SF (and by that I mean Science Fiction, quite tolerably with a latter day extension to include Fantasy, hence SF/F; but no, no indeed, not SciFi, and most assuredly, definitively, absolutely certainly, not SyFy) has always been an important part of my cultural life, and of the cultural lives of many of my friends. Ever since - depending upon your age and experience - the start, or the finish, of its golden age, namely the late 1950s and early 1960s. For that was when we bright and promising young future citizens were routinely winning school prizes such as Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship (1954, by John Almquist), or His Outpost in Space (1955, by James Duncan Lawrence); decades before it became politically incorrect to give out any kind of prize to anyone, for anything at all.
You might imagine, judging from these book titles, that Tom Swift was a kind of Harry Potter of his day, only with a somewhat more open-ended franchise. Well, no. The first book in series one was Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle; or, Fun and Adventure on the Road (1910); the last, in series 4 proper, Quantum Force (April 1993). By comparison, Potter is but an eye-blink in the geological epoch of Swift. But the "main sequence" of books all shared that familiar, SF genre-defining, characteristic of constrained speculation.
Subsequent schooldays supplied our spongiform minds with an apparently endless stream of this absorbing literature, whether Gollancz yellow jacket hardback from the school or local libraries, or pulp paperback from tobacconists, purveying Poul Anderson, James Blish (whom we discovered through his Star Trek script adaptations, but who then dazzled us like a doe in the road, with the last word in space opera - his sprawling, gutwrenching, Heinleinesque, eternity-spanning Cities In Flight quadrilogy), British supreme twistmeister John Brunner (who tragically died at the 1995 WorldCon event in my home town), L. Sprague de Camp, Harlan Ellison, Lester del Rey, Bob Shaw (remember Slow Glass?), Clifford D. Simak, or A. E. van Vogt.
Today, it is an almost unique privilege, to be able to read in the blog of one of the undisputed masters of SF, the nonagenarian Frederik Pohl, his reminiscences and firsthand personal memoirs and accounts of those other great enlighteners - those fearless imagineers - Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, E. E. "Doc" Smith, and still others. So the very fact alone, that Fred's website is up for a Hugo Award (Best Fan Writer) this year, would possibly have been enough to persuade me to part with the Aussiecon 4 Supporting Membership fee. As a member I'd be eligible, not only to vote in the final ballot of the 2010 Hugo Awards, but also to nominate in the 2011 Hugo Awards!
But Wait There's More
Now if enough isn't enough already, then note that Hugo winner John Scalzi, current SFWA President and creative consultant on TV's Stargate Universe, has recently been making a serious effort to get more people to vote, by personally persuading the many publishers involved to make available for download (only to voters), DRM-free, electronic copies of the nominated books. This year's is a truly bumper package, and the fact that it contains, amid much else, four full novels that I'd intended to buy anyway (oh! oh! oh! and a PDF of Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? written by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Andy Kubert and Scott Williams), pushed me over the edge with all the commitment of that van in Christopher Nolan's Inception.
Okay, so never mind that "the books balance". I'll probably end up buying these ones in dead tree format anyway, just as I still back up my music collection with dead plankton platters. Regardless...
Voting for the Hugo Awards means honouring both the genre and these great thinkers and writers, some of whose commitment and dedication to the public understanding of science rivals that of a Carl Sagan, Charles Simonyi, or Richard Dawkins. It advertises a contemporary interest in a viable SF/F scene outwith Hollywood. On the day when Amazon's ebook sales overtook their hardbacks, it carries the message that we still want to pay to keep this quality of writing alive. And we hope that it gives hope, stamina and encouragement, to the new torchbearers - Bear, Doctorow, Kowal, Miéville, Priest, Scalzi, Stephenson, Stross, Valente, and all the rest - thankfully, too numerous to enumerate!
At this self same time, voting for enlightened creativity, of the kind exemplified by the SF tradition, demonstrates our reluctant awareness of, and a longing for a life beyond, the electrochemical anaesthesia that today grips our children - exactly as it did the denizens of Arthur C. Clarke's The Lion of Comarre (1949). What do they know of their reality? It was thanks to SF alone that I left primary school, pre-teen, knowing already of such wonders as the predicate calculus, group theory, hypercomplex numbers, relativity and quantum electrodynamics; having met already the genius of Goldbach, de Fermat, Schopenhauer, Wittgenstein, Galois, Frege, Gödel, Turing, Schrödinger, Heisenberg. My debts of gratitude for such enlightenment and liberation are incalculable, even in principle.
Now Get Off Your Ass
Hey: it's still July. The deadline for voting in this year’s final ballot is: 31 July 2010 23:59 PDT (Sunday, August 1, 2010 02:59 EDT, 06:59 UTC/GMT, 16:59 AEST). So don't leave it until the last minute. Because, well you see, that particular minute is after the deadline, for some odd reason. There's still time to get a supporting membership, complete with access to the Hugo Voter’s Packet, which admittedly you'll have to read rather quickly. And you can still vote - I did!
Update [5 Sep]: Fred Wins!
I just enjoyed a relaxing Scottish Sunday morning, following the 2010 Hugo Award Ceremony live from Melbourne via the Cover It Live text feed provided by Cheryl Morgan and Mur Lafferty, at the Melbourne auditorium; and Mary Robinette Kowal, joining in from Dragon*Con. Neil Gaiman was online contributing too, and cheering with everybody else when Fred won. It's like Wil Wheaton often says: I love living in the future! Only the near future, mind you. The live video feed was unwatchable.
Not all of my top choices won their categories. But enough did, and enough of the remaining categories were won by my second choices, that I have to say I'm personally convinced, as in sold, on the merits of the hypercomplex vote counting and recounting system that WorldCon and The Hugo Awards have evolved for this event.
And the main result, the award for best novel, was a two-way tie. What better way can there be to prove to people that their votes matter? Despite the forementioned complexities of that voting system, I can say with certainty that China Miéville would not have a Hugo Award today, were it not for my own, personal vote. Guy owes me a Guinness.
Photo of Elizabeth Anne Hull, Fred, the Hugo, and Steven Silver, by Cathy Pizarro