August 27th, 2015

alfie

What's It All About, Alfie?

About those awards...

Let's begin with another lesson in Hugo history. First stop, 1953. The first Hugo Awards were presented at the 11th worldcon, in Philadelphia. Robert Silverberg tells me that they were not even called "Hugos" back then, just "Science Fiction Achievement Awards." Isaac Asimov was the Toastmaster. There were only seven categories that first year. Forry Ackerman was "# 1 Fan Personality," Philip Jose Farmer was "Best New Author or Artist," Willy Ley took one for "Excellence in Fact Articles," Virgil Finlay was "Best Interior Illustrator," Hannes Bok and Ed Emshwiller 'tied' for "Best Cover Artist," ASTOUNDING and GALAXY 'tied' for "Best Professional Magazine," and -- drumroll, please -- Alfred Bester won for Best Novel (the big one, then as now) with his soon-to-be-classic THE DEMOLISHED MAN.

Several things should be noted about the Philadelphia awards. First, they were widely regarded as a one-time thing; no one imagined at that time that they would become an annual event and the climax of worldcon. (And, indeed, no awards were given the following year, at the 1954 worldcon).

Also, there were no losers that year, only winners. No voting, no shortlist. These were all what we would call today 'committee awards,' the honorees chosen entirely by the members of the concom by some arcane process. The 'ties' did not result from an equal number of votes, therefore; it was just that the con runners felt both were worthy. Fannish legend tells us the first awards were made from Oldsmobile hood ornaments (but more on that later).

There has been much debate of late about the value of a Hugo. Whether or not it has actual monetary value, whether it can boost a writer's career or lead to larger advances. Back in 1953, no one was thinking that way. Look at those first awards, and you can see what the rocket is all about. The Hugos are an "Attaboy! You did good." They are SF thanking one of its own for enriching the genre, for giving them pleasure, for producing great work. Also, they come with a really cool trophy. Bottom line, that's what matters.

After skipping 1954, the awards came back in 1955 at the Cleveland worldcon, and have been with us ever since. Clevention was well before my time, but my understanding is that this was the first time we had actual balloting for the winners. This may also been the first time the awards were called Hugos, though I have been unable to document that. The categories were slighly different from 1953, and have continued to evolve and change ever since.

Fast forward to 1976, and that first Hugo Loser Party in Kansas City. I have written, below, of how Gardner Dozois acted as a herald/ doorman at that bash, loudly announcing each guest who attempted to enter, and proclaiming them either a winner or a loser. Losers were cheered and welcomed, winners booed and pelted with peanuts, etc.

Which leads me to the moment when Alfred Bester himself appeared in the door. "ALFIE BESTER," the great Gargoo roared at him. "You may not pass! You won the FIRST Hugo!!!" And the boos rose up like thunder. But Alfie was undeterred. "Yes," he shouted back, "but it was an Oldsmobile hood ornament, and it's all pitted and rusted and corroded now!" And the boos changed to cheers, and Alfie entered the party and proceeded to drink us all under the table, thereby establishing the principle that even legendary winners can become losers with sufficient time and corrosion.

Here's a fiddling footnote, though. In the twenty-three years between the Philadelphia and KC worldcon, Alfie's rocket almost certainly suffered pitting and rust. I have seen other Hugos from the 50s, and time has left its marks on all of them. But he was wrong as well; the '53 rockets may have been inspired inspired by the Oldsmobile hood ornaments, but they were not actually made from same. Maryland fan Jack McKnight made those first awards himself in his machine shop, working all through the con and finishing just in time for the presentation. Which is not to say that the 'hood ornament' legend is entirely wrong. Just the date is off. It was the 1956 Hugos that are actually Oldsmobile hood ornaments. Dave Kyle made the awards that year. Kyle presumably lacked McKnight's machine shop and metal-working skills, so he raided some junkyards for hood ornaments from the 1950 or 1951 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, and screwed them to an upright wooden stand. Take a look for yourself:


1950 Oldsmobile hood ornament

1953 Hugo

1956 Hugo


[[You can find all this history, and pictures of every Hugo since the beginnings of the award, at the official Hugo site at http://www.thehugoawards.org/ Go check it out, it's cool]].

Fast forward again, this time to present.

This past year has been a tough one for all of fandom, and especially those of us who love SF, fantasy, worldcon, and the Hugos. Puppygate injected a note of discord and division and vitriol into the awards process unlike anything ever seen before in the long history of the awards. You all know the facts; I am not going to rehash them again here.

I have been a Hugo winner, and a Hugo loser, and a Hugo presenter, many times. I hated this year's discord, and I could see how much damage it was doing. I felt I had to speak out about what was happening, and I did. I engaged in dialogue (relatively civil) with the Sad Puppy leaders Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia in hopes of somehow finding some common ground and effecting some sort of reconciliation; sadly, that effort failed. With the passage of months, things got worse instead of better.

