When an actor receives something like a Screen Actor’s Guild award, they often say something along the lines of “It means so much more to me, because it comes from my peers.”
The most direct equivalent of this in the U.S. genre literature world would not be the Hugos, but the Nebulas. The Nebula Award is a guild award, presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and voted on by the membership of the same. The Hugos are awarded by WorldCon membership, which in practical terms is fandom in its most institutional sense; picture the busiest, most accident-prone intersection between genre creators and genre fandom (specifically, the subset of genre fandom most directly descended from fandom as it existed 74 years ago), and you’ll have the WorldCon general membership.
I say this with some amount of affection, being one of them now.
The Hugos are awarded by fandom, but it’s a subset of fandom whose most prominent voices are mostly people who not just grew up in fandom but grew up to be the sort of people who have fans. Being a literary convention, even many of the people who just show up hoping for a glimpse of one of their glittering idols do some writing. Or game design. Or drawing.
So while the Hugos are not a guild award, there’s not a sharp line separating them from “awards given by our peers”. In the modern genre literature fandom, there is an extent to which our peers are our fans and our fans are our peers, and it’s wonderful. I love it.
I did not win a Hugo. I was not on the shortlist. But I was on the longlist, the tabulated nomination data released immediately after the Hugo Awards. I knew I would be, because people told me they had nominated me. As those who follow me or people around me on Facebook and Twitter might have intuited, I was actually the top of the longlist for one category, Best Fan Writer; “top” here meaning “excluding the shortlist”. I was the next alternate selection, the first runner-up to the nominees.
This is a signal honor to me. When I decided I was going to WorldCon whether I made the ballot or not, it was because I regard the fact of being thought of in these terms itself as something of a prize. I talked about this on Twitter back when the nominees were being announced, I repeated it the morning of the Hugos: awards mean nothing without the warm regard of our fans and peers to back them up, and the warm regard of our fans and peers means everything with or without an award.
So, it’s easy for me to say that when I’m not winning awards, right?
Well, if you’ve been following WorldCon stuff, you might know that this isn’t exactly true. There is probably some debate happening somewhere about whether the Alfie Award is a real award or just something that somebody decided to hand out based on a mixture of objective criteria and personal decision. I am not about to wade into that debate, lest I pull back the fragile veil that separates the minds of mankind from the bleak and terrible true reality from which our senses shield us.
Instead, I shall simply say that it is a real award, insofar as it was really awarded. To me. On a stage. By George R.R. Martin. I was in such a daze that I walked off in the wrong direction, then left my trophy backstage.
And I have to say that it was a thrill, obviously. I wasn’t so awestruck because it wasn’t a thrill. But it was a thrill precisely for the reasons I outlined in my blog post. If only the dozen or so people who had told me beforehand had nominated me, I would have been deeply touched to know this. If it had only been them and the dozen or so more who told me this at WorldCon, I still would have been just as touched. But the ballot data has been released and I came in with 213 people who nominated me for Best Fan Writer.
Out of every single person who thought enough of the topic of who the best fan writer in all of 2016 was, just over one in eight of them thought enough of me to throw my name in. I had just 30 fewer nods than Mike Glyer, the man who won and who had my vote, a man to whom I would have been ecstatic to lose and to whom I am quite happy to have lost the bottom place on the shortlist.
And yes, I am quite certain that Mr. Glyer both deserved the spot on the ballot more than I did, and that he deserved the win completely. I was not much of a fan writer before 2015. I don’t expect to be much of one in the future. I wandered into a fray in progress, made a few observations and quips, and I wandered out. It got me a bit of attention, in no small part because Mike Glyer took it upon himself to be such an excellent chronicler of the whole mess. I know he’s not the only one who shared my work, but I can’t for one second imagine I would have finished as high as I did without his kind assistance.
Indeed, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our nomination totals are so close. I have to imagine that the Venn diagram of people who thought he was worth a nod and people who thought I was worth one had some comfortable area of overlap.
(Which is to say: Thank you, File 770 commentariat. I’m so pleased I got to meet so many of you in person!)
Now, George R.R. Martin instituted (or perhaps I should say initiated, as the man himself is darn sure he doesn’t want it to become an institution of any kind) the Alfie Awards last year to be given out mainly to the person who came closest to getting on the ballot in categories affected by slates.
The Puppies, for all their talk about fun, neither seem to have much of it or understand it when other people do, so they seemed a bit confused about the point of the exercise. Several of them referred to the Alfies last year in terms of being “the real Hugo, given out to the pre-selected winner anointed by the clique”.
