My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1986

endersgame

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 1986 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.

1986

Footfall by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven- Grade: C-
Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven collaborated on a number of bestselling blockbuster novels for several years. Some were great, others were not-so-great. This one falls towards the “not-so-great” side of the spectrum. The primary flaw in Footfall is with how bloated it is on almost every level: the buildup is too long, there are too many characters (to the point that, as a reader, I never became very invested in any of them), and there is too little going on in extended sequences of exposition of people walking around wondering what to do. It has the intensity of their other collaborations, but it doesn’t maintain it throughout the novel, which lends itself to exposing some of the flaws in the writing style itself. On the plus side, the Fithp, despite having a ludicrous name, are a well thought out alien species with some fascinating details in the background. Footfall ultimately would have been much better as either a series–so that readers could get more invested in the characters and perhaps more of the Fithp background could be explored–or a short story–so that the extraneous details could all be cut out. As it stands it’s a middling novel.

Cuckoo’s Egg by CJ Cherryh- Grade: A-
Cherryh has a knack for making aliens seem quite alien, and for telling the stories from their perspective. Here, we get the story of a protective alien, Duun, caring for a human child named Thorn. Duun is a Shonunin, an apparently warlike species of aliens. But Cherryh uses the perspective of Duun to totally subvert many of the reader’s expectations. We, being humans, have made assumptions about the Shonunin society from the outset, not realizing that Duun’s affiliation with a warrior group may have made them seem more warlike and aggressive than they actually are. As Thorn learns about human language, his own development as a character begins to take over the novel as well. It is in that section that I started to have a few points of wanting to get back to the “main plot” of Duun’s life and how he was impacted by all the events. Cherryh sells it all with a passionate viewpoint from Duun that makes it believable while playing with expectations. It’s quite well done.

The Postman by David Brin- Grade: C-
I couldn’t help but feel a major amount of deja vu with this. It’s got scenes that feel incredibly similar to Chrysalids or Alas, Babylon in different ways. I’m not saying it’s copied–it clearly is not–but it has a sense of familiarity that simply should not exist in a post-apocalyptic novel. Perhaps that’s a mark of how many of these books I’ve read by now, but I think it is at least in part a function of the writing itself. Anyway, The Postman certainly isn’t bad, it just didn’t strike me as particularly excellent, either. The blurbs on the back seemed to focus on how it’s some kind of warning. But a warning of what? And why is it particularly poignant in regards to humanity’s plight? Frankly, compared to some other post-apocalyptic tales, this is rather tame.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A
Ender’s Game will always hold a special place in my heart as it was basically the first serious science fiction I ever read. I read it for a book club in high school, and the only sci-fi I’d read before that was a bunch of Star Wars books and then some Timothy Zahn works because I had read all of his Star Wars books and figured I liked them enough to try something else by him. Card’s thoughtful sci-fi absolutely blew me away, and I will never forget the experience of gushing over it with several fellow high schoolers and then, a few years later, meeting Card himself and getting the chance to sit and chat with him for about 15 minutes at a conference. So while I have some decidedly mixed feelings about the man and his legacy (his personal kindness to me–and it was true kindness–seems so at odds with his often hateful writings about politics and policy), I am navigating the space of work vs. creator. Ender’s Game itself is a fantastic study of not just the human psyche but also of military science fiction itself. It’s unexpected, particularly in its massive twist at the end. Or, perhaps it was only unexpected for my teenage self. Nevertheless, I believe the novel stands as a bell ringing warning as well as a surprising call for mercy in a merciless world.

Blood Music by Greg Bear- Grade: B+
Bear does a fantastic job building this one up and setting the stage. The outbreak itself was a bit terrifying and it is all too easy to envision this actually happening. One person’s mistake leads to a complete disaster on the highest scale imaginable. But once Bear went past the setup and the early stages, it got crazy quickly. The story went from a somewhat standard–but well-written–outbreak scenario to something much bigger and stranger. That’s not bad on its own, and that makes it more memorable in many ways, but it moved so quickly from one type of story to another so quickly. It was an interesting, if sometimes rushed, play on the outbreak type theme in science fiction.

