Friday, October 12, 2018

FFB: THE HUGO WINNERS: VOLUME 3 annotated by Isaac Asimov (Doubleday 1977)

There are several notable things about the third volume Isaac Asimov would assemble of the winners of the Hugo Awards for short fiction, novella to short story categories. One is that it had only one printing of a two-volume US paperback edition (Steven French pointed out an oversight on my part on Facebook), despite the success, in constant reprinting of Doubleday SF Book Club editions and fairly frequent paperbacks, of the first two volumes of the series. Another is, as I noted in the entry here on the second volume as included in the book club omnibus and paperbacked on its own, that it managed to leave out Leiber's story "Ship of Shadows", a ridiculous oversight on the part of Asimov and his book editor at Doubleday (I believe Larry Ashmead at that time), that presumably cost Leiber a notable, however incremental, chunk of change over the succeeding decades. A third, rather more immediate in its effect on the reader, is the degree to which the collected, award-winning stories (with so many repeated contributors in this stretch of years) are stories of personal loss for the characters (and writers) in question, and one wonders to what degree voters' knowledge of the autobiographical element of such stories as the two Leibers, Ellison's "The Deathbird"  and Pohl and Kornbluth's "The Meeting" helped these affecting stories gain their awards (though in all four cases, they wouldn't need too much special pleading on the basis of trying to help buck up their authors). Sturgeon's "Slow Sculpture" and in an even more remote way the Le Guin stories might be said to have a certain flavor of this element, as well, while this is less true of the Larry Niven or George R. R. Martin stories, or Poul Anderson's stories, or the more thoroughly camouflaged Alice Sheldon/"James Tiptree, Jr." story...while the R. A. Lafferty story feels a Lot more like a career-award, as the story in question is far from his best, if one that demonstrates his mocking skepticism of the overly earnest. Asimov's introductory blurbs are more distant on occasion than those in the first two volumes, where if he didn't know the collected writer very well, he'd at least have an incident of interaction or so with that writer. (Though Asimov had little direct or [to the best of his knowledge] face to face interaction with either of the women writers in the volume, he did maintain a correspondence with Sheldon hiding behind her "Tiptree" persona, and might've met "Racoona" Sheldon at a convention by that time, this book published just about the time Sheldon's masquerade as "Tiptree" was admitted publicly--and she would win her first award for a story, "The Screwfly Solution", published under the byline Racoona Sheldon, not long after). 

Seems strange that with all the famous, and relatively career-changing, stories collected within (less so for Niven, probably, than any of the others, as these stories were, like the Lafferty in his case, solid examples of what he could do rather than his best work)...that this volume of the series has had such a limited success in comparison. Nonetheless, you could do much worse than investing in an inexpensive copy from the usual sources, and thus seeing how even the most rewarded and among the most successful writers in sf and fantasy were producing impressive, somewhat depressed work in the first half of the 1970s. 

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. 

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