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An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000

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The Hugo Awards, named after pioneer science-fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback, and voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Society, have been given out since 1953. They are widely considered the most prestigious awards in science fiction.

Between 2010 and 2013, Jo Walton wrote a series of posts for Tor.com, surveying the Hugo finalists and winners from the award's inception up to the year 2000. Her contention was that each year's full set of finalists generally tells a meaningful story about the state of science fiction at that time.

Walton's cheerfully opinionated and vastly well-informed posts provoked valuable conversation among the field's historians. Now these posts, lightly revised, have been gathered into this book, along with a small selection of the comments posted by SF luminaries such as Rich Horton, Gardner Dozois, and the late David G. Hartwell.

564 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 7, 2018

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About the author

Jo Walton

77 books2,881 followers
Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales, but lives in Montreal.

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Profile Image for Silvana.
1,169 reviews1,143 followers
August 25, 2020
I am not sure how I should rate this book considering I skimmed maybe 20% of it (I'll explain why). This book is a compilation of Walton’s articles in Tor.com and she included some of the comments made by mostly the influencers in the genre, editors like Rich Horton, James Nicoll, the late Gardner Dozois etc. It reads to me like a Goodreads forum with the more SFional knowledgeable members commenting on a thread about Hugo nominations. I should also say members who have followed the genre development since the 1950s.

Of course in Walton’s own commentary and the included comments there were A LOT of titles mentioned. Most of them, especially the ones before 1990s, were not recognizable by yours truly except household names who are still widely read today like Le Guin, Butler, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, you know the rest. She also put some essays about the winners but since they are spoilery I skipped/skimmed some of them which books I have not read.

Still there were lots of interesting points. I did not know File770 was more than 30 years old. I did not know Ted Chiang was already a big deal in 1992 when he won the Campbell (now Astounding) Award and in the previous year also was nominated for Tower of Babylon. I did not know No Award was a thing even in the 1950s. I did not know there was a Best All Time Series category once (which is back now, I suppose).

Another thing I found interesting is the quote from Peter Graham: The Golden Age of SF is when you were twelve. I am pretty excited to know that the Mars trilogy, A Fire Upon the Deep, Parable of the Sower, and Ted Chiang's first nominated stories was my golden age of SF, as well as A Game of Thrones (though it’s technically not SF). I guess I need continue the Mars trilogy and also try some Nancy Kress.

I enjoyed Walton’s frank opinion. She complained about lots of things, like cyberpunk (she really hates it), Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (understandable), some of the award categories (that keeps changing sometimes in a bizarre direction – like, what the fudge is Best Ad?), and of course the works that should have won or nominated. I just laughed when she dubbed the best semiprozine category as ‘the Best Locus’ category. She has this hilarious streak of zingers that got me chuckled lots of times.

Last but not remotely least, she included winners from other major awards in her opinions, from the Nebulas to the PKD, World Fantasy and also Tiptree awards (now Otherwise) so that's helpful.

Eh, it seems I did enjoy this book quite immensely and I did purchase two Cherryh books while reading it due to Walton’s almost feverish promotion, so four stars it is.
Profile Image for Alvaro Zinos-Amaro.
Author 67 books57 followers
September 18, 2018
Did you know that in 1953 a Hugo Award was given out for "Excellence in Fact Articles"? (The winner was Willy Ley.) Or that Brian W. Aldiss was up for a Hugo in 1958 for "Best New Author"--and lost (to "No Award"!)? Did you know that one year the Hugo for "Best Dramatic Presentation" was given to . . . news coverage? (It happened in 1970, for coverage of the Apollo XI mission.)

Trivia aside, if you care at all about the history of science fiction and how the tastes of the field's community of readers and fans have changed over time, you'll want to buy this book. It delivers exactly what the title promises: a chatty, highly personal review of nearly fifty years of Hugo Awards--but much more than that, too.

Now, with any such project, a couple of questions immediately arise regarding our prospective tour-guide through literary history: what are her qualifications, and what's her sensibility? Regarding the first question: Jo Walton is herself a Hugo winner for the excellent Among Others (2011) and has authored many other fine novels, as well as the recent What Makes This Book So Great (2014), an impressive collection of informal essays on re-reading the classics of our genre. She has read not only many, many novels and stories that won Hugos (and other awards), but also many that were nominated or made other shortlists, and often she's read them more than once. Admittedly, she hasn't read every nominee and every winner in the years under review, but she's candid about this and explains why it is so. Perhaps as important as her first-hand experience with the texts under discussion is her endless enthusiasm for science fiction. She's coming at this from a place of love. Finally, another significant qualification is her willingness to state what kind of books appeal to her and why, and conversely what books she tends to stay away from, and why. This transparency is extremely helpful and leads directly to that second question of sensibility.

Walton's tastes are wide and varied. She is, to put it mildly, omnivoracious in the science fiction and fantasy genres. But she is certainly a discriminate reader, and there are a few sub-genres or modes that rub her the wrong way. She doesn't care, for instance, for the work of Philip K. Dick: "I have read half a dozen assorted Dick novels and hated all of them," she observes. A few pages later she adds: "I have no hesitation saying he's a good writer, as opposed to a bad writer; I'm just not sure he's a good writer as opposed to an evil writer. The way he thinks--the kind of characters he writes about, the kind of stories he tells, the kind of worlds he builds--repel me." Other novels she hates (her word) include John Varley's Wizard, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and Dan Simmons's The Rise of Endymion ("a book I really hate"). She's also not into cyberpunk. When discussing the first ever Hugo-winning novel, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, she says: "It has everything I don't like about cyberpunk: unpleasant immoral characters, bribery, an underworld, a fast pace, lots of glitz, a metropolitan feel, chases, and a noir narrative voice that doesn't want you to get too close." It's therefore not entirely surprising that when we get to her discussion of the 1985 Hugos, she describes William Gibson's Neuromancer as a "huge, important book and I hated it." It seems that she also has a preference for upbeat novels (about Wilson Tucker's The Year of the Quiet Sun she says, "I haven't read it, because it looks like a bit of a downer") that are, on the whole, positive about humanity and technology. (When discussing, for instance, Michael Swanwick's Jack Faust she notes, "It's beautifully written, as with all Swanwick, but it's negative about technology and the possibility of progress in a way that makes it hard for me to like.") In summary, Walton's sensibility doesn't align with mine; she unquestionably dislikes a number of works that speak highly to me personally. In a sense, then, I'm a good test case for the proposition, "If I disagree with Walton's tastes, will I still enjoy her evaluation of the Hugo winners and nominees?" The answer is a resounding yes.

For one, though she may not like certain works, she doesn't devalue or demerit them on those grounds. This is a significant point in Walton's favor, and one of many reasons it's a pleasure to read her even when you're at odds with her perspective. Then too, identifying where you may diverge from Walton's aesthetic preferences still leaves a ton of room for convergence in other areas. Which brings us to one of this book's most endearing and helpful features, part of the reason it's a standout volume: each of Walton's pieces, originally a Tor.com blog post, is followed by curated comments penned by other subject matter experts. The two most distinctive figures here, with a staggering, encyclopedic knowledge of the field, are Gardner Dozois and Rich Horton, to whom the book--along with Kevin Strandlee--is dedicated. Their opinions help round out Walton's views, and they often invoke texts that would have otherwise been missed. I truly admire Dozois's acumen, candor, and humor, and I likewise appreciate Horton's comprehensiveness within the genre and his inclusion of many mainstream titles with slight genre elements.

