In my last post, I talked about my general experiences at WorldCon 77 in Dublin, Ireland. Now here comes the long awaited Hugo commentary, even though everybody knows by now who the winners are and discussion has largely died down. Though this year’s Hugo commentary is a little different than usual, because this time around I was not only watching the Hugos via livestream – no, I was directly in the auditorium a few metres from the stage, since I was the designated accepter for best fanzine finalist Galactic Journey.
In order to prevent unfortunate mishaps during the Hugo ceremony such as Dana International stumbling and dropping the Eurovision trophy at the 1999 Eurovision Song Contest, there was a rehearsal a few hours before the ceremony, where the finalists and accepters were told how to go on stage, how to hold the Hugo trophy (“Like a baby”), where to stand and where the timer for the 90 second acceptance speech time limit would be. Dublin’s Hugo Awards (of which I don’t seem to have a photo) were beautiful, but also very heavy, 4.5 kilograms. Because the rehearsal was running late, I had a nice chat about dystopias that make no sense with Greg Hullender and Eric Wong of fellow best fanzine finalist Rocket Stack Rank and the accepter for best graphic story finalist (and eventual winner) Monstress, whose name I have forgotten.
This rehearsal was also the closest I ever got to a Hugo Award and the stage, because – as you probably know by now – Galactic Journey did not win, though we finished in a good fourth place. Meanwhile, the well deserved winner of the 2019 Hugo for Best fanzine was Lady Business. This also meant that I never got to use the acceptance speech I had prepared in cooperation with our editor Gideon Marcus. I do like to think it wouldn’t have been the worst speech of the night.
After the Hugo rehearsal, I headed back to the hotel to wash my hair and get ready for the ceremony. During the rehearsal, I asked one of the volunteers if there’d be someone on hand to help with make-up, etc… (something I’ve never been very good at, since I hardly ever wear make-up) as in San José last year, and was told “Nope, sorry, you’ll have to do it yourself.” Of course, I later learned that there was someone helping with make-up and hair after all, though I suspect the volunteer did not know that. As it was, my plus one Jo Van had to help to fasten my tiara in the lobby of the CCD.
Before the Hugo ceremony proper, there was the Hugo reception with nibbles and drinks for Hugo finalists, accepters, presenters and other important genre folks. There were a lot of people at the reception – 200 to 250 at least. I ended up sitting at the same table as best novella finalists and eventual winner Martha Wells, chatted with this year’s Lodestar finalist Holly Black and last year’s Lodestar finalist Sarah Rees Brennan, several of the Journey Planet people as well as fan guest of honour Bill Burns, admired best novel finalist Catherynne M. Valente’s gown, helped out the accepter (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name) for Charles Payseur and Quick Sip Reviews who’d forgotten the photography schedule and met fan artist finalist Spring Schoenhuth who had created the rocketship necklace I was wearing at the ceremony (which I’d purchased the day before at the art show). The reception was also where the official photos of the finalists and accepters were taken, though those photos haven’t yet surfaced anywhere.
You can see more of my Hugo reception photos at File 770, where the posters also identify several of the people in the photos whom I don’t know.
After the reception, it was time to head up to the auditorium for the ceremony. Because Team Journey Planet wanted to sit together and we didn’t want to climb over George R.R. Martin or ask him to get up, we ended up sitting on two free seats next to a seat with a sign “Reserved for presenter”. A bit later a volunteer showed up and asked us to make sure that the seat remained free, because it was needed for one of the presenters. And who was that presenter? None other than Dr. Jeanette Epps, NASA astronaut and WorldCon 77 guest of honour. So yes, I got to sit next to and chat with a real bonafide astronaut, which was definitely the highlight of the evening for me (sorry, Hugos). Sitting on the other side of us was Tor.com editor Lee Harris BTW.
So let’s get to the Hugos itself. These past few years, I have usually watched the ceremony via livestream, so I knew what to expect. But watching it live in the auditorium, only a few metres away from the stage, was something different entirely. For starters, while it’s perfectly fine to yell or squee at a computer screen, the range of expression in the auditorium is limited to clapping and the occasional cheer, especially since we were sitting directly where all the Hugo winners had to walk past.
