Oct 24 2010 11:00am
Hugo Nominees: 1953

Hugo Awards 1953 trophyBetween 1953 and 1958 the Hugo Awards were fairly disorganized. The categories weren’t fixed, and there was only one round of voting—no nominees were announced. The 1953 first ever Hugo awards were presented at Philcon II, in Philadelphia.

The winning novel was Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. (Review here.) It’s not in print, but it was recently, in Gollancz’s Science Fiction Masterworks series, and it’s never been hard to find. I read it when I was reading my way through science fiction in alphabetical order when I was twelve. It’s an examination of how it might be possible to commit a murder in a world of telepaths where not even your thoughts are private. There are some aspects of it that seem dated, but I’d say it was an enduring classic, and a worthy winner.

So, what else might have been considered?

The International Fantasy Awards for 1953 had three nominees, all of which I think might well have been Hugo nominees too. The winner was Clifford Simak’s City, one of his best books, a gentle pastoral typically Simak story of post-civilization. It was a fix-up of short stories published in the forties, put into novel form for the first time. It’s in print in a beautiful small press hardcover from Old Earth Books.

The other nominees were Kurt Vonnegut’s first and very science fictional novel Player Piano, and C.M. Kornbluth’s Takeoff. Player Piano, like most of Vonnegut, has leanings towards both surealism and science fiction, but was published as mainstream. It is still in print. Takeoff was one of Doubleday’s early attempts at doing hardcover science fiction. Takeoff is not in print, and isn’t one of Kormbluth’s best known works. I honestly can’t remember if I’ve read it or not. I think I have but I don’t remember it. The interesting thing about both of these is the reminder that there really wasn’t much science fiction being published in book form back then—the real action was still in the magazines. It’s interesting that the Hugos emerged just as science fiction book publishing was getting established.

The 1954 International Fantasy Awards considered The Demolished Man and Sturgeon’s More Than Human. More Than Human should definitely have been a Hugo nominee if it was eligible. It’s another enduring classic, Sturgeon at his best and on his favourite topic.

It’s worth noting here that the Hugos and the International Fantasy Awards, a juried British award started in 1951, were the only awards there were in 1953, according to Locus’s awesome database. It’s easy to lose sight of that with the huge number of awards there are today.

Looking at the Wikipedia list of novels published in 1952, I see a few other things that might have made the shortlist. Asimov had two adult books out that year: The Currents of Space and Foundation and Empire. Both of them had had earlier magazine publication, both of them are in series, which might have impeded their chances. But they’re both in print, and I think they’re both fairly well known almost fifty years later. There was also A.E. Van Vogt’s gloriously pulpy The Weapon Makers. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this on the shortlist.

If we allow young adult and fantasy the way we do these days, then possibly E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web or C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might have made it on. In straight SF juveniles we have Lester Del Rey’s Marooned on Mars, and Rocket Jockey, Clarke’s Islands in the Sky, Heinlein’s Space Family Stone (aka The Rolling Stones) or Asimov’s David Starr, Space Ranger.

Other possibilities about which I know nothing: John Taine The Crystal Horde and Raymond F. Jones This Island Earth.

So, did a good book win, worthy of the Hugo? I’d say yes. Was it the best book of the year? Well, arguably. I’d argue for City or More Than Human, or Foundation and Empire, but I certainly don’t have any problem with The Demolished Man is a winner. Was anything left out of the shortlist? Well, since there was no shortlist, everything was.

Other Categories

Best Professional Magazine was won by Astounding and Galaxy—clearly a tie. The interesting thing to me is that there isn’t a category for professional magazines today. But Campbell’s Astounding and Gold’s Galaxy were unquestionably the best magazines of 1953. I think the real reason for stopping giving this award is that there just weren’t enough professional magazines at the time to make a good shortlist. You don’t just need five nominees, which they might have managed, you need a tail of things almost good enough, or which might be good enough next year. There should be at least ten worthy nominees for there to be a category.

There were two art categories, Best Interior Illustration, won by Virgil Finlay, and Best Cover Artist, won by Hannes Bok and Ed Emshwiller. My only comment is that this is another indication that we are still in the time of magazine prominence here. We don’t divide art by “interior” and “cover” any more.

Best New Author or Artist was Philip Jose Farmer, who had recently burst onto the scene and taken science fiction by storm. He wasn’t brand new in 1953, indeed he wouldn’t have been eligible by today’s Campbell rules as he’d been publishing for longer than two years. But he was a good winner nevertheless, as he certainly was near the start of his career and he became a major science fiction writer.

