Not The Retro Hugos at Chicon 8

Summary: I was lucky enough to be chosen as a program participant for five Chicon 8 panels. “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF” and “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946” were both part of the 1946 Project programming for Chicon 8. I read a lot of 1946 speculative fiction for these panels. Following is a discussion of this whole process and the panels themselves. Here is a link to my 1946 Project Chicon 8 Lists, sorted in various ways. Although reading for something like this does involve wadding through a certain amount of dreck, it was fun to reread great stories and find hidden gems from 1946, and to speculate on what the fans might have nominated if there had been a Hugo for 1946 stories. It was also a load of fun to discuss this with panel members

The Long Version: I’ve been reading speculative fiction from the 1940s for some time, most recently for the Retro Hugo nominations and votes for 1945 (1944 published) and 1944 (1943 published). My thanks to Paul Fraser and his SF Magazines site for the resources he published there, which really helped me with that reading.

Chicon 8 stated in their April 2020 Progress Report One that “Chicon 8 has decided that we will not administer the Retro Hugos for 1947. We will, however, be doing a retrospective of the works and fandom of 1946, headed up by Cora Buhlert, 2020 Hugo Award Finalist for Best
Fan Writer.”

That had a number of good reasons for this, which I agree with:

  1. “First, the public feedback made on social media and sent to us in email after the last two Retro Hugos largely were not supportive of Retro Hugos at Chicon 8.”
  2. “Second, it has been increasingly difficult to get representatives from estates involved in the awards, leading us to question who we were actually honoring when the creators are deceased and the estates, for the most part, are uninterested.
  3. “Third, there is a financial cost factor — rockets and bases, tech for putting on a ceremony, etc.”
  4. “Fourth, the labor costs of administering the awards, the director and crew for a ceremony, hosts and acceptors, etc.”
  5. “Fifth, there tends to be much less interest in the Retro Hugos, based on lower nominations, lower voting, and lower attendance at Retro Hugos ceremonies.”

The other factor which I observed for the 1944 and 1945 Retro Hugo nomination and voting was a substantial amount of voting based solely on the name of the author and not on the specific work on the ballot. Especially when I looked at the nominations in some categories, the only response I could offer was something like “WTF? I don’t believe they read this.” The 1944 and 1945 Retro Hugo Awards avoided major debacles in the works receiving awards, in my humble opinion, but this aspect of it was not confidence building. I get that we’ll always have some “Wow. I love that author, so I’m voting for them regardless of what they wrote here.”, but this is much more of an issue for the Retro Hugos.

That retrospective of the works and fandom and discussion of speculative fiction in 1946 was organized as part of the Chicon 8 programming as the “1946 Project”. There were 15 panels in the 1946 Project. I was quite excited to find out that I was lucky enough to be selected as program participant for three of them, for my first convention panels ever!

  1. “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF”, Thursday, 9/1/2022
  2. “Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (1946): Genre or Not?”, Friday, 9/2/2022 (as the moderator)
  3. “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946”, Sunday, 9/4/2022

I’m going to blog about the Titus Groan panel separately. While it did overlap with these other two panels as it was published in 1946, it needs to be handled separately. However, the other two have enough overlap that I can blog about them together.

I tend to experience and enjoy speculative fiction substantially as a written medium. I don’t discount other media, but reading resonates most for me. Accordingly, even before I knew I would be selected to any of these panels, I set out to do the reading assuming I would be selected. At worst, if I was not selected, I might have been the hopefully not too annoying guy in the audience asking those, “what about XXX?” questions about obscure 1946 stories and novels.

Perhaps it was overly flippant, but I decided to call my reading the “1946 Not the Retro Hugo Project” to have fun with it.

