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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.


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.


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

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