Sunday, August 4, 2019

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

Tor Books, ISBN 9780765379085, August 2018

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.

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