Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Hugo Winners I. Edited by Isaac Asimov

The collection of early Hugo award winners in short fiction categories. A fairly varied bunch of stories with some real gems.

The Darfsteller • (1955) • novella by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
The first piece of short fiction ever to win a Hugo award. From today's perspective it is slightly hard to see why. Writing is fairly nice, but the premise is a bit strange. Apparently human actors are replaced in theater by “mannequins”, which are kind of androids programmed by tapes and apparently the fine tune during the performance is done by a central system. Human actors are not used anymore at all. For some strange reason, these android run shows are very popular and are even critiqued in the papers. Why the reviews are done isn't stated, as logically the performances should be very constant without much variation. A former actor who has taken a job sweeping floors on a theater gets one last chance to perform (after a bit of sabotage). A very slowly moving story which features far too large parts of a boring play. **½
Allamagoosa • (1955) • shortstory by Eric Frank Russell
A spaceship is facing an official inspection and inventory of _everything_ in it. It would be very bad if there were any shortages, but it would be even worse if there were any surplus of any item on the ship – that might indicate possible intention of theft of government’s assets. But there is a problem: They seem to be lacking one piece of an offog. What is worse, no one seems to remember what an offog even is. And the inspection is coming closer… A pretty simple story – entertaining but nothing really special. I wonder why it got the award. ***½
Exploration Team • [Colonial Survey] • (1956) • novelette by Murray Leinster
An inspector lands on a planet. He expects to find a thriving colony, but he finds a single illegal inhabitant who lives with a few selectively bred giant Kodiak bears. The original animals of the planet are extremely dangerous. After the illegal immigrant doesn't kill the inspector (which would have been a smart move as illegal occupation on a planet is for some unnamed reason an extremely serious crime) they together try to find out what has happened to the colony. They are facing a dangerous journey to the site where seem to be transmission coming. A pretty nice story, writing was good for the time period. I do wonder why the robots were so poorly programmable. ****-
The Star • (1955) • shortstory by Arthur C. Clarke
An expedition studies the remnants of a supernova. There find a vault where a fine and proud species has left all the major achievements of their culture. A priest has problems with his faith where it is discovered that the nova was THE star of Bethlehem. One of the all-time great science fiction stories and well worth its’ reputation. *****
Or All the Seas with Oysters • (1958) • shortstory by Avram Davidson
Inanimate objects start to be something else than inanimate. Why there always is a shortage of safety pins, but there always seems to be extra wire hangers around?
The story seems to have pretty ordinary plot for its time, I seem to remember several other stories where ordinary objects were something else than ordinary. The writing was very well, and the title was excellent. Maybe those were the main reasons for the win in the Hugo voting, but I wasn’t too happy about the story. The characters were irritating and their behavior was extremely unbelievable. As whole better than the average for the time period, but the story was a pretty major disappointment, especially considering the title with poetic and mysterious connotations. ***-
The Big Front Yard • (1958) • novella by Clifford D. Simak
A man who fixes appliances and trades with antiques first finds that a few things which were waiting to be repaired have been repaired and vastly improved, for example an old b&w TV is turned to a color set. And his house is being enforced by unscratchable plastic-like material. And then a portal to an other world appears…Another story with thematic similarities with the Waystation. A well-written story, but perhaps slightly too disjointed at places. ****-
The Hell-Bound Train • (1958) • shortstory by Robert Bloch (variant of That Hell-Bound Train)
A deal with the devil story. A drifter gets an offer he can’t refuse – he can ask for anything, but he must step on the devil’s train when he dies. He asks for the ability to stop the time when he is happy. He gets what he wishes, and starts to work towards that happy moment. But if you are happy, can you be sure that you couldn’t be even happier? A really good and well-written take on the old cliché. ****
Flowers for Algernon • (1959) • novelette by Daniel Keyes
A young man with mental retardation is drafted to a medical trial which raises his IQ from about 70 to about 210. The story is presented as a diary. At first the writing is simple and filled with mistakes but slowly the increase of the mental faculties of the man can be seen in the structure and grammar of the notes. But the effect isn’t lasting…I have read the novel version at some time, so the basic plot was familiar. An excellent story, one of the all the greats. ****½
The Longest Voyage • (1960) • novelette by Poul Anderson
An expedition on a giant planet with vast seas is on an exploration journey. They encounter ancient relics and finally meet a man who claims to come from the stars with a ship which is capable of traveling through space. The writing was very good, but the story was fairly slow and took its’ time to get going. However, as a whole it has hold time fairly well. ***

318 pp.

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