On a Hugo for Lifetime Achievement

Author Jay Lake is mulling over proposing a Hugo for Lifetime Achievement, and has been asking for feedback on the idea. I’m personally skeptical that such a thing is needed, for the reasons that people in Jay’s comment thread have been pointing out: Worldcons are already able to provide special awards that take care of this, and being a Worldcon Guest of Honor is very much like a lifetime achievement award. I didn’t see but would also add that there is already a Science Fiction Hall of Fame, for which induction is very much a lifetime achievement award. In short, this would be a Hugo without too much of a reason for existing, and the Hugo awards ceremony is already generally long enough as it is.

However, if we were going to scope out a Lifetime Achievement Hugo, just for kicks and giggles, my inclination would be to make it difficult to win; I would want it to be an award that genuinely signaled that its winner was in themselves in sufficiently high esteem, and not merely the best pick of whichever five candidates happened to be on the slate. This means that I would game the process to default to “No Award” whenever possible; winning the Lifetime Achievement Hugo would thus be an achievement in itself.

Here’s how I would set it up:

1. Nominee would need no less than 30 years in science fiction, based on their first verifiable activity (publication, editing activity, confirmed fan association, etc.). The deceased may be nominated for up to three years after their death.

2. To be nominated, nominee must have 50 nominations or a nomination number equal to 1% of the official attendance of the previous year’s Worldcon, whichever is greater. If fewer than three nominees achieve this number of nominations, the award will not appear on the final ballot.

3. For the category to be awarded, the number of voters in the category must be equal or greater to two-thirds of the number of voters for the Best Novel Hugo. If the number is less, this Hugo will not be awarded.

4. For the award to be given, the winner must be apparent by the third round of balloting, not counting “No Award” votes (or the second round if there are only three nominees). If there is no majority candidate by those rounds, this Hugo will not be awarded.

5. Winners of the category will no longer be eligible for the award.

So you see how it would be difficult to even get nominated for this Hugo, must less win it. But if you did win it, there would be no doubt that you deserved to win it. Which is as it should be in both cases, because this is for lifetime achievement.

But as I said, given my druthers, I’d pass on having this be a Hugo category at all.

56 thoughts on “On a Hugo for Lifetime Achievement

  1. I don’t see a need for it either. Besides the SF Hall of Fame and the Worldcon GoH accolade, there’s also the SFWA Grandmaster award, and the Big Heart Award.

    Seems to me there’ a limit on how much back-patting is required for those actually eligible for such an award.

  2. I’m concerned about number 2: If, say, Arthur C. Clark (a man who deserves the award, if anybody) died tomorrow, in order to grant him the award posthumously, you would have to find two other people who could manage to get 50 nominations, within the next three years (because of point 1). Because of that, I suspect that there could be deserving people who go unrecognized merely because there’s no strong consensus for other people.

    I agree with you, and don’t think there’s a strong need to create a Lifetime Achievement Hugo, but if it were going to happen, I would hate for deserving people to miss out on technicalities.

    K

  3. Actually, I’d think it might be wise to put a waiting period on nominating dead people (ie, you must wait at least three years after they die to nominate them) so that people don’t just vote for someone because they died recently and it would be a nice gesture to their family. But then you’d have to find another way to cap it off so that the late greats didn’t get perpetual nominations.

    I agree with you that it’s unnecessary. I also feel like voting for a lifetime achievement award seems weird. With novels it makes sense– best novel released this year. But the person who’s achieved the most in their lifetime whose been nominated this year?

    I guess my problem is, most Hugo awards have just one variable: best ____ for the time-frame of the given award. A lifetime Hugo would have two variables: who has achieved the most, and what year they’re being nominated (because clearly they aren’t nominated for the year in which they did what they’re being nominated for, as they would be for other Hugos). Say it’s a crazy-close vote and someone loses by a hair. The next year time it makes it to the ballot, the winner receives fewer votes than the previous close runner-up. When voting for the best novel of the year, that’s irrelevant. But for a lifetime? More people apparently thought the previous runner-up’s lifetime deserved recognition than the winner. If their lifetimes within fandom overlap to any great extent, that seems unfair. I don’t know how you could make a voting system fair in that case.

    (Unless people could vote for as many people as they wanted and the award was given to anyone who achieved a certain number of votes?)

    Two caveats to this already horribly long comment: 1. It’s possible that I’ve got my head shoved up my rear about how Hugos are voted on, and my concerns are unfounded. 2. I also suck at math, including the math of how to set up a fair vote.

  4. KevinQ:

    Well, this brings up another point, which is that many people who would be considered for such a Hugo have already been amply awarded. Sir Arthur, for example, has won innumberable awards — indeed, has a major SF/F award named after him — and has been knighted. Does another such accolade have resonance anymore?

    In any event, I do think the award needs to be a competitive one. If there is no viable competition for Arthur C. Clarke for the award, it says more about science fiction than it does about Arthur C. Clarke.

