Before we go exploring some of fandom's past glories, here's another article
concerning more contemporary fan history -- about the Hugo Awards, which, as we can
personally attest, have had their share of mishaps, adversity, and misadventures.
The writer is no stranger to the Hugos, himself, having won in both the Fan Writer
and Fanzine categories. This is his first article for us.
The 'capitalist-inspired adversity' that plagued Aussiecon 2's Hugo ceremony came from a disastrous attempt to make it into a multimedia extravaganza. Five carousel slide projectors flashed nominees' names and related photos on a cinemascope screen at center stage while Ortlieb repeated the names aloud. Or that was the plan. The slides never came up in the order written in Ortlieb's cue cards. Then came the ghastly moment that the John W. Campbell award winner was exposed before all the nominees had been completely announced. But I admired Ortlieb's coolness amid disaster: for the nominees' benefit he preserved the dignity of the occasion to whatever extent that was still possible.
That was the worst mistake I had ever seen at a Hugo Awards ceremony, until Saturday, September 5, 1992: while Spider Robinson handed Magicon's Best Fanzine Hugo to George Laskowski, a slide flashed behind them that the winner was Mimosa, edited by Dick and Nicki Lynch.
The mistake was reminiscent of the year (1970) that Isaac Asimov, apparently unable to believe 'No Award' had finished first in a Nebula category, accidentally announced Gene Wolfe's "The Island of Dr. Death" had won, and had to correct himself while Gene was on his way to the dais. Legend holds that Gene's friends told him everyone felt so awful that all he needed to do was write another story, call it "The Death of Doctor Island," and SFWAns would surely vote him a Nebula. It's true that Gene won a Nebula for that story...
Justice was not delayed at Magicon. Within minutes, a shaken Spider Robinson revealed Mimosa was the correct Hugo-winning fanzine. Laskowski graciously joined him to turn over the trophy to Dick and Nicki Lynch.
And do you know, that incredible mistake made the Magicon Hugo Awards Ceremony a legend. Hugo night gaffes inevitably fix an occasion in the forefront of memory, unlike showmanlike, smooth performances that soon fade into the mind's background noise. Indeed, I can hardly remember any of Chicon V's perfect 100-minute ceremony of two years ago.
If it's true that we forget the technically perfect Hugo ceremonies, is that merely due to fannish perversity? I don't think so. Magicon and Chicon show that the difference between what we remember and what we forget lies in the emotional, humanizing moments that penetrate the coolness of people engaged in a performance. These moments wrench us with empathy, as during last year's Best Fanzine miscue, or evoke our admiration for grace displayed in the face of adversity as with Marc Ortlieb, George Laskowski, or, long ago, Terry Carr.
We often remember that Terry Carr made us laugh, and laugh again without forgetting how graciously he transformed an awkward moment at the 1973 ceremony. That year, Terry won the Best Fanwriter Hugo. To the chagrin of Torcon II chairman John Millard, the rockets had not arrived in time for the ceremony: winners just got the bases. Terry brandished his empty base and joked that he once previously shared a Hugo with Fanac co-editor Ron Ellik. Yes, between his half-Hugo for Fanac and his Best Fanwriter Hugo base, he'd won one complete Hugo.
Laughter is that interrupted defense mechanism Niven's Puppeteers consider madness...for why would any-one interrupt a defense mechanism? Maybe because any other reaction is more painful. And for every story you know that illustrates this point about the Hugo Awards, there's at least one you don't know because it never happened on stage to a Carr or a Lynch.
And I'll begin by showing you what it's like when a victim of one of these gaffes cannot laugh it off.
Imagine you have just earned the highest honor in science fiction, but think the trophy is made like junk jewelry. How sad you would feel, and how ungracious you would sound berating the committee about your disappointment! In 1990, Lois McMaster Bujold won ConFiction's Best Novella Hugo and the next morning she complained bitterly to Jo Thomas (who I was working with in Program Oops) that her Hugo rocket spun loosely on its base, allowing the chrome fins to score the marble. Fuming, Bujold devised a cardboard pad to keep the pieces from grinding together until someone with the proper tool could tighten the assembly.
