Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Retro-Hugos for 1939

The first ever WorldCon was held in 1939 (only 200 people attended) - but the first ever Hugo Awards didn't happen until 1953. Therefore, this year, voting took place for the 1939 Hugo Awards - with the benefit of hindsight, of course.
It seems strange now to think that Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Galactic Patrol by EE Doc Smith were published in the same year as The Sword in the Stone by TH White - which was voted the winner of best novel category. Out of the Silent Planet, by CS Lewis, was a contender, too, the fifth choice being The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson.
For Best Novella, it really had to be "Who Goes There?" by Don A Stuart/John W Campbell - the story which became the film The Thing, just as the best dramatic presentation (short form) had to be The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, put on radio by Orson Welles to famously cause widespread panic. Nothing else in the category came close to that sort of notoriety. There was no category for best long form dramatic presentation, so I suppose there were no SF films put out that year.
The choice for best novelette was Rule 18 by Clifford D Simak - though Pigeons from Hell by Robert E Howard sounds intriguing, and I don't think I've come across Werewoman by CL Moore, though I'm a fan of her work (especially Jirel of Joiry).
The wonderful thing about the Hugos now is that voters are able to receive a package of the nominated works - that couldn't happen in 1987, when I was last eligible to vote. Computer downloads are so much lighter than a pile of books coming through the post, even if anyone had been able to afford to give out so many books back then. So I was able to read quite a few of the works that had been nominated. I was already familiar with most of the novels, but the shorter stories mostly appeared in SF magazines, and are harder to track down. I did enjoy (though I thought it was terribly sad) Lester del Ray's short story The Faithful, about genetically enhanced dogs in a time when humans have been wiped out, who embark on a project to make themselves new humans from genetically enhanced apes so they will have someone to be faithful to. Arthur C Clarke won that category, though, with How We Went to Mars.
The best editor, and certainly the one whose fame has lasted best, was John W Campbell, and the best artist was Virgil Finlay.
I didn't feel qualified to vote for best fanzine, though there seem to have been a few to choose from - Imagination!, edited by Forrest J Ackerman, Morojo and T Bruce Yerke, won there. "Morojo" seems to have been Myrtle Douglas in Esperanto. Forrest J Ackerman was also nominated as best fan writer, and was beaten by a man who went on to greater things - Ray Bradbury!

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