In any Hugo season save the first, there are more losers than winners. Five nominees per category means one winner and four losers. Multiply that by the number of categories, and the losers way outnumber the winners. Always have, always will. And, yes, it IS an honor just to be nominated... but that does not soften the sting when the envelope is opened and someone else's name is called out. I know, I've been there many times, and not just at the Hugo Awards (six time Emmy loser here, and I will be going for seven next month).

And this year, thanks to the slates, we had more losers than ever before. This year, indeed, we were all losers. Some lost the usual way, finishing behind an eventual winner. Others lost to No Award, an especially galling sort of defeat. (Which also created five losers in those five categories instead of four). Even the winners lost, since their victories will always bear as asterisk in the minds of some because they triumphed under such unusual circumstances, over a weakened field, or whatever. (I don't necessarily endorse this viewpoint. I think some of this year's winners deserve an exclamation point rather than an asterisk. But I have heard a fair amount of the asterisk talk even on Hugo night itself). The Hugos lost: five No Awards is an occasion for mourning, not cheers. The genre lost: I don't buy that even bad press is good, and we sure got a lot of bad press this year. Fandom lost: division and discord poisoned our annual celebration of love for SF, and left wounds that will be a long time healing. The nominees who withdrew from the slates lost; they walked away from a Hugo nod, a painful thing to do, and were abused for that decision. The nominees who stayed on the ballot lost; they were abused for that decision too, and some, who were NOT Puppies and never asked to be slated, saw their Hugo chances destroyed by the Nuclear option. Some nominees managed to catch flak from both sides.

And there was another class of loser, less visible, but still very much a victim of the slates. Those writers who produced outstanding work in 2014, and who, in a normal year, would have almost certainly received Hugo nominations. Some might even have won rockets. But this was NOT a normal year, and the usual word-of-mouth buzz and fannish enthusiasm that generally carries a story to a place on the Hugo ballot could not and did not prevail against the slate-mongering of the Sad Puppies and the lockstep voting of the Rabids. These were the invisible losers of the 2015 Hugo season. Losing is a part of life, and certainly of the Hugos... but it is one thing to be beaten in a fair contest, and another to be shoved aside and denied the chance to compete.

It was for those 'invisible losers' that I decided to create the Alfies. If one accepts that the Hugo has value, these writers had suffered real harm thanks to the slates. There was no way I could hope to redress that... but I could make a gesture. In the door of my room in KC in 1976, Alfie Bester told us that winners can become losers. If so, losers can become winners too. I would give my own awards... and of course I'd name them after Alfie.

So that's how the Alfies came about.

Next rock, I'll tell you about their creation... and who won them.
alfie

The Alfies

Once I had decided to hand out the Alfies, as detailed on the previous post, I had to make a lot of other decisions. Again and again, I found myself returning to the original 1953 awards, and the spirit in which they were given.

The prestige of the Hugo, the history, the lineage, whatever career-boosting or financial rewards the rocket supposedly carries... there was no way for me to make up for any of that. But I could certainly give some losers an "Attaboy! You did good!" in the spirit of '53.

In 1953, there were no losers, just winners. That appealed to me. I wanted these awards to be a celebration, a occasion of happiness. I would award some worthy people, but there would be no shortlist, no campaigning, and therefore no losers.

Of course, an "Attaboy!" is nice, but a cool trophy is even nicer. Right away I decided that plaques (boring) and "certificates suitable for framing" would not serve. We needed something much better. Something that could stand next to a Hugo, tall and proud and ready for blast off.

In 1953, legend says the Hugos were made from Oldsmobile hood ornaments. But as we now know (see previous post), they were not called the Hugos that year, and were not actually hood ornaments. That would need to wait till 1956. But what the hell, when the legend becomes truth, print the legend. I loved the legend, and I loved the way Alfie Bester talked himself into that first Hugo Losers party, so I decided that my awards would also be made from old 50s hood ornaments. I went up on ebay to look for some, and discovered... gods be good, that really was the "Space Age," half the cars on the road had some sort of rocket or jet on their hoods (to go with those gigantic tailfins).

I decided to avoid the 1950 and 1951 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 ornaments on offer (except for one I bought for show 'n tell). The central rocket on those is too close to the Hugo rocket of today, and the Hugo and its iconic design are the trademarked property of the World Science Fiction Convention. I did not want to infringe, nor open myself up to charges that I was handing out 'my own Hugos.' The Alfies needed to look dramatically different... but still cool.