My approach to finding written works from 1946 that I thought were worthy of discussion involved a number of steps for short fiction:

  1. I checked my tracking spreadsheet for recently read short fiction for 1946. It was no surprise that bona fide classics like the Kuttner/Moore “Vintage Season” showed up there, among others.
  2. I read the Isaac Asimov/Martin H. Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982, DAW). Although this is 36 years after the fact, at least they were there. Not the same thing, but this was the closest there is for a “Best Of” 1946 SFF. I found these to be somewhat uneven, but that could just be my opinion. This included some great stories that I had forgotten or never read.
  3. I looked at stories listed in various anthologies, especially those by Groff Conklin and others who were there in 1946, such as Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (Crown) and the Edmund Crispin “Best SF” series. While being anthologized does not make a story good, it can help give a sense of what stories someone thought were worth remembering and reprinting. Multiple reprints in different anthologies, especially over time, can give some idea as to the importance of a story.
  4. I looked at the various giant anthologies that survey speculative fiction in the 20th century, such as Leigh Grossman’s “Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction” (2011, Wildside Press). I’ll do a comparison blog for these six works (that I know of) when I finish the last of the bunch, Heather Masri’s “Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts” (2008, Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press).
  5. I looked at my Recommended Reading List for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction Reading Group on Facebook for 1946 stories. This includes stories that show up in the Locus 2012 List, Sci-Fi Short Fiction Lists by Peter Sykes, Classics of SF by James Wallace Harris and his team, and at the SFADB Lists by Mark R. Kelley.
  6. I looked at the Richard A. Lupoff list of stories that he felt should have won a Hugo, even for years where there were no Hugo Awards such as 1946. I found this information at “The Science Fiction Book of Lists” as summarized by Mark R. Kelley at his wonderful Speculative Fiction Awards Database.
  7. I looked at the “SF/F/H Timeline” at SFADB.
  8. I looked at the Classics of Science Fiction site (James Wallace Harris and his team) and ran a 1946 query for works with 1 or more citation. This produces a different, more extensive result than the one used above under 5 above.
  9. I asked for help and input from the members of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy – Short Fiction Reading Group. I was not surprised that they had some great suggestions.
  10. I just started looking for and reading various authors that I knew or suspected published in 1946. For instance, Ray Bradbury published 17 stories in 1946, and I read most of them. ISFDB and Internet Archive were major resources here.
  11. Astounding was one of the major markets and SF publications in 1946. I took a look at the Analytical Laboratory (Anlab) results of fan voting on the stories of each issue, and read the higher ranking stories even if I had never heard of the author. I have heard a story that John W. Campbell, Jr., sometimes jiggered the results of these fan votes, but I have no idea if that is true. I should have asked Alec Nevala-Lee if he had any information on this.
  12. For short fiction, there were enough works published in 1946 that I did not feel it worthwhile to do a 1946 search in ISFDB and proceed to read all of them. That’s just too much chaff versus wheat for me.

I read about 90 stories at short fiction (short story, novelette and novella length) from 1946 by following this approach. Not all encompassing, but it gave me a pretty good grasp on what there was and what might have been worth reading.

For novels from 1946, my approach was definitely different.

  1. I did a “published in 1946” search in ISFDB. This was useful, as there were not that many conceivably genre novels published in 1946.
  2. I did some searching online for “1946 science fiction novels” and similar.

I read or thought about reading 10 novels. I wanted to read “Mistress Masham’s Repose” by T. H. White, but was unable to find it at the library or online. I also read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, which was published in the UK in 1945 and the US in 1946, but is actually novella length and I’ve included it in the short fiction.

There were several issues related to reading or rereading 1946 speculative fiction for this project. First, the quality of writing on average in a lot of speculative fiction, especially from the science fiction magazines of that era, has improved a lot since 1946. I’m not saying the best stories today are written better than the best from 1946, but SFF from 1946 can be a lot clunkier and harder to enjoy.

Second, the level of explicit and implicit racism, colonialism, ableism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment can be quite jarring or offensive in some of the 1946 material. I was not actively looking for this, but I was sure ready for it. I accept that the world was different in 1946, but this can be off-putting at best. I don’t remember if I downgraded anything for this or not, although I noticed this in a few stories.

As spring and then summer went by, I found out that I was going to be on the panels noted above on 1946. This coincided with my finishing most of the reading I had set out to do.

