Walter Day and Nicholas Whyte

WorldCon75

Sanna Pudas / tuulentie@gmail.com

OTTUMWA — The Hugo Awards are a big deal in the far-flung worlds of science fiction. But the 2017 ceremony also has a story that’s a little more down to Earth.

Walter Day, a former Ottumwa businessman who now lives in Fairfield, is best known for his video game connections. But he loves science fiction. This month, he flew to Helsinki, Finland, where the Hugo Award Ceremony was being held. Before the first author even stepped onto the stage, host Nicholas Whyte brought Day up. Day was there to present the show's organizer, the World Science Fiction Society, with a world record announcement from a big name: Guinness World Records.

For the Hugo Awards, the big names on that stage would be familiar to fans: Isaac Asimov, George R. R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick, who had a short story made into the sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.”

Gigantic bookseller Barnes and Noble took notice of Day’s presentation, writing on their own web page: “The Hugo Awards took place at the 75th annual World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland … the Guinness Book of World Records [sic] was there to certify the Hugos as the longest-running award in science fiction …”

Other outlets mentioned it, too. Most appear to have missed the fact that Guinness’s representative in Finland was a guy named Walter from Iowa.

“There were 4,000 people in front of the stage,” Day said. “Authors and industry professionals. People I recognized. I can hardly believe I got to do this.”

Past winners have included books like “The Sandman: Overture” by Neil Gaiman, Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” and Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Many winners have been made into movies or TV shows, ranging from George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” to Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers.” At least one started as a movie and a book being written at the same time: “2001: A Space Odyssey” was a face-to-face collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.

“Science fiction is in my DNA,” said Day. “This was amazing.”

So how did it happen?

Recently, Day has indulged his passion by creating science fiction trading cards. It’s not really a business; he has given 250,000 away as gifts. But the cards still require serious research.

“I told the editor [of Guinness World Records] I found the Hugo Awards might be the oldest sci-fi awards in the world. I asked him what he thought, and he said he loved it.”

Not that Guinness World Records is as quick to talk to just anyone with a good idea: Day is no stranger to the Guinness family of record books. He and his Twin Galaxies arcade are in what was once known as The Guinness Book of World Records. And Ottumwa, birthplace of competitive video game play (with a certificate at City Hall) is in there — because of him.

Guinness did its official investigating and confirmation of the science fiction facts. Then, the editor agreed Day could be the Guinness representative; they’d fly him to Helsinki, he’d go to the World Science Fiction Convention and deliver the news: “Longest-running science fiction award” is the category, while the certificate states, “Celebrating their 63rd consecutive year of existence on 11 August 2017 in Helsinki, Finland, the Hugo Awards, established in 1953 and presented annually since 1955, are awarded internationally for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) and are sponsored by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) literary society.”

Day has more stops to make this year so everyone hears the news, including top genre magazines and sci-fi conventions from California to Puerto Rico.

“It’s the start of my own science fiction odyssey,” he said.

Reporter Mark Newman can be contacted at mnewman@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @couriermark.

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Born in New England, reporter Mark Newman has lived in Iowa and Nebraska over 20 years, with 12 years as a Courier staff writer. He covered education news, but is now focusing on social issues as well as feature stories of local interest.