Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Hugo and Nebula Novel Project #2: 1955


Hugo Winner: They'd Rather Be Right

Nebula Winner: None Awarded

Hey, remember when I started this project and I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about working my way through the winners over the years?  This book almost derailed the entire thing.

They'd Rather Be Right (serialized in 1954 in Astounding Science Fiction, published as a novel in 1957), written by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, may be one of the oddest examples of an award winner you'll run across.  Usually, you can make some justification for a book or movie wining an award, based on other people having different tastes or wanting to make a point with their votes or some such reasoning.  But with this book...jeez, it's just not good and everyone seems to agree on this.  It's a mystery all over the place why this middling piece of early '50s psychobabble won the award and it's universally regarded as the worst novel to win the Hugo.

The book's problems (and a short plot description involves scientists creating a supercomputer that can improve people's minds to the point where they suddenly are immortal and telepathic and the effect this has on society, and that's about all you need to know about that plot) can be boiled down to:

  • Stock characters that are wooden to the point of being useful only for making furniture out of.
  • Dialogue that is less conversation than diatribe.
  • The worst excesses of '40s and '50s science fiction's obsession with psychiatry being able to solve the world's problem.  Even Asimov could barely pull it off with psychohistory, and these guys are not Asimov.
  • Writing of male and female characters that is sexist towards both sides, which is almost a neat trick.

Really, it's just plain a bad novel and took me forever to get through.  It's completely out of print and should probably stay that way.

Random Technobabble: Not technobabble this time around, just an example of the terrible writing:
"Then a broken, almost sobbing, sigh escaped him, inadvertently. 'There is nothing so terrible as a mob of enraged human beings,' he murmured."

What Should Have Won in 1955:  Still no runner-ups in 1955 for the Hugo voting, but almost anything else published that year should have won.   Leaving aside the fantasy novels (1955 was the year The Magician's Nephew and Return of the King came out), there's a bevy of good choices:

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Jack Finney
  • Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke
  • October Country, Ray Bradbury

Any of those could have won and no one would say boo.  This is a terrible, terrible winner and I'm glad I never have to deal with it again.

My Hugo Novel Rankings So Far:

  1. The Demolished Man (1953)
  2. They'd Rather be Right (1955)

Next Time: The 1956 winner, Robert Heinlen's The Double Star.

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