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Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and were officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards until 1992. Organized and overseen by the World Science Fiction Society, the awards are given each year at the annual World Science Fiction Convention as the central focus of the event. They were first given in 1953, at the 11th World Science Fiction Convention, and have been awarded every year since 1955. Over the years that the award has been given, the categories presented have changed; currently Hugo Awards are given in more than a dozen categories, and include both written and dramatic works of various types.

One of the most prestigious science fiction awards, the Hugo Awards have been termed as "among the highest honors bestowed in science fiction and fantasy writing".[1] Works that have won have been published in special collections, and the official logo of the Hugo Awards is often placed on the winning books' cover as a promotional tool. The 2011 awards were presented at the 69th convention in Reno, Nevada, on August 20, 2011, and the 2012 awards will be presented at the 70th convention in Chicago, Illinois, on September 2, 2012.



The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) gives out the Hugo Awards each year for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, who founded the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories and who is considered one of the "fathers" of the science fiction genre.[2] Works are eligible for an award if they were published in English in the prior calendar year. There are no written rules as to which works qualify as science fiction or fantasy, and the decision of eligibility in that regard is left up to the voters, rather than to the organizing committee. Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, and the presentation evening constitutes its central event. The selection process is defined in the WSFS constitution as instant-runoff voting with five nominees per category, except in the case of a tie.[3] The awards are split over more than a dozen categories, and include both written and dramatic works.[4]

The five works on the ballot for each category are the most-nominated by members that year, with no limit on the number of stories that can be nominated. From 1953 to 1958 the awards did not include any recognition of runner-up novels, but since 1959 all of the candidates have been recorded.[3] Initial nominations are made by members in January through March, while voting on the ballot of five nominations is performed roughly in April through July, subject to change depending on when that year's Worldcon is held.[5] Worldcons are generally held near the start of September, and take place in a different city around the world each year.[2][6]

The idea of giving out awards at Worldcons was proposed by Harold Lynch for the 1953 convention.[7] The idea was based on the Academy Awards[8], with the name "Hugo" being given Robert A. Madle. The award itself was created by Jack McKnight and Ben Jason in 1953, based on the design of hood ornaments of 1950s cars. It consisted of a finned rocket ship on a wooden base. Each subsequent award, with the exception of the 1958 award, has been similar to the original design. The rocket trophy was formally redesigned in 1984, and since then only the base of the trophy has changed each year.[9]


The first Hugo Awards were presented at the 11th Worldcon in Philadelphia in 1953, which awarded Hugos in seven categories.[10] The awards presented that year were initially conceived as a one-off event, though the organizers hoped that subsequent conventions would also present them.[11] At the time, Worldcons were completely run by their respective committees as independent events and had no oversight between years. As such, there was no mandate for any future conventions to repeat the awards, and no set rules for how to do so. The 1954 Worldcon chose not to,[12] but they were reinstated at the 1955 Worldcon, and thereafter became traditional. The award was called the Annual Science Fiction Achievement Award, with "Hugo Award" being an unofficial, but better known name.[2] The nickname was accepted as an official alternate name in 1958, and since the 1992 awards the nickname has been adopted as the official name of the award.[8][13]

In 1959, though there were still no formal guidelines governing the awards, several rules were instated which thereafter became traditional. These included having a ballot for nominating works earlier in the year and separate from the voting ballot; defining eligibility to include works published in the prior calendar year, rather than the previous rule of the "preceding year"; and allowing voters to select "no award" as an option, which then won that year in two categories. The eligibility change additionally sparked a separate rule, prohibiting the nomination of works which had been nominated for the 1958 awards, as the two time periods overlapped.[14] In 1961, after the formation of the WSFS to oversee each Worldcon committee, formal rules were set down in the WSFS constitution mandating the presenting of the awards as one of the responsibilities of each Worldcon organizing committee. The rules restricted voting to members of the convention that the awards would be given at, while still allowing anyone to nominate works; nominations were restricted to members of the convention or the previous year's convention in 1963.[14] The guidelines also specified the categories that would be awarded, which could only be changed by the World Science Fiction Society board.[15] These categories were for Best Novel, Short Fiction (short stories, broadly defined), Dramatic Presentation, Professional Magazine, Professional Artist, and Best Fanzine (fan magazine).[16]