Fortunately, even with the Olds taken off the table, I had a wealth of choices. Fords, Chevys, Mercurys, Willys, Lincolns... there were some amazing rocket-shaped thingamabobs out there. Nobody was selling a lot of a dozen identical ones, however, so I realized that the Alfies would have to include a number of different designs. A whole fleet of spaceships, as it were. I set to bidding, and buying. Won some, lost some, dropped out on others when the prices got too high. When they started coming in, I saw right away that some were not as suitable as they'd looked, but others were perfect. None of them were in especially great condition, to be sure. That's why most of them came cheap. Just like that DEMOLISHED MAN rocket from 1953, they were rusted, pitted, corroded by the passage of time.

So I turned to Tyler Smith, sculptor and metal-worker par excellence, the guy who made the Beast's head for the Jean Cocteau Cinema and is working on the dragon's head for Dragonstone Studios. Consider him the spiritual heir to the original Hugo-maker, Jack McKnight. Tyler sanded and smoothed the hood ornaments, ground down the rough bits and filled in holes, then had them all powder-coated and rechromed. Then he set to designing bases for them. We rejected the idea of fastening them to wooden backings, like the 1956 Hugo; instead Tyler cut some dramatic metal bases with his trusty plasma-cutter, so the Alfies looked as if they were taking flight.

Here's the fleet, as it looked when Tyler finished:


Back in 1953, Jack McKnight worked all through the convention to finish the awards in time for the presentation. Thankfully, Tyler managed to finish the Alfies the day before we were scheduled to take off for Spokane. (Even so, that last week gave me ulcers). In 1953, the concom presumably told McKnight who the winners were going to be, so he could have their names engraved on the bases. We had no such knowledge, so the Alfies had no engraving, no names. We would not find that out who won them until after the Hugo Awards ceremony, when Sasquan released the voting totals. (We do plan to have name plates for the bases engraved now, and will mail them out to the winners).

As to who those winners would be... I decided, early on, that I would not attempt to give Alfies out in every category. The Puppies had dominated the ballot as a whole, beyond a doubt, but in most categories there were a couple... or at least one... legitimate nominee. In those races, at least, the voters had a choice.

But in five categories no such choice existed: Novella, Short Story, Related Work, Long Form Editor, Short Form Editor. In those categories the only choice was between the Sad Puppies and the Rabids and the Sad/ Rabids. The slates had taken EVERY slot in those races. Unless you were a Puppy, you were not even allowed in the starting gate. Even Secretariat could not hope to win a horserace under those conditions. (I suspected that No Award would win in some of these categories, as I said in my Hugo handicapping. I was shocked that NA won in all five).

And it should be stressed: I did not pick the Alfie winners, at least not in these five races. FANDOM picked the winners. The Alfie in each of these races went to the writer or editor who had received the most nominations while not part of any slate. I had no idea who the winners would be until after the Hugo ceremony, when I got my hands on the 'pink sheet' with all of this year's voting details, and was able to check the nomination numbers.

My plan had been to reveal the Alfies and announce the winners at the Hugo Losers Party, as a midnight surprise. Turned out to be closer to one, since everything ran late that night. Rather than presenting all the awards myself, I asked a few friends to help me hand them out. Ellen Datlow, Pat Cadigan, David Gerrold, and Robert Silverberg -- stalwart fellows, and Hugo Losers in good standing, all -- came forward to lend a hand.

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM was the first Alfie handed out. The winner was JOHN JOSEPH ADAMS, who had come in sixth behind the slates with 149 nominations (only 13 behind Vox Day -- if only a few more fans had troubled to nominate, we might not have had No Award winning here). Adams was at the con, but unfortunately not at the party. I had never been able to track him down.

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM was presented by Ellen Datlow, one of our field's leading editors for close on forty years. Ellen has won Hugos and lost more, and probably has more World Fantasy Awards than any other person. Her apartment looks like Easter Island; everywhere you turn, H.P. Lovecraft is staring at you. The winner was LIZ GORINSKY of Tor, with 96 nominations. Liz is a Hugo Loser in good standing, since she has been a finalist several times, but has never won. She's still a Hugo Loser... but now at least she is an Alfie winner, and she was there to accept, which delighted me no end.

Next was BEST RELATED WORK. Jo Walton took this one, with 105 nominations, for WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT. Alas, though she was said to be at the con, I never found her, so she was not at the party. (Until I saw the nomination totals, I had been thinking the second volume of William Patterson's Heinlein bio would take this Alfie, but I was completely wrong. And the Walton book is a perfect winner, one that epitomizes the spirit of the original Hugo Awards. It is a big book of Attaboys!, a fond and affectionate look back at the books that made us SF fans). David Gerrold made the presentation.

