Sun
Nov 7 2010 9:03am
Hugo Nominees: 1956

1956 Hugo Awards trophyIn 1956, Worldcon, NYcon II, was held in New York, and they chose a truly great set of Hugo winners, all of which have stood the test of time and all of which I unreservedly approve.

The best novel award went to Robert A. Heinlein’s Double Star, one of my favourite books. That link goes to my full post about it. It’s one of Heinlein’s best novels, a future with a colonized solar system in which one down-and-out actor gets the chance to play the role of a lifetime—impersonating an important politician. It’s short, it’s engaging, it has Martians—it’s unquestionably Hugo worthy.

Again we don’t yet have a list of nominees. There were no other awards that year, so it’s hard to know what else people at the time thought was outstanding.

Looking at the Wikipedia article on 1955 novels, I think there are six other likely books that might have been nominees: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity (post), Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home, Arthur C. Clarke’s Earthlight, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth’s Gladiator-at-Law,  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (post). All of these have since become classics, they’d all have been very worthy nominees. I don’t think any of them are better than Double Star, or likely to have been more popular.

In YA, there was C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew; two Andre Norton books, Sargasso of Space (under the name North) and Star Guard; and Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.

Also clearly published as science fiction but I think less likely to have been nominated were: Alien Minds by E. Everett Evans, Address Centauri by F.L. Wallace. Star Bridge by Jack Williamson and James E. Gunn, and by Gunn alone This Fortress World, Stanton A. Coblenz’s Under the Triple Suns, and Robert Silverberg’s first novel Revolt on Alpha C.

I think a very good book won, and in my judgement likely the best book of that year.

Other Categories

Novelette: Exploration Team, Murray Leinster. This was one of the first science fiction stories I read, in Amabel Williams Ellis (ed) Tales From the Galaxies before I knew what science fiction was. I remember it well. Great story, but I haven’t read it lately and I haven’t heard other people talk about it much, so maybe you had to be ten.

Short Story: The Star, Arthur C. Clarke. I think there’s a wide consensus that this is one of the best short stories ever.

Magazine: Astounding, John. W. Campbell. Again! Astounding. Double Star and Exploration Team appeared in it, but The Star appeared in Infinity.

Artist: Frank Kelly Freas.

Fan Magazine: Inside and Science Fiction Advertiser, Ron Smith.

Most Promising New Author: Robert Silverberg. And he’s certainly gone on to fulfil that promise, continuing to write excellent science fiction in all the decades since.

Feature Writer: Willy Ley.

Book Reviewer: Damon Knight. New category, and what an interesting one. I had no idea. I wonder why that died out—were not enough people reviewing books? I’d suggest reviving it. (But then I would...) Knight was an excellent choice, his criticism is still read.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She has a ninth novel coming out in January, 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.

15 comments
David Levinson
1. DemetriosX
I'd say the Asimov is the only book that could have given Double Star a challenge. Tunnel is probably my second favorite Heinlein juvie (after Citizen of the Galaxy), but it certainly isn't on the same level as Double Star.

Murray Leinster just tends to be forgotten, period. I started reading SF in the 70s and went pretty in depth, yet I hadn't really heard of him until they started doing some reprints in the 80s. Unfortunately, he just didn't seem to catch on again the way, say, Piper did.

I bet the reviewer category died when the number of magazines shrank so drastically and the remaining few tended to use a single reviewer. I agree that they ought to consider reviving it. There are a lot more forums for reviews now and the competition could be quite interesting.
john mullen
2. johntheirishmongol
Double Star is one of my fave books ever. I usually reread it every few years. It still has a lot of truths in it.

Actually, that was a very good year for novels. Any year that has Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein as nominees has got to rank at the very top. I know there is a list out there somewhere, I seem to remember seeing one some years ago.

With the exception of a very few short stories, I seldom remember them at all. Once I got into novels, short stories were not my preferred form. I must have read a lot of them. I had a subscription to Analog from 64 to 71, I just don't really remember them.
DBratman
3. DBratman
John&c @2: If you were reading Analog from 64 to 71 and read all the stories in it, you'd have read Anne McCaffrey's earliest Pern stories. People forget those were originally published in the "hard science" SF magazine.
DBratman
4. Matt McIrvin
Leinster's gotten some belated attention as the author of "A Logic Named Joe", a 1946 story that somehow got dozens of details of today's Internet-connected, ubiquitous-computing world amazingly right--not just how they work, but how we use them and the opportunities and problems they create.

