Retro Hugos: novels and short fiction in 1943

Don’t know where to start with Retro Hugo nominations? Ian Moore takes us on a stroll through the fiction of 1943.

At the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin the Retro Hugos for works published in 1943 will be awarded. In the world at large, 1943 was another dark year. To people in Europe and Asia, the war by now would have seemed like it had been going on forever, with no end in sight. We know looking back that 1943 was when the tide turned decisively against the Axis, with Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk, Italy knocked out of the war and an increasingly devastating bombing campaign all pointing to eventual Allied victory in Europe. The war against Japan meanwhile saw US victory at Guadalcanal and island-hopping advances while the Japanese were contained on land by the British and Chinese. But while the tide of war was turning in favour of the Allies, the horrors of the conflict continued unabated, with the Nazis continuing their murder of Europe’s Jewish population even as they began to contemplate the possibility of defeat.

As can be imagined, the war diverted the attention of science fiction and fantasy writers. Robert A. Heinlein was so consumed with his war work that he published no fiction in 1943. James Blish also published nothing this year, while Isaac Asimov managed just one story, Death Sentence. War service appears also to have delayed Arthur C. Clarke’s transition from amateur to professional writing; one has to assume that he was just one of many writers whose career was retarded or cut short before it even began.

Nevertheless, despite the demands of the war and restrictions on the use of paper, books kept being printed and science fiction magazines published, leaving a rich legacy of works that can now be nominated for the Retro Hugos.

This guide is an indicative overview of Hugo-eligible works published in 1943. It is by no means exhaustive and readers’ own researchers may well uncover eligible works that are not listed here. Dublin 2019 and the World Science Fiction Society are neutral and are not endorsing the works listed but are providing this guide as an assistance to Retro-Hugo nominators.


For Hugo award purposes, a novel has to be over 40,000 words. To the best of my knowledge the following all meet this criterion.

Northern Ireland’s C.S. Lewis is most famous for the children’s fantasy of his Narnia series, but he also wrote a trilogy of science fiction novels aimed at adults. The middle volume, Perelandra, was published in 1943. Mostly set on Venus, it is an odd work, with the religious elements displayed more overtly and less symbolically than in the Narnia books. It is also more fantasy than science fiction (the protagonist is carried to Venus by angels and once there finds himself battling the Devil himself to prevent original sin tainting the planet) but nevertheless clearly Retro Hugo eligible.

Fritz Leiber wrote long and short fiction in a variety of genres and is possibly best-known for his Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser fantasy stories (one of which is eligible in the short fiction categories). His satirical and dystopian novel Gather, Darkness! was serialised in Astounding Science Fiction in 1943, subsequently appearing in one volume. 1943 also saw the appearance of his novel Conjure Wife, in which a college professor discovers that his wife has been advancing his career through witchcraft. The novel has been adapted several times for the screen. Norman Matson‘s Bats in the Belfry (sequel to The Passionate Witch) also deals with a man whose wife is a witch; this and its predecessor were apparently the basis of the TV series Bewitched.

A.E. Van Vogt also wrote both long and short fiction. The Book of Ptath sees the eponymous Ptath, some kind of deity from the far future, travelling backwards in time and trying to resolve a conflict between his two wives (who are also semi-divine). The Weapon Makers meanwhile was serialised in 1943 and later revised. It appears to peddle some kind of libertarian political philosophy and explicitly supports the right of individuals to bear arms, making it an interesting example of NRA SF.

In 1943 the pulp hero Doc Savage may have been heading into his twilight years, but neither this nor war-time paper shortages stopped his creator Lester Dent (writing as Kenneth Robeson) from producing a vast array of novels featuring Doc and his friends in ever more bizarre adventures. Waves of Death sees Doc battling pterodactyls and the possible extinction of the white race, The Black, Black Witch features a struggle to prevent the Nazis utilising the prophecies of Nostradamus, The Goblins features an Idaho ghost town overrun with goblins, while in Hell Below Doc has to liberate a cowboy’s ranch from agents of the Third Reich. Similarly outlandish adventures feature in Mystery on Happy Bones, The King of Terror, The Mental Monster, The Running Skeletons, The Secret of the Su, The Spook of Grandpa Eben, The Talking Devil, and Waves of Death. The sheer volume of Doc Savage novels (“reams and reams of sellable crap” as Dent reputedly described them) also means that they would easily qualify collectively in the best series category.

