Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1971

The 1971 Hugo Awards were given at Noreascon I in Boston. (For earlier posts in this series, see Index.) The best novel award went to Larry Niven’s Ringworld, a picaresque adventure story with aliens and interstellar engineering set in Niven’s “Known Space” universe. It’s bursting with science fiction ideas—breeding humans for luck and kzinti for pacifism, the “cowardly” alien puppeteers, the Ringworld itself, a flat inhabitable plane circling its sun like a slice of a dyson sphere. The human characters are there just to lead us through the universe and have adventures, but there’s some lovely dialogue. (“You scream and you leap!”) I loved Ringworld when I was fourteen, and if it blows me away rather less now that’s because the ideas and the story have become familiar. There have been multiple sequels. It’s still part of the conversation of SF. It’s in print, and it’s in the library in French only.

There were four other nominees of which I’ve read only two, which is the lowest percentage for a while.

Hal Clement’s Starlight is a physics-oriented hard SF novel in which the very weird aliens from Mission of Gravity go with humans to an even stranger world. I haven’t read it for years, and what I most remember is the atmosphere—lots of ammonia! It’s in print from NESFA, in a compilation with the other connected works. It’s not in the library.

Tau Zero is another big-concept hard SF novel, this one focused on relativity—there’s an FTL space ship that can’t slow down and which keeps right on going through the whole universe and out the other end. The ship does have a crew, but I’d have to walk over to the bookshelves to tell you their names. This has never been one of my favourite Andersons. It’s in print from Gollancz, but it’s not in the library and I haven’t heard anybody talk about it for ages. I should read it again.

Tower of Glass seems to be a Robert Silverberg novel that I’ve completely missed, because I idiotically thought until about thirty seconds ago that it was a variant title for The World Inside. Fantastic Fiction say it’s about a man and some androids building a glass tower in the Arctic to communicate with aliens, and couldn’t possibly have forgotten that if I’d read it. It’s not in print, and it’s not in the library, so it may be a little while before I can get hold of it.

At least I knew I hadn’t read Wilson Tucker’s The Year of the Quiet Sun. I haven’t read it because it looks like a bit of a downer—somebody time travels to a radiation-scarred future. It’s neither in print nor in the library.

The thing that strikes me about these five books is how very hard SF they are when seen as a set, compared to the nominees I’ve been looking at for the last few years. Not just Ringworld, which is actually closer to space opera, but the whole lot of them. Indeed, I think this is the set of five hardest SF books nominated since we’ve had nominees.

What else might they have picked?

SFWA’s Nebula Award also went to Ringworld, again disproving the “more literary” theory of the Nebulas. Their nominees included the Silverberg and the Tucker, and added Joanna Russ’s And Chaos Died, R.A. Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions, and D.G. Compton’s The Steel Crocodile. I think the Russ at least should have been on the Hugo list, and the addition of any of these would have made it feel more representative of where SF was in 1971.

Locus began giving their awards this year. though they didn’t have as many categories as they do now. Their first award went to Ringworld, which was clearly blowing everybody away. Other nominees not previously noted: Gordon Dickson’s Tactics of Mistake, Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil, Dean Koontz’s Beast Child, Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Rising, D.G. Compton’s Chronocules, Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber, and Ron Goulart’s After Things Fell Apart.

The one that leaps out at me is I Will Fear No Evil—the first of the late period Heinleins, and not a good book. I’m surprised by the good sense the Hugo voters showed in neglecting a weak work by a popular writer.

Then there’s the Zelazny—one of his best loved works and beginning his significant series, but it got no attention at all? Very strange. It was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award however, which was won by Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. Other nominees were the Kurtz, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian.

The BSFA Award went to Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit, a 1969 book. The Ditmar (Australian SF) went to A. Bertram Chandler’s The Bitter Pill, and their International Award was won by “no award.” (It must be horrible to be nominated and hope to win and then lose to “no award.”)

Looking at the ISFDB for anything everybody missed, I see a number of possibilities but no real probabilities and no screaming injustices. The only thing I’d really like to draw attention to is Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, a dystopia written by a thriller writer who always hovered on the edges of genre, and which happened to be one of the first SF books I ever read.

Other Categories


  • “Ill Met in Lankhmar,” Fritz Leiber (F&SF Apr 1970)
  • “Beastchild,” Dean R. Koontz (Venture Aug 1970)
  • “The Region Between,” Harlan Ellison (Galaxy Mar 1970)
  • “The Snow Women,” Fritz Leiber (Fantastic Apr 1970 [nomination withdrawn])
  • “The Thing in the Stone,” Clifford D. Simak (If Mar 1970)
  • “The World Outside,” Robert Silverberg (Galaxy Oct/Nov 1970)

No Novelette category? Good winner, and I suppose Leiber withdrew the other story because he didn’t want to split the vote, not that it works that way with the Hugos. The Nebulas also gave the award to Leiber.


  • “Slow Sculpture,” Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy Feb 1970)
  • “Brillo,” Ben Bova & Harlan Ellison (Analog Aug 1970) 
  • “Continued on Next Rock,” R. A. Lafferty (Orbit 7)
  • “In the Queue,” Keith Laumer (Orbit 7)
  • “Jean Duprès,” Gordon R. Dickson (Nova 1)

Definitely the right winner—but as it won the Nebulas as a novelette, it’s a pity we didn’t have a novelette category too.


  • no award
  • “Blows Against the Empire” (recording)
  • Colossus: The Forbin Project
  • “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers” (recording) 
  • Hauser’s Memory (TV drama)
  • No Blade of Grass

I never get tired of seeing “no award” winning this category. It isn’t even horrible for the nominees to lose to it, because 90% of the time they couldn’t care less about the award—there are movie awards they care about instead.


  • F&SF, Edward L. Ferman
  • Amazing Stories, Ted White
  • Analog, John W. Campbell, Jr.
  • Galaxy, Ejler Jakobsson
  • Vision of Tomorrow, Philip Harbottle


  • Leo & Diane Dillon
  • Frank Kelly Freas
  • Jack Gaughan
  • Eddie Jones
  • Jeff Jones


  • Locus, Charles Brown & Dena Brown
  • Energumen, Michael Glicksohn & Susan Glicksohn
  • Outworlds, Bill Bowers & Joan Bowers
  • Science Fiction Review, Richard E. Geis
  • Speculation, Peter R. Weston

Look at all thise women! Was Locus actually a fanzine then? I mean it’s clearly the best Locus ever, but that’s a different question.


  • Richard E. Geis
  • Terry Carr
  • Tom Digby
  • Elizabeth Fishman
  • Ted Pauls


  • Alicia Austin
  • Steve Fabian
  • Mike Gilbert
  • Tim Kirk
  • Bill Rotsler

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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