It's not spot-on, since it's basically a rogue-AI story, and some of the society's details are very much of the story's time, but Leinster somehow managed to figure out what a world full of networked personal computers would be like in ways that many SF writers didn't realize until it happened.
DBratman
5. Howard Brazee
In my opinion, Double Star was the 2nd best novel of the year - and I wonder why you didn't mention what many people have as the best SF novel of all time, The Stars My Destination?

I would have voted for Bester, but Heinlein hadn't won yet and was in poor health.
Clark Myers
6. ClarkEMyers
I'd have thought Leinster's First Contact an evergreen as well but maybe the aliens are all too human for today's taste?

I liked Exploration Team both as a modified frontier story - Grizzly Adams gets by - and as a learning experience for a series hero. Just the same the drastic meddling with the existing ecosystem is certainly contrary to today's notions and likely unwise as well (cf. Pournelle et. al. on wiping out predators in
The Legacy of Heorot )

I wonder if a long career and large production - as Mr. Jenkins had in a couple different genres - is a career obstacle to be overcome long years after?

That is, compared to a smaller body of work where individual works are more likely to stand out.

I am reminded of an interview with John Denver in which he lamented his relative lack of recent hits - saying that he had something like 50 albums in print and all selling well in total but nothing selling well enough individually to make the top of the charts.

Silverberg and Asimov - what was the clever short mocking their combined production rising from the east and west coasts? - are I think generally remembered each for a few works that out shine the rest rather than for the very large total body of work and so may prove the hypothesis?
DBratman
7. CarlosSkullsplitter
John Denver??? he died in a plane crash 13 years ago. A Rutan Long-EZ.
DBratman
8. DMerrill
It isn't too surprising the Stars My Destination wasn't mentioned because it wasn't published as a novel in the U. S. until March 1957 and the Galaxy serialization didn't finish up until the January 1957 issue. I don't believe it was quite as well regarded at the time as it is now either. In my opinion, a lot of Heinlein seems extremely dated now, particularly in his views and characterization of women. Bester's work ages quite a bit better in this regard. Even some of his non-SF from the period still reads pretty well, but it's all pretty much out of print (i.e. the novel WHO HE?).
DBratman
9. Alain Ducharme
DBratma: People do tend to forget that, including Anne McCaffrey herself.
René Walling
10. cybernetic_nomad
The Stars, My Destination didn't even start being published as a serial until after the 1956 Worldcon, so it's no surprise to not see it there.

That said, while today, the eligibility period is the calendar year prior to the year the Hugos are awarded (so works published in 2010 will be eligible for a 2011 Hugo) things weren't as clear cut back then. Some works published early in a given year sometimes won that same year. So TSMD might have won a Hugo in either 1957 or 1958 (by today's rules it would have been 1958).
Andrew Love
11. Andy Love
@6:

"Silverberg and Asimov - what was the clever short mocking their combined production rising from the east and west coasts? -"

"Half-Baked Publisher's Delight" in "If" in 1974, by Asimov and Jeffry Hudson.
Jo Walton
12. bluejo
Andy Love: Thank you, I often think of that story, and it's very nice to know the name.

I consider The Stars My Destination in next week's post on the very odd year 1957.
Rich Horton
13. ecbatan
Indeed, though people often complain about The Stars My Destination not winning the 1956 Hugo, it wouldn't have won for the reasons noted, although I believe it is technically a 1956 novel, because I think the UK edition (as Tiger! Tiger!) first appeared in 1956 (though I don't know the month).

Of course it might have won in 1957, but as Jo notes, that was a very odd year for the Hugos indeed.

Double Star itself is a 1956 novel (the Astounding serialization concluded in the April issue) so under current rules it too would have been eligible in 1957.

One more 1955 novel that would have been a worthy Hugo winner -- though at that time an unlikely one -- is of course The Return of the King.
Chuk Goodin
15. Chuk
I loved Martians Go Home, but yeah, not as Hugo-worthy as Double Star. The Chrysalids is a favourite, too.
Bob Blough
16. Bob
Jo,
Excellent write-up as always (and I think there should be an award for best reviewer - in my opinion Gary Wolfe, you and Cheryl Morgan should be in the running.) The only novel I see missing is The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett - a wonderfully readable novel that has been unjustly forgotten. You are right though about Double Star. It's one of my favorite SF novels of all time. And the first book I bought on Kindle.

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