Nov 21 2010 9:44am

Hugo Nominees: 1958

Hugo Awards trophy 1958. Photo by Sheila PerryThe 1958 Hugo Awards were awarded at Solacon, South Gate (Los Angeles) and I was wrong last week, they didn’t have nominees, that’s not until next time. You can visit the Hugo Nominees index to see the years that have been covered so far.

The Best Novel Hugo was won by Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time, which was an interesting choice. It’s in print, it has a Kindle edition and an audio edition, and it’s available in my library but only in French. It’s a very short book about a time travelers war and it introduced many of the tropes of time travel. It’s a very good book, and I like it, but although it’s in print I don’t hear it talked about much, and I think Leiber isn’t such a big name as he once was. He’s now best known now for his sword and sorcery, though he was prolific and wrote in almost every sub-genre.

The Hugo was the only genre award given in 1958—in our award-filled times, it’s a little hard to imagine. It’s also hard to be sure what else the fans of 1958 might have been considering. Again using Wikipedia’s list of novels of 1957, the things I think might well have been nominated include Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Jack Vance’s Big Planet, Philip K. Dick’s The Cosmic Puppets and Eye in the Sky, Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Deep Range, Robert Heinlein’s The Door Into Summer (post) and Citizen of the Galaxy (post), Fred Hoyle’s The Black Cloud, Van Vogt’s The Empire of the Atom, Philip Jose Farmer’s The Green Odyssey, Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Frederic Brown’s Rogue in Space, and Eric Frank Russell’s Wasp.

Again, I could make “Jo’s top five books of 1957” or “what I think would have been likely to be on the list” (and they’d be very different) but that’s fairly useless. I think it would be possible to make a case for any of this list as five likely nominees. Lots of these are books that are still read and widely debated—perhaps more so than The Big Time.

Other Categories

Short Story: “Or All the Seas with Oysters,” Avram Davidson (Galaxy, May 1958). Great choice, terrific classic unforgettable story. And from Galaxy. But from 1958, what’s going on here? What’s going on is that eligibility wasn’t by calendar year but from Worldcon to Worldcon, or something of the sort. They didn’t get this sorted for some time.

Outstanding Movie: The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Magazine: F&SF, Anthony Boucher. My goodness. Was Campbell surprised?

Outstanding Artist: Frank Kelly Freas... again. We’ve only had six years of Hugos, and already we’re seeing repetition.

Outstanding Actifan: Walter A. Willis. Yay! But note that this is a person award, not a fanzine award. These categories may look a lot more normal, but they are still in flux.

Next time, 1959, with actual nominees, really this time!

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

René Walling
1. cybernetic_nomad
The Incredible Shrinking Man is a great movie, and a good example of where both the movie and the book are great and closely resemble each other. This is probably because Richard Matheson wrote both.

It's well worth watching and has impressive special effects for the times. They're not as slick as today's fancy computer generated images, but they're used much more effectively used to convey the story. I highly recommend watching it if you've never seen it before.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
It's a pity that Leiber isn't better remembered and more for his SF and horror. I've been rereading the Fafhrd and Mouser books and, while they're quite enjoyable, they're rather uneven and some don't hold up very well. But overall, he was a brilliant writer.

I would probably have voted for one of the Heinleins. Hard to say which, though. Citizen is one of my favorites and the second or third Heinlein I ever read. OTOH, Door is a lot of fun and he manages not to get too didactic. Tough call.
jon meltzer
3. jmeltzer
Of the F&M's, the best are the mid period ones from the late 1950s to about 1972: "Lean Times in Lankhmar"  (which may have the best punch-line set up in humorous fantasy) through "Ill Met in Lankhmar".  That was quite a run. 
Joe Romano
4. Drunes
I love Jack Vance , but was disappointed with Big Planet when I read it recently. That book would have been a poor choice for the Hugo. It's so much better that Vance won it later with The Dragon Masters (1963) and The Last Castle (1967).

Leiber's The Big Time was probably the best choice for 1958, but Wyndham’s The Midwwich Cuckoos would have been good, too. Thankfully, it wasn't On the Beach. Others have argued -- quite correctly, I believe -- that it's fatalistic theme is the antithesis of the true spirit of SF.

Better Big Planet than that!
Sol Foster
5. colomon
The F&M stories may be uneven, but the best ones (the aforementioned "Lean Times in Lankhmar" certainly stands out in my mind) are easily among the best S&S short stories ever.
6. liontime
I read Atlas Shrugged. In my mind, not in the running. It is too long. Entire 70 page chapters could have been thrown out and no one would have noticed.
7. Gerry__Quinn
I know I'm in a minority here, but Big Planet is actually one of my favourite Vances. His Lyonesse trilogy was the best thing he did though, IMO.
David Levinson
8. DemetriosX
@3 & 5: I agree. It's just that my reread has carried me through Swords of Lankhmar (which does have its moments). Actually, some of the filler stories he wrote for the Swords series to tie stories together are pretty good, too. I just think it's a shame that F&M are what he is remembered for, when he wrote a lot of much better stuff.
Jo Walton
9. bluejo
On The Beach isn't really SF at all, and though I like Shute a great deal (I've written about a couple of his books here) I don't like it.
john mullen
10. johntheirishmongol
I saw On the Beach again the other day. It was even more depressing than I remembered. I remember very little about The Big Time so I will have to download a copy when I get my kindle for Xmas. I did enjoy more than Lieber's fantasy tales, and I know I read it but it was about 40 years ago, so memory fails me.

