Hugosauriad 2.4: ‘Poor Little Warrior’ and 1959

The last chapter sprawled out so much that I ended up with no space to talk about 1959 as a Hugo year. Luckily connections with both dinosaurs and the Hugo Awards mean that I have an extra chapter, an extra story (already briefly mentioned) and an extra author to include.

But first 1959. A Case of Conscience is, I believe, a flawed masterpiece but the books that followed as Hugo Award winners over the next few years are (with the odd exception) a list of ‘greatest hits’. 1960 brings Starship Troopers. 1961 has A Canticle for Leibowitz and ’62 Stranger in a Strange Land which both pick up some common theme from A Case of Conscience. In ’63 Phillip K Dick wins for The Man in the High Castle. Robert Heinlein is a recurring winner but the range, style and background of winners and finalists grows. As does the reputation of the award and its capacity to identify future classics. There are still misses, Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Wanderer’ (1965 winner) is not well regarded (although I haven’t read it) and some repeat finalists (such a Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Delany) never win the top spot of Best Novel. Suffice to say, 1959 is a gateway for a strong future for the Hugo Awards. It is still a time dominated by science fiction published in magazines and novels are typically serialised or fixed-up collections of connected short stories.

The other categories in 1959 are strong also, with some notable overlaps with this project. Clifford D Simak wins Best Novelette with The Big Front Yard and we’ll be meeting Simak again in a couple of chapters. Robert Bloch wins Best Short Story with “That Hell-Bound Train” beating the time travel weirdness of Alfred Bester’s ”The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” that we looked at earlier. Both Bloch and Bester’s stories were published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which, not coincidentally won Best Professional Magazine.

However, perhaps the most notable result of the 1959 Hugo Awards is no result at all. The Best New Author category is won by the infamous ‘No Award’. The Hugo Awards have a capacity for members to reject all the finalists and give the award to nobody or rather to have no award given.The finalists that year were

  • Brian W. Aldiss
  • Paul Ash/Pauline Ashwell
  • Rosel George Brown
  • Louis Charbonneau
  • Kit Reed

The category was a second attempt at an award that identified new talent in the field. The previous attempt in 1956 had been called “Most Promising New Author” and had been won by Robert Silverberg (who we’ll meet again in Part 3 with “Our Lady of the Sauropods”) with Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison and the enigmatic Henry Still as finalists. This second attempt in 1959 was less successful. In 1973 something very like this category was re-started as the ‘Not a Hugo’ John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which accompanies the Hugo Award process without being a Hugo.

In Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos, Rich Horton has an interesting breakdown of the finalists — in particular Pauline Ashwell/Paul Ash. However, my focus is on Brian Aldiss. Technically, he falls out of my Triassic criteria for authors having been born in 1925 and hence not quite an adult at the start of World War 2 (he did end up serving in World War 2 though.) He would go on to have an illustrious career, winning two Hugo Awards and was made a SWFA Grand Master in 2000.

Jo Walton’s summary of the result was:

“On this, it seems the voters might have been a bit too quick to vote for No Award. I think it’s pretty clear that Brian Aldiss would have deserved the honor if it had been given—he’s gone on to edit major anthologies and works of science fiction criticism, as well as writing major novels and short stories. But I don’t know what the basis for this vote was, I don’t know what he’d published by 1959, and maybe it wasn’t all that impressive. As for the other contenders—Ashwell had a Hugo-nominated novelette that year and the next, but I’m not aware of any future work, and the others are minor writers or people who did not stay in the field.”

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

Well, interestingly enough Aldiss had more than one story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1958. So, it isn’t unreasonable to think that the people who voted for that magazine and who had voted for “That Hell-Bound Train”, ”The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” and Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” (which was serialised in the magazine in 1958) would have encountered hs early work. His 1958 stories published in F&SF in 1958 were

  • The New Father Christmas (January)
  • Poor Little Warrior! (April)
  • Have Your Hatreds Ready (May) [aka “Secret of a Mighty City” – part of Aldiss’s ‘Canopy of Time’]

Aldiss also had stories in New Worlds and Nebula Science Fiction. However, this is a dinography and hence it is ‘Poor Little Warrior!” that falls into our remit. You can read ‘Poor Little Warrior!’ for free at Baen Books (https://www.baen.com/Chapters/9781625793614/9781625793614___3.htm ) which has the the preface and the first two stories of Gardner Dozios and Jack Dann’s “Dinosaurs!” anthology available.

