Monday 8 October 2018

Best Related Work 2018

It strikes us that the shortlisted entries for the Best Related Work Hugo Award over the past decade could be roughly divided into two categories: works of community building essays and long-form works based on more academic interests.

It’s easy to find recent and meritorious examples of works from both of our categories: Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution, is one of our favourites and Paul Kincaid’s Iain M. Banks biography is close to the platonic ideal of the second. 

High-profile exemplars from these two categories may go head-to-head on the 2019 Best Related
Robert Silverberg, Forrest J. Ackerman
and James White at the 1957 Hugo
Awards. Walton examines every
Hugo Award up to the year 2000.
(Image via
Work ballot, as we are likely to be faced with a choice between Alec Nevada-Lee’s biographical work Astounding, and Jo Walton’s Informal History of the Hugo Awards

Both books are deserving and both authors are well-familiar to Hugo voters. As frequent and approachable Worldcon attendees, they have reputations for being knowledgeable and supportive of the genre. 

Five Decades Of Hugos

Jo Walton, who has a long relationship with the website, previously adapted a loose collection of blog posts into her tome What Makes This Book So Great, which was released in 2014. Her Informal History of The Hugos follows in much the same mold, collecting a series of blog posts on every Hugo award shortlist up until the year 2000. 

An active fan, and celebrated author,
Jo Walton's knowledge of the genre
makes her Informal History of the
Hugos a joy to read.
(Image via
These posts are tied together with additional essays and commentary from the blog’s comments section. Luminaries of the field — such as the Nielsen-Haydens and the late, great Gardner Dozois — are in conversation with Walton as she explores what the Hugos have meant over the years. 

Walton is an unslakable bibliovore who has read deeply and widely in the genre, and her knowledge of these works is obvious. She shares a personal perspective and doesn’t shy away from value judgements. Regardless of whether or not you agree with her, her positions are presented fairly and well-argued. 

While this personal approach helps build community, it leads to curious blibliometrics. For example, the absence or presence of a book in her local library may help explain her relationship to it but does little to educate the reader about its impact outsider Walton’s home town. 

Who Goes There? 

In contrast, Harvard-educated science fiction historian and author Alec Nevala-Lee’s research offers a more academic approach to his subject matter. His comprehensive and revelatory volume Astounding seems to include references to every significant work of scholarship ever produced on the Golden Age of pulp magazines. 

The book builds a narrative about the dawn of mass-market science fiction by braiding together the
John W. Campbell at the 1968
World Science Fiction Convention
in Berkley, California.
(Image via
stories of editor John W. Campbell and three of the authors he worked with: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard. 

Following them through their collaborations, their periods of prolific output and their oversized legacies, Nevala-Lee grapples with their place in the science fiction canon. 

Did I say ‘grapples?’ I meant ‘mud wrestles.’ 

Because despite the weighty research, and the complicated four-piece narrative, Nevala-Lee does a pretty good Kitty Kelly impersonation. Surprisingly approachable and enjoyable, this is the ultimate work of retro celebrity gossip for the Worldcon crowd. 

Alec Nevala-Lee weaves a
symphony in four parts out
of the intertwined stories
of Campbell, Hubbard,
Asimov and Heinlein.
Unsurprisingly, this tempo is difficult to maintain in a biography and, by the time that Hubbard begins founding Scientology, the narrative structure of the book breaks down. It becomes more difficult for the four stories to connect, since in the late '50s and '60s, Campbell’s relationships with these three protegees was on the wane. 

We anticipate that voting for Best Related Work will be difficult this year. Both Walton and Navala-Lee offer excellent choices — choices that are difficult to compare in both purpose and style. 

Walton may be better-known (and many fans are likely still smarting over her absence from the 2015 ballot in the same category), but we suspect that some voters will dismiss a collection that has already been published as a series of blog entries. 

Nevala-Lee’s work will have ardent supporters amongst fans who have waited a long time to see someone tackle Campbell as a subject, flaws and all. However the book may not connect with the younger generation of Hugo voters who may be less aware of his impact on the genre. 

Either one of these works would be a spectacularly deserving winner of the Hugo for Best Related Work. 

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