Revisiting the Hugos

Revisiting the Recently Rediscovered 1956 Hugo Awards Ballot

When I wrote my post in 2010 about the Hugos of 1956, the nominees for that year were lost in the mists of time. Last month they were found again, by Olav Rokne in an old Progress Report, which is very exciting, because it gives me the chance to compare what I thought they might be to what they really were. It’s great to be wrong, and goodness me I was wrong!

Here’s my thinking on Best Novel, from 2010:

Looking at the Wikipedia article on 1955 novels, I think there are six other likely books that might have been nominees: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity (post), Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home, Arthur C. Clarke’s Earthlight, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth’s Gladiator-at-Law,  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (post). All of these have since become classics, they’d all have been very worthy nominees. I don’t think any of them are better than Double Star, or likely to have been more popular.

In YA, there was C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew; two Andre Norton books, Sargasso of Space (under the name North) and Star Guard; and Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.

Also clearly published as science fiction but I think less likely to have been nominated were: Alien Minds by E. Everett Evans, Address Centauri by F.L. Wallace. Star Bridge by Jack Williamson and James E. Gunn, and by Gunn alone This Fortress World, Stanton A. Coblenz’s Under the Triple Suns, and Robert Silverberg’s first novel Revolt on Alpha C.

And here’s the rediscovered actual list of nominees:

  • Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein [Astounding Feb,Mar,Apr 1956]
  • Call Him Dead, by Eric Frank Russell
  • The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov
  • Not this August, by Cyril Kornbluth
  • The Long Tomorrow, by Leigh Brackett

Double Star is the winner. I was right about The End of Eternity, so I get one point. One. One of the commenters, “Bob”, mentioned Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, so he also gets a point.

We didn’t even find the others never mind consider them—which shows the inadequacy of relying on Wikipedia’s list of books for a year! (I later switched to using the Internet SF Database, which was better.) Of my potential nominees, it’s interesting that The Return of the King didn’t get on the actual ballot. In those days fantasy wasn’t as highly regarded, and Tolkien didn’t become big in the U.S. until the paperbacks came out, but even so, it seems very strange at this distance.

Of the real nominees, the most exciting one is the Brackett. This is the first time a woman was nominated for a best novel Hugo—or indeed, any Hugo. Zenna Henderson, Katherine MacLean, and Pauline Ashwell were all nominated in novelette in 1959, and Marion Zimmer Bradley was, until now, believed to be the first woman nominated for best novel, in 1963. But in fact Brackett beat them all to it. So that’s great to know.

I think Double Star is still the best book of the year, perhaps Heinlein’s best novel, and the voters were absolutely right.

In the other categories I didn’t even try to find potential nominees, but here are the real ones, with new comments:

Best Novelette

  • “Exploration Team” (alt: “Combat Team”) by Murray Leinster [Astounding Mar 1956]
  • “A Gun for Dinosaur”, by L. Sprague de Camp
  • “Brightside Crossing”, by Alan Nourse
  • “Home There’s No Returning”, by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore
  • “Legwork”, by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Assistant Self”, by F.L. Wallace
  • “The End of Summer”, by Algis Budrys
  • “Who?”, by Theodore Sturgeon

“The End of Summer” was one of the first adult SF stories I ever read, in the Brian Aldiss Best Penguin SF volume, and I continue to think it’s a terrific memorable story, and it would be my favourite out of these, and I’d definitely have voted for it above the Leinster. I also remember the Sturgeon, the de Camp, and the Eric Frank Russell without needing to look anything up, which means they are classics by the my definition. Any of them would have been good winners. Fascinating list.

Best Short Story

  • “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke [Infinity Nov 1955]
  • “End as a World”, by F.L. Wallace
  • “King of the Hill”, by James Blish
  • “Nobody Bothers Gus”, by Algis Budrys
  • “The Game of Rat and Dragon”, by Cordwainer Smith
  • “The Dragon”, by Ray Bradbury
  • “Spy Story”, by Robert Sheckley
  • “Twink”, by Theodore Sturgeon

“The Game of Rat and Dragon” is pretty amazing, and so is “Twink” but… the voters were 100% right to give it to Clarke anyway. It really is one of the best SF short stories of all time, and the first as far as I know to be working in that particular subgenre.

Best Professional Magazine

  • Astounding Science Fiction ed. by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Note: No shortlist of finalists was published in this category. The ballot instructions read “Pro mag names must be written in.”

Best Professional Artist

  • Frank Kelly Freas
  • Chesley Bonestell
  • Ed Emshwiller
  • Virgil Finlay
  • Mel Hunter
  • Edward Valigursky

Best Fanzine

  • Inside and Science Fiction Advertiser, ed. by Ron Smith
  • A Bas
  • Fantasy-Times
  • Grue
  • Hyphen
  • Oblique
  • Peon
  • Psychotic-SF Review
  • Skyhook

Best Feature Writer

  • Willy Ley
  • L. Sprague de Camp
  • Robert A. Madle
  • Rog Phillips
  • R.S. Richardson

Best Book Reviewer

  • Damon Knight
  • Henry Bott
  • P. Schuyler Miller
  • Anthony Boucher
  • Groff Conklin
  • Villiers Gerson
  • Floyd Gale
  • Hans Stefan Santesson

What a huge field! This really is a neat category, and it doesn’t overlap with any of our current categories—I guess it overlaps with fanwriter somewhat, but Knight and some of the others were being paid to review for magazines.

Most Promising New Author

  • Robert Silverberg
  • Harlan Ellison
  • Frank Herbert
  • Henry Still

And I still think they were right to give it to Silverberg, but Ellison and Herbert are also terrific choices, and have thoroughly fulfilled their promise. Henry Still, on the other hand, I don’t know, and Googling doesn’t seem to be making me any wiser—anyone?

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published a collection of Tor.com pieces, three poetry collections and thirteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. Her most recent book is Thessaly. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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