In 1964 the guidelines were changed to allow individual conventions to create additional categories, which was codified as up to two categories for that year. These additional awards were officially designated as Hugo Awards, but were not required to be repeated by future conventions.[17] This was later adjusted to only allow one additional category; while these extra Hugo Awards have been given out in several categories, only a few were ever awarded for more than one year.[4] In 1967 categories for Novelette, Fan Writer, and Artist were added, and a category for Best Novella was added the following year; these new categories had the effect of providing a definition for what word count qualified a work for what category, which was previously left up to voters.[18][19] Novelettes had also been awarded prior to the codification of the rules. The fan awards were initially conceived as separate from the Hugo Awards, with the award for Best Fanzine losing its status, but were instead absorbed into the regular Hugo Awards by the convention committee. While traditionally five works had been selected for nomination in each category out of the proposed nominees, in 1971 this was set down as a formal rule, barring ties.[14]

In 1973, the WSFS removed the category for Best Professional Magazine, and a Best Professional Editor award was instated as its replacement, in order to recognize "the increasing importance of original anthologies".[20][21] After that year the guidelines were changed again to remove the mandated awards and instead allow up to ten categories which would be chosen by each convention, though they were expected to be similar to those presented in the year before. Despite this change no new awards were added or previous awards removed before the guidelines were changed back to listing specific categories in 1977.[14][22] In 1980 the category for Best Related Work was added, followed by a category for Best Semiprozine (semi-professional magazine) in 1984.[23][24] In 1990 the Best Original Art Work award was given as an extra Hugo Award, and was listed again in 1991, though not actually awarded, and established afterward as an official Hugo Award.[13][25] It was then removed from this status in 1996, and has not been awarded since.[26] In 2003, the Dramatic Presentation award was split into two categories, Long Form and Short Form.[27] This was repeated with the Best Professional Editor category in 2007.[28] The most recent change to the Hugo Awards was in 2009, when an award for Best Graphic Story was added.[29]

Retro Hugos

In the mid-1990s Retrospective Hugo Awards, or Retro Hugos, were added. These awards are given by Worldcons held 50, 75, or 100 years after a Worldcon where no Hugos had been awarded, which were the conventions in 1939 41, 1946 52, and 1954, and are given for works that would have been eligible in that year, by the same process as the regular Hugos.[3] Retro Hugos have only been given three times: in 1996, 2001, and 2004 for 50 years prior; the five Worldcons eligible in 1997 2000 and 2002 chose not to award them. The next opportunity will be in 2014 for the year 1939, starting the 75-year cycle.[30]


Current categories Year started Current description
Best Novel 1953 Stories of 40,000 words or more
Best Novella 1968 Stories of between 17,500 and 40,000 words
Best Novelette 1955 Stories of between 7,500 and 17,500 words
Best Short Story 1955 Stories of less than 7,500 words
Best Related Work 1980 Works which are either non-fiction or noteworthy for reasons other than the fictional text
Best Graphic Story 2009 Stories told in graphic form
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Forms) 1958 Dramatized productions, divided between works longer or shorter than 90 minutes
Best Semiprozine 1984 Semi-professional magazines
Best Fanzine 1955 Non-professional magazines
Best Professional Editor (Long and Short Forms) 1973 Editors of written works, divided between editors of novels or magazines and anthologies
Best Professional Artist 1953 Professional artists
Best Fan Artist 1967 Fan artists
Best Fan Writer 1967 Fan writers
Former categories Years active Description
Best Professional Magazine 1953 1972 Professional magazines
Best Cover Artist 1953 Artists of covers for books and magazines
Best Interior Illustrator 1953 Artists of works inside magazines
Excellence in Fact Articles 1953 Authors of factual articles
Best New SF Author or Artist 1953 New authors or artists
  1. 1 Fan Personality
1953 Favorite fan
Best Feature Writer 1956 Writers of magazine features
Best Book Reviewer 1956 Writers of book reviews
Most Promising New Author 1956 New authors
Outstanding Actifan 1958 Favorite fan
Best New Author 1959 New authors
Best SF Book Publisher 1964 1969 Book publishers
Best All-Time Series 1966 Series of works
Other Forms 1988 Printed fictional works which were not novels, novellas, novelettes, or short stories
Best Original Art Work 1990, 1992 1996 Works of art
Best Web Site 2002, 2005 Websites