1986- There’s a strong ballot here, and quite a bit of catastrophe for humanity. Footfall, The Postman, Blood Music, and Ender’s Game each have humanity at a destructive crossroads. While I didn’t enjoy all of them the same amount, each has some redeeming qualities. Cuckoo’s Egg and Ender’s Game are the more thoughtful reads of the bunch, however. The former gives us alien viewpoint to a high degree while the latter ultimately gives us a deep look at humanity. As I said, while I am navigating the creator-creation distinction regarding Ender’s Game, it’s been incredibly formative to my own sci-fi fandom, and I believe it remains a classic read to this day. Overall, ’86 was a good year for the Hugos. Which would you choose?

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.

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: 1985

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 1985 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.

1985

The Peace War by Vernor Vinge- Grade: B-
Vernor Vinge has huge ideas, and that is fully on display here. A hard sci-fi combination with dystopia and superweapon (almost a play on “Red Scare” type vintage sci-fi) fears comes together into this story of humanity imploding and coming out of the rubble. I have such mixed feelings after having read it. The first 100 pages or so are an amalgam of confusing data, breathtakingly cool ideas, and characters being thrown around in ways that are difficult to follow alongside everything else going on. As a reader, you’re very much just plopped in the middle of this story without much ground to figure out what’s going on. Why does the Peace Authority go full on totalitarian so quickly? What motivates the central players here? Why does the dude who created the superweapon manage to escape? In the midst of all this we have, as I said, some hard sci-fi ideas like quantum decay, parallel universes, and the like being thrown together in what is a stunning but confusing mess of a novel. I alternately was enthralled and confused by this. I think I liked it?

Neuromancer by William Gibson (Winner)- Grade: B-
I have a lengthy relationship with Neuromancer. I first bought it as a teenager and tried to read it and was completely confused. I’d only really read Star Wars novels for sci-fi before this point, and the complexity of this cyberpunk world was beyond me. I tried again later, and then again when a friend at work recommended it. I finally got through it then. I’ve since read it in total 4 times, with numerous false starts. I still don’t think I understand the book, and at this point, I’m becoming more willing to blame Gibson than myself for it. Although Gibson writes an in introduction to one of the versions I read that he was not out to try to predict the future, this novel seems almost prophetic in some ways as Gibson coined a number of terms and used ideas that have since become reality. The dialogue-to-action ratio is off. The world and characters feel somewhat empty and lifeless. There’s a great hook at the beginning, but we then spend an enormous amount of time just following one guy around as he follows a hacking job down a rabbit hole. Though there are characters with all kinds of cool backgrounds, they never seem much more than cutouts put there to help the plot along. There is very little characterization, and as a reader, that’s something I look forward to most. The thematic details are, I am okay admitting at this point, totally lost on me. I often feel I don’t get this novel, but I can admire what’s going on from a distance. There’s no denying that Neuromancer is one of the best examples of Cyberpunk, but that’s more for its ideas than for its excellence of plot or character development. People looking for big ideas in their sci-fi will love this. I’m still trying to decide.

Emergence by David R. Palmer (My Winner)- Grade: B+
Emergence will be a polarizing book. The novel is told from the viewpoint of a young super-genius who writes in shorthand. That means grammatical rules largely don’t apply. I am usually annoyed hugely by that, but Palmer manages to use the backstory of the character and still make it work. And what a character she is! Candidia Maria Smith-Foster–or “Candy”–is 11 years old and at first seems to merely be a precocious character who possibly has a heavy overdose of being too good at everything. But as you read her story, you discover why she is the way she is. The earliest part of the novel–the first 1/4 or so–is the best part by far in my opinion. Here, you spend all your time with Candy and her “twin brother” (a bird, Terry) as you peel away the layers of a disaster and how to survive. Of course, Candy has a huge leg up as she starts off with an almost embarrassingly well-equipped bomb shelter. But again, this is all part of the story and it makes sense. Revealing too much more would give away some of the better parts of the plot, and I have to admit Candy is such a wonderful character that I couldn’t not love the book for that. That said, there are some scenes that grossed me out. (SPOILER: specifically, when she runs into an older boy and they think they may be the only human-ish people left so he tries to convince her, not even a teenager, to have sex or give him some kind of relief. It’s gross and the way he keeps pushing on the topic makes it even worse. This alone, along with another similar scene later in the book, is what leads me to mark it down. I can see the argument for people would really act that way, but it didn’t prevent me from feeling extremely awful about the scenes anyway. /SPOILER.) Aside from those, this is a pretty fantastic post-apocalyptic story that has a heartwarming, almost comfort-food type of feel to it that only a few books can truly grasp.

Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: F
Reading this was an absolute chore. If I had to choose a single word to describe this novel, it would be “pretentious.” In the hands of a humbler author, an exploration of the end times going along with corruption of a main character in a fall from grace type narrative could be a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek adventure. Here, it reads as projection. There are so many ideas about Christianity thrown together here in a mishmash of ecumenical soup that it doesn’t even make sense. Is Heinlein trying to offer a critique of Christianity? Is he trying to say there’s something more going on? I doubt it, and if he is, his combination of Roman Catholic ideas, American millenarianism, folklore masquerading as theology, and various other branches of beliefs into one is done with all the deftness of using a dump truck to spread mulch around your flowers. It’s incredibly frustrating to read, and set alongside a central plot that is a yawn-inducing reflection on (surprise, surprise) a man choosing to reason by means of sexual desire instead of any sort of character drive (I’m not surprised–this is Heinlein), it becomes unbearable. It’s not the worst Heinlein book I’ve read, but it’s mighty close.

The Integral Trees by Larry Niven- Grade: C
The Integral Trees is milquetoast to me. It wasn’t offensive or terrible enough to make me downgrade it, but it wasn’t captivating or thought-provoking enough to make me feel anything more than a general sense of… “meh.” The core idea of some trees that can move and have changed how humans evolve and interact once they’ve crash landed on some planet is okay, and may have been more exciting at the time the book came out. But as it stands it just doesn’t really have any single point that makes it worthy of recommendation or any effort to critique it beyond this review. The characters are bland; the societies are bland; the tension is almost nonexistent; and the overarching plot is barely enough to engage with. Even as the characters faced various perils, I just wasn’t engaged. It’s a novel for which the offhanded remark of “fine” seems entirely appropriate.

1985- The nominees here are a banner year for some heavy hitters past and present at this point. We’ve got yet another Heinlein, who continues to show up due to a voracious fan base; Larry Niven, William Gibson, and Vernor Vinge. I don’t think I’d read anything from Palmer before, but found Emergence one of the more unique narrative voices I’ve experienced. I’m sure there are many who would be upset by my picks and grades here, but that’s the joy of diverse opinions, right? If we all liked the same thing, it’d be pretty boring out here.

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.

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: 1984

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.

1984

Millennium by John Varley (My Winner)- Grade: B-
The concept here is pretty awesome. On a future Earth, the present is bleak, so they send back time travelers to grab healthy humans from the past to try to reinvigorate their present. They’re spotted, and hijinks ensue. It’s a great thread, and one of the better uses of time travel. I love time travel abstractly as an idea for a story, but it’s so rarely used in ways which make it actually integral to the plot. Varley, however, uses it in a way that is impactful without ever feeling like it’s just there for the sake of the plot or throwing people into past situations. The characters aren’t terribly compelling, which makes it difficult to get into the book. Ultimately, the ideas behind the story are what kept me going as a reader. It’s definitely of the better time travel-themed novels I’ve read recently.

Startide Rising by David Brin (Winner)- Grade: C-
Conceptually, Startide Rising–and indeed, the rest of the series–has quite a bit going for it. The idea of “uplifting” other species to sentience and then traveling through the stars with them is a good one that I have surprisingly not really run into much anywhere else. My issue with this book and the others in the series is that it drags out the concept for far too long and without as much payoff as I’d like. The cacophony of viewpoints becomes more than a bit annoying to try to follow as aliens, dolphins, and humans each chime in on galactic affairs and the events surrounding one specific ship, the Streaker, on which the humans and dolphins reside. The reader is shifted back and forth so frequently that settling in and trying to experience the story is impossible. The book is also quite lengthy, which adds to the difficulty of trying to manage so many sporadically appearing characters. I found myself wondering occasionally if I should remember a character encountered in one or another part, and it became a chore to read after a while. With a more tightly focused narrative, I think this would have been a much better read. As it stands, it shows flashes of brilliance throughout.

Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. McAvoy- Grade: C-
Sometimes you read a book and you can tell it’s probably much better than it feels. For me, Tea with the Black Dragon was one of those books. There’s a quietude in the novel that is both appealing at times and also off-putting at others. I found myself feeling a bit bored. I know that’s a strong indictment, but its nevertheless true. I found my mind wandering off to other novels or locales, hoping that some action would occur, or that something would break the tone of the novel. I don’t really know how to describe it; I was underwhelmed here. I acknowledge the craft while at the same time noting it’s not for me.

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern by Anne McAffrey- Grade: B-
McAffrey takes readers back to an earlier time in Pern, making this book one of the potential entry points into the series. The science fantasy world of Pern has humans using dragons to fight voracious alien invaders known as Thread which falls whenever a sister planet gets close enough for them to cross the space between planets. In Moreta, a disease is spreading throughout the Weyrs to the point where effectively fighting against Thread is in danger. That puts the whole planet at risk, and Moreta must muster up the people of the Weyr to finally fight off the incursion, which is only successful when they rediscover vaccination. Reading the novel post-Covid makes it feel like a somewhat pointed and possibly refreshing science fantasy defense of vaccination as a proper way to combat disease. The book is, as I said, a good entry point into the series, but for those who’ve read everything so far, it could feel formulaic. At this point McAffrey definitely has a pattern in the stories of the novels and even in tropes of characters that show up. Fans of the series will enjoy it, and those who are new to the series may find it a good point to jump in. Those already unimpressed or with waning interest in the series will find this one another tough read. I enjoyed it pretty well, and continue to find the series a kind of comfort read. You get what you expect to get out of them.

The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov- Grade: C
I enjoy Asimov’s Robots series overall. They tend to have stronger characters than the Foundation series (let’s be honest, basically any characterization is stronger than that series) and I enjoy mystery novels, so combining that with sci-fi makes for a potent mix. We revisit Elijah Baley and see what he’s up to as he tackles yet another mystery, this time mixed with a heaping helping of agoraphobia. It’s a fairly good mystery story in which Asimov continues to use the setting to his advantage. The problem is that it seems almost interminably long with very little action to drive the plot forward. It’s a fine novel, but it serves much more as a springboard for discussions of Asimov’s pet issues than it does anything else. It’s a fine read, especially if you enjoyed the other books in the series, but there’s nothing extraordinary about it.

1984- A somewhat disappointing year for the Hugos. None of these books are runaway winners for the award, but none are egregiously bad, either. It’s more of a milquetoast feel to the whole thing. I chose Millennium as my personal winner over Moreta only because the former feels much fresher as a read. Each book on this list has some difficulties, but each has enough qualities to make them worth at least sampling. Not a bad year, nor a good year. Look, even the cover of the winner, Millennium, is boring! What did you think?

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: 1983

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.

The Sword of the Lictor by Gene Wolfe (My Winner)- Grade: A
Gene Wolfe’s monumental epic, The Book of the New Sun continues here with the third book, The Sword of the Lictor. As with the whole series, there are layers upon layers of meaning, dimensions of thought, and completely mind-bending revelations and symbolism. These books are wonderful science fantasy, yes, but they also demand study in a way that few speculative fiction works seem to call for. There are literally books written about these novels, and dissecting the meaning found therein. And, frankly, the books deserve that level of analysis. Wolfe’s prose is captivating as ever, but the layers that can be peeled back over time make it worthy of re-reading and digesting in ways few science fiction novels touch. I’m planning to read and re-read this series many times. Top notch sci-fi/fantasy.

Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov (Winner)- Grade: B-
I loved the early parts of the book in spite of myself. The Foundation Trilogy, long hailed as the pillar of science fiction, has managed to bore me three times through. (Also Asimov was… not great.) I wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but found myself really getting into the premise of a mystery within a mystery within a wider, galactic story. But then Asimov dragged it out for far longer than the premise itself could carry and it began to wear out its welcome. As it wore on, the faults became more vivid: whether it is the nonchalance with which Asimov dismisses his own female characters or the absurdity of the parts that take place on Gaia, there’s some big flaws here. It’s also clear Asimov was really struggling with the anthropic principle as he wrote this, and his solution to the principle, set in the book as a kind of big reveal, really just boils down to waving one’s hand and saying “Well, we’re here, aren’t we?” Okay, but that doesn’t make for a good plot, nor a good philosophy. Despite these gaffes, Foundation’s Edge still manages to be slightly above average, largely riding on the strength of its core premise, which remained fascinating throughout, even as its luster was tarnished. A good read that could have been terrific.

