; the Glover is a lot bigger than Rusty’s suite was.

And yes, a number of the guests were on the Puppy slates, and yes, the losers included people who lost to No Award, which has to be an especially hard way to lose. Maybe the party helped in some small way. I have to say, if there is any hope at all of reconciliation with the Sad Puppies, it is much more likely to be accomplished with drinks and dancing than by exchanging angry emails over the web.

We didn’t quite dance till dawn… the bar had to close at two, by law, and the guests began to drift off after that… but it was past three when the Misfit Toys played their last song, and four by the time I made it back to the hotel. Maybe not 1976, but pretty good for 2015.

Oh, and there were awards. The Alfies. You may have heard rumors. But I’ll save those details for my next post.

(Thanks to the amazing crew at the Glover Mansion, and to the Misfit Toys. We could never have done this without you. And a special thanks to Raya Golden, ace minion, who did all the actual work of organizing this party).

Will I do it again next year, I hear you asking.

That would be telling.