The 1954 Hugo Awards

The Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society would you believe?

In Rich Coad’s fanzine, Sense of Wonder Stories #6, Chris Garcia brings up the rumour that the 1954 Hugos were not awarded because as Chris explains “the Little Men, the group who was sponsoring the convention, had their own annual awards”.

Now it is true that The Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society, a San Francisco Bay Area club, did indeed have their very own award. It was called The Invisible Little Man Award (a strange title since to the best of my knowledge the award has only ever been given to the least invisible of science fiction professionals). According to a short and unattributed article in an issue of the fanzine of the Little Men, Rhodomagnetic Digest V5 #1 (July 1962) to be exact, the purpose of the award was to “give formal recognition to someone in the science fiction field, either a fan or a pro, who has in some way contributed to the betterment of the field, and who has not yet been formally recognised”.

As far as I am aware the Invisible Little Man Award was first given out in 1950 to Ray Bradbury for his collection, The Martian Chronicles. I believe the trophy was handed over at a dinner especially arranged for the event. The Invisible Little Man Award was again awarded in 1951 to George Pal for producing adult science fiction films (Pal’s truly appalling film, The War Of the Worlds, was a couple of years in the future so the Little Men can be excused for thinking this). This second trophy was handed over at Westercon IV, an annual convention which was held in San Francisco that year.

Now according to that previously mentioned article the Invisible Little Man Award wasn’t awarded again until 1961, at Westercon 14 in Oakland, when the trophy went to editor Cele Goldsmith in honour of the improvements she wrought on those venerable science fiction magazines, Amazing Stories & Fantastic Adventures.

Assuming this is all correct then I think it’s unlikely the Little Men handed out an Invisible Little Man Award at their worldcon and then forgot all about it. Not impossible of course, stranger things have happened, but most unlikely I think you will agree. My theory is that the rumour about which Chris Garcia writes was started because at some point the 1954 Worldcon Committee perhaps discussed handing out the Little Men Award at the con. I can imagine the idea being considered because it would have been an appropriate occasion to revive the award. However, if they did consider it I assume they probably decided it would be tactless to drop a set of awards decided on by the fandom at large from the worldcon programme in favour of a single award decided exclusively by the The Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society.

I trust this clears the matter up.

London Calling

‘Cause in sleepy London town,
There’s no place for a street fighting man!

Harlan Ellison

Feel free to guess who this is.

So lets start with some background.

The Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation was first presented in 1958. It doesn’t appear to have been an especially popular addition as ‘no award’ topped the list in 1959 and again in 1963. This is perhaps why in 1964, Pacificon II, the worldcon held in Oakland, California added the category of Book Publisher and dropped Dramatic Presentation. The folowing year, Loncon II, the 1965 worldcon held (not surprisingly) in London, England, left the Book Publisher Hugo in place of the Dramatic Presentation Hugo on their nomination ballot. This was possibly done because the Loncon II committee had assumed that the Pacificon II committee had made a formal change to the Hugo categories. It’s also possible that the Loncon II committee felt the Book Publisher category would be of more interest to the largely British membership of the con.

In November 1964 the fiftieth and final issue of Ron Ellik’s newszine, Starspinkle, was mailed out with the Loncon II nomination ballot included. At least one person was not happy to see that…

The following was written by Ron Ellik and appeared in Vair-Iner, a fanzine published by him as part of the going away celebrations being held in honour of the fact that Ellik was about to move to move from LA to Washington). I’ve edited it slightly to remove a few details not relevant to the story but otherwise this is how Ron wrote it:

On the night of the Go Away party, Harlan called me. He had just received the fiftieth, final issue of STARSPINKLE, and he was upset.

“Ron! Harlan! What’s this goddam Hugo nomination ballot I just got? Who sent this out? What happened to the nominating committee? Why didn’t London contact anyone on the study committee? Who do I talk to?” That was about how his part of the conversation went, an all I could do was explain that the London convention committee has decided to ignore the two motions regarding Hugo Award nominations passed at the Oakland business session, and as far as I could tell they were within their legal, if not their apparent, rights. He wanted to complain directly to the London group, and I apologized for not having Ella Parker’s phone no. He assured me he could get it from Information. We said good-bye, and as I came back into the room to tell the assemblage what all that had been, I suddenly realized the time – it was 6:26 pm Sat 7 Nov, Pacific Standard time. By all rights, it should be 3:26 am Sun 8 Nov, Greenwich Mean Time – an hour at which Miss Ella Parker would give Harlan an extremely Mean Time if he woke her.

