Summary: Many feel the Hugo Awards are the most important fan driven awards of the speculative fiction field. Most of us fans have probably looked at various Hugo Award winners and thought, “What? How could that that have won the Hugo Award?” I know I have! A few years back, Jo Walton wrote “An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953–2000” (2018). Based upon that work and comments by Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois therein, I have developed my own list of “18 Stories That Should Have Won Hugo Awards“. This list and the work behind it could be useful in a number of ways, including a) the kind of fannish discussion and contention we all love, b) a great and diverse list of short speculative fiction for reading, or c) other more specialized purposes, such as use as a citation at the Classics of Science Fiction website.
The Story: I have been a fan of science fiction and related fields for a long time, at least 55 years. I probably became aware of the Hugo Awards sometime in my early teens, seeing “Hugo Award Winner” and the like emblazoned on book covers and magazines.
The Hugo Awards are the oldest surviving awards for speculative fiction, first being awarded in any form in 1953. They are considered by some to be the most important, like the Oscars of the science fiction and fantasy world. They are organized, nominated for and voted on by the fans who are members of the World Science Fiction Convention.
It’s important to understand that a Hugo Award winner typically is based upon these things:
- Meets the eligibility criteria, as judged by the Hugo Award Administrator;
- Has been read/viewed/whatever by a large number of the eligible fan nominators and voters; and
- Furthermore has been liked or loved by those many of those fan nominators and voters.
It is definitely a popularity contest among those eligible works that people have seen.
I started to nominate and vote for them a few years ago after I figured out that a supporting membership to that year’s World Science Fiction Convention allowed me to do so. Especially for the novels, I was already doing the reading, and I thought I knew as much as anyone, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
I started to purposefully read more short speculative fiction after I began nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards, as there are several pertinent categories.
In 2018, Jo Walton released the book “An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953–2000”, on Tor. I read it, loved it, and I’m pretty sure I voted for it in the Best Related Work Category for the 2019 Hugo Awards. It did not win, but that’s life. I was aware, after reading it, that it had been based upon a series of Tor.com blog posts Jo Walton did in 2010 and 11.
In it, Walton devotes a blog post (or chapter) to each year of the Hugo Awards, discusses the winners and nominees, and then gives her own opinion on who should have been nominated and who should have won. She takes a broad look at what could and should have been nominated, including for the Nebula Awards and others after they were implemented. The majority of her attention was on the novel category. This was a well educated, well read and well researched opinion.
I joined an online reading group for short science and fantasy fiction on Facebook, and made more friends in speculative fiction. It’s the “Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction” group there, and those who love short speculative fiction are very welcome.
I’ve also started blogging here at “A Deep Look By Dave Hook”, often about short SFF. One of those posts was “‘Exploration Team’ by Murray Leinster (Astounding March 1956) as a Hugo novelette winner?” No doubt, I was one of those people who looked at that Hugo Award winner and said, “What? You have got to be kidding!”.
One of my friends from the Facebook group is James Wallace Harris, blogger (Auxiliary Memory) and one of the people who run the Classics of Science Fiction website (with Piet Nel and Anthony Bernardo, and programming by Mike Jorgensen). Classics of Science Fiction is a dramatically useful internet database that let’s you formulate and run your own queries on speculative fiction stories and books that are “remembered”. I used it in a project as one of the inputs to a Recommended Reading List for our online short SF and fantasy reading group.
Classics of Science Fiction is citation based – the measure of being remembered is how many times it has been cited in one of the sources that James recognizes. This includes things like Hugo winner, Hugo finalist, Best of the Year appearance, inclusion in other prominent anthologies, etc. A current version of the citations is found here. Jim’s blog notes that he has been sifting for the classics of SF for 30 years; I think he has been quite successful.
Jim Harris, Piet Nel, Paul Fraser and I were discussing possible additional citation sources for Classics of Science Fiction. I believe I asked him if he had thought about using the Jo Walton “An Informal History of the Hugo Awards” alternate short fiction winners as a citation. He was open to the idea, so I set out to compile a list.
I don’t own that book; I mostly get my books from the library. I’m not against owning books (I have more than a few, ask my wife), but I love the library, I am happy to support the library with my property taxes, and I don’t need more stuff.