The Pride of Chanur by CJ Cherryh- Grade: C
Ever read a book where you kept waiting for the main plot to get going? That’s definitely how I felt with The Pride of Chanur. I guess I expected that, at some point, someone would do something. But it seems, instead, everyone was so caught up in their own brand of intrigue that they all forgot to do anything about it. Oh! Those aliens are over there plotting! Let us counter-plot! And then we’ll manipulate them into stopping their plotting! Ah, but alas, other aliens have thwarted our own plot. Curses. That’s basically how this book seems to play out. I am disappointed. I enjoyed the beginning, and it felt like it might be the start of some ripping space adventure that would carry me across the stars, with battles and intrigue and everything mingling together in awesomeness. Instead, it seems every character–every species–was urgently ensuring nothing would happen in the book. I desperately want to love Cherryh’s stuff. I’m extremely hesitant to write off any author, and I have so much respect for Cherryh because, it seems, everyone adores her work. But The Pride of Chanur is the sixth book I’ve read from her, and not a single one has struck me as particularly excellent.

2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke- Grade: C+
The first book in this series, the famous (infamous?) 2001: A Space Odyssey was a delightfully vast, weird, and personal look at… everything? At it’s core, 2010: Odyssey Two carries the mantle of that other work, with a solid hard sci-fi foundation built upon by other threads sewn throughout the tapestry of the novel. It just isn’t as good as the first effort. It loses some of the vastness and weirdness that made the space odyssey stand out and turns much more into a human drama mixed with some questions about AI and robotics. The introduction to the work by Clarke explained he was trying to answer many of the biggest questions readers had about the first one, and that seems exactly like what this book ends up being. It reads more like an extended story written specifically to fill in gaps than it does as a work that can stand on its own.

Friday by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: D-
The general idea isn’t terrible, but wow this is filled with a lot more of the late Heinlein’s nonsense. It’s like he’s trying to create a sexually liberated world, but can only do so through perversion. Within the first 50 pages there is brutal sexual assault narrated in the most detached fashion, followed by some rather grotesque implications about the same. The female lead seems to only serve as a sex object for the vast majority of men, and once again we find that for Heinlein, sexual liberation is really just a male-dominated sex-fest. Oh, and the main plot isn’t really that great, either. It did have some promise at the beginning.

Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury- Grade: A-
I’m sitting back having just finished this book and I can’t figure out exactly how I feel about it. There’s no doubt it was very well done. But, what was it? Was it a novel about human colonization? Yes, I mean the people are all descendants from colonists in some distant past. Was it a novel of a unique culture that is both unsettling and tantalizing? Absolutely, there is everything weird in this novel, from cannibalism to using human skins for decoration. But it all somehow makes sense in the context in which it’s placed. Was it a dystopia? I don’t know, maybe? Was it a utopia? I guess? I don’t know. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, having read Courtship Rite, it is that I will never forget it. It was strange, disturbing, and alluring all at once. The fight for one’s own society, the disturbance of that society, the coming of war; all of these were themes in the book. I can’t get over it. It’s a great read.

1983- Courtship Rite could have won many years, but going up against Wolfe is unfortunate. I want to use some of this space to emphasize how strange that book is. The thing about it is, as I said, the weirdness and yuckiness of it all somehow still makes sense in the context of the story. Masterfully done, but still gross. Also, how is it not available on an ebook platform so far as I can tell? It’s excellent. Okay, obligatory Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke inclusions here, with varying success. Cherryh’s also become a perennial nominee, and will ultimately collect 5 nominations and 2 wins. It’s a solid selection here, though Friday is awful. Another good year for the 80s Hugo nominees.

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.

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: 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.

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.

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SDG.