From a SciFi/Fantasy-loving friend's email:
For those who don't read scifi, Hugo Gernsbach (editor of the Amazing Stories magazine pictured) is the editor the Hugo award was named after--fans of SciFi who attend Worldcon vote on this one. The other well-known award is the Nebula, which is voted on by members of Science Fiction Writer's of America (SFWA). You might think of these as the People's Choice awards and the Academy awards if it is helpful to draw a distinction, although both winners in a given year/category are usually pretty good. You'll see more fantasy genre works win in the Hugos (sigh, fans), more scifi stuff in the Nebulas. But both are good, and you'll often see the best works of the year on the ballot in both.
Also, if looking for a less well-known scifi award, Locus magazine awards several categories voted on by readers annually (including separate awards for best scifi and fantasy novels, their reaction to the fantasy and scifi split in taste), and the readers of Locus usually have a good eye for quality.
Finally, if you want to stay on top of scifi, read Gardner Dozois's annual summary in The Year's Best Science Fiction -- you'll often learn about up and coming sci-fi authors before they get books published, learn about who's who in this world of writers, etc. I'm pretty sure, for example, I read stories in there by Paolo Bacigalupi long before he wrote Shipbreaker and The Windup Girl (both excellent near future apocalyptic works), and it's in this book that I first read established writers like Mike Resnick and Joe Haldeman. The editor (Gardner Dozois) is a legend in the field (chosen best editor 15 times) who chooses a good mix of well known and less well known writers for the anthology.
Also check out "Where Did Science Fiction Start?" British Library Exhibit Asks