All Over But the Shouting

Kevin Standlee of the FOLLE committee points out in a comment that the Ackerman and Ley Hugos were reclassified as Special Awards five years ago, the change first appearing in the Noreascon 4 Souvenir Book. Questions about Ackerman’s estate only surfaced the issue for debate. But Rich Lynch, a fellow member of the FOLLE committee, feared there was decisive resistance to making the correction – which triggered his protest to a fannish listserv.

I really dislike making Kevin the lightning rod for this deal simply because he’s willing to discuss it in public. He’s already corrected the official Hugo Awards site. It’s not even clear he had a hand in the decision: “Honestly, I don’t know who the specific person was who changed it, but the change had stuck and was in the FOLLE records.” Nor do the FOLLE committee reports attached to the minutes of 2004 Worldcon Business Meeting give any details about why changes were made to the Hugos, only those made to Worldcon history are explained.

So I will confine myself to a couple of basic questions. Kevin, you were on the FOLLE committee at the time, didn’t all members know about the changes – how was that work done? Also, it would not have taken five years for this question to come up if FOLLE annotated its work on the Hugo list the way it does the Long List of Worldcons — what would it take to have that done, something which will add transparency and credibility to the work?

The FOLLE committee was created in 2003 at the TorCon 3 business meeting, and its original members (in office when the changes were made) were Mark Olson (Chair), Kevin Standlee, George Flynn, Joe Siclari, Vince Docherty, Rich Lynch and Craig Miller. The committee’s organizers told the TorCon 3 Business Meeting:

[Our] policy is to have the Long List include the version which in our judgment best reflects the facts as understood by the people involved, and to document whatever variations or details we have discovered in the notes. We will respect historical judgments as long as they are not clearly in error, and we will attempt to objectively verify any corrections or notes we add.

I have always admired that vision statement, and the latest revelation concerns me because the result isn’t consistent with the goal.

It’s easy to make an educated guess whose database is perpetuating the change. The FOLLE report in the 2004 WSFS Business Meeting minutes mentions:

We have made huge progress in developing a Long List of Hugos using data supplied by Dave Grubbs and the ISFDB and are now (slowly) working to perfect the entries. (N4 has somewhat diverted the chairman’s attention, but we’ll get back to work…)

The Internet Science Fiction Database still characterizes the Ackerman and Ley Hugos as “Special Awards.” That designation was given to all committee awards on the list published in Noreascon 4′s Souvenir Book (2004), making clear there was a reclassification involved, not just a layout decision.

Can it be that the Long List of Hugo Awards was more accurate before people set out to perfect it?

Before leaving the subject I want to field a couple of questions that hit my e-mail today.

Q: Should I include Slater on the Hugo winners?
I think not. Ackerman was voted the Hugo by the participating membership. Ackerman’s gallant gesture ought not to be confused with an actual legal right to overrule the voters’ choice.

Q: Was Ackerman’s Hugo identical to, say, Alfred Bester’s Hugo?
I can’t say from personal experience. I would expect Ackerman’s Hugo to be identical to the others (or as close as Jack McKnight could produce them) since they made a point of giving his first. But even if it is identical, that wouldn’t by itself decide the conceptual argument of how Ackerman’s award should be classified. For example, Chesley Bonestell’s special committee award was a Hugo rocket — and that’s why the rules were subsequently changed to forbid giving Hugos rockets as committee awards. At the time of the first Hugos there would have been no bar to doing so.

I’ll end by repeating that the most helpful piece of evidence in this debate has been 1953 Worldcon committee member Bob Madle’s confirmation that all the categories were voted on. So there’s no justification for reclassifying Ackerman or Ley.

First and Last Hugos?

Were the Hugo Awards meant to begin and end with the presentation of Jack McKnight’s handmade rockets at the Philadelpha Worldcon of 1953?

That’s the view expressed in a comment on the official Hugo website:

Because the awards presented in 1953 were initially conceived as one-off awards…

However, Michael J. Walsh points out that the 1953 Worldcon’s announcement of the award in its third progress report describes it as “the First Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards” — not first and last…

When I redraft the official site’s Hugo history I will have to deal with this question.

Esther Cole, chair of the San Francisco committee which failed to reprise the Hugos in 1954, said on a panel in 1993 that she believed they were one-off awards, making the discussion yet another of those faanish theological controversies. We can wonder why she believed that. However, I’m not aware that anyone has shown she didn’t believe that.

Sometimes I wonder if the 1954 committee, having heard how Jack McKnight missed the Worldcon to finish the trophies, found no one would touch the project with a 10-foot-pole. But I haven’t found any evidence to support my speculation.

How Tall Is The Hugo?

