Revisiting the Hugos

Hugo Nominees: 1996

The 1996 Hugo Awards were presented at LACon III in Anaheim California. The Best Novel Hugo was won by Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which has always struck me as two-thirds of a really brilliant book. It’s a scintillating nanotech future with huge social changes consequent to the changes in technology, and there’s a book and a girl shaped by the book, and an actress, and neo-Victorians, and everything is going along swimmingly… and then a miracle occurs and the end falls down in flinders. Nevertheless, even as a book where the end doesn’t work for me I think this is a good Hugo winner, because it’s relentlessly inventive and exciting and doing science fictional things that hadn’t been done before. It’s a groundbreaking book. It’s in print, and it’s in the library (the Grande Bibliotheque) in English and French.

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

Connie Willis’s Remake is a short novel about new technology and classic movies. It’s funny and clever and has some lovely images—who can forget the job of removing all the drink and cigarettes from Rick’s… cafe in Casablanca? Having said that, I found it rather thin compared to most of Willis’s work, even in her screwball comedy mode. It’s in print, and it’s in the library in French only.

Robert Sawyer’s The Terminal Experiment is a near-future thriller about scientific proof of the existence of souls. It’s classic SF in the tradition of Clarke and Benford. It won the Nebula, which is why I read it; I hadn’t heard of Sawyer before this. It’s in print and it’s in the library in French and English.

I haven’t read David Brin’s Brightness Reef. I was waiting for all three of the second Uplift series to be out and then I just never picked them up. It’s in print and it’s in the library in French and English.

I also haven’t read Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships. I haven’t read it because it’s a Wells sequel, and I’d been playing the Forgotten Futures RPG and a little bit of mock-Victorian SF goes a long way. It sounds really clever, but also an example of SF turning back in on itself rather than reaching out to new futures. It won the Campbell Memorial Award. It’s in print and in the library in French and English.

So, one woman and four men, one British, three American and one Canadian—that’s the widest spread of nationalities for a while. They’re all SF—one near future thriller, one near future screwball comedy, one medium future technodream, one time travel, one planetary SF. This year’s list doesn’t excite me, and it didn’t excite me in 1996. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but only Diamond Age has any lustre.

What else might they have chosen?

SFWA gave the Nebula to Sawyer. Other eligible non-overlapping nominees were Paul Park’s Celestis and Walter Jon Williams’s wonderful Metropolitan, which would have been an excellent Hugo nominee.

The World Fantasy Award was won by The Prestige, Christopher Priest. Other nominees were All the Bells on Earth, James P. Blaylock, Expiration Date, Tim Powers, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram Chandra, Requiem, Graham Joyce. The Silent Strength of Stones, Nina Kiriki Hoffmann (post).

The Campbell Memorial Award was given to Baxter, with Stephenson second and Ian McDonald’s Chaga third.

The Philip K. Dick Award was won by Bruce Bethke’s Headcrash, with a special citation to Carlucci’s Edge, Richard Paul Russo. Other finalists were The Color of Distance, Amy Thomson, Permutation City, Greg Egan (post), Reluctant Voyagers, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Virtual Death, Shale Aaron.

Permutation City wasn’t Hugo eligible because of prior UK publication (gnash). The Color of Distance and Reluctant Voyagers would both have made excellent Hugo nominees.

The Tiptree Award was a tie, shared between The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Theodore Roszak and Waking the Moon, Elizabeth Hand. Also on the short list: Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, Kit Reed and Melissa Scott’s Shadow Man.

The Locus SF Award was won by the Stephenson. Other nominees not previously mentioned were: Invader, C. J. Cherryh (post), Legacy, Greg Bear, Sailing Bright Eternity, Gregory Benford, Worldwar: Tilting the Balance, Harry Turtledove, Slow River, Nicola Griffith, Amnesia Moon, Jonathan Lethem, Kaleidoscope Century, John Barnes (post), Fairyland, Paul J. McAuley, The Ganymede Club, Charles Sheffield, The Killing Star, Charles Pellegrino & George Zebrowski, Gaia’s Toys, Rebecca Ore,  The Stone Garden, Mary Rosenblum, Testament, Valerie J. Freireich, The Golden Nineties, Lisa Mason, An Exaltation of Larks, Robert Reed (post).

I think Kaleidoscope Century absolutely was one of the most significant books of the year, if also one of the nastiest.

The Locus Fantasy Award went to Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Journeyman. Other nominees not previously mentioned: Fortress in the Eye of Time, C. J. Cherryh, The Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Resurrection Man, Sean Stewart, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia A. McKillip, Blood, Michael Moorcock, Storm Rising, Mercedes Lackey, City of Bones, Martha Wells, Crown of Shadows, C. S. Friedman, Maskerade, Terry Pratchett, Zod Wallop, William Browning Spence, Assassin’s Apprentice, Robin Hobb, Stone of Tears, Terry Goodkind, The Tower of Beowulf, Parke Godwin, A Sorcerer and a Gentleman, Elizabeth Willey, World Without End, Sean Russell, Harp of Winds, Maggie Furey.

Some really great stuff there.

The Mythopoeic Award was won by Waking the Moon. Only one nominee not previously mentioned: Kenneth Morris The Dragon Path.

The Prometheus Award (Libertarian) was won by Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction, a book which practically by itself justifies the existence of a separate UK publishing industry. It’s a book that makes me excited about what SF can do. And it didn’t get US publication for years, because it’s a book about the near future of Britain. This should have been on the Hugo ballot.

