Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards

Here is the first of the long awaited Hugo finalist reaction posts. Not too long, I hope, but since I’m a Hugo finalist myself this year, I took some time off to celebrate, congratulate fellow finalists and update everything that needed updating.

So let’s start with the 1945 Retro Hugos. As regular readers of this blog probably know, I started the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards Recommendation Spreadsheet and also reviewed eligible works at this blog and over at Retro Science Fiction Reviews to help potential nominators to make more informed choices. And that’s why I was extremely interested to see what, if any, impact the spreadsheet and the Retro Reviews project had.

Part II about the 2020 Hugo Award finalists is here.

ETA: Paul Fraser also shares his thoughts on the 1945 Retro Hugo finalists (and the 2020 Hugo finalists).

ETA II: FontFolly shares his thoughts on the 2020 Hugo and 1945 Retro Hugo finalists.

ETA III: Adventures Fantastic shares their thoughts on the 1945 Retro Hugo finalists.

So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

Best Novel:

Science fiction was a short fiction genre during the golden age and so the best novel category at the Retro Hugos is often fairly weak or full of left-field finalists. 1945 is no exception, though we do have some good finalists. Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord by Olaf Stapledon is probably the most obvious finalist in this category and also a really good novel. Don Briago reviewed it for Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Shadow Over Mars a.k.a. The Nemesis from Terra by Leigh Brackett is another fine novel from one of the greats of the golden age. I reviewed it here.

I didn’t review Land of Terror by Edgar Rice Burroughs, largely because my Pellucidar collection only includes the first three novels. But it’s not an unexpected finalist, though Edgar Rice Burroughs is somewhat hampered by the fact that he wrote his best works before there even was a Worldcon, let alone Hugos, so he has never really been honoured.

I’m not a huge fan of A.E. van Vogt, so I did not cover The Winged Man by van Vogt and his wife E. Mayne Hull, but it’s not an unexpected finalist, since van Vogt is clearly popular with Retro Hugo voters.

The Golden Fleece by Robert Graves is a left-field finalist, but a very deserving work. I didn’t review it, but Steve J. Wright did. The other left-field finalist is The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater, a beloved children’s book, which I have not (yet) read, but look forward to trying.

Finalists covered at Retro Reviews: 2 of 6

Diversity count: 5 men, 2 women, 5 international writers

Best Novella:

“Killdozer!” by Theodore Sturgeon is probably the best known finalist in this category and a worthy one, too. Don Briago reviewed it for Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

“The Jewel of Bas” by Leigh Brackett is a great planetary romance novella and probably my favourite of the finalists in this category. I reviewed it here.

“A God Named Kroo” by Henry Kuttner was on my list to review, but I didn’t get around to it in time. I didn’t review “Trog” by Murray Leinster either, though Steve J. Wright did. Since I’m not a van Vogt fan, I didn’t review “The Changeling”, though again Steve J. Wright did.

I’m not at all familiar with “Intruders from the Stars” by Ross Rocklynne, though it is listed on the spreadsheet.

Finalists covered at Retro Reviews: 2 of 6

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, 1 international author

Best Novelette:

C.L. Moore is represented three times in this category, once with her solo story “No Woman Born” and twice together with her husband Henry Kuttner with “The Children’s Hour” and “When the Bough Breaks”. All three are excellent stories. I reviewed “No Woman Born” and “When the Bough Breaks”, but didn’t get around to “The Children’s Hour” yet.

I’m not at all surprised that “The Big and the Little” by Isaac Asimov was nominated, since it’s a Foundation story. And while it has its share of flaws, it certainly is interesting. I reviewed it here.

“City” by Clifford D. Simak is another finalist that’s absolutely no surprise, since it is the title story of a beloved cycle/series and besides, Simak was a very good writer. I reviewed two of the four eligible City stories, but not this one.

“Arena” by Fredric Brown is also no surprise, since it’s a classic story that was even adapted as a Star Trek episode.  It was also on my list of stories to review, but I didn’t get around to it.

