MIND MELD: What’s the Best Story to Never Win a Hugo?
Awards are usually a good indicator of worthwhile and books and short fiction, but sometimes great stories get overlooked. We asked this week’s panelists:
What would you choose? Read on to see what this week’s panelists picked…
Can’t speak for story, but the best novel never to win a Hugo, imho, is Jane Fancher’s Groundties. Due to the fact it came out as Warner imploded, it got no distribution. Period. Debut novel—with no distribution.
- “Born With The Dead” by Robert Silverberg
- “Slow Music” by James Tiptree, Jr.
Novel: The Way of the Pilgrim by Gordon R. Dickson
I’d say the novel is Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, and the short story is “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw.
Obviously, there can be no right answer here. Many novels, and even more short stories, are as deserving of a Hugo, if not more so, than the actual winners. So really it’s just a matter of taste.
In the best novel never to have won a Hugo category, my pick is John Crowley’s Little, Big. First published in 1981, this seminal novel of urban fantasy, one of the most original and influential fantasies ever written, was actually a Hugo finalist in 1982, losing out to C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. That was quite a year, as nominees also included the last volume of Gene Wolfe’s Torturer series, The Claw of the Conciliator, and Julian May’s The Many-Colored Land. I attended that Worldcon, and I recall vividly the conceptual knots I tied myself into in deciding to give my vote to The Many-Colored Land, a vote I justified to myself, even though I considered the Crowley and Wolfe books far superior in purely literary terms, by rationalizing that May’s book, which I quite enjoyed, was closer in spirit to the pulp roots of the Hugo. In defense of such abject stupidity I can only plead youth. So I’m very glad to have this opportunity to amend my vote all these years later! The grace and beauty of Crowley’s writing, evident line by line, the dazzling artistry of the novel’s architecture, the engrossing, utterly captivating characters, and the formidable intelligence behind it all, mark Little, Big as a supreme artistic achievement, a novel that was profoundly of its time yet is also timeless.
In the short fiction category, my pick is Jeffrey Ford’s wise and deeply affecting “The Annals of Eelin-Ok.” This extraordinary gem from 2004, capable of eliciting honest tears from children and adults alike, was published in The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. It was not a Hugo nominee, but it should have been. Ford’s technical and emotional command in this miniature epic never falters. Read it, and the simple act of building a sandcastle on the beach will be changed forever.
The story I’ve selected is by Gene Wolfe. Wolfe is one of those authors who is showered with awards, but the Hugo is a popular vote, so he often gets overlooked for that. “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” is one of the most charming and powerful stories about imagination that I’ve ever read. At its heart is a story about a boy who reads a book (with the same name as title) and, whilst his divorced mother begins to organise a party – begins to imagine that the characters within become real – and in fact they do.
It’s a sad, profound, and wonderful meditation on many notions of fantasy: noticeably that of imagination, escapism, and is made all the more immediate by being written in second person. It’s also remarkably accessible for a piece of Wolfe fiction.
Novella: “In the Hall of the Martian Kings”, by John Varley
Novelette: “A Galaxy Called Rome”, by Barry Malzberg
Short story: “Tableau” by James White
It didn’t even make the Hugo shortlist. That year (1993) the Hugo winner was a tie between Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson missed out as well.
There must have been an Atlantic divide however because Snow Crash was nominated for the BSFA Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Beaten by Vurt (Jeff Noon) to the Clarke and Aztec Century (Christopher Evans) to the BSFA.
Later the Hugo voters caught up and the magnificent The Diamond Age won the Hugo in 1996.
I can think of a lot of works that were Hugo-worthy, so the way to approach this is to limit the choice. To do so involves choosing authors who have missed out multiple times, or never even been noticed. Further, these awards have a USA bias, so that’s also a good way to reduce the number. Remove all writers of this origin. Then, pick some more recent work because they are of greater interest to me than who might have missed out in 1963 for example. Further, remove all writers who have won a Hugo in any fiction category.
Short Story: “Rain Season” by Leanne Frahm
This will certainly seem to be an obscure choice. As a writer she has produced only a couple of dozen short stories. However, two of these are on my all-time favorite list. A very impressive strike rate. You may have heard of one of the editors that picked this story out for the magazine Eidolon, however, as his name is Jonathan Strahan. The first of her stories on my favourites list, “Borderline” is a strange alien incursion in Queensland tale that makes a good contrast to “Flashmen”. “Rain Season,” however, would fit either as SF or as psychological horror (it still creeps me out). Apocalyptic, ecodisaster, along those lines. One for the Bacigalupi school. An advertising small business owner is trying to get a contract with a local developer, when it starts to rain. It just does not stop, transforming the environment and his relationship with his wife and two daughters. Her work cries out to be made available at Fictionwise, Amazon, etc.
