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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:

Q: What’s the best story and the best novel never to win a Hugo since the inception of the award in 1953?

What would you choose? Read on to see what this week’s panelists picked…

C.J. Cherryh
C.J. Cherry has written more than 60 books since the mid-1970s, including the Hugo Award winning novels Downbelow Station (1981) and Cyteen (1988), both set in her Alliance-Union universe. Her latest novels are Conspirator and Regenesis. Besides writing, C.J likes to travel and try new things, like fencing, riding, archery, firearms, ancient weapons, painting and video games. She also has an asteroid named after her: 77185 Cherryh.

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.

Barry N. Malzberg
Over the past four decades, Barry N. Malzberg has written more than 75 novels and 250 short stories in and about the field of science fiction, suspense and crime fiction. He first found commercial and critical success with publication of his surreal novelette “Final War” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction under the name K.M. O’Donnell in 1968. He won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for his 1972 novel, Beyond Apollo. In 2007, Baen Books published Breakfast in the Ruins which includes his seminal collection of critical essays Engines of the Night, a Hugo Award winner for Best Related Non-Fiction Book. Barry, a classical violinist, has also served as a magazine editor for Amazing Stories and Fantastic, as well as several anthologies. Barry is a regular columnist at Baen’s Universe.

Story (tie):

  • “Born With The Dead” by Robert Silverberg
  • “Slow Music” by James Tiptree, Jr.

Novel: The Way of the Pilgrim by Gordon R. Dickson

Tim Powers
Tim Powers is the author of such well-received novels as The Drawing of the Dark, The Anubis Gates, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, The Stress of Her Regard, Last Call, Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather, Declare, and Three Days to Never. His short fiction is collected in Night Moves and Other Stories and Strange Itineraries. Tim is the winner of 2 World Fantasy Awards, 2 Philip K. Dick Awards, 3 Locus Awards, 1 Geffen, 1 Ignotus, 1 International Horror Guild Award, 1 Mythopoeic, 1 Apollo, 1 Readercon Award, and a Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Award. A recent book from PS publishing, Secret Histories, is a comprehensive reference of Time Powers’ work

I’d say the novel is Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys, and the short story is “Light of Other Days” by Bob Shaw.

Paul Witcover
Paul Witcover is the author of three novels, Tumbling After, Waking Beauty, and Dracula: Asylum. He is also the author of a short-fiction collection, Everland. His reviews appear in each issue of Locus and Realms of Fantasy. He is part of the group blog Inferior4+1.

This is a two-pronged question, only one prong of which, the novel, I feel even remotely qualified to address. That will not prevent me from weighing in on the other!

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.

Mark Newton
Mark Newton‘s novel, Nights of Villjamur, is published by Tor UK (Pan Macmillan) and is due out in the US this June from Bantam Spectra (Random House). Visit his blog at

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.

Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 50 novels (his latest is Starship: Flagship), 200 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of 50 anthologies, as well as the executive editor of Jim Baen’s Universe. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 22 languages.

Novel: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester

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

James Bloomer
James Bloomer has a PhD in particle physics (he worked at CERN) and has probably forgotten more physics than most people ever learn. He has been running the SF blog Big Dumb Object for 242 internet years and writing Science Fiction for a decade in the real world. Recently his story “Surf Town” made the shortlist for the BSFA 50th Anniversary Short Story Competition and was published in their magazine Focus.

Snow Crashby Neal Stephenson, published in 1992. Simple. I don’t need to tell you how awesome Snow Crash is do I? Sorry, not awesome, AWESOME!

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.

Blue Tyson
Blue Tyson is the proprietor of Free SF Reader as well as a host of other short fiction blogs.

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 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.

Sarah A. Hoyt
Sarah A. Hoyt was born in Portugal and lives in Colorado. In between she acquired husband, sons and cats and has written and published around three dozen short stories and over a dozen novels in fantasy, mystery, historical fiction and science fiction. The most recent of those are Gentleman Takes A Chance; Dipped, Stripped and Dead (as Elise Hyatt); and Darkship Thieves. Upcoming are A French Polished Murder (also as Elise Hyatt) and No Other Will Than His (historical fiction under her own name.) She’s at work on sequels for her fantasy and science fiction novels.

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.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

8 Comments on MIND MELD: What’s the Best Story to Never Win a Hugo?

  1. Bob Blough // January 13, 2010 at 4:09 am //

    Too many come to mind:


    Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

    Time Is the Simplest Thing by Clifford D. Simak

    Air by Geoff Ryman

    Natural History by Justina Robson

    The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

    The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (or any of that 4 part book)


    Short Fiction

    Morning Child by Gardner Dozois

    Passengers by Robert Silverberg

    For a Breath I Tarry by Roger Zelazny

    The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

    Distances by Vandana Singh


    I also agree with many others already posted!





  2. Kevin Landreneau // January 14, 2010 at 7:21 am //

    Story:  Clifford Simak – The Thing in the Stone(1970)

    Novel: Clifford D. Simak – A Choice of Gods(1972)




  3. Paul Cooper // January 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm //

    A few off the top of my head. Sometimes the year was why a book didn’t win the Hugo.

    The Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak (1968)
    Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (1968)
    Monument by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. (1974)

    Short Fiction:
    “New Folk’s Home” by Clifford D. Simak (1963)
    “The Narrow Land” by Jack Vance (1967)
    “The Ghost of a Model T” by Clifford D. Simak (1975)

    I have to agree with Sarah A. Hoyt about “Memento Homo”, but would expand it to say that most any of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s short fiction deserved a Hugo.

  4. This is a fabulous mind meld topic.

    From the novels mentioned by the respondents, I most want to read Bester’s The Stars My Destination.

    I agree that Reynolds has been oddly overlooked by the Hugos, for both novels and novellas/short stories. Perhaps his time is due?

    If this question is asked again in, say, five or ten years, I wonder if people will mention novels such as Stephenson’s Anathem or McDonald’s River of Gods?

    Finally, maybe the next question might be, “Which novel/novella/short story most did not deserve to win a Hugo?” 🙂


  5. Roberto Maitilasso // January 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm //


    Without any hesitation:

    Short story: Clifford Simak’s The Autumn Land – A Death in the House – Eternity Lost – The Thing In The Stone

    Novel: Clifford Simak’s Destiny Doll – A Heritage of Stars – Ring around the Sun –

    Do you suspect I’m a fan of Simak?

  6. Apart from those already suggested:

    Short fiction:

    Kindergarten by Clifford D Simak 

    Desertion  by Clifford D Simak


    Anubis Gates by Tim Powers

    Dinner at Deviant’s Palace by Tim Powers

    Project Pope by Clifford D Simak

    Time and Again by Clifford D Simak

  7. Personally I think the gap series of Stephen R Donaldson are a true masterwork. Probably one of the best series ever written in SF.

  8. @Max: “Personally I think the gap series of Stephen R Donaldson are a true masterwork. Probably one of the best series ever written in SF.

    I was thinking about this earlier today.

    Donaldson’s Gap series is definitely one of the best SF series I have ever read, yet it’s almost like a ghost or barely a whisper in discussions of the history of SF and of SF’s seminal works.

    Stunning writing. Fabulous plotting. Gripping characters. Gritty, gritty, gritty. And very dark.


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