Sitting so close to the stage, we also got a front-row view of this year’s Hugo ceremony’s big screw-up, namely the close captioning via automatic speech recognition, which could not cope with anything that was not pre-planned and turned “dogmatists” into “dog magicians” and “1984, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones” into “1984, Bored of the Rings and Cream of Thrones”, much to the confusion of Ada Palmer, who presented the Campbell Award and had no idea why people were laughing. I saw after the ceremony and told her, “Sorry, we were not laughing at you, but at the mess the speech recognition system made of your words.” The speech recognition system made a couple of more unintentionally hilarious mistakes and then completely gave up, when best fan arist winner Mia Sereno a.k.a. Likhain started saying something in Tagalog. And yes, it’s a shame that people in Ireland, which is after all officially a bilingual country, did not take into account that languages other than English might be spoken on the Hugo stage.
Other issues during the ceremony included that the presenters (Michael Scott and Afua Richardson, who otherwise did a good job) had problems pronouncing the names of some of the finalists and accidentally skipped over one finalist in the best graphic story category. Now mispronounced names are an exceptionally common problem that happens everywhere from the Oscars via the annual 9/11 memorial (where German businessman Heinrich Ackermann, who was aboard one of the doomed planes, has his name mispronounced every single year) to school roll calls, which doesn’t make it any less annoying. Not that I have never mispronounced names myself – Spring Schoenhuth was quite amused when I pronounced her surname the German way – but I do try to make an effort, especially in settings like the Hugo ceremony. For example, the acceptance speech which I never got to hold would have credited all the contributors to Galactic Journey and I made sure to ask beforehand how to pronounce the names I wasn’t sure of.
Traditionally, the Campbell Award for best new writer (and I will continue to call it by its old name here, because that’s how the award was called at the time. From next year on, I will use the new name) is presented first and this year’s winner was Jeannette Ng. I have to admit that I did not expect Jeannette Ng to win, since last year she finished behind other finalists who were still eligible this year and unlike some other finalists, she didn’t have any new work out since her debut novel Under the Pendulum Sun except for a single short story in a small press anthology. However, Jeannette Ng lives in the UK, her novel was published by a UK publisher and shortlisted for a couple of UK awards. And with WorldCon in Dublin, there were a lot British and Irish fans, which may have contributed to Jeannette Ng’s win.
Jeannette Ng also promptly caused the most controversial moment of the evening, when she denounced John W. Campbell as a fascist in her acceptance speech who formed the genre in his image (“white, male, sterile”) and would have tried to keep writers like her out, before she went on to express her support for the protesters in Hongkong. That speech has caused quite a stir and eventually led to both Campbell Awards in existence, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (which Jeannette Ng won) and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel to be renamed. The Campbell Award for Best New Writer will henceforth be known as Astounding Award; the new name of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award has not been announced yet. File 770 reports about the controversy here.
Now I have absolutely no issue with changing the name of the Campbell Award, because 48 years after his death, John W. Campbell is much less relevant than he once was and his relevance to the genre had already massively declined by the time of his death (try reading a 1960s or early 1970s issue of Analog some time). And it’s no secret that Campbell had highly problematic views with regard to race, genre, LGBTQ people, science and pretty much everything else, which became even more problematic over time and that he was widely viewed as a reactionary crank by the time he died. Though John W. Campbell was also a more complex person than the caricature version of him as a far right crank who was into pseudoscience and wrote barely readable editorials for Analog which inevitably were on the wrong side of whatever issue he decided to tackle that month. In fact, in my series of posts about the Retro Hugo finalists and the so-called Golden Age in general (and since), I’ve quite frequently come across stories which were published by Campbell in Astounding or Unknown and yet do not match the stereotype of Campbellian science fiction at all. The impact of John W. Campbell on the genre and whether he still matters today or not deserves its own post and I may well write it eventually. But in short, it was probably time for a change and besides, the Astounding Award for Best New Writer is a great name for the award, which still ties back to the magazine Campbell edited (though I grumble a bit at the omission of Unknown), but without the baggage of the man himself.
