Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1978

The 1978 Hugo Awards were held at the legendary Iguanacon II, in Phoenix Arizona. The best novel award was won by Frederik Pohl’s Gateway (post) which is a big dumb object story, a psychological mystery, and a really excellent story about people trying to get rich by getting into alien ships with uncontrollable navigation systems. It’s a terrific Hugo winner, a real classic. Everyone loved it; it won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Locus, and the Nebula as well as the Hugo. It’s in print, and it’s in the Grande Bibliotheque of Montreal (henceforth “the library”) in English only.

There are four other nominees, and I have read three of them—and I’ve written about two of them, making this the year with the most books I’ve written about so far.

Let’s start with the one I haven’t read, Gordon Dickson’s Time Storm. Fantastic Fiction says it’s about a man who sets off accompanied by a leopard and a nearly autistic woman to find his wife who was swept off by a time storm. If that was the blurb on the back of the book, then that explains why I haven’t read it. Can it really be as awful as it sounds? If I were a huge Dickson fan I’d have read it despite the unpromising description, but I only mildly like the books of his I have read. It’s in print from Baen, but it’s not in the library.

George R.R. Martin’s first novel Dying of the Light (post) is beautifully written romantic space opera with complex culture clashes on a wandering planet at the edge of the galaxy. I love it. I am nevertheless surprised it was nominated for the Hugo—it’s the kind of book I tend to see on the list of things nobody noticed and think “But I love that!” It is in print and in the library in French and English. (But to be fair I think that’s less because it’s an enduring classic than because Martin subsequently became a bestseller and brought his backlist back into print. This book was hard to find for a very long time.) I think it would have got my vote over Gateway in 1978 (I was thirteen) but I recognise Gateway as a more significant novel now.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Forbidden Tower (post) surprised me even more. It’s a book from the middle of the Darkover series, and it’s not actually a good book by objective standards. It’s about four telepaths, one from Earth and three from Darkover, settling into a polyamorous marriage and dealing with issues. I mean I certainly kind of like it, but it really doesn’t strike me Hugo worthy material. Maybe in 1978 it seemed better, more original? I didn’t read it until about ten years after. It’s in print from Daw, and it’s in the library in both languages.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer is a survivalist story about a large meteor hitting the Earth and people coping in the aftermath. I read it in 1978 or soon after, and I didn’t think much of it—I remember very simplistic characters and bestseller-style point-of-view switching, always a turn off for me. Amazon thinks it’s in print but Del Rey doesn’t, so I can’t tell. It’s in the library in English only, so I guess I could re-read it and see how well it has lasted.

So this is the weirdest nominee list for a long time. The winner is wonderful, but the rest of them are all surprising. And two of the ones I’ve read—Lucifer’s Hammer and The Forbidden Tower are comfortable books of a kind that don’t really belong on this list. What else might they have picked?

SFWA’s Nebula nominees don’t overlap at all, except for Gateway, which won. They have four other nominees and I haven’t read any of them. They are Terry Carr’s Cirque, Gregory Benford’s In the Ocean of Night, David Gerrold’s Moonstar Odyssey, and Richard A. Lupoff’s Sword of the Demon.

The World Fantasy Awards have no overlap. It was won by Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness, which I think should have been a Hugo nominee. Other nominees were Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and Charles L. Grant’s The Hour of the Oxrun Dead.

Gateway won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, second place was Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, and third was Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. Now as you know if you’ve been reading these posts I don’t like Dick at all, but I still think it’s ridiculous that this wasn’t on the Hugo ballot. This is a major book.

The Locus Awards separated out SF and Fantasy this year for the first time. Nominees for SF not previously mentioned were: John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (post) which certainly should have been a Hugo nominee, Michaelmas, Algis Budrys The Dosadi Experiment, Frank Herbert, Dragonsinger, Anne McCaffrey, Hunter of Worlds, C. J. Cherryh. Mirkheim, Poul Anderson, The Dark Design, Philip José Farmer, A Heritage of Stars, Clifford D. Simak, Midnight at the Well of Souls, Jack L. Chalker, Inherit the Stars, James P. Hogan, All My Sins Remembered, Joe Haldeman, The Martian Inca, Ian Watson, A Little Knowledge, Michael Bishop, If the Stars Are Gods, Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund.