  5. I’m kinda with KevinQ….if there was an award, the technicalities shouldn’t preclude worthy folk from getting it.

    (Also, some people’s lifespans are much shorter than others, but they do a lot with the time they have. So I’m not super fond of the 30 years irdea either.) Lifetime Achievement awards are tricky things. It is for a lifetime’s worth of achievements after all…so you don’t want to give it out too early. But I’m thinking of people like Mike Ford, who seems to have influenced a large number of people. Maybe his output wasn’t so prolific, but there seems to be a lot of quality to it.

  6. Why the “deceased may be nominated for up to three years after their death” rule? I’m trying to think of a negative situation that this would prevent, and I’m coming up with nothing.

    Alex.

  7. I’m thinking that we’d generally want to focus on the people who would be alive to appreciate the award.

  8. OK, I’ll play along for a minute. All awards are basically marketing tools. The Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, are all an opportunity to boost sales on a product that, most likely, was already selling fairly well. Being able to release a book that has “Winner of the 2007 Hugo Award”, or “By Hugo Award winning author…” must offer a bump, especially to a newer author who may not have a lot of name recognition yet. So, really, from a fans point of view, all of these awards should be somewhat irrelevant. Aside from the fact that watching awards shows can be fun, we, as fans, should be aware that we’re being marketed to.

    As for a Lifetime Achievement Award, that probably doesn’t even work as a marketing tool. Any winner would, be definition, be a prolific and successful author with the marketing bump being minimal (IMHO).

  9. Nathan:

    Well, I suspect it could be handed out to editors, artists and fans as well. But authors are indeed the most obvious candidates.

  10. Alex @8 and Scalzi @9: I’m thinking John’s “three years after their death” rule would allow the recognition of those who die young, while encouraging attendance by the late recipient’s widow(er), children or other surviving family. I’ve often thought it a damn shame that certain authors will never be recognized as SFWA Grandmasters simply because they had the bad luck to die at a relatively young age. I’m talking here of people such as Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, Douglas Adams, Octavia Butler and the above-mentioned Mike Ford, to name just a few. I’m thinking that with sufficient nominations (say, 3/4 instead of 2/3) the 30-year rule could be waived, much as the Baseball HOF waived the waiting period for Roberto Clemente after he died in a plane crash in 1972.

    That said, I’m not entirely enthusiastic about this whole proposal to begin with, and will not be at all upset if it doesn’t pass. My feeling is that the nature of Worldcon membership is such that we are much more suited to judging current works than a body of work going back a third of a century or more. This is particularly true of non-authors (editors, publishers, artists, various fan activities, etc.). Members who have been attending Worldcons for less than ten years or so would be largely unfamiliar with the people eligible for the award, particularly non-authors.

  11. John said:
    “Well, I suspect it could be handed out to editors, artists and fans as well. But authors are indeed the most obvious candidates.”

    Well, extending my jaded view, I could actually get behind the idea of awarding editors, artists and others. They get a lot less recognition. Fans, not so much (also IMHO).

  12. Mark DF:

    I think it’s clear that as the Hugos cover science fiction and fantasy, so would any Lifetime Achievement Hugo.

  13. This one makes me a bit queasy. I like your make-it-hard-to-win idea, but overall, declaring greatness (as opposed to recognizing achievement in any given year) makes me nervous.

    So, you’re probably going to give one to Charlie Grant, Arthur Clarke, Dave Langford, Ursula Le Guin (maybe — what’s she done for us lately?*), ?Robert Silverberg?, [a few people I'm missing]

    Then what? Seriously. How many years can you give this until you run out of consensus winners? The obvious candidates are mostly dead.

    * Note: sarcasm alert

  14. I remember when Lily Tomlin said in her acceptance speech along the lines of, “I’m too young for a lifetime achievement award.”
    Others of course make snarky remarks “I’m not dead yet.”
    So long as you are alive there is still time for achievement I guess.
    Lifetime achievement awards always strike me as the guilt award. Sorry you never won in the other runnings here have this before you kick off.

  15. Lifetime achievement awards always strike me as the guilt award. Sorry you never won in the other runnings here have this before you kick off.

    That’s certainly the way it works with the Oscars. Peter O’Toole vehemently rejected one for years because he was hoping to win a merit Oscar instead.

  16. Regarding your five conditions, John: does “30 years in SF/F” (condition 1) mean 30 years of regular activity in publishing SF/F? I mean, should somebody who published a couple of well-received works thirty years ago and then never wrote anything else be eligible for this award?

    If it does, then I have to ask how many living or recently-passed individuals are there who can meet just the time-in-the-field requirement? I can think of only a few.

    On top of that, is it really fair to only consider time-in-service? Should there be a minimal number of stories required? Should the nominee(s) have already won at least one major award (Hugo, Nebula, whatever), to demonstrate the quality of his/her work? I can think of several authors who have been writing for over thirty years, but have never “achieved” anything more significant than selling lots an’ lots of words.

    Even if those questions can be answered, however, I still think it’s a generally bad idea.