There are events in the tide of history with which man may not interfere. I sat back into the Brag game, and when I had lost another 17¢, the phone rang.

“Ron! Harlan! I just talked to Ella Parker!”

“At 3:3O am” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, with (I swear it) a touch of quiet apology in his tone, “and I wish I’d thought of that. You know, Ron, she’s an extremely unpleasant woman.” I relayed sections of this to the rest of the group, who were gasping with the exertion of silence amidst their gigantic laughings.

It seems Harlan presented his side of the story, and Ella informed him the London committee had voted on these matters, and elected to continue traditional methods of Hugo nominating– and, further, to drop the drama award., installing the Best Publisher award in its place. Ella, of television sf shows, said, “You know, we don’t see any of those things over here, anyway.” Harlan can be a tremendous mimic, and by this time I, too, was almost vainly attempting to control my laughter.

We are going to do this and that, Harlan had told her, and she informed him she had better things to do than stand around just before dawn and argue this sort of thing. He said something I shall not quote, which he quoted to me, and Ella hung up.

Harlan wanted to publish this outrage in STARSPINKLE, but it is folded; I suggested the Hugo Study Committee (of which he is an appointed member) was the best outlet for him – if he could convince the other two US committeemen to act, they could speak as an official body of some sort of other. He thanked. me, and I went back to tell everyone what they had missed, and then we played cards some more.

When I had lost perhaps half a dollar, Harlan phoned again. He read me a letter. He had talked to two dozen people since his trans-Atlantic call – other Study Committeemen, convention committeemen from past years, etc – and this letter, signed by Harlan, cited these several people as being, each, in at least passive agreement that London should not do this thing. In conclusion, Mr. Ben Jason and the group producing the physical Hugo trophies had agreed with him to withhold the trophies from the London convention.

We eagerly await news of London’s answer.

And there you have it folks, if you want to be a successful squeaky wheel then you need to really apply some of that old-fashioned elbow grease. Ah, I hear you ask, and was Harlan, that tiger of the telephone, a truly successful squeaky wheel? Well, yes. To quote various issue of Ron Bennet’s newszine, Skyrack:

Skyrack #72 (November 1964)

Further to the Hugos there’s a funny story going the rounds at the moment. Following the example of the Pacificon II, the London Worldcon Committee has decided against presenting an award for a dramatic work, such as a film or TV show. It is understood that a certain Committee member recently suffered a three a.m. phone call from an irate writer who stated that he had spent over $300 in publicity for his own dramatic work, who asked how could he possibly win a Hugo for this work if one wasn’t to be presented and who announced that unless this decision was retracted he would not join the convention. I tell you putting on a Worldcon is great fun.

There is incidentally some little discussion going on behind the scenes about the manner of balloting for the Hugo awards and there will possibly be a change in the system employed by future conventions. London is employing the old well-tried system, and had agreed to do so before the storm broke over our heads. Some very sensible comments have been made by both sides in this argument which has happily not degenerated to personalities. Let’s keep it that way.

Skyrack #73 (December 1964)

The last issue ran a story about an author phoning a London WorldCon Committee member in the middle of the night. It is now common knowledge that said author was Harlan Ellison who phoned Ella Parker from New York to complain about the London decision not to award a Hugo for a dramatic presentation. The position has been greatly complicated since then by various fans, Harlan among them, publishing reasons why London should or should not abide by its Committee decision.

Skyrack #79 (May 1965)

The London Worldcon Committee, which originally followed the lead of last year’s Pacificon in dropping the drama award, have bowed before the general feeling prevalent in fandom and have heeded what has been a significant number of write-in nominations regarding this category. The Committee is undoubtedly to be congratulated, not only upon the reversal of its original decision, but upon the admirable manner in which it has conducted itself in the entire matter. Despite obvious provocation from certain sources, the Committee has not responded in kind, resorting to personalities. Well done, London!