Another big plus that takes this review of the Hugos far beyond what it might have been is the inclusion of other awards and shortlists. In the early years there's not much else to discuss besides the Hugo and the International Fantasy Award. But then, in 1966, the Hugos are complemented by the Nebulas; in 1971, the Locus and the Mythopoetic Awards arrive on the scene; in 1973, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award is launched; later still we get the World Fantasy Awards and the Philip K. Dick Awards. Proceeding chronologically, as the book does, it's fascinating to note not only the growth of awards and their various registers, but the concomitant multiplicity of recommendations associated with their nomination lists. Another reason to cherish this book: it's a treasure-trove of excellent suggestions for further reading, at every imaginable length and in every conceivable style. I know I'll be dipping into it for years to come.

As far as Walton's own voice, she tends to speak plainly, and she's compulsively readable. If you make your way through these pieces in quick succession, as I did, you do notice some slight repetitions (every so often Walton mentions loving a book when she was fourteen, but not so much anymore; she tends to gripe about the non-comparability of the non-fiction nominees; and so on), but skipping around or pacing yourself, as most sane readers will do, this will likely not be noticeable. The original posts, if you want to get a sense of the style, are still available online here [https://www.tor.com/features/series/r...]. But it's a singular pleasure to have them, slightly edited, and bolstered by a thoughtful selection of comments, in book form.

And speaking of the Hugos--come next year's awards, I know one non-fiction book I'll certainly be backing.
Profile Image for Krista D..
Author 68 books299 followers
August 17, 2018
What a fascinating series!

Plus, this works as a massive Jo Recommends series, too; Walton doesn't shy from expressing her opinions (which improves the book, I think) and you can find a lot of books to read because of the comments.

One thing that annoyed me was how many of the shorter works are impossible to find now. What a reprint anthology series opportunity there could be!
Profile Image for Alan.
1,124 reviews112 followers
February 1, 2021
All this passion and choler seems far away now, as if we were arguing over which end of the egg to break.
Gardner Dozois, comment #11 on the year 1971, p.186

An Informal History of the Hugos was a tremendous undertaking on Jo Walton's part, taking years for her to complete. And do not be misled by the word "Informal" in its title—this is a comprehensive and rigorously-compiled history. Walton lists all of science fiction's Hugo Award winners in every category, and all the nominees, and associated awards (and their nominees), along with her reactions to them, and publications she liked that they missed, for every one of the 47 years from the Hugos' inception in 1953 to the magical Year 2000, just before Walton was nominated for her own first major award in the field. (More about that later.)

Walton's effort won't be for everyone, though—not even for everyone with an interest in the history of speculative fiction. An Informal History's endless lists of names and titles and statistics, many presented without additional comment, read more like an almanac than a narrative. The "informal" part (and most of the fun) comes from Walton's interjections, comments and asides—including insightful novel reviews for almost every year—and from others' lively responses, from readers who posted replies on Walton's Tor.com blog, where these essays first appeared. Many of those commenters, such as Rich Horton, the late Gardner Dozois, and Charles Stross, have made their own prominent contributions to science fiction's history.

The neatest thing about Jo Walton's year-by-year analysis of the Hugos is how critically she examines the voters' choices, both in the context of their time and from her own 21st-century perspective. She acknowledges the winners' impact, where appropriate, but more often she second-guesses them, suggesting more enduring and substantial works that were overlooked at the time.

I was particularly pleased, for example, to see her analysis of 1967's Hugo winner, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (see pp.138-141)—and just how many points of agreement she and I shared, both pro and con, about Heinlein's masterwork.


I did run into a couple of (very) minor annoyances while reading An Informal History:

One is that—I'm sorry—every use of the phrase "the library" to mean one specific library system, the one in Montreal that Walton's used to, grated on me... and the phrase shows up a lot. Although I don't know what would have been better. "My library" would have been shorter, but it would also have been confusing since Walton also discusses her personal collection.

So, I guess, let "the library" stand...

And—I'm really not sure which "George" Gardner Dozois was referring to (twice) on p.198; there seem to be a reference missing.

Really, though, these are mere bagatelles.


I do want to mention one more substantial concern—an issue not with Walton or her interlocutors, but with the Hugo Awards themselves, at least in the period under discussion.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again here and now: speculative fiction is, precisely, the literature of imagination. As such, at a minimum, sf should be able to include all of the varieties of human being—both as characters and as writers. Ignoring the very existence of storytellers who aren't straight white males is nothing but a shameful failure of imagination. And, as Walton documents, the Hugo Awards consistently reflected that very failure of imagination for decades. From 1953 onward, year after year, the winners (and most or all of the nominees) come from the same narrow demographic.
I think this might be the first time we've had two writers of color on the same list.
It took until 1984.

Walton herself does not excuse this. Consider her reaction to rereading Robert Silverberg's Hugo winner Dying Inside, for example:
I think Silverberg was liberal and enlightened and ahead of his time on racial issues for 1972, but "liberal for 1972" reads weirdly in 2009 and had me looking sideways at the text a few times.

The introduction in 1973 of what was, until 2019, known as the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (p.206) did not change this racist, sexist dynamic, at least not immediately, but it was a noteworthy milestone nonetheless. Walton herself won this award—now the Astounding Award for Best New Writer—in 2002, after being nominated in 2001, which was one big factor contributing to her decision to end this history with the round-numbered year 2000.

When An Informal History was committed to print, award winner Jeannette Ng's fiery speech at the 2019 WorldCon in Dublin calling out Campbell's racism—and resulting in the award's new name—was still in the future. I didn't find any specific reaction from Walton to Ng's speech online, but even so I suspect that Walton was, as I am, perfectly okay with the update.


Other thoughts I had, and bits I enjoyed, while reading An Informal History...

The only WorldCon I've been able to attend (so far, anyway) took place in 1983, in Baltimore, Maryland. I met Isaac Asimov there, the man who won Best Novel with Foundation's Edge—although I did agree with Walton (p.322) that the novel's fairly weak.

On R.A. MacAvoy's Hugo-nominated novel in 1984, Walton says
Science fiction went straight from multivac to cyberpunk, without really pausing at the stage of breadboards and CPM handwritten word processors. Fantasy, however, did—we have in Tea with the Black Dragon a precise snapshot of an era of computing history. (I could also add Hambly's The Silent Tower to this, with the evil wizard's brain coded in CPM on computers that ran on despair, an idea later fully implemented by Microsoft as Windows 95.)

I do agree with Walton regarding the significance of Neuromancer to the field (p.344), although—unlike her—I've managed to enjoy Gibson's breakout novel several times since its publication.

However, I am in full agreement again with her assessment of Ender's Game:
It's still being talked about and stirring up controversy. But I find its view of necessity disturbing, and I doubt I will read it again.


An Informal History of the Hugos was a fascinating and thought-provoking deep dive into my most beloved genre. I really struggled with this review, though, and I'm not at all sure I've captured all of the pleasures of reading the perspectives that Walton (and so many others) bring to a field I've adored for as long as I've been reading at all—"what makes this book so great," to steal a phrase.

