The Big Picture

The Hugo Winners, Volumes One and Two — Isaac Asimov

Hugo-V1-and-V2-James-1.0

This week’s Because My Tears are Delicious to You review will cover 1972’s The Hugo Winners, Volume One and Two . For one trivial reason (the book is shelved just at eye height in my path from office to front door) and one literary reason (award winning fiction has been on my mind of late). Just how good—or bad—were the older Hugo winners?

This volume combined two earlier collections, 1961’s The Hugo Winners (later re-titled The Hugo Winners, Volume One ) and 1971’s The Hugo Winners, Volume Two . The whole volume thus includes the Hugo winning novellas and short stories of the 1950s and 1960s .

Incidentally, my copy is the Science Fiction Book Club edition. Older fen will remember that edition from the insert ads that used to grace SF paperbacks 1. What wonders that insert promised! And what structural damage it inflicted on the book binding!

In addition to enjoying many of the stories, I found the book a fascinating testament to the evolution of science fiction, 1950–1970.

I have lifted the tables of contents from ISFDB.

The Hugo Winners, Volume 1 • [The Hugo Winners • 1] • (1962) •
anthology by Isaac Asimov

“Introduction (The Hugo Winners, Volume I)” • (1962) • essay by Isaac Asimov

As of the year of publication, Asimov was a logical choice of editor for the series: he was famous but had never won a Hugo himself. He was also a well-known raconteur, one of the three people customarily tapped to MC the Hugo ceremonies in those olden days.

Each story has a short introduction from Asimov. Since he felt each story spoke for itself, he limited himself to comments on the authors. Humorous comments.

The Darfsteller • (1955) • novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

What hope is there for one actor in a world where all jobs are eventually the domain of soulless machines?

Comments:

Poor Miller! His A Canticle for Leibowitz so overshadows everything else he wrote that many people think he was just a one shot wonder. In fact, he had published enough top-quality work to justify a Best Of collection in the 1970s.


Unfortunately, even though the robopocalypse is a fine subject for fiction and even though I like Miller’s fiction in general (enough to have purchased his Best of colllection), I’ve never warmed to this story. Perhaps I’m just put off by Miller’s attempt at funny foreign dialogue.

“Allamagoosa” • (1955) • short story by Eric Frank Russell

Faced with an impending audit, the crew of a military starship conspires to conceal from the auditor the fact they’ve misplaced their offog. Whatever that is.

Comments:

There used to be a body of work about the absurdity of daily life in the military, some of it light humour (like this story) and some of it pretty dark. If that genre still exists, I cannot think of any recent examples. I am not entirely certain why it vanished. If it did. Maybe because mass conscription ended? Volunteer military are not as inclined to poke fun at the organization that gave them their careers?

Exploration Team • [Colonial Survey] • (1956) • novelette by Murray Leinster

An illegal settler (and his posse of trained animals) come to the rescue of the one man who can have them all arrested.

Comments:

I loved this when I was a young teen. It’s just a darn shame that I am pretty sure if I ever tried to befriend a Kodiak bear (as the fellow in this story did), I would be lunch. Although come to think of it, I do get along OK with the local raccoon and bears are basically just big raccoons….

“The Star” • (1955) • short story by Arthur C. Clarke

A devout man is burdened by an unsought revelation.

Comments:

Nothing in this story is out of character for the god who hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that He could drown Pharaoh and his whole army later.

“Or All the Seas with Oysters” • (1958) • short story by Avram Davidson

An exceedingly unlucky bicycle salesman makes an astounding discovery in natural science. Not that he will be able to publish.

Comments:

This is one of those stories that sank so deeply into my psyche that throughout the 1980s and 1990s I would make off-hand references to paperclips and French racing bicycles, in the boyish faith that everyone else would have read the story and thus know just how sophisticated and witty I was. In my defence, this is a frequently anthologized story … just not as widely read as I assumed.

