The London Worldcon announced the winners of the 1939 Retro Hugo Awards, an award I was particularly eager to see, what with my interest in the Golden Age of science fiction. I was particularly interested in the winners for Best Novella and Best Novelette.
In the Best Novella category, “Who Goes There?” by Don A. Stuart won the retro-Hugo. Stuart, of course, is the pseudonym for none other than John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction. It was the last, and in my opinion, the best of Campbell’s fiction. In later years, three movies would be based on the premise of the story, perhaps most famously in John Carpenter’s The Thing.
For more than a year after the story was published, the letter columns in Astounding were frequently populated with letters asking for more Stuart stories. Campbell would reply that he had it on good authority that Stuart was permanently retired from fiction-writing, and that apparently, was no lie.
In the Best Novelette category, “Rule 18” by Clifford D. Simak won the retro-Hugo. I don’t think “Rule 18” is nearly as good a story as “Who Goes There?” but it has an important place in science fiction nevertheless, as it helped to establish Isaac Asimov’s friendship with Simak. Asimov used to write critiques of all of the stories that appeared in Astounding, and he gave “Rule 18” a particularly bad rating. Simak wrote Asimov to ask what he felt was wrong with the story so that he might improve in the future–and thus, a lifelong friendship was established.
I like the idea of the Retro Hugos, if for no other reason than it provides a mechanism for keeping some of these old stories from disappearing from our collective memory. I also wonder, from time-to-time, what Campbell or Simak or Clark or Virgil Finlay might have thought if someone told them that their work would still be remembered (and honored with an award) three quarters of a century later.