Back to the Hugos: 1956

It’s Hugo Week! And I’m barely aware of what’s been nominated this year! So you know what that means… it’s time to go… Back to the Hugos!

Hugo Year: 1956

Sixty years ago. The year that ushered in the start of the Cuban revolution, Eurovision, and Pele’s career was also the year that established Bob Heinlein’s long career of undeserved Hugo best novel nominations and wins. This WorldCon was hosted by Robert Bloch at NyConII in New York City. Also of note, some kid named Robert Silverberg won the “Most Promising New Author” award.

The list:

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Left to right: WINNER- DOUBLE STAR by Robert A. Heinlein, followed by NOT THIS AUGUST by CM Kornbluth, THE END OF ETERNITY by Isaac Asimov, THE LONG TOMORROW by Leigh Brackett, & THREE TO CONQUER by Eric Frank Russell

My retroactive ballot: Continue reading

The Gormenghast series (1946-1959) by Mervyn Peake

TitusGroan1I don’t know whether to be ashamed or defensive or just plain angry that I’ve never read the Gormenghast trilogy before, that I somehow stumbled on to Neil Gaiman and Harry Potter before even hearing of Mervyn Peake, but it certainly justifies the resentment I’ve harbored toward those randomly googled online recommender engines and chaotic message boards that badly steered my reading all those unplugged years. But what’s an unplugged reader to do? Why do we have to be so obsessive with the genre terrain in order to navigate around the Sanderson/Abercrombie/GRRM-type sand traps? Are there class action lawsuits for this sort of thing?

Finding good books shouldn’t take this much work.

But as difficult as it is to discover Gormenghast, it’s even harder to let it go. Continue reading

Not This August (Christmas Eve) (1955) by C. M. Kornbluth

NotThisAugust1Russians don’t scare me any more,” he announced. “You know what I mean. I thought it was the end of the world when they came, but I learned. They’re G.I.s, and so what? (150)

Even the most right-wing of jaded veterans will tell you the U.S. military is one of the most Communist* establishments in existence today. Voluntary enrollment aside, the culture of state paternalism, restricted freedoms, communal living, and shared provisions differs greatly from the capitalist values espoused by the U.S. government. While not a perfect parallel, it’s a sharp observation, and a good reminder that no system is ever “pure,” nor even true to textbook definitions, but it’s an even better reminder that the boundary between the war machine and totalitarianism is a very fine line.

M. Kornbluth’s 1955 Cold War satire Not This August, also titled Christmas Eve, illustrates this idea by depicting a cold-war-turned-hot on the US-Mexico border, where a combined Russian-Chinese army ambushes the overwhelmed American military. The U.S. surrenders, but not before we catch a glimpse of pre-surrender American life, where occupations are assigned, production quotas are enforced, produce is redistributed, and all of American existence is devoted entirely to national priorities.

So, basically, the U.S. has gone all commie in order to fight the commies. Continue reading

The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov

EndofEternity1And here’s another sci-fi romance, dated forty years earlier, by Mr. One-of-the-Big-Three Himself, Isaac Asimov.

Andrew Harlan works as an Eternal Technician, analyzing and recommending Minimum Necessary Changes (MNC) in order to guide Reality. When he meets Noÿs Lambent, a non-Eternal from a Century far from his own, he falls in love and attempts to save her from the upcoming MNC that could destroy her existence as he knows it. But is he just playing into the hands of his superiors? Or, perhaps, a more powerful guiding force?

Like Remake (1995), which I reviewed yesterday, it’s another “he barely met her, but now he desperately loves her” kind of book. And also like Remake, it’s easy to dump this book for its dull, old-fashioned tone and predictable sexist relationship patterns. However, both books’ faults lie in their shared purpose: a tongue-in-cheek critique of social standards, although Asimov’s tongue might be less in his cheek and too buried in sci-fi pseudo-jargon for ‘50s sci-fi geeks to notice the social disconnect. Continue reading

Three to Conquer (Call Him Dead) (1955) by Eric Frank Russell

More Chandleresque sci-fi detective fic. It’s everywhere!


