“[T]he Hugo Awards do not belong to only those who voted for them. If they want them to be awards for the genre(s), then they need to be open to criticism from those who do not, or will not, involve themselves in the process.” – Ian Sales
I had hoped to come up with a more evocative title for this week’s column, but this one gets right to the point. In the comments for last week’s column a number of people pointed out that my discourse on the Hugos’ place within the fantastic literary field of production was incomplete. I had suspected this when I wrote it, and given the response to that column, I will try to expand on that piece this week and next week, and at least provisionally lay out more ideas in greater detail. This time around, I want to talk about the Awards themselves, as cultural objects with assorted relational values and as a focus for struggles of meaning (and thus of their value) within fantastika.
The Hugos are actually three sorts of cultural object: material item, symbolic cultural asset, and organizational product. The iconic chrome rocket trophy is presented to all winners, and generally only the base of the physical award changes from year to year, providing a sleek, polished link between the new awardee and the idealized lineage of SF that the Hugos stand for; it is a tangible object that confers the award’s values directly to the awardee and their work. As asset (and thus an object of contention with power and convertible value), the award has a number of meanings, which I will discuss presently. But that aspect is inseparable from the fact that the Hugos are also the enterprise of a peculiar organization and are produced by a different group of participants in the field each year; that is, the current Worldcon committee. The Hugos are overseen by the World Science Fiction Society, which “is really just a framework for the individual Worldcons — it has no officers and no permanent organization” except for two committees: the Mark Protection Committee and its Marketing Subcommittee.