But of course, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s possible that in some cases, the person who received the Alfie would have won the Hugo Award, absent a Puppy slate, but it is not inevitable. If the person who receives the most nominations always received the most votes, we wouldn’t need a round of voting.
The truth is that the Alfies are a bit of a joke, which is exactly why they have been so important and so wonderful these past two years, because what we need is a bit of a joke. Something to take a bit of the sting out of being left off the ballot and wondering about what might have done. Something to remind us about our history. Something to celebrate.
There was a lot to celebrate on Hugo night anyway, with many well-deserved wins by well-deserving winners and a total, 100% refutation of the many shifting premises under which the Puppies perpetrated their campaigns this year. We can still mourn the ballots that might have been, the opportunities that were lost to another year of this nonsense, of course, but there’s plenty to celebrate.
N.K. Jemisin checking the internet to make sure it still said she had won a Best Novel Hugo even after she woke up is one of my favorite moments from WorldCon, and it didn’t even happen at WorldCon.
Anyway. With this year’s landscape being so different than last year’s, and the outcome different as a result, I wasn’t sure that George would do a repeat performance for the Alfies. Even knowing that I had been the unofficial “first alternate” in my category, I wasn’t at all sure there’d be one for me if he did. No one can say that Mike Glyer didn’t deserve his trophy, so it’s not like I was robbed of my chance.
But he did, and he gave out an award for all categories affected by a slate, however slightly, and that means that instead of losing to Mike Glyer, I won an Alfie. It’s an actual hood ornament, off of what I believe my father-out-law identified as probably an Oldsmobile, shaped like a rocket plane and artfully attached to its base.
So I received an award after all. Do I stand by my words? More than ever. Because now I have the proof of my supposition that awards mean nothing when there is nothing behind them. I was jumping around the room like Daffy Duck thrilled when I saw where I’d placed, and the notion of getting anything for that besides the knowledge couldn’t have been the furthest thing from my mind.
Then a man called me up on stage and handed me what is literally a piece of garbage—vintage garbage, even collectible garbage, and certainly very artful garbage, garbage artfully arranged, but garbage nonetheless—and it meant the world to me because of what it symbolized. It is a visible, tangible, and ever-present reminder that enough people thought enough of me to get me up on that stage.
Not every trophy is a part of a car bolted to re-tooled scrap metal, but they’re all made out of something and when you get right down to it all that something ultimately consists of is just stuff. The Hugo rocket is stuff. The Oscar statue is just stuff. Shiny stuff, well-made stuff, sometimes precious stuff, stuff formed into iconic shapes, but just stuff.
Having been handed one of the stuffy-est (if not exactly the stuffiest) awards around, I can say that I was right on the money. It is the good opinion and warm wishes of our peers and fans and (as juried awards exist) even sometimes our idols that imbues them with meaning. The Alfie I was given is a symbol of that which I have won for myself and that which I have been privileged to be given, and that is your respect and admiration.
I wish I had thought to say something like that on the stage. I wish I had been as insightful as I am in my best blog posts or as clever as I am in my best moments. I wish I would have thought to say, “They say an award means the most when it comes from your peers, and as I’ve just been handed one by one of the living giants of fantasy writing, I’m going to go with that.”
I wish I would have remembered to explicitly thank the people who had brought me there, in the figurative sense of giving me the impetus and the literal sense of crowdfunding my presence on the stage. I hope my parents raised me well enough that I said thank you at all on autopilot, though I have no memory of having done so.
All I really had the presence of mind to do was hug George, remind the audience that I had received twice as many nominating nods in the category as he had, and then run. I was bowled over. I was gobstruck. I was beside myself.
But the moment only meant something because it was real, and it was real because something real was behind it.
George has been very clear that he doesn’t want the Alfies to become an institution or tradition that is necessary beyond this year. I hope he gets his wish, but I also hope the tradition doesn’t die out completely. However much personal cachet there might be in being one of the very select crowd of recipients of what I’m thinking of as the Alfred Bester Award for Adjacency to Excellence, George speaks so endearingly of Alfred Bester’s place in the history of the Hugos, of WorldCon and the Losers Party, that I’d love to see him continue to be honored in some way.
Ah, well. If there’s one thing the gap between WorldCon 73 and WorldCon 74 has taught me, it’s that not even science fiction writers can predict the future.