"A Look At the Candidates for the 1950 Retro Hugo" by Richard Horton

I've been calling this a work in progress. Now, however, I have to say it's complete: the Retro Hugos have been awarded, and this latest revision includes commentary on the actual choices. I note that I have read all the actual Retro Hugo nominees. So, this essay considers the works I considered the most likely nominees for the 1950 Retro Hugos, to be awarded by the 2001 World Science Fiction Convention, the Millennium Philcon. Nominations for the Retro Hugos, and for the 2001 Hugos (for works published in 2000) are complete, and have been announced, as have been the winners. Interested people should check out the Millennium Philcon home page. In this latest revision to this essay, I will still list the stories I thought deserved consideration, adding the few examples that didn't make my list but which were nominated, and discussing the nominations, and the eventual winners.

(Incidentally, a someone different version of this essay, with pictures!, and with more prose and fewer lists, is available at SF Site, here).

I'd like to mention first that I'm aware of the arguments against awarding Retro Hugos, and I think they are pretty sound. There is no way we, in 2001, can reasonably simulate what voters in 1951 would have chosen as the best work of 1950. For example, stories by writers who established reputations that endure to this day will almost undoubtedly have an advantage over stories, possibly equally good or better, by writers who are forgotten or nearly forgotten 50 years later. But given that Retro Hugos are going to be awarded, the best we can do is try to find as many good 1950 stories as we can, read as many as we have time to, and vote accordingly. That's the goal of this essay: to list the novels and stories that I have found that I believe deserve consideration for Retro Hugo nominations. It's worth noting that the eventual winners, in my opinion, support the position of those who find the awards flawed -- particularly the non-fiction awards, which include such inexcusable results as Bob Silverberg winning Best Fan Writer, and Kelly Freas winning Best Pro Artist.

I began simply by checking the Internet Science Fiction Database's list of stories from 1950. The ISFDB isn't complete, but it's a pretty good resource. My memory is even less complete, but I have read a lot of old SF. I made a list of potential stories and novels, and posted the list on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written, as well as on my personal newsgroup at SFF-Net, and at Dueling Modems. I got some suggestions for additions, mostly from the estimable John Boston, who knows far more about old SF than I do. I acquired a couple more anthologies to check out additional stories, and I even bought some magazine from 1950 (not a hardship: I love those old SF magazines). Dave Truesdale also made some suggestions, on SFF.Net. I also did some more research, at William Contento's Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections. Basically, I remembered that Everett Bleiler and T. E. Dikty's seminal Best of the Year collections were coming out in those days. So I looked up the contents of their Best Science Fiction Stories: 1951 (which was published in 1951 but selects stories from 1950) in the Contento Index. While many of the stories I had already listed were in that book, there are a few more. They seemed to restrict themselves to novelettes and short stories. They did do a short-lived series of Best Science Fiction Novels which collects novellas. (Typically, magazines in those days called things of roughly novella length "Short Novels", though their length standards varied: Planet Stories seemed to call anything longer than about 16,000 words a "novel", while the examples I find in Astounding are closer to 20,000 words (and for example the two Lawrence O'Donnell stories below were listed as novelettes and are each over 18000 words). The Standard Publications/Better Publications pulps (Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, and, later, Space Science Fiction) published much longer "novels": 30,000 words was typical, and I have one issue of Startling with a novel called The Dark Tower by Wallace West that is nearly 60,000 words! At any rate, the first (1952) Bleiler/Dikty collection of Best Novels included the Poul Anderson story, "Flight to Forever", that I list below, even though that story dates to 1950, and the rest of that book collects 1951 pieces.

Anyway, I figure that to be fair I ought to add the Bleiler/Dikty selections to the list: they were what people at the time thought were the best. (And at least two of their selections are first rate stuff I had unaccountably missed in my earlier lists: Kornbluth's "The Mindworm" and MacLean's "Contagion".) In addition, I've discovered an anthology edited by Groff Conklin, Possible Worlds of Science Fiction, published in 1951, which had about 8 stories from 1950, many of them very good, such as Schmitz' "The Second Night of Summer", MacLean's "Contagion", van Vogt's "Enchanted Village", and Arthur C. Clarke's "A Walk in the Dark". I've gone ahead and listed all the 1950 stories that Conklin chose, just for kicks, though I haven't read "Exit Line" by Sam Merwin, and I think St. Clair's "The Pillows" and Fyfe's "In Value Deceived" are just OK. And, finally, I reread Ray Bradbury's seminal collections (quasi-novels), The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, both of which include several worthwhile 1950 stories.

