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I was quite familiar with three of the finalists - White's The Ill-Made Knight, Van Vogt's Slan, and Smith's The Grey Lensman - all quite well-known classics of the genre, and all on my nomination list. Boye's Kallocain, which I had actually read earlier this year, was also one of my nominations [1]. So the only new novel to me among the finalists was The Reign of Wizardry by Jack Williamson [2], which, having now read, I think of as a quick and pleasant read, but not particularly special.

My personal opinion is that The Ill-Made Knight has aged the best of the the finalists, and as a retelling if the Arthurian legend, it holds a special place in my memories. But I'd be almost as happy if Slan wins, as it's a book I remember with much nostalgia from my childhood - as I suspect do many socially outcast young nerds.


Heinlein's If This Goes On… and Coventry - both personal favourites among his early work - were on my nomination list for this category. Magic, Inc., however, has always seemed to be one of Heinlein's lesser works and I did not consider it for nomination.
I had read both of the de Camp/Pratt finalists - The Mathematics of Magic and The Roaring Trumpet - before, but long enough ago that I did not remember them clearly. I have now remedied that [3]. Both of the de Camp/Pratt novellas were good, well-crafted comic adventure pieces, but I remain convinced that for technique, entertainment value, and maturity of themes and ideas, the two Heinlein science fiction pieces are the cream of this crop.


Heinlein's "Blowups Happen," Sturgeon's "It!” and Bates' “Farewell to the Master” were among my nominees - I was of course long familiar with the Heinlein novelette, but not Harry Bates' story, which I read for the first time this year and was quite taken with, or the Sturgeon novelette, which I also read earlier this year [4]. Heinlein's “The Roads Must Roll" was a close contender for me, though it just missed being one of my nominations. The late addition to the finalists, A. E. Van Vogt's "Vault of the Beast" was new to me, and sadly, I was not impressed [5]. All in all, "Blowups Happen" and "Farewell to the Master" made the strongest impression on me in this category.

Best Short Story

“Martian Quest” by Leigh Brackett, “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein, and "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges - I adore Borges - were all among my nominations for this category, and both “The Stellar Legion," also by Leigh Brackett, and “Robbie” by Isaac Asimov were among the works I had under consideration up to the end [6]. I think I'd be quite content if any of them were to win, but my secret hopes are for the Borges piece.

[4] short notes on the Bates and Sturgeon novelettes here:
[5] short notes on A. E. Van Vogt's novelette here:
[6] short notes on the two Brackett stories here:

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Recently I found a treasure - a five volume e-book collection of Golden Age sf pulps published by Halcyon Classics. There's some grand old things in the collection, and sone things I've never heard of, but I'm going to be taking my time, wandering through the collection and enjoying what's there.

My first selection was Robert Bloch's This Crowded Earth, which was a hoot. Overpopulation gets so bad that governments all over the world enforce a somewhat bizarre solution - changing the size of human beings to be only three feet tall. This turns out to be a bad idea, but fortunately there are some normal sized people still around to provide the solution.

Ah, the glorious things they did in the pulps.

My next selection from this cornucopia of delights was Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Colors of Space, a quick and reasonably interesting, if formulaic read. Aliens dominate interstellar trade, keeping secret of warp drive from humans. Intrepid young human gets caught up in plot to discover secret, saves the day for both species by being wiser, bolder and more compassionate than either the humans or the aliens. Plot hinges on aliens being colourblind, hence the title.

The next pulp treasure I sampled was Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars. Brackett was a master of the planetary romance, and in this novel, one of her sequence of tales about mercenary-adventurer Eric John Stark, she weaves the hallmarks of the genre together in a splendid fast-moving tale of lost cities and ancient battles refought. Black Amazon of Mars was later revised and expanded, and re-published as The People of the Talisman, and this led me to find a copy of the latter and read it to see just what changes were made and how that affected the story.

The first half of People of the Talisman is almost identical, not just in plot but in actual text, merely fleshed out somewhat, with a bit more description of the setting - the Northern wastes of Mars - and character-building of some characters who played relatively minor roles in Amazon but would turn out to have more substantial parts in Talisman. The second half is completely different - even though the structure of the two novels is almost identical. Not only is the story different, but the changes Brackett made alter the tone and themes of the novel in a substantial fashion.

In both novels, Stark and a friend, Camar, are travelling to Camar's home city of Kushat, from whence Camar had fled years ago, bearing the stolen talisman of Ban Cruach. The legend of the talisman is that Kushat cannot be defeated as long as the talisman is in the city, as it can be used to summon the powers of long-dead hero Ban Cruach from beyond the Gates of Death - which in this instance is a narrow pass in the circumpolar mountains which is blocked by the city. Camar has been wounded while saving Stark's life, and dies on the journey, leaving Stark to take the talisman home. Stark is captured by warrior nomads led by the mysterious black-masked Lord Ciaran, who have heard rumours that the talisman is gone and are on their way to conquer Kushat and seek the ancient powers of Ban Cruach. Stark escapes and warns the people of Kushat.

And this is where the stories begin to diverge. Some key elements remain the same - Kushat is taken, but Stark unmasks Lord Ciaran in battle, revealing the nomad leader to be a woman. Both of them end up passing through the Gates of Death, discovering the secrets of Ban Cruach, and returning as allies. But what they find, what happens to them beyond the Gates of Death, and the knowledge they gain, is so completely different as to make these novels two different stories.


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