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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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1981

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. I have included a brief reflection on the year’s Hugos at the end. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven- Grade: D+
Take the longest, most drawn-out parts of Ringworld, in which the characters are slogging through endless terrain. Now, turn that into an entire book. That’s what it feels like I just read. Yes, I know there was a plot there to try to ratchet up the tension. Something about some aliens trying to find treasure so they can impress other aliens or whatever. But realistically, the plot here absolutely drags. I mean, it’s the sloggiest of slogs. I found myself barely caring about what was happening about halfway through, and then forcing myself towards the end, which manages to be, insultingly, a cliffhanger-ish ending. A cliffhanger! After a book that did almost nothing with its characters for 300 pages! I admit I groaned a bit. Finally, something happened, and it was right as I turned the page to run into the epilogue.

Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederik Pohl- Grade: A-
A small group of humans goes to explore an artifact left by the Heechee, a super-advanced race that mysteriously disappeared. There’s a surprising amount of plot tucked into this book that starts with a kind of razor focus on four main characters and ultimately has galaxy-wide implications. As I read, it seemed there was plenty left unexplained. It’s possible I missed some explanations. I just thought that more questions were opened near the end than were closed. I didn’t realize that this opens up more of a series from Pohl, though, and I’m interested in whether the next few books live up to the first two.

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A
I had a number of abortive attempts to read this a few years ago and then just gave up. I picked it up for the fourth or fifth time on a vacation for this read-through and it all started to click together. This is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “Snow Queen…” kind of. It doesn’t really strike me as having too many similarities, but my only experience with Anderson’s version is, to be fair, a few cartoon versions somewhere (I think) and the Wiki page. So I basically read this on its own merits, and it stands up very well. The world building here is at a level akin to some of the all time greats. The characters are complex, though a few get lost on tangents here and there along the way. The star is the Snow Queen and Moon, her pseudo-progeny slash rival for power. Political intrigue, questions of connection to a greater universe, and more abound throughout the novel. It’s not an easy read. This is one you’ll need to sit down and pay attention to, which thankfully lent itself to a couple long drives across South Dakota and Wyoming for me (I wasn’t driving, before you get too worried). I think I can now say I understand why this is considered a great by so many, and I may even dive into it again in a year or two because I enjoyed it immensely. It’s dense, though, almost to the point of being unbearably dense.

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg- Grade: A-
A science fantasy epic follows the story of Valentine, a man who’s memories have been repressed as he finds himself in a major city with a pile of coins but little knowledge of what to do. He becomes a juggler with a traveling party of humans and aliens for lack of anything better to do. As the novel goes on, layers of this fantastical world are peeled away and readers are swept into the adventure of Valentine as he rediscovers himself and his place on Majipoor. I used the terminology “swept” on purpose, because this is a novel that, if you’ll allow it, will take you up and carry you on an adventure across the massive planet. There are parts where the plot could drag, such as the lengthy descriptions of the juggling. However, if one lets oneself truly dive into those parts and see the flow, the rhythm, and the beat for what they’re intended to be, it’s enthralling. A slow burn read that builds on itself over its lengthy stay, I believe readers will largely get out of it the amount of emersion they’re willing to allow.

Wizard by John Varley- Grade: B-
A significant improvement over the first book in nearly every way. Wizard tells the story of the world of Gaea, which is somehow sentient and also personal and… has many other singular qualities. Readers follow the story of a few pilgrims to Gaea, each seeking their own answers, who get drawn into a kind of epic journey trying to figure out and possibly overthrow some of the mechanisms behind Gaea’s workings. Along the way, no small amount of Weird Sci-Fi conventions get thrown into the mix. Whether it’s the pseudo-centaur-like creatures on Gaea engaging in explicitly detailed sex with a human, many, many other sexual comments and scenes, the constantly pseudo-feminist-yet-weirdly-male-gaze-y narrative of a certain character, or any number of other scenes, the reader is treated to a veritable cacophony of strangeness. At times, the feeling of “other” is overwhelming to the point where it becomes almost prosaic to have an actual plot happening. Happens it does, however, and the story itself is fine enough, though I found some if its elements (such as Gaea’s boredom and attempts to cure it) a bit disappointing. Still, this is a singular work that, so far as I am concerned, vastly surpasses the first in the series.

