5 reasons to pay attention to the Hugo Awards—and one big reason not to

The ceremony had no chance of offending anyone, mostly because it was very dull.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 18, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 6:17 pm CDT

At the World Science Fiction Convention this Sunday (that’s Worldcon, for those of us who don’t want to chew through eight whole syllables), the Hugo Award ceremony was relatively uneventful, but the nominees and winners hinted at a few shakeups in sci-fi community as a whole.

For one thing, there were an awful lot of women on the Hugo stage, and the shortlists showed far more racial diversity than in previous years. After picking up a Nebula Award, an Arthur C. Clarke Award, and a Locus Award, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Voted on by Worldcon attendees, the Hugo categories range from short stories, novels, filmmaking, and visual art to fandom-based awards for criticism and commentary.

In the fiction writing categories, the Internet loomed large, as the winners of Best Short Story, Best Novelette, and Best Novella were published by Tor.com. Despite the graying population of Worldcon itself, the new generation of popular writers not only look different from the all-white, all-male canon of sci-fi and fantasy icons, but they’re also finding their audience in an entirely different way.

Women destroyed the #HugoAwards tonight and no mistake. #feminismruinseverything

— Dandy McFopperson (@rosefox) August 17, 2014

I just feel like we all won. #hugoawards

— Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) August 17, 2014

This is my genre. These are my people. Yes. Yes. Yes. #hugoawards

— Foz Meadows (@fozmeadows) August 17, 2014

The two main controversies of this year’s Hugos were both political, the first being the nomination of Vox Day’s Opera Vita Aeterna in the Best Novelette category. Day is a divisive figure in science-fiction fandom, mostly due to his highly controversial opinions on race, gender, and homosexuality. His fans had enough clout to vote him onto the Hugo shortlist, but in the end his novelette lost out to Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars. During the ceremony itself, Vox Day’s nomination listing only received a smattering of polite applause among the several thousand people in the audience. On the ballot, his book managed to achieve sixth place on a shortlist of five, with “No Award” being a more popular choice.

The second and perhaps more high-profile issue with the 2014 Hugos was the backlash against Jonathan Ross being hired to present the ceremony.

With this year’s Worldcon taking place in London, Ross was British enough, geeky enough, and famous enough to seem like a decent choice for the job. Unfortunately, this decision sparked an immediate outcry from many people in the sci-fi community who alleged a history of sexist and otherwise offensive behavior during his career as a talk show host. Since many other fan conventions have recently dealt with accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, this issue was even more sensitive than usual. So Jonathan Ross pulled out as Hugo presenter, and was quietly replaced by authors Justina Robson and Geoff Ryman.

The result was a ceremony that had no chance of offending anyone, mostly because it was very dull. Essentially, it was two hours of people reading out lists of nominees, with a short break for an awkward game of Mornington Crescent before the final category was announced. So while the results of this year’s Hugos are certainly interesting, the ceremony is still a long way from being seen as Oscars-style entertainment viewing.

Photo via Jenni_Hill/Twitter

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*First Published: Aug 18, 2014, 2:02 pm CDT