So, here goes. Revised and expanded list of 1950 novel and short fiction Retro Hugo Candidates. I've marked [BD] next to stories from the Bleiler/Dikty collections, and I've also listed original magazine publications where possible. I've marked stories I've read with a *. And I've alphabetized the stories by author.

NOVELS: (this list includes at least three that should perhaps better be regarded as linked story collections: The Martian Chronicles, The Dying Earth, and The Voyage of the Space Beagle. I purposely didn't include another linked story collection first published in 1950, Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, simply because I subjectively think of it as more purely a short story collection than the other examples I list -- I concede without demur that reasonable people may disagree.) (I've just recently added Heinlein's juvenile Farmer in the Sky, which is not my favorite among his juveniles, but any of the RAH juveniles deserve mention!)

*"... And Now You Don't", Isaac Asimov (of course this is the second part of Second Foundation, but it was serialized in Astounding ending in January 1950, and it's about 50,000 words)
*Pebble in the Sky, Isaac Asimov
*The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
*Needle, Hal Clement (This was serialized in 1949, but the 1950 book version is expanded to about twice the length of the serial)
*Farmer in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
*"You're All Alone", Fritz Leiber (though I prefer the 1953 (rev. 1980) expansion, The Sinful Ones, which is apparently actually Leiber's original, which he cut to get published in 1950)
Genus Homo, P. Schuyler Miller and L. Sprague de Camp (orig. 1941 but a revised version was published in book form in 1950)
*Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
*"Time Quarry", Clifford Simak (first ever serial in Galaxy, this is better known by the title of the 1951 book, Time and Again)
*First Lensman, E. E. Smith
*The Dreaming Jewels, Theodore Sturgeon
*The Dying Earth, Jack Vance (not really a novel but a collection of stories, and not really closely linked stories for the most part: still and all, what better book was published in-genre that year?)
"The Wizard of Linn", A. E. Van Vogt
The Voyage of the Space Beagle, A. E. Van Vogt, a fixup of a bunch of short stories: I'm not sure if the book version had additional material, which would make it eligible.

I nominated the Bradbury, the Peake, the Vance, the Sturgeon, and the Leiber. The eventual nominations were for Pebble in the Sky, Farmer in the Sky, The Dying Earth, First Lensman, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This last story, at 38,000 words, is actually a novella, but the Hugo rules allow the administrators to move stories of over 35,000 words into the novel category if they deem that sensible. I think that's a reasonable choice for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which after all is only known as a book. I plan to vote for The Dying Earth. I really think the remainder of the nominations are less than great. I don't quarrel with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I do think it one of the weaker Narnia book. Neither Pebble in the Sky nor Farmer in the Sky is anything like its author's best work. And I have just read First Lensman, the first "Doc" Smith novel I have ever read, and I thought it was quite bad.

The actual winner was Farmer in the Sky. I don't think this is at all a great choice, but it's defensible -- people have pointed out that The Dying Earth isn't really a novel, and that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is by no means the best Narnia story. And I have no argument with those who like it better than the Asimov or Smith stories -- after all, so do I! Certainly the Vance, Smith, and Lewis stories are immeasurably more influential than Farmer in the Sky -- one might say, more important -- but the award is for "best", not "most influential". Farmer in the Sky is not in my opinion one of Heinlein's best juveniles, but it's a solid and enjoyable work, and its award isn't a disgrace.

SHORT FICTION: (categories based on my wordcount, when I had the story at hand, otherwise I'm guessing)

Novella: (of this list, several works were originally published in book form, perhaps unusual in 1950. The Vance is from The Dying Earth, the Heinlein from the collection also called The Man Who Sold the Moon, and the Lewis, of course, was published on its own as a book.)

*"Guyal of Sfere", Jack Vance (20,000 words)
*"Flight to Forever", Poul Anderson (20,000 words) [BD] (Super Science Stories, Nov)
*"The Man Who Sold the Moon", Robert A. Heinlein (36,000 words)
"To the Stars", L. Ron Hubbard (37,500 words) (Astounding, Feb and Mar)
*The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis (at about 38,000 words, this is a novella by Hugo rules, though to be sure it was nominated as a novel)
*"Paradise Street", Lawrence O'Donnell (i.e. Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, in this case reputedly mostly Moore) (18,200 words) (Astounding, Sept)
*"Heir Apparent", Lawrence O'Donnell (also apparently mostly by Moore) (18,800 words) (Astounding, July)
*"Last Enemy", H. Beam Piper (24,000 words) (Astounding, June)

