My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1982

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 marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. There is a reflection on the year’s nominations at the end.

The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe (My Winner)- Grade: A+
The Claw of the Conciliator is the second book of the tetralogy The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. I first read this series as a teenager in high school and was totally blown away by the scope and language while being baffled by its perplexing narrative style and tantalizing hints at more. After reading the first two, I sought out virtually everything I could find by Wolfe, but lost steam and basically stopped reading them, even selling them off online. Later, I re-read the first book but was not at all in the right mood and ended skimming it, not really taking in the language or details. Finally, I’m re-reading the whole series for my Hugo list and am once again enthralled by this series. It’s sort of impossible to describe exactly how it impacts the reader so strongly. The Claw of the Conciliator is a travelogue through a kind of baroque future filled with terrifying things that, when described by Wolfe as though they are normal, somehow almost become normal for the reader. The parts of the story that make it sci-fi are slim-to-none thus far, with very small shades of science fantasy thrown about. Nevertheless, this is the kind of book that transcends genre/literature and becomes an event. This series ought to be at least tried by every science fiction/fantasy fan once in their lives to see if it is to their taste. I eagerly look forward to the next one.

Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh  (Winner)- Grade: B-
Cherryh creates a fascinating future world that is vast in scope in the introductory sections. Then, she zooms in to a particular crisis set within that vast universe, but goes just a tad too far. Because of this, the vast universe seems to be, in fact, quite tiny and restrictive. Rather than having expansive, endless stories to explore, it feels like there are only a few. Of course, what she delivers is a highly complex political crisis centered around one system, and that is enough to make up for much of the disappointment from the transition of big- to small-scale story.

The Many-Colored Land by Julian May- Grade: C
I wanted so much to love this novel. High recommendations, great reviews, and the like all had me hyped for it. But this is almost 100% a set-up novel. It introduces many characters before it finally ties them all together by throwing them back through a one-way trip to the past. The characters are interesting, but because there are so many, there is little chance to really get into any of them. I wanted to spend more time exploring the world, as well, but ended up stuck trying to sort through so many narrative voices and places that it became difficult to keep up. I read the book after this one, The Golden Torc, and wasn’t struck by it either. It’s an interesting, exciting setting, but overall seems to just be a huge number of characters with little to tie them all together.

Little, Big by John Crowley- Grade: B-
I think this is a book I would absolutely adore if I read it in the right mood. It is definitely one I’m going to go back and revisit when I feel like reading a massive book that moves rather slowly. The premise made me think quite  strongly of Galilee by Clive Barker, which I remember absolutely loving when I was younger. It doesn’t play out in a very similar way at all, but the idea of following a family throughout a series of fantastical events as they discover the layers of universes within and around our own. It’s fascinating, but long, and it moves along at an absolute snail’s pace, plodding through plot twists that hit so gradually they don’t even feel like a twist by the time the events finish. As I said, I hope to revisit this one in the right mood, because I suspect I’d love it more.

Project Pope by Clifford D. Simak- Grade: A
Clifford Simak is one of those authors I think would be very difficult to dislike. His writing style is like someone’s kind old grandpa sat down to describe to them the events of some far future while sitting in front of the fireplace. All of Simak’s major themes come to the forefront in Project Pope, considered by many to be his masterpiece. It has the questions about robots and whether they can have souls found throughout even his earliest work. It asks the big questions about faith and the hereafter. It has some weirdness, but it is so toned down by the pastoral themes that you barely notice it. This is a story about some robots who decide to make the perfect, infallible religion and questions about whether that is possible or could succeed. Seriously. But the robots also farm and grow food for humans, they live fairly normal lives. It leads to more and more questions from the reader about what it means to have a soul, what the relationship between reason and revelation might be, and more. It’s an intensely deep book, but written in a tone that is like a conversation with, as I said, a kindly older man. It’s fantastic and haunting and wonderful and cozy all at once.

1982- A superb year for the Hugos, with each book having something to offer that one could see how it would appear on the list. While The Many-Colored Land was my least favorite, it still had flashes of potential that I could see there. Downbelow Station and Little, Big are frequently mentioned in conversations about the best-of-the-best. Project Pope was an astonishing read, a classic by an acknowledged Grand Master of science fiction that takes readers into a pastoral, wonderful setting to contemplate life. The Claw of the Conciliator is part of one of the greatest masterworks of science fiction ever written, The Book of the New Sun, and deserves to at least be tried by every fan of the genre. Of course, one must start with Shadow of the Torturer (the two books come together in a new edition as “Shadow and Claw”). A banner year for the Hugos and well done to the nominees!

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SDG.

One thought on “My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1982

  1. socrates17 says:

    No argument from me on the Wolfe. I’d have given Little, Big a solid A. I liked a lot of earlier Simak, but never read Project Pope. I’ll have to correct that. I just got it for my Kindle.

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