Sun
May 29 2011 10:30am
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.

73 comments
john mullen
1. johntheirishmongol
I happen to totally agree with you about Neuromancer. I read it and I hated it too. It's another of those books that everyone says you have to read and are just awful.

Of the nominees, I would have gone with the Peace War too though Marooned was better work. It just happens to be the best of the 5 nominees. I agree Stars in My Pocket probably deserves a nomination and maybe even the win.

As for movies, I have argued before that I think your standards are way too high on the movie scope. Movies never will be as complex or involving as a book. What I look for here is which is the best film in the genre. Of the 5 nominated, 3 are fun, decently entertaining films and 2 are just bad, including the winner. Dune was horrendous, and I say this knowing the director of the film. David made a great movie in Blue Velvet but he had no clue with Dune.

Last Starfighter is fun escapist fare that the special effects were cheesy, but any movie with Robert Preston stealing the scenery is always worth watching.

I think I lean toward Ghostbusters for the winner, simply because it did open a whole new audience to fx, genre movies.
James Davis Nicoll
2. James Davis Nicoll
Carr, a book editor rather than a magazine editor, only had Hugo recognition after his death.

Not true! This is the grand except to the general rule (prior to the split in Best Editor Hugo to long and short form) that book editors have to die to win a Best Editor Hugo. At this time Carr was editing his second Ace Science Fiction Specials series (the third Ace Science Fiction Specials series overall). In 1984, the books released in that series were Kim Stanley Robinson's The Wild Shore, Carter Scholz and Glenn Harcourt's Palimpsests, Lucius Shepard's Green Eyes, Howard Waldrop's Them Bones, and William Gibson's Neuromancer.

Carr died in 1987 and won the Best Dead Book Editor Hugo that year.
David Levinson
3. DemetriosX
One quick note first, Green Eyes was by Lucius Shepard not Lew Shiner.

Neuromancer was huge and most likely deserved the win, though I'm not sure it has held up all that well. March of technology and all that. I disagree, though, that an important book like that wouldn't get an original paperback publication these days. No one expected it to be important (except maybe Terry Carr), it simply appeared and exploded, catching everyone by surprise.

Emergence is interesting and may buck the trend in that it works a little better as a whole than the novellas it's composed of. I think that's because it takes a while to get into the weird shorthand of the narration (takes a while to get used to normal prose again afterwards, too) and the novel gives you more time to adapt to it. The Integral Trees has just never worked for me. I'm not sure if it quite qualifies as a BDO, but there isn't quite enough story for me. I absolutely hated Job when it first came out. I like it better now, but as you say it's late Heinlein. I've never been able to get into Vinge, though I can't say why. I find the backstory for The Peace War a little too unbelievable to go along with the rest of it.

"Press Enter []" was a terrific story. Of course, it hasn't held up at all in terms of technology, but it was fantastic for its time. "Cyclops" is a sequel to "The Postman", but not quite as good.

"Bloodchild" was a terrific winner, but there are some other great stories in the category. "Blued Moon" is interesting to see here since it's basically a romcom. It's odd to see what is basically a funny story on an awards list. "The Lucky Strike" is interesting, but I find the breakpoint for the alternate history hard to buy. "Dragon Griaule" is also very, very good.

"The Crystal Spheres" is interesting as a thought expirement, but there isn't a whole lot of story there. I'd have voted for "Salvador".

The non-fiction winner is also very interesting. Williamson was 76 in 1984. I'm sure everybody figured he didn't have long and this memoir/history was a fine coda to his life and career. He lived for another 22 years and was productive almost to the very end.

I'm with Jo on this year's dramatic presentation. Nothing really stands out and there are some real turkey in the list.

One new artist this time: Tom Kidd.

For the Campbells, it is really hard to argue it should have gone to anyone else. Shepard was absolutely on fire, cranking out excellent short stories and having a novel in the New Ace Specials. In fact, Green Eyes was supposed to be the first, but there were editorial delays and the honor went to The Wild Shore.
Charlie Stross
4. cstross
Palmer's "Emergence" was indeed published in the UK. Warning for Jo: I don't recommend reading it. Not only have its core premises not aged well, it has some monumentally icky sexual issues, race politics straight out of the 1930s (and not in a good way), an overdose of "fans are slans" exceptionalism, and a degree of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Communism that makes me fear for the purity of my bodily fluids. The one thing it does have going for it is a really strong narrative voice and some Heinleinian resonances; I'd peg it as the zenith (or perhaps more accurately the nadir) of a particular kind of John W. Campbell-influenced SF. A hideous example of a particularly reprehensible ideological sub-text within American SF, in other words.
James Davis Nicoll
5. James Davis Nicoll
“Cyclops,” David Brin (Asimov’s Mar 1984)

The unnecessary but not actively harmful sequel to "The Postman".

“Elemental,” Geoffrey A. Landis (Analog Dec 1984)

I think this is Landis' first published story. It falls into that very special class of SF stories, ones that mention the University of Waterloo. The Adolescence of P1 is another and there's a Doctorow that sort of counts, in that the action passes right through my older brother's office, except in a parallel dimension - given what's almost immediately adjacent to Scott's office, that's for the best .


1: I'll give you a hint: it's the room where my work gloves once melted and where I had that run-in with the seemingly empty jar labeled "picric acid".
James Davis Nicoll
6. CarlosSkullsplitter
Neuromancer is Dante's Inferno. Honest.

Personally, I loved it. I still do. It was the first SF book I read that had characters I could relate to at an everyday level, and I grew up very far away from the Sprawl.

I'd say it captures some of that strange urban 1970s magic -- hence the 'punk' -- glamour and tawdriness and crime, but also a sense of limitlessness. Opportunity in the teeth of despair. It's an SF novel that could actually have a mix tape, which is rare enough, and one that is not Steeleye Span a good one too, and that is doubly rare.

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand does a little of that, but from a more accomplished person's perspective. I think it's a deeper novel, but I'm not sure if it's better art. (Delany himself is only a few years older than Gibson.)

Also, I think there's a fair amount of "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" in Neuromancer, but with Chandler and/or Hammett as a guiding voice instead of Zelazny.
James Davis Nicoll
7. James Davis Nicoll
The Integral Trees has just never worked for me. I'm not sure if it quite qualifies as a BDO, but there isn't quite enough story for me.

I remember it as half a book. I just don't recall at this point whether it's the front half or the back half. Guess I could use this interweb thing....

Smoke Ring completed the story, as I recall.

The science really didn't hang together in this. The Smoke Ring wouldn't have worked the way he said and there were some basic math errors.

Anyway, a notable book for me because this is around when I stopped rereading new Niven books and not too far before the point where I stopped picking up his books at all. Currently I don't bother with anything by him post-A World Out of Time.