Nippon 2007 Ultraman Hugo base

How tall is the Hugo rocket? As a matter of fact, a chrome Hugo rocket is thirteen inches tall. But what I am really asking you to do is put your imagination to work, then tell me: What sized rocket do you think the Hugo is modeled on?

John Hertz and I came up with this question while we were discussing the spate of silly controversies that plagued Nippon 2007’s Hugo Awards. The last one was about the Hugo Award base. From all the griping you’d think the Japanese superhero Ultraman practically dwarfed the Hugo rocket.

A lot of fans thought it was perfectly fine for a Japanese Worldcon to honor an icon from its country’s sf tradition. But for or against, all fans seemed to take for granted that the figure of Ultraman was exaggerated. No one ever asked whether Ultraman and the rocket might, in fact, be in proper proportion to one another, or how to find that answer.

Ultraman is supposed to be 130 feet tall. Just how big do we conceive the Hugo rocket to be?

In the popular imagination the hypothetical, life-sized Hugo rocket has taken on mythic proportions with the passing years.

Trylon and PerisphereTo honor the 50th anniversary of the first Worldcon, the 1989 Hugo Award base took inspiration from the signature buildings of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Trylon and Perisphere. Connected to the Trylon, which stood 700 feet tall, by what was at the time the world’s longest escalator, was the Perisphere, 180 feet in diameter. So in the 1989 base design the Hugo rocket stood in for a 700-foot-tall tower.

Three years later, Phil Tortoricci designed the 1992 Hugos, with special gold-plated rockets on his beautifully-made bases. He hand-painted an astronomical scene on each black stone backdrop. The rockets rested on little squares of orange grating from the original Pad 29 where America’s first satellite was launched. That was the Explorer-1 satellite launched on a multi-stage Jupiter-C rocket in 1958. I’m sure that by 1992 fans were used to seeing historic footage of missions launched with the huge Saturn V rocket, 363 feet tall (shorter than the Trylon, but still mighty big.) In fact, the rocket that launched our first satellite was just 71 feet tall – something Ultraman actually could tower over!

The fairest measure of the relative size of Ultraman and the Hugo rocket can be found by identifying the rocket ship that inspired the Hugo design.

The official Hugo Awards site says, “The earliest Hugo Award trophies used a rocket hood ornament from a 1950s American automobile…” Hopefully that will soon be corrected –accurate information is already posted elsehwere on the same site about Jack McKnight’s role in manufacturing the first Hugos.

Jack McKnight's Hugo rocketMilton Rothman, chair of the 1953 Philadelphia Worldcon that invented the Hugo Awards, said in his article for the Noreascon Program Book that they had a lot of trouble finding someone to make the Hugo rockets. “It was Jack McKnight who came to the rescue. An expert machinist, he turned the little rockets out of stainless steel in his own shop, learning to his dismay that soldering stainless steel fins was a new art. While doing this, poor Jack missed the whole convention, but turned up just in time for the banquet and the presentation.”

The use of hood ornaments wasn’t proposed until the Hugos (which missed a year) were revived in 1955 by the Cleveland Worldcon committee. They hoped Jack McKnight would make their Hugo rockets, too, but their letters brought no replies. Nick Falasca asked, couldn’t they simply use Oldsmobile “Rocket 88″ model hood ornaments? They ordered one of the ornaments from the local dealer. Unfortunately, the rocket had a hollow underside; hood ornaments did not prove to be a cheap and easy solution after all. Instead, Ben Jason had the Hoffman Bronze Co. prepare a pattern rocket from his design, and that rocket does bear a resemblance to the 88 logo from the trunk lid of a 1955 Oldsmobile “Rocket 88.” That’s the Hugo rocket shape in use to this day.

Conquest of SpaceMilton Rothman said Jack McKnight’s original stubby-winged 1953 Hugo rocket was inspired by Willy Ley. Presumably he meant the cover of Ley’s 1949 book, The Conquest of Space. The original Hugo rocket looked more or less like the Moon rocket Chesley Bonestell painted for the cover of Ley’s book. The general impression is of a rocket about the same size as used in the 1950 movie Destination Moon, for which Bonestell also did the matte and scene paintings. We know that the Luna, flown in Destination Moon, was 45 meters or 150 feet tall. (Bonestell’s image has never ceased to fascinate Hugo designers: the cinematic Moonscape of the 1996 Hugo base, with Hugo rocket in the foreground, pays homage to Destination Moon.)

In the end, the fairest and most logical answer is that our hypothetical Hugo is the same size as Destination Moon’s Luna, 150 feet tall. That makes the Hugo similar in size to the legendary Ultraman, and allows us to conclude the Nippon 2007 base shows the two images in proper proportion. Case closed.

That gives us about a week to get ready for this year’s Hugo controversies…