Back in November 2021, I made a Facebook post that started “I’ve been happily re-reading “The Hugo Winners”, 1964, Isaac Asimov editor.” What follows is that post, reformatted to something that makes more sense than a FB post and edited lightly for both content and format. A friend suggested that I had things to say that would be more productive to appear in a blog; after consideration, I agreed. Buckaroo Banzai said, “No matter where you go, there you are”, and I concur.
I know I’ve read “Exploration Team” before, but had completely forgotten that it won the 1956 Hugo Award for novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words). It’s a fun story about an Earthman and a team of Earth animals exploring an alien world, and it had a fun Astounding cover when it first appeared.
I like this story, but I do find it one of the more unlikely Hugo winners (close to to 1955 Hugo novel winner, “They’d Rather Be Right” by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, which I still consider to be the most unworthy winner of all time, IMHO). In short, it was a “WTF” moment.
Luckily, Olav Rokne found a progress report for the 1956 Worldcon (see https://fanac.org/worldcon/NYcon/w56-pr3.pdf), which included the list of the nominees selected by a nomination committee (you could write in also), so we know the novelette nominees. They were:
- “Exploration Team”, by Murray Leinster, Astounding March 1956;
- “A Gun for Dinosaur”, by L. Sprague de Camp, Galaxy March 1956;
- “Brightside Crossing”, by Alan Nourse, Galaxy Jan 1956;
- “Home There’s No Returning”, by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, in their “No Boundaries” collection, December 1955;
- “Legwork”, by Eric Frank Russell, Astounding April 1956;
- “The Assistant Self”, by F.L. Wallace, Fantastic Universe, March 1956;
- “The End of Summer”, by Algis Budrys, Astounding November 1954; and
- “Who?”, by Theodore Sturgeon, Galaxy March 1955.
The progress report stated that the eligibility period was June 1955 to June 1956. This made sense, as the Con was at the end of August 1956. It does jump out that the nomination committee clearly violated their own eligibility period by including “”The End of Summer” and “Who?”, both published well before June 1955.
I’d have to re-read the rest of them, but I do think that “A Gun for Dinosaur” and “The End of Summer” were both worthy nominees.
I sat down and looked at novelettes that should have been nominated, IMHO. I eliminated “The Darsteller” by Walter M. Miller, Jr., as it was the 1955 Hugo winner. I eliminated:
- “A Work of Art” by James Blish, July 1956 SF Stories;
- “The Skills of Xanadu” by Theodore Sturgeon , July 1956 Galaxy; and
- “Time in Advance” by William Tenn, Aug 1956 Galaxy.
These are all potentially worthy of nomination, but they were published after the progress report was issued.
For worthy novelettes from 1954 to June 1956, I see these stories:
- “The Man Who Came Early”, by Poul Anderson, on two Recommended Reading Lists (Classics & SFADB), June 1956 F&SF;
- “The Dead Past”, by Isaac Asimov (1 List, SFADB), April 1956 Astounding;
- “Stranger Station”, Damon Knight (1 List, SFADB), 1956 F&SF;
- “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, Walter M. Miller, Jr, (2 Lists, Locus & SFADB), April 1955 F&SF;
- “The Tunnel Under the World”, Frederik Pohl, (2 Lists, Classics and SFADB), January 1955 Galaxy;
- “Grandpa”, by James H. Schmitz (1 List, SFADB), Feb 1955 Astounding;
- “Fondly Fahrenheit”, Alfred Bester, ( 4 Lists, Classics, Locus, SFADB, SciFi), Aug 1954 F&SF;
- “The Cold Equations”, Tom Godwin (4 Lists, Classics, Locus, SFADB, SciFi), Aug 1954 Astounding;
- “Rat Race”, Frank Herbert, July 1955 Astounding;
- “Let Me Live in a House”, Chad Oliver, Mar 1954 Universe SF; and
- “The Music Master of Babylon”, Edgar Pangborn, Nov 1954 Galaxy.
There are no records that I found for the 1955 Hugo nominees, just the winners. We can be generous and suppose that the 1956 nominating committee knew what stories had been nominated for the 1955 Hugo vote, and eliminated them. Perhaps that took some of these off the table.
Regardless, I found quite a few great stories that could have been nominated, and I still find the Hugo novelette win of “Exploration Team” hard to believe.
However, we do have to remember that the Hugo Awards are for the sweet spot of things (books, stories, movies, TV shows, etc., depending upon the rules and categories in place that year) that voters know of and like. It is a popularity contest among the voters. The 1956 World Science Fiction Convention (NyCon II) was held in New York City, with about 850 attendees. I don’t know for sure, but I assume that the voters were a subset of those 850 attendees. No more than 425 votes would have been enough to win; perhaps a lot less, depending upon how many voted.
Murray Leinster was a popular figure, a fairly long time pro SF writer. “Exploration Team” appeared in Astounding; although it was no longer the unchallenged, most important SF magazine in 1955-56, it was still a big deal with a lot of subscriptions, so it was read. He was known for writing “First Contact”, Astounding May 1945, which was an important story then and now. He wrote “First Contact” before the Hugo Awards started, and perhaps voters felt he deserved an award.
Jo Walton wrote “An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000”, 2018 Tor, a book I just loved for her enthusiasm, articulate writing and factual/historical basis to the extent possible. I checked her updated tor.com post on the 1956 Hugo outcomes, which I assume appeared in her book . She notes that “Exploration Team” would not have been her first choice. http://An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000
I still find this a rather incomprehensible outcome, but that is life and Hugo voting for you.