What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo was conceived in the 1970s. The idea was not to second-guess the members of the science fiction community who voted for the awards, nor to suggest that they had selected unworthy recipients. It was simply to suggest that year after year there were multiple worthy nominees in each category. Many fine works were unavoidably passed over, and these anthologies would offer a degree of recognition (and monetary compensation) to their inevitably disappointed authors.
In fact, two anthologists had hit on the same idea at virtually the same moment. I was one; the other was my friend, George R.R. Martin. When our almost identical proposals were compared, it was discovered that I had initiated the project a split second before George, and he graciously withdrew from the field.
The first volume of What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo was published in 1980, and included one story from each year, 1952 to 1958. The critical response was enthusiastic. The second volume, with stories from 1959 through 1965, was published in 1981. Critical response was again enthusiastic.
My contract at the time called for four volumes in the series. When I delivered the manuscript for the third volume of What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo, covering the years 1966 to 1973, my own editor at Pocket Books, David Hartwell, was so enthusiastic that he asked me to extend the series to an eventual fifth volume.
Months passed, during which I selected stories for the fourth volume and secured publication rights from their authors.
Then came one of the more bizarre days in my career. I received two letters. One came from the publicity department at Pocket Books. An advance copy of Volume 3 in the form of a set of galley proofs had been sent to the influential Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books had received a copy of PW’s review. The reviewer has praise for the entire series to date, and adjudged the third volume as surpassing even its admirable predecessors.
The second letter was a personal one from David Hartwell. He informed me that sales had been disappointing. As he put it, he could sell more copies of a competent but unexceptional first novel by a previously unknown author than a collection of short stories by as prominent a figure as Theodore Sturgeon. Consequently, my contract was being cancelled and the series was being discontinued.
By now the third volume was literally “in press.” Cover proofs had been printed. No matter. What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo was no more.
Well, in this business there’s no point in sulking. I turned to other projects. Thirty years passed. Thanks to the exigencies of fate, my files for What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo were lost. And then—lo! and behold—an internet book dealer offered a set of those three-decades-old galley proofs for sale. His price was only slightly exorbitant. There was a certain irony in my having to buy those proofs—apparently the only surviving copy of my anthology—from this dealer. But so it was, and so What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo, Volume 3, is published at last.
In fact, stories had already been selected and rights purchased for What If: Stories that Should have Won the Hugo, Volume 4, but barring the recovery of those long lost files, it seems unlikely that the phantom fourth volume of the series will be resurrected.
Come on now—you’ve got to be kidding!
Richard A. Lupoff