The [Eisner Awards] are in actuallity what the Hugo awards are often assumed to be – an industry award. The main purpose of the Eisner’s is to serve the comic book industry in the ways such awards do, primarily by raising the profile of the industry’s best work and expanding the audience for the medium overall. On a much larger scale, the Oscars have been fulfilling this role for the film industry for decades. So why doesn’t the SF & Fantasy field have a proper industry award?

The main reason is that the Hugos, and alongside them the Nebulas, come very close to being an industry award without quite fulfilling that role. The Hugos could do, and many people seem to be working to get them there, but they won’t achieve that without becoming much more international and overhauling their voting system. The Nebulas are voted for by industry professionals, of a kind, in the membership of the Science Fiction Writers of America. But the SFWAs membership does’t actually include the publishing professionals it would need to be an effective “academy” in the style of the Academy Awards.

–Damien Walter on awards.

There’s also the:

  • Locus Awards, run by the (US-based) magazine of the same name
  • BSFA Awards for British science fiction, which is often won by US writers
  • World Fantasy Awards which, in the grand tradition of WorldCon, is another US-based award
  • Ditmar Award and the Aurealis Award, for Australian speculative fiction
  • Chronos Award, for Victorian ((It’s a state in Australia.)) speculative fiction

… and so on and so forth. Like, ad infinitum, because this is just a brief list of stuff I’ve heard mentioned lately for one reason or another. There are a jillion others out there.

One of the things that, I think, it’s important to note is that almost all of these awards are coupled tightly to either a convention (Ditmars, Chronos, Hugos), a magazine (Aurealis, Locus), or a writer’s guild (Nebulas, BSFA). Without putting too fine a point on it, the reason there are so many, I think, is because they’re a form of in-group back-patting. Popularity awards for people who are known inside the clubhouse. That’s why they often seem to be kinda… divorced from SFF’s current commercial landscape, which is somewhat more globalised.1

I also think this explains why the US-based award trio–the Hugos, Locuses, and Nebulas–are considered the “premiere” awards; because the US is the biggest English-language SFF market, and thus has the biggest convention scene, and thus the most potential voters.

That’s it. That’s the trick.

I’m sure the US’s proximity to the also-English-speaking Canadian scene doesn’t hurt, either. If you crunch the numbers, the US-Canadian population is about 350 million; an entire order of magnitude above the population of the whole of the UK (64m), and Australia-New Zealand (27m).

These are not geographically close regions, meaning it takes effort (read: an 8-22 hour plane flight) for a writer/con-goer from one region to participate in the industry scene of another. That matters, I think, and it matters in a way that tends to be invisible to Americans, because they’re not usually the ones who need to travel.

There’s a lot of talk lately about “reforming the Hugos” and whatnot, but increasingly I think what’s needed doesn’t actually involve the Hugo Awards at all. The Hugos are what they are: gold stars for the US convention scene.2 There’s nothing wrong with that. What I do somewhat object to, in the same way I object to naming a US-based convention “WorldCon”, is pretending that the Hugos represent global SFF fandom.

  1. Somewhat. For a given, largely language-based, value of “globalised”, anyway. []
  2. And a very particular part of that scene, too, ref. the no-love-lost between “SFF fans” and “media fans”. []