Retro-Hugos: The Past and Future of Passed Future Nostalgia

By Hampus Eckerman: When I was a kid, I learned to read early or to be more truthful, was taught to read early. When my brother started school, two years earlier than me, he taught me how to read at the same time and thus I soon spent the time reading through all the books that existed in the house.

My own books were of course not enough, there was a limit to how many books you could buy a child who could read 5-6 books a week (more during holidays). Soon I trawled through all my parents old books from their childhoods, the good stuff they had chosen to save. After that it was the closest library, then the libraries in nearby areas. After that it was my parents’ libraries and it was there I found it. My father’s collection of Science Fiction.

Many here would recognize it, even if most of it was in Swedish. There was Heinlein, Asimov, Simak, Sheckley, Bradbury, Le Guin and more. It was a full collection of the Swedish Science Fiction magazines Häpna! and Galaxy. To put it more succinctly: There was lot of the stuff that are celebrated in the Retro-Hugos. And I read it all.

The Retro-Hugos for me isn’t as much about the books I discovered for myself. That stuff was mostly horror, something I was the first reader of in the family. No, the Retro-Hugos is in many ways about the stuff that was discovered by my parents. The things I found in their library, in the trunks in our storage room, in the comic albums my father brought home or the books my mother gave me for Christmas. It is about the reprints of old graphic novels you could buy cheaply in secondhand comic stores. Of characters like The Shadow or Doc Savage you didn’t really know anything about apart from sudden appearances in modern comics. It is the stuff from collections of classics or The Best Of Anthologies. The stuff that was already a treasure hunt to find when I was a kid. Hunting for other people’s nostalgia.

And now mine.

* * *

There is much anger towards nostalgia nowadays. It is associated with the Sad Puppies campaign, with reactionaries, sexists and racists. With Lovecraft and Campbell. And it is not without reason. George RR Martin in many ways showed us exactly how nostalgia can be used to block the appreciation and discovery of newer works and creators when he hijacked the Hugo ceremonies to talk about people who hadn’t created much of relevance the last 50 years. The Golden Age of SF is twelve years old I’ve been told repeatedly. And George RR Martin stole the Hugo Ceremony to talk about his Golden Age, not the current one we are in. Even worse, he used it as a slap in the face towards those who rightly had complained about the racism of Campbell and about the great victory of renaming the award that had previously been used to keep on glorifying a man who still spoke in defense of the slavery.

And now that anger is directed against all nostalgia. Against the Retro-Hugos. The award should be cancelled, some say. The rules need to change, others say. The presence of nostalgia and talk about classics is hurtful by itself, says a third. And I just don’t get it.

We have already had a series of bouts where racist, sexist and hateful screeds where placed on the ordinary Hugo ballot. Of course I talk about the Sad Puppies. The solution to that was not to abandoning the Hugos. It was to No Award the racist, sexist and hateful works. It is even easier to do that with regards to the Retro-Hugos, because most of the finalists are dead anyhow, so you don’t have to care that much about someone missing out on an award. Burn the category down if you want. Even without rule changes, it would be easy to keep people like Lovecraft and Campbell away from any win. Just have some of those people now demanding the cancellation of the Retro-Hugos paying attention to what is actually among the finalists. Get the word around and vote. It works.

With a solution already in existence against bad actors or works being placed on a Hugo or Retro-Hugo ballot, it is instead time to discuss what should replace the Retro-Hugos. There are only so many years left. Soon the last Retro-Hugo has been awarded. At least in the current form.

* * *

I like the Retro-Hugos for many reasons.

  • It is the treasure hunt of searching through the internet, trying to find eligible works, see what was published what year, trying to remember old time characters and movies. Sharing the information with others, scanning material, finding archives.
  • It is a fun exercise with low stakes as most finalists are dead or well past the peak of their career. In a time where many finalists in the ordinary Hugos are active participants in social media, it is nice to have an award where there’s less chance of anger, disappointment and mistreatment regarding awards, parties or receptions.
  • It is less time-consuming (for some of us) as many of the works have been read before, where the novels are shorter and much of it can be found online.
  • It is the left field contenders appearing, such as the Little Prince or Wind On The Moon. It is the joy of sharing your favorites from your own golden age with others. Because when you were twelve, you most likely didn’t vote for the Hugos.

So how to create an award that keeps these qualities, but lessen the workload of the administrators? How to put emphasis more on the fun and enjoyment than on the worthy and winners? This is my proposal.

NO AWARD. There is no reason to hand out an award as most finalists are dead. Of course it is fun when someone actually comes to pick one up, but that is not the important thing. To paraphrase an old expression: Maybe the best award was the works we found on the way. It would save much time for administrators not to have to find out who should receive a trophy that perhaps no one would value anyhow.