1981

What a weird year. Wizard headlines the weirdness by being among the more strange pieces of science fiction I’ve read–but it remains readable. I had fun reading it as I walked circles around a local pond. Snow Queen is a book that felt a monumental task to finish, and I’m glad I did. I doubt if I’ll ever attempt it again, though, despite it being my pick for a winner. It’s majestic, but overbearing. Silverberg’s entry is somehow a traditional-feeling fantasy novel, something I haven’t really encountered from him (which shows both his range and my need to read more of his works!). I was hoping to find a newfound love of the Ringworld books, as I always hear them raised as longtime favorites. I especially felt this way after having finally “figured out” the first book in some ways. But alas, I found Ringworld Engineers to be boring and mostly pointless. Finally, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon is full of big ideas and cool happenings. While it never reaches the highest of heights, its a supremely worthy read. 1981 is a solid year for the Hugos. It’s not the best, but it certainly isn’t the worst year. It also is one of the few years so far in which my winner was the same as the actual winner. I should keep track of how often this happens.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1980

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. I have included a brief reflection on the year’s Hugos at the end. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke (Winner)- Grade: D
The Fountains of Paradise is dull almost beyond words. It’s served with a heaping helping of ‘religious people are stupid’ on top. Hey, maybe you think religious people are stupid, but if you do, can you at least acknowledge that some of them are thoughtful instead of making them all into cardboard caricatures?  There’s a decent premise, I guess. Let’s build an elevator to the stars. Of course, only one place on Earth is suitable for some extremely dense hard sci-fi reason. I love science fiction. And I have enjoyed books by Clarke, but this one was aggravating and boring. That’s an accomplishment.  Clarke has done much better.

Titan by John Varley- Grade: D
Titan is a combination of some hard science fiction themes along with some fantasy elements. It’s a recipe for something that I love, but when you add something awful into the mix, it all goes sideways. Here, that something awful is a heaping dose of misogynist sexual fantasies. The amount of ink spilled upon how women look and just how good they might be because of a shapely thigh or somesuch is just… so over the top. It was distracting all the way through to the extent that it, along with the assumptions about how men and women in general would act, detracted entirely from my enjoyment of the novel. But then I started to notice some of the other issues with it–some big plot holes, somewhat annoying characters, and nonsensical twists. I’ll be reading the next book, entirely because it also got an award nomination, so I’m hoping that I like it more.

Jem by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D
I did not like this book very much. A planet is discovered and humans want to peacefully colonize it as a kind of idyllic vision. Back on Earth, things go south and the new colony turns into a kind of last hope for humanity. On the colony, the alien races there are more (or less, in some ways?) than they appear. Honestly, the last 5% or so of the novel was good–it shows the consequences of even well-intentioned colonialism. Everything else was a slog. The first 80 pages or so seem to be half tribute to Pohl contemporaries, half boring meetings of people talking about or seducing each other as they try to figure out colonizing. The whole thing just ends up feeling extremely boring and even chore-like to read, though the bit of payoff at the end made me less upset about paying the fee to interlibrary loan it. 

On Wings of Song by Thomas Disch- Grade: D+
How do you grade books that clearly demonstrate talent while also being nearly unreadable because they feel caught in the past with ideas that are sometimes cringe and sometimes just silly? I don’t know, but here’s where I settled on this frustrating, strange book. The premise is that the United States has turned, in parts, into ultra-conservative dystopias while at the coasts there exist some kind of hippy-ville that also has its share of problems. Someone has developed a way to have astral projection and trigger spiritual experiences, and Daniel Weinreb, our protagonist, has no small amount of trouble because of this “flying.” Ultimately, the book climaxes in a kind of revelation of the capacity to fully leave the body with the mind even as many conservatives and non-flyers reject the reality. It seems to clearly be a parable of a kind, but one that is so hidden behind layers that it’s difficult as to what Disch is trying to get at. Is he warning of the dangers of ultra-conservativism? Probably? Is it a broadside against religion? Perhaps? Is astral projection via machine a metaphor for drugs? I don’t know? It’s such a strange read set in sometimes strong prose that makes it all the more frustrating. I didn’t like it, but I understand why many might.

Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip (My Winner)- Grade: B
Harpist in the Wind is the third and concluding volume in the Riddle-Master trilogy by McKillip. Like the other books in the series, the focus is pretty narrow, largely following a group of characters on an adventure as they quest to discover the mysteries behind some shape-shifters that have been dogging them, along with the mystery of the Kingdom in which they travel. There are moments of great revelations, especially when the magic is revealed in various parts. There are also moments of tenderness that are surprisingly strong in characterization. I have to express some disappointment, though, in that despite the massive focus on riddles as ways to control and even do battle with others, there is very little by way of actual riddles in the novels themselves.

