My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1961

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Awared winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Winner, My Winner) Grade: A
It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson Grade: B-
Ever wanted to know what would happen if you had Medieval Knights running around in space? If your answer was yes, then this is the novel for you. But really, that’s… basically what this is. Your visceral reaction to the concept question that I started with will probably be a great guideline for your level of enjoyment of the novel. It’s campy, it’s weird, it’s a bit dragged out, but it also has a weird kind of classic feel to it that makes it read almost like a weird sci-fi Once and Future King. It is definitely not as good as that masterpiece of literature, but it captures that feel occasionally, and that makes it worth a read as well. I realize I’ve written this much and barely talked about the novel itself, but it would be pretty spoilerish for this one to say almost anything about the plot, so here we are. Read it if what I’ve said appeals.

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys Grade: C-
It’s hard to hate on this novel as much as I wanted to at times. Yes, it reads rather choppily. Yes, its characters suffer from early sci-fi tropes and lack of characterization. Yes, it feels somewhat like a hack job. But it also manages to highlight so many of the things that make later hard sci-fi so great. Budrys here gives us a prototype for so much other hard sci-fi that would come later, and he fits it together with a kind of fun-house horror that somehow is not as terrible as it really ought to be. By no means is this an excellent work–it should be read largely for historical value–but it’s not awful, which is about as good an endorsement as I can give it.

Deathworld by Harry Harrison Grade: A-
I think this book benefited some from blowing my expectations out of the water. After reading The Stainless Steel Rat, I was pretty sure what to expect here. But instead of something that was pure action, Harrison delivered a remarkably thoughtful mystery of what is happening on a deadly world. The humanity with which it was delivered was also somewhat surprising, given the rough-and-tumble attitude he seems to have in his writings. Harrison’s view of women reflected his own (backward) perspectives of the time, but he did, to his credit, include one female character who was actually more three dimensional than many other characters, including males, in the book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but was somewhat disappointed with the next two. They were okay, this one was great.

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: C+
Sturgeon wrote here an interesting experimental novel. What if gender norms and sexes were totally irrelevant? What would society look like? That’s the question he asks with this set piece novel. Much of it is spent on exposition, to the point where it starts to lose interest at points. The answers Sturgeon provides to some questions that naturally arise at times seem dated and even quaint, but this was clearly ahead of its time when it was written. Not a bad read, and short enough that it doesn’t outlive its stay.


My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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7 thoughts on “My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1961

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I still struggle with what to make of Venus Plus X — I loved the pairing of the modern day family with the strange future… as for “dated and quaint,” yeah, he’s tackling a non-standard topic way back in the 60s, it does with the territory (and is to be expected). I get the sense that the riskier novels (of which Venus Plus X is the riskiest of the Hugo-nominated novels in 1961), have greater chance of not working (the parts are there but somehow it was unsatisfying).

  2. […] 1961– The voters got it right on a fantastic novel this year. […]

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