Yep, George R. R. Martin @ the 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony was a dumpster fire

I didn’t intend to blog about ConZealand.

I thought I might blog about my Hugo Awards ballot… maybe.

Then I had the misfortune to wake up to Tweets about the Hugo Awards ceremony. I started watching it, began messaging a friend with a live paraphrase of George R. R. Martin’s opening speech, and ended up posting the paraphrase to Twitter.

I’m angry at GRRM for how he compered the awards. He went WAAYYY further than mispronouncing names. There aren’t individual quotes you can pull out to demonstrate what was bad. His presentation was in its entirety, in my view, egotistical, unprofessional, and deeply disrespectful of the Hugo finalists. It was also nostalgic, which, for an award supposedly celebrating a literature of ideas, is a bit WTF?

I can understand why WorldCon want an author as rich and famous as GRRM compering their event. However, his section of the awards ceremony was apparently pre-recorded. So, I think ConZealand should have, at the very least, sent him back to do his homework and then cut for length [UPDATE: apparently, they *did* send him back to re-record because of… (drum roll) poor lighting and a wobbly camera… the mind boggles].

My Tweet about the first half of GRRM’s opening speech is below.

If you want to dig into this in more detail, I’ve gone back through the talk below.

GRRM’s opening speech 

GRRM started his presentation in his own theatre in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He says, “and I’m going out all over the world. This is truly a world-con.” He goes onto speculate that the virtual format means the “global reach of the convention should be greater.” It was, George… which is why people are fracking offended.

Next, he drifts into his first ‘uh-huh’ moment. “Science fiction and fantasy right back to the 20s and 30s, from the start, has always been a global community. We’ve always been united by our love of sci-fi and fantasy, by the books and movies we grew up on, cut our teeth on, and enjoyed. Those books and movies have been translated into languages all over the world.”

And, so, GRRM name-checks ‘his friends in’ a list of west and eastern European countries (e.g. Portugal, Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic). He then mentions the “Arab World”, including Saudi Arabia (the latter was bidding for a Worldcon), as well as India, Nepal, China and Japan. He says, South America (without mentioning any countries). Then, he says: ”I hope we’re being watched in Africa. I know we have Nnedi Okorafor, the wonderful Nigerian-American author.”

Really, GRRM? I enjoyed Binti (and I voted La Guardia second in the Hugo ballot), but Nnedi is a professor at the University of Buffalo New York born in Chicago. Her Nigerian ancestry inspires her work, but she’s American and – at a guess – wasn’t watching in Africa. Given this was supposed to be a Worldcon with ‘global reach‘, it would have been nice if he’d ALSO made at least a token effort to mention some people who WERE (or might be) watching from Nigeria. There are SF&F writers based in Lagos, for example.

Also, nice if he’d avoided “Africa or Saudi Arabia or Finland”. Guess the odd one out?  Yep, Africa is NOT A COUNTRY. It’s the world’s second-largest and second-most-populated continent, after Asia, with a population of 1.3 billion people (according to Wikipedia) spread over more than 50 different countries. And, if he’d lost the expression “exotic cuisine”. George, as a Brit, I find high-fructose corn syrup forking ‘exotic’, but we’ll probably be lumbered with this shit after Brexit.

I know this sounds pedantic. But, he was the toastmaster. He’d already told us he was hoping to have ‘global reach‘. He could have at least spent five minutes considering how some of this stuff sounded outside of the States.

So, what did he talk about… erm…

The Human Turd

Yes… some guy who covered himself in peanut butter at the Worldcon masquerade in 1972. Cats. Roller skates. No cats on roller skates, although that would have potentially been funnier than what we did get.

*Sorry, this is a skateboard.

Then he gives a history of the Hugo Award PRESENTATIONS. Not even the BOOKS (because, he’s presenting a literary award, remember), but the actual presentations.

And he goes on… and on… and on… He talks about Isaac Asimov, but not his science fiction. He talks about Harlan Ellison, but not his science fiction. He talks about Robert Silverberg… you know what I’m going to say here…

Then he says “the past is another country” (presumably, just like Africa)…. and, you know, I thought he was going stop right there. I thought he was going to stop and talk about the NOMINEES. You know, the REASON YOU ARE HERE, George.

But, no such luck…

Banquets… Rubber chicken. Banquets…

Instead, he talked about banquets (everyone loves the banquets in Game of Thrones, right?) He talked about the olden days when Worldcon fitted into a hotel. He talked about rubber chicken and overdone steaks. He talked about seven “bucks” to go watch the Hugo Awards in the 1970s. He waxed lyrical about Robert Silverberg who was, apparently, “a consummate toastmaster”: “eloquent,” “witty”, “slender”, “elegant” and “sardonic” with dark hair and a “dark-pointed beard” that made him look like “Cary Grant“ (or maybe “Satan”).

