Project Hugo 2.0   Leave a comment

When I first decided to focus my attention on writing science fiction, I wanted a better sense for the depth and variety included in the genre. I’d grown aware, through involvement in science fiction fandom, that there was more going on than I’d seen up to that point. In part to address this need for a closer look, I gathered up Hugo Award winning novels and read them in chronological order. A then-recent reading of The Hugo Winners I and II, a short fiction anthology edited by Isaac Asimov, no doubt influenced my decision to approach the matter in such a way. This would have been in the mid 1970s, and I carried the project forward until sometime just after 1980, when I caught up with the list of award winners as it existed at that time. For some reason I don’t recall keeping up with future recipients, and when the amount of sci-fi I read dwindled in the early to mid 90s (and dropped to next to nothing as the New Millennium dawned) I stopped paying attention to Hugo winners altogether. I’d backed off from writing fiction of any kind, and the motivation to keep up faded away.

Now I’m back at both writing and reading sci-fi, motivated once more by a desire to be involved in the genre that defines most of the fiction I produce. I’m acutely aware of how much I’ve missed while I was away, and also keenly aware that actually catching up will be impossible. At least, it will be if I don’t put some sort of limit or guide in place. The idea of using the Hugo winners that I missed for just that purpose was not long in coming to me, and Wikipedia provided a handy list of winners. No need to do any research, just buy books and start reading. As I scanned backward through the list, looking for the last Hugo winner I read in that other writing incarnation, I realized that I couldn’t clearly draw a line at my previous stopping point. I remember reading Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. I still have the copy I read. (I don’t let go of books easily.) Pohl’s Gateway and McIntyre’s Dreamsnake  sound familiar, but the books aren’t on the shelf and – say, wasn’t I reading the magazines back then in which those tales were first serialized? (I don’t hang on to old magazines.) I can’t recall reading Clarke’s Fountains of Paradise – I know, what the hell was wrong with me? – and Vinge’s Snowqueen rings no bells at all. And yet I’ve read Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh, and each of the novels to win the award after that until Cyteen by the same author, the 1989 winner. I didn’t read these books as part of the project; I just happened to pick up on works that later won the award.

Complicating matters is my dim recollection of the books I read back in the ‘70s. I know I read Bester’s The Demolished Man, but if you’d recently asked me what the story was about, I’d have provided a sketchy answer. They’d Rather Be Right by Clifton and Riley? I still own the old Starblaze illustrated edition I picked up for that earlier Hugo reading project, and I surely read it. What’s it about? Couldn’t tell you.

So between the lack of a clear end point from the last time around and hazy (or no!) memories of reading those earlier works, I’ve decided to start all over again. I spent the holiday season rereading (and being blown away by) The Demolished Man. The book is worth a discussion of its own, and so it will be discussed in an upcoming entry. More Hugo “reviews” will appear at odd intervals for the foreseeable future.

This is going to take some time. After all, 61 novels have won the award – so far. And I’ll be reading other books, and writing and star-gazing and gardening and – well, bear with me. And watch this space.

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