Nonetheless, I was quite surprised at the impact Jeannette Ng’s speech had, especially since John W. Campbell has been criticised for years, including by other Campbell Award winners, and in fact, the definitive work about Campbell and his writers – Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee – was a Hugo finalist in the best related work category this year and lost in what must be one of the great injustices of Hugo history. However, I strongly suspect that quite a few Hugo voters never got around to reading Astounding and don’t much care for the history of the genre in general, so the fact that Campbell was a problematic person was new to them. Coincidentally, Alec Nevala-Lee also argued that it might be time to change the name of the Campbell Award almost a year ago.
Furthermore, the version of Jeannette Ng’s speech that is circulating online is not what she actually said. And the actual speech delivered (which you can see in a video here) had more swearing, several major errors and also seemed to overrun the ninety second limit. And while there was cheering in the auditorium, when she called John W. Campbell a fascist, down where I was sitting the mood was mostly polite clapping and quiet cringing and a few whispers of “Well, she’s not wrong, but…” I guess this is one of those examples where actually being present at an event is very different from experiencing it secondhand.
The various fan awards were announced next. Mia Sereno a.k.a. Likhain won a highly deserved Hugo for best fan artist. Foz Meadows won Best Fanwriter, a highly deserved win for a writer who has been short- and longlisted several times already. Our Opinions Are Correct by Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz won Best Fancast right out of the gate, but then it is a very good podcast. When Best Fancast was called, I put away my phone and beaded evening bag, grabbed my prepared acceptance speech and prepared to get up, should it be necessary. And then Lady Business were announced as the winner for best fanzine and I could relax and fully enjoy the rest of the night. And for the record, I’m happy for Lady Business to win, since they are a great site, even though I was obviously rooting for Galactic Journey.
Uncanny won the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine for the fourth year running. Much as I like Uncanny, I wouldn’t mind if someone else won in this category once in a while. The two editor awards went to Navah Wolfe and the late Gardner Dozois (accepted by his son) respectively, both highly deserved. Monstress won best graphic story for the third year in a row. Charles Vess became the evening’s only double winner, when he won both the Hugo for Best Professional Artist and the one-off special Hugo for Best Art Book for the illustrated edition of Ursula K. le Guin’s Tales of Earthsea. Again, both awards are highly deserved, though announcing them right after another was not a great idea, because Charles Vess hadn’t even made it back to his seat when he had to go on stage again.
The execrable The Good Place won Best Dramatic Presentation Short – again. I still fail to see what so many Hugo voters see in this dreadful show and indeed, this is one of two Hugo winners this year that I absolutely disagree with (though my first choice only won in two categories). Even some people who like The Good Place feel that it shouldn’t have won two years in a row. The consolation is that the show will end after season 4, so they have two more years at most. And while no one was present to accept the award on behalf of The Good Place, since the show is shooting at the moment, they did send over a nice thank you video featuring two of the actors, which was a nice touch.
Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, which surprised the hell out of me. Not because it’s not a good movie – it is – but because I and pretty much everybody else expected Black Panther to win. The award was accepted on behalf of the film team by two very nice young ladies from Sony UK, who were genuinely enthusiastic.
And now we come to the other 2019 Hugo Award winner that I sorely disagree with, namely Archive of Our Own winning in the Best Related Work category. Now I’ve stated before that I believe that AO3, to use the abbreviation the archive’s users prefer, was misclassified in the Best Related Work category, which has traditionally been for non-fiction works related to the genre, though it has been watered down in recent years and occasionally included finalists which I feel were misclassified. AO3 is not even the first misclassified finalist to win in this category – the podcast Writing Excuses won a couple of years ago. Nor was it the only misclassified Best Related Work finalist this year – The Hobbit documentary, while certainly a worthy work, would have fit better in Dramatic Presentation and the Mexicanx Initiative, while a wonderful project, was definitely an edge case.