As I mentioned in the 2.2 ‘Gun for Dinosaur’ chapter, this is another time-travel tourist hunting dinosaurs story. However, unlike both A Sound of Thunder and A Gun for Dinosaur, the time travel aspect is almost completely ignored. Time travel is relegated to a plot device to place the hunter (the unfortunately named Claude Ford) in the past so he can attempt to kill a brontosaurus. It is written mainly in the second person as if capturing Claude’s thoughts to himself as he stalks the huge creature.

“You could shoot now. Just wait till that tiny steam shovel head pauses once again to gulp down a quarry load of bulrushes, and with one inexpressibly vulgar bang you can show the whole indifferent Jurassic world that it’s standing looking down the business end of evolution’s six-shooter. You know why you pause; that old worm conscience, long as a baseball pitch, long-lived as a tortoise, is at work; through every sense it slides, more monstrous than the serpent. Through the passions: saying, here is a sitting duck, O Englishman! Through the intelligence: whispering that boredom, the kite hawk who never feeds, will settle again when the task is done. Through the nerves: sneering that when the adrenalin currents cease to flow the vomiting begins. Through the maestro behind the retina: plausibly forcing the beauty of the view upon you.”

Poor Little Warrior in Dinosaurs! ed Jack Dann and Gardener Dozios, Baen Books [link]

The prose is introspective and focused on mood, emotions and setting. While Claude is more distinctly English than the hapless tourist hunters in Bradbury’s or De Camp’s stories, there is the common element of men who are perhaps inadequate in their own times trying to test their own character by hunting dinosaurs.

“Quarter of a mile distant is the sound of a dozen hippos springing boisterously in gymslips from the ancestral mud, and next second a walloping great tail as long as Sunday and as thick as Saturday night comes slicing over your head. You duck as duck you must, but the beast missed you anyway because it so happens that its coordination is no better than yours would be if you had to wave the Woolworth Building at a tarsier. This done, it seems to feel it has done its duty by itself. It forgets you. You just wish you could forget yourself as easily; that was, after all, the reason you had to come the long way here. Get Away from It All, said the time travel brochure, which meant for you getting away from Claude Ford, a husbandman as futile as his name with a terrible wife called Maude. Maude and Claude Ford. Who could not adjust to themselves, to each other, or to the world they were born in. It was the best reason in the as-it-is-at-present-constituted world for coming back here to shoot giant saurians—if you were fool enough to think that one hundred and fifty million years either way made an ounce of difference to the muddle of thoughts in a man’s cerebral vortex.”

Poor Little Warrior in Dinosaurs! ed Jack Dann and Gardener Dozios, Baen Books [link]

Of course, killing a brontosaurus brings Claude no happiness and then, in a less than stellar twist, he gets eaten by the lobster-like parasites that had been living on the brontosaurus until he killed it.

Is it a great story? No. The setting is unoriginal. The prose gets a bit purple. The giant parasites are implausible and for a relatively short short story where not much happens, it can be a bit hard to follow. However, we aren’t looking at it to see why it wasn’t a finalist for Best Short Story. I think the quality and ambition of Aldiss’s writing really shines through but I say that with the benefit of hindsight that the voters of 1959 didn’t have.

We’ll meet No Award again much later and next time we’ll head forward to the past as we tunnel into the hollow Earth and enter SAVAGE PELLUCIDAR!

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23 responses to “Hugosauriad 2.4: ‘Poor Little Warrior’ and 1959”

      • Regarding Fritz Leiber’s other Hugo winning works, The Big Time and Ill Met in Lankhmar are both excellent. Catch That Zeppelin and his Dangerous Vision contribution, which also won the Hugo, are both good as well. His sixth Hugo winning story I haven’t read.

        Though Leiber has good chances of winning a Retro Hugo this year.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, 1964 has some strange Hugo finalists in Best Novel. It will be interesting to see if we come up with better favourite novels at Galactic Journey at the end of the year or if 1964 simply was a weak year for science fiction novels.

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        • Jo Walton rates Cordwainer Smith’s The Planet Buyer well in her Informal History, which was one of the finalists but I don’t think I’d have heard of it without looking at Hugo finalist lists.

          Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moon is good and Aldiss’s Greybeard is good – niether of which were finalist and both of which were in print decades later.

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      • The Planet Buyer is much better known as the first half of his novel Norstrilia.

        Davy wouldn’t be a bad choice for an award, either.