1980- Uffda. This was a rough year for the Hugos. Several familiar names headline these nominations, but none of them delivered the goods, imo. McKillip’s novel is a worthy choice for a nominee, but would not win a stronger year. The winner chosen at the actual ceremony–Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise–is a tedious slog. The other books don’t fare much better. It’s almost like the voters just nominated favorite authors for the sake of seeing their names yet again on the ballot. One of the worst years, in my opinion. 

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

The 2022 Lodestar Award for Best YA Novel (At the Hugos)- Reviews

I am a Hugo voter this year (you can be, too, by paying the fee) and I have set off to try to read everything that was nominated in the awards so that I can more fairly vote for what I believe are the best works of the year. The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book is not technically a Hugo Award, but it is awarded at the same time for the best YA novel of the year in the genres of science fiction or fantasy. I have read all the nominees for this year and given them reviews and scores below. Please let me know what you think, too!

Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer- Grade: B+
I was blindsided by the first Catnet book, Catfishing on Catnet, which I did not know anything about going in. I read it because it was picked for a group read in the Sci Fi and Fantasy Book Club on Goodreads. It was awesome. A YA adventure that touched on religion, LGBTQ+ questions, online forums, and more. It felt like something I could have lived as a young adult on forums and stuff a decade or so before I read it. The second book picks up where the previous one left off, with the questions of AI and religion looming large. There’s not a lot I can say without spoiling things, but Kritzer once more delivers the goods. It’s a solid read front-to-back and while I didn’t find it quite as transcendently great as the first one, I had a good time reading it.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders- Grade: C
I am not sure what I expected going in to this story. The blurb makes it sound like a kind of weird coming-of-age story and I guess that would be a pretty accurate way to describe it. It’s a fun enough plot, but everything feels sort of light and cheery and… saccharine. Even though the main baddies are pretty bad… it all feels so airy that it’s difficult to take seriously. The ending didn’t really do it for me, either, to the point where I found the whole story forgettable.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik- Grade: B-
The second book in a magical school series from Novik continues to demonstrate her excellent grasp of writing deep characters. Unfortunately, it also has the main flaw I found from the first book–which is that I don’t find myself really liking any of them. I ultimately found this to be a book I wanted to love more than I did. Credit to Novik for a compelling world, plot, and characters, though.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko- Grade: A
Jordan Ifueko closes out a duology that features African mythology, religion, magic, and love. Ifueko’s prose is strong, and her narrative voice is utterly compelling. Tarisai is a wonderful protagonist and the challenges she faces as she seeks to find her own space in a world in which everyone is trying to pull her in different directions makes for compulsive reading. Will she be able to bring justice to a world that has so often lacked for it? Read the duology to find out.

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger- Grade: B+
Somehow both haunting and cute, this story of a Lipan Apache girl, Nina, and a (literal) snake-kid, Oli looks like an easy read. Then, you get to some of the content and it’s like hold up, this is going to be a ride. Whether it’s a story about breaking free of one’s made up bonds are living into one’s destiny, Darcie Little Badger delivers strong themes that will leave readers thinking long after finishing the book.

The Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao- Grade: A
I don’t know if there’s anything not to love in this wildly creative, angry book. It’s in-your-face attack on misogyny and other ills could be incredibly off-putting if it wasn’t balanced with an excellent plot, strong main character, and intriguing world. There are alien threats, mechs, attacks on cultural norms, and other great scenes in abundance here. Somehow the churning broth of this concoction all comes together and works and it does it so well. My only complaint here is that while the mechs are super cool, I wanted them to be even more fully realized and utilized. More mech action, please! Anyway, do yourself a favor and read this one. It’ll punch you in the gut and you’ll like it.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1979

Not the original cover, but the one I read and the one that will forever define the novel to me.

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end. There may be SPOILERS for the books discussed.

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre (Winner)- Grade: A+
Just about every aspect of this novel is spectacular.  It had so many things that I love in science fiction. But what truly struck me the most was how very different and unique it was in what issues it addressed. For example, how often do we run into -anything- about men having difficulties with sex in science fiction? Especially when those difficulties are not something like “He’s ugly so he can’t get with a hot woman”? I mean, I was absolutely blown away by the discussion of Gabriel’s difficulty with control, whether it was meant as a possible euphemism for something more explicit or not. Just having that part of the story exist made it wonderfully unique, and, frankly, intimate in a way that I have rarely experienced in a book. As a reader, I hugely appreciated Snake’s handling of the situation as well as the way it all played out.

