Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1986

The 1986 Hugo Awards were presented at ConFederation in Atlanta Georgia, and the best novel award was given to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a book about which I am deeply conflicted. I read it in 1985 when it was new and absolutely loved it. I’d already been a fan of Card’s for some time, and this is the pure essence of Card—a conflicted genius child forced into the act of atrocity. It has wonderful characters and a wonderful story and alien dreams… and a very troubling set of axioms that it took me a long time to recognise. Every novel has the author palming cards in the worldbuilding to get things to come out the way they want—so that looks like cold equations but it’s actually a cold deck. Sometimes when you stop and think it’s worrying that that is what they wanted. I loved Ender’s Game in 1985, I read it straight through twice. I know the names of all the characters and can quote large chunks of the text. And yet I can’t help seeing that there’s this pure tormented innocent forced, forced, into killing the all the aliens while having perfect compassion for them, and it makes me feel slightly ill.

It’s a great book and a worthy Hugo winner. I’d have absolutely voted for it in 1986. It’s in print, and in the Grande Bibliotheque (hereafter “the library”) in English and French. It’s still being talked about and stirring up controversy. But I find its view of necessity disturbing, and I doubt I will read it again.

There are four other nominees and I’ve read all of them.

Greg Bear’s Blood Music is a short fascinating novel of genetic engineering, nanotech, and artificial intelligence. This is probably Bear’s best work. It’s in print and in the library in French and English. The novelette form won the Hugo and the Nebula, and this may have made people reluctant to vote for it, feeling it had already won.

C.J. Cherryh’s Cuckoo’s Egg (post) is a space opera about aliens, communication, and responsibility. It’s infuriating that it didn’t get a British edition until years later. It’s in print in an omnibus, but it’s not in the library. My entirely unscientific perception is that this is not one of Cherryh’s better known books and it hasn’t lasted well.

Footfall, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle is a big blockbuster about a near-future alien imvasion. I liked the aliens, but this is a style of book I tend to read fast and forget—multiple POVs, not much depth, fun, but only fun. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that really belongs on the Hugo ballot. It’s in print, and in the library in English only.

David Brin’s The Postman is an intelligent tightly-focused near future disaster novel that asks interesting questions about the nature of civilization. I think the original novella-length version was the best. It didn’t lose by being expanded but it didn’t gain much either. I believe it was later made into a movie. It’s good, but it isn’t as original or innovative as Brin’s Uplift books. It’s in print, and it’s in the library in English and French.

So, four men and one woman, four previous winners. Interestingly, we have three novels expanded from previously nominated short work—the Card, the Bear, and the Brin. All these books are science fiction, but they are very different. We have two disaster novels (one with aliens), two space operas (with aliens), and one pretty much pure science near future, also with aliens arising. So 1986 was a year where everyone wanted aliens. Lovely.

What else might the voters have chosen?

Ender’s Game also won SFWA’s Nebula Award. Other non-overlapping nominees were Tim Powers’s Dinner at the Deviant’s Palace, Brian W. Aldiss’s Helliconia Winter, Barry N. Maltzberg’s The Re-Making of Sigmund Freud, and Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix. I don’t like Schismatrix, but I recognise it as an excellent example of emergent cyberpunk and would have prefered to see it on the Hugo ballot than Footfall.

The World Fantasy Award was won by Song of Kali by Dan Simmons, which is too much horror for it to be seriously considered for the Hugo. Other nominees were The Damnation Game, Clive Barker, The Dream Years, Lisa Goldstein (post), Illywhacker, Peter Carey, The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice and, Winterking, Paul Hazel.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award was won by The Postman, with Vonnegut’s Galapagos in second place, Blood Music and Keith Roberts’s Kiteworld in third.

The Philip K. Dick Award for paperback originals was won by Dinner at the Deviant’s Palace, with a special citation of Richard Grant’s Saraband of Lost Time. Other finalists not already mentioned were Emprise, Michael P. Kube-McDowell, Knight Moves, Walter Jon Williams (post), Terrarium, Scott Russell Sanders, and The Timeservers, Russell Griffin.

