Monday, May 16, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1955

Hugo nomination recommendations, 1955 (1954 Stories)

Recently I did a piece on potential Hugo winners from 1957, having noticed that no stories from 1957 won Hugos: the 1958 Hugos went to stories from 1958 -- a result of the rules at that time extending eligibility up until a couple of months before Worldcon, and also that the 1957 Hugos didn't have any fiction awards. 1954 is in a similar state -- the short fiction awards from 1955 went to Walter M. Miller's "The Darfsteller" (Astounding, January 1955) and Eric Frank Russell's "Allamagoosa" (Astounding, May 1955). Mind you, the novel winner, "They'd Rather be Right", by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, is from 1954 (Astounding, August through November), but it is also widely regarded as the worst Hugo-winning novel in history, so there's no harm looking at potential alternate winners in that category either!

I'll note for the record that the novelette "The Darfsteller" is an excellent story, and a very worthy Hugo winner (though I'd probably choose Damon Knight's "The Earth Quarter" (If, January 1955) instead) and the short story winner, "Allamagoosa", is good fun, though I'd have chosen one of several other candidates. ("Watershed", by James Blish, for example, or "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts", by Shirley Jackson.) "Allamagoosa", by the way, is the first Hugo winner by a non-American (unless you count the German-born Willy Ley, who won for his science articles in 1953 -- but I'm pretty sure he'd become an American citizen by then.) I note as well that Richard A. Lupoff's excellent anthology What If?, Volume 1, selected "alternate Hugos" for the years 1952 through 1958, and his choice from 1954 was "The Golden Helix", by Theodore Sturgeon.

Incidentally, you might notice that all three fiction winners in the 1955 Hugos are from Astounding. In addition, the Best Editor award went to John W. Campbell, Jr., and the Best Artist went to Frank Kelly Freas, then as throughout his career a regular contributor to Astounding/Analog. Perhaps not surprising -- Astounding certainly retained a position as one of the leading SF magazines. But the story I've heard is that fans of Astounding were somewhat annoyed that Galaxy outdid Astounding in the first Hugos (1953), tying Astounding for Best Magazine, and having the Best Novel winner (The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester) be a Galaxy serial, plus Excellence in Fact Articles going to Galaxy columnist Willy Ley. Thus, in 1955, they (in how organized a fashion I couldn't say) strongly supported Astounding contributors.

[Note -- I'm revising this to mention a couple more stories that I overlooked! Thanks to Joachim Boaz and Kris Vyas-Myall for the prods!]

Novels

Here's a possible nomination list (though in reality we can assume "They'd Rather Be Right" would have been on the list too.) I would list The Fellowship of the Ring at the top, and then A Mirror for Observers. And honestly, had either A Mirror for Observers or I Am Legend won (assuming The Fellowship of the Ring might not have got the requisite notice as a UK hardcover only), the reputation of the 1954 novel award would be much higher!

The Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson

The Syndic, by C. M. Kornbluth

I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

A Mirror for Observers, by Edgar Pangborn

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Other possibilities:

Brain Wave, by Poul Anderson

One in Three Hundred, by J. T. McIntosh

Search the Sky, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

Gladiator-at-Law, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

Undersea Quest, by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson

There were also a couple possibilities from the  so-called "mainstream". Of these three novels, I don't personally consider Lord of the Flies SF (though I can see the argument), and I haven't read the other two.

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Messiah, by Gore Vidal

The Magicians, by J. B. Priestley

And of course there were some from the category then called "Juvenile" (now YA or Middle Grade):

The Star Beast, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron


Novellas

I only found six novellas particularly worth mentioning, so I list them all. Of these, my pretty clear-cut choice is "Rule Golden".

"Sucker Bait", by Isaac Asimov (Astounding, February and March)

"Sine of the Magus", by James Gunn (Beyond, May)

"Rule Golden", by Damon Knight (Science Fiction Adventures, May)

"Natural State", by Damon Knight (Galaxy, January)

"No More Stars", by "Charles Satterthwaite" (Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey) (Beyond, July)

"The Golden Helix", by Theodore Sturgeon (Thrilling Wonder, Summer)


Novelettes

Now this is interesting! I found 14 (at least) potential nominees among the novelettes. By sheer coincidence, my five favorites are the first five alphabetically. And the first two are clearly not just the best two stories of 1954, but two of the very greatest SF stories of all time. I don't think it's shocking, but it is disappointing, that none of these stories won an award. I'd also like to highlight once again Budrys' "The End of Summer", which is a wonderful and wonderfully strange story, marred just slightly by a slightly disappointing resolution. (Had he landed that, this story would rank with the two Bester stories.) 

