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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.


Aug. 28th, 2015 12:49 am (UTC)
"Truly top-flight stuff, and no "boring message fiction" to be found (that was always an empty talking point)."

Exactly what part of 'boring message fiction' is the problem, anyway? Is it just the boring part, or is message fiction wrong by itself?

STARSHIP TROOPERS was message fiction for the author's politics, as was (in the other direction) THE FOREVER WAR. Both won Hugos. I don't see anything wrong with that.
Aug. 28th, 2015 03:58 am (UTC)
I loved both those books myself.
Aug. 28th, 2015 02:32 pm (UTC)
"Boring" in Puppyese means "stuff I don't agree with".
Aug. 29th, 2015 06:00 am (UTC)
To be fair, there are very message-centered books that I don't agree with and which are therefore off-putting to me as well. I can't read C.S. Lewis for very long, for example, partly because the Christian allegory is laid on thick and I'm not a Christian. Meanwhile, despite his devout Catholicism, I can enjoy Tolkien and the Christian themes underlying THE LORD OF THE RINGS because the message never overwhelms the work.
Aug. 29th, 2015 07:52 pm (UTC)
I like the Narnia books, even though I don't agree with all of the message (for the record, I'm a Spiritualist, I believe in Jesus and God, but I don't think the Bible is the unerring word of God or anything of the sort or that any earthly Church is unerring). My wife is more of a skeptical, and loves the Narnia books a lot more than I do.

Maybe it helps that C. S. Lewis's mode of Christian message feels almost quaint today, in our world of "Left Behind" and aggressive Evangelicals.

There are novels that make me conflicted. For instance, all of D. H. Lawrence's work has a HUGE proto-fascist vibe. Very repugnant, but also, somehow, his novels are fascinating page-turners for me, because the characters and situations are gripping. I read them, but I feel like taking a mental shower afterwards.
Aug. 30th, 2015 06:07 am (UTC)
"Maybe it helps that C. S. Lewis's mode of Christian message feels almost quaint today, in our world of "Left Behind" and aggressive Evangelicals."

Phew. It would be too much for me to get into within the format of this blog, but for me LEFT BEHIND would be Exhibit A for something that I think has been kind of an elephant in the room in this whole affair: yes, perhaps 'literary merit' should be the most important thing in deciding who gets a Hugo in categories like Best Novel and Best Short Story, but political/religious views (specifically extreme political/religious views) can effect literary merit.

Literature is more than a technical discipline. Even if it's behind a mask and often not to be taken at face value, in reading it you're getting a look into the author's head, into some of their ideas and thoughts. If those ideas and thoughts are ugly or narrow-minded, the product is more likely to be ugly and narrow-minded, as well. To take our humble host, for example, I can't imagine characters like Arya or Brienne would be anywhere near as memorable if Mr. Martin were a misogynist who felt women were inherently inferior to men and should remain in the kitchen.

In regards to LEFT BEHIND, I recommend the dissection of that series done by Fred Clark on the Slacktivist blog. He's a progressive Christian, so it's not an atheistic rant against religion in general, but rather a horrified examination of just how far he feels his faith has been perverted by the authors of that series. It also is an in-depth corroboration of my point: the ugliness of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, their lack of empathy and self-righteousness, seeps into their work and makes it an unbearable read for anyone who doesn't share their views.
Aug. 30th, 2015 06:09 pm (UTC)
Yep. And indeed there are some messages that I agree with but which still grate if used too heavily in fiction: I'm a feminist and an environmentalist, but if I say that Captain Planet or the Lifetime Movie of the Week are great cinematic art, I've been taken over by aliens and you should set me on fire.

(Similarly, there's a lot of eighties/nineties fantasy which, while I liked it as a kid and can still read it when I'm feeling nostalgic....urrrrgh, I know that Rape is Bad and Teenagers Should Have Self-Esteem. I get that God can be female; this does not blow my mind. It's the fictional version of freshman orientation week at college, and since I blew *that* off as soon as I realized they wouldn't actually kick you out for it...)

But, conversely, most fiction expresses some kind of ideology, whether intentional or not. The good stuff uses that to support and enhance the story. The bad stuff involves the Power of Heart.
Aug. 29th, 2015 02:55 pm (UTC)

The stories the Puppies typically cite are indeed boring, and also cringeworthy ('Water Falls From Nowhere', 'If I Were A Dinosaur').

Edited at 2015-08-29 02:55 pm (UTC)
Aug. 29th, 2015 03:53 pm (UTC)
In your opinion.

You cannot state that as a fact.

The Hugo voters obviously disagreed.

Individual taste plays a huge role in the evaluation of art.
Aug. 29th, 2015 10:23 pm (UTC)
Even if that's true, I'm reasonably certain being boring is sufficient enough complaint against a story winning awards without suggesting that stories should refrain from being 'message fiction'.

Heinlein and I would not have seen eye to eye politically, from what I know of the man, and I don't agree with many of the ideas underlying STARSHIP TROOPERS. That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed reading the man's work. I can enjoy reading stories with messages I disagree with if the author entertains me or gives me interesting food for thought. Preferably both.

