Yesterday's Man

This year my bizarre lucky streak came to its end at last, and I must admit that secretly it's something of a relief. In the opening scene of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the two attendant lords play a game of coin-tossing – and one of them is getting seriously worried about the workings of the universe, because heads have now come up 85 times in a row. My own run of 19 was alarming enough, with a year between each win to give me plenty of time to brood ...

Yes, I'm talking about the fan writer Hugo. In 2008, after winning 19 times in successive years, I was ousted by the American author John Scalzi at the World SF Convention in Denver. Of course I sent him fervent congratulations before consigning myself to the dustbin of history. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

I'm not even a joint record-holder any more. It took me forever to draw level with Charles N Brown, who edits the big SF news magazine Locus and, most years, collects a Hugo for best "semiprozine". We were tied at 28 trophies (I've been lucky enough to have a few wins in other categories besides fan writer), and now the bastard, I mean my dearly beloved rival, has 29.

As I said, I feel curiously relieved, partly because a long run of wins leads to a measure of fannish backbiting – though surprisingly little. I should stand down, some people muttered, and make room for new blood. The trouble was that the new blood didn't agree. Other regular finalists for best fan writer wanted me to stay in competition so they could topple evil Langford from his dark throne, rather than win what some of them felt would be a Best Except For Langford award.

What I really expected, to be honest, was that I'd be pushed into retirement by a change of rules. A favourite fan suggestion has long been that the rocket-shaped Hugo trophy should be made of plutonium, so that anyone who accumulates too many will have the interesting experience of a critical-mass meltdown on his mantelpiece. More plausibly, they could invent a new rule that after a run of three wins (five? 19?) in any category, the repeat offender is no longer eligible for that particular Hugo.

Well, the 2008 Denver Worldcon business meeting did indeed choose to alter the rules, but not with me in mind. Instead they went gunning for Charles N Brown – by voting to abolish the semiprozine Hugo and so deny him his annual rocket for Locus. Nothing happens just yet, though, because the change has to be ratified at the 2009 World SF Convention in Montreal.

This is wonderfully ironic, because the semiprozine Hugo was added in 1984 for no other reason than to stop Locus winning the award for best fanzine – which it had bagged five years running, 1978 to 1983. Many people felt strongly that SF fanzines should be amateur productions done for love, while Charles made his living from Locus. Rather than kick him upstairs to compete with Analog and the other professional SF magazines, they invented the new semiprozine category. A fanzine becomes a semiprozine if it meets any two of five criteria: circulation over 1000, supplies someone's income, pays contributors, has more than a certain amount of advertising, or – wait for it – declares itself to be a semiprozine.

This led to a naughty thought about my own free newsletter Ansible, which had then won the fanzine Hugo five times. Its circulation was way beyond the qualifying level, if you counted email. I sometimes paid contributors by buying them drinks. Ansible doesn't take ads or make me any money (otherwise, I feel, it wouldn't be fan writing), but just to push the envelope a bit ... would they really move it into the semiprozine category if I declared it was one? I tried, and they did.

What I hadn't anticipated from this experiment in advanced mickey-taking was that Ansible would go on to win the semiprozine or "best Locus" Hugo in 2005. I believe Charles was quite miffed.

Now my glory days are past. For a long time I've had a superstitious dread of checking the Hugo statistics, but after my famous downfall I inspected the records. It seems I'm still leading the field for the most nominations (as distinct from wins) of all time, with 52. And poor Stanley Schmidt, the revered editor of Analog, has been nominated 30 times without winning a single Hugo. Ouch!

David Langford covered the 2007 Hugos in SFX163 and wrote: "Next year I'm doomed ..."