I’m an organized, linear person in many ways, which probably relates to my being an engineer. I knew I would need some kind of written, organized “cheat sheet” to be able to coherently do these panels. My memory is not that bad, but not that good either.

I summarized these approximately 100 works in a Google Sheets spreadsheet (“1946 Project Chicon 8 Reading“) and then organized them in different ways for my various purposes. The sheets in the spreadsheet are:

  1. “Sorted by DEH Rating”, where my ratings are per my personal rating scale of 5 (perfect) to 0 (horrendous).
  2. “Sorted by Anlab Rating” for stories from Astounding with an AnLab fan vote, where the best score possible would be a “1”, where all fans voting thought a story should be ranked at #1 of the stories in an issue.
  3. “Likely Hugo Winners”
  4. “1946: A Vintage Season for SFF”

“Likely Hugo Winners” and “1946: A Vintage Season for SFF” both started from the basic spreadsheet, buffed up, cut down and organized to be helpful for the panels as I saw them. They worked out quite well for me.

I do need to clearly state that these panel summaries are based upon my recollections and my sometimes very sparse or nonexistent notes. It may be that there are entries here which we never discussed but that I hoped we would. Also, for whatever reason, my level of notes was very different for the two panels.

The “1946: A Vintage Season For SFF”, Thursday, 9/1/2022 panel: The panel consisted of:

  • John Hertz (moderator), longtime fan and fanwriter and Hugo finalist for fan writing
  • Alec Nevala-Lee, author of fiction and non-fiction, and Hugo finalist for “Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction” (2018, Del Rey Books/Harper Collins)
  • Trish E. Matson, journalist, podcaster and former Hugo finalist as part of “The Skiffy and Fanty Show” team
  • Me, a longtime SFF reader and recently active fan

We had a great time, with all of the panelists bringing strength to the panel. I believe the audience enjoyed it as well. Areas of discussion included general themes of 1946 SFF, which 1946 works have withstood the test of time or are still “remembered”, and some discussion of “hidden gems”. Alec Nevala-Lee lead a great discussion of John W. Campbell, Jr., and his editorials in Astounding. We discussed the death of H. G. Wells, and noted that he was remembered and his death honored by SF fans. Some of the works we discussed included:

  1. Vintage Season” by Kuttner/Moore, a perfect story IMHO.
  2. Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake (I’ll be blogging about the panel on “Titus Groan” separately, and I’ll add a link here when I do).
  3. Slan” by A. E. van Vogt, published in book form in 1946 after the earlier serial in Astounding which received a Retro Hugo.
  4. The Million Year Picnic” by Ray Bradbury, which I think might be the first great Bradbury story.
  5. A Logic Named Joe” by Will F. Jenkins (AKA Murray Leinster), a great early story about something very like the internet, and with some of the best characters by Jenkins.
  6. Rescue Party” by Arthur C. Clarke. Not the best story IMHO, but one that is still remembered and talked about.
  7. Animal Farm” by George Orwell, published in the UK in 1945 and US in 1946.
  8. Daemon” by C. L. Moore (my thanks to Trish E. Matson for bringing this one up).
  9. Hobbies” and “Paradise” by Clifford D. Simak were discussed, very good stories but IMHO not the best from Simak’s fix-up novel “City”. My personal favorites from “City” are “Desertion” and “Huddling Place“. I resolved to blog about fix-up novels some day.

“The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946”, Sunday, 9/4/202 Panel: The panel members were:

  • Rich Horton (moderator), editor, essayist and book reviewer, at Black Gate, late of Locus, and Hugo Award winner at Lightspeed
  • John E. Stith, author and Nebula finalist for “Redshift Rendezvous” (1990, Ace)
  • Trish E. Matson, journalist, podcaster and former Hugo finalist as part of “The Skiffy and Fanty Show” team
  • Me, a longtime SFF reader and recently active fan

In approaching this panel, we flipped the script a bit. We started out by discussing the classic or most “remembered” stories and novels, we discussed movies and radio shows, we discussed “hidden gems” and we wrapped up by discussing what the fans might have nominated. We had a lot of fun with this, although we all agreed that it was very hard to tell what the fans might have nominated and voted for especially for things other than novels.

