Fame At Last

British SF pundits may have lost one of their favourite whinges, the eternal complaint that the Hugo awards are dominated by the USA. One surprise in the 2001 shortlist is that, as a New York editor remarked approvingly, it doesn't feature a single SF novel by a US author.

All right, there's a fantasy novel by a US author, George R.R. Martin's A Storm of Swords. Otherwise the Best Novel slate consists of a Canadian, Robert Sawyer with Calculating God; a Jamaican-Canadian, Nalo Hopkinson with Midnight Robber; and two Brits, J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and (from Scotland) Ken MacLeod with The Sky Road.

In theory the 2001 fiction Hugos are for SF/fantasy published in 2000, but The Sky Road (1999) benefited from an experimental rule change which gives an extra year of eligibility to works published outside the USA. So often in the past, the British edition "used up" the eligibility of a book which the US majority of Hugo voters didn't see until its American appearance in the following year. Let's hope they keep this rule.

Stranger still, it's very nearly possible to vote a straight Britain and Colonies ticket throughout the 2001 Hugo slate. The Best Novella shortlist has Australian superstar Greg Egan's "Oracle"; in 1999 Egan became the first non-North American author to win a Hugo in any short-fiction category since Brian Aldiss managed it in 1962. For Novelette, there's Stephen Baxter's "On the Orion Line".

When I saw the Short Story finalists, I needed to lie down for a bit, since this year I got my first ever fiction nomination, for my tale "Different Kinds of Darkness" – up against deadly rival Baxter (him again) with "The Gravity Mine". The catchall Hugo category "Best Related Book" features the UK SF Foundation's critical essay collection Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature edited by Andrew M.Butler, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn ... for which I have a soft spot because I wrote the foreword.

In Dramatic Presentation, the smart money is on X-Men to win, but Nick Park's very British Chicken Run is also shortlisted. Welshman Jim Burns is up as Professional Artist and Britain's own Interzone as "Semiprozine", the small-magazines category. Under Fanzine we're represented by Plokta, and I don't have to stick pins into wax images of the multi-person editorial cabal since my own SF newsletter Ansible escaped nomination this year.

The curse of Langford still lies heavy on the Fan Writer category, though, and after winning this for twelve successive years I really think it's time the voters threw me out. Another British fan, the very cuddly Sue Mason, appears as a Fan Artist nominee for the first time in 2001. Sue's work is frequently seen in Plokta, and she's rumoured to be the inspiration for the erotic fantasy artist Zinka in Diana Wynne Jones's novel Deep Secret ...

Lastly, the John W. Campbell Award shortlist for best new writer (not strictly a Hugo but voted on the same ballot) includes UK poet and novelist Jo Walton, who made her fantasy novel debut in America last year with The King's Peace.

Of course, although we all say dutifully that being shortlisted is a high honour in itself (yes, it is), winning the actual Hugo is a much tougher proposition. No British author has made off with the Best Novel trophy since Arthur C. Clarke bagged it in 1974 and 1980 with Rendezvous with Rama and The Fountains of Paradise. Indeed, although the 1990s produced much fine British SF, only Steve Baxter's The Time Ships was even shortlisted for the novel Hugo in that period. And Ansible remains the only non-North American fanzine ever to win.

When the 2001 shortlist was released, a fan friend asked me whether being nominated both as fan writer and in a fiction category was a world first. There was a rumour that this happened to Robert Silverberg in the 1950s, but no. The late great Terry Carr came close, with a 1969 short story nomination followed by simultaneous editor and fan writer shortlisting a few years later.

Then I discovered the awful precedent. A British-born SF writer who now churns out endless ghastly juvenile fantasies, and who in 1970 appeared on the Hugo ballot both as fan writer and for a work of fiction, his early novel Macroscope. Gulp. It's an alarming thing to share this peculiar distinction with Piers Anthony.

All the same, David Langford is still gloating uncontrollably.

Footnote. As it turned out, when the Hugos were presented there were two British winners: J.K. Rowling caused some uproar by winning Best Novel but not bothering to send anyone to accept for her, while I bagged Fan Writer and – to my continuing amazement – Short Story. Jo Walton has another chance at the Campbell award this year.