My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1965

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. I’ve given grades for each book, and underneath those grades, I’ve added a reflection on that year’s Hugo Awards.

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber (Winner)- Grade: D+
Thoroughly shrug-worthy, this one has most of the features I dislike in classic science fiction. First, it’s overly focused on concept rather than execution. Second, the women are all throwaway characters. Third, the dialogue is laughable. Fourth, you can really tell that it’s dated. Fifth, the aliens are basically just humans that got reskinned. Hey, it won the Hugo Award, so good job on Leiber, I suppose. Also, I think it is one of the early innovators of the sort of mutliple-main-characters viewpoints in science fiction way of telling stories, so there’s that.

The Whole Man by John Brunner- Grade: D+
This is apparently a novel that marks Brunner’s breakout from space opera, and the style does seem like a transition. It has a little bit of the feeling of New Wave sci-fi while also some of the campiness of adventure sci-fi. The stylistic jumps make it feel a bit haphazard to me. I also do not particularly enjoy how Brunner dealt with “disability” in the novel, using generally derogatory words to discuss disabilities and running with the notion that anyone with a disability is a kind of person to be pitied. The novel, in other words, has not aged well at all. Not one of Brunner’s better works.

Davy by Edgar Pangborn- Grade: C-
Post-nuclear-apocalypse coming-of-age stories were apparently very “in” in the 50s and 60s. Here’s another one. It’s decently well done, though not nearly as good as some other notable ones (thinking here, in particular of The Long Tomorrow). Here, Davy is a kind of future pirate ne’er do well who’s writing back on how he came to be where he is. It has its moments of fun and fear, but it takes forever to really get going, and when it does it suddenly feels so rushed it is hard to get on top of it. A decent book that I’d recommend for those who like pastoral apocalypses.

The Planet Buyer AKA The Boy Who Bought Old Earth AKA part of Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith (My Winner)- Grade: A
Yes, the publication of history of this is a bit complex. I ended up reading it as part of Norstrilia because that’s the version I could get my hands on. Anyway, Cordwainer Smith is one of those almost forgotten authors whose works really ought to be much more influential and well-known than they are. He wrote many more short stories (this is his only sci-fi novel), and each one of them is haunting and wacky in its own way. The Planet Buyer/Norstrilia is set in the same world as the rest of his sci-fi, a world in which the Instrumentality of Mankind rules. However, Old North Australia (Norstrilia) is the only place that can produce an immortality drug made from its genetically diseased sheep that are raised in pastoral settings preserved by ludicrously high tariffs and powerful defenses. Through speculation, a man is able to acquire an immense fortune, but then has to go on an adventure and into hiding in with the underpeople, some animal-people who are treated as slaves by others. The story somehow mixes elements of the absurd, New Wave, and pastoral sci-fi together in unexpected ways while still maintaining a cohesive, fascinating narrative. Smith also made choosing my personal winner for this year especially easy. The other nominees this year are either not very good or show their age in overwhelming fashion. By contrast, this novel feels fresh and inventive more than 50 years later. I definitely recommend reading all of Smith’s sci-fi corpus.

1965 Hugo Award for Best Novel: It’s likely this won’t be the only time that the book I considered (tied for) worst of the nominees won the award. The Wanderer was just boring. It’s almost a pure concept novel of the sort that has people today hate on hard sci-fi as a sub-genre. Leiber has entertained me before, so I was surprised by how little I liked this one. The Whole Man was little better, and I’m honestly a bit upset that I spent my money on that one because I couldn’t get it through interlibrary loan. It hasn’t aged well, and likely is only worth reading if you’re trying to look at the origins of space opera. Though even on that latter regard, I’d say the Lensman series is a more fun entry point, despite having its own significant flaws. Anyone out there who enjoyed either of these books? I’d be interested to read your own opinions on the novels. Or, if you also disliked them, join me in hating on them in the comments.

Davy was bland as well, but had moments of interest. It’s a mix of tropes that have been done many, many other times, but is written in a winsome enough way that I didn’t mind. It certainly has more staying power than the previously discussed books. Then, we get to The Planet Buyer (et al.). It’s so delightfully fresh and strange that it blew me away the first time I read it. I initially only read the book because I found the Baen edition of Cordwainer Smith’s collected sci-fi in a bookstore and it had a dragon in space on the cover, which convinced me that I had to figure out why that would be the case. I then plunged into his works and read all the sci-fi he’s written, enjoying each individual piece. The Planet Buyer absolutely stands the test of time, as Smith deftly wove many seemingly contradictory styles into one haunting narrative that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It’s absolutely top notch science fiction, and I commend it to you, dear readers.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

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.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Indie April Highlight: “Awaken Online: Cartharsis” by Travis Bagwell

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books.

Awaken Online: Catharsis by Travis Bagwell

It’s been one heck of a couple months with COVID-19 going around. I decided to finally cave and try out a sub-genre I’ve been thinking about for a while: LitRPG. Simply put, a LitRPG books are written as though they’re taking place in an RPG, complete with leveling up and stats in the text. I know pretty little about the genre, so I can’t comment on how broadly that definition works but that’s how I’ve seen people talk about it. The book I went with was one that advertised hard for me on Facebook to the point I finally snagged a copy of it: Awaken Online: Catharsis

The book follows Jason, a young man who’s had a lot of things go wrong recently–getting in fights, a girl he likes apparently siding with a bully against him, school troubles, etc. He decides to play “Awaken Online,” a virtual reality MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) to blow off some steam, and discovers an experience that seems tailored to his own life in some ways. There are other things going on in the plot, much more than I expected, to be honest.