  17. The problem when you get into “Arthur C. Clarke shouldn’t be excluded on a technicality because if anyone deserves it, he does” is that this (in my opinion) inevitably leads to, “Well, what about Isaac Asimov? He deserves a Lifetime Achievement Hugo, too!” and “Well, if Asimov’s getting one, then Heinlein should get one,” and it becomes yet another Canonization of the Great SF Writers until somehow, you’re giving a Lifetime Achievement Hugo to the author of “Beowulf”…and I don’t mean Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary.

  18. I don’t think there should be a Hugo for lifetime achievement either. However, condition 4 means that there will be no award when multiple equally deserving people are on the ballot at the same time. This means whether or not someone deserves a lifetime achievement Hugo depends on who else is on the ballot.

  19. hugh57 @ 12:

    “My feeling is that the nature of Worldcon membership is such that we are much more suited to judging current works than a body of work going back a third of a century or more. This is particularly true of non-authors (editors, publishers, artists, various fan activities, etc.). Members who have been attending Worldcons for less than ten years or so would be largely unfamiliar with the people eligible for the award, particularly non-authors.”

    *************************************************************************
    I’ve only been to 2 WorldCons (considering Denvention for Lois) and my impression is that there are very few people there who have been attending for 10 years or less and it certainly feels like most people have been going to WorldCon since the 1960s or 70s.

  20. SF Awards Watch opened the discussion on this subject with the feedback from SMOFCon’s Hugo Awards Round Table, and there is further discussion on the subject on SFAW.

    Regarding your five points: Almost everyone involved in the discussion so far has agreed with “in field 30 years” and “can only win it once.” (Note that some people seem to think that “can only win once” means that if you were to win it, you’d be ineligible in any category, which is silly.) But regarding posthumous nomination, hardly anyone thinks it’s a good idea, aside from the practical matter of if someone dies between the release of the final ballot and the close of voting. If we must have posthumous nomination, I’d be more inclined to do the opposite of what you approach and wait at least three or even more years. You really don’t want short-term sentiment influencing this.

    Turning to the subject of making such an award very difficult to win: As reported here on SFAW, another proposal that would make voting for this category a little different than the others would be to make it more like the voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame, in that a winner would have to appear on at least 75% of nominating ballots cast to win, and you could have multiple winners. I’ve suggested a cap of not more than five winners per year (unlikely to be reached anyway save in the early years of such an award) in order to give Worldcons some upper limit certainty on how many trophies they have to build. This system would almost certainly be more difficult to win than anything proposed here so far.

    Yes, there is a Science Fiction Hall of Fame. How many people think that being inducted into it carries the same level of prestige as a Hugo Award? As far as I can figure (and I admit to being biased), nothing in the field of literary SF/F outranks the Hugo Award.

    I’m also amused that the readers here — and elsewhere, as I’m following this in different places — almost unanimously assume that only authors would ever win such an award, and don’t even consider the prospect of editors and publishers (think Betty Ballentine, who I understand to be one of the inspirations for this project), and possibly even fans being so honored. That is, except the one person who took it for granted that the award would only go to pretty-boy actors. Go figure.

    (I think I sound like I’m an advocate for this award. I don’t think I am; however, I am what you might call a parliamentary consultant, dealing with the many technical issues such an award raises.)

  21. …my impression is that there are very few people there who have been attending for 10 years or less and it certainly feels like most people have been going to WorldCon since the 1960s or 70s.

    Ouch! Hey, we’re not that old! I wasn’t even born until 1965. I have, however, attended every Worldcon since 1989, plus the one I attended in 1984 over my 18th birthday.

  22. wolfwalker said:

    …does “30 years in SF/F” (condition 1) mean 30 years of regular activity in publishing SF/F? I mean, should somebody who published a couple of well-received works thirty years ago and then never wrote anything else be eligible for this award?

    Why worry about it? Nobody who met those criteria would ever be a serious candidate for the award, because nobody would nominate him/her. Concentrate on plausible scenarios, not “anything that could ever happen under the most unlikely conditions.”

    On top of that, is it really fair to only consider time-in-service? Should there be a minimal number of stories required? Should the nominee(s) have already won at least one major award (Hugo, Nebula, whatever), to demonstrate the quality of his/her work?

    First, see what I said above: anyone with only negligible presence in the field would never be nominated. Second, this award would be open to people who aren’t actually eligible for one of the specific-work Hugo Awards because they aren’t writers, and therefore requiring qualification for “previous awards won” isn’t necessarily meaningful.

  23. I’ve been to only 2 Worldcons myself (Noreascon 2004 and LACon 2006), I’ve had a somewhat different impression. Yes, the room parties seem to be filled with long-time con-goers, but the main hall, the dealers room and the panels seem to be full of people I don’t recognize from the parties the night before.

    However, I have noticed that while the average Worldcon lately seems to attract around 4000 to 6000 members, only about 1000 can be bothered to actually submit a Hugo ballot (that number is even lower for the nominating process earlier in the year). So you may be right, in that the demographics of Hugo voters might tend to skew toward the long-time con-goers.

