Comments: The "1939" Hugo Awards will be handed out at the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention held in London, England. This is allowed under a provision of the Hugo rules that permit a Worldcon to give "Retro" Hugos for works that were eligible in a year 50, 75, or 100 years prior to the current Worldcon in which a Worldcon was held but no Hugos were awarded. Although there is an element of fond nostalgia wrapped up in these sorts of throwback awards, I consider the practice of handing out these sorts of "Retro Hugos" to be problematic at best.
The first problem with handing out retroactive awards like this is the lack of familiarity of the voters with the nominees. For nominees in categories like Best Novel or Best Short Story, a voter can rectify this somewhat by simply reading the nominated works. This doesn't fully inform a voter - they are still missing some context for the works that could only come from reading a spectrum of works published in 1938 - but it does ameliorate the problem. But for nominees in categories like Best Professional Editor or Best Fanzine the lack of familiarity seems to be an entirely intractable problem. Unless one could go back and read their entire annual runs, how is one to determine whether, for example, Fantasy News or Novae Terrae was the superior fanzine? How many voters even recognize any of the names nominated for Best Professional Editor other than John W. Campbell? How many voters could evaluate, or even identify, their respective editing contributions for 1938?
The other problem is that when one looks back decades later, the tendency is to honor works that have endured, rather than works that were regarded as notable at the time. To use an example from the world of music, consider the top five songs from the billboard charts of 1963:
1. Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs
2. Surfin' U.S.A. by the Beach Boys
3. The End of the World by Skeeter Davis
4. Rhythm of the Rain by the Cascades
5. He's So Fine by the Chiffons
These were the five most popular songs of 1963 (one can quibble over whether popularity and quality are correlated, but since the Hugos are determined by a popular vote, this issue is, I think, moot). But looking back at the music produced in 1963, would we come up with a list even resembling this? Would anyone now identify Sugar Shack as the best song of 1963? How many people under the age of sixty would recognize The End of the World or Rhythm of the Rain without looking them up? And then there are the songs that were far less popular in 1963, but which have stayed in the public consciousness over the last several decades: Blowin' in the Wind, Puff the Magic Dragon, Wipe Out, If I Had a Hammer, Walk Like a Man, Candy Girl, Ring of Fire, and so on and so forth. This is not to say that the "best" songs of 1963 are necessarily the ones that were at the top of the annual billboard chart, but rather to point out that the songs that we would pick as the "best" now are likely to be radically different from the songs that people in 1963 would have selected. This dichotomy is, I believe, one of the things that makes the idea of "Retro" Hugo awards suspect at best.
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Galactic Patrol by E.E. "Doc" Smith
The Legion of Time by Jack Williamson
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart)
Anthem by Ayn Rand
A Matter of Form by H.L. Gold
Sleepers of Mars by John Wyndham (writing as John Beynon)
The Time Trap by Henry Kuttner
Rule 18 by Clifford D. Simak
Dead Knowledge by John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing as Don A. Stuart)
Hollywood on the Moon by Henry Kuttner
Pigeons From Hell by Robert E. Howard
Werewoman by C.L. Moore
Best Short Story
How We Went to Mars by Arthur C. Clarke
The Faithful by Lester del Rey
Helen O’Loy by Lester del Rey (reviewed in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume I, 1929-1964)Hollerbochen’s Dilemma by Ray Bradbury
Hyperpilosity by L. Sprague de Camp
Best Dramatic Presentation
The War of the Worlds
Around the World in Eighty Days
A Christmas Carol
Best Professional Editor, Short Form
John W. Campbell, Jr.
Walter H. Gillings
Raymond A. Palmer
Best Professional Artist
Frank R. Paul
Best Fan Writer
Forrest J. Ackerman
Arthur Wilson "Bob" Tucker
Harry Warner, Jr.
Donald A. Wollheim
Go to subsequent year's finalists: 1941 (awarded in 2016)
What Are the Hugo Awards?
1939 Retro Hugo Award Longlist Book Award Reviews Home