Excellence in Fact Articles went to Willy Ley—whose scientific articles were in fact excellent. No argument there. I’m not sure who any other nominees might have been—had Asimov started writing his Fantasy & Science Fiction science essays then?

And Fan Personality went to Forry Ackerman, who certainly was a memorable fan personality, who was a prominent fan then and remained a prominent fan until his death two years ago. So the Hugos certainly recognised lasting ability with this one.

There were no Hugo awards in 1954, so the next post will cover 1955.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. 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.

1. DBratman
When the Hugo for best pro magazine was discontinued in the early 1970s, it was replaced by one for best professional editor. The main reason was to recognize the editing of original anthologies, which were in their heyday then, and weren't technically eligible for the older award. Book editors, too, were eligible for the new award.

Asimov's F&SF columns didn't start until the late 50s, but he had been writing occasional nonfiction articles, mostly for Astounding. He could certainly have been nominated in 1953.

One thing to be aware of is that the early Hugo eligibility period was somewhat vague, and not limited to "previous calendar year" as it is now (and, somewhat inconsistently, is for the Retro Hugos now being given to fill in gaps).
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
Actually, The Demolished Man may be in print. I saw it yesterday in Chapters in Montreal, in a Vintage edition. Vintage's "website" know nothing of it, but that doesn't mean you might not be able to buy it easily enough if you walk into a bookshop.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
I'm in general agreement with your assessment of the various candidates and the winner, though I think I would rate The Currents of Space ahead of Foundation and Empire.

Maybe one of the reasons that there is no longer a distinction between cover and interior art is the general decline (in my opinion) of the latter. It has become a lot less integral to the magazines, to that point that stories sometimes don't even have an illustration. Few artists seem to work in line art or some form that translates well to black and white, too, though that may be as much effect as cause.
Christopher Key
4. Artanian
Looking through my shelves, 1953 is kind of slim - apart from those mentioned, I can only spot one book possibly eligible not mentioned. It's Poul Anderson's 'Vault of the Ages', which is probably one of the first books written about recovering from a nuclear holocaust. I think at least it's the earliest example of that genre I can recall.

The last time I read it was, oh, about 1985 or so, so I really can't say how well it stands up, but the edition I read in 1985 was published in 1980 so at least someone thought it was worth a reprint at that point.
Rich Horton
5. ecbatan
The other obvious Hugo candidate for Best Novel that year was "Gravy Planet", the Galaxy serial that became THE SPACE MERCHANTS in book form. By Pohl and Kornbluth, of course.
Rich Horton
6. ecbatan
Oh, and the list for the awards that might have been, in 1954, is REALLY REALLY impressive, as the Retro Hugo nominees from a few years ago show:
The Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov; Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke; Mission of Gravity, by Hal Clement; and More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon.

(Other potential choices, not as good but still quite good:
Robert A. Heinlein's Revolt in 2100 and Starman Jones, Fritz Leiber's The Sinful Ones and The Green Millennium, John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes aka Out of the Deeps, Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee, and Wilmar Shiras's Children of the Atom.)
Bob Blough
7. Bob
Jo, The years were rather fluid in those first years of the award. You'll find that the awards for 1958 and 1959 both cover the same year - 1958! I would add one other 1952 novel - Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. It was not published as SF but is pure quill dystopian fiction along the lines of We, 1984 and Brave New World. Still suprisingly good and has just been republished. Ecbatan is quite right about 1953 being a terrific year for SF novels. I would have to include The Paradox Men by Charles L. Harness and Ring Around the Sun by Clifford Simak to the 1953 list.
Bob Blough
8. Bob
By the way, Takeoff is really dated now. It is an interesting atifact in my opinion.
Rich Horton
9. ecbatan
Nitpicking, The Paradox Men really dates to 1949, when it was published as "Flight Into Yesterday" in Startling Stories. Indeed, the 1953 book was also called Flight Into Yesterday -- The Paradox Men first appeared as the title in the 1955 Ace Double edition. All editions of the story (including the original magazine appearance) are mostly the same, though there are slight changes -- not enough, in my opinion to affect Hugo eligibility. (Unlike Revolt in 2100, which was significantly expanded from its much earlier serialization as "If This Goes On --".)

You're quite right, of course, about the fluidity of the time eligibility rules for the early Hugos. Anything published from the calendar year preceding the Worldcon up to the time of the con itself seemed to be eligible. I think codification of the rules came in the late '50s or maybe very early '60s. (Though of course they keep changing.)
Michael Walsh
10. MichaelWalsh
ecbatan scibbled: "I think codification of the rules came in the late '50s or maybe very early '60s."