"Fondly Fahrenheit", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, August)

"5,271,009", by Alfred Bester (F&SF, March)

"Beep", by James Blish (Galaxy, February)

"The End of Summer", by Algis Budrys (Astounding, November)

"The Golden Man", by Philip K. Dick (If, April)

Other possibilities:

"The Cold Equations", by Tom Godwin (Astounding, August)

"Miss Tarmity's Profession", by Roy Hutchins (Beyond, July)

"Gomez", by C. M. Kornbluth (The Explorers)

"Lot's Daughter", by Ward Moore (F&SF, October)

"The Music Master of Babylon", by Edgar Pangborn (Galaxy, November)

"The Midas Plague", by Frederik Pohl (Galaxy, April)

"Dusty Zebra", by Clifford Simak (Galaxy, September)

"How-2", by Clifford Simak (Galaxy, November)

"Down Among the Dead Men", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, June)

"Party of Two Parts", by "William Tenn" (Philip Klass) (Galaxy, August)

"Big Ancestor", by F. L. Wallace (Galaxy, November)

Short Stories

Oddly, I'd didn't find as many short stories that stuck out. For me, either Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day" or Seabright's "Short in the Chest" would have been strong winners.

"The Immortal Game", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, February)

"All Summer in a Day", by Ray Bradbury (F&SF, March)

"The Father-Thing", by Philip K. Dick (F&SF, December)

"Adjustment Team", by Philip K. Dick (Orbit, September-October)

"Daughter", by Philip Jose Farmer (Thrilling Wonder, Winter)

"The Nostalgia Gene", by Roy Hutchins (Galaxy, November)

"Short in the Chest", by "Idris Seabright" (Margaret St. Clair) (Fantastic Universe, July)

"BAXBR/DAXBR", by Evelyn E. Smith (Time to Come)


Friday, May 13, 2022

Review: Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip, plus some short story capsules

The wonderful writer Patricia A. McKillip has died, at 74. She was a leap day birth, so back when I was doing "birthday reviews" it was a while before I had a chance to do one for her, and when I did it was a reprint of a review I did of The Bell of Sealey Head.

Sadly, before another of her quadrennial birthdays came up, she died. And in her memory, I have compiled a few other things I wrote about her work. Alas, I didn't really write a great deal about her best work -- a few short reviews of short fiction for Locus, or for my blog, and the shortish piece below about Od Magic, a nice novel but not her best. 

I read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and the Riddle-Master books in the early '80s with enjoyment, but it was her glorious Winter Rose, from 1996, that turned me into a true fan, and from that point I read each of her nicely sized novels, one every year or two for about 15 years, always with a lovely Kinuko Craft cover, until she slowed down in the past decade or so. But the way things worked out Od Magic (a minor novel) and The Bell of Sealey Head (which I like rather better) are the only two I wrote about. So this is my tribute!



Review of Od Magic

Patricia A. McKillip's latest novel, Od Magic, is not part of a series. But it is one of a consistent set of novels that she puts out, pretty much one per year, tidily sized (about 90,000 words in this case), tidily shaped. In Od Magic there are no bad guys, just temporarily misled people. Which isn't a bad or dishonest thing, really. But in this particular case it does sort of dull the edge of the book.

Od is a legendary female wizard, very long lived but hardly ever seen. Centuries earlier she founded a school of wizardry in Kelior, the capital city of the Kingdom of Numis. Now she appears to a young man in the North named Brenden Vetch, and asks him to go to her school to be the gardener, and to look for the door under the shoe.

I confess I expected a story about Brenden, but this isn't what McKillip was after. Instead she follows a variety of people: Brenden of course, but also the influential wizard of Od's school, Yar; his politically connected lover Ceta; the High Warden's son, another Warden (that is to say, policeman), Arneth Pyt; the King's daughter, Princess Sulys, who is about to be married to a man she doesn't know, a priggish but powerful wizard; and the small-time wizard (small-time? perhaps!) Tyramin and his enigmatic daughter. The story revolves about the King's concern about the potential abilities of Tyramin, who is not under his control, and about Sulys's desire to actually have a chance to know her husband, and moreover her desire to use certain small powers she possesses, and about Yar's concern that his school -- Od's school -- may have become hidebound, too much a tool of the King (even though the King seems for the most part a pretty good King). And also about Brenden Vetch, and his quite remarkable powers, and his connection with certain beings that have long secretly inhabited the kingdom.