I guess you'll have to decide for yourself... but if you've read this far, I think you'll find Walton's effort entirely worth your time.
Profile Image for Lis Carey.
2,190 reviews101 followers
August 3, 2019
This is exactly what it says on the cover, an informal history of the Hugo awards, from their initial creation in 1951 through the 2000 awards. It's a look at nearly fifty years of what science fiction and fantasy readers who joined the World Science Fiction Convention, i.e., Worldcon, thought was the best in the field.

Jo Walton doesn't claim to have read all the Hugo winners, much less all the nominees. That wasn't the point. She takes the position that whether she read or didn't read something, and why, is itself a data point about the reception of these books and stories, whether the Hugos were capturing the breadth of the genre, and whether the books have lasted. Another set of data points is whether the individual books are in print, are they in her local library, and, given that her local library is the Montreal library, are they there in English, in French, or both languages. Also, whether they are still talked about in sf circles or elsewhere.

It's a lively discussion, as she discusses her own encounters with the novels and short fiction nominated, expresses her lack of interest in the Best Dramatic Presentation category. She's frank about her own opinions, and about when her opinions have changed since she first read the novels or shorter fiction. She's not, though, ever disrespectful of the opinions of others, and is quite willing to say that a particular book doesn't work for her, but clearly did or does work for others. I'm reminded of a comment made by someone else in a recent discussion, "All your old favorites are problematic." Not bad, just problematic. We've been through a lot of changes in the course of my lifetime, and Jo is only a few years younger. The cultural changes, and growth in understanding in many areas, mean that things we read with happy unconcern in past years, on rereading show some disturbing or startling features we didn't necessarily notice or object to at the time. And yet, they are often still very good, or in some cases even great, books. Being aware of their problematic aspects doesn't mean we necessarily stop enjoying or appreciating them.

I've referred to this as a discussion a couple of times. It very much is. Jo Walton originally wrote these essays for Tor. com, and included in the book are a selection of interesting comments left on each of them. Walton and her commenters are all knowledgeable, interesting, and articulate, discussing a subject they all care about.

This is a lively, fascinating, and enjoyable book. Highly recommended.

I received this book as part of the 2019 Hugo Voters Packet.
Profile Image for Teleseparatist.
1,033 reviews125 followers
September 18, 2019
There are some genuine flaws to this book and its format. It gets a little repetitive; it had some copyediting problems (spelling, for example); sometimes the comments that were included seemed to lack a bit of the context.

And yet, I just enjoyed it so profoundly. It made me want to read all the things, even things I *know* I don't really want to read, or that I suspect I won't enjoy much. I read the ebook, and that also made me realise I *need* this book on paper, because this is the kind of book to annotate and scribble on, and maybe stick stickers in.

I love Walton's enthusiasm and admire the breadth of her (and her commenters') knowledge of the genre. I can only hope to be 1/3 so well-read one day!

And now I must read something.
Profile Image for Callibso.
689 reviews18 followers
November 24, 2019
Jo Walton ist eine großartige Autorin, ihr Roman „Among Others“ wurde sowohl mit dem Nebula wie auch mit dem Hugo Award ausgezeichnet. Sie ist bekennender SF und Fantasy Fan und eine Vielleserin, wie auch aus der von ihr vor einigen Jahren herausgegebenen Sammlung von Reviews klassischer Science-Fiction und Fantasy-Romane hervorgeht, für die sie weit über hundert Romane noch einmal las: „What Makes This Book so Great – Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy“ (Tor Books, 2014).

Danach begann sie auf TOR.com eine Serie von Artikeln zum Thema »Revisiting the Hugos«, in denen sie sich mit den Hugo Awards der Jahre 1953-2000 beschäftigte. Neuere Verleihungen blendete sie aus, u.a. weil sie seit 2000 auch selbst schriftstellerisch aktiv ist und ausgezeichnet wurde. Außerdem möchte sie die Wirkung und historische Entwicklung des Preises analysieren und da sollten schon ein paar Jahre vergangen sein. Dieses Buch ist eine überarbeitete Zusammenstellung ihrer Artikel und enthält auch Ausschnitte der interessanten Diskussionen im Internet, z.B. Anmerkungen von Gardner Dozois und Rich Horton.

Es gibt einige Unterschiede zu Hardy Kettlitz Dreiteiler »Die Hugo Awards«: Kettlitz berichtet über alle Kategorien, insbesondere auch über die unbekannteren Fans, die ausgezeichnet wurden, während Jo Walton in der Regel »nur« zu den Büchern und Erzählungen Stellung nimmt. Dafür versucht sie eine Gesamtschau des Jahres. Sie betrachtet also auch die nominierten Romane und versucht Trends aus diesen Nominierungen herauszulesen. Sie beschäftigt sich mit nicht-nominierten Büchern, d.h. sie fragt sich, welche Nominierungen wären noch möglich gewesen im betreffenden Jahr und ob die Wahlen nachvollziehbar waren oder auch anders hätten ausfallen können. Sie vergleicht mit anderen Preisen, insbesondere dem Nebula-Award und dem Locus-Award und versucht zu bewerten, ob das ausgezeichnete Werk eine längerfristige Relevanz besaß, ob es uns heute noch etwas bedeutet, ob es überhaupt noch bekannt ist. Gerade diese Wertungen und Hinweise auf Lücken bei den Nominierungen führten dann zu interessanten Diskussionen, die auszugsweise im Buch enthalten sind.

Die Bücher von Kettlitz enthalten Abbildungen der Titelbilder der ausgezeichneten Romane bzw. Magazine, was hier leider nicht der Fall ist. Etwas Auflockerung hätte dem Buch gut getan, so ist es manchmal eine etwas trockene Datensammlung, die die Wenigsten in einem Rutsch lesen werden. Ich habe mich zumindest immer nur auf einige Jahre beschränkt und dann eine Pause eingelegt.
Zu manchen Jahren ist Jo Walton nicht viel eingefallen und dann listet sie nur die Nominierungen und die Sieger auf. Dafür gibt es immer wieder ausführliche Essays zu einzelnen Büchern, die ich sehr interessant fand. Walton wertet durchaus deutlich, hat ihre Vorlieben (z.B. Ursula K. Le Guin), mag andere Autoren nicht so sehr (z.B. Philip K. Dick) oder nicht alles von ihnen (z.B. Robert Heinlein). Man muss diesen Urteilen natürlich nicht folgen, auch wenn sie gut begründet sind. Auch die Anmerkungen ihrer Leser sind interessant: dort wird auf weitere nicht-nominierte Werke verwiesen, über Unterschiede der Wahlregeln diskutiert und vieles mehr, so dass insgesamt tatsächlich eine Art Geschichte der Hugos entsteht. Diese Geschichte »informal« zu nennen ist dadurch begründet, dass sie sehr subjektiv und lückenhaft erzählt wird, denn selbst Jo Walton hat nicht alle nominierten Bücher gelesen.

Jo Walten hatte sich entschieden, für dieses Buch keine Titel neu oder wieder zu lesen, verlässt sich also auf ihre Lektüre-Erinnerungen und dies trägt zu Ungleichheit zwischen verschiedenen Jahrgängen bei. Dennoch machte es mir sehr viel Spaß, ihr bei dieser Wanderung durch die Geschichte der Hugos und damit durch einen gewissen Teil der Geschichte der Science-Fiction zu folgen. Gegen Ende hatte ich das Gefühl, dass dem Projekt etwas die Puste ausging und es öfter nur noch Aufzählungen aber keine Diskussionen gab.

