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Following up my post yesterday about how to get hold of the Retro Hugo finalists in the short fiction categories, these are the conclusions of my reading.


Best Novella

This is by some margin the best of the fiction categories. I know that some argue that the novella is SF's natural length; I don't have strong views on that myself, but this list is good supporting evidence.

5) “The Time Trap” by Henry Kuttner - a very pulp story, with not only a lost city in the Arabian desert but also time-travel, an Evil Queen and a Heroically Nude Heroine. Yet it's very readable, absolutely carrying on the tradtions of Rider Haggard in a new sfnal era.

4) “A Matter of Form” by H. L. Gold - I hadn't read this before, and in fact I'm not sure that I had read anything by Gold before, though of course I was aware of his importance in the history of the genre as an editor (and also that he shared my birthday, 26 April). But it's a very good if rather downbeat story about a man whose personality is swapped with a dog's by a disreputable scientist, and his efforts to reverse the situation.

3) Anthem by Ayn Rand - Actually one of her most accessible books, set in a totalitarian society where individuality has been repressed. The gender politics are still somewhat dodgy, but it's a reasonable stop on the literary path from We to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. If Rand had restrained her later writing to this sort of pithiness, the world would be a better place. (NB one of two pieces by women, of the twenty fiction pieces nominated.)

2) “Sleepers of Mars” by John Wyndham/John Beynon - I noted previously Wyndham's miscounting of the Soviet Republics, but this is actually rather an attractive story, Bradbury before his time, with the central characters being the Russian cosmonauts (though in fact they include a Ukrainian, a Kyrgyz and a politically exiled Scot) and an opening-the-tomb narrative with a surprising and downbeat ending.

1) “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell/Don A. Stuart - This really is a classic, and I expect that it will win by a country mile. I previously read it as a teenager, before I'd read Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness (which is surely one of the sources). It is a bit clunkier than I had realised, but the increasing sense of paranoia, and the image of the blood test betraying the hidden monsters, are very powerful.


Best Novelette

5) "Rule 18" by Clifford D. Simak - a story about using time travel to ensure the racial purity and excellence of the defending team in an interplanetary sports game. Native Americans play a key role. It is topical because of the World Cup, but it really isn't very good.

4) "Hollywood on the Moon" by Henry Kuttner - takes our plucky cameraman hero with his spunky girl sidekick (her chin is frequently mentioned) from the Moon to Ganymede (the asteroid, not the Jovian satellite) for thrilling adventures. There are no girls in Africa.

3) “Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard - a horror story rather than SF, much anthologised but marred for today's readers by repeated use of the word "Nigger" (and there is a Magical Negro too, not surprisingly). Likely to win if only because it's the best known.

2) "Dead Knowledge" by John W. Campbell/Don A. Stuart - impressed me with its intense escalation of horror, a story of astronauts landing on a world where everyone appears to have killed themselves rather than allow something awful to happen. Again, the end didn't quite work for me.

1) "Werewoman" by C.L. Moore - a breathless evocation of bodily transformation, lyrically written; with a slightly offkey ending. It's at a completely different level to the other short fiction. (NB one of two pieces by women, of the twenty fiction pieces nominated.)


Best Short Story

5) The best that can be said of “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma” by Ray Bradbury is that he got a lot better after this, his first published story. While the idea (a time-sensitive man foresees his own death, but not how it will come about) is OK, if not especially startling, the execution is, to be polite about it, unpolished. Bradbury was 17 when it was published, which must make him the youngest ever Hugo or Retro Hugo finalist, so some allowance can be made for him, though not for those who nominated it.

4) "How We Went To Mars" by Arthur C. Clarke is also pretty awful; a one-joke story about a pompous English village club who invent an interplanetary rocket, stretched well past breaking point. An early Clarke and not one of his greatest.

3) I have always hated stories about cute anthropomorphic robots, for as long as I can remember. "Helen O'Loy", by Lester Del Rey, is the archetype of such stories (and probably pt me off them when I first read it at the age of 13 or so). It will probably win.

2) "The Faithful", by Lester Del Rey, is a story about how Man's subject races keep the faith after man's extinction. It does not survive a post-colonial reading terribly well.

1) "Hyperpilousity", by L. Sprague de Camp, struggles with gender and ethnic stereotypes, and tries a little too hard to be funny, but does have an interesting idea at its core: what would it mean for human society (where "human society" = "New York") if we all started growing body hair and so stopped wearing clothes? For my money, it is the best of this bunch.

You can vote in this year's Hugos, and the 1939 Retro Hugos, by joining Loncon 3 at http://www.loncon3.org/memberships .

2014: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Related Work | Best Graphic Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist | Best Fan Artist
1939: Best Novel | Best Novella | Best Novelette | Best Short Story | Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) | Best Professional Artist

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Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
whswhs
Jul. 5th, 2014 01:05 am (UTC)
I liked Atlas Shrugged, and still like it; entirely apart from the philosophical and political content, I think it's the best pulp novel ever written, complete with the long speech by the villain where he explains his master plan that's going to change the world. Of course by this time the story is the protagonists deciding to join him—the same plot twist as the end of Watchmen, though Rand didn't have a Rorschach figure defiant to the last. But certainly I'd recommend Anthem for the curious, just as I'd recommend A Portrait of the Artist rather than Ulysses.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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