by Timothy Doyle

#27, September 27, 2004

The Hugo Award
A Universe of Flashpoints

Collecting Science Fiction

The Hugo Award, also known as the Science Fiction Achievement Award, is presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) for publications appearing in the previous calendar year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, who founded Amazing Stories magazine in 1926 and has been described as the "father of science fiction."

Nominees and winners are determined by a two-stage ballot open to all registered members of the World Science Fiction Convention, an annual event held in a different city each year. The body of the trophy takes the shape of a rocket ship, and the shape of the base changes each year based on designs approved by a convention committee.

Hugos are awarded in numerous categories, including novel, novella, novelette, short story; related [nonfiction] book; dramatic presentation; professional editor and artist; semi-prozine; fanzine, fan writer, and fan artist.

Since Hugos are awarded on the basis of vote totals by fans registered to attend the World Science Fiction Convention, they are, in essence, the People's Choice awards of SF. Lists of Hugo nominees define a core reading list of genre SF for the past 50 years.

Many SF fans try to collect all of the Hugo winners for Best Novel, either in first edition (an extremely expensive proposition at this point, as we'll see below) or as inexpensive reprints. I know some first edition collectors who are working backward by decade through the Best Novel list.

A while back I got the idea of doing an analysis of the Hugo Best Novel list in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). In other words, if one had bought a copy of each year's winning novel at cover price, how would the current market value compare to the invested amount? Summarized below are fifteen selected items from five decades spanning the years from 1956 to 1995. The first price listed after the title is the original cover price (prices appearing in parentheses are estimates), the second its estimated current value.

  1. The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson (NY: Bantam Books, 1995) $22.95/$30
  2. Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold (NY: Baen Books, 1994) {$20.00}/$25
  3. Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson (London: Harper Collins, 1993) {$25.00}/$50
  4. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (NY: Tor, 1985) 13.95/$750
  5. Neuromancer, William Gibson (London: Gollancz, 1984) {$15.00}/$1,250
  6. Startide Rising, David Brin (West Bloomfield: Phantasia, 1985) Limited trade $18.00/$100
  7. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm (NY: Harper & Row, 1976) {$10.00}/$25
  8. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman (NY: St. Martins Press, 1974) {$10.00}/$375
  9. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin (NY: Harper and Row, 1974) {$10.00}/$200
  10. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (Garden City: Doubleday, 1968) $6.95/$200
  11. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967) $4.95/$2,750
  12. Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein (NY: Putnam, 1966) $5.95/$3,500
  13. A Case of Conscience, James Blish (London: Faber and Faber, 1959) {$5.00}/$2,000

14. The Big Time, Fritz Leiber (Boston: Gregg Press, 1976) {$20.00}/$500 (First published in Galaxy Magazine 1958; Ace Double PB 1961) 15. Double Star, Robert A. Heinlein (Garden City: Doubleday, 1956) {$5.00}/$4,500

Totals: $192.75/$16,150

Let me begin this discussion with the standard stock portfolio proviso that past performance is no guarantee of future earnings. It is difficult to make broad generalizations based on 51 data points spread over half a century of publishing history - actually, it's easy to make the generalizations; what's hard is making relevant ones.

It is immediately obvious that the older books on the list are worth more than the recent ones on the current book market, as we would expect. The older books were generally printed in smaller quantities. More went into the libraries or have otherwise been lost or destroyed over the years. And they represent some of the best work by some of the genre's legendary grand masters - authors with instant name-recognition even among non-SF collectors. In this group, we could definitely conclude that "Hugo" is a strong flashpoint.

The more recent books were generally printed in significantly larger initial print runs, more of which still survive in collectible condition. As a result, supply more nearly equals demand, and prices remain lower. Some higher-priced exceptions include Kim Stanley Robinsons' Mars books

and William Gibson's Neuromancer.

The hardback first editions of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) and of William Gibson's Neuromancer were first published in the UK by, respectively, Harper Collins and Gollancz. UK publishers tend towards small hardback print runs and will often release a hardback and paperback edition simultaneously. This pattern holds true for any number of high points in SF publishing: where the UK edition precedes the US, the UK print run is generally much smaller and the collector market price is much higher. In addition to Robinson's and Gibson's books, other examples include China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, and Zenna Henderson's The People: No Different Flesh. Of course, it doesn't hurt value to almost single-handedly define a brand new sub-genre of SF, as Neuromancer did with cyberpunk.