Shrinking Man was a really good scifi movie, because it was primarily a character study, and those hold up well, even when the special effects are less than stellar.
Joe Romano
11. Drunes
Jo and johntheirishmongol: I'm glad neither one of you liked On the Beach. It's not just one of the most depressing stories I've read, it is the most depressing story I've ever read. I've always hated that it's been lumped into SF by some and am glad Jo deemed it definitely not SF.

cybernetic_nomad and johntheirishmongol: The Incredible Shrinking Man, on the other hand, is a wondrful story full of promise for the future... and one of the best movie adaptations of a SF book to film. Of course, that was Matheson's doing, as you said.

Gerry_Quinn: Don't get me wrong, the fact that I didn't like Big Planet was no criticism of Jack Vance. Any Jack Vance story is better than no Jack Vance... and wouldn't the world be a sorry place if he had never written? Yes, I was disappointed with Big Planet, but there are still an awful lot of golden nuggets within it.
Pamela Adams
12. PamAdams
I think that The Big Time won based on its 'twistiness.' It was a different kind of SF for the period. It definitely hit the sensawunda button.

I recently reread Clarke's The Deep Range and it definitely hasn't stood the test of time. It reads like something written by the Stratemeyer syndicate. Plus the female characters are treated badly, well beyond any 'But it was 1957' arguments.
Pamela Adams
13. PamAdams
I agree, On The Beach isn't truly SF and shouldn't have won the Hugo. On the other hand, it's one of my favorite comfort reads. (I'm sure it says something that I find a story about the end of the world- or at least the end of us- comforting, but oh well)
Tony Zbaraschuk
14. tonyz
Deep Range is not, I think, one of Clarke's best works.
15. Rob T.
Leiber's impact as a writer is somewhat diffuse not only because it was spread over several genres but because this impact often came ahead of its time. Not only did the first Fafhrd and Mouser stories appear long before adventure fantasy became a marketable genre, Leiber's seminal urban horror stories "The Automatic Pistol" and "Smoke Ghost"--which speculated on how supernatural or uncanny forces might manifest themselves in a modern technological setting--appeared decades before horror became a marketable genre. Leiber was also one of the first writers in American sf to propose (in "Coming Attraction" and later stories) that high technology and cultural decadence weren't necessarily incompatible--that being surrounded by monuments of human rationality didn't mean human irrationality was just going to disappear. (Alfred Bester and Cyril Kornbluth made similar breakthroughs around the same time.)

Another factor that makes Leiber difficult to market is that not one of his novels is very much like any of the others, and most of the best are culminations or reworkings of themes from his short fiction. Thus we have The Big Time from the "Changewar" series and The Swords of Lankhmar from the F&M series; Conjure Wife fits in with Leiber's early horror stories, The Green Millennium among his early stories of technological decadence, and Our Lady of Darkness among Leiber's remarkable late series of autobiographical/roman-a-clef fantasies (shorter examples include "Catch That Zeppelin!", "Horrible Imaginings", and my personal favorite "The Button Molder").

The uniqueness of each Leiber's novels means they don't play off one another as readily as those of novelists more inclined to stick to particular themes or types of stories. Leiber would probably benefit as much as Theodore Sturgeon from a comprehensive, chronological series of his short fiction (perhaps leaving out the F&M stories, which don't need the help).
Bob Blough
16. Bob
I love The Big Time. I always wanted to do a stage production of it. I think Leiber, as the actor he was, could have easily turned it into riveting onstage drama. The odd thing is that this novel was also published in 1958 (Galaxy March and April) so none of the winners for 1958 were from 1957! And then in 1959, when they finally get some order into the dates of elegibility, 1958 gets two years of winners - and completelydifferent ones at that. My choices for runner up would be The Green Odyssey, The Midwich Cuckoos and Door Into Summer. But The Big Time is still my favorite. And I'm with Rob T. on this - we need a complete Leiber short fiction collection (a la Sturgeon, Dick, Silverberg, etc.) other than F&M. He was a fantastic short SF/Fantasy/Horror writer.
17. Denny Lien
BIG PLANET first appeared in STARTLING in 1952; the first book edition (Avalon) in 1957 was actually abridged from the magazine version (a switch from the usual). So it's "really" a 1952 novel, more so even than most magazine vs. book titles are.

It's not my favorite Vance, but almost all Vance is Good Vance. The initial premise is fine, but given the emphasis on the size of the setting the book would have to be a couple of thousand pages long to be "true" to the set-up, and there was no way a genre sf book in 1952 (or 1957) was going to be allowed to run more than a fraction of that length.
18. Glar
I'm not sure where to begin on my dislike of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time...

The basic driver is a start: A continuum spanning war that everybody agrees (over and over) that nobody knows why or for whom it's being fought. Did I mention that they mention this over and over and... I'm not usually able to grasp such subtle hidden themes but I got it. Wars don't make sense. I got it before the first repeat. And surely by the fifth.

Or perhaps the fact that the characters will (for no reason I noticed) get up and have long monologues (or almost monologues) in front of the other characters. Using idioms, poetry (I think), and broken English. They take turns doing this in the middle of doing other things. I don't care what war is going on, if this is R&R, death in battle is far preferable.

Or perhaps it's the fact that the controls that could doom everyone are portable and easy for everyone to play with.

Or perhaps that I found many basic story ideas either poorly done or too buried in the idioms, poetry (sic), and broken English to bother learning about: The characters are either "doppelgangers" "ghosts" or "zombies" or maybe all 3, I rather lost track. The fact that the "ghostgirls" are described as transparent at one point makes me think that, once again, R&R is not up to levels I would find acceptable.

Maybe the idea that the first thing a character does upon walking in is tell all the other characters how to set the timer on the nuke. Then that one of them thinks it's a good idea to set the timer going.

Given the other choices of 1958 it blows my mind that this won the Hugo. I could see some of his others, but this, bleh.

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