Users Guide: History
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Users Guide Introduction
Or, 22 Reasons Why Your Favorite Book/Author Didn't Win (and Someone Else Did)
If it seems to you that there are more awards every year, you're right but this is not a phenomenon unique to science fiction. There are more awards for movies every year too, and no new pop cultural form appears without awards for it coming soon thereafter, like the Webbies.
Science fiction awards are distinguished both by their relatively long history -- the oldest compiled here, are nearly 50 years old -- and by their genesis: unlike all the movie and music awards you hear about, the majority of awards for SF (and its associated genres fantasy and horror) originated with fans, that is, the community of readers devoted the genre. Further, SF is distinguished from literary fiction and even other genres by the extent to which fans interact with professionals, at the dozens of conventions held annually around the world: even the professional and juried awards in the SF field are more often associated with or presented at these various conventions and conferences, social events that bring together professionals writers and artists with their audiences, than they are announced via press releases or at invitation-only restricted gatherings.
The two best-known SF awards, the Hugos and the Nebulas, are also the oldest still-active awards. The Hugos, fan-based awards given by members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention (typically held around the US Labor Day weekend, and in a different city each year, not always in the US) date from the early 1950s; the Nebulas, given by professional members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, from the mid-1960s. (Only one award compiled in this Index is older; the International Fantasy Award gave out its first honors in 1951, two years before the first Hugos. But that award lasted only half a dozen years.)
Until the late '60s, the Hugos and Nebulas were the only games in town. Since then, new awards have appeared at a rate of one or two every year. (For an overview of the lifespans of the many SFFH awards, see Table S5, for before 1980, and Table S6, for years since 1980.) British and Australian fan awards, analogous to the American-dominated Hugos, began around 1970, as did academically-oriented awards for fantasy (the Mythopoeic Awards) and scholarship (SFRA's Pilgrim Award), non-English-language awards like the Seiun and Apollo (though winners were often English-language works in translation), and magazine reader polls like Locus's.
Two major awards appeared in the mid-1970s, with agendas not to supplement Hugos and Nebulas but to rival them: the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, a juried award, to contrast with the popular-vote balloting processes of the Hugos and Nebulas; and the World Fantasy Awards (a hybrid of popular-vote nomination with judges to determine winners) which were instituted to acknowledge the burgeoning genre of fantasy, whose importance, since the popularity of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in the '60s, had grown to rival SF's.
Since then, awards have been created to honor forms associated with recently-deceased writers or editors -- the Philip K. Dick, to honor original works published in paperback; the Theodore Sturgeon, to honor works of short fiction -- or to represent the tastes of particular constituencies of voters: the Prometheus, for works expressing Libertarian values; the Sidewise, to honor works of alternate history; the Lambda, to honor works of gay and lesbian literature. The importance of horror as a distinct genre from SF and fantasy brought about the Bram Stoker Awards and the International Horror Guild Awards in the late '80s and '90s. And a remarkable number of awards, from the other John W. Campbell Award (for best new writer), to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future contests, to the recent James White Award, are designated to honor emerging writers and artists -- a sign of the vitality and continued growth of the genres of fantastic fiction.