The Hugo Award was created in honor of Hugo Gernsback, described as "The Father of Magazine Science Fiction" when he was given an award in 1953. Hugo Gernsback was the publisher of the first SF Magazine - Amazing Stories.

Each year, the Hugo Award (also known as the Science Fiction Achievement Award) is given by the World Science Fiction Society. The award is given at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon).

The voting system for the Hugo Awards is a bit odd compared to many other award systems. The basic premise is rather simple with a good goal: make certain that the winner has majority support.

  • Each person who is attending the current or has attended the previous Worldcon has the right to nominate five distinct entries in each category - no ballot stuffing by nominating the same item more than once for each category.
  • Once all the nominations are in, the administrator totals the votes and selects the top five for each category to go through to the final ballot. The actual number of nominations is not released until after the final ballots are cast.
  • If there is a tie for last place in the nomination phase, then all of the tied nominees enter. Furthermore, a nominee must have at least 5% of the total ballots cast; though the top three will always proceed to the final ballot.
  • If a person withdraws (such as J. Michael Straczynski did in 1997 when he was nominated for Severed Dreams, War Without End, and Z'Ha'Dum - he withdrew from running for all but Severed Dreams) then the next highest nomination is elevated to the final ballot. Many believe that having multiple works on the final ballot means a lowered chance of winning because of a split vote. This is not true - the convoluted voting process is designed to prevent a "split vote" from costing a work the award.
Final Vote
Each nominee is ranked in order of preference by the current attendees of Worldcon from 1 being best to 5 being the least favorite. Furthermore, each category has the option of voting for 'No Award'. This may be ranked anywhere. If the 'No Award' is ranked 1 the voter believes that no entry is worth or if the category should be abolished. Ranked as 2 or lower, it means the voter believes that the other nominees are not worthy. It is possible to rank nominees below it and still affect the outcome.

In the first round of balloting, all the valid votes are separated into piles based upon the first preference for vote and counted. If one nominee has more than half of the total valid ballots then there is a possible winner right there and then. Otherwise, one nominee needs to be eliminated. If there is no first round winner, then it is time to consider the second preference. The entry with the lowest number of first round score (most often 'no award') is then eliminated and the second preference totals are counted and added to the first round totals. The new totals are checked and if one nominee has more than half the total votes then the process continues to the No Award Test - otherwise the third and so on continues. If (and this has happened) the last two are exactly tied (most recently happened in 1993 for Novel - A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge and Doomsday Book by Connie Wills tied) then two awards are given.

Before a winner is announced, the potential winner is tested against the No Award Test. In this step, the valid ballots are divided into three piles:

  1. 'No Award' is ranked higher than the potential winner (1 is higher than 2)
  2. 'No Award' is ranked lower than the potential winner (3 is lower than 2)
  3. Neither 'No Award' nor the potential winner are listed (no listing is seen as "lower" than the lowest listing)
Piles A and B are then compared. If pile A is larger than pile B, then no award is given in that category that year.
Congratulations, you have a winner.

It should be noted that second and lower placings are specified though it is traditionally done by removing the ballots that placed the winner first and and then doing this entire process all over again. The winner of this count will get second place... and so on. This lead to lots of ballot counting, however, Jeffry Copeland wrote a computer program to automate this process to count the ballots that would otherwise take a significant chunk of time.

The classic categories are Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Artist, and Fan Magazine (later known as Fanzine).

It should be noted that the Hugo award does not make any distinction for language or medium of publication - a node on E2 may be nominated.

Are works published electronically eligible?
Yes they are. The definitions of the Hugo Award categories refer only to the nature of the work, not the medium in which it is published. A novel is a novel, regardless of whether it is published in hardback, softback, as a serial in a magazine, or on disk.

Occasionally, a "Retro-Hugo" is awarded. These may be awarded for years 50, 75, or 100 years in the past provided that there was a Worldcon that year but no Hugo Awards were given. The first Worldcon occurred in 1939. This occurred in 1996 when an award was given for 1946. If this process interests you, the 2002 Worldcon is in San Jose, California on Tuesday, August 29 to Monday, September 2 (Vernor Vinge is the guest writer of honor for those of you interested). The 2003 Worldcon is in Toronto, Ontario from Thursday, August 28 to Monday September 1, 2003 and the 2004 Worldcon is in Boston, Massachusetts from Thursday September 2, to Monday September 6. --> (not used in the above, but quite interesting for those stats types)