Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1991

The 1991 Hugo Awards were presented at Chicon V in Chicago. The best novel winner was Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Vor Game (post), a book that’s probably best described as military science fiction with depth and consequences. It’s the sixth volume in Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, but a great place to start the series, which I think a lot of people may have done with this Hugo nomination. It’s a really good book in a solidly realised universe. It’s about identity and duty and the way history informs present decisions. It’s a very good book, and the first of Bujold’s Hugo nominations for this series. It’s in print in several editions—NESFA brought out a hardcover edition last year with my post (linked above) as an introduction, and in the Grande Bibliotheque of Montreal (hereafter “the library”) in English only. An excellent Hugo winner.

There are four other nominees, of which I have read three.

David Brin’s Earth is an ambitious failure. It’s that hardest of all forms, the fifty years ahead novel. The near future can be assumed to be not all that different from the present, the far future can be whatever you like, but that fifty year distance is tricky. John Brunner did it with Stand on Zanzibar, and Stand on Zanzibar is clearly what Earth is trying to do. It’s a big multiple viewpoint predictive novel that was overtaken by events and technology almost the moment it hit the shelves. It’s in print and in the library in English.

Dan Simmons The Fall of Hyperion is a book that didn’t disappoint me at the time, but which didn’t stand up to re-reading. The universe is still marvellous, but the answers are not as satisfying as the questions. I think I’d describe it as far-future meta-SF. It’s in print and it’s in the library in English and French. I don’t think it really belongs on this list, and I’m glad it didn’t win.

Greg Bear’s Queen of Angels is a murder mystery in a fast moving near future world where the question isn’t who did it but why they did it, with forensic psychology and an emergent AI. This is the kind of book I’m delighted to see on the list—not entirely successful, but pushing the boundaries of genre. It’s in print and it’s in the library in French.

And I haven’t read Michael P. Kube-McDowell’s The Quiet Pools—no excuse, I’ve just never picked it up or really looked at it. Did it have a UK edition? It seems to be about people sending out generation starships and other people trying to stop them, which sounds like something I might like. It’s not in print and it’s not in the library, which reduces my chances of reading it any time soon. Nor has anyone urged me to read it.

So, four men and one woman, all American. All solidly science fiction, no fantasy at all. Two star-spanning adventures, very different from each other, two near futures with computers but neither of them really cyberpunk, and one generation starship. I think the best book won, but I wouldn’t have been sorry if any of them had won except for Fall of Hyperion.

What else might they have chosen?

SFWA’s Nebula Award was won by Ursula Le Guin’s Tehanu, (post) a book about which I am deeply conflicted. Other non-overlapping eligible nominees are James Morrow’s brilliant Only Begotten Daughter, which was well worthy of Hugo nomination, Jane Yolen’s White Jenna, and two books I’ve never heard of: Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly and John E. Stith’s Redshift Rendezvous. It’s not all that unusual for me not to have read something, but I’m surprised to see two books on the Nebula ballot that I haven’t even heard of. Oh well.

The World Fantasy Award was shared between James Morrow’s Only Begotten Daughter and Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer (post). Other nominees not previously mentioned: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (post) and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award went to Pacific Edge, (post) which would have been a great Hugo nominee.

The Philip K. Dick Award, for paperback original science fiction, went to Pat Murphy’s Points of Departure, with a special citation for Raymond Harris’s The Schizogenic Man. Other nominees were Allen Steele’s Clarke County, Space, Gregory Feeley’s The Oxygen Barons, and Elizabeth Hand’s Winterlong.

The Locus Award went to The Fall of Hyperion. Nominees not previously mentioned were: Voyage to the Red Planet (post) Terry Bisson, The Difference Engine, William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, The Ring of Charon, Roger MacBride Allen, Pegasus in Flight, Anne McCaffrey, Raising the Stones, Sheri S. Tepper, The Hemingway Hoax, Joe Haldeman, Summertide, Charles Sheffield, Polar City Blues, Katharine Kerr, The World at the End of Time, Frederik Pohl, The Hollow Earth, Rudy Rucker, The Rowan, Anne McCaffrey, In the Country of the Blind, Michael F. Flynn (which won the Prometheus Award), The Ghost from the Grand Banks, Arthur C. Clarke, The Divide, Robert Charles Wilson, Agviq, Michael Armstrong, Heathern, Jack Womack.

The Locus Fantasy Award went to Tehanu. Nominees not yet mentioned were: The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan, The Blood of Roses, Tanith Lee, Servant of the Empire, Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts, Drink Down the Moon, Charles de Lint, Rats and Gargoyles, Mary Gentle, Ghostwood, Charles de Lint, Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett, Dealing with Dragons, Patricia C. Wrede, Time and Chance, Alan Brennert, In Between Dragons, Michael Kandel, Gossamer Axe, Gaèl Baudino, Chase the Morning, Michael Scott Rohan, Castleview, Gene Wolfe.