However, despite the above Harlan didn’t have it all his own way. Like that 3am phone call it’s also common knowledge that he was trying and win a Hugo for one of the two 1964 episodes of The Outer Limits for which he had provided the script; The Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand. It was not to be though, despite Ron Ellik himself producing two special issues of Starspinkle to promote Ellison’s work. Instead fandom chose to nominate Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and The Seven Faces of Dr Lau. In the end it was Dr. Strangelove that received the the rocket in 1965. Harlan had to wait till the following year for Hugo glory. That was when he won the Short Story Hugo for ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.

I imagine the wait was worth it.

Hugo, Where Art Thou?

Rocket, rocket, who has the rockets.

Hugo 1953 Astounding
1953 Hugo Award for Astounding Science Fiction

While writing about the Hugo situation in 1955 the other day I mentioned that Ron Smith won a Hugo in 1956 for his fanzine, Inside. This particular award is of special interest to me because as far as I’m aware the rocket Ron was awarded is the only one that has had a long-term residency in Australia. I’ve read that it was displayed in the window of Merv Binns’ Space Ago Books in Melbourne for many years after Ron Smith moved to Australia in, I think, the early sixties. I can’t vouch for that because I only managed to visit Space Age a couple of times while the store was still a going concern and was too eager to get inside to be concerned about what might be in the window display. Space Age Books is of course has long been a thing of the past now and presumably Ron Smith has passed away too so that makes me wonder what happened to his rocket? I’m assuming that when Space Age Books stopped being a bricks and mortar establishment the rocket went back to Ron (if not before that) but I can’t be certain. Hopefully somebody living in Melbourne reading this will know the answer to my query or perhaps be able to dig an answer out of Merv.

Anyway, having begun this line of thought I started to wonder if anybody has made any attempt to track down the location of the various Hugo statues that have been handed out in the past 65 or so years. I’m not thinking so much about those awarded in recent decades as I assume all those recipients are still alive and have their rockets somewhere safe. On the other hand I don’t think many of the award winners prior to 1970 other than Robert Silverberg and Harlan Ellison are still with us. Now in some cases, Robert Heinlein, Philip Dick, and Frank Herbert for example, I imagine their rockets are safe with whichever organisation their papers were donated to, but what about those authors like Mark Clifton or Eric Frank Russell who drifted away from the field before they passed away? For that matter a quick count shows 17 Professional Magazine, 16 Professional Illustrator, 21 Fanzine/Fan, 8 Dramatic, and 13 Miscellaneous Hugo Awards were handed out prior to 1970. I have to wonder how many of those rockets do we know the location of?

This strikes me as a useful project to tackle. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would be curious to know where they all those awards ended up.

Any answers?

They’d Rather Be Right

So just what happened in 1955?

Despite the battle in recent years over what works should be on the voting shortlist the Hugo awards have been relatively free of controversy since they were first awarded at the 11th Worldcon way back in 1953. Sure, I doubt there’s ever been a Hugo awarded in any category that absolutely everybody thought was well deserved. I don’t rate that as controversy though given the Hugo Awards are decided by popular vote and the disparate individuals who have voted on them each year naturally held many divergent opinions as to what constituted the best. To rate as controversy in my book there has to be some disagreement about how the awards have been run or how a particular winner was decided.

Off the top of my head I can think of only two instances that came anywhere close to plunging even a tiny slice of all fandom into war. One involved a well-known and extremely volatile author who became upset in the sixties because a particular worldcon committee was planning to not include the Dramatic Presentation Award (the committee eventually changed their minds). The other was a negative reaction in the seventies to what was seen by some as block voting for a particular fan artist (the artist decided to remove himself from future award contention).

Given all this perhaps it’s not surprising that the typical reaction to the most inexplicable TRBRHugo winner of all time, the novel They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, has been more one of sorrow than anger. In the years since this novel was given the Best Novel Hugo in 1955 there have been two schools of thought in regards to They’d Rather Be Right. One is that it’s a mediocre novel that didn’t deserve to win a Hugo and the other is that it’s an underachieving novel that inexplicably won a Hugo.

