Thursday, July 31, 2014

1939 Best Novella - My Ballot

There are five nominees for the 1939 Retro-Hugo Award for Best Novella. 

None of them really screamed THIS! THIS IS THE WINNER! to me, but I did like a couple of them.

My ballot with some spoilery thoughts on each nominee behind the link:

1. “A Matter of Form” by H. L. Gold (Astounding Science-Fiction, December 1938)

A reporter, Gilroy, notices a pattern - homeless men are being picked up in the street, catatonic, with identical bandage and incision on the back of their necks. He tries to find out what's going on. Meanwhile, an aging crime lord, Talbot, has about 6 months to live, and Moss, the best surgeon in the New York City area, is being dismissed from his hospital without explanation. A college man named Wood, down on his luck and down to his last three dimes, is offered a $75/week job as a doctor's assistant. First day working for Moss, Wood wakes up to find himself in the body of Moss' collie, staring at his own body crawling around on all fours like a dog. They are a proof of concept experiment shown to Talbot, who would like to be young again. Wood escapes with his body, and has to figure out how to communicate his plight to Gilroy. This was a fun ride. The tale is very well told - I feel like I'm there.  Even being already familiar with this story from the many iterations over the years, I couldn't put it down. There is a happy ending for all (except the bad guys, who all get their own in the end). I haven't been able to determine, from a quick google, whether this was a relatively new idea in 1938, or whether this story had already been done a number of times by then. It was fun and well told, nonetheless.

2. “Who Goes There?” by Don A Stuart [John W. Campbell] (Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1938)

This is the novel upon which The Thing was based. I never saw The Thing. Campbell is a really good storyteller. I feel like I'm there in the underground tunnels under the South Pole with this group of explorers, all of whom I feel like I've known for a long time, as they contemplate what they'll do with this weird alien lifeform they've discovered under the ice, as they wake up to realize it is alive and has escaped, as they listen to it killing their dogs.... AND... I'm done. I don't like horror.

3. No Award - everything below this line I couldn't finish due to boredom, or I thought was really horrible.

4. “The Time Trap” by Henry Kuttner (Marvel Science Stories, November 1938)

An archaeologist stumbles upon the ruin of an ancient city in the middle of the desert, and settles down "for protection" between its strange giant metallic monoliths just as a thunderstorm hits. (Because... monoliths... protection from storms... Um?) Lightning hits the monoliths, and our hero is sent back in time to the heydey of the ancient city. He befriends the guard. You know, he's an archaeologist and knows the ancient language. (Didn't you know we all know all the ancient languages? No?) The city has been taken over by The Master, a weird little guy from the far, far future who is trying to rebuild his time machine to take him back home. The Master wants our hero to help him rebuild his time machine. There is the obligatory Evil Sorceress woman who in this incarnation is really a demon with two demon familiars in the form of panthers. The Pure Princess in this story is the original ruler of the city, imprisoned by The Master when he took over the town. She is inexplicably very, very pale, when all of the other citizens of the city have been described as brown. She is also completely helpless without men's help, and she immediately falls madly and inexplicably in love with our hero. I stopped reading about 1/4 of the way through. It seems to be a fairly typical pulp fantasy story of the time - lots of peril for our hero to conquer, lots of monsters stripping the clothes off the women. It's kindof boring.

5. “Sleepers of Mars” by John Beynon [John Wyndham] (Tales of Wonder, March 1938)

I gave it approximately 1/4 of the way through. Nothing very interesting happened. The characters aren't interesting me, the science doesn't seem to be thought through at all (I know it's unfair to judge very harshly - it IS 1938). Here's my favorite quote: 

"But you don't want 0.5 of a mile more. Man, that's an awful lot. I'd say that 0.1 or even 0.10 will give us all the lead we'll need over that distance." 

0.1 or EVEN 0.10!!! Maybe it's going somewhere..... but with time running short, and with nothing grabbing me yet, I'm moving on.

6. Anthem by Ayn Rand (Cassell)

 I knew Neil Peart had caught flack for saying his influence for 2112 came from Ayn Rand. This must have been where it came from! Rand describes a very broken, stifling society.  The first part of the story was interesting. The second part of the story - well. It pretty much felt like she abandoned everything she had already written and just went on a political rant. The character of The Golden One didn't make any sense - she was very independent-minded in the first half of the story, and that's what attracted our protagonist to her; in the second half of the story, suddenly she is the epitome of passive and completely submissive? I have to say - I don't agree with either of the societies she paints - the society in which the word "I" is evil and it's All About Community, and the society in which the word "we" is evil and it's All About Ego. Um... how about... somewhere in the middle? I'm glad I read the story - it's interesting to read the inspiration for something you've enjoyed, and I do see seeds of this story in more of the early Rush songs than just 2112. The story on its own merits, though, was a complete turn-off for me. 

I do have to say - I've given thought to Rand periodically since I was a teenager. A relative recommended I read Atlas Shrugged. I read part of it, but it didn't click for me. It didn't really make sense to me. Reading Anthem, I had a similar reaction - hmm, this is interesting, WHOA where did the cray-cray come from?? I actually knew nothing about Ayn Rand until I just looked up the link I pasted above, which mentions her childhood in Russia, living through some of the revolutions and the enormous upheaval and change taking place there. Wow. Suddenly, Click. Her writing makes perfect sense with that piece of information. It still feels pretty crazy, to me, living in my world, but it absolutely makes sense for someone coming out of that kind of social upheaval-filled childhood to have the strong convictions evident in Rand's writing. I'm even more glad I read this story now!

ETA: And, now I can't get 2112 out of my head. Dangit!

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