The Hugo Award is to science fiction what the Oscar is to the film industry. Every year the coveted award is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention to the author of the best novelette or short story in the realm of science fiction.
Here are nine of these award-winning stories for the years 1955 to 1961, each with an introduction by Isaac Asimov. All of the stories are unusual and contain something that marked them as prize-winners. Among them are Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” Robert Bloch’s “The Hell-Bound Train,” and Daniel Keyes’ beloved classic, “Flowers for Algernon.”
The Hugo Winners provides a lavish treat of the very best writing chosen by the most prominent peole in the field—truly superior science fiction.
This is a Very Important Book for a number of reasons.
First of all, it’s the first anthology of other people’s work which Asimov prepared or had a hand in. Editing anthologies was never something he particularly enjoyed, because it involves a lot of painstaking bookkeeping. Eventually, however, he hooked up with Martin H. Greenberg, who enjoys that kind of thing, and the two of them collaborated on some hundred or so anthologies before Asimov died, including two of Asimov’s seven Hugo anthologies.
Secondly, Asimov’s public “cheerful self-appreciation” dates from this book. Asimov was less than thrilled to edit it, because he was already thinking in terms of publishing a hundred book (!) by the time he died and was nearly half-way there. How could he call the book “his”? He didn’t write any of the stories. He didn’t pick them or select their order. Eventually, he opted to make the introductions to the book as a whole and the individual stories as personal as he could, and he did this by adopting the Bob Hope schtick of complaining about how everybody else seemed to win one of these things, and he was left out.
He was more than a little surprised by the result. The introductions ended up being hilarious, and the fans ate it up—some of them even telling him they liked the introductions better than the stories. The result: he began to talk about himself more and more in his work, whether it be his F&SF essays or his anthologies of his own work. This is kind of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is a lot of fun. Asimov, despite appearances, was not conceited and enjoyed telling a funny story using himself as the butt of the humor. He knew his own weaknesses and strengths and if he seemed to have a high opinion of himself, it’s because he stuck to the latter. The personal and autobiographical material he includes, therefore, even in his non-autobiographies, provide a fascinating glimpse into a complex and (I think) admirable man.
On the other hand, the autobiographical and personal stuff can be a little distracting on occasion. I, for one, miss the bare unadorned style of Asimov’s earlier anthologies, because it helps suck me into the stories better. When they‘re surrounded by comments from the author, it’s harder to forget that they‘re only stories.
Meanwhile, Asimov started aiming for humor more and more. He'd tried writing funny stories earlier in his career, and the results were mostly disastrous. The success of the Hugo Winners introductions convinced him that he really could write humorous material, and he attempted it more and more, climaxing with the entire George and Azazel series.
It’s almost an anticlimax to talk about the individual stories in The Hugo Winners, vol. 1. It almost goes without saying that all nine are very good and the anthology is a must-have for their sake, even outside its historical interest as a collection of Hugo winners and as a bit of Asimovia. My own copy, among the oldest items in my Asimov collection, is badly dog-eared and battered—the cover, in fact, fell off during this most recent reading.
Some up hold up better than others. Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star” has lost much of its emotional impact for me from too-frequent rereading, and Poul Anderson’s “The Longest Voyage” is a story that has never meant much to me for some reason (I either like Anderson’s work a lot or don’t particularly care for it much). I enjoy Walter Miller’s “The Darfsteller” much more than I did as a preteen, but the ending is still a bit weak. Still, none of these are stories that I consider actually bad.
As for the others, they are all top-notch. I still laugh all the way through Eric Frank Russell’s “Allamagoosa,” and my eyes still get misty reading “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes—one of the best novelettes in sf history, I tend to believe. Avram Davidson’s “Or All the Seas With Oysters” is another story I still enjoy immensely, and the actual reason the anthology came into being—Davidson was looking for a reason to have it anthologized, and suggested an anthology of Hugo winners to Doubleday as one way of doing it. (Few sf writers can do as spectacularly well from their writing as Asimov did, and one cannot blame a talent like Davidson for wanting to get a little more exposure, since it is well-deserved.) Clifford D. Simak’s “Big Front Yard” is a little too “rural“ for me, perhaps, but I still enjoy it a lot, and I love the twist at the end of Robert Bloch’s “Hell-bound Train.”
There is, in short, no rational reason in the world why any Asimov or sf fan should be without this book.