Sax Rohmer (pen name of Arthur Ward) is best known for his problematic Fu Manchu stories, but in 1943 he published Seven Sins, one of a series featuring French detective Gaston Max. While the novel mostly deals with a murder mystery opening up into a plot involving spies and smugglers, its passing use of supernatural elements might scrape it over the line into Retro Hugo eligibility.

H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937 but somehow he managed to keep publishing new work from beyond the grave. His novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward appeared in its final form in 1943. That it would be eligible for the Retro Hugos in the same year that a BBC podcast adaptation is eligible for the dramatic presentation award in the 2019 Hugos is an irony that the man of Providence may have found amusing.

The husband and wife team of Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore mostly published short fiction in 1943, but together they also brought out one novel, Earth’s Last Citadel, which sees four participants in the Second World War transported to the far future, where they must evade giant worms, flying monsters and various entities reminiscent of the works of H. Rider Haggard and H.P. Lovecraft. C. L. Moore’s novel Judgment Night
meanwhile was serialised in Astounding Science Fiction, later appearing in one volume.

From the world of literary fiction meanwhile Herman Hesse produced his last novel, Das Glasperlenspiel (known variously in English as Magister Ludi and The Glass Bead Game). Set in the far future in the fictional European land of Castalia, the book deals with austere intellectuals who have given themselves over to The Glass Bead Game, meaning that it may prefigure works such as Iain M. Banks’ Player of Games. Hesse’s anti-Nazi views meant that the book could not be published in his native Germany.

1943 also saw some noteworthy children’s novels published. Mary Poppins Opens The Door is the third and last of P.L. TraversMary Poppins books. The Magic Faraway Tree is the second of Enid Blyton‘s Faraway Tree novels. Like the others, The Magic Faraway Tree sees children using the eponymous tree to bring them on magical adventures to such strange places as the Land of Dreams, the Land of Topsy Turvy, the Land of Presents, and the Land of Do-As-You-Please (referenced by Alan Moore in V for Vendetta). Julie Sauer‘s Fog Magic meanwhile is also a novel about travelling to strange places, in this case the journeying through time of a Nova Scotian girl.

Other Hugo-eligible novels include:

Lord of the Horizon by Joan Grant
Malpertuis by Jean Ray (subsequently filmed by Orson Welles)
Ravage by France’s René Barjavel (translated much later into English as Ashes, Ashes).
World Shadow of Night and The Seven Who Waited, by August Derleth
Star of Dread by Edmond Hamilton (in the Captain Future series)
Warrior of the Dawn by Howard Browne
Without Raiment by Louise Dardenelle

Even more Retro Hugo eligible novels can be seen at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database

Short fiction

The Hugo Awards divide fiction up into short stories (under 7,500 words), novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) and novella (17,500 to 40,000 words). It is not always entirely clear in which category short fiction falls but I have done my best to identify this for the items below.

In 1943 short fiction remained the life blood of speculative fiction, with work continuing to appear in the magazines notwithstanding paper rationing. While some of the big names had their work curtailed by their own involvement in the war effort, others stepped forward to fill their places.

As noted above, Isaac Asimov had just one short story published in 1943. Death Sentence appeared in Astounding and dealt with a first contact between humanity and a robot civilisation. It is a sign of how the form was developing (and how people like Asimov were pushing it) that this first contact does not immediately give rise to a war between man and machine.

The writing partnership of husband and wife Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore should also be mentioned. As well as their novel, the couple appear to have produced some 26 short stories, novelettes and novellas between them. They wrote both separately and together and were apparently often unable to remember who had written which parts of works they had collaborated on. Their colleagues were reputedly astonished by their ability to continue each other’s work mid-sentence. Their work appeared variously under pseudonyms (notably Lewis Padgett but also Lawrence O’Donnell), sometimes under their names jointly and sometimes under their names individually, regardless of whether it had been produced collaboratively or individually (Moore sometimes submitted her work under her husband’s name, as he received more generous page rates). The quality of their output is witnessed their having five of the twelve stories appearing in the 1981 anthology Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 5 (1943). Some of their stories have been extensively reprinted while others have sadly sunk into obscurity. The novelette Mimsy Were The Borogoves, originally published in Astounding, is perhaps particularly noteworthy, with its Lewis Carroll referencing themes of children’s minds being accidentally reprogrammed by the discarded toys of higher dimensional beings. Other widely reprinted stories of theirs that people may have come across, all originally published in Astounding (apart from Doorway Into Time, which appeared in Famous Fantastic Mysteries), include the short stories Doorway Into Time, Ghost, The Iron Standard, Nothing But Gingerbread Left, Endowment Policy; the novelettes Gallegher Plus, The Proud Robot, Time Locker; and the novella Clash by Night.

