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September 22nd, 2019

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The 2019 Hugos, part two

I ended the first installment with the close of nominations and the announcement of the finalists. One point that should be flagged up to future administrators is the issue of finalists with a large number of nominees, each of whom could therefore be entitled to a place in the (very full) pre-ceremony reception and the Hugo losers party, as well as to a Hugo finalist pin each and potentially even to a trophy each if they win. One finalist presented us with a list of sixteen different people whose names they wanted to see listed as part of their team. We persuaded them to pare it back, and in the end no finalist was listed on the ballot with more than eight individuals (which was also the maximum we had allowed in 2017 in Helsinki). On the one hand, of course it's good to celebrate team efforts, and everyone likes the egoboo of seeing their name on the ballot paper. On the other, resources are limited.

Another strain on resources is that there are now six finalists per category rather than five, but my attempt to reverse this recent change was contemptuously rejected by the Business Meeting, so I guess we are stuck with it. (Apparently one person at the Business Meeting suggested that Hugo administrators should be paid more to reflect the increase in workload. Ho ho, very funny.) I will save deeper commentary on the Business Meeting for another post.

Another point about the ballot that I haven't previously mentioned in public is that we did have to invoke the only rule I have ever successfully got through the Business Meeting that was not subsequently reversed, the loosening of the boundary between Best Novel and Best Novelette from 35,000-45,000 words (as it had been before) to 32,000-48,000 words. Binti: the Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor, has 47,885 words so just sneaked in under the new rule, which was in force this year for the first time. Another finalist that needed some flexibility was The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which received the most nominations in the Best Novella category (which it went on to win) but is under the nominal 17,500 threshold in both the French original (14,838 words) and the standard English translation (17,110 words). Fortunately the 20% flexibility means that the effective lower limit for a novella is 14,000 words.

The ballot having been sorted, we then activated Kathy Bond, Kat Jones and Tina Forsyth, who did a very good job of assembling the 2019 voter packet. It was (understandably) difficult to get much from some of the 2019 Best Art Book finalists. It also turned out to be simply impossible to get copyright clearance for the 1944 material, apart from one author's estate who were co-operative (but one author is not enough). Most of the relevant material is readily available online anyway, of course, and my recommendation to future years is simply to publish the links where they are available and capitalise on the activism of fanac.org.

It took a couple of weeks to get online voting up and running, and by the time it was ready, the packet was so close to completion that we decided to launch both together on 11 May, along with Site Selection. We had very few complaints (and quite a few compliments) about the voting interface. Again the helpdesk team were essential to resolving these issues as they came up. There were a few queries regarding the eligibility or relevance of some of the material submitted for the 2019 packet, but in general people were appreciative.

Early voting on the final ballot turned out to be a much better guide to the final result than at the nominations phase. I recorded the state of play on 20 May, when 400 or so of the eventual 3097 votes had been cast, and at that point the eventual winner was already in the lead in all 20 of the 2019 categories, and 9 of the 11 Retro Hugo 1944 categories. Things swung back and forth, though, and in the final days before nominations closed, four categories in particular (two for 2019 and two Retros) seesawed as the votes came in - at one point, two of them were actually tied, and I started to make anxious calculations about how many trophies might be needed. In the end, however, the very last voters turned out to have similar tastes to the very first voters, and all four of the cases that had been tight runs on 29 July had been decisively resolved by close of play on 1 August. (Two completely different 2019 categories ended up being decided by less than ten votes. Every vote counts.)

My own tastes were not particularly aligned with the results! I voted for just two of the 2019 winners, and three of the Retro winners. I haven't kept track over the years, but this seems to me lower than usual! I'm not going to write up my Hugo votes retrospectively, but I just want to call attention to one finalist which I was sorry to see placing only third in its category: Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman, a gritty fantasy take on Tess of the D'Urbervilles, critiquing rape culture, which I found a lot more to my taste than Hardy. It's the third book set in the same universe, and I am inclined to seek out the first two.

