Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1985

The 1985 Hugo Awards were presented at Aussiecon II in Melbourne Australia. The best novel award was given to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It was the book that made cyberpunk explode into everyone’s consciousness. It’s a huge important book and I hated it. I haven’t re-read it since 1985, so I’m probably not being fair to blame it for everything I hated about cyberpunk as a movement. But even though I don’t like it at all and would never read it again, I think it absolutely deserved to win the Hugo—it was a major genre-changing work that everybody was talking about and everybody is still mentioning in relevant contexts. It’s in print, it’s in the Grande Bibliotheque (hereafter “the library”) in English and unique among everything mentioned since I started doing this, the library also has two critical works about it. Huge, significant book, OK? (Thank goodness cyberpunk is over.)

There were four other nominees and I’ve read three of them.

I haven’t read David Palmer’s Emergence—no reason why not. I think there wasn’t a British edition and nobody talked to me about it much, either then or later. It seems to be post-apocalyptic SF. It’s not in print and it’s not in the library.

Larry Niven’s The Integral Trees is good old fashioned science fiction about people living somewhere with weird physics—in a cluster of floating trees and things. I remember enjoying it on a long train journey. It’s in print and it’s in the library, but I think most people would agree that while it’s fun it’s minor Niven.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice is a strange Caballesque book about religion and moving between worlds. I have read it more than once and will probably read it again one day. It contains moments I will always remember. But if The Integral Trees is minor Niven this is minor late Heinlein, minor among his late work. If this was one of the five best books of the year, we were having a bad year.

Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War is excellent. It’s about the scientific invention of bobbles which create a mirror sphere around the target, and which don’t work the way the people who invent them think they do. It’s also a deeply political story about control of technology and it has great characters. I’d have voted for it and it absolutely deserves its place on the ballot. It’s in print as an e-book and as an omnibus with the sequel Marooned in Realtime (post), which is even better. And it’s in the library in English only.

So, five men, a post-apocalyptic diary, a Golden Age writer with a minor weird book, a Hugo favourite with solid space SF, a fascinating near future technological speculation by an early career writer who would go on to be really major, and a first novel introducing a new subgenre.

What else might they have chosen?

Gibson pwned the Nebula as well. Non-overlapping nominees are Lewis Shiner’s Frontera, The Man Who Melted Jack Dann, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore. The Robinson would certainly have been an ornament to the Hugo ballot, but I don’t feel it’s hugely unjust to leave it off.

The World Fantasy Award was a tie—Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds and Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, both classics. Other nominees were Diana Wynne Jones’s Archer’s Goon, T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies, and Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award went to Frederik Pohl’s The Years of the City, with Lewis Shiner’s Green Eyes second and Neuromancer third. OK, then. The Years of the City would have made a fine Hugo nominee.

The Philip K. Dick Award went to Neuromancer, with The Wild Shore getting a special citation. (Wow, publishing has changed. You’d never see a major book like Neuromancer as a paperback original now.) Other nominees not previously mentioned: The Alchemists, Geary Gravel, Them Bones, Howard Waldrop (post), Voyager in Night, C. J. Cherryh.

The Locus SF Award was won by the Niven. Other nominees not mentioned so far: Demon, John Varley, Heechee Rendezvous, Frederik Pohl, Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Samuel R. Delany (post), Chanur’s Venture, C. J. Cherryh (post) Across the Sea of Suns, Gregory Benford, West of Eden, Harry Harrison, The Final Encyclopedia, Gordon R. Dickson, City of Sorcery, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Icehenge, Kim Stanley Robinson (post) World’s End, Joan D. Vinge, Clay’s Ark, Octavia E. Butler, The Adversary, Julian May, Heretics of Dune, Frank Herbert, A Day for Damnation, David Gerrold, Native Tongue, Suzette Haden Elgin, Free Live Free, Gene Wolfe, Star Rebel, F. M. Busby, Dr. Adder, K. W. Jeter, The Glamour, Christopher Priest, The Practice Effect, David Brin (Bantam) “Steam Bird”, Hilbert Schenck, Circumpolar!, Richard A. Lupoff.