The Big Front Yard • (1958) • novella by Clifford D. Simak

When aliens open an inter-dimensional gate in his front yard, an unassuming handyman/antique dealer becomes point man in human/alien relations.

Comments:

When I talk about Simak stories where an amiable human shares his porch with an alien as they both quietly watch the sun set, this is the story I have in mind. In fact, this is the quintessential Simak story. At least for me.

“The Hell-Bound Train” • (1958) • short story by Robert Bloch (variant of That Hell-Bound Train)

A man trades his soul away for the ability to freeze time at that one perfect moment. No real risk, because long before his soul comes due, he can just freeze time forever. If he can just pick that one perfect moment.

Comments:

I’ve got an odd-Bloch shaped hole in my reading, which is weird because I did like this when I read it forty-odd years ago.

Flowers for Algernon • (1959) • novelette by Daniel Keyes:

Science boosts the intelligence of a mentally challenged man; it also gives him the opportunity to properly appreciate everything he is going to lose when his abilities fade.

Comments:

I prefer this version over the novel. I have not come close to experiencing all of the myriad adaptations of this classic.

This is another example of that one perfect story that overshadows the rest of an author’s career. Keyes was an active writer from 1952 to his death in 2014, but odds are that if anyone knows his name, it is thanks to this specific story. OK, possibly The Minds of Billy Milligan , but more likely to be Flowers for Algernon .

The Longest Voyage • (1960) • novelette by Poul Anderson:

A bold explorer on a colony that is slowly recovering from a long dark age is offered all he seeks in one easy package.

Comments:

Yeah, this was a very Poul Andersonian story: bold explorers, a distrust of easy solutions, and no women of any importance. I think I must owe my interest in stories set on habitable moons of giant worlds to this story.

“Postscript (The Hugo Winners)” • (1964) • essay by Isaac Asimov

Asimov takes the time to credit the editors who bought these stories: John W. Campbell purchased five of them, while Larry T. Shaw, Horace L. Gold, Anthony Boucher, and Robert P. Mills accounted for one each.

Appendix: The Hugo Awards (The Hugo Winners, Volume I) • (1962) • essay by uncredited

This is a list of the Hugo winners from 1953 to 1961, which as we know covers works published from 1952 to 1960.


The Hugo Winners, Volume Two • [The Hugo Winners • 2] • (1971) •
anthology by Isaac Asimov

“Here I Am Again” • (1971) • essay by Isaac Asimov

Asimov wrote almost no SF in the 1960s, despite which he still managed to win not one but two Hugos. While there was a potential conflict of interest if he were picked to edit the second volume of Hugo winners, people trusted him to do an impartial job. Which I think he did.

As he did in the first volume, he provides short, humorous (or sometimes trying but failing to be humorous) introductions to the stories.

The Dragon Masters • (1962) • novella by Jack Vance

Long after Man’s empire fell before the nightmarish alliance of aliens, what may be the last world of free humans contends against recurring alien invasions.

Comments:

The aliens use specially bred humans as foot soldiers, while the humans use specially bred aliens. The set up reminds me a bit of Vance’s Planet of Adventure , although if anything the situation is even more disturbing here.

Vance and my grandfather frequented the same Bay area marina; I have no idea if they ever met. If they did, I don’t expect they got along. It’s not so much their diametrically opposed politics as the fact that Vance liked sail while Pop was a steam man 2.

No Truce With Kings • (1963) • novella by Poul Anderson

Nuclear war destroyed the great human nations, but alien kindness may destroy human freedom.

Comments:

Wolverines! This is also very Poul Anderson-y, right down to the speculation that feudalism might be the most natural state of affairs for humans. An enlightened central government surely isn’t: that sort of thing only leads to Keynesianism.

Soldier, Ask Not • [Childe Cycle] • (1964) • novella by Gordon R. Dickson

An embittered journalist schemes to use the power of the press for evil!

Comments:

This is a Dorsai story that was later expanded to novel length. I’m not at all certain that the story was improved by expansion. This version covers all the salient details.

