Worldcon was a blast, which means my brain is mush right now. I’m going to have to postpone my recap until after my fantasy football draft this weekend (yeah, I know, brain mush part two). Hello to all the new friends I made at Worldcon. Check back next week for my thoughts on the Retro Hugos, con events and late night activities vaguely remembered.
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.
Hugo and Retro Hugo nominations close tonight, so if you have been procrastinating your vote, time is running out. If you need a reminder list of some fantastic short stories eligible for the Retro Hugos, check out this list.
March has another Scide Splitters (in case you are wondering how that works, I am on a four week schedule at Amazing Stories). This time I look at Ben Bova’s The Starcrossed. The story is loosely based on Bova’s real experience as technical advisor for The Starlost, a 1973 television show that demonstrated nearly all the pitfalls that can sink a promising SF television series.
MidAmeriCon II has announced that nominations are now open for the Hugos and Retro Hugos. While I can’t help you much on the Hugos, I did spend the later portion of 2015 immersed in reading short fiction eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugos (stories first publishing in 1940). Part of my purpose was to identify all the humorous stories so that I could review them on my Scide Splitters blog at Amazing Stories Magazine. Those reviews can be found via the links below (be aware that they contain story summaries heavy with spoilers):
My other purpose was to get ready for casting my nomination ballot. After reading so many stories that I started Retro dreaming, I came up with a list of top contenders for my ballot. Granted, tastes will vary, and I would certainly like to hear other suggestions if you care to take the time to comment (I read hundreds of stories, but there are sure to be some gems that escaped my notice). These are in alpha order by category and the ones reviewed at Amazing Stories are marked (*humor):
“Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson [not to be confused with the expanded novel]
”If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein [most versions you will find are of the expanded novel]
”The Indigestible Triton” by L. Ron Hubbard (*humor)
“The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (*humor) [the version in The Incomplete Enchanter is reasonably close to the original]
”The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (*humor) [the version in The Incomplete Enchanter is reasonably close to the original]
“All Is Illusion” by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (*humor)
”Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Butyl and the Breather” by Theodore Sturgeon (*humor)
“The Exhalted” by L. Sprague de Camp (*humor)
”Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates
”The Hardwood Pile” by L. Sprague de Camp (*humor)
“It” by Theodore Sturgeon
“The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein
“Vault of the Beast” by A. E. van Vogt
“The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years” by Don Wilcox
“Are You There?” by Mona Farnsworth (*humor)
“The Bleak Shore” by Fritz Leiber
“The Chaser” by John Collier
“The Gods Gil Made” by Ross Rocklynne (*humor)
“Quietus” by Ross Rocklynne
”Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein
”Revolt of the Ants” by Milton Kaletsky (*humor) [can be read for free in the von Dimpleheimer anthologies mentioned below]
”Strange Playfellow” by Isaac Asimov [aka “Robbie,” though the version in I, Robot is modified]
“When It Was Moonlight” by Manly Wade Wellman
Some of these will be hard to find, but seven of them are in Asimov and Greenberg’s The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 2, 1940 (included in the omnibus Isaac Asimov Presents The Golden Years of Science Fiction). All of the Heinlein (except the shorter version of ”If This Goes On…”) can be found The Past Through Tomorrow. And although only one of the above stories is included, you can read well over 100 eligible public domain stories in ebook anthologies assembled by a fan named von Dimpleheimer (you can download these through links at File770).
Nominations do not close until March 31st. But be aware that if you aren’t registered by Sunday (January 31st), you will not be able to make nominations. Please do recommend additional stories in the comments field.