Insgesamt ist es aber eine großartige Idee und ich habe dadurch von einer Fülle von Büchern und Geschichten gehört, die ich unbedingt (wieder) lesen sollte…..
Profile Image for Julie Davis.
Author 4 books273 followers
August 24, 2019
This has all of Jo Walton's usual charm in discussing books plus the virtue of being a terrific resource for finding good science fiction. I liked the earlier parts more than the last simply because the lists and books got so numerous that I had trouble sorting through them. Definitely recommended!
Profile Image for Girl.
545 reviews41 followers
September 12, 2019
Walton makes you want to read all the things.

Still, I think that maybe some bits (especially in the comments sections) could have been edited out for better flow / cohesion.
Profile Image for Amanda.
840 reviews343 followers
August 23, 2018
I bought this book immediately upon publication because I loved What Makes This Book So Great, also by Walton and of a similar format, so much. I was looking forward to great SFF recommendations and book reviews from Walton. This book definitely has that, but it also has lists. Hundreds of pages of lists. And that's fine. I realize I came into this book expecting to find what it was never going to be. For what this truly is, An Informal History of the Hugos, it is a comprehensive look back at the award (and other SFF awards), its nominees and the evolution of SFF literature. But what I really wanted was to just hear Walton talk about books, which only happened half of the time. I also found all the novellas and short fiction, listed in the main body of the essays and in the included comments from the blog, a little frustrating because not all of them are easy to read today. It felt like hundreds of tantalizing works I'd never be able to experience myself. Overall, I'll keep this on my shelves and am pleased to have added so many SFF books to my Goodreads TBR because of An Informal History of the Hugos.
Profile Image for Marlene.
2,951 reviews206 followers
August 31, 2018
Originally published at Reading Reality

I read these in reverse order. I started reading An Informal History of the Hugos while I was at Worldcon, anticipating the upcoming Hugo Awards ceremony. I was also looking for something big that I wouldn’t have to write up in the middle of the con, because that just wasn’t happening.

But once I finished the book, especially after attending a panel hosted by the author that covered which great books in 2017 did not make the Hugo Ballot, I wasn’t ready to quit. And there was another book just waiting for me.

Admittedly, it was just a bit surreal reading about what made older books so great while I was waiting for panels to start that talked about what new books were/would be so great. But it was a good kind of surreal.

After one panel where I wanted to buy “all the things” and started doing so on Amazon as the panel was running, I finally figured out that might be a bit much, even for me. So I started a list that just got longer and longer and LONGER as the con went on.

Something to look forward to.

But right now I’m looking back at two very interesting books that just go together, not only because they were written by the same person.

Both of these books are, in their own way, a bit meta. They are books that talk about books. They also talk about the joys of, and the experience of, reading. If either one of those is your jam, they make for marvelous reads. They are also great to dip in and out of. While both books are rather long, they are divided up into short, easily digestible – or dippable – sections.

But while there are similarities, there are also differences.

What Makes This Book So Great is very personal. The book is made up of a series of blog posts that were originally posted at Tor.com, but this is, unquestionably, the author’s point of view. Like all readers, she loves what she loves, and also hates what she hates. And isn’t one bit shy about explaining about either.

Even when I disagreed with her, and I often did, this was fun to read because it felt like we had similar experiences of reading and thoughts about reading and its joys. Even if I occasionally wondered what she was thinking about certain books. There are some arguments I would just love to have, as well as some books I’ve passed by that suddenly sound awfully interesting.

Among Others by Jo WaltonIf you read and loved Among Others, this book will feel strangely familiar. It was obvious in Among Others that this was an author who loved the genre and had read extremely widely in it. This book feels like just the tip of that reading iceberg – which must be enormous.

An Informal History of the Hugos is a bit less personal, but no less interesting. The Hugos began in 1955, and have been presented annually every since. We know what won, and what it won for. For the past several decades we also know what was nominated. And it’s not difficult to figure out what was eligible in any given year, even those earliest years – even if it is a pain for the pre-internet years.

This book does not set out to provide the author’s opinion about what should have won in any given year – not that we don’t get a lovely slice of that. Instead, it looks at what was eligible in each year, what got nominated (if available), what won other awards that year (if applicable) and what won the Hugo. And attempts to determine whether what appeared on the Hugo ballot was of decent quality and reasonably represented the state of the field that year.

It makes for a fun to read time capsule of SF history. As someone who has been reading SF for a long time, but not for the span of the awards, I have to admit that the discussion of the earliest years felt a bit academic, or at least distant, at least to me.

When the book really picks up for me turned out to be 1971. I was 14, reading more fantasy than SF, but some of each. And most importantly, had enough of an allowance to spend on books. So that’s the point where I remember seeing things in the racks, even if I didn’t buy them myself (or check them out of the local library).

I was fascinated from that point forward, seeing what else was available that I missed or wasn’t ready for or couldn’t afford. And it was cool to not just read each year afterwards, but to see how many of the eligible books I had read at the time. It brought back a lot of fond memories.

And I still have some of those books.

The author stopped in 2000, ironically the first year I attended Worldcon. While her reasons make sense, a part of me wishes she had continued. I’d love to read what she thought of the nominees and winners earlier in this decade, during the puppy farrago. Maybe we’ll see those posts in another decade or so, after the dust has settled a bit.

But part of what makes this book so fascinating is its premise – and her conclusions. Did the Hugo voters mostly represent the field? Were most of the nominees of high enough quality to justify their inclusion on the ballot? Were there some books that seem blindingly obvious in retrospect that were completely overlooked at the time? Did they occasionally miss the boat, or not merely the boat but also the body of water it was floating on?

The answer makes for an interesting – and highly debate worthy – yes all the way around. Read it and see if you agree.

Ratings: I’m not sure whether these qualify for “Escape” or “Reality” ratings. I was surprised at how much I lost myself inside each book. But at the same time, they are very meta, nonfiction about fiction.

There’s no question that you have to be a genre fan to be interested in An Informal History of the Hugos. What Makes This Book So Great is mostly, but not completely, SF and fantasy. (I loved the commentary on one of my all-time favorite books, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers).It also has a lot to say about the joys and experience of reading, regardless of genre, so it will be of interest to anyone who likes to read about reading, and is open-minded, or at least less particular, about genre.

Whether an escape, reality, or a bit of both, I put both of these books on the B+/A- fence.

Happy Reading!
Profile Image for Jordi.
253 reviews9 followers
December 21, 2019
Even if in some sense this book might be seen as just a concatenation of lists of Hugo awards and nominees, following a pattern of comments that feels repetitive when put next to each other (being based on a series of weekly posts from Jo Walton in Tor.Com), this is really a treasure for SF fans.

Covering the history of Hugo awards from 1953 to 2000, it gives you in a nutshell a history of the field, from the point of view of a voracious reader that just loves reading SF. Jo Walton’s enthusiasm for SF is contagious, even if emotionally biased, as when she plainly claims to hate Philip K. Dick (for being an “evil writer”) or William Gibson’s Neuromancer and cyberpunk as a whole. Walton is very honest about this bias though, and recognizes the value of these works even if she just doesn’t like them.