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  1. How bizarre, that in 2010 Jo Walton would refer to Kit Reed as “minor writers or people who did not stay in the field.”

    Reed had put out a significant body of well-regarded short fiction including several collections in the interim, as well as a dozen novels, and had garnerd Tiptree, WFA, and IHG nominations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Kit Reed had a lengthy and respectable career. And Rosel George Brown had a good career as well and only “left the field” due to dying of cancer in 1967. Pauline Ashwell also kept writing well into the early 2000s. Gideon Marcus of Galactic Journey is publishing an anthology of SFF by women writers which includes stories by Kit Reed, Rosel George Brown and Pauline Ashwell.

      Louis Charbonneau is the only 1959 Hugo finalist for best new writer I would consider fairly obscure.

      Honestly, this is one “no award” I really don’t get, because there were several good finalists.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Cora Buhlert: Honestly, this is one “no award” I really don’t get, because there were several good finalists.

        If you read the old-style fanzines from… well from today back to when they started, a lot of the Worldcon fans were a snotty, holier-than-thou bunch who took great pleasure in cutting their peers down-to-size. The costumers and filkers got their fanzines on the ballot in a couple of years, and they got No-Awarded. Guy Lillian III and Andrew Hooper were No-Awarded as Fan Writers. 3 Fanzines, 2 Fan Writers, and 4 Campbell authors — one of whom was frickin’ Robert Reed — were No-Awarded in 1987, with a bunch more No Awarded Fanzines, Fan Writers, and Campbells in the years prior to that.

        Hugo voters are exceptionally kind today by comparison to those of 30+ years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

      • “4 Campbell authors — one of whom was frickin’ Robert Reed — were No-Awarded in 1987”

        Was the lesson that Reed took from this that he needed to build up a more substantial body of short stories?

        Liked by 4 people

      • @JJ
        Yes, I’ve been wondering what the story was behind many of the fan writer and fanzine No Awards, because – in cases where I actually knew the people – they struck me as good or at least unobjectionable choices. Several of the old time dramatic presentation No Awards strike me as undeserved, too. Yes, Carrie, Logan’s Run, Futureworld and The Man Who Fall to Earth may not be Star Wars, but they are good movies. And The Fly, no awarded in 1959, was a minor classic.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I read “The Wanderer” a year or two ago as part of a project to read all the Hugo and Nebula winning novels. It was one of just two or three that I felt were so bad that I was surprised they ever got printed, much less won an award.

    The concept is that a world the size and mass of the Earth mysteriously appears at the distance of the moon, causing a global catastrophe on Earth as the tides become 80 times higher. The story has about a dozen separate threads which follow the adventures of different groups of people as they navigate the apocalyptic landscape.

    The problem is that none of those threads has a plot. The characters just wander around and things happen to them. Their behavior often defies belief, none of them is very compelling or even interesting, so it’s very hard to care about them or about what happens to them. The later sections, when we find out what the “world” really is, were so hard to believe that the only reason I didn’t throw the book at the wall was the fact that I was reading it on a Kindle.

    I’ll bet the appeal of this story was the graphic descriptions of destruction in different cities around the world as experienced by inhabitants.

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    • I had no problems with the later sections. And I actually like the fact the cast are mostly wandering around trying to survive and cope. In fact that was part of the pitch in the paperback edition’s back cover text: what do unexception, non-hero types and oddballs do when the world ends?
      But this, of course, is why they coin the phrase YMMV.

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      • I’m thinking in particular of the alien leader who was so taken with one of the male human characters that she made bad decisions just so she could have sex with him.

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      • When the editors let him, Leiber would always find a way to sneak in a sex scene, often a pretty kinky one. I still don’t think we really needed to spend a whole chapter of a latter day Fafhrd and Gray Mouser story on Hisvet’s lesbian BDSM games with her two maids. Though Leiber at least spared us the details of Fafhrd getting kidnapped for an orgy by one of his ex-lovers and all-female cloud ship crew.

        Rereading these stories years after I first read them, I don’t recall any of the sex scenes at all, which suggests that my teenage self simply flipped past them, eager to get back to the story.

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        • In the introduction to the paperback of The Sinful Ones, Leiber has a great discussion of how hard it is to write sex scenes when the standards for what’s acceptable are shifting (too tame, you look old-fashioned, too wild you offend your readers). Maybe that’s why, as you say, a lot of his sex scenes are forgettable.

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