The June 1976 instalment of Susan Wood's "The Clubhouse" column in Amazing Science Fiction—as referenced last time—looked back on the previous year's thirty-third Worldcon in Melbourne. Now we're closing in on this year's sixty-ninth excursion, Renovation. I'm sure the organisers would wish me to remind people that it's not too late to sign up, at least on the assumption that you're reading this some time before the convention ends on 21 August 2011. There are a range of rates available for individual days and the full five-day period, including discounted rates for young adults and for students, staff, and faculty at certain Reno colleges.
Reno and indeed Nevada are uncharted territories for the Worldcon. In its sixty-eight previous iterations since 1939 it has visited only 39 different cities in seven countries. Regular repeat host cities include Anaheim, Boston, Melbourne, New York, Toronto, and especially Chicago, which gets its seventh Worldcon next year.
The best source for this kind of facts-and-figures Worldcon information is The Long List, an online manifestation of the collective memory of the whos, whats, whens, and wheres of all the World Science Fiction Conventions since approximately 200 fans showed up at the Caravan Hall in New York on 2-4 July 1939 to hear Frank R. Paul while a clutch of members of the local Futurian group (including Donald Wollheim, Fred Pohl, and Cyril Kornbluth) were banned from the event in the grandly termed Exclusion Act. It's a mutable list, both for the obvious reason that every year another convention gets bolted onto the bottom and because it turns out that our collective memory, or perhaps our collective understanding, is sometimes less than perfect. So far the committee-led process of amendment and revision has failed to turn up anything hugely revelatory—we have not seen any great announcements of the retrospective discovery that the 1955 Clevention was held in northern England rather than Ohio, say—but there have been a few tweaks around the edges, an individual being belatedly recognised as effectively the chair of a convention even if it wasn't formally recognised at the time and the like. The list does also provide a definitive and typo-free text for reprinting elsewhere, sparing us the sort of errors that have been introduced into previous Worldcon souvenir books and then perpetuated. The fluctuating membership of 1962's Chicon III was a recent topic of discussion on one of the fannish e-lists. In the past it's been variously given as 550, 730, and 950, and the long list has now standardised on the first—although it turns out that all those numbers may be wrong, since the convention treasurer's report in the published Proceedings: Chicon III (ed: Earl Kemp, Advent:Publishers, 1963) gives membership as "about 825 or 830." So who knows, maybe one day somebody will unearth a forgotten truth about Cleveland which will go some way to make up for it being abolished in 1996.
The Worldcons are home to The Hugo Awards, an annual process whereby—the cynics would have you believe—science fiction fandom as represented by members of the current and previous Worldcons collectively produces shortlists that fail to identify the best genre achievements of the previous calendar year. Everybody then expends an enormous amount of wordage discussing these lists, before Worldcon members proceed to give the awards themselves to the wrong works. Less cynically, they're one of the most well-known and easily the longest-established awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.
While the Worldcon dates back to 1939, the Hugos weren't introduced until 1953 at the prosaically named 11th World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia, and even then the name "Hugo" wasn't actually used. The organisers of what was more popularly known as Philcon II announced their intention to inaugurate Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards in their third progress report, dated 1 June 1953: "the first time in the history of Science Fiction that such Awards have been made to include all fields of science fiction endeavor." Other fields had their awards and the view of the committee was that "science fiction fandom is unique in the history of literature, and it is quite fitting that these awards be made according to the vote of the science fictioneers assembling at the World Convention."
That first ballot was a straight vote with no intervening shortlist; unsurprising, really, given the relatively tight deadline. Members were simply asked to write in a single choice in up to nine categories, some of which seem a little ill-defined compared with the carefully legislated wording of the present-day Article 3 of the World Science Fiction Society constitution. A "New Discovery" was an "author or artist with little or no work published before August, 1952, who has contributed most significantly to stf this past year" while a "short story or novelette" is "any fictional work too short to qualify [as a novel]." The eligibility period is given as 1 August 1952 to 1 August 1953 and votes had to be postmarked on or before 25 August 1953.
Progress report 4 was issued on 1 August 1953 and contains an update on the voting. It was "still too early to predict outcomes and only a small number of members have already sent in their ballots," which is fair enough as they were only a little over two-thirds of the way through the voting period, but editor Will Jenkins—I assume, although the piece isn't credited—took the opportunity to remind voters that "There is still time to (a) do a little campaigning to line up a solid bloc of votes for your favorites, (b) get some members—every membership is a potential vote for your favorite." And of course to get their own votes in. He also decided to "[report] the 'early returns' as a matter of general interest." We can see, then, that about four weeks out The Demolished Man was leading over The Long Loud Silence for novel; "old-timer Forrest J Ackerman and new-timer Harlan Ellison" were splitting the votes for Fan Personality; and Ed Emshwiller, Robert Sheckley, and Philip José Farmer were all garnering votes for "new discovery" despite the fact that almost a dozen books and major magazines covers by Emsh had appeared prior to August 1952.
The awards themselves were presented on Sunday, 6 September 1953, although the program book implies that the nine categories had shrunk to eight. The "Fact Article" had seemingly been dropped, although that looks like a simple oversight, as an award was nevertheless presented. There were, however, no declared winners in the "Novelette or Short Story" and "Fan Magazine" categories, which according to Harry Warner's A Wealth of Fable, was down to lack of votes. He theorises that not many convention members filled out the ballots generally, as evidenced by this and by ties in both the "Professional Magazine" and "Cover Artist" categories. It would be overly cynical to draw any conclusions from the fact that the ties meant they did nevertheless still have nine winners and so by dropping two categories there were still enough trophies to go round.
The 1954 Worldcon, SFCon, declined the strong hint from Philcon II to turn the precedent into an instant tradition, but the awards were back at 1955's Clevention, by which time, Warner says, the nickname "Hugo" was in common usage. There were now only six categories and an explicit statement that "while the award carries the connotation that only science fictional material will be considered, we hasten to add that fantasy and weird material can be included." The committee of the 1956 NYCon II said in the first issue of The Journal (February 1956) that they intended to introduce shortlists although it seems no shortlists emerged. That innovation had to wait until 1959's Detention, where eligibility also switched over to the previous calendar year. And the awards have continued on from there, evolving new categories—currently there are fifteen—and changing their eligibility.
My specific remit in this column would seem to include the three fan categories: best fanzine, best fan writer, and best fan artist. Of the three, the best fanzine has been around for the longest, appearing on the first ballot in 1953 even if no award was made. Fan writer and fan artist were added in 1967. "Hugo" was at that point still a nickname for the Science Fiction Achievement Awards. The original intent of the NyCon 3 committee had been that these additional categories, alongside best fanzine which would be taken out of the Hugos, should form part of a new set of Fan Achievement Awards with a nickname of their own: "The Pongs" (a reference to Hoy Ping Pong, an occasional fan-writing pseudonym of Bob Tucker). But there were objections and so best fanzine remained a part of the Hugos and best fan writer and best fan artist joined it (while an entirely separate set of Fan Activity Achievement Awards, independent of the Worldcon, were inaugurated in 1975). They've stayed there ever since, setting aside the creation of the best semipro zine category in 1984—essentially taking the higher circulation and more professional publications out of the fanzine category—and some alterations to eligibility criteria to clarify the status of fan work outside traditional print fanzines.
I could comment on the current shortlists in these categories but here I find myself in the awkward position of having a familial interest in one and a direct personal involvement in another, so even though the voting period will have closed by the time you read this, a respectful silence seems largely appropriate. So I guess I'll just wait and see what the Renovation members decide in a couple of weeks' time.
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