The Most Valuable Hugo

When Ray Bradbury’s 2004 Retro Hugo brought $28,734 in an estate auction last month that made me wonder — What individual Hugo Award is worth the most money?

There wasn’t much reason to wonder before. In all the other transactions I knew about the Hugo sold for $2,000 or less. Forry Ackerman’s Retro Hugo, part of a lot of six awards, auctioned for $1,500 in 2009. Emsh’s 1961 Best Professional Artist Hugo sold for $1,075 in 2011. And Harry Warner Jr.’s 1972 Best Fan Writer Hugo, offered together with copies of his books, was part of a lot that went for $2,000 in 2012.

Why did Bradbury’s Hugo command a much higher price? For three main reasons.

  • It is associated with a great sf writer who is also a media celebrity.
  • It was given for his most iconic work, Fahrenheit 451.
  • And the award is pretty, too: the wooden base is shaped to remind one of a tricorn hat, with 13 stars on one side, reflecting that the 2004 Worldcon was hosted in Boston, the cradle of American independence.

Are there Hugos that might fetch a price even higher than Bradbury’s?

I think people who bid on a Hugo Award have an affinity for the sf field and know why the award is important. With that in mind, it could be argued that Robert Silverberg’s 1956 Hugo for Most Promising New Author should be one of the most valuable, not just for his literary output, but because he’s repeatedly made that award the turning point of a funny comment while emceeing or presenting at Hugo ceremonies over the years. Unfortunately, the fanhistory we cherish rarely translates into cash value (or we’d all be rich!)

What about Hugos won by the sf writers with the biggest reputations, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke?

Heinlein’s 1961 Best Novel Hugo for Stranger In A Strange Land must be worth a pretty penny – an enduringly popular book widely read outside of fandom that became embedded in Sixties popular culture. Or there is his 1960 Best Novel Hugo for Starship Troopers (1960) – a veteran or military sf fan with deep pockets might bid that up (and in that case, the bug-hunting movie based on it makes it all the more attractive, despite how bad the film actually was.)

In Isaac Asimov’s case, the 1966 Hugo given to Foundation as Best All-Time Series is probably his most valuable – voted in recognition of his most iconic work, the series whose concept of psychohistory is credited by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman for sparking his interest in economics. Asimov also enjoys an enduring celebrity as witnessed by the attachment of his name to Microsoft’s recently-announced computer telemetry system.

The Arthur C. Clarke Hugo I expect collectors would pay the most for, by far, is his 1969 Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo for 2001: A Space Odyssey – always assuming he received a rocket for that in the first place, as I tend to expect he would have based on how the official Hugo Awards site credits the movie:

[Paramount] Directed by Stanley Kubrick; Screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick; based on the story “The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke

Beyond the Big Three, it would be a mistake to overlook the media appeal of Philip K. Dick and the potential market for his 1963 Best Novel Hugo for The Man In The High Castle. PKD’s name is frequently invoked by the critics of our dystopian present, and his works have been turned into movies like Bladerunner, Total Recall and Minority Report featuring some of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.

All the Hugos I have mentioned so far follow the standard rocket-on-a-wooden-base design, so the artistry of the award isn’t a factor that would enhance their value. (Maybe just the reverse in the caseof Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 Hugo for the Best Short Story, “The Star,” which was made with an Oldsmobile Rocket 88 hood ornament…)

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

But over the past 30 years most Worldcons have commissioned Hugo bases that depart from the cliché plinth-and-rocket. They all have their advocates and among my favorites are:

However, my absolute favorite is Tim Kirk’s base for the 1976 Hugo, co-designed with Ken Keller, a cold-cast resin base wreathed with a dragon. Tragically, there isn’t a good image of it online. (After looking at the photo on the official site you’ll be questioning my sanity: “That’s the most beautiful Hugo base? It looks like a rocket on an oil can!”) But I’ve seen one up close many times at Larry Niven’s home. I think it’s quite beautiful.

So looking at who won the Hugos of 1976, one prospect jumped out as having the perfect combination of attributes to bring a good price at auction.