He went on… and on… and on…

I had come up considerably in the SF world…

In his opening speech, GRRM spent roughly 6 mins 30 secs head-butting “Worldcon ceremonies that I attended in the 1970s and the authors who I saw there”. BUT, he wasn’t finished there. He talked for at least five minutes before EVERY SINGLE AWARD, and usually more. Every speech was either:

  • Lengthy anecdotes about GRRM’s experience at Hugo Awards ceremonies in the 1970s;
  • A history of the Hugo Awards ceremony (not the books or the authors, you understand BUT THE ACTUAL CEREMONY) from the 1950s up to about 1984.

QUICK FACT: The Hugo Award ceremony took 3 hours 35 minutes this year compared to approximately 2 hours 20 in both 2018 and 2017. This was largely due to GRRM bloviating while wearing a succession of silly hats.

At no point in the almost two hours of him I endured, did he give any serious mention to:

  1. New Zealand where ConZealand was due to be held, except to make a “Middle Earth” and “West Island” joke, or;
  2. The actual books, fans, authors or editors being awarded.

Some particular lowlights (sorry I can’t give a verbatim transcript – he went on for too DAMN long):

  • 5.5 minutes of Astounding Award bloviation about GRRM’s own award nominations in the 1970sI wrote down, verbatim, “I had come up considerably in the SF world and “Fannish Legend”. Amusingly (and it was the only amusing thing), about halfway through this steaming pile, I realised he had an actual Funko Pop! of HIMSELF on his desk. And was using it as a prop… to illustrate himself. Yeah, OKAY Boomer. 









  • 10 minutes on ‘the history of wooden Hugo Award trophy bases 1954 – 1984’. He went on longer than John Flower, the Kiwi who designed the 2020 trophy (who managed a mere 3 minutes talking about his own creative work).

NOTE: I could not be assed going through his talk to find where he put up pictures of wooden BASES. Not the actual trophies, but the wooden bases.

  • Mispronouncing ALL THE THINGS, especially in the semiprozine category. I think he pronounced one name correctly, and that was Andrews. Particular lowlights were FIYAH magazine. Also, Rebecca F. Kuang (not “Kwang”) whose name he mispronounced before she gave a speech in which she mentioned people… mispronouncing her name, and Chimedum Ohaegbu, the managing editor of Uncanny Magazine. With Chimedum, particularly, I saw the fear in his eyes, like a rabbit in headlights, as he saw the pronunciation of her name rapidly approaching. He vaulted it… twice… differently each time… and, with all the grace of an elephant in concrete Ugg boots. I mean, yeah, not everyone lives in big multicultural cities. But, seriously, WHY DIDN’T HE REHEARSE? [NB: I don’t buy the excuse he didn’t have the time. He must’ve spent at least an hour researching the history of wooden Hugo trophy bases (the alternative is he knew it all already, which is too horrifying to contemplate)].

Dumpster Fire via GIPHY

  • His Tag-Team of Tedium with Bob Silverberg where Silverberg (who is 85) discussed, at some length, Gernsback, Jules Verne, and a succession of people I’d never heard of who died around the time he was born. The relevance of his talk (to me) can be summarised by the picture below.
Standard Ginger Baby (age 0.5) meets Bob Silverberg (age 85)
Dude, I have kids of my own. Stop talking about the old, dead dude

At some point, we moved onto the Astounding Award. Or, as George R. R. Martin pronounced it (repeatedly), AstOOOOWWWWnding Award. He talked for several minutes about the history of Worldcon’s new writers’ award. Of this, roughly two minutes were spent on the genre contributions of John W. Campbell. A further five and half minutes were spent on his own experiences as a nominee for the “Campbell Award” (and he called it the “Campbell” and “Campbell Award“ over and over again).

Seriously, dude, John W. Campbell spoke in favour of slavery and segregation in the 1960s. Analog chose to recognise his contribution to the genre by renaming the award after the magazine he edited, which is a good way to memorialise his work without commemorating him personally.  It’s not hard to either stick to the new name or, if you want to give a potted history, mention how and why the name was changed. You can even contextualise the man himself, as this LA Times article does.

It’s better than… well, pretending the name change never happened, and that Campbell was unarguably a top bloke (John Scalzi has a good piece on the debate here).

A new golden age of SF

We are in a golden age of science fiction & fantasy with books written by authors around the world, and from across the political spectrum. You can read SF&F from everyone from Chinese writers like Liu Cixin and Baoshu, to Nommo Award Finalists, to authors on both sides of the US culture war.