The Postman won the Locus SF Award. Other nominees not mentioned so far: Robots and Empire, Isaac Asimov, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Robert A. Heinlein,  Brightness Falls from the Air, James Tiptree, Jr., Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin, Eon, Greg Bear, The Proteus Operation, James P. Hogan, The Kif Strike Back, C. J. Cherryh (post), Contact, Carl Sagan, Artifact, Gregory Benford, The Memory of Whiteness, Kim Stanley Robinson, Between the Strokes of Night, Charles Sheffield, Chapterhouse: Dune, Frank Herbert, Ancient of Days, Michael Bishop, Dayworld, Philip José Farmer, Child of Fortune, Norman Spinrad, Tom O’Bedlam, Robert Silverberg, Starquake, Robert L. Forward, Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Melissa Scott, The Darkling Wind, Somtow Sucharitkul.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the Heinlein, the Asimov and the Herbert down here instead of up among the Hugo nominees. Of the rest, the Tiptree and the Le Guin are great but flawed, they’d have been good nominees but not outstanding ones. The Cherryh is wonderful but doesn’t stand alone any more than one organ ripped out of a body would.

The Locus Fantasy Award went to Roger Zelazny’s The Trumps of Doom, an Amber book. Other nominees not previously mentioned: The Book of Kells, R. A. MacAvoy (post), Dragonsbane, Barbara Hambly, Lyonesse II: The Green Pearl, Jack Vance, The King’s Justice, Katherine Kurtz, The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay, With a Tangled Skein, Piers Anthony, Dark of the Moon, P. C. Hodgell, Silverthorn, Raymond E. Feist, Mulengro, Charles de Lint, Lovecraft’s Book, Richard A. Lupoff, Brokedown Palace, Steven Brust (post), The Damnation Game, Clive Barker, The Wishsong of Shannara, Terry Brooks, Wizard of the Pigeons, Megan Lindholm (post), In Yana, the Touch of Undying, Michael Shea, The Last Rainbow, Parke Godwin, Things Invisible to See, Nancy Willard, The Song of Mavin Manyshaped, Sheri S. Tepper, Wings of Flame, Nancy Springer, The Bronze King, Suzy McKee Charnas, Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore, Sheri S. Tepper.

The Mythopoeic Award was won by Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, which wasn’t Hugo eligible as it was published in 1984. Other nominees not already mentioned: Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock, and Manuel Mujica Lainez’s The Wandering Unicorn.

The Prometheus Award (Libertarian) was won by Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai. Other nominees were: Elegy for a Soprano, Kay Nolte Smith, The Gallatin Divergence, L. Neil Smith, A Matter of Time, Glen Cook, and Radio Free Albemuth, Philip K. Dick.

Looking for things they all missed, I see Pamela Dean’s The Secret Country (post), Geoff Ryman’s The Warrior Who Carried Life, Michael Swanwick’s In the Drift, and John Kessell and James Patrick Kelley’s Freedom Beach.

So… on the whole, this was a pretty good year where the Hugo nominations were doing what they’re supposed to. There are a number of things I’d rather have seen on the list than Footfall, but nothing that it seems really unjust to leave out. And there were three weak “old master” books that the 1986 nominators decided not to nominate, and good for them. So well done, voters of 1986.

Other Categories.


  • “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai,” Roger Zelazny (Asimov’s Jul 1985)
  • “Green Mars,” Kim Stanley Robinson (Asimov’s Sep 1985)
  • “The Only Neat Thing to Do,” James Tiptree, Jr. (F&SF Oct 1985)
  • “Sailing to Byzantium,” Robert Silverberg (Asimov’s Feb 1985)
  • “The Scapegoat,” C. J. Cherryh (Alien Stars)

Okay, that’s another great set of novellas and I’d have had a hard time voting. I think I’d have put the Silverberg first… no, the Tiptree, no… I don’t know. The Cherryh is good, and all the others are outstanding. This is the kind of nomination list that makes me happy.


  • “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” Harlan Ellison (Universe 15; Twilight Zone Dec 1985)
  • “Dogfight,” Michael Swanwick & William Gibson (Omni Jul 1985)
  • “The Fringe,” Orson Scott Card (F&SF Oct 1985)
  • “A Gift from the GrayLanders,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s Sep 1985)
  • “Portraits of His Children,” George R. R. Martin (Asimov’s Nov 1985)

I’d have voted for the Martin, but I can’t argue too much here.