  24. Annalee Flower Horne said:

    (Unless people could vote for as many people as they wanted and the award was given to anyone who achieved a certain number of votes?)

    Exactly the approach reported here: Allow everyone to nominate and give the award to everyone who appears on at least 75% of the nominating ballots. You thus skip the final ballot and give multiple awards. Note that the electorate for this would be the nominating members, which means the union of the members of the previous Worldcon plus members of the current Worldcon as of end end of January of the Worldcon year.

    You are otherwise right about the mechanics of how the existing Hugo Awards work, by the way.

  25. Kevin Standlee @29: Of the approaches that I’ve read, the Baseball Writers (BBWA) model seems to make the most sense to me. However, I think one thing that needs to be considered is how to handle ballots received that are blank (for the LAH category). I would imagine that quite a number of ballots would be received that have nominations for Best Novel, Fan Writer, Dramatic Presentation, etc., that would be blank for the LAH category, given that “No Award” is not usually offered as an option at this stage of the process. Do you count the blank category ballots in determining the 75% needed to award? Or just the ballots that have at least one name nominated? Three possibilities that I can see:

    1. Count the blank category ballots toward the 75%, essentially making a blank ballot for LAH a vote for “No Award.” This, I believe, is what the BBWA does; many writers are known to intentionally submit blank ballots if they feel nobody eligible that year is deserving of the Hall. It is true that the BBWA writers are making a conscious choice when they do this, many Hugo nominators might not be. But on the other hand, if there is that much apathy for the LAH in a given year, maybe it shouldn’t be awarded that year.

    2. Count only the ballots that have at least one name (or the words “No Award” actively written in) for the category towards the 75%. This would, IMO significantly reduce the number of nominations needed to be awarded the Hugo.

    3. Allow the nominators to write in up to five names (as with other categories) but also offer “No Award” as a check box. This I believe would be confusing; some ballots would come in with both names written in and “No Award” checked; how to handle that?

    Of the three I’ve listed, I think #1 would be the best way to go. That is, assuming that the membership insists on having the award at all, which I certainly don’t.

  26. I think one thing that needs to be considered is how to handle ballots received that are blank (for the LAH category).

    I think you nailed it with #1 — 75% of all ballots cast, including those that have no nominations in the category at all. If such an award is offered — and I’m not actually advocating for the award, remember, although I’m not actively opposed to it either — I think it does need to be difficult to win.

    “No Award” is not usually offered as an option at this stage of the process.

    Because for the Hugo Awards as they stand now, it’s not necessary to nominate No Award. It always appears on the final ballot. And the way you show lack of enthusiasm for an existing category is to not nominate in it. Existing rules establish minimum percentages of nominations necessary, and instruct administrators to drop a category from the ballot if their is a marked lack of interest. (Just having a lot fewer nominations than the most-popular category is insufficient reason for dropping a category. The drop-on-no-response rule has only been invoked recently on several Special Categories that individual Worldcons have added to their nominating ballots, only to have to drop due to lack of interest. Oh, and it was invoked on several Retro-Hugo categories as well, but that’s a different story.

    However, if the nominating ballot is the only one that counts for the LAH — and I seem to be leaning toward that as balancing a lot of conflicting elements — then you need to both make it difficult to win and preserve the ability of people to vote for No Award, in accordance with WSFS traditional practice. Requiring that winners show up on 75% of all ballots including blanks does both.

  27. Since a Baseball Hall of Fame-like option is in play, I wouldn’t mind that either, although I’m still personally meh on the idea of a lifetime achievement Hugo. However, if one is going to have it, it should be difficult to get, so that one being awarded is notable in itself.

  28. Mr. Scalzi has done the community a service by providing a draft which proved useful in generating thoughtful comments.

    I basically agree with #2: Tully.

    Regarding the baseball analogy: if there are any performance enhancing drugs for writing Science Fiction, please let us know. I personally favor caffeine (in its coffee instantiation, whatever it tases like). But this is not trivial.

    Imagine the complications of having a Hugo with an Asterisk a la Roger Maris or Barry Bonds.

    A friend of mine, former U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, was on the committee to make Chess an Olympic sport. The deal-breakers were, precisely, caffeine and nicotine. NOT the definition of Sport. Not the training regimen, the “Sitzfleish.”

    I’d also point out the usefulness of such as award for someone who has been many times a finalist for a Hugo, but never a winner. “Always a bridemaid but never a bride.”

    We know who leads the lists for Nebula and Hugo (in every category).

  29. Johnathan (and anyone else agreeing with #2 Tully):

    Which, if any, of the awards cited do you consider having the same or greater prestige than a Hugo Award?

    I’m also fascinated that people seem so happy that small, select committees are making those decisions and who are, I expect, deeply distrustful of a relatively open, transparent, democratic process for award selection.

