Ann Morris, co-founder of Tampa’s Stone Hill SF Association, has written a post for Airlock Alpha explaining why the Hugos are not all that:
There was a period of my life when I attended the World Cons and voted for the Hugos. But even then, I was aware of how small a sample of people voted and how meaningless the award was for most readers and watchers. I was working in bookstores at that period of my life as well and in talking with hundreds of science-fiction and fantasy readers, I learned that most don’t care about conventions or are even aware of the Hugos.
Who can doubt her experience? Things Americans don’t know are always good for a laugh in the newsroom – last year a poll taken around the Fourth of July showed 26% of Americans can’t even name the country we broke away from to gain our independence. And that’s something people are expected to know about, unlike pop culture awards.
Yet anyone who reads widely in the sf field has a good chance of hearing about the Hugos. My own experience stands in sharp contrast with that of Ann’s bookstore customers. Well before I knew anything about fandom I’d heard plenty about the Hugo Awards. I learned about them from the dominant writers and editors in the field who frequently communicated how much they cared about the Hugos. Isaac Asimov edited multiple volumes of The Hugo Winners (the first two in 1962 and 1971.) Harlan Ellison campaigned successfully to have a fourth fiction Hugo added in 1972. Donald Wollheim’s introductions to stories in his Annual World’s Best SF often mentioned a writer’s Hugos and Nebulas. And so on.
The writers’ synergy with the Hugos has always been the driving force behind its power as a brand, something Ann overlooks in offering her advice for improving the awards:
I think if the Hugos paid more attention to television and movies, they’d get a bigger sample of science-fiction fans and be a more valid award.
Whether an award is “valid” is in the eye of the beholder and Ann evidently feels there’s a relationship between the number of people who vote for an award and its legitimacy.
I would say that depends on the award. If only 1,000 people called up to vote on the winner of American Idol that would be a disaster, because of the contest’s popular premise. On the other hand, the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the world’s most prestigious award, is determined by a committee of five. The entertainment industry’s most famous award, the Oscar, is voted on by about 6,000 members of the Academy. That’s only six times as many people as voted for last year’s Hugo Awards.
The one thing we can agree on is that it is, indeed, good to welcome more and more people to vote on the Hugos. But they can’t be people whose sole interest is in the dramatic presentation categories or else that will detract from the literary connections that give the Hugos the recognition they currently enjoy. Preferably Hugo voters like sf in many forms.