The other finalist which I felt very sorry about was Janelle Monáe's superb Dirty Computer, which outrageously finished only in sixth place in Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form - the same happened in 2017 for another music piece. (Incidentally, Tessa Thompson was in two Long Form finalists as well as Dirty Computer.) I was particularly struck that it got the second highest number of first preferences in each round, and then failed to attract transfers. Did voters not bother to watch it? If you missed it, you missed a treat: here it is.

The close of voting was on 31 July, which as luck would have it coincided with my office summer party, a low-key affair in which we all threw axes at targets.
The helpdesk team, now augmented with Kat Jones, were on the case and in fact the final night of voting was fairly quiet; I could not do the final count immediately, of course, because Colette needed to input the eight paper ballots that had come in, but as mentioned above the trends were already pretty clear. Once the results were calculated, I immediately notified Dell Magazines, for the Campbell Award; Sara Felix, for the Lodestar Award; and the engraver who was making plaques for the Hugo and Retro Hugo trophies (Martin Logan, of The Trophy Room in Belfast, in case anyone needs an engraver in future).

I have already commented on a couple of aspects of the awards - my breakdown of the Retro results is here, of the 2019 Hugos here (including pessimistic speculation about the future of the Best Fanzine category), and my thoughts on Best Art Book here.

One thing that did surprise me was the number of requests which came in after close of nominations asking for access to the Hugo voters packet - indeed, we received one such message only a couple of days ago. We do our best to be clear that the packet is available only during the voting period, and also that publishers are free to participate or not, and also to choose to what extent they follow our (strong) guidance about what format to supply packet material in. One voter in particular sent several tetchy messages blaming us for the difficulties they were having in accessing some of the finalists. In fairness, this person was the exception; most people seemed to understand the voluntary nature of publisher participation, and also the volunteer nature of Hugo administration.

And so it was time for the convention itself. Eleanor came and picked me up from Loughbrickland with a van full of Hugos - apparently concerns were expressed at the previous day's Committee meeting that this meant there was a single point of failure for a large chunk of WSFS, with me and the trophies all in the same place. Fortunately, we made it safely, though Eleanor's van broke down on the way home the next day.

Some of us attended a civic reception at the Mansion House that evening. Here Charles Stewart Parnell is keeping an eye on deputy mayor Patrick Costello, of the Green Party.

Ian Moore came into his own at this point as Hugo Wrangler, ensuring that the trophies were all in secure storage (there was a cute but somewhat fictional skit about this at the actual ceremony) and available when needed. We also had two on display in a Hold A Hugo stall in the Exhibits space, for people to take pictures of themselves with the trophies.

I was really pleased to be able to introduce a number of non-fannish friends to fandom via the Worldcon. First of all, my mother and her partner came to the opening ceremony and then came again for most of the day on Sunday. Also my former colleague Michael, his twin brother John and their friend artist Mike O'Dwyer came on my recommendation and loved it; so did my current colleague Ariuna and her aspiring writer daughter Gugii, who helped me hump Hugos at one point (and being Mongolian, though not registered as such, they may have increased the number of nationalities represented by another notch).

On the Thursday morning I attended a panel on the Retro Hugos (which Ian Moore has written up in detail) and then participated in one on Flann O'Brien; one of the other participants, Frank McNally of the Irish Times, wrote that up for the paper and I have posted my own contribution to it, as performed with Pádraig Ó Méalóid.

The opening ceremony on the first night included also the presentation of the Retro Hugo awards by the Guests of Honour and featured artists, a dry run for the real thing. Only two of the winners had representatives present to accept the Retro trophies, John Hammond (accompanied by his daughter) for his grandfather John W. Campbell Jr, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden for the estate of Fritz Leiber. Over the next few weeks after the convention, we gradually found homes for most of the trophies, though the Dramatic Presentation categories proved tricky, neither Fox nor Universal displaying much interest in accepting them. Eventually I made contact with Curt Siodmak's 85-year-old son for the award for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; I am still trying to make contact with Ernst Lubitsch's family for Heaven Can Wait.