    Mind you, I think there must be a lot of people who think the Hugo Awards are selected by a Secret Cabal of some sort, particularly considering the uninformed gripes that get aired twice a year (when the nominations close and when the awards are announced).

  30. Which, if any, of the awards cited do you consider having the same or greater prestige than a Hugo Award?

    I think the prestige of the Hugo has a lot to do with the physical award itself. People really, really want that rocket. The Rocket is just that cool. Anything else just isn’t the same.

  31. I have nothing negative to say about the Hugo, as people I deeply respect have won so very often, and I hope to earn one myself someday. But, though “comparisons are odious,” let me respond directly.

    For writing as such, the SFWA Grandmaster award is the ultimate in our field. In general, there are fewer Nebulas than Hugos, and the Nebula is Peer Review rather than “people’s choice.” SFWA Grandmaster has parallels in other genres, such as in Mystery Writers of America, and Western Writers of America.

    Beyond those, there are the MacArthur fellowships (as won first in Speculative Fiction by Octavia Butler), National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Norman Mailer, educated in Aerospace Engineering, whom I am proud to have met and to have been to his New York home, has written in our genre (Ancient Evenings), and won Pulitzers. He bemoaned his certainty that he’s never win “the big one” — by which he meant the Nobel. But that’s been won by Science Fiction writers several times, including most recently.

  32. The awards you mention Jonathan, are for writers. Do note that Jay Lake’s stated purpose in proposing this award is to find a way to award actual Hugos (i.e. The Rocket) to folks who aren’t writers — people such as Betty Ballantine.

  33. hugh57: I don’t disagree. However, I am making the ancient, reactionary claim that the Science Fiction field revolves around WRITERS.

    This seems contradicted by the 120,000+ nonwriters at each San Diego Comic-Con, or by tightly-wound officious mini-tyrants who occasionally prevent me from being on a panel whose moderator wants me, and has so notified Programming in advance.

    To me, the LITERATURE comes first. I enjoy science fiction painting, scupture, films, television, web sites (i.e. my own little one which gets 15,000,000 hits/year) games, collectable cards — I even learned to play Pokemon to be able to join my son in a tournament years and years ago.

    That is, I claim a writer-centric cosmos, rather than the fan-centric cosmos that SMOFs imagine, or pretend to to, for their own usually noble reasons. Nothin against cons, I’ve paneled at Worldcons in Australia, the Hague, Glashow, and Glasgow, for example. I’ve been Con Chair (ask Dave Brin, Geoff Landis, Stan Schmidt) and shall again in 2009. But even Cons would not exist without writers.

    I have no complaint about Betty Ballentine. I’ve met her, spoken with her, and she is a wonderful and important lady.

    My point also is that Lifetime Achievement, if such comes to pass, should also be considered for a writer of stature who somehow never won an ordinary Hugo.

    With all due respect to the many editors and publishers in my own family, including my deceased parents and my younger first cousin Marjorie Baer (see the Peachpit Press website about her memorial scholarship), without the writers, there would be no books, games, films, TV shows, cards, editors, or publishers in the field. There would be people with Great Hearts, but not for service to the community.

    I also wanted to put the Hugo in context of other awards, from the writer-centric perspective.

    This message brought to you in solidarity with Writers Guild of America, West, in their fight against the monsters of greed, oppression, and deceit who have thrown over 10,000 people out of work.

  34. I think John and Kevin covered the details and problems very very well. Kevin is the certified expert on the WSFS business meeting procedures, the hoops that would have to jumped through to establish such a category. I still just don’t see much of a need.

    The Hugos are creative awards, given for the creation of SF/F. By opening the proposed category to non-creators (fen, publishers), the proposal sounds to me like trying to institutionalize an elite category award for the non-creative production or support of SF/F, and there are already other awards and honors for that. Including the Big Heart, Worldcon GoH slots, and the Special Category award which IS a Hugo, by the rules, and which HAS been used in the past to honor people and groups for major contributions to the field that don’t otherwise fit into the individual category Hugos. And the fan Hugos are loose enough in the rules that much dedicated fanac can get Hugo’d anyway.

    I don’t see that the Special Category award doesn’t already cover this should a Worldcon want to do it, and I don’t see a good reason to institutionalize something that would/should be rare in the first place, when it can already be done by other available means on those rare occasions. Which kind of weakens Lake’s “stated purpose” argument–if the award is regular, it’s not exceptional, and if it’s exceptional, it’s not regular.

    And yes, I consider the SFWA Grandmaster and the Nebula as having at least equal prestige as a Hugo. I’d also point out that while it’s hardly a Secret Cabal, by definition those who nominate and vote on the Hugos are those who have spent actual real money in advance to do so in the form of Worldcon memberships, and done so far enough in advance that they can get the forms and return them by deadline, etc. That’s a fairly stable and relatively small group of hard-core convention fandom, combined and crossed with a lot of SFWA members who also get their voting opportunity on the Grandmaster and Nebulas. A few hundred people are the core of the ongoing process.

