Home > Books, Rants, Writing > Worst Hugo Award Ceremony – Ever

Worst Hugo Award Ceremony – Ever

If you were a British teenager back in the 1980s, there’s a fair chance that you’ll remember the 1989 Brit Awards. Presented by Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox, it’s gone down in award ceremony history as how not to do the thing. Plagued by technical difficulties, presenters who had no empathy with the audience and a general lack of scripting and planning, I was pretty sure it was the worst awards presentation I’d ever see.

SamFoxBritsJPG

The 1989 Brit Awards are still painful to watch

All that changed when I made the mistake of tuning in to watch the 2020 Hugo Award ceremony, presented by George RR Martin.  The Hugo Award ceremony is never the most slickly produced thing. And this year, the convention organisers 1 had to do the whole thing via the internet.

And just before we get into it: The speeches were amazing. The technical achievement was incredible. The team did very well on short notice (Worldcons take years to plan) and the things the winners said were important and deserving of respect.  A super-cut, shorter version of the ceremony, can be found here:

You’ll note it’s shorter than the full ceremony. That’s because they cut out all the bits from Toastmaster, George RR Martin. The edited version is two hours shorter.

That’s right; the full ceremony was three and a half hours long. Two hours of this was George RR Martin reminiscing on his youth, whilst throwing shade at the new generation of Hugo Nominees and fans. Now had George been a gracious host, that might have been charming. But instead it was an old fan using his platform to lecture and bore his community, whilst disapproving of the community he claims to love.

For example, the award for new voices in sci-fi fandom got changed last year from being called ‘The John W Campbell Award’ to ‘The Astounding Award’.  This is mostly because Jeanette Ng pointed out that John W Campbell was a “fucking fascist” and a racist, during her acceptance speech last year for that award.

As Ng acknowledged later; the fans have been trying to get the award changed for years, it’s just that Ng took a stand, risked her career and made the point at a critical time. It prompted the name change.

Martin used his platform to not only mock the way the award had been changed, but to repeatedly talk about Campbell, the noted fascist and racist. Martin would go on to mis-pronounce names (despite given clear guidance to the contrary.) It was a 210 minute dis-fest, punctuated by actually relevant members of the community popping on to accept their awards and say important things about the state of the world.

Worse, Martin changed the narrative of the ceremony.  Most of the speeches mentioned the state of the world right now, which is correct for a science fiction awards ceremony.  Winners talked about the harassment and bigotry they had to cope with from within the publishing world. They talked about the state of Hong Kong and Hungary. They made impassioned speeches that acknowledged the poor state of our planet right now. It was strong stuff. It was stuff that should be said.

And yet, here we are complaining about Martin and his attempt to sweep that all under the table and talk about himself.

This is not the first time George has been rude to those nominated for a Hugo Award. Back before the days of inside toilets and wifi, Martin invented a thing called the Loser’s Party; a silly name for the Hugo Awards Ceremony after-party.  Over the years it’s become a bit of a legend, with talented types from the world of SciFi and Fantasy having fun. It’s become more than what it once was, much like the SciFi community itself.

Last year, at Dublin 2019– An Irish Worldcon,  it was held at the spacious Guinness Storehouse. Martin later admitted that he had under-estimated the number of guests attending and it’s clear that certain cliques got in over others.  You would assume that a Hugo Losers party would prioritise those nominated for a Hugo Award but didn’t win.  Instead, the venue hit capacity and a number of the ‘losers’ couldn’t get in. They were left, outside in the rain. For hours. Waiting to get in to their own party

Just let that sink in; the Hugo Losers party didn’t prioritise the Hugo Losers on the guest list. Though of course George and friends did get in.  George RR Martin, a man who cannot organise a piss-up in a brewery.

The seemingly deliberate disrespect Martin gave to Hugo Nominees last night puts that incident in a fresh light: Martin does not care about the younger, more diverse people who now get nominated for a Hugo award. He can’t be bothered to get their names right and to him, the past is more important than the future. This is unsustainable for an organisation that is all about speculating on what tomorrow brings.

Worldcon and The Hugo Awards need to change. Future Worldcons will not only need to be accessible to those who can only access things online, or who choose not to attend a particular location, but it also needs to acknowledge that this is a world that no longer trusts its elders.  Condescending and elite events like the ‘Loser’s Party’ need to go, replaced with something that respects the hard work of those involved with the awards.

The Brit Awards are a slick, well presented show these days. The Hugos need to learn this lesson – the conventions that host it need to spend the money, hire professional hosts and produce something worthy of those the world science fiction community wants to give its highest praise to. That means spending some actual money on the ceremony.

This should have been a celebration of New Zealand’s unique contribution to world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This should have been a rallying call and an inspiration to the world. Instead it was an ageing white American millionaire rambling on endlessly about the last century, alienating his peers and throwing us back into the past.

Let’s do better in future.


1:  Worldcons are volunteer ran. It’s not a monolithic organisation – those in charge change from convention to convention. It’s a feature, not a bug. It’s incredibly hard work and all of the volunteers and technical teams involved have done an amazing job under difficult circumstances.

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  1. August 2, 2020 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the breakdown. I was trying to piece it all together by reading a lot of random tweets that were heavy on outrage and short on info. At first I wondered why people were so angry over a mispronunciation, but put into context it makes more sense.

  2. Nathanael
    August 5, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    We spent an incredible amount of work in 2015 and 2016 fixing the actual Hugo Award VOTING to make sure it wasn’t dominated by a cranky reactionary cabal (the “Puppies”). Some of us spent an entire convention, four days, at a business meeting. Some spent two entire conventions.

    We are not going to let a guy who can’t organize a piss-up in a brewery (thank you for pointing that out) mess up what is actually a rather good set of awards. He trashed one ceremony, but the awards were great. He will not trash another ceremony, and neither will anyone else.

  1. August 3, 2020 at 2:35 am

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