The Guardsman (Pageant Books, 1988). Cover by Thomas Kidd
The Guardsman is an interesting piece of science fiction history. Well it’s interesting to me, anyway.
It’s the only novel by either of its two co-authors, P. J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton. Beese had a handful of short stories in mid-90s SF anthologies, Hamilton is much better known as an artist, and quite a good one — he painted about two dozen covers in the late 80s and early 90s, including six for John Varley novels and half a dozen very fine Analog covers — such as this splendid piece for the November 1987 issue.
The Guardian would probably be forgotten today (in fact, probably is forgotten), if not for the fact that it was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best novel — a nomination that was quickly withdrawn due to accusations of bloc voting. The controversy that swirled around it as a result tainted both authors and, while I have no direct knowledge, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that it may be why we saw no additional novels from Beese or Hamilton.
And that’s a shame — especially since, with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the public shaming that resulted was largely (or perhaps wholly) undeserved. Mike Glyer at File 770 did some fine investigative journalism into what he called the 1989 Hugo Controversy in 2017; here’s a summary of his findings.
A controversy brewed up about the committee’s very public and divisive handling of an instance of Hugo bloc voting and a couple of dozen suspicious nominating ballots, all benefitting a specific author couple… The tip of the iceberg is visible in The Long List of Hugo Awards for 1989 which shows that The Guardsman by P. J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton [Pageant, 1988] was withdrawn as a Best Novel nominee, Todd Cameron Hamilton withdrew as a Best Professional Artist nominee, while authors P. J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton finished sixth for the Campbell Award. No notes explain the withdrawals….
While they were frank about the information they did consider and how they made their decisions, in File 770 I criticized them for deliberately choosing to avoid gathering other useful information that would have influenced those decisions and spared Hamiton and Beese an unjustified public shaming.
Bloc voting, of course, became an even bigger issue with the disastrous Rabid Puppies/Sad Puppies affair, which resulted in nearly the entire Hugo slates in 2015 and 2016 being rejected wholesale by voters.
Is The Guardsman worth a read today? It certainly has its modern-day admirers. A few weeks back I stumbled on this unabashedly warm review at Misadventures in Strange Places.
The book is about galactic rebellion against a corrupt ruler. More specifically, it is about a single soldier’s struggle against corruption. Where does his loyalty and honor lie, to the emperor or the empire? Of course, the story is so much more than that, but in the end that is what it boils down to.
And it is the flavorings within this story that make it so much more than it would seem. The backdrop, the characters, pretty much everything is connected in some way to samurai culture and it is all cemented in our minds when we find that the seat of imperial power is actually on Earth in Japan. You would think it would feel overplayed with all of that, but it all fits together… There are so many emotional touchstones within the story and moments to connect to the larger world both personal and within the realm of story as we have built it through generations of storytellers. At times I am vaguely reminded of the story Shogun (James Clavell)… if you happen to run across it, take a chance with it. You might find something you never expected.
The Guardsman was published by Pageant Books as a paperback original in July 1988. It is 313 pages, priced at $2.95. It has never been reprinted, and there is no digital edition. The cover is by Thomas Kidd.
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