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August 11, 2009

2009 Hugo Award Winners, Opinions

I thought the Hugo awards were for Science Fiction?

Here’s the Hugo Winners for 2009 via www.thehugoawards.org :

  • Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
  • Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
  • Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
  • Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
  • Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham


I like Neil Gaiman, I like his books, I’ve heard him read the first chapter of The Graveyard Book and I liked that too. But it’s not Science Fiction is it? Anathem should have been the winner here. But then you look at the number of votes and it’s only 477 versus 357. That’s not very many really is it?

Everyone seems to love Exhalation, but I thought it was okay, I haven’t read the other stories yet so I can’t really comment on if it’s the best of the short list.

I’m happy that WALL-E and Doctor Horrible won, because both are awesome and brilliant and close to genius. Surprisingly though the Lost episode got very few votes despite it being great, however Lost really succeeds with its ongoing story rather than an isolated episode.

Other surprises: Locus didn’t win and Electric Velocipede is a fanzine.

Overall I think the shortlists were more interesting than the winners.


I think Neil Gaiman pointed out that Anathem probably would have won if it had been included in the Hugo Voter's Pack that John Scalzi puts together. I guess a lot of voters just didn't get to read it.

However, it's also worth noting that, opinions aside, the Hugo is not and has never been a sci-fi exclusive award. It's deliberately defined as a sci-fi/fantasy award.


While that may be so, the Hugo Awards' definition clearly states "Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy...."

Moreover, how can you possibly draw a bright-line distinction between SF and F? What about The Dragonriders of Pern? Who would decide whether a work wasn't sufficiently science-fictional enough? Award Administrators? I've been an Administrator; as a rule, we hate making those sorts of judgment calls, and leave it up to the voters to decide what they think is sufficiently SF/F to qualify.

WSFS abandoned the name "Science Fiction Achievement Award" as the "formal" name of the Hugo Award because it's so generic that we could not get a service mark on it; however, even when SFAA was theoretically the official name and "Hugo" only a nickname, the award's definition was for both SF and F.

"Originally" is a long time ago; the Hugos also "originally" were the captive awards of the club throwing that particular Worldcon.

Fantasy stories have won Hugos since nearly the beginning -- see "Or All the Seas With Oysters" in 1958 and "That Hell-Bound Train" in 1959. In fact, depending on how doctrinare you want to get about telepathy being a fantasy trope, the first Hugo-winning novel, The Demolished Man, is arguably a fantasy.

And, from the WSFS Consitution, defining what the Hugos are:

3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.

"Science fiction or fantasy." Doesn't get much clearer than that.

"Wikipedia says that originally the Hugos were called the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Award."

And always included fantasy; there simply wasn't a separate "fantasy" publishing genre in that era. Heck, sf book publishing barely existed.

In other words, the correct answer to "I thought the Hugo awards were for Science Fiction?" is "no, they've always been for both science fiction and fantasy, as defined by the voters."

No Worldcon committee or subsequent Hugo Administrator (since it ceased being the province of either the committee as a whole, or a special Hugo subcommitee), has ever ruled a piece of fiction as ineligible for nomination on any grounds that it wasn't science fiction or fantasy. Period.

It's purely up to the voters to vote for that which they consider appropriate, and the only rules as to eligibility go to time, country, and manner of publication: not to content.

You're perfectly entitled, of course, to vote on whatever criteria you like, and to disapprove of how other people vote as much as you wish, but claims that the Hugos are "intended" to go only to sf and not fantasy are utterly unsupportable by fanhistory or fact.

Signed, guy who first started organizing displays and panels on sf fan history at Worldcons in 1977, and once had one of the ten largest collections of sf fanzines and convention memorablia in the world.

And you can ask anyone knowledgeable about fanhistory and/or the Hugos, to verify these facts. There are plenty of such people you can consult.

Incidentally, Wikipedia is often wrong about things, and isn't very good on sf fanhistory. For instance, this statement is incorrect: "Later, after WSFS got written rules, the Hugo Awards were codified into the WSFS Constitution, and became one of the things a Worldcon must do."

The WSFS didn't get written rules until 1963; the Hugos started in 1953 and were regularized as something Worldcons must do in 1955, almost a decade before there was a WSFS Constitution, which was first voted into place at the 1963 Discon. Prior to that, there was only custom ruling what each worldcon did. See George Scither's Con-Committee's Chairman's Guide, written in 1965, for more info.

(As it is, each Worldcon remains its own incorporated body, and WSFS remains an unincorporated body, although the terms “World Science Fiction Society”, “WSFS”, “World Science Fiction Convention”, “Worldcon”, “NASFiC” and “Hugo Award” are, as of the past couple of decades, service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, "an unincorporated literary society.")

"Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner."

Is this became I included a link, or is it a general practice?

Easily fixed - just divide the awards; The Hugo for best SF novel goes to..., the Hugo for best fantasy novel goes to..., and so on.


Who decides what is SF and what is F? And before you answer, "It's obvious," I point again at The Dragonriders of Pern as a classic case of an story that looks like fantasy but has an entirely SF background.

You are of course welcome to come to a WSFS Business Meeting and propose splitting Best Novel into Best Science Fiction Novel and Best Fantasy Novel. I'll even help you write the amendment. But I suggest that such a proposal isn't terribly viable.

(I'll explain how an Objection to Consideration works if you really want to know, but the short version is that if two-thirds of the members don't even want to discuss a proposal, they can squash it without debate when it is first introduced.)


I can cite a bunch of examples of SF/Fantasy hybrids too. It's a valid point. And of course if we divide the awards in to "Fantasy" and "SF" sections, then either hybrids would be inelligiable, or we'd have to come up with a third award for just those. Elsewise half the things Philip K. Dick ever wrote would be excluded from either category. You make a valid point.

And of course most SF - virtually all the soft stuff - is technically fantasy, as it ignores the real universe and physics and such in favor of its own internal rules, I do get that.

Still, it would be nice to have a 'best novel not involving hobbits' category. Alas...

Kevin, I thought it was a principle of Hugo Administration was to respect the will of the voters? In other words, in the hypothetical situation where there was an sf Hugo and a fantasy Hugo, why not let the voters decide where to nominate it?

In reality, I'm quite happy for both fantasy and science fiction to be Hugo-eligible, mind.