The book is basically broken into two phases taking place simultaneously: Jason’s real life, and his in-game life and development. I was honestly surprised by how quickly I got sucked into the MMORPG life of Jason’s VR avatar. It wasn’t complex, but it was a lot of fun. The wa he leveled up and thought through how to gain what he desired was interesting, and made for a page-turning read. I loved the magic and other aspects of gameplay, and found myself thinking of it as a real video game I’d want to play. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there are some shenanigans with the company that made the addictive Awaken Online and an AI they created to make it fun to play. 

The real-life portion of the book almost seemed a distraction at times as I wanted to see what was going on with Jason in Awaken Online. But it was important to the story’s flow, and I think it does credit to Travis Bagwell’s writing that I got sucked in so well to the game world. Jason’s real life, as I said, is pretty tough, and his parents aren’t great either. That said, the characters outside the game world have very little interaction or development. I’d say at this point in the series, the meat of the book is the gameworld, though it’s clear more ‘real life’ things could transpire as well. 

I was extremely pleasantly surprised by Awaken Online: CatharsisIt served as my first foray into LitRPG as a sub-genre, and I expect to spend a lot of time here. Check it out, and let me know what you think, too!

Links

Indie Highlight– Read about more indie titles by looking at all my posts about indie sci-fi/fantasy (mostly)! Scroll down for more. Let me know what you think, and tell me your recommendations!

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Indie April Highlight: “The Sword of Kaigen” by M. L. Wang

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books.

The Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang

One of my favorite things to do is read lists of great books, and I also love book clubs! I am part of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads, and in March they chose The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang. I saw that some reviews described it as a Wuxia-like fantasy novel, and I was all in. The story is a prequel to the Thenoite series by the same author. That series has unfortunately been discontinued for now, but Sword is a standalone, and since I didn’t read anything else by the author before reading it, I can confidently say it truly does stand on its own. 

The world of The Sword of Kaigen is a big part of the draw. It seems to parallel our own in many ways, and I was initially shocked when one character came to a school and began talking with Mamoru, one of the main viewpoint characters, about things similar to telephone towers. I had to sit down and think about it for a bit–I do enjoy science fantasy (eg. Star Wars) but what about fantasy science? I’ve had a love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with urban fantasy, so I was a bit chagrined, but I pressed on and ultimately really loved where Wang took some of the ideas. Mamoru, a 14-year-old, is confronted by stark realities about what he was taught opposing what visual evidence and other evidence he is presented with about the Empire and its relationship with his home. Misaki, a woman who has a secretive past (in swordplay!), provides the other main viewpoint, and her story takes its own surprising twists and turns.

I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll try to keep this somewhat vague. There are effectively 3 major parts of the novel, and they are so different that this almost feels like 3 books in one. I confess I probably enjoyed the first part the most, but I liked the whole book all the way through. The first part is a lot of buildup, the second part is a lot of action, and the third part is a wrapping up of the previous two. There’s a coming-of-age story here, but it’s not what one would expect as it goes on. I was surprised, I cried, I triumphed with the characters. It was well done. That’s not to say it was flawless, though, as at times it felt the frenetic action of the second part did away with the elaborate world-building of the first part. 

If you’re looking for a deeply built story with some magical wuxia- like fighting, this is an indie novel for you. Coming in at a bit over 600 pages, it will scratch that itch for a while, and you’ll be in love with the characters. Check out The Sword of Kaigen

Links

Indie Highlight– Read about more indie titles by looking at all my posts about indie sci-fi/fantasy (mostly)! Scroll down for more. Let me know what you think, and tell me your recommendations!

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

 

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 7: “Legion” by Dan Abnett

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Legion by Dan Abnett

Okay, this book was weird. For the first third or so I had basically no idea what was happening. The next third was me convincing myself I thought I knew what was happening. The final third revealed some pretty awesome stuff. Altogether, I’m not sure how I feel about it.

As I read through the first part of the book, I found myself constantly checking to make sure this actually was a Horus Heresy novel. It did not read like one. And maybe that’s the main difficulty I had with Legion. It doesn’t feel like Warhammer. It reads more like a future detective thriller of some kind, but one that is mired in huge amounts of world building, most of which don’t make much sense. Abnett, it seems, is trying to trick readers into thinking they know what’s happening when they don’t. It’s a unique way to approach the novel, but it left me feeling confused and a bit chagrined–do I maybe not know enough of the lore going in to understand this series? (Other readers have assured me that’s not the case and that it will all make sense, mostly.)

When the big reveal finally happens (and yes, this is a pretty major spoiler), it is awesome. To have two primarchs for the legion, as well as the way they had to face the stark choice of rebellion against the Emperor or stagnant death over a huge amount of time, was thrilling. I wonder, though, how the Xenos managed to convince them. We see them showing the Primarchs, but I’m not sure I as a reader got enough to convince me that the Xenos could be trusted with this either/or reveal. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re meant to wonder whether the choice was made was made too hastily or on too little information. I don’t know, because whether intentionally or not, the book leaves this, like many other aspects of the plot, in a cloud of fog.

I also start to worry here whether this is going to be how too many of the Horus Heresy novels play out. So far, this is the third book that read kind of slowly and without huge interest until a major twist made everything seem cooler than it was slogging through at the beginning. I hope the rest of the novels engage front-to-back. That said, Legion was a good read, I don’t deny that. Something about its tone just didn’t sit with me. The epic reveal at the end was awesome, though.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– Read along with me in the Horus Heresy and see all my reviews of the books.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.