CEREMONY OR NOT. Have a ceremony. If you want. Or don’t. Perhaps you can have stand-ins for the finalists on stage that get free cake and champagne if their candidate wins. Or draw one person from the audience who wins a book. Just to have someone to celebrate at or cheer for at a win, but with no nervousness as the person really didn’t have any stakes in it. Or just announce through a newsletter. I.e, let the Worldcon decide by time, effort or creativity.

FLEXIBLE CATEGORIES. In the ordinary Hugos, the current worldcon may add one category of their own. Typically used to see what new categories might be viable. I propose that the Retro-Hugos may choose exactly what categories they want. This, because the Retro-Hugos might sometime have to be run for a year where ordinary Hugos have already been handed out. For that year, the Retro-Hugos instead could run categories like.

  • Most Interesting Alien(s).
  • Best Thingamajigg.
  • Funniest work.
  • Most memorable fan moment.
  • Most surprising ending.
  • Best non-English work.

ELIGIBLE YEARS. Change so the Retro-Hugos could instead be run for any year that is 50, 75 or 100 years ago. So moving the step of nostalgia and golden age one step closer.

LONG LIST. Make the long list public directly after the the finalists have been chosen. This gives more time to discuss them and as there are lower stakes, there shouldn’t be that much drama about it. It should also make panel discussions around the Retro-Hugos be more interesting as you could talk about any work on the long list and not only the finalists, thus chosing to talk about more unexpected nominees.

***

Right now there’s 600+ persons who think the Retro-Hugos are fun enough to participate in. That shows that there is a demand for some kind of communal experience around nostalgia. But I think there is a problem in that it is easy for voting to become stagnant and less exciting over time. With less seriousness, more emphasis on the fun and with larger changes in categories, I think it will keep the exciting part of the Retro-Hugo experience.

There’s no hurry, we still have several years to go before the last missing year has been filled and the Retro-Hugos by necessity have to change form. But there’s always a good reason to have the discussion beforehand. At least to make people understand that the end of non-Hugo years must not mean an end to the Retro-Hugos. Or under whatever name the celebration of older works will exist.

15 thoughts on “Retro-Hugos: The Past and Future of Passed Future Nostalgia

  1. I do like the idea of making it a fun ceremony, almost a game. That’s up to each convention of course. And of course by “no award” you mean no statue, which is also fine.

    One simple solution, effectively suggested in other threads, is simply to declare the awards to not be Hugos. They are already optional for the convention. As non-Hugos, the convention would be free to play with categories, use whatever statue they want or not, have whatever ceremony they want. Change it from being WSFS constitution decreed and argued to fannish tradition. Of course the conventions all already administer and award the Astounding and Lodestar awards which are not Hugos. (The constitution does say that the Lodestar and Astounding are the only non-Hugos to be put on the Hugo nomination and final ballots, that could be amended.)

    Yes, if people want to recognize classic SF, let them. It is clear (to me at least) that the retro-Hugos are not the Hugos that would have been awarded had a convention voted them long ago. They are HINOs. Take off the name and there is not issue, except for those who only feel the awards are worthwhile or fun if they get the same name as the current awards.

  2. I find it very sad that so many posts are calling to remove the trophy when the articles start out with the pictures of the beautiful trophies.

  3. Mouse3: The trophies are gorgeous and I would have defended them if they were wanted. But reading about the enormous work administrators put down to find someone to give them too, I’m not sure it is worth it. Perhaps it will be easier if we go by 50 years ago instead of 75.

  4. That would still create a load of work for administrators to try to track down descendents before the trophies would be sent to a fan auction. And it would cause scandals if recipients turned up later and found their trophy had been auctioned off.

  5. In athletics, it’s common to have a single trophy with a lot of little plaques round the base– each winner doesn’t get the actual trophy, but their name on the newest plaque (and in some cases the right to keep the trophy for that year). Why not do the same for the Retros? Put them on display in a museum or library somewhere, add a plaque for the winner each year?

  6. The more I think of it, the better I like the idea with a single trophy with lots of small placques on it. It could travel with the Hugo exhibition between Worldcons. And then the winners who showed up could get a fancy diploma and a pin or something. Should reduce the load.

    Great idea, Fiona!

  7. I like the idea of a trophy with plaques for the individual winners. However, i don’t like the idea of a trophy for each category with a plaque for each year’s winner. This would mean that a Worldcon would lose the ability to have a trophy that reflected its location.
    My suggestion would be for a Worldcon that awarded Retro Hugos to produce a single trophy for that year with a plaque for the winner of each category. Also it should be designed so that a copy could be cheaply and easily produced through casting or 3D printing to present to anyone who turned up to receive it. It also means there will be no issues with the trophies if the categories change.

  8. Pingback: Why the Retro Hugos Have Value | Cora Buhlert

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