OK, so it wasn’t a boring year and all the major awards missed all the best books. Wow. Chanur’s Venture is the first third of a novel, and a sequel, so maybe not. But Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, probably Delany’s masterpiece. Clay’s Ark, one of Butler’s best. Icehenge! What could they be thinking, to nominate Job and The Integral Trees instead? It’s ridiculous.

The Locus Fantasy Award went to Job, which I suppose is fantasy, if squinted at sideways. Other nominees not previously mentioned: Damiano’s Lute, R. A. MacAvoy, Raphael, R. A. MacAvoy, The Infinity Concerto, Greg Bear, Gilgamesh the King, Robert Silverberg, The Ladies of Mandrigyn, Barbara Hambly (post), Enchanter’s End Game, David Eddings, The Businessman, Thomas M. Disch, Bearing an Hourglass, Piers Anthony, Crewel Lye: A Caustic Yarn, Piers Anthony, Castle of Wizardry, David Eddings, Who Made Stevie Crye?, Michael Bishop, Vampire Junction, S. P. Somtow, Cards of Grief, Jane Yolen, The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley (post), Maia, Richard Adams, Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter, Brisingamen, Diana L. Paxson, Moonheart, Charles de Lint, The Third Book of Swords, Fred Saberhagen, Fire and Hemlock, Diana Wynne Jones, Half a Sky, R. A. Lafferty, The Bishop’s Heir, Katherine Kurtz, The Beggar Queen, Lloyd Alexander.

The Mythopoeic Award went to Jane Yolen’s Cards of Grief, which would be great, since I love that book, except that it’s SF. What were they thinking? It has spaceships and everything. The only nominee not already mentioned is Tolkien’s The Book of Lost Tales, which makes it even odder.

Looking at the ISFDB, I see some good books, but nothing that seriously deserves Hugo consideration. Though if Job is on there, Brust’s To Reign in Hell is just as deserving. (It’s weird to think of them being published in the same year. Or on the same planet.)

To sum up: I think through the eighties so far there has been a pattern emerging of nominating “old masters” with weak new works in place of the best books. This is a tendency we should watch out for in ourselves as nominators. Nominating Heinlein because he’s Heinlein and ignoring Clay’s Ark and Stars in My Pocket is nonsensical. Neuromancer would have won against almost any competition. But every one of those top five slots should be something that’s potentially a worthy winner, so that future generations can look at them and say “Yes, that was where the genre was that year.” Not “What were they thinking?”

Other Categories

NOVELLA

  • PRESS ENTER,” John Varley (Asimov’s May 1984)
  • “Cyclops,” David Brin (Asimov’s Mar 1984)
  • “Elemental,” Geoffrey A. Landis (Analog Dec 1984)
  • “Summer Solstice,” Charles L. Harness (Analog Jun 1984)
  • “Valentina,” Joseph H. Delaney & Marc Stiegler (Analog May 1984)

Oh, I know! They’d just invented computers and everybody was trying to find a way to think about them!

NOVELETTE

  • Bloodchild,” Octavia E. Butler (Asimov’s Jun 1984)
  • “Blued Moon,” Connie Willis (Asimov’s Jan 1984)
  • “The Lucky Strike,” Kim Stanley Robinson (Universe 14)
  • “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule,” Lucius Shepard (F&SF Dec 1984)
  • “Return to the Fold,” Timothy Zahn (Analog Sep 1984)
  • “Silicon Muse,” Hilbert Schenck (Analog Sep 1984)
  • “The Weigher,” Eric Vinicoff & Marcia Martin (Analog Oct 1984)

Brilliant winner. Some very good nominees.