Oh, and although it was a 1985 book and so not eligible for the Hugo until 1986, 1985 also saw the second last Niven collection I'd ever buy: Limits, which is just packed with not-so-good Niven short works: the mostly harmless Draco Tavern tales next to stuff like "The Locusts" and "Yet Another Modest Proposal: The Roentgen Standard".
James Davis Nicoll
8. James Davis Nicoll
"Yet Another Modest Proposal: The Roentgen Standard" is in retrospect a step on the path to Niven's proposal that - actually, this is the sort of thing where a sarcastic paraphrase wouldn't be believed so let's have the man's actual words:

From an article on SF authors advising Homeland Security:

Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

“The problem is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

“Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.

“I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.
James Davis Nicoll
9. Damien G. Walter
Oh dear...not surprised but still disappointed by the Neuromancer hate. Not everyone can like everything, true enough. But I wonder why someone would 'hate' Neuromancer. It is a great work of literature, few enough of those come out of SF that it's worth people writing about the genre to at least read it twice before 'hating' it. What is it that you hate about it Jo?

Also...disregarding the Yolen book from the Mythopoeic for being SF. Aren't you bored of arguing genre boundaries by now? SF is a modern mythology and also a form of Fantasy. Why keep building defensive walls around the thing?
James Davis Nicoll
10. CarlosSkullsplitter
This will get Doug M's goat, but I think Lucius Shepard as the Campbell winner is thoroughly deserved. "Salvador", now that's military science fiction!

I don't see the connection between Shepard and Andre Norton myself, but Doug swears one is there. (I have never read Norton, and it's likely I never will.)

And now I have a strange urge to read Life During Wartime -- I am in Panama City at the moment, maybe that's why.
Michal Jakuszewski
11. Lfex
I also totally agree about Neuromancer. I totally loathed it, but it was so enormously influential that its victory was probably inevitable. The rest of the nominees are rather average. Emergence, Job and Integral Trees are all somewhat enjoyable, but certainly not award level. The Peace War was better, but I never warmed to it. Still, this is the book I would probably rank first on this list.

As for the non-nominated novels, my absolute favorite is Mythago Wood, which is on the short list of my favorite books ever. Bridge of Birds also was very good. Two books I loved back then, but I don't think they would stand up to reread very well, are The Infinity Concerto by Greg Bear - quirky non-Tolkienesque fantasy was hard to get those days and this book seemed stunningly original. Today probably not so much. The other title is Maia by Richard Adams - I suspect my young and horny self just loved it for all the sex (as was the case with Varley's Gaean Trilogy which I remember liking a lot, but would definitely dread to reread).
I also agree Icehenge should definitely be nominated. It is by far my favorite Robinson novel.

"Press ENTER" seemed really stunning back then, but has aged badly. "Bloodchild" is great and "Crystal Spheres" are a reasonable winner, but I would probably also choose Effinger story over it.
David Levinson
12. DemetriosX
James @7/8: Wow. When Pournelle tells you you're really politically incorrect, it's time to take a step back and think about where you are. Of course, he probably meant it as a compliment.

I stuck it out with Niven longer than you did, but between the incredible disappointment of The Ringworld Throne and his scam of making me buy an entire collection to get one new story and maybe a fix-up framing tale was the last straw. His collaborations are on a case-by-case basis. If Barnes is involved, I probably will read it (new Dream Park coming out this year), if it's just with Pournelle, I'll wait for the reviews.
James Davis Nicoll
13. Doug M.
Norton was fond of what I now think of as "Simpsons episode" openings -- viz., a novel that started off about one thing, but then after a chapter or two had the character step through a magic doorway into a completely different story.

Lucius Shepard wrote the same Hallucinogenic Vietnam Drug Story About Vietnam With Altered Consciousness In The Jungle With Drugs Which It's About Vietnam, Man at least three times. And IMS got nominated for something each time, sigh.


Doug M.
James Davis Nicoll
14. CarlosSkullsplitter
13: Doug, as someone who couldn't give a rat's ass about the Vietnam War or hallucinogens, I love those stories.

Maybe I'm just that alienated!
James Davis Nicoll
15. Doug M.
Jo, consider giving Neuromancer a second try. Completely aside from its influence on the genre (which is indeed huge), it's a book worth reading.

Carlos is right -- it's Dante's Inferno. Case is Dante, the Dixie Flatline is Virgil, and the dead girlfriend is Beatrice. Mollie, Rivera and Armitage are Violence, Fraud and Treachery. Straylight is Dis, and the Tessier-Ashpools are the lowest of the damned, eternally frozen in ice. I'm pretty sure the Finn is Geryon. Wintermute is of course Satan, though it's quite deliberately left open whether he (she, it) might be the Gnostic version.

It's done very well, and with a high level of literary brio. It is *not* your standard SFnal cut-and-paste of the source material. (And this actually confused me at first, because that's what I was expecting.) Rather, it's all about allusions and symbolisms. So, there aren't precise analogs to most of the levels of Dante's Hell -- but there's a relentless parade of circle imagery, and of various sorts of damnation. Nor are there exact one-on-one versions of the monsters -- but violence (which Dante presents allegorically as a lion) is always associated with animal imagery (Molly's claws), while treachery (which Dante associates with the lowest, frozen circle of Hell) is always connected to freezing and cold (i.e., Armitage's origin in Siberian betrayal, his final fate, and of course the Tessier-Ashpools.)

Seriously, it's a good book. You may not like it, but it does what it sets out to do, and well.


Doug M.
James Davis Nicoll
16. James Davis Nicoll
his scam of making me buy an entire collection to get one new story and maybe a fix-up framing tale was the last straw.

This in in part caused in part by the fact that Niven's output of short stories fell off dramatically in the 1980s. From the start of his career in the mid-1960s to about 1980, he had eight collection that didn't overlap much (Shape of Space got cannibalized but since hardly anyone ever saw a copy, that was understandable) but just from 1970 to 1979, he had over 40 new short works. From 1980 to 1989, there were about 16. New collections pretty much require recycling old stories (and chunks of books) because there just isn't enough new Niven material for more than a collection or so per decade.
James Davis Nicoll
17. Doug M.
I think this was Niven's last appearance on a major award ballot. If not, then nearly so; he wasn't nominated for anything after the late 1980s. (Though, hey, he did win a Prometheus for _Fallen Angels_.)

The quality of Niven's output went smoothly and steadily downwards from about 1976 onwards. This should have been obvious by the time a decade had passed. _Integral Trees_ has all the flaws of late Niven: feeble plotting, bad math, and utterly forgettable characters. The quality of the writing, at a sentence-and-paragraph level, is also noticeably worse than it had been in (say) _Ringworld_ or _Mote_. Niven c. 1970 could write sparkling exposition and basically competent dialogue; by 1985, the exposition had gone flat and the dialogue was becoming actively wince-inducing.

There is still some sensawunda! except, you know, the math is wrong and it would never work. So, not much left.

(Except an awesome Michael Whelan cover. Google it up, it's great. T'was still the Age of Whelan.)


Doug M.
David Levinson
18. DemetriosX
James @16: Well, the obvious answer to that is either write more short fiction or only put out a new collection every 10 years. It's not like he needs the income.

