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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.


Arcturas Trosper
Aug. 27th, 2015 11:30 pm (UTC)

I think the current controvery has left out the fans who do not vote, but buy and read the books. I understand Hugo's is passed out by a club with dues, but sixty bucks will still a bunch of books.
So for the Hugo committee to callously disregard those who paid their dues, is more or less telling them, your vote means nothing.

Someone owes a really big refund to those people.

Instead of insuring all the nominess get the same shot at winning, the Hugo committee has decided to piss in their sandbox and take its toys inside. A giant FU to everyone who voted, but its their sandbox, right?

There were a lot of good writers nominated this year who took home nothing.
Screw them! They should be happy to just be nominated.

Diversity is now more important than their hard work or anyone's hurt feelings. Diversity is being used as a filter to keep dissenting voices out of the awards process. The Hugo's are now a filter on the writing process to make sure the right people win.

Merit used to be the tool for deciding who gets an Hugo award.
But for a while now, getting a Hugo is about promoting Diversity over the craft of writing a great book.

So maybe, Straight Whites need not to apply.

The Hugo award is now horribly tainted.

This whole mess is not just a failure to communicate, but also to tolerate, and embrace the differences of other people, including their right to disagree. I sincerly hope that the Hugo passes away in a few years, and is replaced by a better award given by a bigger and more inclusive group of science fiction fans.

Don't worry, George. Good writers will always make money, even if they don't have a Hugo on the mantle to validate their work.
At this point, I would think the Hugo is largely a meaningless symbol of pandering to those who fit the 'correct' socially acceptable demographic. It makes perfect sense that the Award is a rocket, shaped like a dildo, cause thats about the only practical use for it now.

Have a good day!

Aug. 27th, 2015 11:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
It's still merit. Always has been, always will be.

And "straight whites need not apply" is such bullshit. Do you care anything about FACTS? Look at all the Hugo awards handed out this past decade. Count the winners. You know who's won the most? Straight white guys!!! The only difference from the 50s is that straight white guys no longer win them ALL.

Everyone's vote counted. That's how elections worked. I voted for George McGovern in '72. He lost. He lost big. My vote still counted. That's what happened in the Hugos this year.
Arcturas Trosper
Aug. 28th, 2015 02:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
Well, lol, that sure got a response. I am not serious about the straight white guy thing, as the entire history of science fiction IS littered with white guys, if not straight ones. But I do think some people think that making room means excluding white folk. This year, a lot of people got excluded. That kinda validates the feelings of the people who think being white means being excluded for the sake of Diversity. If the votes in this election mattered, they would not have been wholly discarded. It was a bad call. It hurt people, especially the nominees, and it diminished the Hugo. This is not going to end well, when and if it does end. Sometimes those who claim to be the most progressive and sensitive can make decisions that are non-inclusive. They have to live the decision. Its on them, not the fans.


I was too young to vote for McGovern, but I do remember the Dark Lord Nixon. I have voted for democrat or independent most of my life, including twice for Obama.Why? The best choice. I still have the irrational feeling my vote might not have mattered in a few elections, wherein I backed losers who want to help people over winners who wanted to help themselves.
Aug. 28th, 2015 05:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
Even the trope that SFF was all straight white men 60 years ago is false. If we'd had the internet in 1956, there would have been Puppies complaining about "boring message fiction" The Star taking a Hugo.
Aug. 28th, 2015 12:00 am (UTC)
RE: Hugonauts
You're a mensch, and fannish to your toenails. It is fitting that thousands of neofans look to your example.
And I'm really sorry to have missed your party.
I really really tried to get some Fevre River Ale delivered to you, but it just didn't work.
Aug. 28th, 2015 04:51 am (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
Facts are not really your friends, are they?

1. It's forty bucks, not sixty.

2. The Hugo "commitee" did not disregard anyone. The Hugo elctorate decided with their vote.

3. Have you seen the work that was pushed off the ballot? That would have been quality work that would have merited a Hugo. Quite some (but not all) of it was written by straight white males (slow regard of silent things, e.g.)and they have taken home prizes every year, just not all the prizes.

It's only the puppies, who can regard their favorite demographic as horribly discriminated as soon as it does not dominate everything.
Arcturas Trosper
Aug. 28th, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
I never really pay much attention to any aspect of the writer's sex or color or anything else when i look for a good read. That led me Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, David Gerrold, Vonda McIntire, and J.K.Rowlands, and I never wondered or cared about who they slept with. Its none of my business.

The issue with awards, not just Hugo's, is that our society has pushed Diversity to the point that a lot of nominations are made on the basis of promoting an agenda of 'lets give it this person because this person is one of us' or 'we should really promote women/black/gay authors to show we care about diversity'.
I agree that science fiction's tree is full of white people, especially men; the roots of the genre are firmly atop the works of mostly white men. So naturally, white men still write science fiction....