SHORT STORY

  • The Crystal Spheres,” David Brin (Analog Jan 1984)
  • “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything,” George Alec Effinger (F&SF Oct 1984)
  • “Ridge Running,” Kim Stanley Robinson (F&SF Jan 1984)
  • “Rory,” Steven Gould (Analog Apr 1984)
  • “Salvador,” Lucius Shepard (F&SF Apr 1984)
  • “Symphony for a Lost Traveler,” Lee Killough (Analog Mar 1984)

Good winner, but I think I’d have voted for the Effinger. Look how many of these short fiction nominees are from the new generation. Also, all big three magazines except for one from an anthology.

NONFICTION BOOK

  • Wonder’s Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson (Bluejay)
  • The Dune Encyclopedia, Dr. Willis E. McNelly, ed. (Berkley/Putnam)
  • The Faces of Science Fiction, Patti Perret (Bluejay)
  • In the Heart or in the Head: An Essay in Time Travel, George Turner (Norstrilia)
  • Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed, Harlan Ellison (Borgo Press)

DRAMATIC PRESENTATION

  • 2010
  • Dune
  • Ghostbusters
  • The Last Starfighter
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

No, sorry, I think we should just abolish this category. It’s embarrassing. I cringe at the thought of The Last Starfighter being considered Hugo worthy. I have played computer games with better characters and plot, even in 1985. Ghostbusters! There’s actually one good SF film every few years, that does not make a Hugo category. No Award.

PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

  • Terry Carr
  • Edward L. Ferman
  • Shawna McCarthy
  • Stanley Schmidt
  • George Scithers

Carr, a book editor rather than a magazine editor, only had Hugo recognition after his death.

PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

  • Michael Whelan
  • Vincent Di Fate
  • Tom Kidd
  • Val Lakey Lindahn
  • Barclay Shaw

SEMI-PROZINE

  • Locus, Charles N. Brown
  • Fantasy Review, Robert A. Collins
  • Science Fiction Chronicle, Andrew I. Porter
  • Science Fiction Review, Richard E. Geis
  • Whispers, Stuart David Schiff

FANZINE

  • File 770, Mike Glyer
  • Ansible, Dave Langford
  • Holier Than Thou, Marty & Robbie Cantor
  • Mythologies, Don D’Ammassa
  • Rataplan, Leigh Edmonds

FAN WRITER 

  • Dave Langford
  • Leigh Edmonds
  • Richard E. Geis
  • Mike Glyer
  • Arthur Hlavaty

FAN ARTIST

  • Alexis Gilliland
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Steven Fox
  • Joan Hanke-Woods
  • William Rotsler
  • Stu Shiffman

THE JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER (not a Hugo)

  • Lucius Shepard
  • Bradley Denton
  • Geoffrey A. Landis
  • Elissa Malcohn
  • Ian McDonald
  • Melissa Scott

Well, a much better year than the previous year. All of these nominees have gone on to have significant careers in SF writing. I’ve heard of all of them!

Lucius Shepard had published some award-nominated short work and one novel, and won on that basis. Since then he has gone on to produce more work of the same quality, regularly being nominated for awards for long and short work right up to the present day. I don’t think he has ever been a best-selling writer, but he is a respected literary writer within SF, and a very good winner.

Of the others, Bradley Denton has kept writing and producing well-thought of slightly off the wall work, “Sergeant Chip” won the Sturgeon a few years ago. I’d say he’s not quite a major writer but he’s a significant minor one.

Geoffrey Landis has been a major SF poet and a major writer at short lengths—though it took him until 2000 to produce a novel. He’s also a NASA scientist, so maybe he was busy living SF. Great nominee.

Elissa Malcohn has continued to produce poems, short stories and novels without ever having a breakout hit to bring her visibility.

Ian McDonald is unquestionably a major writer—his last three novels have been nominated for Hugos, including The Dervish House this year. I don’t know what he’s published before the nomination—I didn’t become aware of him until Desolation Road in 1988 (post). I think judging on subsequent careers he was the new writer of 1985 who has gone furthest, but I think the voters made the right decision on the available evidence.

Melissa Scott won in 1986, so we can leave talking about her until next week.


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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