DougM @17: It depends on how you parse it. Footfall and "The Return of William Proxmire" got nominated for Hugos, but other than that it's all reader polls, Prometheus, and lifetime achievement stuff.
James Davis Nicoll
19. James Davis Nicoll
The third Ace Science Fiction Specials series overall

Which consists of

Kim Stanley Robinson - The Wild Shore
Carter Scholz and Glenn Harcourt - Palimpsests
Lucius Shepard - Green Eyes
Howard Waldrop - Them Bones
William Gibson - Neuromancer
Michael Swanwick - In the Drift
Jack McDevitt - The Hercules Text
Loren J. MacGregor - The Net
Richard Kadrey - Metrophage



Ted Reynolds - The Tides of God
Claudia O'Keefe - Black Snow Days
Gregory Feeley - The Oxygen Barons

First novels for the most part and aside from Carter Scholz, Glenn Harcourt and Loren MacGregor, Carr managed to select authors who would go on to have long, reasonably notable careers.

1: Waldrop being a special case: he had an earlier (extremely atypical for him) MilSF novel in the 1970s and Them Bones was the last novel by him of which I am aware. What he is a short story god; anyone unfamiliar with his work should scourge themselves in sorrow before leaping off a cliff or alternatively, seek out and read one of the many fine collections of Waldrop's work.

Of course, Carr's success in this is no surprise: the first Ace Specials series consisted of:

Clifford D. Simak - Why Call Them Back from Heaven?
James H. Schmitz - The Witches of Karres
R. A. Lafferty - Past Master
Gertrude Friedberg - The Revolving Boy
Wilson Tucker - The Lincoln Hunters
Alexei Panshin - Rite of Passage
Joanna Russ - Picnic on Paradise
Bob Shaw - The Two-Timers
D. G. Compton - Synthajoy
Piers Anthony and Robert E. Margroff - The Ring
James Blish and Norman L. Knight - A Torrent of Faces
James H. Schmitz - The Demon Breed
Roger Zelazny - Isle of the Dead
John Brunner - The Jagged Orbit
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Left Hand of Darkness
Philip K. Dick - The Preserving Machine
Avram Davidson - The Island Under the Earth
John T. Sladek - Mechasm
D. G. Compton - The Silent Multitude
Bob Shaw - The Palace of Eternity
Keith Roberts - Pavane
Michael Moorcock - The Black Corridor
R. A. Lafferty - Fourth Mansions
D. G. Compton - The Steel Crocodile
Joanna Russ - And Chaos Died
Avram Davidson - The Phoenix and the Mirror
Ron Goulart - After Things Fell Apart
Wilson Tucker - The Year of the Quiet Sun
R. A. Lafferty - Nine Hundred Grandmothers
Ursula K. Le Guin - A Wizard of Earthsea
D. G. Compton - Chronocules
Bob Shaw - One Million Tomorrows
John Brunner - The Traveler in Black
Suzette Haden Elgin - Furthest
Bruce McAllister - Humanity Prime
Michael Moorcock - The Warlord of the Air
Gerard F. Conway - The Midnight Dancers
Gordon Eklund - The Eclipse of Dawn

They are not all classics (there are some real duds in there) but one can see why Ace trusted him in the 1980s to do the Specials.
James Davis Nicoll
20. seth e.
I was fifteen when Neuromancer came out, and I was very impressed with it; it had the game-changing effect on me it was supposed to. But honestly, I've always liked Count Zero more. I was quite surprised to find out, years later, that this was a minority opinion.

If anyone didn't like Neuromancer, but it is considering giving Gibson another go, I'd recommend starting with Zero. All the same themes, with a broader range of better-observed characters. Though it's been years since I've read either of them, so maybe I'd change my mind in retrospect.
p l
21. p-l
I loved Neuromancer when I read it (in high school), but I think Stars in my Pocket... should have gotten the Nebula. Even if Neuromancer was the most significant novel for the field that year, Stars in my Pocket was the best.
James Davis Nicoll
22. Doug M.
"The Return of William Proxmire" managed to pack about four different kinds of complete burbling idiocy into its 1500 words or so. Hearing that it was nominated for a Hugo makes me very, very sad.
-- You know, I haven't reread _Neuromancer_ in a decade or so. Yet as soon as the book is mentioned, I can name and briefly describe half a dozen of the characters. I can't remember anything about a single character from _The Integral Trees_, except that there was one guy called "The Grad".


Doug M.
Charlie Stross
23. cstross
To say I really liked Neuromancer would be an understatement; it warped my literary development! Took me a few years to shake the influence off and start trying to innovate rather than imitate.

Hmm. Maybe I ought to add it to my re-read pile.

IMO Carlos is right about Lucius Shepard and the Campbell. Shepard is a significant writer; with a bit more work on the structural and thematic elements, Life During Wartime would have been a major landmark of the genre.
James Davis Nicoll
24. Rob T.
The tendency to nominate "'old masters' with weak new works" plagued this year's dramatic presentation category, what with substandard adaptations of works by Clarke and Herbert along with one of the weaker "Star Trek" films on the ballot. Ghostbusters was an effects-driven blockbuster with considerable humor (of varying degrees of subtlety) that nonetheless treated its fantastic premise relatively seriously. It was a silly film, but didn't make people feel stupid for watching it. As for The Last Starfighter, who knows why that one's there?

Incredibly, The Terminator--the one film many viewers today (including me) would cite as the best sf film of 1984--failed to make the ballot. At first I thought not enough viewers had seen the film at the time, but according to Box Office Mojo it grossed $38,371,200 at the U.S. box office--low by the standards of James Cameron's later films, but enough to make it the 21st highest grossing film of 1984, ahead of Dune and The Last Starfighter and a little behind 2010. Of course many more people have seen The Terminator since then, and it's also in the U.S. National Film Registry.

Two fine low-budget, low-grossing sf films that would have enhanced the ballot are Repo Man and The Brother from Another Planet; in a period with readier access to home video they might have had as much of chance at a nomination as, say, Moon. Besides Ghostbusters, several of 1984's fantasy and supernatural horror films (e.g. The NeverEnding Story, Gremlins and Nightmare on Elm Street) have held up at least as well as The Last Starfighter.

Finally, one significant 1984 release that wouldn't have much impact in the English-speaking world for decades is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Hayao Miyazaki's first original film as a writer/director and a breathtakingly imagined and rendered far-future scenario that may be the closest anyone's come to putting a Jack Vance novel on screen (speaking of "old masters"). Hardly anyone outside of Japan saw Nausicaä at the time, and it was drastically re-edited for the initial English-language release (as Warriors of the Wind). Today I would count it as my other favorite sf movie of 1984.
Sherri Nichols
25. snichols
I didn't read Neuromancer until about twenty years after it came out, and I didn't like it. I appreciated that it was an important book, but I didn't like it. I've tended to bounce off cyberpunk in general, though. I read Snow Crash, but didn't really like it, either.

