Today in History

March 31, 1969: Slaughterhouse Five published.

People are expected to respond as if it’s the height of irony when they’re told Vonnegut’s novel, ranked by the Modern Library as #18 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, lost both the 1970 Hugo and Nebula awards to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. I like both books, and see no reason 1970’s award voters need to blush.

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10 thoughts on “Today in History

  1. Indeed, 1970 was a great Hugo year. “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones”, Samuel R. Delany’s masterful story, beat me out for the Hugo by, I’m told, 2 votes. Only later did I and Chip & the con committee realize his wasn’t actually eligible. Still, he deserved it more than I.

  2. Greg: That is a curious bit of forgotten lore! The Internet SF Database (ISFDB) shows “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” appeared in the December 1968 issue of New Worlds, a British prozine. Generally, it would have been work published in 1969 that was eligible for the 1970 Hugo.

    I don’t have at hand a copy of the 1969 WSFS Constitution, but the 1963 version and business meeting minutes are online. I see the older rules for Best Short Fiction inludes the curious phrase “Previous winners are not eligible, nor shall a story be eligible more than twice.” In the case of a novel, the “twice” is explained in the 1963 minutes as providing for magazine serialization and hardcover publication, so the rationale may be the same for short fiction.

    Do you think the 1970 committee — German fans who held the Worldcon in Heidelberg — was simply unaware of the story’s publication history til it was too late?

  3. MIKE: I don’t know what the concomm thought. I heard somehow that when alerted to the problem they just shrugged. I didn’t attend the con, though I speak German (lived there 3 years in the occupation & published VOID’s first 10 issues from there). I was busy in my postdoc with Edward Teller at Livermore. (We were writing “The Tachyonic Antitelephone” then, a much cited paper that Teller thought I should publish alone, or else he could get all the credit!)
    I’ve never won a Hugo, alas. Wasn’t on the ballot with TIMESCAPE, when that novel won every other award (1981). Unlikely I’ll be nominated now. Older writers seldom are.

  4. The official Hugo Award site for the year – – lists only the New Worlds appearance.

    OTOH, Locus has this for the Hugo win of Chip’s story:
    “(World’s Best Science Fiction: 1969; New Worlds Dec 1968)” and only “World’s Best Science Fiction: 1969)” for the Nebula win.

    I don’t have the Wollhein handy, but might it be possible that the book publication is a revised/preferred version? Currently the rules state “3.2.5: In the written fiction categories, an author may withdraw a version of a work from consideration if the author feels that the version is not representative of what that author wrote.” Is it possible the rules back then allowed for the same or something similar?

  5. The rules at the time also emphasized when a work was generally available. While I would have supposed publication in Britain was generally available, that’s another judgment call somebody might have made.

  6. I spent some more time searching the Checkpoint/Skyrack archive, and the 1969-1971 Worldcon material at without finding any discussion of the Delany story’s eligibility.

    However, Google led me to a Yahoo group where Robert Silverberg said he had written several intros for reprints of his nominated story “Passengers” which said it lost to Delany’s ineligible story — only to discover that “Passengers” had been just as ineligible, first published in Orbit 4 in 1968.

    WTF! TWO of the five short story nominees were ineligible? What was the committee smoking? What were the VOTERS smoking?

  7. Given the timeframe, I’m pretty sure we all know EXACTLY what they were smoking.

  8. Or they may have been swilling Verguzz, which became legendary among fans who went to Heidelberg for the 1970 Worldcon. Here’s a reference to it in Sam Long’s Tynecon ’74 report:

    A couple of German fans, led by Helmut Pesch, came in with some Verguzz, a concoction from the Perry Rhodan series. It’s about 140proof, smells like medicine, and in the words of Jan Finder, cleans out the nasal passages like barbed wire. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Anyhow, Bob Shaw was persuaded to take a sip: he’s an Irishman, you know, and you will not find an Irishman refusing any drink. He took a swig from a paper cup and! — his fists clenched, his head snapped back, his eyeballs rolled up, and he became stiff as a board. Steam came out of his ears, the top of his head came off and whirled about, and he turned bright red. I kid you not. Bhy Ghadfrey, it was just like in the movies. He even came out with ‘That’s good stuff’ after he’d recovered.

    I remember Ron Bounds sharing a bottle at a LASFS party. Never got to taste it myself — I wasn’t of drinking age then. From people’s reactions it seemed more a rite of passage than an aperitif.

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