It's all a very nice novel, and always readable, and full of characters you like and root for -- but at the same time it seems a bit inconsequential -- or perhaps the term is "easy". In a way I found this refreshing -- the people really are all trying to do their best, they are just often misguided -- and in all honesty that seems truer than the common evil/good divide. But that said there really isn't much tension in the novel -- or much risk. I enjoyed it, and I think most readers will. But it didn't stay with me.

Locus, September 2004

Another Romance genre anthology has appeared with a fantasy/SF theme: To Weave a Web of Magic. As with the earlier Irresistible Forces, an equal mix of SF writers and Romance writers contribute stories. The best in this book is by Patricia McKillip, "The Gorgon in the Cupboard", about a young painter who unwittingly calls forth the spirit of Medusa. Medusa helps the young man, just a bit, as he rediscovers a formal model of his, fallen on very hard times, and as he learns to see her as a woman, not just a painting to be.

Locus, February 2021

Two more stories in The Book of Dragons, I think, are the very best. “Camouflage”, by Patricia A. McKillip, features a Magical Arts student taking his final exam, and ending up mysteriously in a completely different place and time, where he encounters two women, and sees their dragons, who can rarely be seen, because of their magical camouflage. He has a role here too – which may have something to do with his exam. I’m not telling where and when this test occurs, because it’s part of the fun – but the mix here of magic, time travel, war, and dragons is delicious.

[Some people may remember that when I revealed my Best of the Year TOC a couple of weeks ago I mentioned we reserving a place for one more story -- this was "Camouflage". We had queried McKillip about including it, and hadn't received a response -- it is now only too clear why.]

Review of The Fair Folk

Patricia A. McKillip's "The Kelpie" is set in the same milieu as her fine 2004 novella "The Gorgon in the Cupboard": a group of painters resembling the Pre-Raphaelites. Ned Bonham is a moderately successful young painter. He meets Emma Slade at her brother's party. Emma is an aspiring painter just up from the country. The two fall in love on the instant. But Emma attracts the attention of the very successful Bram Wilding, who arranges for her to model for him, in exchange for his support of an exhibition of women's art – and he pressures her for a different sort of relationship. So far this is a straightforward romance plot – no fantasy – but on a visit to Ned's country home she encounters a quite different creature, and this dangerous encounter leads to a resolution of the central triangle.

Review of Firebirds

Patricia McKillip contributes "Byndley", a striking tale of a wizard who unwisely stole something from the Queen of Faerie, and who comes to the title town to try to find his way back to return it.  But Faerie is not so easy to enter -- or to recognize. 

Review of Firebirds Rising

Patricia A. McKillip contributes another of her stories about a group of painters resembling the Pre-Raphaelites. “Jack O’Lantern” is about a girl struggling with her parents’ conventional views of the role of women, particularly upper class women, as her older sister prepares to be married. During the painting of a wedding party portrait she meets a curious local lad, and hears a story about the Jack O’Lantern.

Review of A Book of Wizards

Patricia A. McKillip, with “Knight of the Well”, a nicely romantic tale of a the Minister of Water and a Knight of the Well and a water wizard trying to understand why the spirits of water seem angry. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hugo Nomination Recommendations: 1958

Potential Hugo nominations for the 1958 Hugos (stories from 1957)

I made a post on Facebook about possible Hugo nominations for stories published in 1957 -- a year that was not well represented in Hugo history, due to the vagaries of changing Hugo eligibility rules, radically different Hugo categories from year to year, including no fiction Hugos in 1957, and a generally cavalier attitude towards the whole process. That post engendered a lot of productive comments, and I figured I'd make an updated version to preserve it on my blog. Thanks to Andrew Breitenbach, David Merrill, Gary Farber, Piet Nel, and Paul Fraser (among others) for suggestions for further stories, and for productive suggestions for more details about Hugo history.

Wandering through the history of the Hugos in the 1950s -- a chaotic time, with no well established rules, with constantly changing award categories, with a con committee, in one case, refusing to give fiction awards at all ... I realized that no stories from 1957 won a Hugo. (The 1958 Hugo for short story went to "Or All the Seas With Oysters", by Avram Davidson (Galaxy, May 1958) and the Hugo for -- get this -- "Novel or Novelette" went to "The Big Time", by Fritz Leiber, a novel (albeit very short) that was serialized in Galaxy, March and April 1958. In 1957, no Hugos for fiction were given.