It's not that I don't like Gibson in general; I did like Pattern Recognition very much.
James Davis Nicoll
26. Russ Allbery
Count me as another who disliked Neuromancer. I think there are a lot of problems with that book, but the one that stands out in my memory is how completely egregiously wrong it got computers. And not only did it blow computer technology completely, it did so in such an influential way that the same egregious errors continue and multiply in other influenced works to this day. (See, for example, Robert Sawyer, particularly The Terminal Experiment.) I blame Neuromancer, at least in part, for the fictional conception of computers that lead to programs that run on any computer they find, running programs "moving" through a network, ridiculous visual representations of computer security, and the general tendency to portray computer security as an analog to medieval fortresses, leading to innumerable major errors about how computer security actually functions.

Note: I do not blame Gibson for this. Computers and networks were very new to the general population, and extrapolation is very hard. Neuromancer wasn't any more wrong than many, many other "predictions" in SF. It just had the misfortune (from my perspective) to be wrong in ways that for me make it very difficult to read, and it was wrong in such a persistant and influential way that it turned cyberpunk and cyberpunk-derived writing into a sort of magical alternative technology subgenre that has nothing to do with how computers actually work, but which is persistantly used by others as a model for computers.
Steven Halter
27. stevenhalter
I read Neuromancer in July of 86. I liked it very much--in spite of the computers. Gibson got all of the actual technolgy wrong but that wasn't really what it was about.
I had just graduated with a BS in Com Sci and relaxing for the summer before starting my Masters. There weren't many jobs in CS right then, so the general tone of Neuromancer did not seem too much of a stretch.
And the tone was amazing--"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." Gotta love that imagery (or hate it as some here seem to).
James Davis Nicoll
28. Scotoma
Most people I talked to who hated Neuromancer thought it was depicting a dystopia, while those who liked it thought it was just the future waiting to happen and that there was nothing wrong with that future. At the time when I read it, I loved it and didn't pick up on the dystopian aspects either.

Thought the only book after Neuromancer by Gibson I really enjoyed was Idoru, both the two Neuromancer sequels and the first bridge novel left me cold. Thought these days I avoid him completely, every writer who thinks the future is imaginable anymore when so much excellent SF is written has lost me.
Pseu Donym
29. Scotoma
These days I avoid him completely, every writer who thinks the
future isn't imaginable anymore when so much excellent SF is written has lost me.
Joe Romano
30. Drunes
It's not science fiction (Jo brought it up with mention of the World Fantasy awards), but T.E.D. Klein's, The Ceremonies, is a very good book. I'm not suggesting that it should have been nominated for a Hugo, but it you find a copy in a used bookstore, it's worth a read. It is considered by many to be a modern horror classic. Klein was also the editor of Twilight Zone magazine for 4 or 5 years.
Soon Lee
31. SoonLee
Hi Jo, I'm not sure that it is entirely fair to judge the Campbell by how well the winner (and nominees) fare subsequently. Some writers appear seemingly fully-formed, while others undergo a slow blossoming, and some (for various reasons) fail to meet their early promise. For me, the question would be: given works available at the time, were these the brightest young hopes for the genre? That's trickier to judge without knowing the works that led to their nominations; with the Hugos, the nominees' works are on the record.
James Davis Nicoll
32. Kvon
I seem to like the fantasy from 1985 much more than the sf.

My recall of rereading Neuromancer several years ago was that it didn't have as much technical stuff in it as I thought it had, much more allegory and imagery. And would probably make a good movie. I like the idea of it as Inferno above, but it wouldn't help me much without reading Dante first.
Jo Walton
33. bluejo
SoonLee: The Campbell is supposed to be for the "best new writer". Obviously the voters were going on what was available -- how else! But we need to look at their subsequent careers to see whether they were in fact the "best new writer" or "a pretty good new writer" or "somebody who looked good but fizzled out".

The Campbell pretty much only rewards people who emerge fully formed over a couple of years -- people who take time to mature, or people who sell a few stories over a long time are essentially never eligible when they could win.

It's a really odd award when you think about it -- and I say this as a winner.
Geoffrey Dow
34. ed-rex
I'm another one of those who wasn't much impressed by Neuromancer and also, one of those who hasn't read it in a very long time (probably circa 1990).

Maybe it does make all sorts of allusions to Dante, but what I remember was a pretty standard-issue film-noire chase adventure story, of which science fiction boasts far too many. I can only shrug and acknowledge the obvious - that it knocked much of the field on its collective ass - but as a novel I didn't think it was very interesting at all.

Personally, I definitely would have voted to for the Delany, and I'm still sorry he's not likely to write the planned sequel.
René Walling
35. cybernetic_nomad
26.Russ Allbery
Perhaps Gibson got how computers work wrong, but I think he got how non programmers preceive computers to work right.

And I think it's wrong to blame Gibson for the problems of MovieOS (you know, the OS that runs Photoshop CSI, takes longer to copy the last 10% of a file than the first 90% and has the most amazing GUI interface you interact with using a keyboard)
Sherri Nichols
36. snichols
I have to say I'm dumbfounded that anybody could read Neuromancer and not think it's a dystopia. Gibson practically hits you over the head with that with the first sentence.
David Dyer-Bennet
37. dd-b
I read Neuromancer when it came out, but didn't like it much. I didn't find a single character in it interesting or memorable or sympathetic; a perfect "eight deadly words" book for me. Never had the slightest temptation to re-read it. The nonsense about computers certainly contributed to my overall negative reaction.

I think there were a couple of decent stories in Burning Chrome, though I don't remember any titles or plots or characters.

It's probably unfair, but to some extent I blame him for The Matrix, which is the worst sort of stupid nonsensical pseudo-SF. Stuff like this sets the public image of the field; is it any wonder it gets no respect?

I liked Emergence a lot, and re-read it periodically. I dunno that I'd argue it's "good"; but it was the nearest thing to a Heinlein juvenile that appeared for a long time (though it had the drawback that it's about surviving a disaster rather than being mostly about moving forward). Hmmm; I guess the next thing after that playing that space is Diane Duane's young wizard books, which are also excellent. The Duane does have the drawback of being fantasy, though.
James Davis Nicoll
38. CarlosSkullsplitter
"The nonsense about computers certainly contributed to my overall negative reaction."

Just generally speaking, and not to pick on any one person, but I would bet money that anyone who says this about Neuromancer will have some favorite work of SF that uses even more unrealistic depictions of computing technology than Gibson does: "Doc" Smith, Heinlein, Asimov, Star Trek, Vinge, etc.

It's a little curious.
Glenda Wilson
39. glinda
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.)

