Science Fiction Awards Watch

A Lifetime Achievement Hugo?

Following this year’s World Fantasy Con there was discussion in various places about why there is no Hugo for Lifetime Achievement. The World Fantasy Awards have such a category, and SFWA has its Grand Master awards, but there is nothing similar in the Hugos. Why not?

Well, because the Hugos are controlled by the members of WSFS, the obvious answer is that no one in WSFS has decided to create such a category. So, given that we had a panel at SMOFcon about Hugo categories, we asked the attendant SMOFs if they thought such a category would be a good idea. No one was wildly enthusiastic about at, but equally no one was adamantly against. Indeed, we very quickly came up with a very good short list of potential nominees, and that’s always a good sign of a viable category.

There were two significant caveats raised. Firstly it was felt that the category should only be open to people who are alive at the close of nominations, otherwise the award would often go to people who were unable to appreciate the joy of receiving it. Secondly there should be some sort of requirement for longevity in the field – probably around 30 years – to prevent the award being won by someone who did not have anything approaching a lifetime of achievement. And of course you should only be able to win the award once, because even in science fiction no one really has two lifetimes.

Those issues aside, there were only minor issues raised. There was the usual complaint that there are “too many Hugos”. There was some concern that the award would be so high profile that it would eclipse Best Novel, which some people felt was undesirable. And someone raised the possibility that the award would end up being given to the person that fandom thought most likely to die soon, making nomination something that people might dread.

One thing that might derail debate ate the Business Meeting is the possibility that some people might demand a separate Lifetime Achievement category for fans. This in turn might lead to demands for a whole load of additional such categories, each for a different activity, which would certainly lead us into “too many Hugos” territory. Generally the Business Meeting is likely to add one new Hugo if it sounds like the category is workable, but it won’t add many at once.

Assuming we can avoid that pitfall, however, it actually seems that this category has a reasonable chance of being adopted. All it really needs is some people to be prepared to do the work of raising support and guiding it through the Business Meeting. As usual, Kevin would be happy to lend his professional expertise to anyone wanting to draft a motion. So, if there are people out there who feel strongly about this, go for it; we think you have a reasonable chance of success.

Oh, and that short list: Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Fred Pohl, Jack Vance, Betty Ballantine. We are sure that you can think of others.

8 Responses to “A Lifetime Achievement Hugo?”

  1. on 08 Dec 2007 at 10:44 pmMike Glyer

    Three reasons come to mind why a Lifetime Achievement Hugo doesn’t seem to add much:

    (1) The Worldcon’s guest of honorship already is its lifetime achievement recognition. A symptom of the duplication is that the suggested 30-year career is essentially the same starting point many (though not all) people use to cull GoH prospects;

    (2) Some may feel a lifetime award clashes with the calendar year focus of the rest of the Hugos. For example, during part of the 1970s Worldcons (in the person of Lin Carter) presented the Gandalf award to a grandmaster of fantasy. There was nothing undeserving about the winners, yet the award itself was unpopular and dispensed with as soon as politically possible.

    (3) Will a Lifetime Achievement Hugo be restricted to living persons, to avoid making it another kind of Retro Hugo? And if the winner is to be living, won’t it be necessary to select and reveal the winner sufficiently in advance of the Worldcon to make it possible for them at receive it in person? And then, won’t the Worldcon need to offer to pay their way, making them in effect another GoH? And won’t that detract from the “actual” GoH?

  2. on 09 Dec 2007 at 7:04 amCheryl

    Briefly on that last point: the sense of the group here was that you’d have to be alive to be nominated. Personally I can’t see people being brought to the convention. In order to do it you’d probably have to arrange travel before the results were known, and you’d have to bring all five nominees. And if you did that then people would be agitating to have the same rights for all Hugo nominees.

  3. on 13 Dec 2007 at 11:23 pmTom Galloway

    Have to agree with Mike with respect to being named a Worldcon GOH already mostly accomplishing what this would seem to do.

    The other problem, based on what Jay Lake wrote on his LJ about his decision to do this, is that the original intent was to honor folk like Betty Ballantine who have massively contributed to the field but have not been honored with a Hugo, along with the case of Judy-Lynn del Rey only getting a posthumous Hugo (and I suspect if he’d thought of it, Jim Baen only getting close to getting a Hugo after he died).