Rich Horton’s thoughts on possible Hugo nominees from 1946 are at his blog post, “Hugo Nomination Recommendations, 1947“, at his Strange at Ecbatan blog. I recommend reading it as good complementary information and reading, as it’s both briefer than this and certainly has some choices I did not consider. Rich also read a lot of letter columns from 1946 speculative fiction magazines, which helped us think about what fans might have liked.

For novels, “Titus Groan” by Mervyn Peake was my favorite from 1946. It did not make much of a splash in 1946, but it has become a genre classic with wide influences. I believe the other panelists liked it. Although not as good, “The Murder of the U.S.A.” by Will F. Jenkins was my #2 choice for novels published in 1946. It was mentioned positively in a quasi-editorial in Astounding by John W. Campbell, Jr. who seemed offended it was not being promoted as SF. It was reprinted twice, last in 1950, so I think this qualifies as almost a Hidden Gem.

I was pleased to hear of several 1946 SFF novels I was not familiar with. John Stith mentioned “Mr. Adam” by Pat Frank (I am familiar with his “Alas, Babylon”). Rich Horton suggested “The Unfortunate Fursey” by Mervyn Wall, a fantasy about an 11th century monk and the devil which has been reissued recently. Rich also mentioned “The Angelic Avengers” by Pierre Andrézel (AKA Karen Blixen AKA Isak Dinesen). Although not from 1946, Rich also mentioned “Seven Gothic Tales” by Isak Dinesen (1934), and I’ll need to find that also. It was fun to hear of a number of 1946 novels I had not read.

Although it’s hard to discern fan voting from 75 years later, “The Murder of the U.S.A.” by Will F. Jenkins was the highest ranked 1946 original novel in the early 1947 fan survey for 1946 published by Joe Kennedy (our thanks to Dave and Dan Ritter and their First Fandom Experience for the info on the 1946-1947 Fan Review with the Joe Kennedy Book Poll and much more). Other possibilities from fan preference could have been two serials in Astounding that were popular with fans in the AnLab, “Pattern for Conquest” by George O. Smith (I could not finish even the first part) and “Slaves of the Lamp” by Arthur Leo Zagat (“Okay” but no better for me).

We discussed that in 1946 there were now reprints of various serialized stories in novel form, with “Slan” by A. E. van Vogt as the most well remembered. “The Skylark of Space” by E. E. “Doc” Smith was another, and one of my guilty pleasures also. These were popular with fans in the Joe Kennedy Book Poll.

We discussed the two seminal SFF anthologies from 1946, “Adventures in Time & Space” by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas (Random House) and “The Best of Science Fiction” by Groff Conklin (Crown). These received a lot of attention, with “Adventures in Time & Space” perhaps getting a lot more because of the Random House publishing. “Adventures in Time & Space” received by far the most first place votes in the Joe Kennedy Book Poll, followed at some distance by “The Best of Science Fiction”.

It was mentioned that 1946 saw the publication of several important collections, including the posthumous “Skull-Face and Others” by Robert E. Howard and “The House on the Borderland and Other Novels“, William Hope Hodgson, both Arkham House.

Novella was an interesting category to discuss. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell was mentioned as an important work that is clearly still well remembered and known today. For me, the most interesting thing about rereading “Animal Farm” was finding out how hard it was to get it published, due to British government concerns about offending their Soviet Allies with a political satire that was very pointed about Stalin.

I discussed my three novella top choices, which are not very well known today.

My favorite 1946 novella is “The Last Objective” by Paul A. Carter, in Astounding. This was Paul Carter’s first published story, after his service on a submarine tender in WW2. I’m not going to include spoilers here, but it’s a great story and does address the futility of war. First reprinted in Conklin’s 1948 “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (Crown), in the Asimov/Greenberg “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (1982, DAW), and finally in “Battlefields Beyond Tomorrow: Science Fiction War Stories” (Martin H. Greenberg/Charles G. Waugh, 1987, Crown/Bonanza). Paul A. Carter continued to occasionally write SF, but was better known as a professor of history who wrote “The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction” (1977).