Some good stuff, but nothing that strikes me as notably better than the Hugo list we have.

Thomas the Rhymer won the Mythopoeic Award.

And was there anything all these missed?

Nancy Kress’s Brainrose, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Diane Duane’s High Wizardry, Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty, Dorothy Heydt (“Katherine Blake”)’s The Interior Life (post). I don’t think any of those are likely Hugo nominees really, but they’re all good books.

I think the Hugos really did miss out Pacific Edge and Only Begotten Daughter, but not much else, and four out of the five books we have on the list of nominees are just the kind of book I think we should be nominating. So on the whole a pretty good year.

Other Categories


  • “The Hemingway Hoax”, Joe Haldeman (Asimov’s Apr 1990)
  • “Bones”, Pat Murphy (Asimov’s May 1990)
  • Bully!, Mike Resnick (Axolotl)
  • “Fool to Believe”, Pat Cadigan (Asimov’s Feb 1990)
  • A Short, Sharp Shock, Kim Stanley Robinson (Mark V. Ziesing; Asimov’s Nov 1990)

The novella version of The Hemingway Hoax is brilliant, and I’d have voted for it by a hair from the Robinson and the Cadigan. An other great novella year.


  • “The Manamouki”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jul 1990)
  • “A Braver Thing”, Charles Sheffield (Asimov’s Feb 1990)
  • “The Coon Rolled Down and Ruptured His Larinks, A Squeezed Novel by Mr. Skunk”, Dafydd ab Hugh (Asimov’s Aug 1990)
  • “Over the Long Haul”, Martha Soukup (Amazing Stories Mar 1990)
  • “Tower of Babylon”, Ted Chiang (Omni Nov 1990)

The only one of these I remember is the Chiang.


  • “Bears Discover Fire”, Terry Bisson (Asimov’s Aug 1990)
  • “Cibola”, Connie Willis (Asimov’s Dec 1990)
  • “Godspeed”, Charles Sheffield (Analog Jul 1990)
  • “The Utility Man”, Robert Reed (Asimov’s Nov 1990)
  • “VRM-547”, W. R. Thompson (Analog Feb 1990)

Robert Reed’s first Hugo nomination, with an excellent story. The Willis and the Bisson are memorable too.


  • How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card (Writer’s Digest Books)
  • Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith’s, Brian W. Aldiss (Avernus; Hodder & Stoughton) Hollywood Gothic, David J. Skal (Norton)
  • Science Fiction in the Real World, Norman Spinrad (Southern Illinois University Press)
  • Science Fiction Writers of America Handbook, Kristine Kathryn Rusch & Dean Wesley Smith, eds. (Writer’s Notebook Press)

Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith’s is my favourite book by Aldiss, a really funny touching memoir.


  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Back to the Future III
  • Ghost
  • Total Recall
  • The Witches


  • Gardner Dozois
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Edward L. Ferman
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Stanley Schmidt


  • Michael Whelan
  • Thomas Canty
  • David A. Cherry
  • Bob Eggleton
  • Don Maitz


  • Locus, Charles N. Brown
  • Interzone, David Pringle
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer & Gordon Van Gelder
  • Quantum (formerly Thrust), D. Douglas Fratz
  • Science Fiction Chronicle, Andrew Porter


  • Lan’s Lantern, George “Lan” Laskowski
  • File 770, Mike Glyer
  • FOSFAX, Janice Moore & Timothy Lane
  • Mainstream, Jerry Kaufman & Suzanne Tompkins
  • Mimosa, Dick & Nicki Lynch


  • Dave Langford
  • Avedon Carol
  • Mike Glyer
  • Arthur Hlavaty
  • Evelyn C. Leeper
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden


  • Teddy Harvia
  • Merle Insinga
  • Peggy Ranson
  • Stu Shiffman
  • Diana Stein


  • Julia Ecklar
  • Nancy A. Collins
  • John Cramer
  • Scott Cupp
  • Michael Kandel

I hadn’t heard of Julia Ecklar, but it seems she’s a filker and short story writer who wrote a Star Trek novel under her own name and also wrote in collaboration as L.A. Graf. It’s hard to feel she was the best choice for Campbell winner. But it wasn’t a strong field of nominees.

Nancy A. Collins is a very successful and well known horror writer who had a very successful first novel out that year, and with hindsight I think she’d have been the best winner.

Michael Kandel is best known as the translator of Lem, but he has also published original fiction. He’s not prolific, and although well thought of he is not well known.

I’m not familiar with John Cramer or Scott Cupp—anyone? Neither of them have had the kinds of careers that one might wish from Campbell nominees.

Nominators could also have considered Tom Holt and Michael F. Flynn, who both had notable first novels out in 1990, but I don’t know whether previous publications might have made them ineligible. The Campbell is a very odd award, and this wasn’t one of its more shining moments.

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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