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.