Novelette: “Flashmen” by Terry Dowling
He is probably the best Australian SF writer you never heard of, if not an aficionado of the Dozois or Datlow Year’s Best volumes. He is also considerably at fault himself for his lack of notoriety, as Greg Egan points out: “Australians do find it difficult to break into American markets,” suggests Terry Dowling in an interview in Locus, June 1994 – but at least he confesses in the same sentence that “I don’t even try,” and in the same paragraph that he’s never even bothered sending a story to Asimov’s, instantly rendering his opinion on the subject transparently irrelevant.” Science fictionally to pin him down you could say he is working somewhere between Ballard and Cordwainer Smith. In fact he was named a Lord of the Instrumentality, so that is not just my opinion. He also appears to be somewhat more interested in horror stories now, too. Unlike the stranger future Australia of the Tom Tyson stories, “Flashmen” is a standalone set in a more current Australia and a brilliant look at really strange aliens that have taken up residence and the human conflict with them. Think edging towards Neon Genesis Evangelion territory, with somewhat less giant robot. He has stories available at his website terrydowling.com. Try “The Man Who Lost Red” and “Nobody’s Fool” for more blasts of alien strangeness. People building ebook backlist publishing groups should certainly look here, too.
Novella: “The Tear” by Ian McDonald
He has lost multiple Hugo awards, more for novels. However, his novella from 2008 “The Tear” is a tour de force of looping posthumanity and interstellar grandeur. The longest of his Clade stories and actually a nomination, this should have won, although in a tough field. Also hampered by being in a Science Fiction Book Club publication, which you have to join to get, and only USAians are allowed to.
Novel: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
The writer that leaps to mind first for this topic, and likely a surprise to no-one. A master of the short story as well as the novel, so should have obtained a Hugo for something. So, to take the longest category first, no Hugo award for Revelation Space. A sub-genre defining work; New Space Opera par excellence. Not even on the shortlist, which had Sawyer’s Calculating Godand MacLeod’s Sky Road, which are not even remotely in the same class. His Chasm City would be ok, too.
Best short story never to win a Hugo — the first one that sprang to mind was Walter Miller Jr.’s “Memento Homo”. Now this might be specious reasoning because it came out in 1954 and of course, no Hugo awards were presented at that time. However a story published in 1954 would have received the award in 1955. On the other hand, Walter Miller Jr. won the award with the novelette “Darfsteller” in 1955 and perhaps it was felt that one of his stories on the ballot was quite enough.
As for why I think it deserved an award — it’s been at least 25 years since I last read it. The book I read it in was published in Portugal (yeah, yeah, probably without permission), in Portuguese and I left it behind when I got married, at 22. We couldn’t afford to bring my library, and besides my husband doesn’t read Portuguese.
I haven’t found it in the reprint collections I buy. And yet I still remember the story and the title, the general theme — dying astronaut finds redemption of sorts — and the lump in my throat when I read it. I think back when I first read it — I must have been fourteen or so — what amazed me was how human and… resonant the author could make the future sound. It was the first time I encountered true humanity juxtaposed to rockets and what I had viewed — up till then — as the antiseptic future. For years it was the story I brought up when literature teachers in High School and college scoffed at science fiction and, generally, when I insisted they read it, it made them admit sf was a valid form of literary expression.
At any rate, it’s a very good story and well worth finding and reading. (A search that will start for me as soon as I finish writing these answers.)
[Note: "Memento Homo" was originally published as "Death of a Spaceman" in Amazing Science Fiction, March 1954 - and is freely available at FeedBooks. - Editor]
Thinking of a worthy novel that the Hugos overlooked is a tougher call. For one, I read a lot more novels and therefore have a lot more nominees. However, considering the number of fantasy novels I’ve written in recent years, I have to mention Operation Chaos by Poul Anderson, the first fantasy novel I read that didn’t strike me as absolutely insane. A little background — I was born and raised in Portugal, by which I mean to an actual Portuguese family (in fact, I didn’t learn English till I was fourteen and the only member of my family who speaks English fluently enough to read my stories is my brother. And he’s not fluent enough to read them easily.) I suppose this has changed now — don’t know, as I moved away twenty five years ago — but I know that while science fiction was an easy sell, back in the seventies and early eighties (weird, but understandable) fantasy seemed completely insane. This effect was probably worsened by the fact that though the North of Portugal has a very strong Celtic component, history — between Romans and Arabs — has QUITE wiped away any memory of the Celtic myths upon which most fantasy is based. Even the folk stories contain not a trace of them. The only place fairies and gnomes appear are children’s stories, so seeing adults write seriously about them tends to seem… odd. However Operation Chaos leaned heavily on werewolves, witches and such, and THOSE my grandmother had told me stories about ever since I could remember.
Of course, I didn’t read it in ’71. I think it must have been seventy five, because I was in High School and took the train to and from the city, and I remember the novel grabbed me from page one and kept me so enthralled, I not only missed my station, but I missed it by half a dozen stations and it was quite late by the time I made it home.
At any rate, I’d consider it one of the best realized fantasy worlds I’ve ever read — and since then I’ve read quite a few and written a few myself — and though I don’t think there’s any logical link, the ancestor of all the current, successful Urban Fantasy.
The reason it didn’t win was more than likely the fact that Hugo Awards were considered in practice if not in theory, the exclusive province of science fiction, to the exclusion of fantasy. Which is a pity, as Operation Chaos is quite worthy of an award and of being brought to people’s attention.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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