I’m too tired and pressed for time to write the larger piece I had intended on suggestions for the ways in which the Hugo Award categories might need to be in for some changes, addressing everything from the “how do we know who edited what?” issue to story length issues, traditional vs electronic fanzine issue, the YA issue, the anime issue & etc. So instead I’ll address only one – a Lifetime Achievement Award Hugo.
Fandom has several lifetime achievement awards already; there’s the Forrest J. Ackerman Big Heart Award, given out at the Hugo Awards ceremony, but Not-A-Hugo. This award is presented for long, on-going, meaningful contributions to fandom (whatever that means) and has been awarded to both pros (Robert Silverberg) and fans (last year’s Ben Yalow) alike.
It’s “not-a-Hugo”, and it’s focus is very, very fannish.
There’s SFWA’s Grandmaster Award: it’s got to be given to a living recipient and only SFWA members get to select it.
There’s the WFC’s Lifetime Achievement award for ‘service to the fantasy field’ and the WHC’s Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement for “substantial influence in the horror genre”. Various clubs and other orgs also offer this honor.
I think that “lifetime achievement” probably covers two different areas of interest during awards consideration. There’s the up-front idea that a particular individual is worthy of special recognition for a body of work over an extended period of time. The type of work does not have to be specified, could encompass a variety of different types of contribution. The mass of their contribution over time elevates them to special status.
The other area of interest is the “oh shoot – so and so has been overlooked for YEARS for ‘reasons’ and we really ought to do something about that”. The reasons are varied: the individual has labored quietly in the background and it is only now becoming apparent how valuable their contributions have been; the individual has been an ‘also ran’ numerous times; things have changed and so have perspectives on the individual’s contributions; shit happens.
It’s the latter that I think is the more important of the two. Shit does happen and there have been numerous times over the preceding years that we’ve heard talk about this or that person never having won a Hugo while being perceived as deserving of one. Then there’s a flurry of hasty notifications, the individual gets onto the final ballot and may or may not win; if they do, questions linger regarding who ‘should’ have won had it not been for the need to get so-and-so their Hugo.
Bluntly stated, a Lifetime Achievement Hugo can serve as a catch-all or safety valve. An outlet for taking care of those “oh shit, this is the last chance we’ll have” moments; adding this category can remove any undue influence such things might have over other categories and provide a way to honor and reward those among us whose contributions may not easily fit into ‘categories’.
I don’t think it necessarily has to be given each and every year (hopefully ‘shit doesn’t happen’ every year); but it should be available for use. Perhaps awarding it could be determined by requiring a higher threshold during the nomination process (must be on 25% or more of all ballots, for example), or a special process, such as the committee recommending someone for the award and then seeing if the voters agree during the nomination process. Final vote would be a simple yea or nay, with majority winning.
I think it is perfectly reasonable for fandom to recognize that there’s been an oversite; to determine that someone has gone unrecognized for years and is deserving of special mention. I think it unreasonable that we’ve no way to correct that.