I’m a little sad that the two eligible Leigh Brackett novelettes didn’t make it, though Leigh Brackett is well represented elsewhere on this ballot. And while “Iron Mask” by Robert Bloch, “Highwayman of the Void” by Frederik Pohl and “Ride the EL to Doom” by Allison V. Harding were all long shots (and the Retro Hugo administrators might well have killed me, if they had to try to track down Harding’s heirs, considering she is an enigma), I would have been thrilled to see them here.

Finalists covered at Retro Reviews: 3 of 6

Diversity count: 5 men (Henry Kuttner twice) and 3 women, all of whom are C.L. Moore.

Best Short Story:

“Desertion” and “The Huddling Place” by Clifford D. Simak are both City stories, both excellent and utterly unsurprising finalists. I reviewed them here and here.

“The Wedge” by Isaac Asimov is the other Foundation story of 1944. It’s usually considered one of the weaker entries in the series, though I liked it better than “The Big and the Little”. I reviewed it here.

Ray Bradbury had twelve eligible stories in 1944 and none of the ones I read were bad. “I, Rocket” was not the Bradbury story I expected to make the ballot, though it is a good choice. But then, there are no bad choices with Ray Bradbury. I reviewed the story here.

I didn’t review “Far Centaurus” by A.E. van Vogt, because I just don’t care for his work. Though “Far Centaurus” is a famous story and also one of the first generation ship stories.

“And the Gods Laughed” by Fredric Brown is a story that never even appeared on my radar, even though it is listed in the spreadsheet.

Finalists covered at Retro Reviews: 4 of 6

Diversity count: 6 men (Clifford D. Simak twice), 1 international writer

Best Series:

This is one category where I really feel that the Retro Hugo spreadsheet made an impact. Because this is the first time ever that we even have this category at the Retro Hugos. And the reason why we never had it before is because people just didn’t know what the nominate in this category.

The Shadow and Doc Savage are both pulp stalwarts that had been published for more than ten years by 1944. They may not be as well remembered as they once were, but they were hugely influential and their impact is felt to this day. Doc Savage influenced everything from Superman to The A-Team, while The Shadow was one of the influences on Batman. Both are highly deserving of recognition, even if the glory days of both series are somewhat behind them by 1944.

Captain Future, created by Edmond Hamilton, hasn’t really had the same impact on popular culture at large, but it had a huge impact on me, because the 1979 Captain Future anime series was one of my foundational science fiction experiences which made me a fan, so I’m really thrilled to see the good Captain here as well as Otho, Grag, Simon Wright (whose spiritual descendant is helping astronauts aboard the ISS) and Joan Randall.

A collection of the first three Pellucidar books was my first contact with the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and my teenaged self certainly loved it. Also, as I said above, Burroughs has never really been honoured by the Hugos, because he wrote his best works long before there even was a Worldcon.

The Cthulhu Mythos by H.P. Lovecraft and friends, represented in 1944 by two August Derleth stories, is one of the great classics of our genre, no matter how you feel about Lovecraft. It’s also still going strong and getting new additions, including many that would horrify Lovecraft, and therefore a highly deserving finalist.

The occult detective Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn may be somewhat forgotten these days, but he was a mainstay of Weird Tales for more than twenty year. In their time, the Jules de Grandin stories were more popular than Cthulhu or Conan and single-handedly saved Weird Tales from bankruptcy more than once.

No diversity count, because most of these series were written by more than one person. Those persons were generally male, though.

Best Related Work:

This is the other category where I feel that the Retro Hugo Spreadsheet really made an impact, because this another category we didn’t have at all for the golden age Retro Hugos, because no one knew what to nominate. I also want to thank everybody who helped to hunt down these works, some of which were not easy to find. We also have a nice variety of very different works here.

Rockets: The Future of Travel Beyond the Stratosphere by Willy Ley and Mr. Tompkins Explores the Atom by George Gamow are two good popular science books. The Willy Ley book is apparently so good that the Bremen University library still has several copies (plus two more at the library of the Technical College), even though the book is 75 years old.

42 To ’44: A Contemporary Memoir Upon Human Behavior During the Crisis of the World Revolution by H.G. Wells is a non-fiction book by one of the founding fathers of our genre who has never been recognised by the Hugos either, because like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Wells did his best work well before there were Hugo Awards or even a Worldcon.