However, AO3’s win is problematic, due to the irritating behaviour of a noisy minority of its users (displayed in this thread on the AO3 site and in the comments to this and this File 770 post). In short, a few AO3 users have taken to calling themselves Hugo winners (and called themselves Hugo finalists before that) and at least two even tried to make related merchandise, which is a violation of trademark rights and a huge no-no. And when it was pointed out to them that the Hugo winner was the Archive itself and its infrastructure, not the individual users, that noisy minority doubled down and engaged in some truly pretzelly logic why they were winners after all. I think my favourite is “We’re a collective”, which makes AO3 sound like the Borg, which I suspect was not the intention. Furthermore, the explanations by various AO3 users why they believed every AO3 user was a winner also confirm that the Archive was completely misclassified in the Best Related Work category.
Now as you know, I attended the Hugo ceremony this year as the designated accepter for the Best Fanzine finalist Galactic Journey. However, the fact that I contributed to a Hugo-nominated fanzine (which I’m very proud of) does not make me personally a Hugo finalist. The finalist was Galactic Journey. And if we’d won, all contributors would have been credited in the acceptance speech, but I personally wouldn’t have been a Hugo winner, and the shiny trophy would have been mailed to our editor Gideon Marcus. Nor am I personally a Nobel Peace Prize winner, though I am a citizen of the EU, nor Time Person of the Year and I’m not Pope either nor have I won several football championships. As it is, I didn’t even attach the Hugo finalist ribbon, which came in the Hugo finalist/accepter packet, to my badge, because I wasn’t the finalist and I wasn’t sure what the etiquette in such cases is. And you know what? Being a contributor to a Hugo-nominated project is awesome and a reason to celebrate. But claiming that you’re a finalist/winner, when you’re not, is not cool and doubling down, when asked to knock it off, is even less cool.
Not that I suspect anybody will listen, since the noisy minority of AO3 users has spent 16 pages of comments at File 770 not listening and recently some of them have escalated to insults and threats. I also suspect that they have no idea how pissed off many WorldCon members are at them right now. Even directly after the ceremony, there was a lot of grumbling about AO3’s Hugo win among pretty much everybody who wasn’t a member of that particular community. And no, it’s not because WorldCon members secretly hate fanfiction (some likely do, but most – including me – have a neutral to positive view of fanfiction) nor is it an old guard versus new young upstarts conflict, as some people are trying to paint this and pretty much any other conflict related to the 2019 Hugo Awards, because people of all ages are unhappy with AO3, just as people of all ages post at AO3. It’s because the bad behaviour of a small minority is about to squander what good will AO3 had garnered.
So let’s get on to more pleasant things and talk about the winners in the fiction categories. The new Lodestar Award for Best YA novel went to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. In retrospect, this win shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, since Children of Blood and Bone got a lot of buzz and was hugely popular. But I honestly had no idea who would win in this category. The almost as new Best Series Hugo went to Becky Chambers for her Wayfarers series. It’s a lovely series and I’m happy it won, though I cannot help feeling a bit sorry for Yoon Ha Lee who never got to take home a Hugo for the Machineries of Empire trilogy/Hexarchate series in spite of several nominations (for all three novels, the series and one novelette), largely due to being up against the juggernaut of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series with the first two books.
Alix E. Harrow won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”. It’s a highly deserved win for a lovely story and coincidentally also one of only three categories where my first choice won. The Hugo Award for Best Novelette went to Zen Cho for “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”. This is not a win I expected, but then the novelette category was extremely difficult to call this year, because all stories were very close together in quality and either of them would have been a most worthy winner.
Martha Wells won her second Best Novella Hugo in a row for Artificial Condition and gave what was probably my favourite acceptance speech of the evening, when she accepted the award on behalf of Murderbot and the Arsehole Research Transport. Coincidentally, the other two eligible Murderbot novellas both had enough votes to make the ballot, though Martha Wells withdrew them. And while we’re on the subject of Murderbot, someone should introduce them to AO3. Since I strongly suspect that Murderbot would love it.