Almost as good is “The Blast” by Stuart A. Cloete. Published in Collier’s, it was reprinted in Groff Conklin’s “6 Great Short Novels of Science Fiction” (1954 Dell), the first anthology of SF short novels (5 novellas, 1 novelette). This was another great post-nuclear war story. Considering its obscurity, this is a Hidden Gem for me. Cloete has two other ISFDB entries that I am not familiar with.

My final favorite novella from 1946 is “Man from Mars” by Stanislaw Lem. Published in Polish in 1946 in a teen magazine in serial format, the entire work has never been translated into English. First released in book form officially in 1994, an excerpt of the first chapter was translated by Lem scholar Peter Swirski and published in 2009 in Words Without Borders online. From my perspective, the excerpt I read suggests it could be better than any of the 1946 novels not named “Titus Groan” and perhaps better than my other two novella choices here. Of course, you can’t necessarily judge a book by part of the first chapter. This is probably a Hidden Gem, and it will probably remain that way unless it is ever translated in full.

Finally there are two Astounding fan favorite novellas, “Metamorphosite“, Eric Frank Russell, and “Special Knowledge“, A. Bertram Chandler. Of the two, I’d say that “Metamorphosite” is a better story which I rated “Very good”. For “Special Knowledge”, the cover illustration is better than the story. It could have been better, but does not quite get there.

Novelettes were stronger in 1946 than novellas.

We started by discussing the Moore/Kuttner “Vintage Season” from Astounding, one of the perfect SFF stories for me. It’s a classic novelette, and one that is very well known and continues to be in print. It shows up in all 4 of the Big Lists noted above. It’s also very timely as a story of a disease, the “Blue Death”. It’s hard to believe, but the Raymond F. Jones “The Toymaker” novelette came in in the #1 rank in that issue of Astounding, with fans liking it better than “Vintage Season”. “Evidence” by Isaac Asimov tied “Vintage Season” in the rankings.

We discussed Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rescue Party” from Astounding. This is a very well known, well remembered and very well reprinted novelette, about aliens coming to Earth to rescue humans from a sun going mad, and what they find. It was his second published story, and quite good for that. For me, this falls into the “Very Good” category. This was also in two of the Big Lists, Classics of SF and SFADB. The fans from 1946 clearly liked it. It was ranked #2 in AnLab the month it came out. The fans tended to rank the serials and longer pieces higher than the shorter, and here they ranked the execrable “Pattern for Conquest” by George O. Smith #1. Go figure.

We discussed “Hobbies” by Clifford D. Simak, Astounding, still in print as part of his “City” fix-up novel. This was the most popular novelette for the fans as voted in AnLab, and I actually agree with them here. It’s a great story of the dogs and the humans, if not quite up with the best from “City”, and it’s still in print.

The Chromium Helmet” by Theodore Sturgeon in Astounding is a great story, and one I did not remember reading before. The fans in the AnLab agreed with me on this, ranking it as #1 in it’s month. This story of brain/behavior manipulation has been been reprinted in the Murray Leinster anthology “Great Stories of Science Fiction” (1951, Random House), with a few reprints as recently as the “Killdozer!” anthology (2013, Gateway/Orion). As I don’t think I’ve ever read it before, it’s a Hidden Gem for me. I do have to admit that Sturgeon got a bit carried away with some of the technical diode and capacitor and whatnot circuit description; less would have been more on that.

Dead City” (also titled “Malignant Marauders” in one reprint) by Murray Leinster, Thrilling Wonder Stories, is a great novelette, and another one I had never seen before. It involves anthropology and time traveling aliens who threaten today. There are aspects of this that remind me of Andre Norton’s “The Time Traders”. This has been reprinted a few times, most recently in 2019. I’m calling this another Hidden Gem.

I really liked was “This Is The House“, Kuttner/Moore (as Lawrence O’Donnell), Astounding. I don’t think I was able to discuss this at the panel, but I do recommend this very good novelette of a rather different house. It is rather obscure, with no reprints from 1952 to 2010, so I am calling it another Hidden Gem.