Fancyclopedia 1 by Jack Speer is the first attempt to chronicle fandom, while it was still in its very early years and another highly deserving finalist. It’s also a project that still exists 75 years later, now as an online Wiki.

Finally, we have two fine essays: “The Science-Fiction Field” by Leigh Brackett is an article from Writers Digest that is remarkably difficult to locate (and we certainly tried). Supposedly, she talks about her experiences as a woman writing science fiction during the golden age, so I hope someone who has a copy will put it up for Retro Hugo voters to read.

“The Works of H.P. Lovecraft: Suggestions for a Critical Appraisal” by Fritz Leiber, published in the fanzine The Acolyte, does exactly what it says on the tin. I suspect I am at least partly responsible for this nomination, because I stumbled across The Acolyte, when I checked out Fritz Leiber’s 1944 publication credits, found the zine online at Fanac.org, liked what I read and entered the essay as well as the fanzine and Fritz Leiber as a fanwriter into the spreadsheet. Since the essay, The Acolyte and Fritz Leiber as fanwriter  all got nominations, I suspect other Retro Hugo nominators must have agreed.

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, 1 international writer (I’m counting immigrants Willy Ley and George Gamow as Americans here)

Best Graphic Story/Comic:

Flash Gordon is represented twice in this category with “Battle for Tropica” and “Triumph in Tropica”. These are the last Flash Gordon strips drawn and written by Alex Raymond who was about to depart for Rip Kirby, so I really hope that Alex Raymond, who was the best artist drawing for the newspaper strips at the time, will finally get the recognition he deserves.

Buck Rogers is the other newspaper strip on the ballot and was the original science fiction adventure strip, long before Flash Gordon came along. Though I have to admit that I always preferred Flash to Buck.

The Spirit is one of the great classics of the era, even though the nominated story was not drawn by Will Eisner. But it was written by Manly Wade Wellman.

Carl Barks was the most iconic artist ever to draw Donald Duck and pretty much created the world that is known as “Entenhausen” (duckville) in German. His comics are classics and I’m really glad to see him honoured here.

The American superhero comic is represented here by the Superman story “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” which introduces a classic antagonist.

Good choices all and also a nice look at the variety of comics available during this era from serialised newspaper strips via superheroes to funny animals. Though I’m a bit sad that The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician didn’t make the ballot again.

Diversity count: All men, all Americans

Best Dramatic Presentation Short:

There is no Best Dramatic Presentation Long category at the Retro Hugos this year, so works like The Uninvited, Between Two Worlds, The Halfway House, the stage production of Huis Clos or The Phantom and Captain America serials sadly don’t get a shot at winning a Retro Hugo.

One of the Best Dramatic Presentation Short finalists, The Canterville Ghost, is actually a longform finalist at 95 minutes, though it still falls within the grace range. It’s also a nice adaptation of a fantasy classic.

The Curse of the Cat People is a sequel to the 1943 Retro Hugo finalist Cat People and often considered superior to the original. It Happened Tomorrow is a time paradox movie adapted from a story by Lord Dunsany and a minor classic.

House of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are the sort of Universal extruded monster product that was typical for the SFF cinema of the era. Both are also the upteenth inferior sequel to a good original. Sorry to be so direct, but everybody involved with these films is dead anyway and it’s unlikely I will insult the ghost of Curt Siodmak or Ford Bebee. The Invisible Man’s Revenge is also the only 1945 Retro Hugo finalist that is not listed in the spreadsheet. For some reason, we completely missed this one, though Retro Hugo nominators did not.

Donovan’s Brain, finally, is an example of an art form that was enormously popular during this period, but that is rarely represented at the Retro Hugos, namely the radio drama. I’m always happy to see a vintage radio drama on the shortlist, because they are often overlooked compared to movies and are also generally better than the extruded monster product that so often dominates the Dramatic Presentation categories at the Retro Hugos.

No diversity count, too many people are involved in making movies or radio dramas.

