This is going to be a bit rough, since I’ve been reading and taking notes like a mad thing to get through all of the categories. Silly me, forgetting to include the retros when I figured out how many weeks I’d need to review them all.
So. After going cross-eyed trying to read scans of 1940s publications that alas haven’t held up all that well (faded print is very much a thing), here’s the final batch of quick and dirty reviews. I didn’t compare numbers for the retros, since they don’t happen every year.
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (1922 nominating ballots 2016, 851 in 2015) (Remember, this is not a Hugo, but it’s awarded and managed more or less at the same time by the same people).
- Pierce Brown – There wasn’t anything in the voter packet, so I trotted over to Amazon and used the Look Inside feature. I didn’t see anything that appealed to me, so that’s as far as things went.
- Sebastien de Castell – Traitor’s Blade – This work is competent, and starts with a decent sort of a problem for the main character to deal with, but I honestly didn’t find anything appealing. The characters didn’t gel enough to make this book something I’d look for. As always, of course, your mileage may vary, so if you haven’t read it yet, read, then make your decision.
- Brian Niemeier – DAMN YOU BRIAN NIEMEIER! Okay. Now I’ve got that out of my system. I couldn’t stop reading Nethereal. The combination of fantasy styling over science fiction with an intricate layered plot and remarkably human characters sucked me in and refused to let go. Of note: Niemeier is the only finalist in his first year of Campbell eligibility.
- Andy Weir – Based on the Look Inside sample on Amazon of The Martian – It’s been a while since Man vs Nature (or Mars) showed up anywhere, that I recall. What I read was very well done hard science fiction of a man trying to survive in something close to the ultimate in hostile environments. It’s very well done, with an engaging narrator who doesn’t lecture or over-explain.
- Alyssa Wong – None of the stories in the sample worked for me. They were all well-done, but I found them dull with a kind of a nasty aftertaste.
Best Novel (352 nominating ballots)
- Gray Lensman by E.E. “Doc” Smith (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Jan 1940) – Of all the Retro finalists I read over the last week, this is the only one whose language felt dated. The Lensman tales are good old-fashioned adventures in the traditional style, and Gray Lensman is a solid example of the type.
- The Ill‐Made Knight by T.H. White (Collins) – Not in the packet
- Kallocain by Karin Boye (Bonnier) – Not in the packet
- The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson (Unknown, Mar 1940) – This is an old-school fantasy based on mythology, using figures from legend as its main characters. It’s a well done piece without doing anything exceptional.
- Slan by A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Dec 1940) – For all that this work is regarded as a classic, I’ve got to say it left me cold.
Best Novella (318 nominating ballots)
- “Coventry” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, July 1940) – This is not one of Heinlein’s best works. It’s too heavy-handed to work well, and the lecturing sticks in my craw. Yes, I actually do dislike politics overwhelming my stories. It has nothing to do with whether I agree with the politics or not.
- “If This Goes On…” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Feb 1940) – THIS is the Heinlein the world needs. Frankly, this is the stand-out work of all the retro finalists across all the categories. It should be required reading for everyone – there’s a brilliant discussion of the mechanisms of tyranny wrapped in a tale of awakening that’s simple on the surface and layered many levels deep.
- “Magic, Inc.” by Robert A. Heinlein (Unknown, Sept 1940) – Compared to If This Goes On, Magic, Inc. is really nothing more than a cute piece with magic as an industrial product. It’s a very well done cute piece, but it just doesn’t compare.
- “The Mathematics of Magic” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, Aug 1940) – Pretty much everything I say for The Mathematics of Magic also applies to The Roaring Trumpet. The two works are in the same universe, have the same basic conceits, and are clever-funny, rather cute, and can be a bit difficult to get into because of the framing device.
- “The Roaring Trumpet” by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (Unknown, May 1940) – As I said, ditto.
Best Novelette (310 nominating ballots)
- “Blowups Happen” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Sept 1940) – Not in packet
- “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Oct 1940) – Not in packet
- “It!” by Theodore Sturgeon (Unknown, Aug 1940) – This is an intriguing horror that successfully conveys a completely alien perspective.
- “The Roads Must Roll” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, June 1940) – This one is a sparsely-written piece that hides some keen perspectives about how people work. The actual plot is rather heavily political (it being a bit challenging to keep politics out of an attempted revolution). Some of the themes here are also explored in Coventry, but done with a little less of a heavy hammer.
- “Vault of the Beast” by A.E. Van Vogt (Astounding Science‐Fiction, August 1940) – Not in packet
Best Short Story (324 nominating ballots)
- “Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Feb 1940) – This story was intriguing and very readable, but the end was a bit of a letdown.
- “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science‐Fiction, Jan 1940) – Well done, but not really one of his best – I honestly found it rather forgettable.
- “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, Sept 1940) – Normally Asimov’s characterization leaves me cold, but not in this work. It could have done without the pseudo-epilog, but it’s still a good piece.
- “The Stellar Legion” by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Winter 1940) – This work started as though it would be a reasonably standard military-focused piece, but then it built into a rather powerful story about redemption
- “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges (Sur, 1940) – not in the packet
Best Professional Artist (117 nominating ballots)
- Hannes Bok – Interesting style – but since the only samples I found were from the Best Fanzine entry, I couldn’t say if they’re remotely representative of his professional output.
- Margaret Brundage – Not in packet
- Edd Cartier – Not in packet
- Virgil Finlay – Not in packet
- Frank R. Paul – Classic pulp with a sense of humor
- Hubert Rogers – Also classic pulp
Best Fanzine (63 nominating ballots) Most of the samples are from the Fanac site.
- Futuria Fantasia by Ray Bradbury – This zine has interesting mix of material and decent production values for hand-produced material
- Le Zombie by Arthur Wilson “Bob” Tucker – This zine is rather newslettery, while being well done for its type.
- Novacious by Forrest J Ackerman and Morojo – no sample available
- Spaceways by Harry Warner, Jr. – It didn’t appeal to me, and the scans of hand-typed material which has aged rather poorly didn’t help much.
- Voice of the Imagi‐Nation by Forrest J Ackerman and Morojo –Sadly, readability has suffered from time. Collected letters of fans.
Best Fan Writer (70 nominating ballots) Again, most of the samples are from the Fanac site.
- Forrest J Ackerman – The examples I saw are well-written. I liked the sense of humor – which means that there are likely to be as many people who hate it.
- Ray Bradbury – Quirky and kind of cute as editorials go – Bradbury’s editorial style bears very little resemblance to his novel style.
- H. P. Lovecraft – This was a short story of classic Lovecraftian horror (yes, written by Lovecraft, so not exactly unexpected), with a little less verbal flailing than I’ve seen in the more well-known works.
- Bob Tucker – The pieces I read were interesting and fun.
- Harry Warner – The puns. Oh god, the puns. Hitting these an hour after I should have been asleep fried something.
And that’s the last of the finalist highlights. Voting ends in (counts) 5 days, so finish reading and then vote for the works that you believe are the best of the year in each category.
I personally will not be using No Award – I’d rather leave a category blank than deploy the category nuke effect of No Award – but for those who do use that option, please use it only if you’ve read all the finalists in that category and don’t believe that any of them are worthy of recognition.
My opinion is that even though some of the categories this year are a bit thin, all of them have at least one worthy entry.