I note as well that Richard A. Lupoff's excellent anthology What If?, Volume 1, selected "alternate Hugos" for the years 1952 through 1958, and his choice from 1957 was "The Mile-Long Spaceship", by Kate Wilhelm.

So, what the heck -- here's my list of proposed fiction nominees from 1957. I use the categories Novel, Novelette, and Short Story.

Novel:

Citizen of the Galaxy, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle

Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell

On the Beach, by Nevil Shute

The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham

and you know what -- in many ways the most significant -- and commercially successful -- SF novel of 1957 was:

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand

(By the way, The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov, is often cited as a 1957 novel, but its serialization in Astounding ended in December 1956. The same is true of Heinlein's The Door Into Summer, serialized in F&SF.)

Note that four of my suggested novel nominees (all except Heinlein) were born and raised in the UK (Shute moved to Australia in 1950.) Had this nomination list been real (unlikely) and had the Heinlein been replaced by Atlas Shrugged (even more unlikely) all five nominees would have been born and raised outside the US. (Rand immigrated from the Soviet Union at the age of 21.)

Novelette:

"Call Me Joe", by Poul Anderson (Astounding, April)

"The Queer Ones", by Leigh Brackett (Venture, March)

"The Dying Man" aka "Dio", by Damon Knight (Infinity, September)

"Omnilingual", by H. Beam Piper (Astounding, February)

"It Opens the Sky", by Theodore Sturgeon (Venture, November)

("The Last Canticle", by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (F&SF, February) would also have been a worthy nominee, but I left it off because I think of the novel (A Canticle for Leibowitz) first.)

Short Story:

"Hunting Machine", by Carol Emshwiller (Science Fiction Stories, May)

"Journeys End", by Poul Anderson (F&SF, February)

"The Men Return", by Jack Vance (Infinity, July)

"The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", by Robert A. Heinlein (Saturn, October)

"Manhole 69", by J. G. Ballard (New Worlds, November)

"Affair with a Green Monkey", by Theodore Sturgeon (Venture, May)

(I could also have mentioned Kate Wilhelm's second sale, "The Mile-Long Spaceship" (Astounding, April), a strong early story that, as noted above, was Richard A. Lupoff's choice for an alternate Hugo this year.)

My votes? Citizen of the Galaxy, "The Queer Ones", "The Men Return". In no case are those votes easy choices, mind you.

I note, too, that the "Big Three" (Astounding, Galaxy, F&SF) are represented only by two novelettes and one short story. (And, to be fair, one novel.)

Other notes about 1958: it was the only year of the Hugos in which the winners did not get a rocket ship -- the award this year was a plaque. Also, 1958 was the last year in which there was not a codified process by which a fan vote selected a set of nominees, followed by a general vote for the Hugo. 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Old Bestseller Review: The Chequer Board, by Nevil Shute

Old Bestseller Review: The Chequer Board, by Nevil Shute

by Rich Horton


This book was not a bestseller, but Shute, a fairly popular writer for much of his career, had a major bestseller with On the Beach, 7th bestselling book in the US in 1957, and with his last novel, Trustee from the Toolroom (1960). So I think Shute fits that subcategory.

Nevil Shute Norway was born in England in 1899, His father became head of the Post Office in Ireland (shades of Trollope!), and Shute spent a few years there, and tended the wounded during the Easter Rising in 1916. He served in the First World War in its late months. He graduated from Oxford with an Engineering degree (Mechanical Engineering, we'd say now) and worked on airplanes and airships -- notably leading the development of the R-100, a promising British dirigible project that was scrapped after a test airship from a parallel government project crashed. Shute later formed his own company, which developed the Envoy, a trainer for the UK air force. Aeronautical details show up in several of his novels (including the one at hand) -- most famously No Highway, which concerned the failure of an airplane due to metal fatigue -- which happened just a few years later to the DeHavilland Comet. Shute served in Burma during the Second World War (an experience that strongly influences The Chequer Board.) He moved to Australia in 1950, and died of a stroke in 1960.

His first novel was published in 1926, and he published about 20 novels in his life, with a few more appearing posthumously. He signed his books Nevil Shute in order to separate his writing persona from his engineering persona. The Chequer Board was published in 1947, about when it is set. The UK edition was from Heinemann, the American from William Morrow. Apparently there was some concern about its reception in the US, as it is very critical of the treatment of black people at that time, but it seems to have been very successful. It was a Literary Guild selection. My edition is the 1968 Ballantine paperback. 