Then, there’s the story right alongside that with Melissa, which not only addresses another serious issue but also does it in a way that provides a child with genuine agency. After Snake rescues Melissa, they have a rather lengthy conversation about what happens next. And Snake actually listens to the 12-year-old child and grants that this child might have reasons for wanting something. I cannot say how huge that is for me to encounter in science fiction. Children are generally either prodigies with near (or actual) divine powers or essentially props for adults. Here, Melissa is granted space to have agency.

Really, this made me think of the book in strongly feminist terms, which apparently is not unwarranted given McIntyre’s history so far as I can tell on Wiki. It’s not only adult women given autonomy and action in this world. It’s girls whose opinions are valued and who even manage to change the mind of an adult. It’s a beautiful moment in a novel that has them in spades. I haven’t even mentioned McIntyre’s handling of the city and the hints of “offworlders,” or the deft handling of the Dreamsnake problem itself. All of these were things I loved–the limited perspective, the hints of hard sci-fi in my Mad Max-like book, the strong featuring of snakes. The book is a superb work on every level. I adored it.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey- Grade: B
McCaffrey’s science fantasy series continues to entertain with the third book, The White Dragon. The central aspect of the world of Pern which McCaffrey created is the threat of Threadfall, some non-sentient creatures that fall at certain intervals from a distant planet. In the first book, Dragonflight, this was made bleakly threatening. The second book kept that threat and the sense of ancient age of the world in which the characters exist. In this third book, The White Dragon, readers get more intimate with the characters. This gives us a better picture of how the world is lived in on a day-to-day basis, but it also takes away some of the density of the world building in the first two books that I enjoyed so much. Here, we have a titular white dragon who would not have lived had he not been saved at hatching. His powers are extraordinary in some ways, but we don’t get a great sense of how this might play out. Eventually, after some threats are met and defeated, the book ends on a hopeful note that leaves it wide open for future development. I liked this one, but not as much as the first two in the series.

Blind Voices by Tom Reamy- Grade: B-
I found this such a surprising novel on just about every level. I have to admit, I did not expect to like it going in. It looked very much unlike anything I would enjoy. The premise seemed outside of anything I like either. The book’s central plot is around a summer in which some children from a village in Kansas discover the delights of a traveling wagon show. But it turns out that the people with their strange features are more than they appear–and certainly more than the deceptions some of the children assume them to be. As the novel wears on, we discover strangeness time and again. There’s a strong sense of the mysterious here, combined with a sense of wonder. Mix in a bit of “coming of age” type plotting, and the novel ends up being a rather unique mix of material. On the negative side, the pace struggles at times and the characterization is fairly thin. That said, this is a fascinating book that is rather shocking to find on the Hugo list at this point in time. It’s so atypical from what has been featured thus far.

The Faded Sun: Kesrith by C.J. Cherryh- Grade: A-
A fully-fleshed out world that shows off the range of Cherryh’s aliens and the depth of her character interactions. Cherryh is an author whose works are so dense that it can become difficult to unpack them from themselves. I have tried time and again to enter into her impenetrable worlds, and this novel finally felt like things began to click. The recovery from a devastating war is intertwined with the social niceties of alien cultures in ways that still feel dense but at least are presented through a narrative perspective that allows some explanation for the reader. Comparisons to Dune feel inevitable here, as the world is a desert planet and one of the main characters is even named Duncan. These comparisons will only find superficial points, though, because Cherryh has made her own endless well of world and character development that has that feel of only barely scratching the surface here. This novel actually took me 3 tries to finally get going, as I struggled keeping track of everything going on. It’s a great story, but only if you’re in the mood for a read that requires quite a bit of effort.

1979- Only 4 nominees this go-round, but it’s an incredible lineup. Dreamsnake can arguably considered among the best-ever science fiction in my opinion. Blind Voices is weird but absolutely deserving. The White Dragon sees McAffrey’s series truly start to sprawl out, and Cherryh finally made sense to me. Truly an excellent year.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1978

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin- Grade: D
Full disclosure: I met George R. R. Martin once and he was a total jerk to teenage me for no reason whatsoever, so I have an intense bias against him.
That said, this book was extremely “meh.” For its time, it feels like there are some fresh ideas or at least presentations. Not having heterosexual monogamy as the absolute and only option wasn’t innovative at this point, but it plays such a major part of the story and characterization here that makes it seem more momentous. The problem is that the story itself is honestly so bland. The plot follows a bunch of characters on Worlorn, a rogue planet that is approaching a heat death (cold death?) as it moves away from the red giant star it’s passing by. Most of the characters also have themes of death surronding them, whether it’s the death of a culture, love, or individual. Everyone and everything is dying. Maybe that’s the main theme. It feels almost like an extended monologue from someone who’s not terribly interested at getting you to engage with the story in any way. Maybe reading this book is another way to push you along the path towards death by using your time in boredom. I don’t know.