    IOW while it is indeed an open process available to everyone who wants to jump through those hoops and is willing to pay to do so, it’s still one that requires a proactive investment of more than just a cheerleading preference.

  35. I seem to be echoing Jonathan to some extent….

    But to reiterate–if fandom was determined to give, say, Betty Ballantine a Hugo, they already could, using the WC choice “special award” category. And yes, it’s a Hugo.

  36. Tully @40 said:

    But to reiterate–if fandom was determined to give, say, Betty Ballantine a Hugo, they already could, using the WC choice “special award” category.

    How? The Special Category can be created by an individual Worldcon, but can only be for work in the previous year. The only way to create a category with a scope beyond the previous year is to amend the WSFS Constitution. In other words, a Worldcon committee could not create a one-shot Lifetime Achievement category, because they don’t have the authority to do it.

    I also do not believe that a Worldcon committee would try creating a Special Category that was drawn so narrowly that only one person could fit into it. Besides, if they did so, any sensible Hugo Administrator — and we tend to assume that committees pick their administrators to be sensible — would kill the category when it got insufficient interest. Several past attempts to add Special Categories that didn’t have a viable field were killed that way — once on my watch, incidentally, in 1993.

    In any event, I believe that Betty Ballantine is merely the catalyst, in that discussing her contributions to the field triggered off the discussion. I’ll leave it to people who are actually advocates for such an award, but there certainly are other people — not all of them professional SF/F writers — who would be very likely subjects for such an award.

  37. Jonathan Vos Post @38 said:

    But even Cons would not exist without writers.

    If you mean “genre conventions as they exist today would not exist if there had never been professional SF/F writers,” then I’ll agree because the field wouldn’t exist. But if you mean “if professional SF/F writers ceased participating in genre conventions, all such conventions would cease to exist,” I think you’re wrong. Oh, they’d shrink, that’s likely; however, look at the conventions out there that are not primarily author-centric.

    And yes, I consider the SFWA Grandmaster and the Nebula as having at least equal prestige as a Hugo.

    Although it seems to me that the Nebula has been attempting to tarnish its own reputation, at least for now it has roughly the same level of prestige as a Hugo — but I wouldn’t put any other award in the field on the same level as those two. And SFWA Grandmasters have to be writers, don’t they? (I’ll admit to not having read the rules.) That still leaves a gap.

    I continue to be amused that at one end of this discussion we have people taking it for granted that of course the only people who would ever win are writers, and at the other we have people assuming that writers would never win such an award, since people would obviously only vote for actors.

    (This post should not be interpreted as being anti-professional-writer. Anyone reading that into what I wrote above is wrong.)

  38. Jonathan Vos Post @38 said:

    I don’t see that the Special Category award doesn’t already cover this should a Worldcon want to do it,…

    As I said @41: How?

    Read the Hugo Award Rules. (Don’t worry that it’s last year’s edition; nothing changed this year that affects this discussion.) Now pretend you’re a Worldcon Committee wanting to create a category as we’ve discussed here. Can you tell me how you’d word the category in accordance with the existing WSFS Constitution? I sure can’t do so.

  39. A Lifetime Achievement Award is not something to be chosen from a slate of candidates, and not something to be given routinely. Usually a LA award is given to individuals who have been skipped over for individual honors (like GOH or a Hugo) but whose body of work puts them on a par with those who have. And don’t just think writers, here. Just as the Oscar for LA has gone to directors, animators and producers, the Hugo LA needs to be open to all WSFS participants – right down to that 84-year-old gopher who hasn’t missed a con since WWII.

    Make it a write-in on the ballot. Let the awards committee choose from the top nominations.

  40. I like the idea of dead people getting it (just like I think the Rotslers should give a posthumous award every couple of years) because you know when you’ve lost the chance to give them any other honour. Case in point, Kurt Vonnegut. The man wrote some of the most widely read SF ever, completely denied the SF-fan community, but is one of the most widely read and widely-recognised writers of the 20th Century. And yet, he never won a Hugo. Go figure. A Lifetime Achievement Award would be wonderful for someone like him. Or David Peoples. Or any number of other writers who have been passed over for reasons ranging from ‘They’re not really SF/F’ to ‘What a jerk!’

    Still, I think that it would be a good thing to have a committee award the prize, but that’s just me
    Chris

  41. howeird @44:

    Let the awards committee choose from the top nominations.

    But then who chooses who is on the Awards Committee?

    Are you aware that Hugo Award Administrators are urged not to make value judgments about the work, but simply to administer the election? Letting the Hugo Awards Administrator pick the winners is equivalent of letting the Registrar of Voters decide who gets elected to political office.