Walton’s point of view is also balanced with the extensive comments from Rich Horton and the late Gardner Dozois, two walking SF-encyclopedias who seem to have read every single short story ever written. As Dozois mentions in the conclusions, it’s interesting to note that you also get the sense that the best SF has always been done at shorter lengths, even if the novels tend to get the spotlight.

This was perfect morning reading one year at a time - a reminder of what is so wonderful about SF, and a terrible outcome for the TBR pile, even if I already assumed I will never get to the bottom of it.
Profile Image for Mark.
565 reviews157 followers
March 9, 2019
So, this is one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while since it was published last July, around the time of the Hugo Worldcon. (I know, I’ve been busy.)

As most of you reading this will know, the Hugo Awards have been awarded, almost annually, since 1953. The Hugos are voted for by fans, unlike the Nebula Awards, which are voted for by the Writers of Science Fiction in America. (That process is more like the Oscar voting than the Hugos are.) When I was younger, they were seen by many readers and writers, along with the professional Nebula Award, as the benchmark of good SF & Fantasy – especially SF.

This was to such an extent that the mere mentioning of the phrases “Hugo Award Winner” or even “Hugo Award Nominee” were for me often an enticement to read or buy a book. (I did once try to read them all, scouring second-hand bookshops and libraries for as many as I could get. However, as this was in the days before the internet, I was defeated by the numbers of those not in print - and the follies of the so-called New Wave, which at that time I hated. I’m more appreciative these days.)

The idea of this book is simple. The book goes through, year by year from 1953 to 2000, the nominees and winners of the main Awards. In each year Jo comments on the books that won (or didn’t!), pointing out other books that were eligible (and should have been nominated) and in her chatty way passes judgement on what did, could or should have won that year. The book also lists other non-textual categories, such as the Dramatic Presentation nominations, Best Artist and the John W. Campbell Award nominees for each year, but these receive few comments. This is mainly about the written word – novel, novella, novelette, short story, magazine and fanzine.

She explains her reasons for looking at the novels at the start of the book:

I don’t think the best novel always wins. I think it’s very hard to say what the best book of the year is. Most years, there’s no single obvious best. It’s much easier to say what the top five are. I thought it might be interesting to take a historical look at the individual years and consider what was nominated and what won, to look at what else could have been nominated and wasn’t, and how well the selected books have stood the test of time. I wanted to look at the nominees to see whether the Hugos were picking the best five books, not only at the winners. It’s easy to find consideration of Hugo winners. I wanted to do something different—to revisit the winners and nominees in context.”

Jo looks at the books from the following perspectives – is the book still in print and still in the library (the library in Montreal as well as in English ones), is it still discussed (showing its longevity). Unusually Jo freely admits that she is not an expert and that she has not read every book or every story, which is quite engaging. But she is clearly a fan.

In some cases, where Jo has read the book, there are more detailed reviews, such as on Heinlein’s Double Star (one of her favourites) Arthur C Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust, Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book or Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man . If you have read any of Jo’s reviews in her companion collection, What Makes this Book Great, you know what to expect.

As this was something that was initially developed as blog posts from 2010 – 2013 on the Tor.com website, there are also included selected comments made by a number of readers, particularly Rich Horton and the sadly missed David Hartwell and Gardner Dozois, which add other perspectives to Jo’s admittedly personal views. What surprised me most is how much Rich Horton adds to the posts through his comments, adding many more novels, novellas and short stories to read. (My own personal reading list has grown exponentially as a result.) Jo has said that should this book be updated from 2001 to the present day then Rich Horton would be the logical choice to do so. I can only agree.

There are some good points made by all concerned. Whilst the quality of the nominees and winners of the Best Novel flow and ebb from year to year (and part of the fun of the book is reading what was nominated and what should have been nominated), the Novellas in the 1970’s and 80’s are consistently good, in the contributor’s opinions.

Jo does debunk the myth that of the two ‘main’ Awards, the Hugo is the ‘populist’ Award and the Nebulas are more ‘literary’. Where the two awards diverge, and certainly in the 1970’s and 80’s, the Nebulas seem to have more of the books now recognised as classics whilst the Hugo novel winners are more… quirky.

This reminds us that all Awards are not isolated, but subject to trends of the time. This book shows the evolution of the Awards and the genre, reflecting the views of the fans who voted at the time, even if it is only to disagree with them! As such, for anyone interested in the development of the Award up to 2000, it is a worthwhile read. (But be warned – sometimes there ain’t no folk stranger than SF folk!)

What was fascinating to me was that by reading the nominees and winners in consecutive order, it is clear how some authors blaze a trail across the categories for a while before fading away to near nothing. I was very pleased to read of names I liked but now obscure. (I must write about Hilbert Schenck at some point.) There were other trends too - the rise of Larry Niven in his early years is really noticeable and the phenomenon and impact of John Varley in the 1970’s is palpable, for example.

As this is an ‘informal’ history, there are clear favourite authors and non-favourites which are freely admitted by the contributors. Most noticeable is the consistent love of Theodore Sturgeon and Gene Wolfe’s work throughout. However Jo is not a fan of everything and everyone.  She admits that she is not a fan of anything cyberpunk, Dan Simmons’s later Hyperion books and Philip K Dick’s writing to the point where she has avoided his work, including the 1963 Award Winner The Man in the High Castle.  Although she is often an advocate of Heinlein’s work (such as Double Star), she is less enamoured with the more famous Stranger in A Strange Land (rather like myself, actually.)

Of course, you could just read the posts online (as I did first time around!) but there’s something to be said for having them all in one handy place. My only problem is that with minor revisions, such as  the long-lost nominees for the Hugo of 1956 to keep the book current, the book ends in 2000,  after which Jo feels unable to make comment on. (She has herself become a Hugo nominee and winner in 2012.) She explains this as follows:

“I stopped in 2000 for three reasons. First, the ticking clock of the century seemed like a good end point. Second, it was ten years before the time when I began to write the posts, and it didn’t seem possible to have perspective on anything any closer to the present than that. If you’re considering whether a book from 1958 or 1978 has lasted, knowing it’s in print in 2010 is useful. This doesn’t work so well for a book from 1998, never mind 2008. Historical perspective takes time. The third reason was personal—I began to be published myself in 2000, and I didn’t want to either consider or not consider my own work in this context.”

As a slight downside, some readers may be disconcerted, even annoyed, to find some of the availability details a little out of date. There are a number of books that are claimed to be unavailable or out of print, and they may have been in the USA in 2010, but there are quite a few that I know were available in the UK at the time of writing or have become available since 2013.  In these days of globalisation, it might have been helpful if these had been revised for 2018, although readers with easy access to the Internet and websites such as the mega-bookseller named after a South American river, for example, will find many of them relatively easy to obtain.

Although the book is focused mainly on the Hugos, we also see, as time goes on, the addition of other Awards as the genre expands - the Nebula Awards (from 1966), the Locus Awards (from 1971), the Mythopoeic Awards (from 1971) and the World Fantasy Award (from 1975), all of which add something to the culture of the genre but in my opinion dilute the impact of the Hugos.  Jo adds these other Awards to each year for comparison with the Hugos, broadening the list of potential reads but at the same time providing us perhaps with too many choices. The result of these additions are long lists of stuff to look at without too many comments, which makes understanding why they are worth reading more difficult to comprehend.