The novella Skeleton Men of Jupiter appeared in Amazing Stories, the last of Edgar Rice BurroughsBarsoom series. With some ten novels’ worth of material having previously appeared, Barsoom would in all likelihood be eligible in the Series category.

As noted in the novels section, H.P. Lovecraft‘s death did not stop him producing new material. His novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath first appeared in 1943 and is thus eligible for the Retro Hugos. More problematic are the short story and novella The Curse of Yig and The Mound that Lovecraft ghost-wrote for Zealia Bishop; these appear to have both appeared in a variety of formats on a number of occasions, with the 1943 publications of these being different but perhaps not substantively so to versions that had been published in previous years.

Aside from his previously mentioned novel Fritz Leiber only published a handful of short pieces in 1943, but these included the novelette Thieves’ House in Unknown Worlds. This is part of the popular Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, though there may not have been enough of that published by 1943 for it to be nominated in the Best Series category.

Robert Bloch (best known perhaps as author of the original novel Psycho) wrote a frightening amount of material in 1943. His Weird Tales short story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper reveals the Victorian murderer to have been some kind of immortal entity killing to extend its monstrous life. Many of Bloch’s fictional works from 1943 have now sunk into obscurity after never being reprinted, but heavily reprinted short stories that people may have encountered include The Fear Planet (originally published in Super Science Stories) and Almost Human, from Fantastic Adventures.

1943 also saw Ray Bradbury developing into a literary powerhouse, with his stories including The Crowd, The Scythe, and The Wind appearing in Weird Tales, R Is for Rocket (AKA King of the Gray Space) in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Doodad in Astounding, and The Piper in Thrilling Wonder Stories.

In 1943 Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard was still primarily known, if at all, as a pulp science fiction writer. Although serving in the US Navy he still managed to publish the short story The Great Secret in Science Fiction Stories. In its account of men travelling to a magical city to learn a powerful secret it could almost be a precursor of the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic (and so of the film Stalker), though this most likely is indicative of how tropes recur in science fiction.

From the world of more literary fiction, Jorge Luis Borges‘ short story The Secret Miracle appeared in the Argentinian journal Sur in 1943; it is unusual in that it deals with the persecution of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, albeit in the style of weird fiction.

Notable short works aimed at children include the novellas The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which surely needs no introduction, and Mary Norton‘s The Magic Bed-Knob (subsequently adapted in the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks).

Other pieces of 1943 short fiction include:

A. E. van Vogt
Concealment Astounding Science Fiction (short story)
The Great Engine Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)
The Search Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)
The Storm Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)
The Witch Unknown Worlds (novelette)

Anthony Boucher
Expedition Thrilling Wonder Stories (short story)
Q. U. R. Astounding Science Fiction (short story)
They Bite Unknown Worlds (short story)
We Print the Truth Astounding Science Fiction (novella)

August Derleth
Baynter’s Imp Weird Tales (short story)
McElwin’s Glass Weird Tales (short story)
No Light for Uncle Henry Weird Tales (short story)
A Thin Gentleman with Gloves Weird Tales (short story)
A Wig for Miss DeVore Weird Tales (short story)

Clifford D. Simak
Hunch Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)
Infiltration Science Fiction Stories (short story)
Message From Mars Planet Stories (novelette)
Shadow of Life Astounding Science Fiction (short story)

Dennis Wheatley (all from an original anthology)
The Case of the Haunted Chateau (short story)
The Case of the Long Dead Lord (short story)
The Case of the Red-Headed Woman (short story)

E. Mayne Hull
The Patient Unknown Worlds (short story)

Edmond Hamilton
Exile Super Science Stories (short story)

Eric Frank Russell
Symbiotica Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)

Fredric Brown
Daymare Thrilling Wonder Stories (novelette)
Paradox Lost Astounding Science Fiction (short story)
The Geezenstacks Weird Tales (short story)

James Thurber
Many Moons (short story length, though published as standalone illustrated children’s book)

Leigh Brackett
The Halfling Astonishing Stories (novelette)

Malcolm Jameson
Blind Alley Unknown Worlds (novelette)

Manly Wade Wellman
The Devil Is Not Mocked Unknown Worlds (short story)

P. Schuyler Miller
The Cave Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)

Ross Rochlynne
Backfire Astounding Science Fiction (novelette)

More Retro Hugo eligible short fiction can be seen at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database