Time Storm by Gordon R. Dickson- Grade: D
Another time travel novel, another disappointment. Gordon Dickson’s Time Storm should be an absolutely thrilling journey on a post apocalyptic, time-diluted, insane planet Earth. The cover for my Kindle edition has a huge shark battling some wild reptilian humanoid people things. I wanted a fun jaunt across time and shark battles. I guess I kind of got a shark battle at one point, but even that was written in such a matter-of-fact, ho-hum style that it didn’t engage at all. This journey of a leopard and a young man and woman is surprisingly, well, boring. Add in some tired tropes about women needing protection but also ogling, and you’ve got a recipe for alternating yawns and outrage. Time travel should be fun. It should be amazing. Yet time and again, when I encounter it in fiction, it’s not. Authors very rarely seem to make use of the wild possibilities they have at their fingertips. This is not a very good novel.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A-
I found this to be a supremely interesting story with a number of intriguing elements. The reports, classifieds, and the like found throughout fleshed out the world. The interplay of the pseudo-archaeology, pseudo-adventure story with a [robot] psychiatrist’s office was amusing, thought not always in a good way. It makes the book feel quite dated at points, with its clear dependence on what was then cutting-edge psychiatry making for some laughable scenes. Ultimately, though, the story is a heart-rending, get-you-in-the-feels tale that has me mourning it days later. Maybe I should read the rest of the series to find out what happens next. Also, that first edition cover is just fabulous. I adore the 50s-70s style spaceship art, and wow do I love that cover.

Lucifer’s Hammer by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven- Grade: C-
The premise is pretty neat: scattershot a bunch of characters as they face the possibility of a major asteroid strike, then follow those who survive after the strike. The buildup isn’t bad either. It’s interesting to see how the varied characters who are either ‘in the know’ or not deal with the possibility, whether they immediately start stocking up stores or wait till the last day. But there’s something just ‘off’ about a lot of the novel–and part of it is how it treats women. There’s a very dated view of women, as if they automatically need to be protected when society collapses because they’re helpless. Sure, not all of them are portrayed as helpless, but men take charge anyway. I also thought the creepy storyline with the voyeur man was unnecessary and, again, degraded women by effectively treating women as sex objects exclusively. The other problem is that the last third of the book is kind of ho-hum. It’s like a survival novel but there’s not much in the way of environmental hazards after the initial disaster strikes. I felt there should be a lot more tension and chaos, but there wasn’t. Merely okay.

The Forbidden Tower by Marion Zimmer Bradley- Grade: D+
I think this is technically book 11 or 12 in the series, and I’ve read a few others. I admit some of my distaste for the book is in part based upon the awfulness of MZB’s actions towards her own and other children. The book itself is full of tropes, but has some bright spots throughout that make it interesting. I especially enjoyed some of the descriptive language and turns of phrase that had me enjoying some of her other works before. However, this is very firmly in the more traditional fantasy adventure camp and it has all the foibles as such. The conflict is supposed to be this huge, world-wide conflict, but never reads as though it gets much bigger impact than on a few of the main characters. It seems contrived as times, and some of the ways the plot plays out don’t have great resolutions. It’s not great.

1978- Well, at least this year had a clear winner. 1978 wasn’t a great list, to be honest. I found it telling that the Nebula Awards of the same year only share one book with this list, and it’s Gateway. That novel is an achievement, though it shows its age on the corners. I don’t mind reading dated things. If I did, I wouldn’t be going through this list. But each of the other books listed here (and, to an extent, Gateway itself) are dated in the worst ways. Whether its the casual sexism of Lucifer’s Hammer or the inability to break out of trope-y campiness of The Forbidden Tower, these books all feel out of date in ways that take away from the story. Sometimes reading old things can give a sense of recapturing what was lost or at least some kind of strange nostalgia. There’s not much of that there. It’s not the worst year for the Hugos, but certainly one of the weaker years of the decade.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1977

