Update: The Hugo Award for Best Novel (and the ones I’ve read)

Many years back (9 years) when I really got into sci-fi I decided to use the Hugo Award for Best Novel list as a way to find interesting authors and read the classics.  I’ve done pretty well!  I’ve read 3/3 of the Retrospectively Awarded Hugos (Retro) and 40/55 of the true Hugo Winners (i.e. those awarded a year after publication and thus not considered “classics” only through the lens of posterity as the Retros are).  What’s most revealing is my interest in science fiction written from the mid-50s to the late 70s — this is reflected by my 24 straight Hugo Award winning reads from 1956-1979 (a few ties are in there — hence the unequal years).

I highly recommend looking at this list (besides the last 10 years which have been pretty slim pickings in my opinion, I mean, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?!?!?!?!) to discover new authors if you’re new to the genre.


Very few people know that Roger Zelazny’s weird, mythology inspired romp The Immortal (1969) TIED with Frank Herbert’s epic Dune!

…OR about

two-time winner Fritz Leiber.  His novel The Big Time is infrequently read (a bunch of interesting people in a weird room with a nuclear bomb — has the feel of a one act play).  For me, I’ve discovered that I need to read Mark Clifton and Frank Riley’s They’d Rather Be Right…  I haven’t even heard of the authors until I cobbled together this list….  Oh, and one parting sentence, the worst novel awarded the Hugo that I’ve read has to be Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go — perhaps the dismal sequels ruined it for me — I’ve never understood the appeal of that ramshackle novel…..

(BOLD = I’ve read)

The Retro Hugos

1946 (awarded 1996) – The Mule, Isaac Asimov

1951 (awarded 2001) – Farmer in the Sky, Robert A. Heinlein

1954 (awarded 2004) – Fahrenheit 451

The Hugo Award for Best Novel

1953 The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

1955 They’d Rather Be Right, Mark Clifton and Frank Riley

1956 Double Star, Robert A. Heinlein

1958 The Big Time, Fritz Leiber

1959 A Case of Conscience, James Blish

1960 Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein

1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

1962 Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

1963 The Man in a High Castle, Philip K. Dick

1964 Way Station, Clifford D. Simak

1965 The Wanderer, Fritz Leiber

1966 (tie) Dune, Frank Herbert

1966 (tie) … And Call be Conrad (aka. This Immortal), Roger Zelazny

1967 The Moon is Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein

1968 The Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

1969 Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

1970 The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

1971 Ringworld, Larry Niven

1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip José Farmer

1973 The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov

1974 Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

1975 The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

1976 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sand, Kate Wilhelm

1978 Gateway, Frederik Pohl

1979 The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke

1980 The Snow Queen, Joan D. Vinge

1981 Downbelow Station, C. J. Cherryh

1983 Foundation’s Edge, Isaac Asimov

1984 Startide Rising, David Brin

1985 Neuromancer, William Gibson

1986 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

1987 Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card

1988 The Uplift War, David Brin

1989 Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh

1990 Hyperion, Dan Simmons

1991 The Vor Game, Lois McMaster Bujold

1992 Barrayar, Lois McMaster Bujold

1993 (tie) A Fire Upon the Deep

1993 (tie) Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

1994 Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

1995 The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson

1996 Blue Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

1998 Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman

1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis

2000 A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge

2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling

2002 American Gods, Neil Gaiman (GAVE UP ON THIS ONE)

2003 Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer

2004 Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold

2005 Jonathan Strange Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

2006 Spin, Robert Charles Wilson

2007 Rainbows End, Vernor Vinge

2008 The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Michael Chabon

2009 The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman




(suggestions about which are the best of the remaining novels would be GREATLY appreciated)



10 thoughts on “Update: The Hugo Award for Best Novel (and the ones I’ve read)

  1. I loved Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. I thought it was well written with good characters and a fantastic story and set-up. It does good job of placing the story in a frame of reality so that it feels fairly plausible. There’s a sequel out called Axis that is good, but not nearly at the level of Spin.

    I’m impressed that you read most of these already! I’ve had similar aspirations, but have only gotten through about 5-6 so far.

    I also read Graveyard Book before it won and while good, I didn’t think it was anything too special.

  2. Now I desperately want to find They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley — one of the only 50s/60s/70s Hugo Novels I’m missing!

    Well, I read sci-fi frequently to decompress from reading/writing/grading/soon to be teaching medieval history all day (PhD student at the moment)….

  3. But yes, I’ve often considered picking up Spin. I just have some poorly rationalized problems with new Hard Sci-Fi…

    Wasn’t Graveyard Book a young adult novel?

    I tried to read American Gods (the 2002 winner) a few years back — but had to quit…

    • I’m not big on new sci-fi myself, but Spin exceeded all my expectations. It does starts off a bit slow, if you decide to try it.

      Yeah, Graveyard Book is young adult. I wouldn’t classify it as sci-fi at all though. It’s more of a strange sort of ghost tale.

  4. Slow is fine…. My favorite sci-fi novel is Stand on Zanzibar which is 600 plus pages (late 1960s — so shockingly long for its time) and has very little plot…

    I’m not sure why they would give the award to a young adult book — I thought they wanted to be a serious award — hmm… maybe the other choices that year were awful.

  5. I don’t know…like you mentioned in the post they gave it to Harry Potter one year, and there had to have been a better sci-fi novel than that.

    I’ll have to check out Stand on Zanzibar. Man, you got me all fired up to get back to reading classic sci-fi. Thanks!

  6. Good! Classic sci-fi is the best — all the ideas that crop up later are there incubating.

    Of the Hugo list – I recommend a mixture of famous and not so well known: This Immortal – Roger Zelazny, A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr, Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin, The Big Time — Leiber, and The Forever War – Haldeman.

    I’ll post the Nebula list tomorrow (maybe)… and eventually the Hugo and Nebula Nominees which didn’t end up winning

  7. I can recommend the Lois McMaster Bujold ones (though I haven’t read The Vor Game). I really liked American Gods, actually, but possibly more because I love the idea of old gods existing in a modern world: parts of it reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, though.

    What are Cherryh’s books like?


  8. Cherryh’s books are quite dry, with limited narrators, with TONS of politics and political machinations. I’m not sure I recommend her work — they are overly long (which is fine) but the drawn out political maneuvering never has much payoff — I always get the feel that people are paranoid in her works for the sake of being paranoid….

    I really enjoyed (I wrote a review for it on this site) Merchanter’s Luck (although it didn’t win a Hugo). If you read anything of hers, read Downbelow Station — if you enjoy it, read Merchanters luck and Cyteen (which is way too long).

    Thanks for your recommendation!

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.