From Fan to Chair: A Reflection on the Hugos

In the long-ago days before email and about when ARPANET was becoming the Internet, there was a young woman who was a fan but not in fandom. She barely knew of the existence of fandom, and if any of the people around her were SF fans, they didn’t talk about it because it was somehow lowbrow. But she had read all the Bradbury, Bradley, Heinlein, and Le Guin in her school libraries. She loved books, and reading, and SF, and fantasy, and somewhere along the way had become aware that in far away places there were people who thought SF was pretty cool and authors won awards for this stuff, prestigious awards, a thing called the Hugo Awards. But these were the pre-internet days and news about this was not widely circulated unless you knew where to look.

The young woman went off to college. One day she stopped by the office of one of her professors and was standing in the doorway talking with him. On his desk was a beautiful silver rocket on a wooden base. “That’s a really lovely sculpture,” she said. “Thank you,” he replied, “That is my Hugo.”

That was the day that I learned that the Hugo Awards were not some unobtainable honor given only to mythical, unapproachable authors by mysterious deities. That shiny rocket had been bestowed on James Gunn for “Best Related Work”, his biography of Isaac Asimov. The book had been chosen by the biography’s actual readers, by science fiction fans, as deserving of the award. To me, that made it even more of an honor.

As I became involved in fandom and regional conventions, became a regular attendee at the Campbell Conference, and worked as a bookseller for mumblemumble years, I had the opportunity to meet many SF authors and artists and quickly realized that they were mostly fans themselves, and that most of them really appreciate that they are able to do the work they love and hang out with other fans. How can you not like people like that?

With involvement in Worldcon and as a former Hugo administrator, my respect for what the Hugo rocket symbolizes has only grown over the years. Familiarity has not bred contempt, but the opposite. The Hugo Award is the visible symbol of the admiration of those who read the novels, watch the movies, view the online zines, gaze at the artwork, listen to the podcasts, and then take the trouble to vote. It’s not easy to pick from all the choices out there, and the fans who nominate and the fans who vote on the finalists are often faced with tough decisions from among the excellent work produced in any given year. The expanding popularity of SF often makes it even more difficult to narrow down what deserves recognition.

And behind the scenes, administering the Hugo Awards is an immense amount of work all performed for free by a very small group of volunteers who do it because they are as absolutely convinced as I am of the importance of the Awards and the honor of working on them. Gathering the nominations, determining eligibility, tracking down and notifying finalists, administering the final ballot, dealing with software issues, commissioning the bases, keeping everything highly confidential, all the other jobs involved and making sure everything is handled according to the World Science Fiction Convention Constitution is a massive responsibility and yet all done out of love for the genre and those who create for it.

Then once a year, fans gather together at Worldcon where one of the highlights is the ceremony to hand out the Awards. It’s a big night that many look forward to all year, when everything comes together and we honor our own with a big shiny silver rocket, a symbol of what the fans want to recognize as the best of our genres – and a lovely sculpture for the desk.

I will never lose my sense of awe at having been part of the process.

Ruth Lichtwardt