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman (My Winner)- Grade: A-
Haldeman’s Mindbridge is a fascinating work of sociological sci-fi that explores what humans might do with things like mind reading powers, teleportation, and first encounters with aliens. Haldeman deftly handles an almost kaleidoscopic novel with everything-and-the-kitchen-sink thrown into it and still pulls out a coherent and even fascinating plot. The reason I’ve downgraded it a bit is that there are some unfortunate aspects of the future world. I’m happy enough to suspend my disbelief regarding some aspects of future humanity, but the whole concept of using women as essentially breeding material out in the stars is very yikes to me. Yes, they go willingly to do so, but one could argue it is coercive due to the contractual obligations built in for any women who want to explore the stars. Sure, the men also have obligations, but there seems to be a latent misogyny here, though not as blatant or overt as some other novels from the period. I was deeply impressed by Haldeman’s handling of the many plot threads he juggles, and frankly didn’t see some of the directions he took coming at all. It’s not a particularly twisting plot, either. It is just quite well crafted. A highly enjoyable piece of sci-fi if you’re willing to look past some of the flaws. 

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm (Winner)- Grade: B-
I initially loved this book. The opening was awesome. I thought it was going to be this epic story of a family struggling to meet the coming collapse of civilization in some kind of pastoral setting. But then, a sharp turn was taken, and the book jumps ahead a few times as we see the real story is about what happens to the clones that same family had set up to try to solve problems of depopulation in a post-apocalyptic setting. And I have to say… I was a bit disappointed. The initial characters were really just foils for the personality of the later clones, and I felt almost betrayed by the shift in premise. Perhaps this is one where I should have read the pitch on the back cover before diving in, because I think if my expectations hadn’t been so dramatically thwarted, I would have enjoyed it more. As it is, I still wrote about it for Vintage Sci-Fi Month, because there is much to discuss in this intriguing, sometimes familiar, often alien novel. 

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert- Grade: B
Following up Dune would feel a monumental task, I would think. but Herbert does an admirable job with Children of Dune. There’s something ineffable about this book that makes it tantalizing all the way through, even in the places where it could potentially drag due to its rather mundane plot. I think it’s the world that Hebert created and the sense of awe about the feel, texture, and rhythm of the same. I have to out myself here, though, I honestly enjoy the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson works well enough. I know they’re largely panned by a bunch of Dune fans, but for one thing, I don’t really care about gatekeeping fandoms. Yes, I’m a “real” fan of Dune even if I like the other books. For another, I enjoy books that are written as light reads just as much as I enjoy deep reads. Anyway, I’ve ranted long enough. Children… is another solid entry in Frank’s own sequels to Dune, though it never reaches the heights of the original work.

Man Plus by Frederik Pohl- Grade: D+
I don’t know what to make of this book. It’s like an artifact from a time past that seems out of place despite being a relic–like finding a dinosaur fossil alongside rabbits and other modern fauna fossils. The plot follows a man who has been made partially cybernetic to withstand the stresses of living on Mars. It reads, however, like a 1950s sitcom, complete with the casual sexism that goes along with that. It’s startling at times how out of place everything seems throughout the book. I struggled to connect in any way to the characters or the plot. The only part that really got me involved at all was reading about the struggles with being human/posthuman and the potentially interesting directions that could go, but even that got subsumed into the problems I already noted. 

Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B
Silverberg’s corpus is filled with novels that I absolutely adore, along with some that are… not great. Shadrach in the Furnace was a surprising read from him, because it feels quite different from many of the other popular works I’ve read from him. Don’t get me wrong–much of the Silverberg flair (and problems) is there. But there’s a kind of sense of weirdness, discovery, and wonder in this one that just has a different sense than others of his works do. Shadrach Mordecai is the doctor for the dictator of the world, Genghis Mao. The names do matter to the plot… sort of. Anyway, Shadrach discovers more and more of Mao’s plans and is horrified to find out that one of the dictator’s ideas for survival involves Shadrach’s body. There are some difficulties in this novel with race and sexism, and no small amount of sex. In other words, it’s very much a New Wave sci-fi novel. The strangeness of the setting, which is largely taken as a given, lends itself to a sense of weird disconnect with reality as reading the book. The closest thing I can think of is watching “Blade Runner” for the first time. I enjoyed it, but it has some problems. 

