October 25th, 2015

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Links I found interesting for 25-10-2015

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1941 Retro Hugo Awards: Eligible novels, ranked by popularity

This entry has been updated.

Thanks to Meredith and Steve Davidson, and the SF Encyclopedia, I've compiled a list of novels eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugo Awards which will be presented at next year's Worldcon (MidAmeriCon II in Kansas City, Missouri). My aim is basically to help myself (and others) make an informed nomination, recognising that books which are relatively obscure now are unlikely to make it through the process to the award ceremony. What, then, are the least obscure SF novels of 1940, and the most likely to receive the favour of Hugo voters?

As is my wont, I've ranked them by popularity on Goodreads and LibraryThing, with a couple of tweaks: several of the top works are now much more easily available as parts of larger books than as standalone works, and while I ranked all the books mentioned by Meredith and Steve Davidson, I was a bit more selective in what I took from the later comments to their posts and from the SF Encyclopedia. The full table is further down this post; the top seven, with links to the Wikipedia article about each book, are as follows.

1) The Ill-Made Knight, by T.H. White, these days available as the third part of The Once and Future King. This is the part of the story which centres on Lancelot's travails with Arthur, Guinevere and Elaine. It must be decades since I last read it, but it sticks in my mind pretty vividly.

2) The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares. I'm not sure if this qualifies as a novel by length - a number of sources describe it as a novella, and the available editions are only 100 pages long. It gets rave reviews from those who have read it, including the author's close friend Jorge Luis Borges (whose own "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was also published in 1940). Update: I'm pretty sure that this is a novella. The English translation has 350-400 words per page, and of the 100 pages, several are taken up by Borges' introduction and several more by illustrations. So it's unlikely to be be over 40,000 words, and the same probably goes for the original Spanish text.

3) If This Goes On—, by Robert A. Heinlein, these days available as the first part of Revolt in 2100. This was Heinlein's first published novel, about the overthrow of a religious theocracy in the United States, which feels uncomfortably closer to plausibility today than it did when I first read it in my teens. Update: Alas, it's pretty clear - as pointed out in comments below - that the 1940 text at 33,800 words is well below the cutoff point for novels, so this too is a novella.

4) Slan, by A.E. van Vogt. I actually can't remember if I have read this, but of all the books on the list it was probably the most influential on the genre.

5) Gray Lensman, by E.E. "Doc" Smith. I gave up on Smith's classic series before reaching this one, but there is a view (which I am not in a position to contest) that this is the best of them.

6) The Incomplete Enchanter, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, these days available as the first two parts of The Compleat Enchanter and in various other collections. Although The Incomplete Enchanter was first published as a book in 1941, it compiles two stories published in Unknown in 1940 and is thus eligible. Two scientists explore the worlds of Norse mythology and Spenser's The Faerie Queene. Update: On reflection, I'm convinced by the argument made in comments below that the novel as such was published in 1941 rather than 1940; and the two constituent novellas should be considered individually but not jointly eligible.

7) Kallocain, by Karin Boye. Of the 42 novels on my long list, three are by women, and the other two are pretty obscure. This on the other hand is a classic of Swedish literature, a totaliarian dystopia.

The next two novels on the list are by L. Ron Hubbard, which will not count in their favour, and the rest are orders of magnitude more obscure. So I think it's pretty likely that the five Best Novel finalists for the 1941 Retro Hugos will be five of the seven on the above list. And while it would be great to see the voters reach beyond the usual boundaries of Anglo-American genre to include Bioy or Boye, I'm not really counting on it. Update: I've now reduced the top seven to a top four.

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