The Hugo for Best Novel, finally, went to Mary Robinette Kowal for The Calculating Stars. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, since the novel was hugely popular, though I didn’t particularly care for it. But then, the majority of Hugo voters rarely share my tastes in the novel category, since the last time my first choice won was in 2014.
There are some complaints from the usual suspects that the Hugo winners in the fiction categories were all women for the third year in a row, which is apparently a sign of the impending apocalypse and the expulsion of men, particularly straight white men, from the genre. Instead of responding to these complaints again, I’ll just direct you to this blogpost from 2016, which addresses the relevant points. Also, if there is a novel or story by a male writer you feel should have been on the ballot and wasn’t, check out the longlist for the respective category and you’ll very likely find it there.
After the ceremony was over, the winners had to stay for the official photographs, while everybody else stormed the bathrooms, since it was a long ceremony. And since Galactic Journey was now a Hugo loser that meant that as their representative I could go to the Hugo Losers Party that George R.R. Martin created in 1976 and revived in 2015. This year’s Hugo Losers Party took place at the Guinness Storehouse, a former brewery turned museum cum events space.
The Guinness Storehouse is a fascinating building, which was designed by the famous Scottish engineer Sir William Arrol who designed the Tower Bridge in London, the Forth Bridge in Scotland and the Harland & Wolff gantry crane which was used to build the Titanic and Olympic. And because I’m weird and take photos of the architecture, while at the coolest party in town, here are some photos of the Guinness Storehouse interior.
The Guinness Storehouse was quite a bit away from the CCD, though there was supposed to be a shuttle service. However, when we exited the CCD, there was no bus in sight. It was also quite chilly that night and since I was wearing an evening gown, I was shivering. We stood around on the steps of the CCD and chatted for a few minutes and because it was cold, we decided not to wait for the bus, but split a taxi between three people.
We arrived at the Guinness Storehouse a little after eleven. Someone checked my invitation at the entrance and checked my name off a list, then we went in. I had my photo taken (though those photos haven’t yet surfaced anywhere either), was given a Hugo Loser ribbon and a nice gift courtesy of CoNZealand, the 2020 WorldCon. There was music – a weird mix of SFF related songs, oldies and traditional Irish songs – and there were free drinks and various foods – shrimp cocktail with Marie Rose sauce, sausage rolls, salads, Irish stew, little dessert tarts, etc…
When we arrived, the party wasn’t particularly busy yet, so we found a seat, got food and drinks and settled down to peruse the Hugo results in the official WorldCon 77 newsletter and – as soon as they were available – the full voting and nomination data. This was also when I learned that I had made the Hugo longlist in the Best Fanwriter category again. Many thanks to the 33 people who nominated me.
Around midnight, our host George R.R. Martin took the stage to talk a bit about the history of the Hugo Losers Party and to present this year’s Alfie Awards to two worthy, but overlooked editors. At the end of his speech, George R.R. Martin also said that the venue had reached its maximum capacity and that apparently a few people were still waiting outside to get in, but that no one should feel compelled to leave because of that.
At around this time, I checked Twitter and was greeted by several disappointed and outright angry tweets by various people who hadn’t been able to get into the Hugo Losers Party, which was the first indication I got that the problem was bigger than just a few people not being able to get in. Though I did see some of the people who’d tweeted about not being able to get in at the party later on, so they did get in after all.
By now, there are two versions of what happened at the Hugo Losers Party. One version, elaborated in this statement at File 770 by George R.R. Martin himself, is that the whole thing was a regrettable mess-up, because the organisers of the party underestimated the number of Hugo finalists and losers as well as the fact that the attendance limit for the venue was firm and not flexible due to strict Irish fire safety laws (which are a result of this terrible 1981 fire which happened not ten kilometres from the Guinness Storehouse and claimed the lives of 48 young people), which left a number of people with invitations, including several Hugo losers, unable to get in. The other version is that George R.R. Martin wanted to party with his friends from the “old guard” of science fiction and deliberately snubbed this year’s Hugo losers, particularly the relative nobodies from the fan categories, who were left standing outside in the cold.