1977- There are some great reads this year, and what I appreciate most about it is how different each of these books felt from all the others. While they’re all science fiction with barely a hint of fantasy to be found, they show some of the breadth of the field in the best possible ways. Man Plus is obviously not a favorite of mine, but any of the others would have been a worthy winner. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing is a very strange Hugo winner, because it doesn’t really check any of the boxes many of its contemporaries did. It’s an almost pastoral post-disaster story that grabbed me. It doesn’t have the strong pay off of some similar stories I’ve read, but it certainly does grab the imagination. My own choice, Mindbridge, was surprising to me because I hadn’t terribly enjoyed some of Haldeman’s other works. Overall, it was a good year at the Hugos.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1976

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle- Grade: D
I thought this book was gimmicky from the start. The plot follows a science fiction author who’s been nominated for a Hugo Award multiple times without ever winning one (eg. Pournelle). The author then travels through hell basically trying to analyze things scientifically, apparently for comedic effect? I’m not sure. It just all fell quite flat for me. It read a bit like a Mary Sue character, and I wasn’t much of a fan of any aspect of the book. The parallels with Dante’s work of the same name are there, but it’s not clear if they’re to be appreciated, mocked, scorned, enjoyed, laughed at… what? I don’t know. And frankly, it didn’t make me care. Definitely my least favorite of their collaborations that I’ve read.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Winner)- Grade: C-
I know. This book is an all-time classic, considered by many to be the cream of the crop, the best literary science fiction ever. I have to admit: I find basically anything related in any way to the Vietnam war depressing. It’s supposed to be. I get that. But I’ve read this book 3 times now and at no point did it draw me in. It reads like a bunch of generically unlikable characters thrown together into an unlikable place doing unlikable things. Maybe that’s the whole point; I’m supposed to get some transcendent message out of all of this painful, sloppy morass that makes me realize entirely new things about the world, myself, and my place in the world. I just didn’t. I don’t think the prose is particularly great, either. I find the whole book entirely forgettable and bland.

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny- Grade: A-
Zelazny’s wit is on full display in this romp about a lost alien artifact and a student-in-perpetuity. Fred Cassidy is staying in college because his uncle left him a wonderful stipend… so long as he remains a full time student. Whilst dodging guidance counselors determined to make him graduate and climbing around window sills, he gets embroiled in the theft of an alien artifact that is being sought by a number of parties. Hijinks ensue and don’t really let up throughout the book. Zelazny’s turn of phrase yields numerous hilarious lines throughout, even while the occasional more serious moment serves up some thoughtful pieces. It’s a delightfully fun book. 

The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester- Grade: D+
Bester is an acknowledged master of the genre, but this book didn’t stack up to the other works I’ve read from him. One major is that strongly exhibits the problematic prose of its era. Huge sections of the book are just single lines back and forth from people talking to each other without even any exposition of what they’re doing, how they reacting, etc. Character descriptions are vague and uninteresting. The whole plot is a bit of a letdown. It reads like a vessel for some ideas Bester wanted to explore rather than a novel. It never gets legs under it, and basically remains boring and bland throughout. 

The Stochastic Man by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B+
I found this a fascinating take on a time travel novel. Okay, it’s not actually a time travel novel, but as I got nearer the end I realized that I would categorize it alongside that subgenre. The story centers around Lew Nichols, who uses statistics to very effectively predict the future in broad terms. Later, he meets Martin Carvajal, who can actually see portions of the future–his own–but is quite lackadaisical about it. Nichols enlists Carvajal to help him win the Presidency for his chosen candidate, but as the two work together, questions of the unchanging nature of the future abound. Is Carvajal right in that they can’t change the future? Is Nichols ushering in a horrible future where his chosen candidate becomes a dictator? Are they, together, bringing about the future rather than predicting or seeing it? These questions are asked around a central pillar that is so subtle it might almost be missed: what would it be like to have time travel or foresight only to know that nothing can possibly be changed? It’s a question that looms large in works on time travel, but Silverberg’s spin by playing the question out in a much different way, by having a hyper-focused scale instead of expanding it out over major events in a timeline. Along with this, he addresses it in the unexpected way of having it not be true time travel involved but rather future prediction and statistical projection. This makes it a fascinating way to play ask the question, and of course Silverberg leaves readers with it as an open ended question, ready to debate on their own.
There are a few hiccups in the content, though. Silverberg’s major strengths of tight plotting and fascinating character pieces are there, but there are really only two characters that are anything more than foils for plot elements. No women are given any significant role. Nichol’s wife is used to show some sex dynamics that are very 70s (shifting marriage-like relationships for the sake of sex, so far as I can tell). There’s a definite sense of her being the “exotic” woman because she’s non-white, which smacks of some misogyny or at least being quite creepy. She’s also used to introduce a kind of pseudo religious element into the book with a play on some Eastern philosophy. I’m not sure what it would have read like during the 70s, but now it feels much more dated and possibly even colonial in its treatment of the rise of an Eastern-inspired religion. Overall, The Stochastic Man is a fascinating book that is focused almost entirely on the central questions traditionally associated with time travel. 