We discussed “Daemon“, a C.L. Moore novelette from Famous Fantastic Mysteries. It’s a very good story of a simple man with different abilities. It’s credited solely to her in ISFDB and other locations. At the same time, it’s hard to be sure of all of the stories that her and husband Henry Kuttner published after their marriage. I read this in “The Best of C. L. Moore“.

Last for the novelettes, there are two Astounding stories that had #1 Anlab rankings for the months they appeared in, “The Toymaker” by Raymond F. Jones and “Cold Front” by Hal Clement. “The Toymaker” is good, but not even very good. “Cold Front” was just plain bad, not even one of the better Hal Clement stories from this era. Looking at the July 1946 AnLab in the October Astounding, the #2 to #5 stories were “Trouble” by George O. Smith (not great, but one of his better stories), “Rain Check” by Lewis Padgett (Kuttner/Moore), “The Blindness” by Philip Latham, and “Film Library” by A. E. van Vogt . I think these were all better than Clement’s “Cold Front”. Oh well.

Short stories were strong as well.

Ray Bradbury’s “The Million Year Picnic” from Planet Stories was probably the consensus best short story of the year. For me, this is probably the first great Bradbury story. It is the first written but the last entry in “The Martian Chronicles”. It shows up in all four of the Big Lists noted above and continues to be reprinted and talked about.

Absalom” by Kuttner/Moore from Startling Stories is a great story of the mutant son of a mutant. It’s quite well known and remembered. First reprinted in the 1952 Robert E. Heinlein anthology “Tomorrow, the Stars” (Doubleday) and often after that.

As mentioned on the other panel, “A Logic Named Joe” by Murray Leinster from Astounding is a great early story of something like the internet. It’s also a story where the fans in AnLab liked it as much as we do today. I think this is one of Leinster’s better stories, with great characters. First reprinted in the 1950 anthology “Sidewise In Time” (Murray Leinster editor, Shasta), with many more over time.

“Placet Is A Crazy Place” by Fredric Brown from Astounding is a great story for me, of life on a very odd planet. First reprinted in the anthology “Travelers of Space” (Martin H. Greenberg, 1951, Gnome), I probably read it first in Brown’s “Angels and Spaceships” collection (1954, E. P. Dutton). It was not a fan favorite, at #4 in that month’s Anlab. Fredric Brown was a master of the short short; this is not quite that short, but it’s great.

We discussed Miriam Allen deFord’s “The Last Generation?” from Harpers, a very good and rather chilling story of nuclear accident induced human sterility and the question of whether humans deserved another chance. I knew I had read this but I was surprised it was not in my spreadsheet. It was first reprinted in the Miriam Allen deFord collection “Xenogenesis” (1969, Ballantine Books). I need to read more Miriam Allen deFord, as she had a long career starting in middle age after this story and I don’t know enough about her ouevre.

I don’t know if we discussed my other two favorite short stories from 1946, “Rain Check” by Kuttner/Moore, in Astounding, or “Technical Error” by Arthur C. Clarke, Fantasy No. 1. “Rain Check” is a Hidden Gem for me, as it is great but has only reprinted once in the 1950 Lewis Padgett “A Gnome There Was And Other Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy” collection, Simon & Schuster.

We also discussed Allison V. Harding, a mostly Weird Tales author (1943 to 1951) that I don’t think I have read. She had four 1946 stories per ISFDB, including two that have been reprinted in the 2020 collection, “Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror” (Armchair Fiction). Most of her fiction had not been reprinted until then. I need to check some of her work out.

My thanks to Trish E. Matson for leading the discussion on 1946 movies, radio shows, and the like. She had done the work here – thanks! “Stairway to Heaven” (AKA “A Matter of Life and Death” in original UK release) with David Niven was mentioned as one of the best speculative fiction films of the year. Characterized as a fantasy-romance, I hope that my wife will watch this with me.

All in all, it was a lot of fun.

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