Back in February of 2011 Rich Coad published Sense of Wonder Stories #5 and in that issue of his fanzine he included a cleaned up version of an e-list discussion in which the participants discussed Mark Clifton, Frank Riley and even made some attempt to explain why They’d Rather Be Right won the 1955 Hugo. It’s quite an interesting discussion despite the way (or perhaps even because) it rambles from topic to topic so if you’re interested a PDF of Sense of Wonder Stories #5 can be found on eFanzines.

Anyway, after reading that e-list discussion I did some research of my own and eventually developed a theory (oh what a surprise) which I’ll share with you here. First though I’d like to point out that while I’ll make what I think are some interesting points, these can only be considered tentative without any input from the fans who voted in 1955. Unfortunately asking those fans is a tad difficult given most of them are no longer alive enough for the likes of me to bother them. What I did instead was the next best thing and examined the historical record. In other words I went and looked through all the fanzines I have in my collection to see what was being written about They’d Rather Be Right back in the 50s.

Unfortunately my collection is not nearly so complete that I can describe the results of this search as being definitive but I do like to think that what I did discover carries some weight. For starters I was only able to find two references to They’d Rather Be Right but interestingly they’re both at odds with the more recent opinions. In Fantasy-Times #214 (January 1955) Thomas Gardener in his annual review of print science fiction describes They’d Rather Be Right as the best novel of 1954 and in Etherline #45 (1955), ‘So far, it’s excellent!’ is the opinion of Tony Santos in regards to the first instalment of the serial in Astounding. Now two positive comments isn’t a lot to go on but it still suggests the novel had a few fans back when it was first published.

GalaxyAdmittedly, as my friend Mark Plummer has pointed out, all the professional reviewers in the science fiction magazines had something to say, but how much were their reviews duty and how much real enthusiasm? Look at the review by Floyd C. Gale published in Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1958 to the right. Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Okay, so if the enthusiasm for They’d Rather Be Right melted away faster than an ice cream on Venus then why oh why did it manage to win an award?

The Sense of Wonder Stories discussion touches on three possible reasons as to why They’d Rather Be Right won despite so little evidence of enthusiasm for it. Of these I don’t find the suggestion that it was carried over the line by a block vote from the Dianetics supporters very convincing. Given Dianetics was going through a very exciting early growth spurt at this point I doubt anybody but those members who were also science fiction fans would be concerned about a fledgling set of science fiction awards. I’m willing to believe that some, if not all, the various fans who were also into Dianetics could and did vote for They’d Rather Be Right but that’s all. I’m pretty sure that if any of them had tried to organise a block vote there would be some evidence of that. I’ve seen no mention of anything like a push to secure a Hugo for They’d Rather Be Right in any fanzine I checked and I’m certain that if anybody had tried to organise such a push rumours about the attempt would be published everywhere regardless of proof.

On to the second possible reason and not having access to any issues of Astounding from the relevant period I don’t have any evidence that John Campbell actively promoted They’d Rather Be Right for the Hugo (besides which, it wouldn’t be a good look to offer too much support) but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he at least put in a good word for it. Even putting his infatuation with Dianetics to one side, a win for a novel serialised in Astounding wouldn’t hurt his ego. Winning awards, even vicariously, feels good and is also the sort of news an editor likes to pass on up the corporate ladder to those paying his wage. I still doubt there was anything approaching a block vote for They’d Rather Be Right but if the novel was suggested for the award anywhere it was probably in the pages of Astounding. If nothing else John Campbell would surely be happy to stop Horace Gold, his editorial rival at Galaxy and regular sparring partner, from winning with the Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth novel, Gladiator At Law.

This brings us to the third and most interesting suggestion, that They’d Rather Be Right gained the inside running because the overall vote was split between multiple candidates. This idea wasn’t properly pursued in the Sense of Wonder Stories discussion, mostly I think because so few possible alternatives to the Clifton/Riley novel were brought up in that discussion. However that paltry list of rivals was based upon two false assumptions, that what fans in 2005 remember as being the good novels of 1954 were the same as fannish opinion in 1955, and that voters in 1955 had a clear idea of what was eligible. This is where a little more research can make a lot of difference (even if your references are incomplete like mine).