I will begin with a caution for sensitive readers. The Chequer Board is overtly and honestly a book taking a stand against racism, dealing with both America's dismal treatment of our black citizens, and England's dismal treatment of its colonies; and with the demeaning attitudes most white people adopted towards blacks and Asians. Its heart is clearly -- and movingly -- in the right place; but it was written by a white British man in the 1940s, and as such it can't claim to truly understand the viewpoints of black Americans and of Burmans. (I use here the name for Myanmar that was then current, and the curious demonym Shute uses -- Burmans instead of Burmese.) In addition, Shute regularly -- very regularly -- uses the N-word -- surely accurately reflecting the way his characters would have spoken (and he does not regard the term as neutral -- he's clear that it is offensive, and that his black characters perceive it as offensive.) I think it would have a been false for him not to do so -- but I have been socially conditioned to find it offputting (and, to be clear, this is normal social conditioning, and a good thing.) Others might mind it even hard to take. The women characters are given agency and come off as real -- but the sexual attitudes of the day are accepted quite straightforwardly by the author -- he is fiercely anti-racist (in 1940s terms) but not feminist at all, seems to me.

The Chequer Board is framed by the report of a medical specialist who is asked to take a look at John Turner, who has been experiencing fits, and having difficulty with his coordination. Turner had been injured in a plane crash during the war (the book is set a year or two after the end of the war) and some shrapnel injured his head -- and some of it could not be removed safely. The doctor's diagnosis is that a piece of metal is causing brain issues for Turner, and that it remains inoperable -- Turner will die in a year or so. 

Turner is a cereal salesman. He and his wife Mollie have no children, and their marriage is troubled. Turner, we quickly learn, is none too moral -- he seems to embezzle from his company in a minor way, keeping that money from Mollie, and in fact he was caught committing a similar crime in the Army -- the plane crash occurred while he was being transported back to England to be court-martialed. He ended up serving six months. Now, facing death, he realizes there are a few things he wants desperately to do in his last year -- primarily, to look up the three men who were in hospital with him after the crash. The hospital is connected with the prison, and two of these men are also awaiting trial: Duggie Brent, a commando, had killed a man in a bar brawl; and Dave Lesurier, a black American soldier, has been accused of attempted rape of a girl in the village of Trenarth, where his unit was stationed. The other man is Philip Morgan, the pilot of the crashed plane -- he'd been kept in the same hospital for convenience. Turner tells Mollie what he knows of these three men, and Mollie -- who is feeling oddly better about her husband, partly sympathy for his plight, and partly because he seems to have opened up to her more than ever -- agrees that he should try to find out what happened to them after they got out of the hospital. 

Turner tracks down Philip Morgan's mother first -- and finds that Morgan served in Burma after getting out of the hospital, and stayed there, abandoning his wife. The mother is bitter -- but Turner knows Morgan's wife was unfaithful, and figures he left for good reason, and is probably living miserably in Burma. And he goes out there, hoping to help him out, and finds something quite different -- an extended, and quite exciting, section shows, essentially, Burma making a man of Philip Morgan -- and Morgan learning to respect and understand the people -- including his eventual wife. Turner learns something too ... and on returning to England finds his relationship with his wife much improved. He learns a bit about Duggie Brent -- a good lawyer got him off the murder charge, and Brent spent some time as a circus act, but the trail runs cold there. And he figures he'll never learn what happened to Dave Lesurier, who is surely back in the US. So Turner and Mollie decide on one last vacation, as Turner's health declines. But the canny Turner maneuvers them to Trenarth, where he figures he can ask the locals about Lesurier's case -- and we learn his whole story too, and about the villagers' relationship with the black soldiers, and how the arrival of a white unit messes things up -- and about the shy Lesurier's interest in a young local girl, which ends up leading to a trumped up rape charge.

All is resolved quite neatly -- maybe a bit too neatly, maybe there's a bit of implausible good fortune in the stories of all three men. But Shute's writing is immensely involving -- he truly had the mysterious skill of making the reader want to keep reading. And the message is inspiring and hopeful, with all the characters treated with respect and sympathy. It's a very involving, very moving novel. It is popular fiction, yes ... there is a bit of contrivance. But it's very good popular fiction. I'll be reading more from Nevil Shute.