In short, I see nothing objectionable in the phrase 'boring message fiction' except the 'boring' part. And objecting to the 'boring' part would be sufficient for any story, with or without the message.
Aug. 30th, 2015 12:22 am (UTC)
Interesting that both Heinlein and Tolkien had novels that were loved by the hippies, despite both being sorta right-wing. I wonder if that would be the case if they were alive today?

And I don't think, for one second, that the 1960s and 1970s were less politically polarizing than today, or that people were more enlightened back then. I think today's animosity is the "Internet" effect. All that stuff about being easier to be brave and talk tough behind a keyboard, and the Net also makes it easier for people to look up everything about an author and "classify" him politically.
Aug. 30th, 2015 03:52 am (UTC)
Sure, the 'boring' part is the bad part. 'Message' slips in because it's the current main reason for the Hugo readership to vote for boring stuff. They don't vote for boring stuff because it talks about spaceships in tedious detail, or has a Mary Sue, or is written by a fan favorite. That stuff doesn't even get nominated these days (OK, neither of the preceding statements are necessarily true for fan favorites).

BTW, IMO Heinlein's "The Roads Must Roll"'s ending has a blatant message which sours all the fun world-building in the story.
Aug. 30th, 2015 06:05 pm (UTC)
ctd - I think that line of reasoning reveals a little bit of ignorance of how most liberals think. A story can be blatant, sappy, sentimental, and preachy, and still touch people deeply and make them all gooey inside. In other words, not "boring" at all.

I didn't read the two stories you mentioned, but let me give examples. Ever read EC Comics? Besides their famous horror and crime comics, they also published a lot of social message stories in the early 1950s. Most of them against racism, mob justice, and McCarthyism.

I love those stories. Yes, they're preachy and blatant and you can see the twist one page into the story. But damn, they make me feel all tingly inside. A typical story had a soldier returning home and requesting to his family that his army buddy that sacrificed himself as a hero to be buried in the family plot. You guessed, the buddy was black, and his home city didn't let him to be buried with the white folks. The story ends with the soldier - welcomed as a returning hero - giving a hell of a speech about how ashamed he is of his city. It's predictable and blunt, but NOT BORING to me.

Man, that kind of thing touches me. Same as, for instance, Frank Capra movies.

You assume that liberals vote for these stories out of a sense of duty or something. Maybe you think "SJWs" don't really care for gay people, and are only using them in their lust for power or something. You're understimating the fact that a lot of liberals feel all good inside when they see gay people finally being able to marry and stuff. There is feeling and sentiment invested.

You can mock Liberals for being bleeding hearts, you can even mock the "hypocrisy" of reading stories that make us feel better about being liberals and don't require us to do anything concrete. But I'm sure only a minority of Liberals don't care at all and only go with the flow out of duty or calculation.
Aug. 31st, 2015 01:30 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity about the kinds of stories Puppies are protesting, I actually ended up reading 'The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere.' I don't really have a dog in this fight (no pun intended), so I haven't invested anywhere near as much energy into following the Puppy Wars and the legitimacy of each side's arguments as some have, but TOR has it up on its website and it's quite short.

...yeah. Not really my taste in SciFi either. Its claim to even be SciFi seems pretty loose; it all hinges on the story element mentioned in the title, an element which could have easily been excised with only very, very minor changes. At bottom, it's just a simple story of a man coming out to his traditional Chinese family, with the magical water ultimately being not very important.

It did lead me to ponder how the world would be different if people really could conjure up distilled water just by lying. An exploration of the benefits that would result from anyone and everyone in the world having as much pure water as they could ever need on tap, or the absolute chaos that would result when politicians and other power players could no longer lie their asses off without it being immediately obvious they were doing so, would have probably been a more interesting use of the premise for me.

But whatever. John Chu was interested in telling a coming out story, so that was the story he told. I don't begrudge him that.

I think a key difference here isn't our reactions to the story, which seem similar, but our reactions to the reactions to the story. I can accept that my taste is not necessarily shared, and that a story I found not worthy of winning might actually appeal to someone else. The Puppy claims, by contrast, seem to be founded in accusations of bad faith; people voting for stories they know aren't worthy simply because the message is one they like.

Why does it have to be some kind of grand 'culture war'? Why can't it simply be a genuine dispute over merit, with the beliefs of those who disagree with you informing their choices but not necessarily dictating them?

Aug. 31st, 2015 08:00 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Yes, I've heard complaints about the story having little in the way of "actual science fiction". But I think it's GRRM himself that said that SF, fantasy, horror, and weird fiction in general form a sort of amalgamated super-genre, and works of fantasy are not excluded from the Hugo.

It seems to me that John Chu's story is much more magic realism than hard SF. When you think "what would logically follow when everybody can conjure water by lying" you're thinking in SF ways. In magic realism, the strange elements are more a part of the world's strangeness that people never question in an analytical way.

PS: I really gotta read these stories to see what the ruckus is all about.


George R.R. Martin
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