For a start the picture I received by looking through my fanzine collection is that the field of potential candidates was much larger than assumed in the e-list discussion. During 1954/55 the following novels received positive book reviews in at least two different fanzines: Gladiator At Law by Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, Messiah by Gore Vidal, Hell’s Pavement by Damon Knight, Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Fury by Henry Kuttner, West of the Sun by Edgar Pangborn, The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, and A Mirror For Observers by Edgar Pangborn. I’ve not read everything on this list but of the novels I have read there are none I would rate as unworthy of a Hugo nomination.

Now the key fact to note here is that until 1959 there was no filtering process in place to winnow down the number of options. It wasn’t till then that a worldcon committee decided to have voters first nominate which novels should appear on a short-list and then vote on that. Before that each committee would simply include ballots in their progress reports. The example I have here is a 1953 ballot taken from Progress Report #4 published by 11th Worldcon. By the way, the progress report I took it from was addressed to T.L. Sherred but couldn’t be delivered for some reason and was returned to sender. Thus I was the first person to lay eyes upon this ballot since it was originally sent out all those years ago (I do hope T.L. Sherred still managed to get his vote in). Anyway, as far as I can tell the 1955 ballots were essentially identical to this 1953 example:

1953 Hugo Ballot Side A

 

1953 Hugo Ballot Side B

Now, given such a crude system I can see how those novels listed above probably took votes away from each other. Books like Messiah or I Am Legend had no chance of winning but that doesn’t mean they didn’t receive a few votes regardless.

Now of course some of you will be falling over yourselves to point out to me that not all the novels listed above were eligible for the 1955 Hugo and you will be right. This indeed was surely part of the problem because those who voted in 1955 didn’t have access to most of the references we do. For example a quick search online shows me that The Kraken Wakes was first published in 1953 and thus was ineligible (depending on whether the Cleveland Committee counted foreign publication or not). Somebody who bought their copy of the Wyndham novel from one of the book dealers listed in Fantasy Advertiser might not be aware of this and vote mistakenly. Even if we assume every voter did a little checking and took care to not choose any clearly ineligible novels I bet errors were still made. As Mark Plummer notes in his Sense of Wonder Stories #6 letter, the period of eligibility wasn’t a calendar year but ran from August to August. That would be easy if all the above examples had seen magazine publication but as some hadn’t voters would have to decide eligibility by whatever year was quoted in the copyright notice at the front of whichever book they happened to possess. I expect the Cleveland Worldcon Committee culled out any errors they spotted since I assume they knew what was eligible and what wasn’t but that doesn’t entirely negate the problem. Every mistaken vote cast reduces the (probably) small number of votes and makes it just that much easier for John Campbell to potentially encourage the readership of Astounding to roll right over the rivals to They’d Rather Be Right.

It has become clear to me that the key to the win by They’d Rather Be Right was the mechanics of the voting system. I see that Mark Plummer also mentions in Sense of Wonder Stories #6 how Nycon II, the 1956 worldcon, wanted ‘a more representative vote’, which I suppose could mean anything but which I suspect is a tacit admission that the 1955 votes were spread between too many candidates. It’s not too hard to imagine the Nycon II Committee hearing from the Clevention Committee about how They’d Rather Be Right beat out out the likes of Gladiator At Law despite the latter being a better regarded novel because so many other books received votes. It’s also possible that some of the Clevention Committee didn’t approve of certain novels getting voted for at all, Messiah and I Am Legend come to mind in this regard, and wanted something done to discourage future voting for novels like those.

On a side note it’s worth noting that as per speculation in the Sense of Wonder Stories #5 Mark Clifton had a pretty high profile in 1955. Not only had he written a number of well liked stories but he also had an article about writing science fiction in the ninth issue of Ron Smith’s fanzine, Inside (May 1955), a fanzine to which fandom was clearly paying attention as it won the Fanzine Hugo in 1956. Oh, and according to various issues of Fantasy Times Mark Clifton attended several conventions in the mid-fifties and was announced as one of the speakers at the 1955 Worldcon. I’ve no idea if he did turn up and speak but just the news that he would be there no doubt helped ensure that nobody forgot he existed.

So let that be a lesson to you all. Regardless of how you feel about the current nominating and voting process for the Hugos you still have it better than they did in 1953. I suggest you lull yourself to sleep at night with that thought.