My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1966

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 Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1966 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I have a short reflection on this year’s Hugo nominees at the beginning.

1966 Hugos– Overall, this was a great year for the nominees. Dune is basically on its second go-round of eligibility the first half having been eligible in 1964. Some voters may have been upset by that (I don’t know), but the novel itself is nearly incomparable. This Immortal is competent, but I don’t think it deserves to be in the same conversation as Dune. It’s fine. The Squares of the City was a novel I discovered many years ago, and it stands up to a re-read in sometimes surprising ways. I even wrote more extensively on it. Heinlein is hugely hit or miss for me, and The Moon… is more of a hit, but even there Heinlein can’t seem to avoid lecturing his readers on his preferred systems. E.E. “Doc” Smith is one of the progenitors of much sci-fi I enjoy, but Skylark DuQuesne, and, indeed, the whole series, barely holds up as readable. The sub-genres represented here aren’t very diverse, but the selection is good nonetheless. Which are your favorites?

Dune by Frank Herbert (Co-Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. Herbert’s motivation to try to subvert the hero narrative makes this even more fascinating than it is otherwise, with its mashup of so many themes. There are questions that remain, though–did Herbert succeed in making an anti-hero hero? Or is Paul Atreides really some kind of true hero? To me, at least, the ending is ambiguous in this regard, even though many fans of the book remain convinced it is phenomenally successful in doing so.

This Immortal AKA And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny (Co-Winner)- Grade: B-
There is little by way of character development or, really, plot here. But Zelazny is such a talent with words that I didn’t mind as much as I would have otherwise. Not as stylistically elegant as some of his other works, This Immortal nevertheless remains almost lyrical in the way it conveys its story. I can also see where many ideas for later science fiction came from, though maybe not directly. What exactly is the core premise of the novel? Is it a push to question one’s own assumptions about reality? Does it go that deep? Is it really just a kind of dressed up old-school sci-fi adventure? It is difficult to tell, in the end. The novel doesn’t reach the stunning heights of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, but you can see his immense talent here nonetheless.

The Squares of the City by John Brunner- Grade: A
I read this book as a young teenager and was blown away. On a re-read sometime later (extended discussion here), I am convinced that I didn’t grasp some of the bigger concepts happening in the novel. Nevertheless, I still loved it in a different way. The book’s main plot is based upon a real-life chess game in which the characters are moved like the pieces from that game that actually took place. That’s cool, but a bit gimmicky. Then, it turns out chess is a major theme in the book, but that the notion of black/white and racial inequality also threads throughout. The main character is a traffic planner brought in to deal with some issues in a fictional South American city in the future. Societal strife, racial tension, and more lurk under the surface and the main character and a rather large supporting cast must come to grips with it. It ends ambiguously and maybe pushes its theme a bit too hard, but it’s superbly written and deeply thoughtful. I love it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: B-
The book was serialized for two years and was eligible this year and next year. What? Anyway, I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It was enjoyable, but the style dragged it down somewhat. It felt very matter-of-fact about even the most intense moments of the book. It’s not as beautifully odd as Stranger in a Strange Land nor as challenging as Starship Troopers. It’s still enjoyable, but the whole plot felt predictable. It lacked the excitement that comes with many other science fiction books. Not bad, certainly, but neither is it spectacular.”

Skylark DuQuesne by E.E. “Doc” Smith- Grade: D
E.E. “Doc” Smith is a major voice in early science fiction, and at the time some put him on par or better than Asimov. His Lensman series was edged by the Foundation Trilogy to be named the best science fiction series ever. I enjoyed the Lensman series pretty well, but this Skylark series has not aged well at all. I read all four books including this one in the series so that I wouldn’t be confused about what was going on, but I’m not sure I really needed to. Skylark DuQuesne is full of space adventure spirit, but also full of ridiculous treatment of women, paper-thin characters, aliens with little to motivate them, and an Ameri-centrism that defeats the notion of the scale the novel needs to make it epic. It’s definitely a pulpy read, but not in a good way.

Links

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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SDG.

3 thoughts on “My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1966

  1. socrates17 says:

    I’m really out f step with everybody on Dune. Maybe that’s because I’d read it serialized in Analog as 2 separate novels: Dune World (’63 & 64, 3 parts) and The Prophet of Dune (all ’65, 5 parts). As an aside, the first installment was also the last issue of Analog where they had tried and abandoned becoming a slick magazine the size of Time, but thinner and poorer quality paper between the slick covers. I can’t imagine that it changed much, since the book Dune was printed a few months later that same year. So, I assume there was not that much different about it.
    My issue is that it is really beautifully constructed, not only the worlds but the plots. There is a great deal to admire about it, and the John Scheonherr illustrations were iconic. But it didn’t sing to me. I liked it. I didn’t love it. I liked some of the characters, especially Paul evolved into a genocidal maniac with superpowers and Alia showed glimpses of her future mental issues. (I only read Dune and started Dune Messiah and gave up. But, as much out of morbid curiosity as anything else, I did read the plots of the later books and it looks like Herbert had an early case of Chris Carter Syndrome. He had not idea where he was going and pulled stuff out of his butt.
    I do love (as many don’t) the David Lynch adaptation, and especially Princess Irulan’s opening monologue, which set the tone brilliants.
    Finally, I read more than anything esle for prose style. The Brunner had it in spades, andI would have voted for that. I’d have given a fill A for This Immortal, and a D for Harsh Mistress. I agree with your other ratings

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I do love Dune so much but I get why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I also didn’t hate the movie. Maybe I just like everything about it lol. Though I didn’t really enjoy the sequels.

      Honestly the more I read, the less I like Heinlein in general. If I reread the book today I’m pretty sure I’d score it lower. I may have to do a reread of This Immortal someday.

  2. […] 1966– It’s not fair that these other books had to compete against Dune, because there were some good’ns.  […]

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