However, this book is more than just a booklist of possible reads. Above all, it is an engagingly personal trawl through a list, by a fan, with all of the quirks and limitations that creates.

Despite my minor niggles, I enjoyed reading this a lot. Although I would not recommend reading too much in one go, as the style can become repetitive, this is a great “dip-into” type of book. If you want to read each year consecutively and then go and read some of the nominees, this is a great primer, not only for the winners but also for some of those who didn’t quite make it. Here it has made me want to reread A Canticle for Liebowitz, The Peace War and Startide Rising amongst many others, and read Tea With the Black Dragon, The Lathe of Heaven and Dying Inside, which I have never read.

Alternatively, if you want to look up specific years – who were the nominees and winners in the year you were born, for example? – this is a lovely summary. (For the record, mine were Way Station by Clifford D. Simak and No Truce With Kings by Poul Anderson, with Analog the Best Magazine. For what such an opinion is worth, I am pleased by that list. I want to read both again.)

In short, this is a book for those who, like me, love the Hugos or indeed any other Award that celebrates the genre – the Awards and the ceremonies, the  good, the bad, and the sheer razzmatazz of it all, even now.*  I spent a very happy time reading it, but perhaps more importantly it made me want to read books I haven’t read and reread ones I have. It is a celebration of books and the genre by a fan and should be appreciated by anyone who loves the genre like Jo – and I – do. For all the good and bad, for all of the hullaballoo, it is ours and deserves appreciation. Recommended.

*Announced for the reasons of clarity - I was very happy and humbled to play my own small part in being one of a group who were nominated for the Best Fanzine as Galactic Journey in 2018.
Profile Image for Roy.
386 reviews29 followers
January 29, 2019
Second time that I have to thank Jo Walton for a wonderful tribute to what I love about science fiction. Her Among Others captured that joy in astounding fiction, and her she has given us another love letter to science fiction by reviewing the Hugo Awards and wondering whether they really capture the field in each year. I expected to be reminded of old friends, human and literary, but I found myself drawn back into celebration of some of my favorite writing and memories of Worldcons.

Walton covers every year of Science Fiction from 1952 through 2000. Even when we have different opinions of certain books, it is clear how Walton is thinking about the books. She mainly judges the year as a success if the books are still being talked about, if they are part of the conversation and evolution of science fiction.

I kind of expected this to be a 'drop in for a few pages a day book. Instead her treating our books, stories and awards as something serious, something that matters, together with her simple and clear writing style, drew me into coming back day after day. Her celebration of a book or two each year, in the style of 'why this book is great' made me want to go on to the next year as soon as I'd finished one.

The book was created as a weekly on-line blog, with commentary (especially by Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois) providing alternative takes. Yet it is nicely edited, and manages to both have the freshness of an on-line discussion and the edited strength of a re-edit.

Her eventual conclusion (essentially, 'the Hugos do pretty well at capturing our field, but could still do better') is a bit less than overwhelming, but somehow it doesn't matter. By the end she had reminded me why I have to read the Hugo nominees every year, why I go to the ceremony 3 times out of 4, and why they matter to those of us who believe SF tells stories and explores ideas that can't be explored any other way.
Profile Image for Heather.
52 reviews33 followers
May 12, 2019
As the title suggests, an informal look at the Hugo awards from 1953 through to 2000. The contents of this book were originally published as part of a series of articles on Tor.com (and are still available in that format: https://www.tor.com/features/series/r...). Having read a similar collection of Jo Walton’s essays before (What Makes This Book So Great) I was expecting this to be interesting and readable and it didn’t disappoint. Rather than reading or rereading all the shortlisted works Walton considers whether or not she’s read them before (she’s a very prolific reader and seems to have read a lot of them before) and if not, why not. She also comments on which books the Hugos may have missed by looking at other books published that year or shortlisted for the other awards. Walton’s focus is mainly on the novels although she does list the shortlisted works for the other categories, but also included in the book are interesting comments from other people made on the original web-published articles which include a wealth of information about the short fiction shortlisted each year. This was one of the highlights of the book for me and really emphasised how little I know about sff short fiction published more than a few years ago and how many well-known sff authors started out writing shorter fiction before novels (G. R. R. Martin’s name comes up a lot).

My only criticisms are that an appendix listing all the award nominations and index listing all the works mentioned (perhaps sorted by publication date) would have been really nice. And I was also sad to see that Jo made very few references to non-American awards when looking at books the Hugos might have missed. I suppose it makes sense given that the Hugo awards are effectively American awards but I still would have liked this.
Profile Image for Meg.
7 reviews
July 8, 2019
This book was promising but ultimately frustrating and disappointing. It contains:

1) Novel winner and nominees with commentary from Jo Walton. This was the good bit. She discusses the books, which ones she has read, which ones she hasn't and why not, how well they stood the test of time, how well they represent their time, and books that deserved to be nominated but weren't.

2) Lists of Nebula/Locus/etc award winners and nominees, which ones were also Hugo nominees and which ones weren't. There is some interesting stuff here and if she'd just mentioned the books she had something to say about it would have been great but as is it is predominately a series of boring lists.

3) Lists of all the other Hugo award winners and nominees, with occasional comment. Not particularly exciting but a useful reference.

4) Comments. The book is a collection of blog posts and, for reasons that escape me, a number of the comments have been included. This would have been fine if the comments were brief corrections, brief amplifications or brief "interesting detail about...". But they aren't. I bought this book so I could read Jo Walton's take on the Hugos. I did not want a book that gets taken over by other people whose opinions I am not particularly interested in. I did not want to read lists of every halfway decent book that was eligible that year. I did not want to read Dozois being smug about the number of winners and nominees published in the magazine he edited. I did not want other people's lists of their rankings. I did not want chatty personal stories by other people.

5) Essays about some of the Hugo novel winners. We are back to Jo here and a closer look at the Novel winner, at the aspects that interest Jo, and her opinion of the book. This is what I bought the book for and I enjoyed them.

Without the comments (which take up 1/3rd of the book!) I would have given 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,685 reviews347 followers
November 12, 2018
As always, you should read the publishers blurb (top of page) first, before you read my review, or any other. In this case, it’s an unusually good preview.

There are (at least) two good reviews here, which I shall now bring to your attention:
* Short & sweet, by Mitchell Friedman : https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
* Long and detailed, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
I'll wait....

I could almost stop writing here! Walton says that she stopped at the year 2000 because (among other reasons) that’s the year she was first published. I’m very glad that Tor assembled her columns into a handsome hardcover — especially since it's unlikely to be a best-seller. I managed to persuade our library to buy a copy.

For me, the book amounts to something of a reread—I read most of her posts at Tor.com as they came out. And they are still there: https://www.tor.com/features/series/r... . Lightly edited for the book, with some added material. She is compulsively readable, and I enjoyed the comments by Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois (RIP). Maybe Rich can take up the job Dozois left behind? He's a very knowledgeable reader of SF/F.

Nits to pick: she lists an awful lot of minor awards. Do you really care who won Best Fan Artist? Best Fan Writer? And the book is kind of tedious reading for more recent years, when the sheer number of awards and titles becomes overwhelming. Even so, it was fun to be reminded of novels and stories that I’ve read and enjoyed (or not) over the years. So I’m sure I will return to the book another day.