Links

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1975

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. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I’ve also dropped a short reflection on the year’s Hugo list at the end.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Ursula K. Le Guin sketches out a remarkably detailed anarchist society, while pitting its pseudo-utopian problems alongside problems with capitalism and socialism. It’s really well done and incredibly deep. At no point does it seem like the society is merely a foil, except perhaps at times when questions of sexual relations is concerned. Even there, though, Le Guin has in-universe reasons for what is happening and ties it all into her detailed world-building. She also explores the question of how much our upbringing can cloud our thoughts regarding being self-critical and analyzing our own views. Why not the highest possible score? Because other than the main character, an intriguing scientist with a good amount of depth, every other character is exactly what you might expect. They’re created purely for the sake of the plot, but the plot is so intriguing that you don’t end up minding it as much as you probably should. So even the somewhat uneven characterization doesn’t take away from the glory of this novel. It certainly must stand as among the best science fiction novels ever written.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick- Grade: C-
Can there please, please be one Philip K. Dick novel where the answer to everything is not “drugs did it”? [Yes, I know there is more than one. But come on.] I saw the “twists” in this novel coming from miles away. I saw the main reveal coming from the beginning of the book. Dick was capable of creating mind-bending plot threads, and this one was no different. Waking up going from famous to a nobody isn’t the most original idea, but Dick’s writing is capable at even the worst, and he had me hooked fairly early on. However, delving deeper and deeper into the book made me think, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t end up as another ‘The answer is drugs’ when the big reveal hits.” Well, sure enough, it is. And that basically sucked all of my enjoyment from the novel. It’s fine. I guess.

The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: A-
The authors created a unique first-contact story that I enjoyed immensely. Plenty of twists and strangeness mixed in. It conveys a sense of the strangeness of the alien that isn’t always found in first contact books. They truly do feel ‘other’ in a way that authors don’t always manage to capture with aliens. That’s probably the greatest strength of this novel, and the one that kept me coming back. The aliens are just so much fun to figure out, and the way the humans slowly find out more about them is written such that it is rewarding to keep peeling back the layers. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.

Inverted World by Christopher Priest Grade: A
When I write book reviews, I try to avoid words that I think get overutilized in book blurbs or endorsements. One of those words is “engrossing.” But I have to say, Inverted World could best be described as “engrossing.” From start to finish, it is a spellbinding tale that adds complexity nearly every time you turn a page. I thought at multiple points I had figured out the twist for the novel, only to have another puzzle thrown at me that I could not explain. Ultimately, Inverted World is about how we perceive–or refuse to perceive–the world around us. Will we be like Helward, refusing to see reality even as it is shown to us? Or will we be open-minded enough to allow our perceptions to be mistaken? Or do our perceptions confine us to reality in ways we might not anticipate? Priest made me think of all these possibilities while captivating me with his world-building. If there is a flaw in the novel, it’s that almost no one besides Helward is of any interest. Even Eliabeth, introduced late in the novel, has little to offer by way of development. But this is a book that forces you to think about the world after reading it, and I tend to think those are the best kind of novel to read.

Fire Time by Poul Anderson Grade: C-
My overall impression of Poul Anderson is that he comes up with great ideas but doesn’t flesh them out or execute them as well as I’d like. Fire Time is a prime example of that. The premise has a hard sci-fi bend: a planet’s interaction with its three stars cause a “Fire Time,” which is an incredibly hot time every thousand years as the planet approaches one star in particular. Of course, tons of mythos has sprung up around this time, and adding humans into the mix of aliens causes additional avenues for conflict. The conflict itself could be an analogue for a real world conflict, as well. Somehow this promising premise gets reduced to a few vignettes of characters who aren’t terribly interesting. After the first 10% or so, it quickly becomes a tedious read that rides its premise along for the latter portions without any other reason to continue. At no point did any of the characters grab me and bring me along. I just kept hoping for more.

1975- As a follow up to a somewhat disappointing 1974, this year was fantastic. The winner, The Dispossessed, is unquestionably one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. It stands up under multiple re-reads and continues to find depths to explore each time. The obligatory PKD and Anderson books are there, and if you’re fan of their styles, you probably will like them more than I did. PKD, in particular, is very hit or miss for me. Rounding out the year are two other fantastic reads that are radically different. Inverted World is an absolute mind-bender of a novel from the magnificent Christopher Priest, while The Mote… is a fabulous first contact novel. It’s just a great year for the Hugos with a superb collection of works.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.