Guest contributor Fleetwood Robbins is an editor and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast. Robbins reflects on the 2002 Hugo Awards at Worldcon, in which Neil Gaiman won the Best Novel award.
The 2013 Hugo Awards were delivered this past Sunday at the 71st Annual World Science
Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas. John Scalzi took home the Best Novel
Award for Redshirts. This is probably not
news to many people, especially those with an interest in science fiction and
fantasy. I mean, we’re at a point in history where the New York Times ran a piece about the awards on its Arts Beat blog. Even so, I’d
like to reflect a little on those awards and the authors who have won.
So named for Hugo Gernsback, founder of the science fiction
magazine Amazing Stories, the Hugos
are voted upon by attending members of the World Science Fiction Convention, or
Worldcon as it’s more popularly known. Despite a rather byzantine voting system, they are the
people’s award. And they’re very fun to attend.
My first Worldcon was in 2002 in San José, and it also happened to
be my first con. I was a bright-eyed publicity assistant with Del Rey books,
and didn’t quite know what to expect. Is filking for real? Even without any
musical inclination, I was ready to find out.
Unfortunately, my mental preparedness did not carry over into my
practical planning. When I arrived at the hotel and opened up my suitcase, I
realized that I had packed neither socks nor underwear. This would certainly
violate at least one of the convention etiquette “dos and don’ts” that I had
read over. Never the less, I was able to buy some new small clothes and spend
the con in relative comfort. Alas, I digress.
In 2002, Neil Gaiman won the Best Novel award for American Gods, a book that, 11
years later, is considered by most to be a classic. Mr Gaiman gave an excellent
acceptance speech for the award, the last line of which contained
an expletive that I wouldn’t repeat in polite company, and made a bid to enter
into my pantheon of authors I most like to hear read and speak. Incidently, Gaiman
gained tenure for his spot with his wonderfully conversation introduction to
the Audible Audio edition of Swords and
Deviltry, in which he credits author Fritz Leiber with defining much of what
we have come to expect from the swords and sorcery subgenre.
Of the five Hugo awards Leiber won throughout his career, only one
of them was awarded to those genre-defining Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.
He won for Best Novella “Ill Met in
Lahkmar” in 1971, a novella that is collected in Swords and
Leiber was on a decent roll that year after having won the same
award in 1970 for a science fiction story called Ship of Shadows. He
beat out Harlan Ellison for the classic “A Boy and His Dog,” a post-apocalyptic
novella that is collected in an edition called Vic and Blood after
the main character and his canine companion. If you’ve only seen the Don Johnson movie from '75, which
is a very strange movie, do check out the story. Ellison is one our great short
In that same year, Ursula K. Le Guin won best novel for The Left Hand of Darkness over Slaughterhouse-Five. So it
goes. What did American Gods beat in
2002? Nothing less that another certain classic, Perdido Street Station by
China Miéville. That isn’t to say that American Gods or The Left Hand of Darkness
weren’t deserving of the awards. Both are great works of speculative fiction.
Le Guin, if it even needs to be stated, is a master, and that title is one of
the all time best, in my opinion. It’s
just that sometimes the people speak in unexpected ways, which is on of the
reason I like the Hugos so much.