My Thoughts on the 1939 Retro Hugos: A Sampling


Read with caution.


Avoid this.


Read this.

Due to the likely obstacles that come with obtaining the rights to 75-year-old fiction and converting it to digital format, the 1939 Retro Hugo packet was released just five weeks before ballots were due, with incomplete categories that were riddled with typos. Plus, I was offline for a month.

But, no worries! I didn’t vote, but I got some of the reading done! Here are my thoughts:


“The Faithful” by Lester del Rey
“Helen O’Loy” by Lester del Rey
“Hollerbochen’s Dilemma” by Ray Bradbury
“How We Went to Mars” by Arthur C. Clarke
“Hyperpilosity” by L. Sprague de Camp

Not a very strong category, but I was happy to finally sample some stories from well-known SF names Lester del Rey and L. Sprague de Camp. “The Faithful” might be the better of the bunch, about a future where humanity has destroyed itself and left the world to the dogs– uplifted, sapient dogs, that is. “Helen O’Loy” is a cautionary tale about a female robot who acts just like a woman! She’s all whiny, and naggy, and drama, drama, drama… stupid females. “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma” describes a man overwhelmed by visions of his own death. It seems like a story that’s been done a thousand times before, but Bradbury probably did it first. “Hyperpilosity” is a story about a contagious virus that causes abnormal hair growth in humans. By the time they find a cure, humans are happy with their new look. Haha!

Clarke’s “How We Went to Mars” was not included in the packet.


“Dead Knowledge” by Don A. Stuart [John W. Campbell]
“Hollywood on the Moon” by Henry Kuttner
“Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard
“Rule 18” by Clifford D. Simak
“Werewoman” by C. L. Moore

I have also been eager to read stories from the husband/wife duo Kuttner and Moore (a.k.a. Lewis Padgett). Moore’s “Werewoman” is a passive, purply piece about a werewolf pack. It’s an annoying read that might be best suited for an oral telling around the campfire, but make way for lots of repeated words: “nebulous,” “dogged”, “terror-dimmed”. “Pigeons from Hell” is a haunted house horror story that is scarier than its name suggests, although some of that horror stems from the uninspired stereotypes and casual racist epithets.

I’m really bummed that the pieces by Campbell, Kuttner, and Simak weren’t available. I may have to dig up Simak’s “Rule 18” some day, but I read some Kuttner in the next category…


Anthem by Ayn Rand
“A Matter of Form” by H. L. Gold
“Sleepers of Mars” by John Beynon [John Wyndham]
“The Time Trap” by Henry Kuttner
“Who Goes There?” by Don A Stuart [John W. Campbell]

Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” is a creepy study of human suspicion and madness, which inspired the movie “The Thing.” The suspense is worth the gummy writing. Kuttner’s “The Time Trap” is just bad, bad, bad. (How bad? This bad.) I read too much Heinlein this year, so I spared myself the selfish nonsense of Ayn Rand.

Gold’s and Wyndham’s pieces weren’t included in the packet.


Presently I’m reading these novels. I’ll do some proper reviews once I presently finish reading them.  (“Presently” is a common adverb in 1939 fiction. Someone should start a blog about 1930’s fiction and call it “Presently Reading.”)

The Retro Hugo Awards Ceremony is scheduled for this Thursday, August 14 at LonCon3!

5 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the 1939 Retro Hugos: A Sampling

  1. […] did not vote because I was unable to read all of the nominees, but the opportunity to explore SF from this era was too cool to […]


  2. […] but I’ve already talked about the kind of Chandleresque stuff I like) and John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?, which is a good deal more fun and psychologically gripping. In comparison, this feels like a blow […]


  3. […] The Thing Itself, existential angst about alien existence, based on my favorite body-snatcher fic, Who Goes There?. And published (in the US) on my birthday, speaking of existential angst. Good […]


  4. […] more like Don A. Stuart’s (actually pulp mag guru John W. Campbell) gummy but creepy 1939 novel, Who Goes There?, with its sense of isolation, contagion of paranoia, and alien manifestations of humanity lurking […]


  5. […] although the Gollancz cover and blurb would have you believe this is Roberts’ The Thing or Who Goes There? tribute– and it’s there, it’s there– the foundational strand of the The […]


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