A great scene. That never happened.

“Because I made mental contact with Jocelyn Whittingham and she promptly called me an insulting name. So I shot her.”

“You considered that adequate motive for murder?” prompted Jameson.

“In view of the name, yes!”

“What did she call you?”

“A terrestrial bastard,” informed Harper, hard-eyed. (60)

Murderous Venusian pathogens always give themselves away with their planetist epithets. An important lesson for all: Never, NEVER, call someone a terrestrial bastard.

The guy doing the shooting is the hero detective, by the way. Continue reading

Tales of the Dying Earth (2000 omnibus) by Jack Vance

TalesoftheDyingEarth2000Examining an author’s work over the course of four decades often takes time and some degree of commitment, but the 2000 omnibus of Jack Vance’s stories set in his most popular and influential fictional world, Tales of the Dying Earth (2000), provides us with an array of textures from a long and varied career.

And array, it is. For each one of the four Dying Earth books does something different, and the differences in quality are vast. Among these four installments of fix-ups and restarts, we encounter three versions of Vance.

Vance #1: Vance? Continue reading

Back to the Hugos: 1955!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend, but time-travel Hugo Awards are much more fun! So let’s go… Back to the Hugos: 1955!


They’d Rather Be Right won the Hugo for Best Novel sixty years ago.


Also known as The Forever Machine by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, which I reviewed last year. Tl;dr: it’s generally known as the worst Hugo winner ever, although I would argue it’s this one. They’d Rather Be Right isn’t THAT bad, but there is no nominee shortlist to make comparisons, so let’s just shrug this off as a clumsy Hugo pick. It happens.

Yes, Hugos, you can survive this year. Crappy books on the Hugo shortlist are part of the tradition, which I will demonstrate over the next five days with some quick and dirty retro analysis. See you then!


The Long Tomorrow (1955) by Leigh Brackett

Len Colter sat in the shade under the wall of the horse barn, eating pone and sweet butter and contemplating a sin [7].

That’s a killer first line. And now I want some cornbread.


With its bucolic setting and unsophisticated characters, as well as some rambunctious river moments with two growing boys, it’s as though The Long Tomorrow invites the tradition of Mark Twain into the realm of SF, supporting the success of Ray Bradbury’s nostalgia stories and setting the stage for Clifford Simak’s pastoral entreaties for peace in the following decade. (Yes, I know Twain wrote sci-fi. I saw that episode of Next Gen, too.)

An excellent example of a post-WWII attempt at post-apocalyptic fiction, a tradition that has endured and endured and endured. I often wonder if, after we finally suffer the apocalypse that humanity seems to crave, will we then sit around the campfire telling gripping stories about copy machines, fast food tacos, and skyscrapers. Continue reading

The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

TheSpaceMerchants1It’s a jarring experience to read ‘50s SF after devoting a month to the ‘70s. After a set of socially critical, sometimes psychedelic reads with Pohl, Silverberg, Dick, and Farmer, even a sophisticated 1953 satire like The Space Merchants feels stodgy and quaint. I often turn to ‘50s SF when my brain is tired of broody and sullen plots, because that Golden Age lightness feels fresh and inviting in comparison… especially when you recognize that every decade (even our own, omg!) has its own brand of whitewashed, gender neglect. Continue reading

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit_451_1st_ed_coverIn 9th grade, I was assigned Fahrenheit 451 in English class. I don’t think I ever made the connection that it was written by the same author who blew my mind in a group reading assignment in the 5th grade (I suspect the book was The Martian Chronicles). It was an assignment, which means everything about it was stored in my short-term memory– other than the moral of the story (“Don’t burn books or you’ll go crazy wondering what Shakespeare was on about”), and the sixties aesthetic of the perfunctory film viewing is burned on my memory forever. I don’t even think we read the entire book. Continue reading