BEST SHORT STORY. "Jackalope Wives" by Ursula Vernon. 76 nominations. Ursula was not at the con, but her friend Mur Lafferty came forward to accept on her behalf. Pat Cadigan made the presentation. Mur spent the rest of the evening having photographs taken of various editors, writers, and fans holding Ursula's Alfie. Hope you don't mind the fingerprints, Ursula.

BEST NOVELLA. Robert Silverberg presented the Alfie (a monster, the largest of the hood ornaments I secured, since novella has the biggest stories) to "The Slow Regard of Silent Things," by Patrick Rothfuss, 124 nominations. Patrick was not at Sasquan, so the massive trophy was accepted on his behalf by Scott Lynch.

Those were the five Alfies determined by fan vote. I know, of course, that the story with the most nominations does not always win the Hugo in the end, so there is no certainty that John Joseph Adams, Liz Gorinsky, Jo Walton, Ursula Vernon, or Patrick Rothfuss would have won Hugos this year... but we do know, based on the nominations, that they would have been contenders. The slates deprived them of that chance. They may win Hugo Awards in the future, or they may not. This year's rocket is gone forever. But they will always have the Alfie.

Attaboy, guys. Attaboy, girls. You did good!



But that's not all, folks. Worldcons have the authority to give one special committee award each year, according to the WSFS constitution. I decided I would give some special committee awards as well, in the spirit of those '53 Hugos, where none of the awards were voted on. Not being bound by the WSFS constitution, I could give out four extra awards, not just one.

These I presented myself.

One went to ERIC FLINT. Through these long months of vitriol and mud-slinging, Eric Flint's blog remained an oasis of common sense, facts, and sanity. He kept his calm when everyone else was losing theirs, and he spoke truth, though he had no horse in this race, and no need to speak up at all. I did not always agree with everything he said about Puppygate, mind you, but that's okay. Reasonable men should be able to disagree. His courage and calm words deserved an Alfie... and when next year comes around, I plan to nominate Flint for Best Fan Writer.

Two more Alfies went to ANNIE BELLET and MARKO KLOOS. Added to the slates without their knowledge or consent, both of these talented young writers found themselves on this year's Hugo ballot, Bellet for her short story "Goodnight Stars" and Kloos for his novel LINES OF DEPARTURE. It was the first Hugo nomination for both of them, something that every science fiction writer dreams of, a day to be remembered and cherished forever. And yet, when they discovered the nature of the slates and the block-voting that had placed them on the ballot, both Bellet and Kloos withdrew, turning down their nominations. I cannot imagine how difficult and painful a decision that must have been. Bellet's story actually had more nominations than any other short story on the ballot, regardless of slate, which suggests that she might well have been nominated even without the 'help' of the Puppies. And it was Marko Kloos' withdrawal that opened up a space on the ballot for Cixin Liu's THREE-BODY PROBLEM, the eventual winner. They lost their shot at a Hugo (this year, at least -- I think both of them will be back), but their courage and integrity earned them both an Alfie.

The last Alfie of the night had... surprise, surprise... nothing to do with the slates, the Sads, the Puppies, or any of that madness. I wanted to give a token of recognition to one of the giants of our field, a Hugo winner, Hugo loser (if you look only at the fiction categories, he has lost more Hugos than anyone, I believe), SFWA Grand Master, former Worldcon Guest of Honor, and Big Heart Award winner... the one and only Silverbob. The coolest Alfie of all (the half-lucite one that lights up) went to ROBERT SILVERBERG, the only man among us to have attended every Hugo Awards ceremony since 1953. There has never been a Hugo given out without Silverberg watching. Just think of that!

And that was the night. The party resumed with much hooting and hollering.

A few last words. Some people are calling the Alfies an "alternative" award. I prefer to think of them as "supplementary" awards. A way to heal the hurt, spread some joy, reward good work.

I wanted them to be a surprise, so I did all I could to keep them secret. Aside from me and my team here in Santa Fe, no one knew about the Alfies ahead of time except the handful of people I asked to help me present them. None of the winners had so much as an inkling.

Some of the leading Puppies have oft said that the awards should be about the work. I agree. And looking at the Alfie winners, I could not be more proud of the quality of the work represented. Truly top-flight stuff, and no "boring message fiction" to be found (that was always an empty talking point). Any of them would have done the Hugo proud.

So let's have a round of applause for Robert Silverberg, Marko Kloos, Annie Bellet, Eric Flint, Jo Walton, Ursula Vernon, Liz Gorinsky, John Joseph Adams, Patrick Rothfuss. Enjoy your rockets. But remember what Alfie Bester said... they're hood ornaments, and in twenty-three years they may be so pitted and corroded that you'll be welcome at the Losers Party.