Some Comments about the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards Winners

So the 1944 Retro Hugos were awarded during the opening ceremonies of WorldCon 77 in Dublin last night. I didn’t go to the opening ceremonies, but was having dinner at The Drunken Fish, a Korean restaurant in Dublin.

But of course, the 1944 Retro Hugo winners were also announced online almost as soon as the ceremony was over. The hardworking Hugo administrator Nicholas Whyte also shares some voting and nomination stats.

So let’s take a look at the winners: Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber jr. takes Best Novel and the Leiber family can add another Hugo to Fritz Leiber’s already big collection. It’s a highly worthy winner, though personally I preferred Gather, Darkness, the other Fritz Leiber novel in this category, to Conjure Wife. But I guess the religious satire cum dystopia of Gather, Darkness found less fans than the proto-urban fantasy of the surprisingly timeless Conjure Wife. Besides, Conjure Wife is still in print and has been continuously in print for seventy-six years. As far as I know, Gather, Darkness is no longer in print. I’m surprised that the pretty bad The Weapon Makers came in third, but then A.E. van Vogt simply isn’t the author for me and The Weapon Makers has a distasteful message, too.

Finally, I’m really glad that Perelandra by C.S. Lewis didn’t win, especially since Lewis was (Northern) Irish and WorldCon is in Ireland this year, so he is the hometown champion. Now I freely admit that I just cannot connect to C.S. Lewis’ fiction (I like his non-fiction just fine), probably because I never read the Narnia books as a kid and never bothered to read them as an adult, because whatever magic they possess wouldn’t work on me anymore. Also, I don’t like religion in the speculative fiction and C.S. Lewis was very religious. But however you feel about the Narnia books, Perelandra is just bad. It’s dull and preachy and I was actually rooting for the bad guy. After plodding through the terrible, terrible Perelandra, Fritz Leiber’s religion satire Gather, Darkness was even more enjoyable.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wins Best Novella, which was probably inevitable, because it is such a greatly beloved classic that is quoted at every second wedding or funeral it seems at times. I don’t mind The Little Prince winning either, though my personal favourite was the excellent, but underrated “We Print the Truth” by Anthony Boucher, another proto urban fantasy story about fake news and the dangers of getting what you wish for that’s surprisingly timely for something that’s seventy-six years old. Alas, Anthony Boucher seems to have fallen somewhat into obscurity, whereas every single bookshop in the world carries The Little Prince.

Best Novelette goes to “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. It’s a highly deserved win, because the story is a classic and a cracking good one, too. But then, the novelette category at the 1944 Retro Hugos was extremely strong this year, as discussed here. For me, “Mimsy”, “Thieves’ House” by Fritz Leiber and “The Citadel of Lost Ships” and “The Halfling” by Leigh Brackett were pretty much equal in quality. And Fritz Leiber did get a Retro Hugo this year (plus I think six in his lifetime) and everybody’s favourite duo of rogues Fafhrd and Gray Mouser won a Hugo in 1970 for the superlative “Ill Met in Lankhmar”. Though I’m sad that Leigh Brackett still hasn’t got a Hugo or Retro Hugo yet. Maybe when we get to 1949 or 1951 and the Eric John Stark stories I just reviewed for Galactic Journey.

“R is for Rocket” by Ray Bradbury takes home a highly deserved Retro Hugo, because it is a great story that still holds up in spite of dated tech, though I’m a bit sad that “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” by Robert Bloch, which is not just a great story, but also the start of the modern fascination of serial killers in general and Jack the Ripper in particular, only finished in fourth place behind two lesser works by big names. I also wonder why “Death Sentence” by Isaac Asimov finished in second place, because – and I’m saying this as an Asimov fan – it is a weak story, which hasn’t even been reprinted in ages. Did anybody except for me actually read the Retro Hugo finalists or do they just vote by name recognition?

Wonder Woman wins Best Graphic Story, which is frankly puzzling. Now I like Wonder Woman, the character, as much as everybody else, but early Wonder Woman from the 1940s is frankly not very good and more of historical interest than anything else. And this particular story is WWII propaganda as well, complete with racist stereotypes. Of course, it’s difficult to avoid WWII propaganda in 1943, but we don’t necessarily have to recognise with the highest honour our genre has to offer. Especially since we did have two very good finalists in this category, Flash Gordon (pretty much the last chance to recognise Alex Raymond’s work, too) and Tintin, which is only very tangentially SFF. I would have been fine with either one of those winning, but Wonder Woman? Honestly, did anybody actually read the finalists or did they just vote for Wonder Woman, because they like the recent movie?

Heaven Can Wait wins Best Dramatic Presentation Long in what must be another name recognition vote, because it’s an Ernst Lubitsch movie, albeit a very minor one. Plus, Heaven Can Wait has the same basic plot as two other finalists in this category and IMO Cabin in the Sky was better, if only because it had better music. I obviously feel that Münchhausen should have won, because it was the best finalist in this category by the huge margin. But it seems that many Retro Hugo voters still cannot bring themselves to vote for a German movie from the 1940s that’s not propaganda and was made by many people who didn’t get along too well with the Nazis, but have absolutely no problem voting for a WWII propaganda comic that’s not even good.

Best Dramatic Presentation Short was the weakest category on the Retro Hugo ballot with the finalists being flawed at best and unwatchable trash at worst. Even the two cartoons, which are normally at least fun and well made, were bad and both were WWII propaganda, too. One of them, Der Führer’s Face, was an outright piece of xenophobic trash. IMO, the two Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur collaborations were the best of a weak bunch, even if the colonialist undertones of I Walked With a Zombie are uncomfortable today and The Seventh Victim is a suspense movie that’s not actually SFF and only shoehorned Satanists into the plot, because Satanists were considered less horrifying in 1943 than lesbians. Alas, of this sorry bunch of finalists, the Hugo voters picked Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.

John W. Campbell wins Best Editor again, but then he really was the most influential editor of this area of SFF. Though Donald Wollheim coming in in second place must be due to name recognition again, because Wollheim – while a great editor in later decades – only edited a single anthology in 1943.

Virgil Finlay wins Best Professional Artist once again. Now I love Finlay’s art as much as everybody else, but voters might pick somebody else in this category for a change. I’m also sad that Margaret Brundage was overlooked once again, especially since we are rapidly running out of time to recognise her unique artwork. But then, I really think that Margaret Brundage’s work is both too sexy and not male gazy enough for many people.

Le Zombie wins Best Fanzine and Forrest J. Ackerman wins Best Fan Writer once agin. Now Ackerman is a hugely important figure in the history of fandom, but could we maybe acknowledge one of the other fine fan writers from the 1940s for a change?

And that’s it for the 1944 Retro Hugos. It may take a day or two for me to get the 2019 Hugo Award post up, because I will be at the ceremony and at the Hugo Losers’ Party after and then I’ll leave Dublin for Belfast on the next day.

ETA 1: Nicholas Whyte has now put up the full Retro Hugo stats, which you can access here. It seems that my Mom and I are the only Phantom and Mandrake fans among the Retro Hugo electorate.

ETA 2: I talked to a German fan who interviewed me for his podcast yesterday and he was absolutely stunned that Tintin did not win. The impression at my panel on international comics today was similar: How on Earth can anybody overlook Hergé


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