Was there anything all of these missed?

Greg Egan’s Distress, Alison Sinclair’s Legacies, C.J. Cherryh’s Rider at the Gate (post).

So I’d say 1996 is a year where the Hugo nominees didn’t do their job for me. Apart from the Stephenson they’re fairly unexciting books, while more exciting books didn’t make the ballot.

Other Categories


  • “The Death of Captain Future”, Allen Steele (Asimov’s Oct 1995)
  • “Bibi”, Mike Resnick & Susan Shwartz (Asimov’s mid-Dec 1995)
  • “Fault Lines”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Aug 1995)
  • “A Man of the People”, Ursula K. Le Guin (Asimov’s Apr 1995)
  • “A Woman’s Liberation”, Ursula K. Le Guin (Asimov’s Jul 1995)


  • “Think Like a Dinosaur”, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Jun 1995)
  • “The Good Rat”, Allen Steele (Analog mid-Dec 1995)
  • “Luminous”, Greg Egan (Asimov’s Sep 1995)
  • “Must and Shall”, Harry Turtledove (Asimov’s Nov 1995)
  • “TAP”, Greg Egan (Asimov’s Nov 1995)
  • “When the Old Gods Die”, Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Apr 1995)

I think I’d have voted for the Kelly above the Egan or the Turtledove, but it would have been a close thing. Terrific year for novelettes.


  • “The Lincoln Train”, Maureen F. McHugh (F&SF Apr 1995)
  • “A Birthday”, Esther M. Friesner (F&SF Aug 1995)
  • “Life on the Moon”, Tony Daniel (Asimov’s Apr 1995)
  • “TeleAbsence”, Michael A. Burstein (Analog Jul 1995) 
  • “Walking Out”, Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 1995)

The McHugh and the Freisner are both absolutely chilling.


  • Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, John Clute (Dorling Kindersley)
  • Alien Horizons: The Fantastic Art of Bob Eggleton, Bob Eggleton (Paper Tiger)
  • Spectrum 2: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, Cathy Burnett & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
  • To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction, Joanna Russ (Indiana University Press)
  • Yours, Isaac Asimov, Isaac Asimov, edited by Stanley Asimov (Doubleday)


  • Babylon 5: “The Coming of Shadows” (Warner Bros.; J. Michael Straczynski, Douglas Netter, John Copeland, producers; J. Michael Straczynski, screenplay; Janet Greek, director)
  • 12 Monkeys (Universal; Charles Roven, producer; Terry Gilliam, director; David and Janet Peoples, screenplay)
  • Apollo 13 (Universal; Brian Grazer, producer; Ron Howard, director; William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert, screenplay)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Visitor” (Paramount Television; Rick Berman and Ira Steven Behr, executive producers; Michael Taylor, screenplay; David Livingston, director)
  • Toy Story (Buena Vista; Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, producers; John Lasseter, director; Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow, screenplay)


  • Gardner Dozois
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Scott Edelman
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • Stanley Schmidt


  • Bob Eggleton
  • Jim Burns 
  • Thomas Canty
  • Don Maitz
  • Michael Whelan


  • Dinotopia: The World Beneath, James Gurney (Turner)
  • Bob Eggleton, Cover of F&SF Oct/Nov 1995 (illustrating “Dankden” by Marc Laidlaw)
  • George H. Krauter, Cover of Analog Mar 1995 (illustrating “Renascance” by Poul Anderson)
  • Gary Lippincott, Cover of F&SF Jan 1995 (illustrating “Tea and Hamsters” by Michael Coney)
  • Bob Eggleton, Cover of Analog Jan 1995 (illustrating “Tide of Stars” by Julia Ecklar)


  • Locus, Charles N. Brown
  • Crank!, Bryan Cholfin
  • Interzone, David Pringle
  • The New York Review of Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell, Ariel Haméon & Tad Dembinski
  • Science Fiction Chronicle, Andrew Porter


  • Ansible, Dave Langford
  • Apparatchik, Andrew Hooper & Victor Gonzalez
  • Attitude, Michael Abbott, John Dallman & Pam Wells
  • FOSFAX, Timothy Lane & Elizabeth Garrott
  • Lan’s Lantern, George “Lan” Laskowski
  • Mimosa, Richard & Nicki Lynch


  • Dave Langford
  • Sharon Farber
  • Andy Hooper
  • Evelyn C. Leeper
  • Joseph T. Major


  • William Rotsler
  • Ian Gunn
  • Teddy Harvia
  • Joe Mayhew
  • Peggy Ranson


  • David Feintuch
  • Michael A. Burstein
  • Felicity Savage
  • Sharon Shinn
  • Tricia Sullivan

David Feintuch (1944-2006) was a very nice guy, and he really believed in his Midshipman’s Hope series. I believe he’s the oldest Campbell winner. He had published three volumes of the series by the end of 1995, and he went on to write another four volumes and two fantasy novels. He was a pretty good winner, and the rest of the nominees were also very good—a much better year for the Campbell than 1995.

Michael A. Burstein won in 1997, so let’s leave him for next time. And we talked about Felicity Savage last week.

Sharon Shinn had published one excellent first novel, The Shape Shifter’s Wife, she has gone on to have a significant career and is a major writer, she’d have been an excellent winner.

Tricia Sullivan was also an excellent nominee and would have been a great winner—she’d just published a first novel Lethe and has gone on to become an important writer.

So a pretty good Campbell year. Other possibly eligible people not nominated: Alison Sinclair, Linda Nagata, Richard Calder.

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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