Of course, considering what some conventions pay for Hugos, it raises a person's expectations. Nolacon II paid $750 a copy for the base alone, and it looked like it dropped out of a tall cow. And there's nothing anyone can do about it. But back when a wooden base was standard, Bujold's disappointment was foreshadowed by Kelly Freas, except that Kelly had a grin-and-bear-it attitude. He said the shoddy base on the Best Professional Artist Hugo he won at Heidelberg, Germany, in 1970, "...looked like scraps from someone's barn door..." -- unexplainably bad woodwork from the country known for Black Forest cuckoo clocks. When Freas got home, he tore off the committee's base and made his own. (Freas told me this story in 1989, and I wonder if he knows that -- according to Bruce Pelz -- Heicon chairman Mario Bosnyak really did make the 1970 bases from an old barn door, when those he'd ordered failed to arrive!)
If someone regards the Hugo Award as the epitome of their career in science fiction, it is best he separate the idea of the Hugo from the physical Hugo, which is often a leaky Grail, at best.
Back when I thought Robert Silverberg's best-known book was Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations, a fourth-grader reading about ancient mysteries never to be solved, I learned frustration over the fiery destruction of the Library of Alexandria and delivered this childlike criticism: if only people had been more careful! As an adult, I know differently: I understand the fragility of everything manmade. How can we expect to receive the Library of Alexandria intact when we can't even design Hugo trophies that survive awards night?
Remember the Noreascon 3 Hugo base and all its conic cross-sections, including the green 'toilet seat' shape that appeared to revolve around the rocket and was decorated with brass studs and glass marbles? Several winners discovered decorative bits falling off their Hugos; Connie Willis loved telling everyone how Charlie Brown lost one of his balls. Laughter was a much better answer than irritation.
But the best of the broken Hugo stories is told by the man who explained laughter to Puppeteers, Niven himself.
Larry Niven was up for three Hugos at MidAmeriCon in 1976, and he won Best Novelette for "The Borderland of Sol." They held the ceremony in a Kansas City auditorium where the winners, after coming onstage to receive their rockets, returned to their seats by a circuitous backstage route. Clutching his Hugo with the Tim Kirk dragon ceramic base, Niven hurried through the dim corridors trying to get back to his seat before they announced the winner for Best Novel, possibly Inferno, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle. Niven stumbled, his Hugo hit the floor and broke its sculpted base. "Oh, shit!" he cursed, at the very moment the MC was announcing Joe Haldeman had won the Best Novel Hugo for The Forever War. Niven was sure he had been heard by everyone...and had forever confirmed his reputation as 'Mister Tact'.
Someone who seems to have done an excellent job of separating the Hugo ideal from the Hugo trophy was Chesley Bonestell. Rumors persist that a Special Hugo Award given to Chesley Bonestell in 1974 was relegated to his bathroom, and sat on the lid of his toilet tank.
Bonestell showed that if the meaning of the Hugo transcends imperfect physical representations, its mean-ingfulness to the winner depends entirely on his relationship with the audience that gives it. This was never more brilliantly proven than in Larry Niven's reaction to Harlan Ellison's guest of honor speech at the 1975 NASFiC, held two weeks after the first Australian worldcon. Though in many other years he had actively courted fandom for Hugo Awards, at the 1975 NASFiC, Ellison declared from a lectern surrounded by his Hugos and Nebulas, that he no longer wanted to be defined as a science fiction writer or limit his audience to sf readers.
Half an hour after Ellison's speech, Larry Niven was going up in a hotel elevator, proudly carrying the Hugo he received for "The Hole Man" which friends had just brought him from Australia. Two teenaged boys popped into the elevator next to him and recognized the award, but not the owner.
"Gee, mister, where did you get the Hugo?" one asked.
Without hesitation, Niven cynically answered, "I got it from Harlan. He's quitting science fiction and is giving away his awards. I think he still has a couple left."
The two excited kids jumped off the elevator at the next floor and went pounding away down the hall in search of Ellison. Niven hopes they found him.
On stage or behind the scenes, all these stories reveal character under stress, which the personality may express graciously or angrily, bitterly or humorously. People understandably remember best the moments that teach us something new about the winners' humanity. But we fans who give Hugos hope that, even when the execution is flawed, the winners will endure good-naturedly because Hugos represent our admiration and affection for them -- and that ought to be worth a smile.
All illustrations by Kip Williams