I nominated "Guyal of Sfere", "Paradise Street", "The Man Who Sold the Moon", The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and "Flight to Forever". The actual nominations I find rather controversial, indeed improper, though perhaps not worthy of too much fuss. They are, I am sure, the longest cumulative set of novella nominations ever. They include two novella-length stories that could have been moved to novel, though it's fine that they weren't, of course: "To the Stars" and "The Man Who Sold the Moon". There is also the Piper novella "Last Enemy", which I have just reread, and which I consider rather weak for a nominee, but that's not an issue either. The issue is that two full-length novels, well above the word limit for movement down to the novella category (that limit is 45,000 words) were nominated: Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels, and Asimov's "... and Now You Don't". The first of these was nominated based on its appearance in the February 1950 Fantastic Adventures. The assumption seems to have been, any story that appeared a single issue of a magazine can't be a full-length novel. Well, that just isn't so. The pulps of that era were pretty generous as to word count, and novels of up to 60,000 words did appear in single issues. Oddly, Fantastic Adventures actually included word counts in their table of contents! (Something I've never seen in another magazine.) They had "The Dreaming Jewels" at 55,000 words. I'm a bit skeptical: my count was about 47,000, but either way, it's a full-length novel. At any rate, I'd be shocked if many if any of the nominators were basing their nomination on reading the magazine version as opposed to the book version (also published in 1950, and the book I have is about 53,000 words). As for "... and Now You Don't", I assume the rationale for calling it a novella was "it's only part of a novel, Second Foundation, so it must just be a novella". Not so again! It is well over half that novel, it was published as a three part serial in Astounding, and it's about 50,000 words long. Moreover, the precedent from the previous Retro Hugos (awarded in 1996) is illustrative: Asimov's "The Mule", a part of Foundation and Empire, also some 50,000 words long, was the novel winner for 1945. At any rate, my vote will go either to "The Man Who Sold the Moon", which I suspect will win, or The Dreaming Jewels, which is probably the better story, but which isn't a novella. I like "... and Now You Don't" fine, it ranks third. "To The Stars" is, on the one hand, reasonably well-done and pretty absorbing, an interesting read; and, on the other hand, morally disgusting. On the gripping hand, it ranks below "No Award". "Last Enemy" is not, in my opinion, one of Piper's better stories. I can't rank it very highly either.

As I predicted, "The Man Who Sold the Moon" won. I can't quibble -- as I've said, I voted for the Sturgeon novel, but the Heinlein novella was next in my list.

Novelette: (Note that the Blish stories are part of his series Cities in Flight, I believe part of the novel Earthman Come Home. The Kornbluth and Smith stories are in the SF Hall of Fame.)

*"The Helping Hand", Poul Anderson (10,500 words) (Astounding, May)
*"Bindlestiff", James Blish (16,000 words) (Astounding, Dec)
*"Okie", James Blish (Astounding, Apr)
*"The Dancing Girl of Ganymede", Leigh Brackett (13,800 words) (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Feb)
*"The New Reality", Charles Harness (15,500 words) [BD] (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Dec)
*"The Little Black Bag", C. M. Kornbluth (10,000 words) (Astounding, July)
*"Contagion", Katherine MacLean (11,900 words)[BD] (Galaxy, Oct)
*"Dear Devil", Eric Frank Russell (15,000 words) (Other Worlds, May)
*"The Second Night of Summer", James H. Schmitz (11,000 words) (Galaxy, Dec)
*"Scanners Live in Vain", Cordwainer Smith (13,000 words) (Fantasy Book #6)
*"The Stars are the Styx", Theodore Sturgeon (16,000 words) (Galaxy, Oct)
"Forget-Me-Not", William F. Temple [BD] (Other Worlds, Sept)
*"Not to be Opened --", Roger Flint Young (14,600 words)[BD] (Astounding, Jan)

My nominations went to the Harness, Kornbluth, MacLean, Schmitz and Smith stories. The final ballot consists of "The Helping Hand", "Okie", "Dear Devil", "The Little Black Bag", and "Scanners Live in Vain". Not at all a bad ballot. I'll vote for "Scanners Live in Vain", with "The Little Black Bag" second, "Dear Devil" third, and "The Helping Hand" fourth.

This award went to "The Little Black Bag". I think that's not right -- but, once again, it's defensible. "Scanners Live in Vain" is indisputably more important, but it's also early Cordwainer Smith, and less polished than later Smith stories, and certainly less polished than "The Little Black Bag".

Short Story: (Note that of the Bradbury stories, "Ylla", "Usher II", "Way in the Middle of the Air", and "There will come Soft Rains" are in The Martian Chronicles, while "The Fox and the Forest" and "The Veldt" are in The Illustrated Man. Note all the variant titles, too. The Leiber and Matheson stories are in the SF Hall of Fame.)