And if you like this book, or just like the idea, be sure to check out her "What Makes This Book So Great" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... .
Profile Image for Mitchell Friedman.
4,690 reviews175 followers
September 19, 2018
Exhausting. And I'm glad to be done with it. But was it good. Was it readable. Mostly it was a book of lists. Lists of nominees and winners for the hugo. Lists of books that got nominated for the nebula and locus and eventually other awards. It was definitely better at the beginning of the book. As time went on and more recent times were reached, it was just less interesting. And then there's the shorter works. I have read a bunch of shorter sf and fantasy work, I've got a whole book case of them. But they generally don't stay with me except for a very few of the bigger works that I've read multiple times and seen discussed. So a lot of the book was okay but not all that interesting. It was kind of neat to see writers appear on the scene and in context. And I appreciate Jo Walton having a point of view even if her opinion of many authors were based on reading an early work and never giving them another chance. I did agree with her with lots of other works. But was this book actually good? I kind of want to use it to update my goodreads lists and my to-read lists. But basically I can use the online nominee lists without this book. But it was fun to spend the time in this space.
Profile Image for M.L.D..
Author 24 books24 followers
January 29, 2019
So, 5 stars for the content I wanted, which was Jo Walton's take on the Hugos and intermittent book essays. 0 stars for the crap I didn't want, which was all the blog comments from all those guys. Ugh. Not only were they dull--it is a skill to make non-fiction pleasurable to read, which Walton has--but after pages of commentary from these guys (Rich Horton in particular), it started coming off as one long, "Well, actually...", pointing out things that Jo had "missed", or "might not have known". I was also amused by how Jo's cut off date for the Hugos she would comment on were 2000, because after that, she felt it would be a conflict of interest and tacky to weigh in on the awards once her works started being published/nominated. Let's all stare at Gardner Dozois, who felt no such class and tact.

I'd like Tor to redo this volume; I'd much rather more essays from Walton describing and analyzing some of the Hugo nominees then all the dull commentary from the peanut gallery. They're not the reason I picked up this book; she is.
2,459 reviews
July 7, 2020
Jo Walton's review of what won the Hugo (and several other awards) and what else could have been nominated, from 1953 - 2000.

This book contains a series of blog posts along with some of the comments that were made in response to them. I loved it! It felt like a knowledgeable, opinionated (in a good way) person taking my hand and leading me through all the good stuff that was out there. Jo's writing is so easy to read and enjoy - it feels like a chat with the author. I've read pretty widely in science fiction and more so in fantasy, but there's always more to dive into. I'm planning to turn around and re-read this soon while making a list: TBR stack, watch out!
Profile Image for Timons Esaias.
Author 42 books55 followers
October 23, 2020
This book first came to my attention when I was hunting for pirate web sites, and a page referring to one of my stories came up in the search (page 548). Then LOCUS reviewed it, and Mark Tiedemann suggested I look into it, so I got a copy. Amazingly, it took me only two years to get to it. (Two decades is more like the average seasoning time on my unread shelves.)

This is a very nice volume, really, and sent me on frequent side-trips to research the odds and ends it mentioned, including authors who dropped out of the game after a brief flash across the heavens. It also led me to discover an online treasure trove of photographs from the 1960 WorldCon in Pittsburgh.

It is a lightly edited blog posting series from 2010 to 2013, in which Jo looked over the Hugo Awards from each successive year, and remarked on her personal view of the winners, and asked whether the Hugo ballot was a good example of what was going on in SF that year, or not. She was living in Montreal at the time, so one of the tests consisted of answering:
1. Is it in print?
2. Is it in the Montreal library in English?
3. Is it in the Montreal library in French?
in order to test whether the book has lasted. After her listing, and interpolated comments, she quotes some of the responses to her blog posts, primarily by Gardner Dozois and Rich Horton, plus some James Nicoll and Michael Swanwick remarks. That discussion, from differing critical aesthetics, enriches this volume immensely.

There is always an attempt to list what else was eligible that year, that would have been worth considering. Those lists can be fascinating, especially if you didn't grow up reading SF titles in the order they came out.

I noticed right away that my aesthetic and Jo's seem to have only a 60% overlap, but when we differ I can usually see her point. That actually made the read more interesting than if it had been mirroring my tastes back to me. The additional commentators, again, added considerable value; and it was always interesting to hear the "this was the book that opened this door for me" comments from my colleagues in the trade.

Running all through the volume is a demonstration that Science Fiction is not one monolithic Thing, and it serves, and has served, numerous purposes.

I also want to praise this book as the only place that has raised the problem with KSR's Red Mars, and the nonsensical blimp-in-the-storm sequence, though only a brief part of the discussion by James Nicoll is included. If that painful-to-read (and lengthy) section had been my only problem with the book, I might have read the sequel. But the other problem is that the end of the book, where a group of settlers are revealed to have just set up a colony of their own and survived, pisses away the entire premise of the novel. I've never read another KSR since.

Anyhoo, enough of that. This work is Strongly Recommended.

P.S. The section on 1955 begins with this rather priceless description:

There's a kind of trick fannish trivial pursuit question, which is, "Which is the worst book ever to win the Hugo?" The answer is They'd Rather Be Right, by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, 1955's winner.
I don't know if the book deserves this reputation, because I have not read it, because when absolutely everybody tells me that the jar contains marmalade all the way down, I don't feel compelled to take the lid off. I have never heard a good word for this book. Sometimes these things worked and sometimes they didn't. This one didn't. The book is generally believed to be so awful that there are conspiracy theories about why it won....
Profile Image for Norman Cook.
1,458 reviews13 followers
December 11, 2019
The key word for this book is "informal." I read most of these essays when they were first published at Tor.com, and in that ephemeral milieu informality can be forgiven. But for a book with some permanence, especially considering it's unlikely anyone else will do such a comprehensive survey again, it's frustrating that there is not more rigor in Walton's approach. In the decade since these essays were first published, Walton seemingly couldn't be bothered to look up missing information or learn the mechanics of how the awards are administered. There are numerous occasions in the book where Walton says in effect that she's unfamiliar with this or that author or this or that story, or misunderstands certain categories (such as Best Related Work, which is not necessarily for non-fiction). Most of the book seems to just be taking the essays and reprinting them as-is, without much editing or updating.

Moreover, Walton does not hide her dislike of certain authors' works, most of the time due to reading only one work and forever shunning their subsequent work. This bias is repeated for a number of different authors, keeping Walton from even attempting to read major works by any number of authors. At least some of the time she does acknowledge the fact these works being nominated means many people recognize them as important. But in a book like this, it would be nice to have complete descriptions and analyses of all the works, not just the ones Walton read.

I don't remember detailed reviews as part of Walton's original essays, but this book includes long, detailed reviews of a number of the novel finalists. These reviews are spoiler heavy, so beware.

Another blind spot Walton has is her disdain for the movies and tv shows in the Best Dramatic Presentation category. I seem to recall that in the original essays she took regular pot shots at most of the finalists and even some of the winners. The book seems to have excised these comments, resulting in almost no commentary at all about the dramatic presentations. I would love someone to write a retrospective on these; someone who is knowledgable about film (and other media) and could respect them for what they are, not as inferior products to the written word.

There are also almost no comments about the fan categories, but those are probably of interest to a pretty small segment of the sf community that reads this book.

Another casualty of an informal book like this is an index. Without an index this book will be very difficult to use as a reference.