Best Dramatic Presentation

  • A Boy and His Dog (1975) [LQ/JAF] Directed by L. Q. Jones; Screenplay by L. Q. Jones and Wayne Cruseturner; Story by Harlan Ellison

The question, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey, is whether Ellison got a copy of the rocket, but for purposes of this discussion I’ll assume he did. Ellison enjoys the celebrity built on a long career of writing sf, fantasy and horror in all media – print, TV, movies, comics, as a Grammy-nominated voice actor. He’s even been in a commercial or two — remember “Harlan Ellison, Noted Futurist” plugging Geo Metros? “A Boy and His Dog” is one of his best-known stories. And there is a legion of Ellison collectors snapping up everything he produces. Just imagine the market for an Ellison Hugo?

So unless somebody can talk me out of it, I nominate the Clarke 2001 and Ellison A Boy and His Dog Hugos as the most valuable out there.

Vintage Trek and Batman Clips

By James H. Burns: It’s easy — particularly across a matter of decades! — to lose sight of the era, or milieu, in which a teleseries, or movie, first appeared. I’m intrigued by this sequence of clips someone put together of original commercials that aired during a Star Trek broadcast in 1967.

I’m reminded to ask about what remains one of the few Star Trek mysteries – why did NBC (or Desilu?) come up with that alternate series title logo — one which appeared on so much of the show’s initial merchandising and advertisements?  Although no one could have known that Trek’s TYPOGRAPHY would also become near iconic, it’s odd that anyone thought that using a logo NOT featured on the series itself was a good idea!)

Also of note is this relatively recently discovered Adam West-as-Batman public service announcement for our government’s once-upon-a-time youngsters’ savings stamps/bank program:

For a stunning reason, in a way, which will become evident!

(In all my years of following “Batmania” — going back to its 1966 origins! — I don’t recall ever having seen this!)

Smofcon Scholarships Awarded

CanSMOF Inc., the parent organization of the 2009 Montreal Worldcon, has selected the recipients of two scholarships to attend Smofcon 32, a convention for conrunners. Jean-Louis Trudel of Quebec City and Jared Dashoff of Washington, D.C. will each receive 500 CAD to help defray the cost of attending Smofcon.

One scholarship was designated for a Canadian citizen or resident, while the second was open to anyone involved in running conventions, anywhere.

Smofcon 32 will be in Manhattan Beach, California from December 5-7.

Gerard Parkes (1924-2014)

gerard_parkes_fraggle_rock_a_lGerard Parkes, who played Doc the inventor, the only human character on Jim Henson’s 1980s children’s show Fraggle Rock, died October 19 at the age of 90.

He appeared in many other children’s television shows as well, like The Littlest Hobo and Shining Time Station.

His genre roles included episodes of The Twilight Zone (1988), The War of the Worlds series (1989), and Ray Bradbury Theatre (1990).

 [Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Today In History 10/21

Damnation_Alley_1977October 21, 1977: Post-apocalyptic classic Damnation Alley opened in theaters. The film was based on a novel by Roger Zelazny. (Well, about as much as any “based on” movie ever is. It had the same title, anyway.)


Damnation Alley involved a cross-country trek in a vehicle dubbed the Landmaster. When production ended, it was parked beside the Hollywood Freeway by Dean Jeffries’ automotive shop from 1977 to 2005 where every passing science fiction fan might blink and ask himself, “Didn’t I see that in….?”

Asimov’s Advice About Creativity

The Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA, was created in 1958 by President Eisenhower. In 1959, an agency contractor working on ballistic missile defense systems invited Isaac Asimov to become a consultant. After a few meetings he stopped attending because he did not want to have access to secret classified information; he felt it would limit his freedom of expression.

Asimov’s one formal contribution to their work was an essay on creativity – about the process, the nature of creative people, and the best environment to foster creativity.

One of the people who commissioned the report filed it away for nearly 50 years, but it has been unearthed and posted on the MIT Technology Review website.