I must say that this has left me feeling ambivalent about the Retro Hugos (which we did not have in 2017). I myself quite enjoy reading classics, but I found several of the Dramatic Presentation finalists embarrassingly weak, and it's tremendously difficult to assess the Fanzine and Fan Writer categories. Administering them is a significant extra dollop of work on top of running the regular Hugos; you have to open nominations in all categories, and then present trophies which cost money (to people who died long ago) at a ceremony which takes time (where few of their heirs will be present), constraining resources that could have been used for other things. The real joy of the Hugos for me is a shared celebration with the winners; for the Retros, the winners are all dead. I would counsel future Worldcons to think long and hard before deciding to run the Retro Hugos. (CoNZealand had already committed to running the 1945 Retro Hugos before my views were crystallised by the experience of doing it this year.)

On the Friday I had the interesting experience of moderating a panel on politics and sff, with my co-panellists being writers from Israel, Australia and Japan. We came up with a list of recommendations of sff about politics which I commend. That evening, Vince organised another spectacular concert of sf-related music as he had done in London in 2014.

On the Saturday morning I actually skipped out of Worldcon to Trinity College, the other side of the river, where there was a conference going on about Tudor and Stuart Ireland. Unfortunately the writer of the one paper I had really wanted to hear had had to cancel at the last moment, but my disappointment was more than compensated by a fascinating presentation from Melissa Shiels on "Gifts of Apparel and Tudor Political Gift-Giving Strategies." She had actually got into full Tudor constume for this and explained to a fascinated (but very small) crowd afterwards how all the clothes fit together.


Back at the CCD, I also managed to sit in on a panel featuring Erle Korshak. Erle is 96, attended the first ever Worldcon in 1939 and briefly chaired the second in 1940. Hugo business unfortunately took me away half way through the panel, but it was a real thrill to be in the presence of a physical connection to the very start of things.


Sunday of course was the big Hugo day, though it started with my unsuccessful attempt to engage with the Business Meeting (of which more some other time). I realised to my horror that although I had brought tux, white shirt and bow tie, I had neglected to pack cuff-links; David Matthewman, as so often, came to the rescue with a lovely pair of Tardis cuff-links which were exactly what was needed. And then we were into setup for the ceremony - this fantastic set with the trophies sitting along a replica of the Samuel Beckett Bridge, which is just outside the CCD.

Someone got a great picture of Ian Moore with the extra Hugo Awards backstage (obviously not all could fit on the bridge).

My wife came and joined me for the ceremony, but my enjoyment of the pre-Hugo reception was marred and curtailed by a moment of horror - I had forgotten the pins for finalists in the John W. Campbell Award, and hastened to my (nearby) hotel room and back to get them, just catching the very end of the reception. In the end I only handed two pins out on the night and sent the other four by mail afterwards.

That is of course not what people will remember about the 2019 John W. Campbell Award, which as it turns out will be the last of that name. The combination of Ada Palmer's impassioned and political speech introducing the award, Jeanette Ng's impassioned and political speech accepting the award but calling out John W. Campbell for his political views, and the Great Subtitling Disaster (described well in Ada Palmer's piece) all made for an electrifying start to the evening. Here is Jeannette Ng's speech:

For what it's worth, I had become very uneasy myself about continuing the association with Campbell after reading Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which was a finalist for Best Related Work; Paul Cornell summed it up pretty well in a tweet:

History records what happened next; Dell Magazines quickly reached the same conclusion and changed the name to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, and CoNZealand has announced that it will administer the award under that name. John W. Campbell is likely to continue winning Retro Hugo Awards for Best Professional Editor (Short Form) if future Worldcons continue running Retro Hugos. Detailed investigations of Hugo Gernsback himself have failed to turn up anything quite as alarming.

My own speech was in the middle of the ceremony, a slight variation from practice driven partly by the director's desire not to have too many speeches at the beginning and also partly to give cover for a costume change. My text is as follows (not quite what I actually said, but what I meant to say):
It’s amazing to be here. Growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, I anxiously chased down every Hugo winner that I could find from my local library as a teenager. I never dreamed that one day I would administer the awards myself, or stand here in Dublin to share the results with you.

