Wednesday Editorial: The Sir Julius Vogel Award in New Zealand

Award Season in New Zealand

By Ripley Patton

For writers the world-over, what comes after the holiday season?  Award season, of course. Early in the calendar year, every year, nominations are accepted for the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Sir Julius Vogel.  Haven’t heard of that last one?  I’m not surprised.  While international awards are well-publicized and renowned, their younger siblings, nationally specific awards, tend to be overlooked.

Did you know there is a science fiction and fantasy award specific to Australian work? And Canadian. There is a Polish award for science fiction, and a Dutch award, a Japanese award, a Croatian award, an Italian award, and an award for work originating in Finland.  And last, but not least, there is an award for New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror called the Sir Julius Vogel Award.

Where have all these awards come from? More often than not, they have originated from the heart of fandom and a sense of national pride. Every country in the world has its own culture of creativity, its favorite writers, its beloved stories, and a deep, genuine desire to honor them.  But often that honoring has humble beginnings, and goes on quietly and unnoticed by the wider world. At least, at first.

The Name

And so it was with the Sir Julius Vogel Award, which started out in 1989 as the New Zealand Fan Awards and was given for such categories as Best Fan Writing and Best Fan Zine. The Award kept its fandom emphasis and its fannish name until OdysseyCon (New Zealand’s 22nd annual science fiction convention) in 2001, at which it was decided by the New Zealand fan organization, SFFANZ, to expand the award categories to include professional efforts. This also resulted in the need for a new name, and Sir Julius Vogel was chosen by a near unanimous vote.

But who is this Sir Julius Vogel?  Well, he was the eighth Prime Minister of New Zealand in the mid 1870’s, but he was also a writer of science fiction. In 1889, he published his science fiction novel, Anno Domini 2000 – a Woman’s Destiny. The book was strongly centered on New Zealand and depicted a utopian society where women were allowed to hold positions of authority. (It can be found in its entirety on-line at  Four years later, in 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women full voting rights, and later went on to boast a period (2005-2006) when all five of its highest government offices were held by women.  The New Zealand award had a formidable name.  Now all it needed was a trophy and some professional nominees.

The Trophy

In 2009, at ConScription in Auckland, while nervously awaiting my first award nominee banquet, I stepped into a back room at the Grand Chancellor Hotel into a world of wonder.  There, I found a group of dedicated fans, patiently and painstakingly painting the ornately designed Sir Julius Vogel Award trophies, one of which I dreamed would soon be mine. It was like stumbling upon Santa’s workshop. But Santa’s workshop is a little farther north.  Here in New Zealand we have a different workshop known as Weta. You may have heard of it. Weta Workshop is internationally famous for its creative work on such projects as the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, King Kong, and, most recently, Avatar. Weta also spends a little time every year making a few, stunning award trophies, one of which it was awarded in 2003 for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The original design of the trophy was created by fans Norman Cates and Peter Friend, with help from Creative New Zealand, Brownstone Design, Te Papa and Te Maori. As seen below, the trophy has three sides, one depicting a dragon (or taniwha), one a spaceship, and one a robot (sort of).

The Nominees

What is an award without nominees?  A new award can sometimes have difficulty acquiring them in quantity and quality. It takes time for an award to prove itself as prestigious, legit and viable.  It takes money, organization and concentrated effort to publicize it.  Thankfully, in 2001, Peter Jackson had released Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. He was a New Zealander who had put New Zealand on the world fantasy map, and he was awarded a SJV for Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form and an SJV for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy in the first year of the awards.

In 2002 the SJV had only 5 professional categories and only 12 total nominees in those categories. Over the years, as the award has became better known, the amount of categories and nominees has risen.  In 2009, the SJV had 9 professional categories and 37 professional nominees on the final ballot.

In order to qualify for a Sir Julius Vogel Award, nominees must be New Zealand citizens or residents. Professional categories for nomination include Best Novel, Best Novella/Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Collected Work, Best Artwork, Best Dramatic Presentation (both long and short forms), Best Production/Publication, and Best New Talent.

The Process

1.  During January-March (though this may vary depending on the timing of the annual Con) anyone in the world can nominate any number of works published or produced in the previous calendar year in any category. Information on how to submit nominations can be found at

2.  In early April, a short-list is announced of up to five finalists (or up to seven in the case of ties) in each category.  The short list is determined by the number of nominations in the first round.

3.  The final ballot is made available to members of SFFANZ and members of that years Con, and is a preferential ballot, allowing members to rank all the nominees.

4.  At that years Con (or by mail, previously), the ballots are submitted, tallied, and the trophies awarded at a ceremony and banquet honoring the nominees.  In 2010, the SJV awards will be presented at Au Contraire in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Future

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards have come a long way in the last decade, thanks to the perseverance and commitment of the SFFANZ community. They expanded it from a fan only award, to include the professional realm. They acquired an inspiring and historically relevant name. They honored outstanding men and women from New Zealand in the field of speculative fiction, fandom, and other media.  They increased their public profile, their prestige, and were flooded with an onslaught of nominations last year that is only likely to increase this year.

In preparation for writing this article, I interviewed Norman Cates, a founder of SFFANZ and, for all intents and purposes, the father of the SJV awards. I asked him what he hoped to see for the awards in the future.

He said, “I would love to see the awards gain national recognition, even TV coverage.
Science fiction and fantasy are genres where we can discuss ideas that cannot be done any where else. There is a vast history of SF literature behind us, and it’s getting more and more main-stream all the time. We are no longer a minority genre, if we ever were. I would like to see these awards recognize that more publically. There are hurdles to that, of course. But who knows 5 or 10 years in the future…”

For those of us who write science fiction and fantasy, the future isn’t all that hard to imagine. I, for one, like to imagine it with a shelf in my office sporting an ornate, green and copper trophy. I like to imagine it as a place where creative minds are beautifully rewarded, even in one of the smallest, hemispherically-challenged, island nations of the world.

And I like to imagine that the whole world knows about it.


Ripley Patton is an American writer of speculative fiction happily living on the South Island of New Zealand.  She was short-listed for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Short Story in 2009, and currently has multiple short stories and one novelette that qualify for the awards for 2010.  More about her writing, plus links to her work, can be found on her website at or at her Livejournal


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