*splutter* (literally - that caused a coffee-on-the-keyboard cleanup...) Weird indeed.
Steven Halter
40. stevenhalter
As an aside, computers are almost always treated as magic boxes with wonderful UI's in just about everything--movies, TV, books, ... So, I usually just roll my eyes and overlook those parts.
Kind of like FTL or dragons or ...
David Goldfarb
41. David_Goldfarb
Count me as one of the people who doesn't agree that The Integral Trees was fun. Doug M. at 17 is spot on.
James Davis Nicoll
42. zonkorias
In attempting to judge who was "in fact" the best new writer all those years ago, subsequent sales figures and major award nominations are not necessarily sound criteria, given the rubbish that so often tops sales charts, and given the lame works that so often win major awards (check out Kij Johnson's recent Nebula win for "Ponies").
Bob Blough
43. Bob
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand should have won hands down. It is the only SF novel I have experienced that I believed the author had a time machine, wizzed to the future and stole the greatest "mundane" novel of it's time and printed it as his own novel when he returned. Difficult and engrossing. Delany's best. Other nominees should have been:
Neuromancer by Gibson
Wild Shore and/or Icehenge by Robinson
World's End by Joan D. Vinge - the forgotten sequel to The Snow Queen
Another first novel that is amazing - Divine Endurance by Gwyneth Jones
The Years of the City by Frederick Pohl

Poor year for novellas: "Press Enter" was the talked about one but I never liked it. There were two superior Novellas, I think, published - "The Unconquered Country" by Geoff Ryman and "Trinity" by Nancy Kress.
Others:
"The Greening of Bed Stuy" and "The Blister" - both parts of his "fix-up" novel of the year
"The Traveler's Tale" by Shepard
"The Scapegoat" by Cherryh

Novelletes overflowed with terrific posibilities this year. I agree completely with "Bloodchild" but "Blued Moon" (the first thing I had ever read up to that time that made me actually laugh out loud) , "The Lucky Strike" and "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griule" should have all won awards as well. They are all fantastic.

Short Story had a good year - but the best story of the year was not nominated. "Morning Child" by Gardner Dozois would be one of my choices for the top five short stories ever published in SF. It has an unexpected "twist" ending yet upon re-reading becomes more and more poignant. I'm happy it won the Nebula. And, I have to admit that my second favorite of the year was "Dinner Party" by Dozois as well. "Salvador" and "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" are also top notch. The un-nominated "A Cabin on the Coast" by Gene Wolfe and "New Rose Hotel" by William Gibson were great, too. And I did like the winner - even if it wasn't the best!
James Davis Nicoll
44. Boden Steiner
Cyberpunk is over?
I guess it may depend on your definition, but I personally don't believe any part of that blanket notion. Cyberpunk, like technology, is merely evolving.
Gary Gibson
45. garygibson
I only became aware of William Gibson when I started buying Asimov's in the early/mid '80s. The first issue I picked up was running a serialisation of Count Zero. At the time, I didn't get it, but I kept coming back to it. It was such a dramatic departure from anything I'd read before, it was almost like learning a new language; it took time to assimilate it and understand what was being done. Later, I went back to Neuromancer and, like Charlie, my life essentially became divided into Before Neuromancer/After Neuromancer. I bet I'm not the only one who can recite chunks from his early books. In retrospect, it was WG that kept me reading sf. Without the influence of cyberpunk and the writers coming out of Austin, Texas at the time, I might very well have given up on SF altogether.
James Davis Nicoll
46. Gardner Dozois
The reason NEUROMANCER seems overly familiar today is, of course, because it influenced everything that came after it--not just novels and stories, but movies, TV shows, comics, games...its influence widened out way beyond typical genre boundaries, and in fact it may have had more influence outside the genre than it even did inside it. Yes, it's almost certainly directly responsible for THE MATRIX, and for dozens of other movies and TV shows, and, as someone pointed out, for tropes in those shows right down to the current day. It was one of those rare books that, for better or worse, changed the direction of SF; it influenced dozens of young authors, and almost everything that came afterward, from cyberpunk through post-cyberpunk to the Posthuman/Singularity work of the '90s to the New Space Opera of the Oughts was reacting either to or against the novel; a lot of the aesthetic of Steampunk can also, I think, be traced back to Cyberpunk, which ultimately means, to NEUROMANCER. It may have used computers wrong--although even today, the authors who use them RIGHT are probably a very small subset--but it literally invented the subculture of the computer hacker (or computer hacker wantabees, anyway) and determined what their lifestyles would be like--it actually convinced some people, again for better or worse, to actually BECOME computer hackers, as is clear if you read Bruce Sterling's non-fiction book THE HACKER CRACKDOWN. It also got a very large number of people who had never read science fiction before to become interested in reading SF. Although many of you don't like it, in retrospect it's by far the most important SF book of the year historically--and was widely recognized as a game-changer even at the time--and it's hard to take any of the other candidates winning seriously.

The best of the rest of the nominees is probably THE PEACE WAR, although MYTHIGO WOOD is considered a classic in some circles. Dann's THE MAN WHO MELTED is post-cyberpunk from before Cyberpunk even finished gelling, and has some brilliant innovation, although as a novel it's too episodic. IN THE DRIFT is a lot of fun, although Swanwick would later write much better novels. Waldrop's THEM BONES is also a lot of fun, although it doesn't quite measure up to the standards of the best of his short fiction.

STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND is a quarter of a great book that never got entirely written. The opening half of the existing volume is compulsively readable, paced like a runaway freight train, and ranks up with the best stuff Delany ever did. The second half slows way down, and becomes a lot more mannered, and is not, in my opinion, as effective. And of course, the OTHER half of what was originally intended to be a long single novel broken into two parts was never written or published at all, leaving everything up in the air. For this reason, I don't think you can really give STARS IN MY POCKET the Hugo, good as parts of it are.

Novella is a bit weak this year. "Press Enter" was a product of its time, and inevitably has dated quite a bit by now. In retrospect, the best novella of the year was Geoff Ryman's "The Unconquered Country," but as it appeared in INTERZONE, which wasn't being seen much on this side of the Atlantic at the time, very few people actually read it. (A few more might have seen it if Ryman's then-agent had let me use it in my Best of the Year that year, but he would not.) Nancy Kress's "Trinty" was also first-rate, one of her first major stories. Lucius Shepard's "A Traveller's Tale" was also vivid and good, and, in retrospect, any of these novellas would have made a better choice than the Varley.

Novelette and short story are both very strong this year, with lots of good stuff both on the ballot and left off of the ballot.

In novelette, it's hard to argue with the emotionally grueling "Bloodchild" as the winner, although "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" is acknowledged as a fantasy classic by now, and "Blued Moon" is still funny, one of Connie Willis's first major stories. There was lots of good stuff that didn't make the ballot. I've always had a sneaking fondness for Frederik Pohl's "The Kindly Isle," and Swanwick's "Trojan Horse" (also edging toward post-cyberpunk before cyberpunk had even fully developed) and Shepard's "Black Coral" are also good, as is Robinson's "The Lucky Strike," although it's heavy political content makes it controversial, and I know some (usually those who don't agree with its politics) who loathe it. Joanna Russ's little-known "Bodies" is also good.

