The list ranges from the emotionally challenging (Man In The High Castle) to the technical (Fall Of Moondust) and from the approachable (Little Fuzzy) to the befuddling (Sylva).
Other than Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Sword of Aldones, it’s easy to see why these novels were contenders for the top prize in science fiction. But possibly even more interesting than the novels themselves, are the lives of those who penned them.
In the 65-year history of the Hugo Awards, the shortlist has included a wide variety of dreamers, eccentrics, heroes and zealots. But in no year has there ever been a group of people like those whose names were on the ballot for best novel in 1963. The lives of the Best Novel Hugo shortlisted authors that year were variously heroic and tragic, inspiring and contemptible.
|Jean Bruller lived so interesting a life|
that writing a completely insane
Burt Reynolds movie is one of the most
mundane episodes in his biography.
(Image via Movieposter.com )
Bruller’s 1960 novel Sylva, translated by Rita Barisse in 1962, was his only Hugo-shortlisted work, and is mostly forgotten. The plot — which involves a man torn between his love for a drug addict and his love for a humanoid fox — is significantly less interesting than the author’s life. It should be noted that Barisse did outstanding translation work. The writing is poetic, although the story has aged poorly. On this level alone, the book belongs on the shortlist.
|Is the moon covered in|
oceans of dust that will
swallow anything that
lands on it? In 1963,
scientists weren't certain.
(Image via Abe.com)
It’s a memorable novel, in part because it was hard science fiction when it was published — theories abounded about what the surface of the moon was like — but almost immediately overtaken by real science.
As with many Clarke works, the challenges to overcome are purely technical, but are worked through in interesting ways. Memorably, issues of heat dissipation and oxygen provide narrative tension.
Despite being dated, A Fall of Moondust is among Clarke’s finer works, and deserved the consideration it received in 1963.
It’s interesting to note that not only was 1963 the last year in which all the authors on the Hugo Awards Best Novel shortlist were first-time nominees, it’s also the first year in which a sequel (The Sword of Aldones) was up for the award.
That sequel, The Sword of Aldones was the second of the Darkover books. Both it and its predecessor
|Hugo Award nominee Jean Bruller|
is commemorated at the Pont Des
Arts in Paris with a plaque that
describes how he "Allowed French
intellectualism to retain its honour
during the occupation."
(Image via Pinterest.com)
The Sword of Aldones’ unpolished first-person narrative was unsatisfying enough that 20 years later, Bradley decided to revisit the story. In 1981, she re-wrote it from the ground up, and re-published it as Sharra’s Exile, a longer, more fleshed out book written in the third-person, and moving the protagonist's first-person observations into sections that are supposed to be quoted from his journal. If you’re reading through the Darkover novels, we'd argue that The Sword of Aldones is more of a published oddity than it is a key part of the narrative.
It is also hard to read Bradley’s works without having the experience tainted by the revelations about her complicity in the abuse of children. I would argue that there are few Hugo Award-shortlisted authors whose conduct has been as reprehensible.
Conversely, there is a goodness and a nobility to the book Little Fuzzy, and protagonist Jack Holloway’s passionate advocacy for the rights of the titular characters.
I first read Little Fuzzy when I was 12 years old, and appreciated H. Beam Piper’s classic book as a fun, interesting, engaging novel about the plight of a possibly intelligent species on a recently colonized world, and the political and economic consequences of their existence.
On re-reading it as an adult, I was struck by the maturity of Piper’s worldview, the anti-corporate politics, and the subtle undercurrent of melancholy.
Some critics have noted that Piper’s cute and primitive aliens can be seen as a metaphor that
|Perhaps without H. Beam Piper, there|
never would have been a
Caravan of Courage.
(Image via TVOvermind.com)
Little Fuzzy has influenced generations of writers. The book’s legacy echoes through Star Wars’ Ewoks and the Na'vi from James Cameron’s Avatar. Piper’s work, however, remains more fully thought out, and more nuanced than its imitators.
It is a tragedy that in 1964, H. Beam Piper took his own life in the wake of arguments related to the rejected publication of a sequel to Little Fuzzy. One suspects that had he continued writing, he might have ended up on the ballot again in subsequent years.
|The entire text of|
Little Fuzzy is in the
public domain, and free
to access on the internet.
It's worth your time.
(Image via Wikipedia)
The Man In The High Castle is one of the most confounding novels ever to win the Hugo Award. It’s shapeless, meandering, unsatisfying in its conclusion, deeply sad and entirely brilliant.
The narrative mostly goes nowhere, in part because Dick was plotting it by casting random lots with the I Ching. But the plot of this alternate history is less important than how it depicts an America of learned helplessness. This is a book about succumbing to tyranny and the ways in which we become complicit through inaction.
As with many of Dick's works, one of the key ingredients is the ontological malaise that is woven into the narrative. The Man In The High Castle asks the reader to question what we know to be true.
Although most fans will probably get more enjoyment from the tightly-plotted, tense, action-packed television adaptation of the novel, the show entirely misses the philosophical underpinning that made the book so great.
The shortlist in 1963, would have presented a difficult choice for Hugo voters weighing the merits of the joyful brilliance of Little Fuzzy against those of the ponderous and meandering The Man In The High Castle. But we’d argue that they probably got it right.