    But why should we assume that would happen? Wouldn’t the majority of winners of this be people who have won a Hugo or five? For example, why wouldn’t almost any of the still living SFWA Grandmasters instantly go to the top of favorites for a lifetime achievement award? Or for art, folk like Michael Whelan who’ve won multiple Hugos and been a Worldcon GoH?

    The only way I see this really working is to effectively make this an “Other Forms For People” category, where you’re not eligible if you have won a Hugo, even if that seemingly lessens the cachet of the category to “Lifetime Acheivement Not Otherwise Recogni.ed by Hugo Categories”.

  4. on 13 Dec 2007 at 11:36 pmR Hole

    Comments on Mike’s comments, with respect.

    1. GOHs are often not just chosen on their merits, but also their availability. While it would be nice if all nominees attended, it should not be a requirement (like it usually is for being GOH). Therefore people who can’t/don’t get to conventions (or a particular convention) can be honored. I’m thinking of people like Clarke, who doesn’t travel. If you think of being GOH as “The Lifetime Achievement Award”, he’s automatically inelligible. There are, I’m sure, other examples of deserving people who don’t/can’t travel but would be good nominees for a Lifetime Achievement Hugo.

    2. Do the Lifetime Oscars clash with or diminish the Annual Oscars? I’m certainly not aware that they do.

    I was not around at the time of the Gandalf Awards, but I can immediately see a source of discontent from your (Mike’s) description of it – it was a Fantasy award at a Speculative Fiction event. If it were a Speculative Fiction award, it might go over a lot easier.

    3. See my opinion on 1 about attendance.

    My two cents, probably not worth that much, but hopefully worth something in the discussion.

  5. on 13 Dec 2007 at 11:38 pmCheryl

    As I understand it, the argument against both Worldcon GoH status and the Worldcon special awards is that they are Not Hugos. Obviously they can’t be. We can’t have Worldcon committees handing out Hugos willy nilly. Hence the call for a Lifetime Achievement Hugo. But you are right, I suspect that the award might not often go to the sort of people that the proponents of the award would like to see honored.

  6. on 14 Dec 2007 at 7:01 amSteven

    Aside from my feeling that Worldcon GoH-ship is essentially a lifetime Achievement award, another issue is that if this is voted on as a normal Hugo, what you’ll see is:

    year one ballot (*=winner):

    Writer 1*
    Writer 2
    Writer 3
    Artist 1
    Editor 1

    year 2 ballot
    Writer 2*
    Writer 3
    Writer 4
    Artist 1
    Editor 1

    Or something similar, with a largely similar ballot each year. In this particular category, which is based on lifetime achievement instead of (theoretically) year-to-year achievement, I think this would be even worse that when it happens in current categories.

  7. on 14 Dec 2007 at 11:28 amSean P. Fodera

    It seems to me that, if a Lifetime Achievement Hugo were created and run under the standard nominating rules, potential non-author nominees like Betty, Judy-Lynn or Jim will wind up overshadowed by author nominees. As knowledgeable as fandom is about the players in the industry, I find it difficult to imagine a situation where an editor, no matter their stature, would out-draw some of the bigger-name authors in the field. Didn’t we recently separate the book editors into their own Hugo category because they kept getting shut out by the magazine and anthology editors? Or do we wind up with a number of Lifetime Achievement Hugos (as the Oscars have) for “on-screen talent” (ie: authors) and for “off-screen talent” (ie: editors, publishers)?

  8. on 14 Dec 2007 at 7:13 pmRon Oakes

    I suspect that the only way to make this workable would be to set up a wholly different procedure for nomination and selection of the award. IIRC most other “Lifetime Achievement” awards are pre-announced and are decided upon by a committee out of the voting body that gives out the award.

    Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of ways this could be structured. (None of these suggestions alter the problems raised above):

    1. A standing committee of the WSFS would produce a set of nominees prior to the Hugo nomination ballot. Hugo nominators could then vote on these nominations at this time using the standard Hugo voting rules. Then the winner could be announced with the other nominations.

    2: Nominations are submitted through the normal Hugo nomination process and then a standing committee of the WSFS examines the nominations and selects a winner who is announced several weeks before Worldcon.

    3: A standing committee of the WSFS selects the award based on standards set forth in the constitution.

    I notice that all of these deal with some of the timing issues by having a standing committee. Since this committee would be selected at the Business Meeting, it would technically be made up of members of the past Worldcon, so should still it least smell right. But it does take the award out of the hands of the broad voting public which will rankle some of the people who already think that some secret group of SMOFs control the Hugos for their own purposes.