From writers in America and the UK ALONE, you can read Hugo finalists and winners like N.K. Jemisin’s Emergency Skin, P. Djeli Clark’s The Haunting of Tram Car 015 or Ted Chiang’s Omphalos (all of which I like) . You can read ultra-hard SF like Andy Weir’s The Martian and Randomize. You can read steampunk, biopunk or solarpunk. You can read uplifting liberal hopepunk or its conservative Christian equivalent, superversive SF. You can read grim-dark dystopia and Bigfoot erotica (maybe). You can read gun-toting libertarian pulp like Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series (of which I’m a fan) or fast-paced contemporary fantasy like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. You can read British writers with science/medical creds like Tade Thompson or Alastair Reynolds.

Outside the pandemic, you can go to local sci-fi and fantasy conventions, or big celebrity shindigs with 80k+ fans of movies, books and films. You can join book clubs and online book communities. You can follow the many awards that are now popping up all over: none of them as long-running as the Hugos, or getting the same coverage from legacy media, but even the Hugos were new once. You can choose work that’s traditionally published, indie, or presented as interactive fiction.

I could go on, but I’d probably make myself look stupid through not understanding the sheer wealth of options available. Much of this fiction is coming from writers aged under 50. So, why the fork are GRRM and Bob Silverberg talking about Campbell, or Jules Verne, or Gernsback, or Alfred Bester, and not any of the modern stuff?

Not just your treehouse

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll explain why I took the time to write this account. Five years ago, I blogged quite a bit about the Hugos from a skeptical viewpoint. I’m not involved in organised fandom (at least, as I understand it – we’ll come to this in a moment) and was trying to figure out what was going on with the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I remember visiting GRRM’s Livejournal (as it was then) and he kept talking about ‘fans’ and ‘fandom’, as though the Puppies weren’t it. He had comments open and, at the time, I remember commenting along the lines of ‘was I a fan? who got to be a fan?‘ I’m certainly a long-term SF&F reader and, at the time, was writing a novel (I’m now 2/3rds of the way to qualifying for an SFWA membership for my published short fiction).

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to successfully search his LiveJournal and the comments on his new blog are closed. However, he actually replied to me (which was memorable. He’s a big-name author). I remember him saying something about fans “paying their dues”, by which I believe he meant regularly attending Worldcon and nominating/voting in the Hugos. The specific phrase about ‘paying their dues’ stuck in my head.

I’ve read multiple accounts of older ‘fans’ talking about Worldcon fandom in the way GRRM does. It’s something where people get status through long service. Where they tour the country being ‘fannish’. If they can’t afford a train fare, they hitchhike. They sleep on floors and sit obediently on chairs at the back of the room if they can’t afford a banquet ticket. They know ‘Fannish Legend’ and they care about the human-turd-masquerade-happening of 1972.

My reaction to being told I wasn’t a ‘fan’ was to stick up a big middle finger. The idea of an expensive, US-focused touring convention where status is accrued by physically turning up and participating in esoteric rituals is the epitome of hostile gatekeeping. I’m proud that young (er than GRRM) woke writers are vocally challenging this crap.

During the Puppies, Larry Correia (now aged 43) was complaining about similar stuff, but wasn’t getting taken seriously because he was a Mormon, gun-owning libertarian. When I read GRRM was roasted last year for leaving Hugo losers LITERALLY out in the cold outside a Hugo Losers Party, I realised that GRRM is more of an equal-opportunities asshole than he’s currently being given credit for.

He acts like: no quality writers were born after 1970, and; that everyone who matters can both travel around the world to a 5,000 – 6,000 person convention, and fit into the building when they get there. He behaves as though younger writers shouldn’t turn up and get nominated for a Hugo without ‘paying their dues’ in Worldcon fandom first, and, now, like an old fart who wants everyone to get off his lawn…

And some congratulations

Last, but not least, I want to congratulate ALL the finalists winners of the Hugo Awards and, also, ConZealand for organising the event. I moaned about a lot of the Hugo-nominated writing when I last seriously read the nominees, but there was lots to like in this year’s selection. This may be due to an influx of new voters who learned about the Hugos from the press coverage of Puppygate (it was, previously, apparently a pretty cliquey event).

I’d like to compliment Rebecca F. Kuang and Thea James, especially, on their heartfelt acceptance speeches. Also, Bogi Takács for a class-act acceptance speech that spent about half of the running time recommending other writers. Something I might replicate in the unlikely event that anyone ever nominates me for anything (this isn’t false modesty… I will never win a Hugo).

You can view a ‘Toastmaster-lite’ version of the awards here:

* Nominated for the 2021 Hugo for Best Editor – Long Form.

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