In short story, leaving my own two stories out of consideration, Shepard's "Salvador" is my clear choice among the stories that made the ballot. There was lots of good stuff that didn't make it, though, including Gibson's "New Moon Hotel" (which I think is the only story on this entire ballot that was later made into a movie, for what that's worth), Richard Cowper's chilling "A Message to the King of Brobdingnag, Bruce Sterling's "Sunken Gardens," Molly Gloss's early story "Interlocking Pieces," Tanith Lee's "Draco, Draco," O. Niemand's "Two Bits," and Gene Wolfe's classic fantasy short, "A Cabin on the Coast."

In movie, the one I enjoyed most and the only one that will be remembered is GHOSTBUSTERS, which is certainly a classic of sorts. 2010 comes much closer to being an actual SF movie, although it lacks the ambition of 2001; the movie of 2010 is actually better than the book, and many of the glaring flaws of the movie were imposed on it by Clarke's novel, to which it was pretty faithful, perhaps unwisely. DUNE sucked, one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and I don't even remember THE LAST STARFIGHTER. The STAR TREK was routine.

Based on the work that was available to be read at the time, there's absolutely no doubt that Lucius Shepard deserved the Campbell. He had one of the biggest explosions of high-quality stories in one year the field had seen since Varley, with "Salvador," "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule," "A Traveller's Tale," and at least a half-dozen other stories coming out that year, plus a novel. It was overwhelming, and it seemed like a good new Shepard story was coming along every five minutes. In retrospect, most of Shepard's subsequent impact would be on horror/fantasy, while Ian McDonald, who you really couldn't have picked on the basis of the work he'd produced to that point, would turn out to be far more influential on science fiction--in fact, I think McDonald may be one of the best, if not THE best, SF writers working in the field today. It was a strong ballot, though, and all of the other candidates have subsequently produced good work, especially Geoff Landis, who's on the Hugo ballot again here in 2011.
James Davis Nicoll
47. GuruJ
I first read Neuromancer maybe 5 years ago. He has a really strong authorial voice which probably took me 50 pages to get past, but other than that I enjoyed it as a flawed masterpiece.

I actually never found the technology aspects offputting, but I did and do find his social SF predictions far more compelling (Panther Moderns=Anonymous anyone?) than the technology.
Rich Horton
48. ecbatan
I'm late to the party -- and what a party! 47 comments so far -- because I was off at ConQuesT.

First off, I think Neuromancer is very good, though it wasn't my favorite novel of the year. I was on the side (to the extent (not very much) that I was aware of sides!) of the Humanists in the Humanist/Cyberpunk wars, and I'd have gone for The Wild Shore back then. But there's no denying Neuromancer is the more influential, and in all honesty, it's probably the better book.

My actual favorite novel of 1984, in the sense that I derived more pleasure from it than any other, is Bridge of Birds (which I didn't read until much later). Another novel I didn't read until much later that I think is a masterwork is Fire and Hemlock.

Other novels of at least some note that I haven't seen mentioned (though I may have missed them):

A Quiet of Stone, by Stephen Leigh (not a masterpiece but a nice book)
Divine Endurance, Gwyneth Jones's first novel. (I actually hated this novel, and it started an odd pattern -- I think Jones's short fiction is excellent to brilliant, but I have never got on with her novels. But I do think the first novel of such a major writer deserves note.)
Planet of Whispers, by James Patrick Kelly. (Not a great book, but a good one -- and Kelly's first novel, so important from that point of view.)
Moon-Flash, by Patricia McKillip (if I'm not mistaken, McKillip's only SF)
The Digging Leviathan, by James P. Blaylock
The Final Reflection, by John M. Ford (a Star Trek novel, of course)
The Man in the Tree, by Damon Knight
Interstellar Pig, by William Sleator
The Black Company, by Glen Cook

As to the Campbell, it's very hard to argue with Shepard's win, based on his body of work to that date. That said, I'd rank him no better than fourth among these writers.

Ian McDonald (who had already published a first rate story, "The Catharine Wheel", sort of a beta-version of the Mars of his wonderful novels Desolation Road and Ares Express) is clearly, far and away, the best in terms of having published the best novels and also having a long and varied career.

Geoffrey A. Landis has only published one novel, and it's a minor work, but he's had lots of excellent short fiction.

And Brad Denton (besides being a really fine guitar player, as I can attest from hearing him play just two nights ago), has done plenty of outstanding work, and his serial killer novel Blackburn is not to be missed.

--
Rich Horton
Rich Horton
49. ecbatan
Now the short fiction. "Press Enter
Rich Horton
50. ecbatan
Oh, and Niven. I did actually rather like The Integral Trees (not that it deserved a Hugo or anything, or even a nomination), but yes, his quality had by now dropped off remarkably. And the thing about it is that it's not just for the usual reasons -- a writer who has run out of ideas, or is just rehashing his old stuff, or who is passe, or who is writing too much because he needs the money since he quite his day job.

Somewhere along the way, Niven stopped being able to write prose. It's astonishing. Not that he was ever Nabokov, but his early prose was engaging and very readable. But try something like Rainbow Mars. The sentences, the paragraphs, just don't make sense. I don't know what happened.

I think this is why the best of his later work is collaborations. (For me, most notably with Brenda Cooper, but, sure, Barnes too, and even Pournelle.)

--
Rich Horton
Rich Horton
51. ecbatan
And finally, a comment on Dramatic Presentation. I do enjoy GHOSTBUSTERS, but as Rob T. points out, two wonderful low-budget SF movies came out that year, and either would have been a good winner: REPO MAN and THE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET. (And, oddly, I saw both of them that year in the theaters!)

--
Rich Horton
James Davis Nicoll
52. Gardner Dozois
I'd forgotten about Knight's THE MAN IN THE TREE. I thought that the first half of the novel was brilliant and stunning--but then the tone changes dramatically, and the second half of the novel falls to pieces.

Check out Bradley Denton's novella coming up in my anthology DOWN THESE STRANGE STREETS. It's very, very good.
Andrew Barton
53. MadLogician
Not too long after 1985 I was visiting Xerox PARC and one of their visionaries was explaining his idea for a 3D visual representation of databases which you could navigate through using the screen controls. It wasn't too different from some of the stuff in Neuromancer.
James Davis Nicoll
54. Doug M.
Repo Man is something of a period piece now. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

I like the characterization of Ghostbusters as "silly, but not stupid".

Niven, Niven... yeah, the collapse of his ability to actually, you know, /write/ is striking. I've said this before, but: "Neutron Star" is a near-perfect little gem of a short story. Yes, there are at least three major logical flaws, plus he got the math wrong. But you never notice that, because the story is perfect /as a story/. Everything fits, everything works, there's not a word out of place. The quality of the prose is more than adequate -- "curdled stars, muddled stars, stars that had been stirred with a spoon" is just fine.

Collaborations... what was the last Niven book that wasn't a collaboration? _Destiny's Road_? I have the feeling there's been one in the last decade, but I can't think of it. Ah ha, the last Ringworld book. 2004.

Anyway, the sad fact is that most of his collaborations have been nearly as wretched; over the last 20 years, they've ranged from mediocre through bad to to truly dire. See, e.g., _The Gripping Hand_, _The Burning City_, _A Darker Geometry_, _Beowulf's Children_, and of course _Fallen Angels_.