*"Quixote and the Windmill", Poul Anderson (3600 words) (Astounding, Nov)
"Trespass!", Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson [BD] (Fantastic Story Quarterly, Spring)
*"Green Patches" (aka "Misbegotten Missionary"), Isaac Asimov (Galaxy, Nov)
*"Oddy and Id" (aka "The Devil's Invention"), Alfred Bester [BD] (6400 words) (Astounding, Aug)
*"There Will Come Soft Rains", Ray Bradbury (2500 words) (Collier's, 6 May)
*"Ylla" (aka "I'll Not Look For Wine"), Ray Bradbury (5000 words) (MacLean's, 1 Jan)
*"The Veldt" (aka "The World the Children Made"), Ray Bradbury (6000 words) (Saturday Evening Post, 23 Sept)
*"Usher II" (aka "Carnival of Madness"), Ray Bradbury (6000 words) (Thrilling Wonder, Apr)
*"The Fox and the Forest" (aka "To The Future", aka "The Fox in the Forest"), Ray Bradbury (6500 words)[BD] (Colliers, 13 May)
*"Way in the Middle of the Air", Ray Bradbury (5000 words) (Other Worlds, July)
*"The Gnurrs Come From the Voodvork Out", R. Bretnor [BD] (F&SF, Winter/Spring)
"The Star Ducks", Bill Brown [BD] (F&SF, Fall)
*"The Last Martian", Fredric Brown [BD] (Galaxy, Oct)
*"A Walk in the Dark", Arthur C. Clarke (Thrilling Wonder, Aug)
*"Summer Wear", L. Sprague de Camp [BD] (Startling, May)
*"A Subway Named Mobius", A. J. Deutsch (6500 words) (Astounding, Dec)
*"In Value Deceived", H. B. Fyfe (4300 words) (Astounding, Nov)
*"To Serve Man", Damon Knight [BD] (Galaxy, Nov)
*"Not With a Bang", Damon Knight (F&SF, Winter/Spring)
*"The Mindworm", C. M. Kornbluth [BD] (Worlds Beyond, Dec)
"The Silly Season", C. M. Kornbluth (F&SF, Fall)
*"Coming Attraction", Fritz Leiber [BD] (5000 words) (Galaxy, Nov)
"Two Face", Frank Belknap Long [BD] (Weird Tales, March)
*"Spectator Sport", John D. MacDonald (2000 words) (Thrilling Wonder, Feb)
*"Born of Man and Woman", Richard Matheson [BD] (1000 words) (F&SF, Summer)
"Exit Line", Sam Merwin, Jr. (Startling, Sept)
*"The Sack", William Morrison (6000 words) (Astounding, Sept)
*"The Pillows", Margaret St. Clair (4800 words) (Thrilling Wonder, Jun)
*"Liane the Wayfarer" (aka "The Loom of Darkness"), Jack Vance (4400 words) (Worlds Beyond, Dec)
*"Enchanted Village", A. E. Van Vogt (5800 words) (Other Worlds, Jul)
"Process", A. E. van Vogt [BD] (F&SF, Dec)

My nominations went to the Leiber, the MacDonald (which I recently read in the original Thrilling Wonder Stories issue), and three Bradbury pieces ("There Will Come Soft Rains" ,"Ylla", and "Usher II"). The actual nominations went to the two SF Hall of Fame stories, "Coming Attraction" and "Born of Man and Woman", as well as to three rather frivolous pieces, "To Serve Man", "The Gnurrs Come From the Voodvork Out", and "A Subway Named Mobius". While this isn't a bad nomination list, it does have a dreadful, disgraceful, lack. Where is Bradbury? My best guess is that he had so many fine stories that the votes were split. Secondarily, many people might not have realized which stories from The Martian Chronicles were eligible, and indeed, may not have regarded those stories as separate stories. At any rate, it's a terrible shame. That said, my vote, as I always intended, will go to "Coming Attraction", which, it seems to me, should be the overwhelming winner. (The other four stories rank more or less even with me -- I suppose the Knight, because the joke is a really neat joke, goes second on my ballot.)

The actual Retro Hugo went to "To Serve Man". Truly, this award is shocking. It may be unfair of me to suggest this, but I would hope that Damon Knight, with his outstanding critical sense, at least considered refusing it. "To Serve Man" is a fun, biting, story. But it's a trifle. "Coming Attraction" is a masterpiece, and it's a story that says something. Something besides "It's a cookbook", for crissake. I am forced to the conclusion that "To Serve Man" won not for Best Short Story, but for Best Twilight Zone Episode -- a clear example of what can go wrong with an award like the Retro Hugo -- where a story can benefit from a years later TV adaptation.