When I think about Dorsai, I usually find myself wondering who the heck would hire the Friendlies as mercenaries; the religious extremists are to hired guns as the Toronto Maple Leafs are to professional hockey 3. When I read this story, I found myself contemplating the author’s steadfastly anti-genocide stance. Yes, even when the intended victims are extremely unsympathetic. That sort of thing should not be all that exceptional in SF, and yet for some reason it is.

I have no idea why I liked Dorsai stories so much back when I was a teen. Dickson was one of my go-to authors in the 1970s, but I don’t think I have picked up a new Dickson since The Final Encyclopedia.

“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” • (1965) • short story by Harlan Ellison:

In the regimented world of tomorrow, only one man is bold enough to rebel! By disrupting people’s schedules.

Comments

This is more interesting for the games Ellison plays with structure and prose than for the actual story.

The Last Castle • (1966) • novella by Jack Vance

What could possibly inspire the docile Mek slaves to rebel against their natural human overlords?

Comments:

I was half-expecting the answer to be Outside Agitators . Instead it turned out to be hostility to this world’s version of the American Colonization Society. Either way, this is one of the Vance stories where his often disturbing subtext was less subtext-ish than I would have preferred.

Neutron Star • [Known Space] • (1966) • novelette by Larry Niven

What could reach through an indestructible starship hull to kill the explorers inside?

Comments:

I like the protagonist and I like the plot: financial necessity forces hero into risky ventures. But damn, the notion that the phenomenon that killed the explorers could possibly have been overlooked (as it must have been if the story is to make sense) is just too silly for words.

Weyr Search • [Dragonriders of Pern short fiction] • (1967) • novella by Anne McCaffrey

A burning desire to regain her family’s lost position blinds a young woman to the greater opportunity she has been offered.

Comments:

I’ve never been a huge Pern fan. I find this story notable only because 1) this is the first story by a woman in the omnibus, and 2) after assuring the reader he is all for Women’s Lib, Asimov gallantly compliments McCaffrey’s breasts.

McCaffrey is the only woman whose work is included in this volume.

Riders of the Purple Wage • (1967) • novella by Philip José Farmer

In a world where automation ensures that nobody needs to be poor, while also denying almost everyone a rewarding job, what is an ambitious young man to do with himself?

Comments:

At the risk of establishing myself as a knuckle-dragging pleb, I’ve never particularly cared for this particular Farmer.

Gonna Roll the Bones • (1967) • novelette by Fritz Leiber

A self-pitying alcoholic wife-beating racist finds a new hobby: dicing with Death! What could go wrong?

Comments:

Well, for starters, it would be worse if he survived. Remember when domestic abuse was A-OK?

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” • (1967) • short story by Harlan Ellison

The good news is the long effort to develop an artificial intelligence worked. The bad news is that it really, really hates its creators. And it is very nearly all-powerful.

Comments:

This bears a close similarity to D. F. Jones’ Colossus ( supercomputers of rival powers decide to combine into one superdupercomputer), with the significant difference that Colossus didn’t loath humans, whereas AM does.

Nightwings • [Nightwings] • (1968) • novella by Robert Silverberg

Ages in the future, the Watchers are vigilant against a long-delayed alien invasion … which may never come.

Comments:

When I read this as a teenager, I was upset by the assertion that the skinny flying girl can only fly at night because solar pressure knocks her out of the sky in the day. Seriously, Mr. Silverberg, F = P/C. Light pressure from the sun is something like a billionth the force she would experience due to winds.

IMHO, post-colonial anxieties inform both this story and the two Vance stories in this volume. The two authors differ in their responses to the issues involved. Further deponent sayeth not.

The Sharing of Flesh • [Technic History] • (1968) • novelette by Poul Anderson

A thousand years after the fall of the Terran Empire, its legacy leads to murder and cannibalism on a backward world.

