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April 19, 2002

A brief subcultural phillipic I’m a finalist for science fiction’s Hugo Award, in the Best Professional Editor category. (Here’s the whole list.)

For those not in the SF world, the Hugos are our big-deal award, given out since the 1950s and named after Hugo Gernsback, the Luxembourgean immigrant who founded the first mass-market science-fiction magazine, thus either (1) brilliantly establishing science fiction as part of American popular culture or (2) consigning it eternally to a ghetto of pulp trash. (The argument continues.) It says something about the persistently egalitarian SF world, where even now bright teenagers can go to conventions and get into lively arguments with famous writers, that our Oscars are also our “People’s Choice” awards: the Hugo is awarded by vote of the membership of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, and anyone can buy a membership and vote if they’re interested enough.

The Best Professional Editor Hugo, like a lot of the Hugo categories, has an odd history, shaped by the sorts of accommodations-with-circumstance that happen in democracies. From their inception in 1953 to 1972, the Hugos honored the best SF magazine of the year. Then, in view of the increasing importance of books and anthologies, it was decided to change the award to “Best Professional Editor.” But magazine editors have dominated the award nonetheless—unsurprisingly, since book editors, save for anthologists, are rarely credited on the books they edit. A trickle of book editors have been nominated. The Hugo has actually been awarded to a living book editor once (Terry Carr, 1985) and to a book editor immediately following their untimely death twice (Judy-Lynn Del Rey, 1986, declined by her husband Lester Del Rey; and Terry Carr again, 1987). Otherwise, it has gone entirely to magazine editors; since 1988, it has gone to Gardner Dozois, the (very fine) editor of Asimov’s SF, every year save one. It has become a mordant joke among SF book editors that the only way to win the Hugo is to die. (Or, as I said to David Hartwell once when I was expressing concern about his health, “We don’t want you to win the Hugo.”)

Nonetheless, it’s an honor to be a finalist, and delightful to see several other things on the ballot I was involved in publishing: in the Best Novel category, Ken MacLeod’s audacious, funny, and deeply intelligent Cosmonaut Keep and Robert Charles Wilson’s spooky, evocative, and unforgettable The Chronoliths, both of which I acquired for Tor; in Best Novella, Vernor Vinge’s “Fast Times at Fairmont High,” the single new story in the Tor collection The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge; and, in Best Novelette, Ted Chiang’s stunning “Hell is the Absence of God” from my own anthology Starlight 3. Voted on and awarded along with the Hugo is the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer; among this year’s finalists are Alexander C. Irvine (author of a smart, sharp, Powersesque debut novel forthcoming from Tor, A Scattering of Jades), and Jo Walton (author of the gritty, gripping, remarkable debut novels The King’s Peace and The King’s Name, both of which I acquired for Tor).

For those keeping count, this is my eighth Hugo nomination, and my fourth time up as Best Professional Editor. I’m grateful. I think there are other deserving book editors as well. For instance, despite editing several Hugo-winning novels (including my own candidate for best SF novel of the 1990s, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness In the Sky), Jim Frenkel has never been nominated for a Hugo. I could go on, but this is overlong as it is. [04:49 AM]

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