The Hugo Winners

By Isaac Asimov

Rating: 5 stars

This volume collects the short story and novelette winners of the first six Hugo Awards and offers an insight into the minds of the greats of the time. There certainly isn’t a bad story in here, and some are positively excellent. I don’t usually describe each individual contribution to a collection, but this one feels like it deserves to be an exception.

Walter M. Miller’s The Darfsteller won the Best Novelette for 1955 and tells the story of an old actor who acts as janitor in a theatre now that actors have been obsoleted by robot performers augmented by mind imprints of great actors. It’s a tale of a man out of time and is quite heartbreaking. This is nicely augmented by Eric Frank Russell’s Allamagoosa, which is a humorous tale of an item on a list of ship’s stores that nobody knows anything about.

1956’s contributions are Exploration Team by Murray Leinster and The Star by Arthur C. Clarke. The former is a very American tale of an illegal colonist on a new world, battling its native life with only a trio of bears and an eagle as helpmates and friends. He regales the Survey Officer who he rescues with his own brand of libertarianism, arguing that man has become too dependent on robots. Very little needs to be said about The Star as it’s a well-known classic of the genre, and deservedly so.

No short fiction awards were presented in 1957, but 1958 gives us Avram Davidson’s Or All the Seas with Oysters. This was the somewhat unmemorable, to be honest, story of the owner of a bicycle shop who learns more about safety pins, clothes hangers and bicycles than is good for him. This is probably the weakest story in the collection for me.

1959 goes back to having two offerings, with Clifford D. Simak’s The Big Front Yard and Robert Bloch’s The Hell-Bound Train. The former was another very American story, all about protecting property, enterprise and pulling a fast one, as a door to another world opens inside a handyman’s house. The latter is a fun deal-with-the-Devil story whose steps are signposted throughout, but is fun to follow along.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is 1960’s sole contribution, but what a contribution. The novelette that would form the basis of the novel of the same name, it hasn’t got the depth and nuance of the expanded version, but it still brings a tear to the eye. A fabulous piece of writing.

Finally, in 1961, we get Poul Anderson’s novelette The Longest Voyage about a renaissance-era voyage of circumnavigation around a world and the tales of a sky ship that reach them. This was a lovely story, that I found to be slightly marred by the portrayal of the ‘savages’. It felt very much like a tale of civilised white people coming upon a race of ignorant savages, who had to be Taught A Lesson. This may be a bit harsh, as Anderson’s travellers don’t make any particular racist comments on the civilisation they encounter, other than noting that their skin is a little darker than their own, but their portrayal as either innocent or greedy, while the sailor officers are gentlemen is a little disturbing, although, of course, I may be being over-sensitive. It goes without saying that the usual product-of-their-time filter needs to be applied to all the stories here.

The editor of this anthology is Isaac Asimov, who puts his own stamp on the book through his little introductions to each story, wherein he describes the author and his frustrations at having to hand the awards out and not be the recipient of one. Some might find Asimov’s tone grating, but I like it and find it a great bit of glue to hold these stories together.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140019056
Year of publication: 1962

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