Asimov makes some thought-provoking points. For example – he was not someone who believed that creativity occurs in community:

My feeling is that as far as creativity is concerned, isolation is required. The creative person is, in any case, continually working at it. His mind is shuffling his information at all times, even when he is not conscious of it. (The famous example of Kekule working out the structure of benzene in his sleep is well-known.)

The presence of others can only inhibit this process, since creation is embarrassing. For every new good idea you have, there are a hundred, ten thousand foolish ones, which you naturally do not care to display.

He felt that group meetings were mainly helpful for surfacing information from which creative connections might later arise – and he made a number of recommendations about how these “cerebration sessions” should be run that have much in common with Alex F. Osborn’s brainstorming process.

[Thanks to Martin Morse Wooster for the story.]

A Profitable Plague

giant ebola virus plushie gmus-pd-0240_ebola_clusterEbola has become a goldmine for GIANTmicrobes Inc., maker of plush dolls of microorganisms 1,000,000x life size. Its plague-related toys have, dare we say, gone viral.

The company ordinarily offers a regular plush Ebola, a Gigantic Ebola Virus, and an Ebola Petri Dish, however, today two of the three toys are out of stock.

When checked earlier in the week they found all three sold out, but this morning it was possible to order the standard Ebola plushie. I guess they found another case they didn’t know about…

[Thanks to Bill Higgins for the story.]

Furry Future Updates and Issues

Anthology editor Fred Patten sent this status report about his current project:

I’ve accepted eight stories so far for The Furry Future, from J. C. R. Coates, Dwale, M. (Maggie) C. A. Hogarth, David Hopkins, Mary E. Lowd, T. S. McNally, Watts Martin, and Michael H. Payne, for about 80,000 words of FurPlanet Productions’ requested 120,000-word minimum; all G-rated. I’ve accepted several more proposals, and I expect the finished stories to really start streaming in during November.  

Patten also made an interesting point about an issue confronting some of his authors:

A couple of furry fans who haven’t appeared in books before are dithering over revealing their real names or not. At least one has a real reason not to. I’ve edited a previous furry anthology to which a good author declined to contribute because he said that his superior of his multi-year job was looking for any excuse to fire him. When I pointed out that he would have excellent grounds for a wrongful-termination-of-employment lawsuit in that case, he replied that he’d rather not be fired in the first place. I’ve assured them that they can continue to use their fursona names even in their copyright statements.

Do writers of anthropomorphic stories have more risk from becoming identified with their work than the sf writers who historically adopted pen names to conceal their authorship of pulp stories or keep it separate from their professional work in another field?

Bhob Stewart Memorial and Scholarship Announced

Remembering_Bhob_Stewart COMPSome of Bhob Stewart’s former students and other friends will hold a memorial gathering in Boston at the New England School of Art & Design (NESAD) on Thursday, October 23 at 4:00 p.m., followed by a reception at 5:00 p.m.

If you need more information, contact Brad Verter – brad (dot) verter (at) gmail (dot) com

NESAD also has announced a scholarship fund in Stewart’s name:

The New England School of Art & Design (NESAD) community joins the art, film and literary world in celebrating the life and professional contributions of Bhob Stewart. Bhob taught at NESAD from 1970?84 and was much beloved by students and colleagues.

To contribute click on this link, go to “annual fund,” select “NESAD FUND,” and note “Bhob Stewart” in the “other” field. Or send checks directly to Suffolk University with Bhob’s name in the memo field. Address them to: Laurie Cormier, Suffolk University, Office Of Advancement, 8 Ashburton Place, Boston, MA 02108.

[Thanks to James H. Burns for the story.]

Lynda Bellingham (1948-2014)

Lynda Bellingham OBE, who starred in the 14-part Doctor Who serial The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986 as the Inquisitor, died of cancer on October 19. She was 66.

She was born in Montreal but adopted out to English parents at the age of 4 months.

Bellingham had many non-genre roles and from 1983 to 1999 British TV viewers also saw her as the mother in the “Oxo Family” commercials.

[Thanks to Steve Green for the story.]