  42. Backing up slightly, let me clarify: “Cons would not exist without writers.”

    The context includes the historical fact that the structure of major Science Fiction conventions (in hotels, with badges, with paid registration, having multiitrack programming) was brought into Science Fiction from Physics by a genius with feet in both camps, namely Milton Rothman, who explained to me, at a circa 1961 pancake brunch of himself, myself, and my science fiction book editor/publisher father, at Princeton (where he was doing Fusion Reactor engineering and Plasma Physics). Milton Rothman explained to me his version of the first true science fiction fan organization in Washington, namely the World War II-era group known as the Washington Worry-Warts; and how he finally persuaded a critical mass of fan activists of the American Physical Society (APS) annual conference format.

    Of course, the highly fragmented conference and convention industry is somewhere between $50 and $80 BILLION dollars a year.

    Of course there are parallels between SFWA, and the older MWA and WWA, and their traditions of cons and awards.

    Of course, once the culture existed, there could be completely non-writer-centric cons, of which smofcon is a leader.

    Of course, I’m terribly biased by being one of 10 professional writers and editors in my family, loving Science Fiction, and being a professional scientist.

    But I seem to be on the same page here, now and then, with people who have expertise above and beyond mine.

  43. The only real problem I see here is the insistence that such an award be a Hugo and not something else. But it sure doesn’t sound like a Hugo.

    I see your point re: intersection of 3.2.1 and 3.3.15, Kevin, but that could be tweaked out by amending one sentence to allow a greater scope to 3.3.15, without creating a whole new categorical award. Specifically the stricture “unless otherwise specified” in 3.2.1 clearly implies it CAN be otherwise specified, and clearly no category is more open to that than the special award category, which could be “otherwise specified” without institutionalizing a whole new category.

    Not to mention that Worldcons can and have issued special recognition awards on their own outside of the Hugo, and that’s already explicitly allowed for in the WSFS constitution. It’s just not a Hugo. What, thirty of them have been awarded? Some specifically for “lifetime achievement” recognition?

    But if folks want a “let’s give someone otherwise ineligible for a Hugo a Hugo because we think they should have a rocket statue and not some other special appreciation award” category you still don’t need to create a new category for it UNLESS you want to exempt it from the normal nomination/selection process, in which case it’s really outside the general character of the Hugo Awards in the first place. Just as the SFWA Grandmaster Award is not a Nebula and the Thalberg Award is not an Oscar.

  44. Tully @48 said:

    I see your point re: intersection of 3.2.1 and 3.3.15, Kevin, but that could be tweaked out by amending one sentence to allow a greater scope to 3.3.15, without creating a whole new categorical award.

    Oh, sure, the Business Meeting could amend the scope clause; however, a Worldcon committee can’t go outside that scope on their own authority. You’re still talking about a constitutional amendment. Given the legislative history, I would expect this to be almost as hard a sell as a Lifetime Achievement category.

    Specifically the stricture “unless otherwise specified” in 3.2.1 clearly implies it CAN be otherwise specified, and clearly no category is more open to that than the special award category, which could be “otherwise specified” without institutionalizing a whole new category.

    That “unless otherwise specified” means that unless the specific definition of one of the categories gives a different scope, or some other provision of the Consitution such as the specific work extension or the blanket works extension says otherwise, Hugos are for last year’s work. It certainly doesn’t give carte blanche to Worldcon committees to create a Special Category with an unlimited date scope.

    Now my history with WSFS only goes back to 1984;however, if I understand the evolution of WSFS rules correctly, in the early days things were like the Wild West, with committees able to do what they pleased with the categories. That’s how we ended up with a “Best All Time Series,” for example. But as the rules solidified, WSFS members, through the Business Meeting, told Worldcon committees that they did not want them to move beyond certain boundaries.

    Again, we can change our rules, but I think the regular attendees of the Business Meeting would be more skeptical of an amendment that freed up the date scope in the way you suggest than they would be of a specific new category that itself had such an expanded scope. Business Meeting regulars are experts at thinking of oddball ways of interpreting rules, remember.

  45. I know, Kevin, I’ve been to a few. There are those to whom the rules are an exercise in gamesmanship for its own sake, not simply required parliamentary structure to keep things on track and under a semblance of coherence. I’ve also spent twenty years working under similar rules in public meetings and hearings with opposing parties and hostile government lawyers watching and making sure all the i’s are dotted–I know what small tweaks can do. “Intent” doesn’t count, the actual literal reading does. Still, I heard what you’ve said and I’m coming right around.

    I like it when the business meeting is skeptical and hard to convince–changes should NOT be easy–and I do remember how it got that way even if I’ve not been to one this last decade or more. :-)

    I went and reviewed all the discussion in the links. As proposed the closest analogue is the honorary Oscar, which in the last few decades has been given almost exclusively for LA, but which has been given for other things. And that’s the one Oscar that is determined NOT by a nomination and vote of Academy members, but hand-selected by the Academy Board of Governors–it does not use the normal Oscar selection process at all. As you’ve pointed out quite ably, the WSFS const is not structured for the very thing the proponents seem to be seeking, and having reviewed their comments I agree my own tweak suggestions would NOT do what they want.

    The honorary Oscar model applied to the proposal would have a WC concom being able to award a single Hugo to whomever they wanted within the allowable criteria–and we both know that some would try to “edge” the criteria.