Best Editor Short:

There are absolutely no surprises in this category. John W. Campbell is the oft nominated and just as often winning editor of Astounding Science Fiction. He will probably not be on top of my ballot, but he definitely deserves to be here.

Dorothy McIllwraith’s tenure at Weird Tales may have been overshadowed by Farnsworth Wright’s, but I have been very impressed by the output of Weird Tales during the 1940s. A highly deserving finalist I would love to see win for once.

W. Scott Peacock was the editor of Planet Stories, while Oscar J. Friend edited Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and Captain Future. Their respective magazines may be overlooked compared to Astounding and Weird Tales, but I found the stories I reviewed from Planet Stories, Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories consistently entertaining. In fact, those lesser mags are probably more consistent with regard to quality than Astounding, for while Astounding published a lot of classics, they also published a lot of dross.

Raymond A. Palmer’s time as the editor of Amazing Stories is sadly overshadowed by the Shaver mystery nonsense. But the first Shaver mystery story wasn’t even published until the following year and in 1944, Palmer was doing good work. I reviewed fewer stories from Amazing than from Astounding or Planet Stories or Weird Tales, but the ones I reviewed were all good.

I’m a bit surprised to see Mary Gnaedinger, editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, on the ballot. Not because she didn’t do good work, she did. But Famous Fantastic Mysteries published no new fiction in 1944, only reprints.

Diversity count: 4 men, 2 women

Best Professional Artist:

Iconic Weird Tales cover artist Margaret Brundage is a frequent finalist in this category, but so far hasn’t won. I really hope that this will be her year, if only because she’s about to move out of SFF art and we won’t have many more chances to recognise her. Besides, her cover and interior artwork for the May 1944 issue of Weird Tales, illustrating “Iron Mask” by Robert Bloch, is lovely and the woman on the cover is even fully dressed for once. Not that I mind the nudes – few people painted better nudes than Margaret Brundage. But it seems to me as if her work is just a little too sexy for modern sensibilities.

Earle Bergey was responsible for the striking and lurid covers of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories and Captain Future, wherein men are manly, women were brass bikinis and monsters are bug-eyed and menace damsels in distress. His work is great fun and few artists were as good at painting bug-eyed monsters and ladies in brass bikinis as Earle Bergey. Who cares that most of the scenes he illustrated never happened that way in the actual story.

Boris Dolgov provided the interior art for many an issue of Weird Tales. His work is always striking and atmospheric, particularly his two page spread for “Ride the EL to Doom” by Allison V. Harding and I’m really happy to see him recognised.

Matt Fox is responsible for the cover of the November 1944 issue of Weird Tales, which depicts Cthulhu in all his terrible glory. I think this is the only time Cthulhu ever appeared on the cover. For some reason, Weird Tales‘ most famous characters – Conan, Cthulhu, Solomon Kane, Jules de Grandin – hardly ever appeared on the cover of the magazine, probably because Margaret Brundage would rather draw semi-nude women, who also sold better than tentacled monstrosities.

Paul Orban provided the interior art for many an issue of Astounding Science Fiction as well as for The Shadow and Doc Savage. He is not listed in the spreadsheet, so here is another 1945 Retro Hugo finalist we missed.

William Timmins, finally, was the cover artist for Astounding Science Fiction throughout WWII and also provided interior art. I have to admit that prefer the more lurid end of the pulp market, but Timmins did provide some striking covers for Astounding in 1944 such as this one and this one.

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman. All American, though Dolgov and Orban are immigrants.

Best Fanzine:

Futurian War Digest, Shangri L’Affaires, Voice of the Imagi-Nation and Le Zombie are all repeat finalists in this category and they all did good work. Diablerie is completely new to me, though it is listed on the spreadsheet.

The Acolyte, finally, is a zine focussed on weird fiction and the works of H.P. Lovecraft that I discovered when I checked out the 1944 publication credits for Fritz Leiber and Anthony Boucher. So I checked it out on Fanac.org and was quite impressed with what I found, so I put it on the spreadhseet. Evidently, other Retro Hugo nominators agreed with me, because it made the ballot.