Comments:

Weird how all of the Anderson Hugo-winning stories in this anthology are set in post-fall-of-civilization worlds. He wrote other Hugo-winning stories in cheerier settings, but for some reason those stories were not chosen.

At least this story doesn’t revolve around galactics-bearing-gifts, as the other two Anderson stories do.

The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World • (1968) • novelette by Harlan Ellison (variant of The Beast that Shouted Love)

A high-minded projects sows death and madness across space-time.

Comments:

Ellison is being very ambitious with structure here, in a way that teenage me didn’t like. Despite my ambivalent response to Ellison, I had lots of his books in those days. Because that’s what fen did back then.

Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones • (1968) • novelette by Samuel R. Delany

An ambitious thief reinvents himself. Over and over.

Comments:

I am not entirely certain I saw this as proper SF so much as something very suspiciously focused on literary stuff like style and character development.

Delany is the only person of colour included in this omnibus.

Appendix: Hugo Awards 1962-1970 (The Hugo Winners, Volume II) • (1972) • essay by uncredited

Another list of Hugo-winners.

General comments:

This 849-page tome cost me four bucks back in the 1970s. Even though that’s the equivalent of $21 in modern currency, I must say that I got my money’s worth, considered in terms of words per dollar. The WPD is even more impressive when you take into account that fact that this collection was printed in teeny-tiny font. I regret that whoever assembled the omnibus couldn’t be bothered to create a single unified table of contents, but the book was still decent value for the money.

I found Asimov’s self-deprecating egomania act endearing as a teenager; it hasn’t aged particularly well. His incessant horndog-ish-ness asserts itself in too many places. There’s also a very annoying passage in which he congratulates himself on his ignorance of serious literature; literature would only distract him from SF. That sort of proud ignorance would be irksome from anyone, but it is even worse coming, as it does, from someone who otherwise put a lot of effort into educating the American public.

The two volumes are vastly different in length. This is probably because fewer Worldcons voted on Hugos in the 1950s, when traditions were still being established.

But that’s minor. The volumes different in far more fundamental ways.

Volume One is very much a collection of the sort of meat-and-potatoes science fiction stories enjoyed by Astounding editor John W. Campbell. The magazine may have been past its best days by the 1950s, but its stories were still winning Hugos.

Volume Two seems to me to have been dominated by the taste of an entirely different editor. I count eight Fred-Pohl-acquired stories in this collection. Harlan Ellison was responsible for three stories; John W. Campbell, Avram Davidson, and Moorcock & Sallis were each responsible for one. Pohl purchased more Hugo winning short works than all of the other editors combined.

The second volume is far more varied than the first volume … and far more ambitious. It’s obvious that the field was growing and changing. The 1960s winners include some works that might have won in the 1950s, but most of them would have been too outré for 1950s taste. Fred Pohl was more iconoclastic than Campbell.

Of course, when I first read this tome I was a mere SF-struck kid and the historical dimension pretty much escaped me. There are a few advantages to getting older.

Now I want to track down Volumes Three and Four of the series, the volumes that cover the tumultuous 1970s. And Volume Five for reasons of compulsive completism. As far as I know, the series never went past Volume Five,

This omnibus is very out of print. However, many used copies are available.


1: Although I don’t recall the exact circumstances under which I acquired this book, I can pretty sure it was in 1973, because inside it I found this,


as well several other autographs from the 1972-73 Montreal Canadiens. My aunt got them for me with her amazing nun powers. But I do remember reading it over and over, so I would have read it during the 1974-1981 period covered by my Tears reviews.

2: Grandfather Scott once managed to summon a surprising fraction of the San Francisco Fire Department when he fired up the engine of a German harbour boat he was repairing. The engine burned dirty and the fire department misinterpreted the tall column of black smoke.

3: The Leafs are arguably not the worst NHL team ever (that might be the Capitals), but they are the worst hockey team to be inexplicably popular and profitable. I cannot fathom why I am expected to cheer for these doofuses based on mere geographic proximity.


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