    More to the basic point, my personal feeling is that I still don’t see any real need for the proposed new category, just a want on the part of some. I still feel that such recognition is already quite available in other forms, it’s the insistence that the honor be a Hugo rocket that is the sticking point–the proposal simply does not mesh with the nature and character of the Hugos at all. They want a special award (already provided for in the rules!) but they want it to be a HUGO (most specifically made very hard to do in the rules–at least the way they want to do it).

    I think it’s a stupid enough idea that if it makes the agenda for Denver, I’ll even take the time to attend the business meeting and sound off against it. Which would hurt–I don’t get to go to too many Worldcons nowadays and I lived in Denver during their last one (enjoyed immensely) so I’m sure there are things I’d rather be doing there.

  46. I’ve been following the discussion of this award on the SMOFs list. As someone who thinks we need MORE Hugos, and the categories re-structured to more closely reflect the reality that more novels are published than short fiction, I like that we would honoring people not already honored. I think we have figures in the field who never won a Hugo Award, missed being Worldcon GOH by a fluke (consistently asked by bids that lost, etc.), died young (like Tom Reamy), etc.

    Just as the Compton Crook Award treads similar but not exactly the same ground as the Campbell Award, you could argue that this award overlaps with the Skylark award NESFA hands out every year at Boskone. They seem to have done very well with theirs, maybe it’s time for the rest of us to be able to vote on an award like this.

    Also, I rarely vote in the Hugos since I don’t read enough fiction published the previous year to be able to vote intelligently. However, when I’ve picked up to the ballot to vote for, say, Fan Artist, I’ve been tempted to vote for categories where I’m a little more familiar like Best Dramatic Presentation. If there’s a concern about the low level of participation in the Hugo Awards, perhaps a more general category would encourage voting.

  47. Over on SF Awards Watch, there is a poll of potential Lifetime Achievement Award recipients. We discussed earlier the possibility of requiring a nominee to appear on 75% of ballots (including blank ones) in order to win. The initial results suggest that 75% is a simply enormous barrier to overcome. I’m not especially troubled by this. If we were to establish a popular-vote Hugo Award category of this sort, it’s appropriate for the entry barrier to be very high.

    I suppose if we wanted to make it slightly easier, we could modify the rule so that one only needed 75% of those voting in that category, including anyone who explicitly checked “no nominees,” and therefore blank ballots (unless marked “no nominees”) would be abstentions and not count against the total ballots cast. But in this SFAW test poll, every voter has marked at least one choice, so it would be the same thing as requiring explicit “no” votes.

  48. Eva @51:

    As someone who thinks we need MORE Hugos, and the categories re-structured to more closely reflect the reality that more novels are published than short fiction….

    It’s not quite the same subject as what we’re discussing here, but I’d be interested in knowing how you’d restructure things to reflect this.

    As far as the written fiction categories go, I know that there is a simmering sentiment among the WSFS regulars to reduce the number of written fiction categories from four to three, probably by collapsing the two “middle fiction” categories. This used to be how the categories were structured until a fairly high-profile dust-up (including, I’m told, an impassioned speech before a WSFS Business Meeting by Harlan Ellison®.

    There have been not-terribly-serious suggestions that we need to add a “super-novel” category for those bug-smasher books that are longer than a novel. Given the Law of Written Fiction Hugo Award Category Names (“The length of the category name is inversely proportional to the length of the work described”), the best suggestion I’ve heard is to call it “Best Tome.”

    [I renew my notice that I'm not advocating any of the changes discussed here, nor am I opposing them. As Chairman of the 2009 WSFS Business Meeting in Montreal, I might have to rule on the effects of some of these changes if they get past the Denver meeting. However, I'll happily discuss the potential effects as a parliamentary adviser.]

  49. Kevin Standlee @52: I suppose if we wanted to make it slightly easier, we could modify the rule so that one only needed 75% of those voting in that category, including anyone who explicitly checked “no nominees,” and therefore blank ballots (unless marked “no nominees”) would be abstentions and not count against the total ballots cast.

    I’d be more inclined to keep the Baseball HOF model and simply lower the threshold to two-thirds (rather than three-fourths) of all ballots, including blank ballots.

  50. Hugh57 @54 wrote:

    I’d be more inclined to keep the Baseball HOF model and simply lower the threshold to two-thirds (rather than three-fourths) of all ballots, including blank ballots.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m troubled by counting blank ballots (unless specifically marked as “none” or something like that) toward the total. That’s because it means that you can’t abstain other than by not casting a Hugo ballot at all. That is a Bad Thing. In my opinion, the right to vote should always include the right to abstain. Counting unqualified blanks toward the total for the purpose of determining a majority means that blanks are “no” votes, even the voter’s actual opinion is “I don’t care who wins, if anyone.”

    It’s sometimes difficult enough to get people to vote as it is. We shouldn’t be putting up barriers that give people an incentive to not vote in the other categories.

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