In the November, December and January editions of Scide Splitters, I reviewed humorous stories eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugo short categories (novella, novelette & short story). I followed this up with a list of “25 Stories Worth Reading Before Making Retro Hugo Nominations” (the list included humor and non-humor stories). Now that we are into the final phase of voting (the deadline for casting ballots is July 31st), here are my thoughts on the official nominees as I work on filling out my ballot.
First, let me throw out a few statistics. 10 of my 25 “Worth Reading” were humor. Only two of those made the final ballot. However, 11 of the final 15 nominees were on my list of 25 recommended reads. So, on the whole, I would say the nominees are a fairly worthy bunch. I’m just a little disappointed (though not surprised) that more humor didn’t make the cut.
Novellas – Heinlein vs. de Camp & Pratt. The only nominee not to make my recommended list was Heinlein’s “Magic, Inc.” so it should be no shock that it ends up at the bottom of my ballot. I was a little surprised not to see “Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson make it. The reason it did not is largely due to some people mistakenly promoting it as a novelette. So it was initially announced as a novelette finalist before award administrators realized it was ineligible due to length.
The hard decision for me here is picking between “The Roaring Trumpet” and “If This Goes On…” I call it a tie, but since I can only give one the top spot, I defer to the old axiom, “When in doubt, laugh.” “The Roaring Trumpet” marked the beginning of the Incomplete Enchanter series. It is filled with adventure, Norse gods and laughs. What more could you want?
- “The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
- “If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
- “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “Magic, Inc.” by Robert A. Heinlein
My nominations that failed to make the cut: “Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson & “The Indigestible Triton” by L. Ron Hubbard
Novelettes – All five finalists were on my recommended list, though my favorite (“The Hardwood Pile” by L. Sprague de Camp) failed to garner a nomination. I knew it was a long shot given the worthy competition.
My top four here are all close together. But ultimately, 1940 was Heinlein’s year, and it is possible that he could sweep all three short Retro categories. It was his breakout year as a writer. He was the Guest of Honor at the 1941 WorldCon in Denver. He was born in Missouri and later lived in Colorado. All the stars seem to be in alignment. And while I more-or-less coin tossed him into second place in the novella category, I won’t do that here.
“Vault of the Beast” is the replacement for “Darker Than You Think” and while it is a solid story and created quite a buzz at the time of publication, it finishes a distant fifth. “Farewell to the Master” is the classic that became the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. Damn good, but just short of Heinlein’s narrative powers. “It!” is exceptionally well written, but I am not much of a horror fan. If this were the Retro Stokers, I would have to give it the nod.
- “Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
- “It!” by Theodore Sturgeon
- “Vault of the Beast” by A. E. Van Vogt
My nominations that failed to make the cut: “The Hardwood Pile” by L. Sprague de Camp & “The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” by Don Wilcox.
Short Stories – The class of this group, at least for me, is “Requiem.” Maybe younger generations don’t get it, but this story perfectly expressed the yearning for space that I grew up with and that I continue to carry to this day.
“Strange Playfellow,” or “Robbie” as it was later renamed, was the first of Asimov’s robot stories, and a very good one at that. In many other years, this would be my first choice. Of the two Brackett stories, “The Stellar Legion” is by far the best. “Martian Quest” is comparatively amateurish. Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is good but uneventful.
- “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein
- “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov
- “The Stellar Legion” by Leigh Brackett
- “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges
- No Award
- “Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett
My nominations that failed to make the cut: “Revolt of the Ants” by Milton Kaletsky & “Quietus” by Ross Rocklynne & “The Gods Gil Made” by Ross Rocklynne.
One more stat for you – 12 of 15 nominees in the short categories were edited by John W. Campbell. Ergo Best Editor ‐ Short Form = John W. Campbell.