Though the Hugo Award is the longest running science fiction oriented award currently in existence, it is not the oldest speculative fiction award. Before the Hugo Awards, there were the International Fantasy Awards. The International Fantasy Award was relatively short-lived: the first awards were handed out in 1951 to Earth Abides (read review) by George R. Stewart (in the fiction category) and The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell (in the non-fiction category) and the last was awarded in 1957 to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
There is very little information about the award other than the list of winners and the fact that the winners were selected by a panel of prominent fans and professionals. The Locus Index to SF Awards entry for the International Fantasy Award says that it was created by four members of the 1951 British Science Fiction Convention, but gives no clue as to their identity, what standards were supposed to be used to determine eligibility, how the selecting panel was chosen, or really any other useful information. I have no idea why, for example, the award for best non-fiction book was only awarded from 1951-1953, why no award was given at all in 1956, or why the award was discontinued after 1957. All we are left with is a list of nominees and winners (go to list of International Fantasy Award Winners for Best Fiction Book).
Even so, the award is still generally thought highly of today by genre fans whose reading horizon extends back to the 1950s. Unlike most other awards, all of the books honored as winners or even nominees are still well-regarded almost sixty years later. So, in addition to reading through all of the Hugo Winners to get at the roots of modern science fiction, I'll be tackling the International Fantasy Winners as well. As I said before, if the Hugos are the granddaddy of science fiction awards, the International Fantasy Award is the long dead bachelor uncle. 2011 will be the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of this award, so this seems like a propitious time to go back and see just how well these works have held up. So, starting with George R. Stewart's post-apocalyptic classic Earth Abides, I'll be working my way through the venerable works of a long dead award to see for myself is they have stood the test of time.
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