Fifteen Point Oh Eight

Curses! I couldn't get to the 1998 World SF Convention in Baltimore, and so once again my pal Martin Hoare put on his light-up bow-tie to be a surrogate Langford at the Hugo Awards presentation. With chauvinist smugness I can report that my Hugo count rose from 14 to 15 (15.08 if I naughtily include my editorial share of the Best Related Book winner, the Clute/Grant Encyclopedia of Fantasy). Martin delivered his carefully rehearsed speech while accepting the Best Fan Writer trophy:

"Some people have complained that after all these years I know Dave's Hugo acceptance speech back to front. So I'd just like to say briefly ...

"'Award Hugo this for much very all you thanks Langford Dave. Surprise complete a as came it. A.M. four at me telephone to going is Hoare bastard that suppose I Now. Maybe, year next anagrams!'"

Of course Langfordian hoots of glee are restrained by the fact that the record holder, Charles N. Brown of Locus fame, simultaneously became the first person in history to have won 20 Hugos. I'll get him one day ...

One of the evening's better lines came from Joe Haldeman, following up the 1976 triumph of The Forever War with a Best Novel win for Forever Peace: "Like clockwork, every twenty-two years I win a Hugo for a novel ..." This was more tactful that Brian Aldiss's 1987 acceptance speech, which after his 25-year gap between Hugos began something like: "It's a long time since you've given me one of these, you miserable bastards!"

Meanwhile Craig Engler, editor of the on-line SF Weekly at, was nervously avoiding Joe Haldeman. He'd run a website poll to predict the Hugo winners, announced that Forever Peace was the top-voted novel, and then realized that according to his own web pages the poll winner was in fact Dan Simmons's The Rise of Endymion. Oops. Fortunately this didn't happen at the real ceremony (once, horrifyingly, Gene Wolfe was announced as having won a Nebula and immediately clobbered with "I'm sorry, I'll read that again – the winner is No Award."). Other hopes raised by the unofficial poll, only to be cruelly dashed by reality, included our very own Stephen Baxter's predicted win for Best Novelette.

For mysterious doubloon-related reasons this worldcon had a pirate theme, with everyone saying "Avast, me hearties!" and wearing parrots on their shoulders to the point of tedium. So Hugo MC Charles Sheffield was rigged out in a tricorn pirate hat and long curly wig, and Joe Haldeman was unable to resist flaunting his Vietnam-trained martial skills in a swashbuckling duel with Best Editor (for Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine) Gardner Dozois, using their Hugo rockets for cutlasses. Gardner is a man who does not know the meaning of fear, as I recall from a convention party at Easter when he commended his personal charms to several lesbian and feminist writers with the reckless words: "When you've had a fat old man, you won't wanna go back!"

The Hugos are one tribal ritual of the sf world that mean a lot to publishers, because putting HUGO WINNER in gold foil on a book jacket is supposed to boost sales – though, remembering the not-so-good winners, I sometimes wonder why. Yet the whole shortlist this year depended on the preferences and whims of just 471 fans who sent in nominating ballots.

With statistically non-huge numbers like that, and many people voting only in the really popular categories (Best Novel, Editor, Dramatic Presentation), you get funny fluctuations. Babylon 5 episodes were runaway Dramatic Presentation winners in 1996 and 1997. This year, though, movie person Jeff Walker – who'd worked on all the Dramatic nominees and accepted for Contact – satirically thanked B5 fandom for failing to get their act together at nomination time. Since no B5 episodes made the shortlist, no one could vote for them on the final Hugo ballot. So it goes.

Meanwhile, immediately after this year's presentations, one of my deadly rivals in the Fan Writer category published his "Alternate Time Line Hugo Acceptance Speech". After thanking various "little people" including Bilbo, Frodo and Harlan Ellison, Bob Devney gave his most grateful thanks to "FBA764909, the giant asteroid which struck the town of Reading, Berkshire, England, earlier in the year on this time-line, quashing the Hugo hopes of David Langford."

This left me feeling deeply impacted, right in the armageddons. Maybe next year Bob will nobble me. It's about time.

David Langford's latest encyclopedic venture is on show at ...