However, when I looked, I confirmed that the complete set of Jo Walton’s blogs that were the basis for “An Informal History of the Hugos” are still available at Tor.com, at “Revisiting the Hugos“.
Her blog posts devote the most attention to the Hugo Award novel finalists and winners, and to other possible choices for novel. However, they always include the short fiction finalists and winners, often giving stories that she feels should have been finalists and winners.
There were more than a few years where she had comments on the short fiction winner and the finalists, but did not explicitly suggest an alternate preferred winner. Sometimes she mentioned two or more stories that she felt were better than the winner, but did not necessarily choose one as the preferred winner. A fundamental part of my process was to identify where Walton had explicitly stated a preferred winner.
I organized the Hugo Award finalists/winners for short fiction and Jo Walton alternatives and pertinent discussion, presented by year in a spreadsheet.
After input, I considered and added many of the rich comments on these blog posts by speculative fiction luminaries such as Rich Horton (reviewer, editor and blogger) and Gardner Dozois (writer and editor). As I examined them, I confirmed that the Horton and Dozois comments especially were well organized and consistently helpful in providing other opinions on the question at hand.
The Horton and Dozois comments were definitely a rich and expert source of input on the basic question of how well the fan based voting process of the specific year had worked out in choosing the Hugo Award winners for short fiction. They did not replace the work and results by Jo Walton, but rather supplemented it and provided another pair of data points to help triangulate the results.
I examined the comments by Horton and Dozois in the same way I examined the Walton statements. I added these to my spreadsheet as an added column with their raw comments. I extracted the useful part of their comments on short fiction, but did not otherwise edit them. Due to the extensive nature of these comments, I then extracted the specific statements where I felt either Horton or Dozois had noted a definite preference for an alternate winner, just like for Jo Walton. I added these extracted statements of a definite alternate winner to a new spreadsheet column for easier comparison to the Hugo winners/finalists and Jo Walton alternate winner suggestions.
At least one source suggested that David Hartwell also made comments on these blog posts. I checked in with Rich Horton on this and also reviewed the blog post comments for him. There were only few comments, and none of them were germane to this subject, so none by Hartwell are included.
I checked Jo Walton’s “An Informal History of the Hugos” out of the library again. I verified that the material in the book generally lines up with the material from the blog, but did not do a word by word comparison. I also reviewed the comments included in the book against those I was interested in from the blog; there were no discernable differences.
Finally, I added a column for the Richard A. Lupoff suggestions for his preferred Hugo winners from “What If?” volumes 1, 2 and 3. These are backed up for each year by a substantial discussion of why Lupoff made his choice. The only thing different about this is that he appeared to choose one alternate short speculative fiction winner a year (unlike the Hugo Awards, which often has more than one) and he chose never to repeat authors. I did not find any explicit discussion of why Lupoff chose to not repeat authors, but I suspect this was to maximize the exposure of deserving alternate stories and authors. This is certainly a valid methodology, but it does skew the results in a different way and makes comparison to the Walton/Horton/Dozois suggestions less apt. Regardless, I am please to know about the Lupoff “What If?” series, and I’ve added this to my ever expanding reading list.
Applying my methodology to the Walton/Horton/Dozois statements, I have come up with this list of “18 Stories That Should Have Won Hugo Awards” between 1953 and 2000. These all had two definite statements of preference from Walton, Horton or Dozois.
