Once again the science fiction world is convulsed with its annual throes of award presentations, shortlists and general log-rolling. So how can you grab an award?
Being American helps. Even the Arthur C.Clarke award, funded by expatriate Briton Clarke and decided by a generally British judging panel, tends to go to North Americans: in nine searing years, only two Brits (Colin Greenland and Jeff Noon) have won. This year's winner was Kansas belle Pat Cadigan for her novel Fools.
Likewise, the 1995 shortlists for the long-established Hugo and Nebula awards were 100% American. The Nebulas are chosen by a writers' organization, the SF and Fantasy Writers of America. Foreigners aren't excluded, but few join because the attraction of SFFWA, its support of authors against dodgy publishers, doesn't extend overseas. The 1995 Nebula winner was Greg Bear for Moving Mars ... rumour says they felt it wasn't his best book (try the stunning Queen of Angels) but that he deserved an award on past merit.
The Hugos are voted by members of the World SF Convention; this year it's in Glasgow. Scotland's own Iain M.Banks seemed bound to be shortlisted for Feersum Endjinn, known to many as Stewpydde Tyettul – but he missed, by a hair: there are hordes of American voters out there, and the book hadn't appeared in British paperback when the Hugo shortlist was voted on. (Nevertheless it did win the almost prestigious British SF Association Award.) There's no actual conspiracy at work here, fun though that would be ... but British and American tastes differ, publishing schedules matter, and there are so many more Americans. A book published here in 1993 and wildly popular in a late-1994 US reprint has no chance at the Hugo: few Americans would have seen it before 1994 Hugo voting, while the 1993 British appearance disqualifies it for 1995. Alas.
How does a humble Brit get on the award bandwagon? Well, there are other Hugo categories: our own Brian Stableford's 'Les Fleurs Du Mal' is shortlisted under Best Novella this year – it appeared in a US magazine, and Novella (under 40,000 words) is less hotly contested than Novel. Or there's Semiprozine, a bastard Hugo category invented to stop commercial sf newsletters like Locus winning the Hugo for Best (amateur) Fanzine. The British Interzone regularly appears here, and regularly doesn't win. Non-Fiction is another odd category, covering ill-assorted material: art books, graphic novels, criticism, sf autobiographies, even collections of humorous articles about sf (I had one shortlisted once but didn't win). This year's Non-Fiction oddity is The Book on the Edge of Forever, that boggling investigation of an anthology's quarter-century in limbo – see last issue. And Best Fanzine has room for us too: the British newsletter Ansible, 'the Private Eye of sf', is listed this year ... maybe because it's the only such publication whose complete text is distributed free on Internet.
Another route to award fame is to specialize. If you write sf which explores sexual issues in a manner that can be called 'gender-bending' (WARNING: MOST DOCTORS DON'T BEND THEIR GENDERS), then you could bag the James Tiptree Jr Award, named for the famous sf pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. Britain's Gwyneth Jones shared a Tiptree for her novel White Queen; 1995 winners were Nancy Springer's Larque on the Wing and Ursula Le Guin's 'The Matter of Seggri'.
Alternatively, be a distinguished sf critic and win the Pilgrim Award – or the William Atheling Award, for which it helps to be Australian. Publish an original paperback in the USA, making you eligible for the Philip K.Dick award (given this year to Robert Charles Wilson's Mysterium); or suborn the learned judges who choose the John W.Campbell Memorial Award. Become a libertarian: the Prometheus Award for libertarian sf is a solid gold trophy whose precise value is loudly announced each year (libertarians think about money even more than the rest of us) – to blend into this company it's vital not to use your forename, since they tend to be called things like L.Neil Smith and F.Paul Wilson, possibly in homage to L.Ron Hubbard....
Passing over about fifty other tantalizing sf awards, it's obviously time to institute a trophy for those increasingly rare sf works which are never nominated or shortlisted for any of the countless glittering prizes. This consolation prize will be named in memory of the unsung sf author who appears last in every category of every Hugo voting ballot: Noah Ward.