Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Isaac Asimov, editor, The Hugo Winners (1962)

Asimov, Isaac, ed. The Hugo Winners. New York: Doubleday, 1962.

The Hugo Winners at the ISFdb
The Hugo Winners at Goodreads

Overall rating:        7/10

Wraparound cover by Richard Powers,
from the 1964 Avon edition

The first of the eventual Hugo winners series, Asimov gives us a charming introduction, and set of author intros that are among the best portions of the anthology. Charming, but also of historical value as he delineates many of people involved in the SF pulp industry of the 1950s, the authors and editors who make up the science fiction community of the period.

The stories are mostly good, as they are Hugo winners, though some have aged better than others, Only two I find to be somewhat average in the 2020s, whereas the remaining seven of nine are quite strong and hold up well seventy years in their future.

The Darfsteller by Walter M. Miller Jr.     7/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
In a future where androids fill in for actors on stage, a former stage actor works as a janitor at a popular theatre. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he refuses to make a contract to have a replica of himself built, yet cannot leave the theatre environment despite the abuse he receives in his current post. Instead, he concocts a plan to sabotage the upcoming grand opening mechanized performance.

Miller gives us a believable presentation of near future theatre. The environment, characters and character relationships are very real, and the story is engaging, though drags a little in the last act as we figure out what is to come by the curtain's closing.

Currently #116 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

Allamagoosa by Eric Frank Russell     7/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
While docked for a little R&R, the spaceship Bustler learns that a government inspector is on his way. Captain and crew have three days to ensure that the ship's stock is accurate, otherwise there can be dire consequences on the ship's captain. During the inventory search, they notice that the "offog" is missing, and have great difficulty in locating it, since no one on the ship seems to know what an "offog" actually is. A humourous story that actually made me guffaw. The story's title is another term for "thingamajig."

Currently #78 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

Exploration Team by Murray Leinster     6/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
In the distant future, when humans have colonized planets on various solar systems, self-professed criminal Huyghens is stationed illegally on a planet deemed too dangerous for colonization. The planet is inhospitable, and populated by vicious creatures called sphexes, while Huyghens resides in a fortress with three massive mutated Kodiaks and a cub, as well as an eagle. When a colonial inspector arrives to check on a recently-landed colony of robots and a dozen men, Huyghens is discovered. However, as the robot colony has not responded to communication, Huyghens manages to locate a distress signal, and he and the inspector, along with the animals, head out in search of survivors.

Some fine world building in a story that becomes marred by tedious travel and didactic dialoguing about man's need to live free rather than as part of the establishment. The robots here are not those envisioned by Asimov, but rather act like microwave ovens or other household appliances, functioning only as programmed, and the mutated bears prove to be better, and more loyal, servants--I mean, friends--to man. There is a bit of a compromise between the two men, which feels forced, but welcome as the story is overlong. I am also uncomfortable of the notions of genocide, as the men determine that they can wipe out the population of sphexes in order to make the planet more habitable for humans. I suppose in the far future we have learned little of our distant past, and are unaware and unprepared to learn of the consequences in wiping out an entire species.

The story was part of the preliminary ballot for the 2016 Prometheus Awards for the Hall of Fame category, handed out to the best libertarian work of fiction. Ans libertarian it so blatantly is.

"Exploration Team" is part of Leinster's "Colonial Survey" series, and was one of four novelettes to be incorporated into the 1956 novel, Colonial Survey. The other novelettes seem to have been forgotten, and I will not be seeking them out.

Currently #140 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

The Star by Arthur C. Clarke     8/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
An expedition to the Phoenix Nebula is returning to Earth, and its astrophysicist, a Jesuit, is facing a major crisis in his faith. The expedition had encountered the remains of an advanced civilization destroyed when their star went supernova, yet prior to their extinction, they managed to build a vault on a distant planet to preserve their rich culture. The Jesuit struggles to understand the needless death of such a beautiful civilization.

Among Clarke's strongest stories. In his author intro, Asimov praises the story and its author. Thirty years after the publication of this anthology, he included it among the ten stories in the culmination of  all the Hugo winners, titled The Super Hugos (Baen, 1992), which I have read not too long ago and agree with most of his choices.

Currently #67 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

Or All the Seas with Oysters by Avram Davidson     8/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
A pair of disparate bike shop owners encounter the possibility that a life form exists on Earth that can replicate inanimate objects. As thoroughly enjoyable as it is thoroughly ridiculous. Despite its ridiculous premise, the concept is quite interesting, and aware of how silly the interesting premise is, Davidson presents it in a humourous vein.

Currently #143 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

The Big Front Yard by Clifford D. Simak     7/10
Astounding Science Fiction, October 1958
Handyman Hiram Taine's family home is seemingly invaded by aliens. His dog is acting oddly, and broken items in his home are fixed--and improved--overnight. Suspense is combined with some light humour, and a neat little explanation as to the nature of this visit. Enjoyable, though gets overly long and the characters are a little too familiar and flat.

Currently #95 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch     8/10
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1958
Martin, an orphaned son of a railroad man living destitute along the tracks, encounters that Hell-Bound Train, on which passengers are headed to that great depot in the underworld. The devilish conductor and Martin agree to a set of terms, where Martin is given a watch that can stop time for him, to be used when he is at his happiest, and in return Martin agrees to eventually ride the train at the end of his days.

An excellent story that manages to mix a morality tale in with a good, suspenseful plot.

The story is unfortunately printed here under the lesser erroneous title "The Hell-Bound Train," most likely a blunder. In the author intro, Asimov also refers to the story with the article rather than the preposition, and the error is probably his own.

Currently #92 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as voted by users.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes     10/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
Charlie Gordon, mentally disabled, agrees to take part in an experimental operation that promises to make him smart well beyond the average individual. Among my favourite science-fiction stories. My recent review of the story can be found here.

Currently #1 on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list.

The Longest Voyage by Poul Anderson     6/10
Astounding Science Fiction, January 1955
On an Earth-like planet at a time when the inhabitants were first beginning to understand the nature of the solar system, and that the planet is not flat and revolves around the sun, a ship is attempting to circumnavigate their world. Its crew exhausted and ready to mutiny, the ship encounters land, and soon locates a small, primitive village. The villagers claim that among them lives a man who has come from the stars. The story is told through the point of view of the youngest officer, an observant and trustworthy youth who looks up to their cunning captain.

Overall a decent story though it does drag at times, just like the other novelettes in the anthology aside from "Flowers for Algernon." Currently the only story in the anthology not included on the ISFdb Top Short Fiction list, as it needs one more rating/vote to be eligible.

For more of this week's Wednesday's Short Stories, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Yes, the misconstruction of the Bloch story title won't be the last screwup from Asimov, cheerfully uncorrected by Doubleday editors, to come in these occasional anthologies he is consistently tapped to introduce and annotate (most offensive, by me, is managing to drop Fritz Leiber's story altogether from the second volume, which was vastly more widely reprinted than the third in which it's wonders how much in royalties Leiber might've lost as a result...though for all I know Asimov made it up to him, IA being more consistently well-off in this period than Leiber, to say the least. One could hope Asimov, and Larry Ashmead by that point as Doubleday editor (I believe) could've done that much for Leiber.

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