Nominees for Fantasy not previously mentioned: The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien, first book I ever bought in hardcover, The Shining, Stephen King (Doubleday) The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks, Heir of Sea and Fire, Patricia A. McKillip, The Book of Merlyn, T. H. White, A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony, The Grey Mane of Morning, Joy Chant Cry Silver Bells, Thomas Burnett Swann, Trey of Swords, Andre Norton, Queens Walk in the Dusk, Thomas Burnett Swann, Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper.

The BSFA Award went to Ian Watson’s The Jonah Kit,

Any great books overlooked by all the awards? Using the ISFDB again, there’s Diana Wynne Jones’s Charmed Life, Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind (post), Edward Whittemore’s The Sinai Tapestry, M.A. Foster’s The Gameplayers of Zan (post) and Barrington Bayley’s The Great Wheel.

I think The Ophiuchi Hotline and A Scanner Darkly should definitely have been on the shortlist, and maybe Our Lady of Darkness and Mind of My Mind. The Ophiuchi Hotline and A Scanner Darkly are both important boundary defining science fiction books of the kind that the Hugo ought to be recognising, and usually does.


  • “Stardance,” Spider Robinson & Jeanne Robinson (Analog Mar 1977)
  • “Aztecs,” Vonda N. McIntyre (2076: The American Tricentennial)
  • “In the Hall of the Martian Kings,” John Varley (F&SF Feb 1977)
  • “A Snark in the Night,” Gregory Benford (F&SF Aug 1977)
  • “The Wonderful Secret,” Keith Laumer (Analog Sep,Oct 1977)

I’d have given it to the Varley. It seems they were a sentimental lot at Iguanacon II, and “Stardance” certainly has its charms.


  • “Eyes of Amber,” Joan D. Vinge (Analog Jun 1977)
  • “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card (Analog Aug 1977)
  • “The Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven and Other Lost Songs,” Carter Scholz (Universe 7)
  • “Prismatica,” Samuel R. Delany (F&SF Oct 1977)
  • “The Screwfly Solution,” Raccoona Sheldon (Analog Jun 1977)

I’d definitely have voted for Tiptree, whatever she wants to call herself.


  • “Jeffty Is Five,” Harlan Ellison (F&SF Jul 1977)
  • “Air Raid,” Herb Boehm (Asimov’s Spring 1977)
  • “Dog Day Evening,” Spider Robinson (Analog Oct 1977)
  • “Lauralyn,” Randall Garrett (Analog Apr 1977)
  • “Time-Sharing Angel,” James Tiptree, Jr. (F&SF Oct 1977)

This is the year of “John Varley was robbed.” Wow, “Air Raid,” one of the best and most memorable short stories of all time, and it didn’t win? Ellison was the GoH, so that might have had some influence? Or maybe nobody had started reading Asimov’s yet? But I remember getting hold of that issue and wondering who this Herb Boehm was and why I hadn’t seen anything of his before. (That would have been a year or so afterwards though. SF magazines were slow crossing the Atlantic in those days.)


  • Star Wars
  • “Blood! The Life and Times of Jack the Ripper” (recording)
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • The Hobbit
  • Wizards

I suppose I would have voted for Star Wars above no award. Just about.


  • George Scithers
  • Jim Baen
  • Ben Bova
  • Terry Carr
  • Edward L. Ferman

No, they had started reading Asimov’s. Inexplicable.


  • Rick Sternbach
  • Vincent Di Fate
  • Steve Fabian
  • Frank Kelly Freas
  • Michael Whelan


  • Locus, Charles Brown & Dena Brown
  • Don-O-Saur, Don C. Thompson
  • Janus, Janice Bogstad & Jeanne Gomoll
  • Maya, Rob Jackson
  • Science Fiction Review, Richard E. Geis


  • Richard E. Geis
  • Charles Brown
  • Don D’Ammassa
  • Don C. Thompson
  • Susan Wood


  • Phil Foglio
  • Grant Canfield
  • Alexis Gilliland
  • Jeanne Gomoll
  • Jim Shull


  • Orson Scott Card
  • Jack L. Chalker
  • Stephen R. Donaldson
  • Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • Bruce Sterling

Well, no losers there, a well selected list of early-career major writers. Card is an excellent winner, and I’d definitely have voted for him on the basis of work so far. All of the others have continued to write—with some gaps in Lynn’s case—and to produce talked-about books. Sterling is perhaps the standout, but it wasn’t until the eighties that he would begin to produce his really notable work. Donaldson won in 1979.

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.


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