The only discontinued awards which were instantiated in the WSFS constitution as permanent categories were the Best Professional Magazine and Best Original Art Work Hugo Awards. Worldcon committees may also give out special awards during the Hugo ceremony, which are not voted on. Unlike the additional Hugo categories which Worldcons may present, these awards are not officially Hugo Awards and do not use the same trophy, though they once did.[4][31] An additional award, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, is presented at the Hugo Award ceremony and voted by the same process, but is not formally a Hugo Award.[32]


The Hugo Award is highly regarded by observers. The Los Angeles Times has termed it "among the highest honors bestowed in science fiction and fantasy writing",[1] a claim echoed by Wired, who said that it was "the premier award in the science fiction genre".[33] Justine Larbalestier, in The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction (2002), referred to the awards as "the best known and most prestigious of the science fiction awards",[34] and Jo Walton, writing for, said it was "undoubtedly science fiction s premier award".[35] The Guardian similarly acknowledged it as "a fine showcase for speculative fiction" as well as "one of the most venerable, democratic and international" science fiction awards "in existence".[36][37] James Gunn, in The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1988), echoed The Guardians statement of the award's democratic nature, saying that "because of its broad electorate" the Hugos were the awards most representative of "reader popularity".[38] Camille Bacon-Smith, in Science Fiction Culture (2000), says that fewer than 1000 people vote on the final ballot; she holds, however, that this is a representative sample of the readership at large, given the number of winning novels that remain in print for decades or become notable outside of the science fiction genre, such as The Demolished Man or The Left Hand of Darkness.[39] Jo Walton has said that the 2011 awards saw a record 2100 voters.[40] Brian Aldiss, in his book Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, claimed that the Hugo Award was a barometer of reader popularity, rather than artistic merit; he contrasted it with the panel-selected Nebula Award, which provided "more literary judgment", though he did note that the winners of the two awards often overlapped.[41] Along with the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award is also considered one of the premier awards in science fiction, with Laura Miller of terming it "science fiction's most prestigious award".[42] The official logo of the Hugo Awards is often placed on the winning books' cover as a promotional tool.[43][44] Gahan Wilson, in First World Fantasy Awards (1977), claimed that noting that a book had won the Hugo Award on the cover "demonstrably" increased sales for that novel,[45] though Orson Scott Card said in his 1990 book How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy that the award had a larger effect on foreign sales than in the United States.[46] Spider Robinson, in 1992, claimed that publishers were very interested in authors that won a Hugo Award, more so than for other awards such as the Nebula Award.[39] Literary agent Richard Curtis said in his 1996 Mastering the Business of Writing that having the term Hugo Award on the cover, even as a nominee, was a "powerful inducement" to science fiction fans to buy a novel,[47] while Jo Walton claimed in 2011 that the Hugo is the only science fiction award "that actually affects sales of a book".[35] There have been several anthologies collecting Hugo-winning short fiction. The series The Hugo Winners, edited by Isaac Asimov, was started in 1962 as a collection of short story winners up to the previous year, and concluded with the 1982 Hugos in Volume 5. The New Hugo Winners, edited originally by Asimov, later by Connie Willis and finally by Gregory Benford, has four volumes collecting stories from the 1983 to the 1994 Hugos.[48] The Hugo Award Showcase (2010), edited by Mary Robinette Kowal, contains most of the short stories, novelettes, and novellas that were nominated for the 2009 award.[49]

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