So its no wonder that a legion of straight white males are feeling a little crowded. Sure, its may be irrational to think merit would not be the deciding factor, but remember, we live in a society that replaces straight white male characters in movies, television, and comics with more Diverse characters routinely; to object to this practice is to endure hate and shaming, despite the identity of the characters already in the fanbase.

Perhaps white male writers are seeing the parallel between white male characters and white male writers:
the walls closing in and maybe some doors being shut;
real phenomenon or not, no one is very reassuring about it.
They are generally treated with shame or hate if they object in some way. They are told that 'they' had their day, but their little story will be considered for an award. More of less, they are being told to shut up, you got nothing to say about it. Please pay your membership dues and vote.

By burning the awards, the Hugo committee have valided the puppies arguements. It makes them look biased, even if they are not.
Everyone lost, especially the writers.

The Hugo electorate was wrong.

Edited at 2015-08-28 03:12 pm (UTC)
Aug. 29th, 2015 12:27 am (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
You're a million miles away from what's happening based on the evidence of who actually gets nominated and who wins. I think I understand where you're trying to come from, but there's no real substance to the claims that straight white males are being excluded, it simply does not add up.

Traditionally you haven't needed a huge amount of voters to support you to get nominated or win a Hugo award, there's a very good reason for this, the nominations and winners are supposed to be based on reading the published work and there's quite a lot of published work in any given year. Yes that does mean the results can be manipulated quite easily, but if people would just vote for what they believed in, there would be no great controversy. Well there are always those who believe so and so should have won, but that's true of most awards.

I've felt that at times the Sad Puppies were misrepresented in the media and that hasn't helped their cause. I'd rather people were talking about their actual points. That would be more constructive, but from a personal point of view, having read their points, I think they have read between lines that don't exist and came to the wrong conclusions. I think you're doing the same.
Aug. 29th, 2015 05:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
The Puppies joyfully showed the "elitist" fandom the double finger and now they are wondering why the fandom gave that same gesture back at them?

To be honest the puppy idea is a destructive one... let's force our will upon the general public and watch how they like to be the minority for once... had they tried a more inclusive, constructive one instead of the "wipe every resistance from the nomination process" slate, the whole debate would have looked far different.
Aug. 28th, 2015 08:20 am (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
What 'committee'?

As for 'merit', merit and diversity are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite is true.

Straight white males still win a healthy amount of Hugo awards and score an even healthier number of nominations, by the way.
Arcturas Trosper
Aug. 28th, 2015 03:21 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
Not allowing a writer to win based on their sex, sexuality, beliefs, politics,or color is favoritism at best, and racism at worst.

I never stated Merit and Diversity were mutually exclusive. I do see a tendency in our society to stuff Diversity down the throats of people who are not ready to accept it. I am glad to see more diverse writers in science fiction. Certainly, if humanity does have a future, it will take all of us to imagine and build it.

Straight white males do still win awards, and they do still sell a healthy number of books. By burning the Hugos, the Hugo electorate or committee or whoever, have burned all the nominations, as well as the fans of those authors. White or otherwise.
Aug. 28th, 2015 05:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
The Hugo voters have no problem with writers who are straight, white, male or any combination of those things. The list of recent winners and nominees features lots of them.


No-one has ever 'stuffed' diversity down anyone's throat, either. Nor have the Hugos been 'burnt'. These are all fantasies, not real things that have happened.

Farah Mendlesohn
Aug. 28th, 2015 01:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts
There is no Hugo committee choosing winners. Only voters.
Aug. 29th, 2015 04:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Hugonauts

Merit used to be the tool for deciding who gets an Hugo award.
But for a while now, getting a Hugo is about promoting Diversity over the craft of writing a great book.

What a great big heap of bullshit.

You are accusing the comittee that awards the Hugo of cooking the numbers? Seriously? With any kind of proof?

Otherwise, if you do NOT believe that the results are faked then they are based on the will of over 5000 scifi fans who made their intention known by sending in a vote (and paying the membership fee to be allowed to do that).

Of course that means that in the eyes of said 5000 and change voters the books/works/achievements that DID win WERE great scifi. And the losers were not so great as to deserve the price. Boohoo. Taste is still a personal privilege and just because your personal taste does not reflect the winners and losers at all there is no justification for crying "foul play" and construct all these absurd theories about brainwashed masses only accepting pc concepts due to pressure from whoever, whereever, whenever groups...

I follow the academy awards for a long time now, twelve, fifteen years maybe. And in that time I did not agree with very many choices they came up with for the winners. Most of my favorites would have been heartfully greeted on Mr Martin's loser party if there were the same for the Oscars. Still i do not think that there is a secret agenda to only vote weird, unsatisfying movies into the highest praised category of award winning movies, i just think that my taste is far better than that of the average member of the academy and sooth my hurt fan feelings with the idea that i'll still have the DVDs to cherish and watch even if they did not win.


George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin

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