All those negatives aside, this book really is a fascinating look at the science fiction field in the second half of the 20th Century. To her credit, Walton does include lists of books from other awards to show what else was being published and rewarded besides the Hugos. New and longtime readers will both benefit from the recommendations this book provides. My want-to-read list is now certainly longer! That goes for both novels and short fiction. Fortunately, this book preserves the original online comments from well-read experts such as Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois, who supplement Walton's opinions and cover some of her blind spots, enhancing the value of the book.

In her conclusion, Walton relates how her essays inspired some fans to become involved with reading and voting for the Hugos. The book definitely shows the power of the fans to (mostly) choose the important works of each year. (As this book was published after the Sad Puppy debacle, it's too bad Walton didn't update her conclusion accordingly.)

An interesting consequence of this book is to illustrate how much a fool's errand the Retro Hugos are. This book shows that, in almost every category in every year, major works are overlooked and minor works are lauded. This "wtf" factor shows that a retrospective analysis will always be substantially different from a contemporary one. The Retro Hugos will never be able to capture the mindsets of the fans of bygone times.
Profile Image for Pedro L. Fragoso.
647 reviews53 followers
November 21, 2018
I couldn't stop reading this book! How odd is that? Wonderful, amazing service to any lover of science-fiction.

Jo Walton stopped in the year 2000, the year prior to her becoming a party to this narrative when she got her first award nomination, for the John W. Campbell (she would get that one the following worldcon). I'd be here for more, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, but as it is, the book makes perfect sense. The contributions of others, as selected, are also consistently stellar.

I have learned a lot from reading this series. "I have learned that novellas are consistently the Hugo category about which I feel most enthusiastic, which I would never have guessed was the case."

A few of Jo Walton indispensable opinions, comments and criticism:

"Gene Wolfe should win the Hugo for Book of the New Sun every single year, again & again & again, over & over."

"Which brings me to John Varley’s Wizard, which is just—spare me. I hated this so much, I didn’t ever read the third one. It’s the sequel to Titan. It has centaur sex."

"Thomas M. Disch’s On Wings of Song is … indescribable. It’s a brilliant masterpiece, depressing, like all Disch, but thought provoking and amazing. It won the Campbell Memorial. It’s out of print, and in the library in French only. Somebody should reprint it immediately if not sooner."

Thank you for this, Jo. Truly brilliant. Much obliged.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
422 reviews9 followers
September 30, 2019
This is an eminently readable resource regarding the Hugos, and as the book/series gets to more modern years other awards too - the Locus, the World Fantasy Award, and others, but the main focus is definitely each year of the Hugos.

Yes, you can certainly just look up the nominees for each year, you don't need this book for that reason. Technically speaking, you can probably find most of this content in the original Tor articles where it was published as a weekly web series. However, this is a lovely resource to have all bound up in one place and curated with the most useful/insightful comments on each year's awards - mostly from Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois.

Jo's voice is eminently readable. She's very upfront about her tastes and preferences but I think she's also very fair-handed in saying that while a book doesn't work for her (and the reasons) it's still a good book for xyz reasons.

You can definitely read this a year of Hugos at a time, and perhaps it's best to do that. I started out that way, but then I ended up just powering through it before diving into my next book. I think the thing that stands out to me the most is how much good SFF I'm missing by not reading in the short format as much and I don't think I'm alone in this.
Profile Image for Christine.
518 reviews18 followers
July 28, 2019
This was such a great idea! I'm not very well-read in fantasy and sci-fi, although for the life of me I couldn't tell you why because those were my main genres for ages. I guess when I made an effort to read other things, the pendulum swung too far the other way.

Jo Walton's a great writer and she has such varied interests that I figured her advice and insights must be trustworthy. And sure enough, she has lots of fascinating recommendations here. This book didn't just teach me what the awards were going for and what kinds of sci-fi and fantasy was receiving praise and attention for the last few decades. It also added a gazillion authors to my TBR list (like Connie Willis, Vernor Vinge, Poul Anderson, George Effinger, Alexei Panshin, Roger Zelazny, and C.J. Cherryh, to name a few).

So if you've had a taste of sci-fi and want to know what's out there (and maybe take some advice from someone who's read a LOT of these), why not start with some history?

(Great, now I'm torn between this and the Hobbit Duology for this year's "Best Related Work" award. The book doesn't give advice on how to vote, WHAT NOW??)
Profile Image for Tony.
32 reviews12 followers
October 24, 2019
This book collects all of Jo Walton’s blog posts about the Hugo Awards, along with related reviews and highlights from the comments (including many from other sci-Fi authors and editors, those from Rich Horton and Gardener Dozois are especially priceless). I haven’t been reading as much over the last year, aside from books for work, so it’s nice that this book has reminded me how much I do still like to read, and has given me numerous ideas for great works of science fiction and fantasy (and more) books I can read later. So not only did I enjoy it immensely, but it has also inspired me to start reading more heavily again, which I have been doing over the last month or so.
Profile Image for Jim Mann.
638 reviews3 followers
September 11, 2019
I enjoy reading Jo Walton talking about books. I don't always agree with her -- in several cases I strongly disagreed with her -- but she has a lot of interesting things to say, and her enthusiasm for the books and stories she likes makes me want to run out and read them (and I have been doing that with some, running to my library to grab best of the year collections).

This book is a collection of her essays on the subject on Tor.com, and includes a number of the responses, especially those by Rich Horton and Gardner Dozois, which are very insightful. (God, I miss hearing what Gardner has to say. He was not only one of the best editors SF ever had, but also one of the most insightful voices on short fiction).

My only regret is that I didn't read these essays as they were posted, as I would have loved to have joined Rich, Gardner, and others in the conversation.
Profile Image for Anthony Buck.
Author 3 books8 followers
May 17, 2020
Absolutely loved this. It was a really nice touch to include selected comments from some very interesting contributors, several of whom were directly involved in the awards. The only issue is the sheer number of recommendations I've extracted from across the years! I thought I was pretty well read in terms of sci fi but I've only scratched the surface!
176 reviews28 followers
December 5, 2021
Very entertaining look back at Hugo winners from the award's inception to the year 2000. In What Makes This Book So Great Walton claimed discomfort with literary criticism, which I believe, and yet her appreciations of those books and stories she cares for seem to me quite insightful. That continues here, with her trying to judge just how representative of s.f. as a whole the Hugos are year by year, taking into account nominees as well as winners. Perhaps the conclusion that because readers focus so much on novels the answer is indeterminate -- popular novels/novelists do get nominated -- was foregone, but with commentary included from Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton and James David Nicoll, among others, the surprise comes from the representation of the state of s.f. by shorter form fiction.

Not a book, I think, to read cover-to-cover but rather one to dip into, expect your to-read list to-grow.
900 reviews
December 3, 2019
I like Jo Walton's SF, but this was my first experience with her book reviews. This was a fun read with many interesting comments from not just the author but various folks who commented on her Tor.com reviews. I also found it a very useful source of book and story recommendations that I have missed in my many years of reading SF and fantasy.
Even more to the point of the book, I found myself much more interested in finding time for reading short story sources so I can send in nominations again, as well as my current practice of reading the nominees and voting. In college and early in my career I took great delight in nominating enjoyable and exciting stories, and the excellent discussion on short story work in this book brought back my interest. I hope it encourages many people to do the same.
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