You’ve heard about the Hugo Awards, right? They’re given out at each year’s Worldcon in a variety of categories that reward excellence in science fiction. They’re not a perfect gauge of excellence, because the people that go to Worldcon are not an exact representation of science fiction fandom, but they’re still fairly prestigious.
The Hugos started in 1953, which left a number of important works unrewarded. So there have been three rounds of Retro Hugos to try to fix that. For 2014, the Hugos are stretching back 75 years to award the works that would have received awards in 1939. So that means we’re looking at the work done in 1938. Which I think is a lot of fun, because that’s an era of science fiction I happen to know a lot about! So I’m going to do a quick overview of the potential nominees, using the official articles as reference.
I think the runaway obvious winner is T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. There are also twelve Doc Savage books and one Fu Manchu. I haven’t read any of Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Oz books, but The Silver Princess of Oz is also eligible. I realize these are more fantasy than science fiction, so the E.E. “Doc” Smith “Lensman” novel Galactic Patrol might sneak in there.
That’s how long ago we’re talking about. Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov wouldn’t publish their first stories until 1939.
Well, there’s Action Comics #1, which introduced Superman to the world in April 1938 and invented superheroes as we know them. That’s a pretty good choice, right? It’s also basically the only choice, because nothing else in 1938 comes even close to it.
Best Dramatic Presentation
There’s hardly any television to speak of. Movies are huge, but there aren’t any science fiction movies being made. Buster Crabbe stars in the serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, and it’s…okay. But the dominant form of entertainment in the United States is radio. And in October, 1938, Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air did its version of The War of the Worlds that became instantly legendary.
Okay! This is the category I’m excited about, because I’ve read a lot about early fandom activities. I recommend Damon Knight’s The Futurians and Sam Moskowitz’s The Immortal Storm, although both give the impression that fandom in 1938 was solely based around people in New York having ridiculous feuds with each other. Zines had basically just started, and there were a million of them. The Futurians turned out a great many, but they had a tendency to change names all the time. Forrest J. Ackerman was upholding the honor of the west coast, but, again, his zines didn’t really outshine his own fame as a fan. Also, his lingo is practically unreadable.
It’s pretty cool that the first issue of Bob Tucker’s Le Zombie is available online. Robert “Doc” Lowndes’s Le Vombiteur is also up, so the Futurians are represented. I’m going to read a bunch of old-timey zines before I settle on an opinion in this category. It will also help me tune in on people’s opinions on the short stories and novellas available to them, although mostly people tended to write about their club politics and why other clubs were full of dummies.