Speaking as someone who actually was at the party, my observations suggest that the problems with the Hugo Losers Party were a (preventable) mess-up and not a deliberate snub. Why was the mess-up preventable? Because the Hugo finalists have been known for months, so it shouldn’t be difficult to calculate how many finalists and accepters there will be. Is it frustrating to be left standing outside the hottest party in town, even though you have an invitation? Of course, it is and it should not have happened. However, mess-ups and mistakes happen and not everything is attributable to malice.
As for some of the claims I’ve seen online, invitations were checked at the entrance and people weren’t allowed to take more than the allotted plus one with them. In my experience, it was a matter of pure dumb luck whether you arrived early enough to get in or had to wait outside. If we’d waited for the bus rather than take a taxi, we’d likely have been among those waiting outside. Were fan category finalists and newer finalists snubbed in favour of some mythical “old guard”? Again, not in my experience. For starters, I am a relative nobody who was an accepter for a finalist in a fan category and I got in, even though at least one person on Twitter implied that I shouldn’t have been let in, because I was “just” an accepter. At the party, I also talked to representatives of three other fanzine finalists, one fancast and saw one fanwriter and one fanartist finalist. I also saw a couple of other newer and first time finalists at the party. And since I’m not a regular con goer, there are a lot of people I simply don’t recognise.
Regarding claims that there were a lot of people at the party who weren’t current year finalists, for starters, George R.R. Martin himself has said that the Hugo Losers Party is for everybody who has ever lost a Hugo and not just for current year finalists, which I for one didn’t know. And this could really have been communicated better. Were there people at the party (and at the Hugo reception for that matter) who were not current year finalists? Yes. But a lot of these people were accepters for someone else or plus ones or part of the organisational staff. Without actually asking them, there is no way of knowing if this big name author or that well known editor wasn’t an accepter or plus one for someone. Of all the people I talked to at the party, there were only two who were neither finalists nor accepters nor plus ones. One was Nicholas Whyte, the 2019 Hugo administrator. And if anybody has a right to go to that party, it’s him. The other person was a writer with whom I’d been on a panel earlier. So when we bumped into each other at the party, we chatted and I asked them if they were an accepter or a plus one, whereupon the writer told me that they’d received an invitation to the party. And for the record, this writer isn’t a member of some mythical “old guard” of science fiction and actually writes in a different genre.
One thing that I find troubling is that certain people try to turn every conflict loosely associated with WorldCon 77 into a battle between the entrenches “old guard of fandom” and beleaguered young and coming people whom the old guard is trying to keep out. This “young versus old” conflict is evoked everywhere, in the debate about the Campbell/Astounding Award, in the debate about the nomination and win of AO3 and in the debate about the problems at the Hugo Losers Party. And do you know what? It’s bullshit. There is no old versus young conflict, no matter how hard some people try to stir it up.
In my post about WorldCon 75, I wrote that the thing I enjoyed most about WorldCon was how inclusive it was and how everybody, whether a world famous author or a first time member, whether a baby at its mother’s breast or someone in their eighties and nineties who had attended some of the earliest WorldCons, was part of the community. Again this is just my experience, but I talked to a lot of people at WorldCon ranging in age from children and teenagers to older longtime fans. Almost all of those interactions were pleasant and I met a lot of lovely people. And the few interactions that were not pleasant, the handful of people who made it clear that they believed I didn’t belong were not the so-called “old guard” – in fact, the few big name fans and industry professionals I talked to were all perfectly pleasant, even though I am pretty much a nobody – but younger, newer folks who’ve come up in the past few years. Such as a writer whose book I’d promoted at the Speculative Fiction Showcase and who subsequently told me that I didn’t belong at the Hugo Losers Party. Or the folks who when I politely corrected some statements about the Hugo Losers Party accused me of a lack of solidarity and of cozying up to the big names, even though I’m pretty sure George R.R. Martin has zero idea who I am. Or the folks who call everybody who has an issue with AO3’s nomination or criticises the behaviour of some of their users an old white cishet dude who should just die off.
WorldCon 77 and the Hugos were a great experience, but this artificial “old versus young” conflict has soured some of it for me. We’re all fans, damn it.
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