A Hugo for a True F&SF Pioneer

When I was at the World Fantasy Convention earlier this month, I had the privilege of having breakfast with Betty Ballantine, whom I had never met before. Even at 88, she’s sprightly and has a cheerful and feisty wit, but after that breakfast, I realized that only a comparative handful of people truly know or understand the contribution that Betty, along with her late husband Ian, made to western literature and publishing, and particularly to science fiction and fantasy.

Betty and Ian began importing mass-market paperbacks from the United Kingdom in 1939 before helping to form Bantam Books and then launching their own firm, Ballantine Books. Prior to the Ballantines’ efforts, there were virtually no paperback books in the United States, except those already imported by the Ballantines. Ballantine Books became one of the earliest publishers of original science fiction books, publishing such authors as Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCaffrey, and H.P. Lovecraft. They even published the first “authorized” edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. By their efforts, they effectively lifted science fiction and fantasy from the pulp magazines to paperback books and created a commercially viable genre that in turn laid the groundwork for the media take-offs for such television shows as Star Trek and movies such as Star Wars, not to mention such later bestsellers as The Wheel of Time and Harry Potter.

Of course, one of the reasons why Betty was at the convention was that she had been selected to be the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the World Fantasy Convention. But, as noted by many, it did seem rather strange, in retrospect, that this woman, who has done so much for both science fiction and fantasy, has never been honored with a Hugo — the most recognized popular award in speculative fiction.

While I understand that L.A. Con IV did offer a “special committee” award to Betty Ballantine in 2006, a special committee award is almost a slap in the face for someone to whom every speculative fiction author and reader owes so much.

All too often, those who pioneered and made something possible are forgotten in the glare of the successes of other people, successes that the pioneers made possible. That’s particularly true today, where fame is even more fleeting than ever and where celebrity so often overshadows true achievement. Sometimes, after they’re dead, such visionaries and pioneers are remembered and memorialized, but while that’s great for posterity, it really doesn’t show much appreciation for the real living person, and Betty certainly deserves that appreciation.

So… what about a Hugo for Betty Ballantine in Denver next year? A real Hugo, voted on by all those whose reading was made possible and affordable by Betty and by those whose writing, and cinematic and video achievements might not ever have come to be without her efforts?

And… for the record, and the skeptics, I’ve never been published by any imprint even vaguely related to those created by Betty… and I strongly doubt I ever will be. I just happen to think it’s a good idea.