I want to thank a number of people who made this all possible: my Deputy, Sanna Lopperi-Vihinen; the WSFS Division Head, Vince Docherty; the Deputy Division Head, Mark Meenan; the software gurus, Eemeli Aro, Arnaud Koebel, and especially David Matthewman who not only engineered the interface but also lent me these rather nice TARDIS cuff-links for this evening; eligibility researchers Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer; Hugo Packet team Kathy Bond, Kat Jones and Kristina Forsyth; Ian Moore, our head Hugo Wrangler; Colette Fozard for processing paper ballots; Ila Khan, supporting the division; Niall Harrison, who lent a hand at the start; Rebecca Hewett, Brent Smart and Terry Neill on the Hugo Helpdesk; and on the creative side, James Shields, Fionna O’Sullivan and Mark Slater who between them generated the amazing nominations video, and Eleanor Wheeler and Jim Fitzpatrick for the beautiful base. And Joshua Beatty and the whole Events team for showing us such a good time this evening. My wife Anne for her support through times of Hugo frenzy. And James Bacon for everything.

3097 votes were cast for the final ballot, 3089 online and 8 by paper ballot. At nominations stage the number of votes cast was 1800, (1797 electronic and 3 paper). Two categories this evening were decided by margins of less than ten votes. Every vote counts, and every vote was counted. Full statistics will be available online after the ceremony is over.

Some of the finalists will go home with these lovely trophies tonight. All of you are winners, whether you came first or sixth in your category. Thanks to all of you who have participated, all of you who voted and all of you who helped. Thank you for sharing your joy and love of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

(Picture by Roshin Sen)

I then announced the winner of the Best Series award, the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers, which I have hugely enjoyed. The look of awestruck joy on her face as I presented the trophy to her was almost reward enough in itself for everything I had done in preparing the awards.


As the voting deadline came closer, it had become ever clearer that The Calculating Stars (which is about a pioneering woman astronaut) was likely to win Best Novel, and Vince Docherty had the genius idea of asking Jeanette Epps (who is in fact a woman astronaut) to present it as the climax to the ceremony. That's not the Hugo administrator's call, of course, but Joshua Beatty, the ceremony director, enthusiastically agreed with the idea. Joshua and Stefan scripted it very well, and I am sure that the vast majority of people in the hall did not work out who the winner was from the clue of Jeanette making the presentation, in the brief interval before the award was announced. It certainly meant that the ceremony ended on a high.

My wife and I spent a long time chatting to various people at the CCD after the ceremony, so I did not get to the Hugo Losers Party until after the crisis of getting people in was over, and had a good time (though was nervously looking out for Campbell finalists to give finalist pins to). Not everybody had a good time, and George R.R. Martin has explained what happened here (with historical followups here and here). It's pretty unfortunate, and I think Paul Kincaid expressed the perceptions of many on the evening: I was supposed to give a talk on Monday morning, but I had realised on the Saturday that that simply wasn't going to happen, and cancelled it. In the end we spent almost the entire day packing and sending Hugos and Retro Hugos where we had addresses for them, a large team assembling packages and a smaller away team taking them to the nearest post office for despatch.

Eleanor Wheeler, Mark Meenan, Alan Cargo, Ian Moore, Bridget Chee

One Hugo that did not get sent to its winner was the award for Best Related Work, which was won by Archive of Our Own. AO3 very generously decided that their Hugo should become part of the Worldcon Heritage Organization's Worldcon History Exhibit of Hugo trophies, which hopefully will be displayed at future Worldcons. This was a tremendously generous act by AO3, and the vast majority of AO3's thousands of contributors have been entirely correct and appropriate in their celebration of their joint achievement.

The current kerfuffle between the WSFS Mark Protection Committee and AO3 is regrettable and its escalation was avoidable. Will Frank, who is in fact a trademark lawyer and also the designated Hugo Administrator for 2021, has written the only piece about it that I will link to here.

Anyway, Eleanor took me away as the closing ceremonies were going, and we have acquired from her one of her larger pieces which now sits in our back garden as a permanent reminder of the 2019 Hugos.


I'm on the Hugo team again for next year, but it is unlikely that I will be able to attend CoNZealand, so my input will be done remotely.

Congratulations again to all the winners, whether I voted for you or not.

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