- “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”, Roger Zelazny, SS (Walton, Horton & Dozois) 1964
- “Light of Other Days, Bob Shaw, SS (Horton, Dozois) 1966
- “The Star Pit”, Samuel R. Delany, SS (Dozois, Horton) 1967
- “The Fifth Head of Cerberus”, Gene Wolfe NA (Dozois, Horton) 1972
- “Nobody’s Home”, Joanna Russ, SS (Dozois, Horton) 1972
- “Strangers”, Gardner Dozois, NA (Walton, Horton) 1974
- “The Eyeflash Miracles”, Gene Wolfe NA (Horton, Dozois) 1976
- “In The Hall of the Martian Kings”, John Varley, NA (Walton, Dozois and maybe Horton) 1977
- “The Screwfly Solution”, James Tiptree, Jr., NV (Walton, Dozois) 1977
- “Air Raid”, John Varley, SS (Walton, Horton, Dozois) 1977
- “Seven American Nights”, Gene Wolfe NA (Horton, Dozois)
- “The Very Slow Time Machine”, Ian Watson, SS (Walton, Horton) 1978
- “Slow Music”, James Tiptree, Jr., NA (Dozois, Horton) 1980
- “Hardfought”, Greg Bear, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1983
- “The Unconquered County”, Geoff Ryman, NA (Dozois, Horton) 1984
- “The Blind Geometer”, Kim Stanley Robinson, NA (Walton, Dozois) 1987
- “Great Work of Time”, John Crowley, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1989
- “Forgiveness Day”, Ursula K. Le Guin, NA (Horton, Dozois) 1994
Looking at this list, I think the ones that I have read are pretty damn amazing and would have been worthy Hugo Award winners. I suspect I have never read the Gene Wolfe story “The Eyeflash Miracles” or the Ian Watson story “The Very Slow Time Machine”, and I’m looking forward to reading both of those and any of the others I have not read recently.
There are also 122 stories here that Dozois, Horton or Walton felt were better than the Hugo Award winners for short fiction. See list for 122 more stories. Many of these are stories that I have either already read and loved or that I will plan on reading in the future. With only one supporter for these stories among Dozois, Horton or Walton, there is a chance that some of these stories represent more the personal taste of one of those 3 readers and perhaps might be less probable to be something I might like. We’ll see.
I checked in with Rich Horton recently on what I was proposing to do and how I had extracted and used his comments on the Jo Walton “Revisiting the Hugos” blog posts. Rich confirmed that I had not misquoted him and that I had accurately identified where he had expressed definite opinions for alternate Hugo Award winners.
Rich also mentioned that there were blog post comments when he had not expressed a strong, definite preference, but had really had one. Rich may choose to share those thoughts some day. Rich has recently made posts at Strange at Echabatan about Hugo Nominations Recommendations for 1955 (for 1954) and 1958 (for 1957), which are worth a look.
For the years where there were no Hugo Awards given, the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution gives World Science Fiction Conventions the right to award Hugo Awards for some years where Hugos were not awarded (It’s complex). Right now, there have been Retro Hugo Awards for 1939, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1951, and 1954.
Although a fun way to honor famous works and their creators in years there were no Hugo Awards, this has been and remains controversial. Some Worldcons (like the upcoming 2022 Chicon 8, who could have awarded Retro Hugo Awards for 1947) have chosen not to award Retro Hugos for years that they could. Chicon 8 is instead doing a “…retrospective project that explores the creative works (literary
and media) from 1946, as well as the state of fandom in 1946.” This will be fun.
Speaking from personal experience nominating and voting for the 1945 (for 1944) and 1944 (for 1943) Retro Hugos, there are definitely some issues with Retro Hugo awards. These include:
- Dealing with reading/viewing works from a long time ago that can include elements that can be very offensive to modern readers, such as racism (explicit or implied), sexism, misogyny, colonialism, anti-LGBTQ aspects, etc.
- Slogging through mounds of dross to find hidden gems.
- Especially on the nominating but also on the voting, the desire by some fans to nominate and vote for works more based upon the reputation of the creator and less on the actual work.
- Finally, the basic question of whether fans of today can effectively judge works that came out 50 or 75 years ago.
The Hugo Awards Study Committee (I am a member) is aware that the Retro Hugo Awards are controversial, but have not yet focused any real attention on them.
Finally, a word about Jo Walton. I have not read all of her works. However, I have really loved both of her nonfiction books, the 2014 “What Makes This Book So Great” and the 2018 “An Informal History of the Hugos”. I loved her novels “My Real Children” (2014, Tiptree/Otherwise winner), “Or What You Will” (2020) and “Among Others” (2011, Hugo & Nebula Award winner, Locus Award runner-up, World Fantasy Award finalist). I bounced off “The Just City” (2015), but that could just be me. Overall, an author I recommend and one whose hard work I deeply appreciate.
Note: On 7/11/2022, I figured out that I was mistaken when I inserted “Bears Discover Fire” into my 19 stories that should have won Hugos. It did win a Hugo; I had just managed to confuse myself with the text from Dozois & Horton in the Tor.com posts. I have edited this post to 18 stories.