Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

1945 Retro Hugo finalists for Best Novel

For the record, I am not a huge fan of the Retro Hugos in general. It's striking that three of the 1945 Best Novel finalists are really from outside the sfnal subculture that existed at the time, indicating how few actual novels were being written by the sf pulp writers. Anyway, it's an interesting selection.

The Golden Fleece aka Hercules, My Shipmate, by Robert Graves

Second paragraph of third chapter:
King Sthenelus, the new Achaean overlord of the Peloponnese, justified his seizure of the throne of Mycenae from the Henetian house of Pelops by denying that his predecessor had a valid title to it: he married Nicippe, a matrilinear descendant of Andromeda, sister of Perseus the Cretan who had founded the city, and ruled in her name.
I have an affection for the story of the Argonauts, because my Elizabethan ancestor Nicholas White is reputed to have translated the Gaius Valerius Flaccus version into English. Graves here subverts the received version of the story by situating it in an ancient world of magic and gods, where the worship of the mother goddess has been written out by later traditions. There are some thrilling bits here, as the Argo plays hide-and-seek with its pursuers around the margins of the Black Sea. Graves has a lovely eye for detail, and the humour is a bit hearty but also humanising. You can get it here.

Land of Terror, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Perry and I used often to discuss the helplessness of twentieth-century man when thrown upon his own resources. We touch a button and we have light, and think nothing of it; but how many of us could build a generator to produce that light? We ride on trains as a matter of course; but how many of us could build a steam engine? How many of us could make paper, or ink, or the thousand-and-one little commonplace things we use every day? Could you refine ore, even if you could recognize it when you found it? Could you even make a stone knife with no more tools at your command than those possessed by the men of the Old Stone Age, which consisted of nothing but their hands and other stones?
One of Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels, published in 1944. Our hero goes on an Odyssey-style voyage in the world hidden beneath our own where he has already resided for many years. He escapes from strange cultures where women and non-white men are in charge, because he is smarter. He is gallant towards his own womenfolk, even though they are indistinguishable as characters. In the end, he returns to the safe haven of white male supremacy and order is restored. It's a racist mess. You can get it (very cheaply) here.

“Shadow Over Mars” (The Nemesis from Terra), by Leigh Brackett

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Mayo McCall watched the men running back and forth below. Quite calmly she reached out and closed the switch that controlled her testing beam — the ray that spanned the head of the drift and checked every carload of dull red rock for Fallonite content, the chemically amorphous substance that was already beginning to revolutionize the Terran plastic industry.
Fairly standard but well executed pulp planetary romance / space opera, with desert Mars, swampy Venus and our hero overcoming evil Earth industrialists and perhaps a bit of commentary on colonialism as well. Brackett is one of two women in this category, and the only one to get a solo listing. You can get the original pulp version here and buy a later book version here.

Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord, by Olaf Stapledon

Second paragraph of third chapter (sorry, it's a long one):
Plaxy and Sirius were already forming that companionship which was to have so great an effect on both their minds throughout their lives. They played together, fed together, were washed together, and were generally good or naughty together. When one was sick, the other was bored and abject. When one was hurt, the other howled with sympathy. Whatever one of them did, the other had to attempt. When Plaxy learned to tie a knot, Sirius was very distressed at his inability to do likewise. When Sirius acquired by observation of the family's super-sheep-dog, Gelert, the habit of lifting a leg at gateposts to leave his visiting card, Plaxy found it hard to agree that this custom, though suitable for dogs, was not at all that Plaxy was building. His effort wrecked the wall. This was not Sirius's first achievement in construction, for he had once been seen to lay three sticks together to form a triangle, an achievement which caused him great satisfaction. He had to learn to "handle" bricks and dolls in such a way that neither his saliva nor his pin-point teeth would harm them. He was already enviously impressed by Plaxy's hands and their versatility. The normal puppy shows considerable inquisitiveness, but no impulse to construct; Sirius was more persistently inquisitive and at times passionately constructive. His behaviour was in many ways more simian than canine. The lack of hands was a handicap against which he reacted with a dogged will to triumph over disability.appropriate to little girls. She was deterred only by the difficulty of the operation. Similarly, though she was soon convinced that to go smelling at gate-posts was futile because her nose was not as clever as Sirius's, she did not see why the practice should outrage the family's notions of propriety. Plaxy's inability to share in Sirius's developing experience of social smelling, if I may so name it, was balanced by his clumsiness in construction. Plaxy was the first to discover the joy of building with bricks; but there soon came a day when Sirius, after watching her intently, himself brought a brick and set it clumsily on the top of the rough wall that Plaxy was building. His effort wrecked the wall. This was not Sirius's first achievement in construction, for he had once been seen to lay three sticks together to form a triangle, an achievement which caused him great satisfaction. He had to learn to "handle" bricks and dolls in such a way that neither his saliva nor his pin-point teeth would harm them. He was already enviously impressed by Plaxy's hands and their versatility. The normal puppy shows considerable inquisitiveness, but no impulse to construct; Sirius was more persistently inquisitive and at times passionately constructive. His behaviour was in many ways more simian than canine. The lack of hands was a handicap against which he reacted with a dogged will to triumph over disability.
As a kid I hugely enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody and A.M. Lightner's Star Dog (the latter long out of print), both of which centre around the relationship between a human and a puppy which has been born with unearthly powers due to extraterrestrial intervention. Here, the eponymous Sirius is the product of human intervention, enhanced to superior intellectual abilities and also much longer lifespan. I've read a lot of Stapledon's cosmic fiction before, and not always been hugely impressed; I found Sirius much easier to relate to both as a book and as a character. Sure, it draws heavily on Frankenstein, but I think Stapledon brings a lot of new material to his source - most particulary the intense relationship between dog and girl. You know of course where it is going to end, but it kept me very engaged until we got there. You can get it here.

(Incidentally Arthur C. Clarke used the same subtitle for his novel Imperial Earth, which I think is underrated.)

The Wind on the Moon, by Eric Linklater

Second paragraph of third chapter:
‘I don’t know what people will think, or what they will say,’ said Mrs Palfrey, ‘when they see us pushing Dinah and Dorinda in this absurd and ridiculous manner. Perhaps we should not have come to the village. It might have been better to ask Dr Fosfar to see the children at home.’
Apparently a really popular children's book, which won the Carnegie Medal for 1944; the two sisters Dinah and Dorinda have a series of magical adventures including being turned into giraffes for the local zoo and dramatically rescuing their father from a foreign prison. Didn't especially grab me, but obviously it has a loyal following. You can get it here.

“The Winged Man”, by A.E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull

Second and third paragraphs of third chapter:
Sweating, Kenlon looked up to where Lieutenant commander Jones-Gordon was kneeling beside the flagpole holding with strong fingers to Kenlon’s right wrist while Kenlon worked with his left hand. Trembling from exhaustion, Kenlon finally said:
“What do you think, sir—a blowtorch to burn it off?"
A WW2 submarine is brought millennia into the future to become part of a war between bird-men and fish-men (and they are mostly men, though a vessel crewed entirely by women does turn up three-quarters of the way in). The twentieth-century hero saves the day, but it's really not all that exciting. You can get the original magazine publication here and here, and an expanded novel version here.

So, a couple of very interesting books here - but some other Retro Hugo cycles have had better luck.
Tags: bookblog 2020, hugos 2020, writer: ae van vogt, writer: edgar rice burroughs, writer: leigh brackett, writer: olaf stapledon, writer: robert graves
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