Is the right book winning the Hugo?

I was just reading Evelyn Leeper’s ConFiction report. This is a little late of me, I admit, as ConFiction happened in 1990, and I couldn’t be there (though I had a supporting membership) because I was much too pregnant at the time, and I didn’t want Sasha to be born Dutch. Reading it, I noticed a report on a couple of panels, one on books that should have been nominated for the Hugo (in 1990) and one on books the panel felt would be remembered as classics from that time. The problem we usually have with arguing about what won awards is that we’re too close to them, or else too far away. 1990 is long enough ago that we should have some perspective, and with these lists, we also have the perspective of the people who were there. Looking at the lists, I thought it was interesting what I did remember. Also, I have a control. Sasha, who was born in October 1990, is now eighteen. He reads SF.

I’m just going to talk about novels here. The actual Hugo nominees for 1990 were (thanks to the wonderful Locus Awards database):

Dan Simmons, Hyperion

Poul Anderson, The Boat of a Million Years

George Alec Effinger, A Fire in the Sun

Sheri S. Tepper, Grass

Orson Scott Card, Prentice Alvin

All five of them are in print right now. I have read all of them, which isn’t even faintly surprising because I voted in the Hugos that year, but I’m pretty sure I’d have read all of them anyway. I haven’t reviewed any of them here, but three of them are on my “regular re-read” list which means they’ll likely get reviewed here eventually. Sasha hasn’t read any of them, but he has heard of Hyperion and read other work by Anderson and Card.

First, the books the panel thought would be classics. Not all of these were published in 1990.

Stephen Baxter, Raft
Greg Bear, Blood Music
Greg Bear, Queen of Angels
Terry Bisson, Voyage to the Red Planet
David Brin, Earth
Joe Haldeman, Buying Time
Dan Simmons, Hyperion
Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix
Sheri Tepper, Raising the Stones
Jack Womack, Terraplane

Of these, I’ve read all of them but Raft but reviewed none of them here, and except for Hyperion I’m not likely to. (I’d like to read Voyage to the Red Planet again but I read it from the library in the first place and I’ve never seen it since.)

Sasha has read none of them but Terraplane, which he feels should totally have won the Hugo. It may be some compensation that it’s still in print. He has heard of Earth, which is in print. Schismatrix is also in print. Blood Music is in print as an e-book None of the rest of this list are in print. Are they classics? Well, some of them are. I’d say that Schismatrix and Blood Music are part of the SF “canon.” Others are completely forgotten—Voyage to the Red Planet was a fun piece of fluff. I love Bisson, but classic? And I remember Buying Time, but what I remember is the nifty concept, not the characters or the story—I don’t think most people would list it with Haldeman’s best work.

This list is the things the panel thought should have been nominated for the Hugo:

Gregory Benford, Tides of Light
Ben Bova, Cyberbooks
Octavia Butler, Imago
Jacques Brussard, Les Eaux de Feu*
C.J, Cherryh, Rimrunners
Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee, Rama II
Lisa Goldstein, Tourists
Joe Haldeman, Buying Time
Michael Kandel, Strange Invasion
Pat Murphy, The City, Not Long After
Tim Powers, The Stress of Her Regard
Dan Simmons, Carrion Comfort
Dan Simmons, Phases of Gravity
Walter Jon Williams, Angel Station
Robert Charles Wilson, Gypsies

I can’t find a Jacques Brussard at all, and if it’s Jacques Brossard, the book’s called Les Oiseaux de Feu, but since this is done from notes taken at a panel, I think that’s a likely mistake. I also think it’s cool there was a book in French on the list at all, though at a con in the Netherlands it’s perhaps surprising that there’s only one non-English title mentioned.

This list has a lot more I haven’t read—the Benford and the Bova, though I have read other books by both of them. I haven’t read the Brossard, or Rama II, or Strange Invasion or Carrion Comfort. But in compensation (finally!) we get a couple I have already reviewed here, Tourists and Rimrunners. Of this list, Sasha has read only Rimrunners, but he’s read other books by Robert Charles Wilson (and comments “Was he already writing way back then?”) ,Walter Jon Williams, Tim Powers, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Imago is in print—it’s book three of Lilith’s Brood, which is definitely on my list of things to re-read before long. Rama II and The Stress of Her Regard are in print, The City Not Long After is available as an audiobook and Phases of Gravity, which is also on my imaginary list, is available as an e-book. The rest of these are out of print. Being in print isn’t necessarily a sign of quality, but remaining in print for twenty years, or being brought back into print is a sign of people continuing to want a book.

It’s hard when you look at the five nominees against these long lists. There are certainly arguments one could make—Tourists instead of Grass! Imago instead of Prentice Alvin! But while you can certainly play that kind of game, but there’s no denying that the five nominees are books that have stood the test of time, and a lot of the books on the long lists are not.

I looked at the Locus list of other awards for 1990.

Nebula: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s The Healer’s War. I haven’t read it, neither has Sasha. It isn’t in print. It was published in 1988 because of the Nebula weirdness, so that may explain why it isn’t on anyone’s list.

World Fantasy: Jack Vance’s Lyonesse: Madouc. Neither of us have read it, but that’s because I have a big gap around Vance. It’s in print as an e-book.

Stoker: Dan Simmons’s Carrion Comfort. Already mentioned.

Clarke and Campbell Memorial: Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden. I’ve read it, Sasha’s read it, it’s on my list, it’s not in print. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s the first thing I’ve thought really should have been inarguably on the Hugo ballot. How could the Hugo voters and the panelists have overlooked this?

Locus Awards: SF: Hyperion; Fantasy: Prentice Alvin; Horror: Carrion Comfort.

I voted for Hyperion, nineteen years ago. It blew me away. I definitely thought it was the best book of the year. And while there are a lot of other books on these lists that I like, and even some I consider classics, I still think it was the best book of the year. So, for 1990 I can cheerfully conclude that the right book won.

This year? Did you know you can get a free download of all the nominees if you’re a member of Anticipation, and a supporting membership only costs $55? A supporting membership is what I had for ConFiction. But I’ll be attending Anticipation. And so will Sasha, who says he’d have liked to have been Dutch.

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