Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Science Fiction Remembrance: The Hugo Winners Vols. I & II

I’m sure most people, not just writers, have been influenced by various literary works in their lives. Everyone’s got a story or two that inspired them. For me, I always enjoyed literary creations that made me start thinking on a slightly off-kilter tangent. Most enjoy it for a few minutes, or hours, or days, and then go back to normalcy. But there are a few that keep on that tangent for the rest of their lives. It can be a classic piece of literature or a murky pulp novel - I think it’s different for everyone. I was thinking about this concept one evening when I happened to find the oldest book I own on a shelf upstairs. Not the oldest book as in age, but the oldest book I remember getting myself that I still somehow happened to keep ahold of, after a multitude of moves since I was a wee lad (well, more husky than wee, but you get the idea). It was a dog-eared, dust-jacket-less, very beat-up Science Fiction Book Club edition of The Hugo Winners, Volumes 1 and 2. This was the book that inspired me and opened my eyes to different kinds of literature.

That book was a great find for a young science fiction fan back in the mid-seventies. I was your typical nerd/geek back then, reading comic books and watching sci-fi movies on the late show. Most science fiction TV and in the movies was reruns of late sixties shows, as it was still a few years before Star Wars hit the scene. The afternoons after school were filled with Star Trek and Time Tunnel reruns for several years, courtesy of a thoughtful programmer at WSAW-TV. The town I lived in didn’t have a bookstore, so any sci-fi books were found by chance in a grocery store, the drugstore or at our local library, which at the time wasn’t stocked well in genre titles. Hell, the library back then was two modestly-sized rooms in an old post office. They had just started stocking audio cassettes, though I had to listen to them there, since we didn’t have anything at home nearly as newfangled as a tape deck at home. One good thing that happened was that my mother joined a book club. Not the Book of the Month Club, but Doubleday, the omnipresent company known for its cheaply assembled hardcovers and usurious charges for those same books. In that first box of books, somehow, she had gotten me The Hugo Winners and a copy of Peanuts Classics. I credit both with helping me develop a better vocabulary than most folks have at that age (Charles Schulz, for all the neo-Christian influence in his strips, did write at a much higher level than the average Snoopy fan needed).  

There is some classic stuff in The Hugo Winners, from nearly all the true Original Masters of the genre: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelazny, Clifford Simak, Walter Miller, Harlan Ellison, Jack Vance, and Robert Silverberg. They were all in there. And it was good stuff. Every story in there did win an award that was given by other science fiction writers. It was a true treasure trove for a slightly time-displaced fan of science fiction.  This is one of those books I can still avidly recommend obtaining today, and any fan of science fiction more than likely has already heard of the series and has read quite a few of the tales contained therein.

The four stories that helped change the way I think the most were all very different types of stories.  The first was Allamagoosa by Eric Frank Russell. I have to say this was one of the first sci-fi tales that I’d read in which humor played a big part. I’m not going to reveal the big joke in the story, but let’s say Russell’s tale combines a little Star Trek with a little McHale’s Navy. You might see the punchline coming, but I didn’t and had a helluva good laugh.

Riders of the Purple Sage by Philip Jose Farmer was the next novella that I liked to read. Philip Jose Farmer became one of my favorite writers of all time after reading this tale. It’s the story of an artist in the near or far future, and his grandfather’s legacy and a world in which everything had a price. Some of the imagery is hilarious; one chapter break proclaims that God’s patent on the Sunrise expired at dawn. Farmer is truly a versatile creator, writing science fiction, pulp adventure and even erotica.

Clifford Simak’s The Big Front Yard was a fairly subtle tale, with a lot of exposition that doesn’t bog down the story. Imagine if you were an average person, say a handyman, and suddenly you became one of the most important people on Earth because you opened your door on a whole new world? One thing about this story, which I don’t think will spoil anything for anyone, was the idea that the main character had to explain the concept of paint - not what it was or how it was made, but the very idea of it. It’s been about thirty years since I first read that story and I’m still very glad something like that hasn’t happened to me because I still don’t know if I could explain it.

The final story I’d like to mention is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Ellison was probably the vanguard of the modern (or post-modern) science fiction writer, one who was truly not afraid to write about anything. My science teacher, Steve Nyman, recommended that I read this tale, telling me it was one of the scariest tales ever written. He was right and it still is, the years not diluting the raw power of the tale. This short story is the ultimate tale of man versus machine, of technology gone wild and trying to destroy Mankind, decades before the rise of such blockbuster movie hits like The Matrix or The Terminator (the latter of which had a lot of story elements lifted from a Harlan Ellison television script). There are only five characters in the story: Four people who want to die and a megalomaniacal computer that will not let them.

Now certainly years of Monty Python, Frank Zappa and William S. Burroughs didn’t help things, but reading this collection of stories was one of the pivotal points that led me to become the person I am, and especially in the way I think. For me, inspiration hasn’t been something to make me jump up and run out the door, proclaiming “Woo-hoo! This is terrific! Listen to me!” My inspirations have always been subtle; something that makes me see a new side to a situation, or takes me a step outside the envelope and makes me want to take another step, and another.


by Rich Meyer

Having grown up on Star Trek, Time Tunnel, the Lensmen, Harlan Ellison, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein and b-movies, science fiction is just about one of my most favorite topics on the planet. And this easily-navigated quiz book e-book features 301 questions and answers, each with a sci-fi theme.

Books, movies, TV shows, comic books, cartoons, radio programs, comic strips and even music are fair game for these trivia questions in the Science Fiction Quiz Book, which fans of all depths and levels will find interesting and challenging!

About the Author

Rich Meyer collects old-time radio programs, comic books, classic TV shows, Doc Savage novels, likes strange cinema and enjoys collecting bits of random trivia. 
He also plays in many real-life trivia contests, including Trivia Turmoil, KVSC St. Cloud and WWSP 90FM's World's Largest Trivia Contest. He has been a member of several Top 10 teams in the World's Largest Trivia Contest.
Rich is also a fan of the music of Frank Zappa, Blue Öyster Cult, Badfinger, the Tubes and progressive rock in general.

Rich resides in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. He lives with his wife Mona and his furry children Emiko, Montagoon, Pippin, Luli, Maxwell and Liam-Loki. 

1 comment:

  1. I remember being introduced to Andre Norton, the moment in time from whence my mind has never been the same.