Indeed, and here it is, along with a fascinating look into the whys and wherefores of things:
11. Aaron Hughes
Player Piano, like most of Vonnegut, has leanings towards both surealism and science fiction, but was published as mainstream.

No, I believe Player Piano was initially marketed as science fiction, and Vonnegut was repositioned into the mainstream later on. The first edition of Player Piano had a techy cover with the tag line, "America in the Coming Age of Electronics." Bantam's first paperback edition, under the variant title Utopia 14, was pretty clearly targeted at sci-fi readers.

Certainly Vonnegut was not excluded from Hugo consideration because he was perceived as a mainstream writer -- three of his later novels were Hugo nominees.
Bob Blough
12. Bob

You are completely right about The Paradox Men (aka Flight into Yesterday) but isn't it a terrific novel? Again, it did first appear in book form in 1953 so with all things being fluid...
13. Neil in Chicago
I believe Player Piano was the first modern consideration of "technologic unemployment".
14. locker51
...tenser, said the tensor
...tenser, said the tensor
tension, apprehension and dissention have begun
Rich Horton
15. ecbatan

Indeed, The Paradox Men is terrific. I think the five novels I mentioned as the Retro Hugo nominees from a few years ago are all very fine, and all undeniable classics of the field, but my vote might still go to The Paradox Men. And your point is valid, too, that given the undefined eligibility rules as that time, if fans had decided to vote for The Paradox Men (or Flight Into Yesterday) based on the book publication, it would have taken the Hugo, with no grumbling about its earlier publication.
Rich Horton
16. ecbatan
Michael -- the article you point to is quite fascinating. (Among other things for Harlan Ellison's attempt to remove the vote from the fans.) One thing I had not realized was that those rules made a novel potentially eligible twice -- as a serial or paperback, and as a hardcover. (But not, curiously, once as a serial and then as a paperback.) Is that still the case?

I seem to recall, now I think, that that rule may have come up once or twice in the '60s -- checking Wikipedia I see that Frank Herbert's serial "Dune World" was nominated for the Hugo before the hardcover Dune won (though "Dune World" was by no means the complete novel -- there was another Analog serial, "Dune Prophet" I think?); and also "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was nominated for its If serialization before winning for its book publication.

I note, pursuant to the rule that no story can win the Hugo twice, that the Ace paperback of This Immortal, while trumpeting "... And Call Me Conrad"'s Hugo win, suggested that This Immortal might also win the Hugo -- making it a story that would have won twice had that happened. (Though This Immortal is slightly different from the serial -- slightly expanded (about 5000 words I think) with some additional editorial changes, so depending on interpretation it might have been eligible.)
James J Murray
17. DrPaisley
Ecbatan, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was nominated twice due to it having been published in Iffrom Dec. '65 to April '66. Its eligibility was challenged, but it was allowed as most of the instalments had appeared in '66 (this from the indispensible "The Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards," by Howard DeVore). The rules were changed to make an episodic written work eligible only in the year the final installment appeared.
Rich Horton
18. ecbatan
Ah, okay, thanks for the clarification. I would have thought the Dec '65 appearance insufficient to allow the first nomination, actually ... but I suppose the rule had never been tested enough to clarify it until after that particular case.
René Walling
19. cybernetic_nomad
Ecbatan said:

One thing I had not realized was that those rules made a novel potentially eligible twice -- as a serial or paperback, and as ahardcover. (But not, curiously, once as a serial and then as a paperback.) Is that still the case?
No, the rules today state that the first publication is what counts. So if a novel is serialized and the last installment appears in a different year than the book publication, then the first appearance is what would determine the year of eligibility.

There are some exceptions to this:

1) If a work has been significantly expanded or changed (for example, Dreamsnake was nominated and won in 1979 even though "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" (which is essentially the first chapter of the book) was nominated in 1974.

2) Works published in a language other than English are eligible the year they are first published and the year an English translation is published (if there is one).

3) An eligibility extension exists for works published outside of the U.S., WSFS members vote every year on whether or not the extension will be applicable on the following year.
20. Denny Lien
Re your "possibles" note -- John Taine's THE CRYSTAL HORDE had its frist book publication this year, but in somewhat different form it had originally appeared in the magazines back in 1930, as WHITE LILY. Consensus per Wikipedia entry and my memory was "interesting idea and horrible plotting and writing." (I've never read it.)

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