Reading through the stories that have won a Hugo Award is a huge task and I am, fundamentally, a lazy man. I’m also somebody who likes to make a virtue of my laziness. Any read-through of the Hugo Awards is a matter of choices and those choices hide aspects that make the awards interesting.
The obvious focus is on the winning novels but this avoids the rich influence of shorter works or of other categories like Dramatic Presentation. Worse, “winning” is a category that disguises far too much about the dynamics of the Hugo Awards. Non-winning finalists themselves provide a fascinating insight into the choices of Worldcon membership, as do those works that were nominated but did not make the finalist shortlist. There’s even insights to be gained from works that were never acknowledged by the Hugo Award process in any form.
Yet such broad criteria turn a difficult task into an impossible one and the premise I started with is that, above all else, I’m a lazy man. How then to look at novels and short stories, winners, finalists, also-rans and ineligible works across sixty-seven years (and before anybody corrects me ‘1952’ isn’t an error – the first Hugo Awards in 1953 drew from works that included 1952).
The answer came from the 2019 Short Story finalist The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat by Brooke Bolander. Bolander’s dinosaurs are thoroughly modern feathered protagonists in a genre-defying fairy tale. Not only is the style of the story both new and old but also the dinosaurs featured in it. That new and old quality is something that is intrinsic to dinosaurs as a theme — old because they are from a long time ago and new because they represent a time when the Earth was younger.
The second point on my map was Rachel Swirsky’s Nebula winning short story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” written in 2013. The story provoked artistic debate about the nature of science-fiction but also became an object of hate and ridicule by the reactionary Sad Puppy campaigns, whose actions came to dominate discussion of the Hugo Awards for several years.
Two points form a line and following that line backward I could cut a rock sample through the Hugo Awards and expose the geologic layers. From there I could construct not a biography of the Hugo Awards but a dinography* — an account of a thing using the medium of dinosaurs.
A dinography requires some rules, specifically a rule as to what counts as a dinosaur. For my purpose the dinosaur eligibility includes
- Actual dinosaurs as recognised by the paleontology of the time a work was written.
- Prehistoric reptilian creatures from the Mesozoic era that in popular culture count as dinosaurs such as large marine reptiles and pterosaurs.
- Fantastical creatures derived from dinosaurs such as creatures in Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar series.
- Aliens (intelligent or not) of a reptilian nature that humans would see as dinosaur like.
- Dinosaurs as a metaphor for something either out of time or hanging on beyond their time.
The creatures I deemed ineligible include:
- Birds unless they are there specifically to make the link with dinosaurs
- Sea serpents, lake monsters etc unless they are specifically linked to dinosaurs of prehistoric marine reptiles
I think it is obvious why including any story that might have birds in it would distort the project. The reasons are similar with dragons: they would overshadow the dinosaurs. Even the science-fictional dragons of Pern evoke a different set of themes than dinosaurs.
For categories I looked at novel, novella, novelette, short story and dramatic presentation. I appreciate that there might be a hidden wealth of dinosaur fossils hidden in the strata of art and related work categories but I chose not to look.
Where I could, I looked at finalists and winners. I did not look deeply into the long list of nominated works that didn’t make the finals, except on a few occasions when I was aware of something dinosaur related and I wanted to see how it tracked. In my final reading list I included two short stories that pre-date the short story category for the Hugo Awards for reasons that I will hope will be clear. I also included an episode of a television show that appeared on the long-list for Best Dramatic Presentation (short form) but which did not receive enough nominations to be a finalist. Again, I think my reasons will become clear when I reach it.
The structure of the Hugosauriad will be a set of semi-regular essays about the stories, their context and influences. They are grouped into geologic zones:
- Paleozoic: This introduction. The paleozoic being the era before the mesozoic.
- Triassic: 1950s, 60s and 70s of Hugo dinosaur stories.
- Jurrasic: 1980s and 90s of Hugo dinosaur stories
- Cretaceous: 2000’s of Hugo dinosaurs
- Extinction boundary: Puppy shenanigans and Chuck Tingle
- The Dinosaurs Survive: 2019 and beyond. The dinosaurs never died off, they just grew feathers.
Interestingly, the medium of dinosaurs misses a lot! The New Wave and the 1970s is more present by their absence, hence the dinography eras don’t match the normal ways we might split science-fiction history.
Of the twenty works in my list, only five are by women and of those most were written recently. The gender disparity in recognition of writing doesn’t shift for decades in this sample. I’d be grateful for suggestions of dinosaur themed stories from 1950-1990 written by non-cis men that will help illustrate what was missed.
My reading for the Triassic is complete and posts will start soon looking at:
- Ray Bradbury
- L. Sprague de Camp
- James Blish
- Edgar Rice Burroughs
- and Clifford D. Simak
As always, everything is a work in progress and a case of self-education rather than existing expertise. Corrections, advice and suggestions are always welcome. I think this will be fun 🙂
*[‘Dinography’ was going to be my original title but it appears to be the name of an advertising company. Various other ideas such as ‘Hugosaurus’ are twitter handles or usernames etc. Hugosauriad got zero hits on Google, so that’s the working name.]