Diversity count: 8 men, 1 woman

Best Fan Writer:

Once again, we have several repeat finalists in this category. Jack Speer, Bob Tucker and Harry Warner Jr. have all been nominated in this category before, as was Myrtle R. Douglas a.k.a. Morojo, who invented cosplay and proves that women were always part of our genre. Jack Speer deserves particular recognition here, because he wrote and published the first Fancyclopedia in 1944, a project which still exists, though now online.

J. Michael Rosenblum was the editor of Futurian War Digest, a British fanzine I find consistently impressive. But for some reason, he has never been a Retro Hugo finalist himself, so I’m happy that the nominators rectified that oversight.

Fritz Leiber Jr. really needs no introduction, considering that he published countless of excellent novels and stories over his fifty-year career, won six Hugos, one Retro Hugo and countless other awards and co-created two of the most beloved fantasy characters of all time in Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. So what is he doing on the Best Fanwriter ballot?

Well, I suspect I might have something to do with that. I’m a big Fritz Leiber fan, so I checked ISFDB for eligible 1944 works and came across not only a handful fo stories for Astounding (no Fafhrd and Gray Mouser in 1944, sadly, because the demise of Unknown the year before left them temporarily homeless) but also a story, an essay and a poem, all published in the fanzine The Acolyte. As I said above, I checked out The Acolyte, liked what I saw and put it on the spreadsheet. In addtion to his essay with suggestions for a critical appraisal of Lovecraft’s work, which is nominated in the Best Related Work category, Fritz Leiber also contributed a short story entitled “Ervool” and a poem to The Acolyte. The poem, entitled “The Gray Mouser”, will probably be familiar to quite a few readers, because it has been reprinted in the various Fafhrd and Gray Mouser collections over the years. So it isn’t quite correct that Fafhrd and Gray Mouser were taking an extended break during the  late 1940s and early 1950s, because Gray Mouser at least was still active in a poem first published in a fairly obscure fanzine. Coincidentally, this poem also appears to be the first time that the wizard Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, a recurring character in the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, was mentioned in print, since I don’t recall Sheelba appearing in any of the stories published in Unknown. You can find the issue of The Acolyte which contains Fritz Leiber’s fan writing output for 1944, online at Fanac.org BTW.

Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, 1 international writer

ETA: The good folks of Fanac.org has put together a list with links to samples of all nominated fanzines and fan writers to make voting easier.

It seems to me as if all the hard work I (and many others) put into the 1945 Retro Hugo Recommendation spreadsheet and Retro Science Fiction Reviews did make an impact, the spreadsheet probably more so than Retro Science Fiction Reviews. Cause I don’t think that we would have had the Best Series and Best Related Work categories at all without the spreadsheet and the three nominations linked to The Acolyte can probably also be attributed to the spreadsheet.

I will be reviewing the 1945 Retro Hugo finalists that I missed the first time around and I’ll definitely do a recommendation spreadsheet and Retro Reviews for the 1947 Retro Hugos, because the 1946 Retro Hugos were already awarded in 1996.

And that’s it for the first part of the analysis of the 2020 Hugo and 1945 Retro Hugo finalists. Part 2, which takes a look at the 2020 Hugo finalists, is coming probably tomorrow.

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3 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists, Part I: The 1945 Retro Hugo Awards

  1. Steve Wright says:

    Thanks for the links! I’ve put my nose to the grindstone once more and written a review of The Wind on the Moon – it’s a charming and funny children’s story and I enjoyed it a lot (probably more than I ought to, given that it’s been a long time since I was a child.) I’m going to be trying to review something every day, as I’ve done (or at least tried to do) in recent years… there is certainly a lot to do, even if most of the remaining Retro finalists are old favourites that I could review in my sleep.

    • Cora says:

      That’s great and The Wind on the Moon is one book I’m interested in, since I don’t think it was available in German, when I was a kid. Or at least, my library didn’t have it.

      I’ll also be tackling the remaining Retro Hugo finalists and I’ll start up the Retro Review link round-up again.

  2. Pingback: Schrödinger’s Hugo Finalist – and Some Birthday Stuff | Cora Buhlert

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