  • “Fermi and Frost,” Frederik Pohl (Asimov’s Jan 1985)
  • “Dinner in Audoghast,” Bruce Sterling (Asimov’s May 1985)
  • “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll,” Howard Waldrop (Omni Jan 1985)
  • “Hong’s Bluff,” William F. Wu (Omni Mar 1985)
  • “Snow,” John Crowley (Omni Nov 1985)

Oooh, Fermi and Frost! You know what would be interesting? Reading all these short works now and looking at them in detail. Somebody should do that.


  • Science Made Stupid, Tom Weller (Houghton Mifflin)
  • Benchmarks: Galaxy Bookshelf, Algis Budrys (Southern Illinois University Press)
  • An Edge in My Voice, Harlan Ellison (Donning)
  • Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror, Douglas E. Winter (Berkley)
  • The John W. Campbell Letters, Vol. 1, Perry A. Chapdelaine, Sr., Tony Chapdelaine & George Hay, eds. (AC Projects 1986)
  • The Pale Shadow of Science, Brian W. Aldiss (Serconia Press)


  • Back to the Future
  • Brazil
  • Cocoon
  • Enemy Mine
  • Ladyhawke

Gosh, Brazil, one of the half dozen genuinely SF movies ever made, and it didn’t win? And that piece of total tripe Cocoon was nominated? And people seriously think this is a category worth keeping?


  • Judy-Lynn del Rey (refused)
  • Terry Carr
  • Edward L. Ferman
  • Shawna McCarthy
  • Stanley Schmidt

The note at Locus says that Lester del Rey refused the Hugo because of Judy-Lynn’s opposition to posthumous awards. This led to the present system where you have to accept or decline nominations.


  • Michael Whelan
  • Frank Kelly Freas
  • Don Maitz
  • Rowena Morrill
  • Barclay Shaw

Whelan deserved it just for the Cuckoo’s Egg cover.


  • Locus, Charles N. Brown
  • Fantasy Review, Robert A. Collins
  • Interzone, Simon Ounsley & David Pringle
  • Science Fiction Chronicle, Andrew Porter
  • Science Fiction Review, Richard E. Geis


  • Lan’s Lantern, George “Lan” Laskowski
  • Anvil, Charlotte Proctor
  • Greater Columbia Fantasy Costumers Guild Newsletter, Bobby Gear
  • Holier Than Thou, Marty & Robbie Cantor
  • Universal Translator, Susan Bridges


  • Mike Glyer
  • Don D’Ammassa
  • Richard E. Geis
  • Arthur Hlavaty
  • David Langford
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden


  • Joan Hanke-Woods
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Steven Fox
  • William Rotsler
  • Stu Shiffman


  • Melissa Scott
  • Karen Joy Fowler
  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Carl Sagan
  • Tad Williams
  • David Zindell

Okay, a pretty good year. I’ve not only heard of all of them, I’ve read things by them.

Melissa Scott was nominated on the strength of two novels, The Game Beyond and Five Twelfths of Heaven which is the first of the only trilogy of alchemical polyamorous space opera I know of. Since then she has gone on to write lots of acclaimed SF including The Kindly Ones (post) and Point of Hopes (post). I really like her. I think she’s a great winner. She’s still writing.

Karen Joy Fowler won in 1987, so let’s leave her until next time.

In retrospect, Guy Gavriel Kay should perhaps have won—he’s one of the greatest living fantasy writers. He had only published The Summer Tree, which isn’t representative of what he would go on to achieve. But the people who nominated at voted for him at the very start of his career were getting it right.

Carl Sagan was really a science writer whose only SF novel was Contact. He died in 1996.

Tad Williams has gone on to be a major fantasy writer. He’s still writing.

David Zindell must have been nominated for his only publication, the novella Shanidar, which was the basis for his 1988 post-scientific wide-screen baroque space opera Neverness. He wrote four ambitious books in that universe, and has since been publishing his Ea cycle.

All good Campbell nominees, winding up a pretty good slate altogether.

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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