A relatively recent change in SF publishing and marketing is the increased importance of series books. While there are obvious examples in early SF and fantasy (think Foundation and The Lord of the Rings), it is really within the last 30 years that series have proliferated. Heinlein crystallized the concept when he assembled his many inter-related stories and novels into a "future history."

Asimov spent the latter part of his career attempting to link all of his different works into a common universe. Marion Zimmer Bradley - Darkover; Anne McCaffery - Pern; Terry Pratchett - Discworld; CJ Cherryh - Union/Alliance and Foreigner series (which might still turn out to be in the same universe); Katherine Kurtz - Deryni; and the list goes on. A series gives an author room to grow, to explore (or rehash) a multitude of story lines against an increasingly well-defined (or done-to-death) background, usually with a cast of familiar or stereotyped characters. Publishers find it easier to sell the next installment in a known and popular series, rather than risk backing something new that might fall flat. In terms the publishers can relate to, Terry Pratchett could slap "Discworld Directory" on a telephone book and move units.

Among the books on the Best Novel list, the first "series" books are Frank Herbert's Dune (Hugo 1966) and Larry Niven's Ringworld (Hugo 1971, part of the Known Space series). Neither author received any subsequent Best Novel Hugos. Compare this to Lois McMaster Bujold's three wins (1991, 1992, 1995) for entries in her Miles Vorkosigan series. Because the Hugo is decided by vote of readers, an established series with lots of interested followers might well hold an advantage. But because later volumes in popular series are typically printed in much larger numbers, the long-term market value of these books stays fairly low. The first edition of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Hugo winner, Best Novel, 2001) is never going to amount to much in market value because so many copies were released in the first printing.

SF collectors have of course watched the increase in value of the Hugo winners over the years, some in glee as the net value of their collection grows, others in frustration as the purchase price of some key titles soar out of reach.

Having seen the hefty return on investment that could have been realized from buying all the Hugo Best Novel winners at list price over the years, a question naturally arises: Is it too late to start? Could a similar increase in value be expected by the year 2053, if we were to take the "wine cellar" approach and start stockpiling all the Hugo winners beginning retroactively in 2002?

My current thinking leads me to say no. To begin with, I think that SF hardback firsts from the 1950's started off scarcer than most SF books published today. In addition, the idea of collecting science fiction first editions didn't exist in the 1950's in the way that it does now. As a result, modern SF firsts are being bought up in collector grade condition by a growing number of fan collectors (thanks in large part to the internet), so many more copies will survive their trip to the year 2053. I think that overall the value of Hugo winners will go up but not to the degree we've seen in the past 50 years.

As with any general pronouncement, there will be notable exceptions. For example, Gibson's Neuromancer in the Gollancz edition will continue to be an important book in the history and development of the genre. As with real estate, they "ain't making any more." Unlike non-fiction, reprinting collectible SF doesn't diminish the value of the first editions. If anything, it can sometimes cause a renewed interest in an author and an upswing in the price of his first editions.

As a final note, I recommend that you not limit yourself to looking at just the winners of the Hugos for Best Novel. Each year up to five nominees are selected. As of 2004, there are 236 Best Novel nominees listed since the inception of the Hugos. Additional study of this list could be very rewarding.

Complete list of Novels Nominated for Hugo Best Novel (winner is listed first)

2004: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
Humans by Robert Sawyer
Ilium by Dan Simmons
Singularity Sky by Charles Stross
Blind Lake by Robert Charles Wilson

2003: Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
Kiln People by David Brin
The Scar by China Miéville
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick

2002: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Cosmonaut Keep by Ken MacLeod
Passage by Connie Willis
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

2000: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

1999: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
Distraction by Bruce Sterling
Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer

1998: Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer
The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick
i by Walter Jon Williams

1997: Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon
Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer
Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling

1996: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
Brightness Reef by David Brin
The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer
Remake by Connie Willis

1995: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Mother of Storms by John Barnes
Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop
Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress
Towing Jehovah by James Morrow