Sigh. -- Anyway, back to this year's Hugo winner: Gibson's not terribly prolific -- 10 novels and a couple of short story collections over 25+ years -- but he's continued to chug along. SF readers and critics seem to have ignored the Bigend Trilogy. Which is odd, since it's pretty clearly SF, but OTOH I suspect Gibson was quite deliberately writing near-future novels that would not read or "feel" like SF.


Doug M.
Brian R
55. Mayhem
Ahh, the mid eighties, when SF stalwarts Brin and Bear tried their hands at fantasy, and came up with really good takes.

The Practice Effect from Brin is definitely lightweight, but a great fun read in the vein of L Sprague de Camp, about magic that gets better the more it gets used.

And The Infinity Concerto/The Serpent Mage duology from Greg Bear were a wonderful take on the whole faerie mythology, combining music, magic, and properly dark elves a good decade before everyone else moved away from Tolkein's nice and wise elders.

Agree with Niven, I own almost everything he wrote early on, but very little from the late 80s onwards as standards plummetted. Changing titles for different markets didn't help either - was quite excited when I first saw Beowulf's Children before I realised it was just a rebadged Dragons of Heorot from a few years prior.
James Davis Nicoll
56. CarlosSkullsplitter
I used to room above a bunch of Rice University expats in NYC -- some are blogging for the Chronicle now, go figure -- and while they weren't SF readers at all, they had passed around Denton's Lunatics, a Texas post-college slacker sexy romcom fantasy.
James Davis Nicoll
57. CarlosSkullsplitter
50: it wouldn't surprise me if Niven had suffered a neurological deficit of some sort, maybe akin to Heinlein's microstroke. He would have been very young for such a thing to occur, of course.
James Davis Nicoll
58. CarlosSkullsplitter
You know, this would be an excellent place to put some Shepard love. Just offhand (and without checking):

-- the twisted voudoun/high fantasy/revenant/biotech cosmology in Green Eyes;
-- among other things, he Sammy fights, the revelation about who was behind the Cold War, and the ghost of Eligio in the firebase in Life During Wartime;
-- "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule", period -- inspired by the Ballard story about the drowned giant, perhaps?
-- the roses fertilized with Hitler's blood in "A Spanish Lesson";
-- the phrase "hooker eyes and Vassar bones" in "The End of the World as We Know It". Context: a man used it to compliment his girlfriend on the first page of the story, and it tells so much. I didn't even know what Vassar was, and it stuck with me for these many years, which probably says something about *my* character too.

That was a white-hot period for Shepard, though I agree, his influence was more in horror than in SF.
Jo Walton
59. bluejo
What I hate about Neuromancer is the combination of horrible characters I don't care about in an unpleasant setting with hacking as magic. But what I really hate about it -- and I said this was unfair -- is the way cyberpunk became the dominant thing for a decade and made SF in general less interesting for me.
James Davis Nicoll
60. James Davis Nicoll
54: Anyway, the sad fact is that most of his collaborations have been nearly as wretched; over the last 20 years, they've ranged from mediocre through bad to to truly dire. See, e.g., _The Gripping Hand_, _The Burning City_, _A Darker Geometry_, _Beowulf's Children_, and of course _Fallen Angels_.

I am inclined to forgive Niven for the weaknesses of A Darker Geometery on the grounds that A Darker Geometery was written by Mark o. Martin and Gregory Benford, not Niven. Martin and Benford do use the Known Space setting, sort of, although as I recall the book they didn't seem to have read any of Niven's books in that setting immediately before writing their book , which may be why A Darker Geometery is considered definitely non-canonical by Niven.

1: Shades of the Benford "sequel" to Clarke's The City and the Stars. To give an idea of how closely Benford followed the original, in Clarke's story the Moon is gone. In Benford's, it's right where it has always been.
James Davis Nicoll
61. Matt McIrvin
The Last Starfighter wasn't a good movie by any means, but two things distinguished it: a charming late performance by Robert Preston (basically doing Prof. Harold Hill as an alien), and groundbreaking early use of computer graphics for space effects (much more actual CGI than Tron). The graphics look laughably crude by modern standards, but they excited me enough to make me go see the movie.
Rich Horton
62. ecbatan
Carlos -- love for early Shepard is fine -- he really did do a LOT of striking work in a very short time. "A Spanish Lesson" is magnificent, and the best two Griaule stories ("The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" and "The Scalehunter's Beautiful Daughter") are also outstanding.

But after a while it became clear that he was repeating himself a lot, and that when in doubt he'd just throw in a faux-transcendent ending that didn't make any damn sense, and that his prose was rambling and imprecise -- for every neat image there'd be a collection of interesting words that don't quite mean much special -- and that the sexual relationships were largely repetitive and not terribly inspiring, often rather creepy, and that most of the stories were just plain too long.

He still throws up a pretty intriguing story from time to time (though even those could generally be about 20% shorter), but he's another example of a writer who came into the field with a flash and never quite developed into as good a writer as his early work seemed to portend.

I suppose it would be fair to say that even at that he's had a career a lot of writers ought to envy -- that I'm grading him pretty tough on a curve he set himself early -- but so be it.

--
Rich Horton
James Davis Nicoll
63. CarlosSkullsplitter
59: Jo, I've seen very little evidence that science fiction readers really want realistic depictions of computer technology. If that were the case, The Adolescence of P-1 would have been the game-changer Neuromancer was, and Vinge would be in the occult section of the bookstore.

I don't know why that is. But -- pace Russ Allbery -- it really seems to be a culture clash between a group of people who prefer one stylized magical description of computers versus a group of people who prefer a different stylized magical description of computers. Trust me, very few people are going to read File System Forensic Analysis in Space. I would love to be proven wrong, but I am pretty confident about this.

In terms of social extrapolation, I think "hacker as street criminal in the future" is a thing Gibson got exactly right. I wonder how many marginal but technically useful Russians and Pakistanis are living Case-like lives of drugs and desperation right now? At least a few thousand, I suspect.

About "horrible characters": the Vlad Taltos books are a favorite of yours. Vlad's narrative voice sparkles, but he's a horrible human being. He's not even magnificently horrible, like some larger than life character actor, despite his cosmological role. He's a sleazy embittered bigot who has enjoyed the cruelty of his chosen life far too much. If he experiences true love and redemption before his necessary death I will view it as a copout on Brust's part.

On the other hand, Case has simple needs, and within those needs, is mostly decent. It's the Southerner in Gibson, I would guess. Case a hundred years before Neuromancer would always know when to take off his hat, even when shooting up.

62: sure, I would agree. Even his good stories at the end of the early period show the decline. (Though Shepard talks in one of those stories about his tendency to ramble and look for a metaphysical ending where there might not be one, and I give him props for being self-aware.) I don't think I've read anything of his written in the last fifteen years.

(This was why I was so surprised by Doug's DRUGS VIETNAM JUNGLE ANDRE NORTON critique. I'm not going to blame a guy who lived in Central America for writing stories about Central America, and there's no law that says a story must have unity of action. I rather like it when they don't, frankly. But Shepard has a very few patterns of bad or creepy relationships that he repeats, and Doug's usually sensitive to that.)
Jo Walton
64. bluejo
Carlos: But I care about Vlad. I might not invite Vlad into my house, but I want to listen to what he's telling me. Whereas Gibson's characters have no affect. I don't give a damn about them. It's not that they're awful people, they're just flat. And if I don't care about the characters then why am I reading this again? It's supposed to be fun, and -- no. There's nothing for me there.
James Davis Nicoll
65. Matt McIrvin
I remember Shepard's "A Spanish Lesson" giving me a sleepless night or two; it was that affecting and disturbing. But I wonder how much of that was the way it combined its strange alt-universe Nazi horror imagery with forceful moral lecturing at the end. I was a real sucker for forceful moral lecturing in those days.
James Davis Nicoll
66. etranger
@54 In a way, I agree with you that it's odd that the SF community has mostly ignored the Bigend trilogy considering Gibson is such a major figure, and they paid plenty of attention to Cryptonomicon, which seems similar in many ways. But I have to disagree that the Bigend books are SF. In my opinion, they do feel like SF: they have an SF sensibility. But Gibson quite deliberately set them in the present. There are a lot of signs of this-- the mention of 9/11 in Pattern Recognition, the reference to Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner in Spook Country, etc. Gibson was writing in the present, but part of his point was that the present seems very science fictional. I am a big Gibson fan, but Neuromancer was never one of my favorites. It seemed a bit too immature and the prose wasn't quite up to the standards of his brilliant short stories. I thought it was a good book, but not nearly as good as Count Zero or Spook Country.
James Davis Nicoll
67. CarlosSkullsplitter
64: Hm. I think we're probably edging near the Nabokov/Lolita late night college discussion attractor. Some people read and love Lolita because they find the narrator engaging. Some people read and love Lolita because they find Nabokov's writing engaging. (And some people read and don't love Lolita at all, of course.) But Nabokov thought his narrator was "a vain and cruel wretch".

I have no idea what Brust thinks of Vlad. I read Brust because I find Brust's writing engaging. But I don't particularly care what happens to Vlad, other than I hope Brust doesn't pull a redemption arc, because that would be corny for Brust.

(I often find Vlad's smartass voice tedious. It's in character, but it's a character I've heard before -- not only from Brust -- and sometimes I wish he would skip to part 6 of 17 of the Jenoine engine repair manual or however he's structured the book already. I suspect there is an uncomplimentary in-universe term for people who get charmed by Vlad's patter.)

Usually -- but To Reign in Hell? The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars? the later Paarfi books? that epistolary novel? the vampire novel? I like that Brust tries to expand his range, but he has had a lot of clunkers. The Vlad series itself nearly jumped the shark because of the Marxists, and I was rather hoping they would win: it would be something new in a fantasy novel. Instead I had to wait for China Mieville, and I guess I am still waiting.

Stay strong!
Charlie Stross
68. cstross
Carlos @57: your speculation about a neurological issue puts me in mind of John Brunner's writing, which also dropped off considerably in quality after "The Shockwave Rider": in his case, I believe this was due to side-effects of antihypertensive medication, and that voluntary withdrawl from medication (in order to be able to finish a book) was a contributory factor in his untimely death in 1995. I would also like to note that in the early 1980s Larry Niven was in his mid-forties ... exactly the right age for a hypertension diagnosis, right before his writing fell off a cliff.

Speaking from first-hand experience, some antihypertensives fog the mind most peculiarly. It can be very hard to write while under the influence. I'm probably atypical in that I know enough about how to spot medication side-effects to steer my own treatment, but even so I think medication side-effects halved my productive writing speed after 2006.

I suspect a literary researcher with access to the medical records of male authors entering middle age since 1970 would be able to clearly detect the cognitive side-effects of treatment for hypertension (which affects roughly 10% of the population over age 45 -- predominantly males, so up to 20% of that sample).
Douglas Merrill
69. merrilld
The 20th century in three novels: a WWI novel (Remarque?), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Neuromancer.

Done.
Jo Walton
70. bluejo
Charlie: What John Brunner told me in the late eighties was that after The Shockwave Rider, or after those four books anyway, he felt as if he had said what he had to say, and his intention thereafter was to write good light science fiction. His diagnosis and or medication may have contributed to his feeling that he had said what he had to say, but that's a different thing.

Also, if you look at Brunner's work from the last two decades of his life there definitely isn't a deterioration of the prose style. And if John's mind was *less* sharp and insightful when I knew him between 1988-95, I hesitate to think how intimidatingly brilliant he must have been earlier, because he was one of the sharpest and most insightful people I've ever known.
Charlie Stross
71. cstross
bluejo, I will second your comment about John's acuity; nevertheless, I don't think he ever quite regained the peak he hit with that tetralogy. (I will confess to not having read the steamboat book, though.)
Walter Underwood
72. wunder
@Russ: the weaknesses you describe are mostly inherited from True Names (Vernor Vinge).

@bluejo: What I like about Neuromancer is that it brought computers to the forefront and renewed SF for me.

The Last Starfighter may have been nominated because it pushed the limit for CGI at the time. When they showed The Frontier, my friends and I immedately thought of a Cray FORTRAN loop with "CALL DRAWFRONTEIRTHING()". It was a good moment. I also liked the full spectrum splash, just to show off that they were not using a blue screen. Dog whistles to programmers, maybe, but a nice moment.

Three Californias (The Wild Shore) is deceptively well-written. I was half-way through the third one when I realized that the light was different in each volume.
James Davis Nicoll
73. Alan Heuer
Here is how I voted in 1985:

Best Novel
1. Emergence David R. Palmer
2. The Integral Trees Larry Niven
3. Neuromancer William Gibson
4. The Peace War Vernor Vinge
5. Job: A Comedy of Justice Robert A. Heinlein

Best Novella
1. "Press Enter" John Varley
2. "Elemental" Geoffrey A. Landis
3. "Summer Solstice" Charles L. Harness
4. "Cyclops" David Brin
5. "Valentina" Joseph H. Delaney & Marc Stiegler

Best Novelette
1. "The Lucky Strike" Kim Stanley Robinson
2. "Bloodchild" Octavia E. Butler
3. "The Weigher" Eric Vinicoff & Marcia Martin
4. "Silicon Muse" Hilbert Schenck
5. "Return to the Fold" Timothy Zahn
6. "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" Lucius Shepard
7. "Blued Moon" Connie Willis

Best Short Story
1. "Salvador" Lucius Shepard
2. "Ridge Running" Kim Stanley Robinson
3. "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" George Alec Effinger
4. "The Crystal Spheres" David Brin
5. "Symphony for a Lost Traveler" Lee Killough
6. "Rory" Steven Gould

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