1994: Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Moving Mars by Greg Bear
Glory Season by David Brin
Virtual Light by William Gibson
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

1993: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (tie)
1993: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (tie)
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Steel Beach by John Varley

1992: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Bone Dance by Emma Bull
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
The Summer Queen by Joan D. Vinge

1991: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold
Earth by David Brin
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Queen of Angels by Greg Bear
The Quiet Pools by Michael Kube-McDowell

1990: Hyperion by Dan Simmons
The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson
Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card
A Fire in the Sun by George Alex Effinger
Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

1989: Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh
Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
Red Prophet by Orson Scott Card
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling

1988: The Uplift War by David Brin
The Forge of God by Greg Bear
Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
When Gravity Fails by George Alex Effinger
The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

1987: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Count Zero by William Gibson
Black Genesis by L. Ron Hubbard
The Ragged Astronauts by Bob Shaw
Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge

1986: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Blood Music by Greg Bear
Cuckoo's Egg by C.J. Cherryh
Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Postman by David Brin

1985: Neuromancer by William Gibson
Job by Robert Heinlein
The Integral Trees by Larry Niven
Emergence by David Palmer
The Peace War by Vernor Vinge

1984: Startide Rising by David Brin
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov
Tea With the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Millennium by John Varley

1983: Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
The Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh
2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke
Friday by Robert Heinlein
Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury
Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe

1982: Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
Little, Big by John Crowley
The Many-Colored Land by Julian May
Project Pope by Clifford Simak
The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe

1981: The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederik Pohl
Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg
Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven
Wizard by John Varley

1980: The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke
Harpist in the Wind by Patrica A. McKillip
Jem by Frederik Pohl
On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch
Titan by John Varley

1979: Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre
The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh
The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey
Blind Voices by Tom Reamy

1978: Gateway by Frederik Pohl
The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Time Storm by Gordon R. Dickson
Dying of the Light by George R.R. Martin
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

1977: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman
Children of Dune by Frank Herbert
Man Plus by Frederik Pohl
Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg

1976: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester
Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg
Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny

1975: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Fire Time by Poul Anderson
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Inverted World by Christopher Priest

1974: Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
The People of the Wind by Poul Anderson
The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold
Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
Protector by Larry Niven

1973: The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson
When Harlie Was One by David Gerrold
The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg
Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg
A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak

1972: To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey
A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg
Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

1971: Ringworld by Larry Niven
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
Star Light by Hal Clement
Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg
The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker

1970: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Macroscope by Piers Anthony
Up the Line by Robert Silverberg
Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

1969: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Nova by Samuel R. Delany
Past Master by R.A. Lafferty
Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
The Goblin Reservation by Clifford D. Simak

1968: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson
Chthon by Piers Anthony
The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
Thorns by Robert Silverberg

1967: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany
Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz
Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann

1966: Dune by Frank Herbert (tie)
1966: ...And Call Me Conrad (book title (expanded): This Immortal) by Roger Zelazny (tie)
The Squares of the City by John Brunner
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein [?]
Skylark DuQuesne by Edward E. Smith

1965: The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber
The Whole Man by John Brunner
Davy by Edgar Pangborn
The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith

1964: Here Gather the Stars (book title: Way Station) by Clifford D. Simak
Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein
Dune World by Frank Herbert [?]
Witch World by Andre Norton
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

1963: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Sword of Aldones
by Marion Zimmer Bradley
A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke
Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper
Sylva by Vercors

1962: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye
Sense of Obligation (book title: Planet of the Damned) by Harry Harrison
The Fisherman (book title: Time Is the Simplest Thing) by Clifford D. Simak
Second Ending by James White

1961: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys
Deathworld by Harry Harrison
Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon

1960: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Dorsai! (alternate title: The Genetic General) by Gordon R. Dickson
The Pirates of Ersatz (book title: The Pirates of Zan) by Murray Leinster
That Sweet Little Old Lady (book title: Brain Twister) by Mark Phillips
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

1959: A Case of Conscience by James Blish
We Have Fed Our Sea (book title: The Enemy Stars) by Poul Anderson
Who? by Algis Budrys
Have Space Suit -- Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
Time Killer (book title (expanded): Immortality, Inc.) by Robert Sheckley

1956: Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

1955: They'd Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley

1953: The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester