My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1956

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.

Not This August by C.M. Kornbluth- Grade: B+
I found this one surprisingly fresh. Initially, the plot seemed to be yet another “Red Scare” type novel, but the Soviets seemed to be possibly better (shock!) at some things than the Americans. Then, it turns out the whole thing is a rather pointed commentary on the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” It felt surprisingly modern because of this, as we face things like nuclear threats continuing. The writing style is solid as well. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov- Grade: C-
I’m not sure how Asimov got away so frequently with calling his books novels. This is really just a dressing up of scientific theory and explorations thereof with a thin plot covering it lightly. Is it interesting? Sure, insofar as you’re interested in reading about causal loops and exploring one possible way that could have worked in the 1950s. Sound interesting? Great, you’ll love it. If not, this is one to avoid. Asimov’s characters are constantly paper-thin. I get that it was a different era, but other authors on this list managed some truly magnificent characters. Merely okay.

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner)- Grade: C
The concept is interesting, if not terribly original (though, in fairness, I’m not sure how original it was in 1956): an actor is hired to play a politician in a dangerous time. It has the typical early-ish Heinlein action-first plot, which keeps it entertaining enough. It also has some Heinlein preaching that I grow weary of quickly. A decent romp, but nothing terribly special.

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (My Winner)- Grade: A-
After nuclear war, the United States is largely a scattering of towns and villages, enforced by the 30th Amendment- that no cities may be constructed, so that massive, global-scale wars would not happen ever again. Society has reverted to a kind of pastoral time, and in it, the protagonist, a young man who begins to get big ideas, finds himself trying to find a place for himself. I kept having to adjust my expectations during Brackett’s strange yet familiar post-apocalyptic story. Initially, I expected it to be a kind of coming-of-age story that would develop into a world-changing adventure. Those expectations were overthrown, but then possibly renewed, and then overthrown again and again. I found parts of the book startling. It was stark; it was eerie. At times it was quite suspenseful. A cozy catastrophe of great form. I listened to this one on Audible, and in case you’re also a fan of audiobooks, I recommend this one. It was a good listen that was well-read.

Three to Conquer by Eric Frank Russell- Grade: C
It’s a noir detective novel combined with some light science fiction in the pulpy era and works about as well as you might expect it too. There are some significant flaws here, but the overall effect is decent. The science fiction doesn’t happen until pretty close to the end, and it is largely composed of the kind of silliness you find in 1950s science fiction. Not bad, but not anything remarkable either.

Links

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

My Read-Through of the Hugos- Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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

SDG.

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“Space Unicorn Blues” and “The Stars Now Unclaimed” – Two Recent Debut Science Fiction Novels Worth Noting

It’s been an insanely busy summer of reading, but I wanted to take a few minutes to highlight two debut novels that I think are quite worth tracking down to read.

Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry

I saw the cover of Space Unicorn Blues in an ad on Facebook and knew purely based on that that I had to read it. It’s not that the cover is particularly striking, or anything, but it makes it really darned clear the book is about a unicorn… in spa-a-a-ace! Also, the tagline “Humanity’s Last Hope… A Murderous Unicorn” had me running to read it.

I have to say, I’m glad I did. There were a number of surprising things in this debut novel, not least of which is how rather serious it was despite the somewhat silly premise. Yes, of course it has its funny moments all the way through; nothing with this premise can or should take itself too seriously, but this book has some rather thoughtful, serious narrative going on.

The core of the book is really the world that Berry has invented. It’s a future in which humanity has reached the stars only to discover another resource to exploit: fantastic creatures like the unicorn, whose horn can help propel space travel. Yep, you read that right. But Berry manages to piece together a coherent and frankly intriguing world out of this premise in a way that has me salivating for the second book in the series. The characters are each built up in their own way as well, though at times our lovely space unicorn, Gary, isn’t at the center. I don’t mind, however, because the other characters have unique personalities that help foster plot twists and genuine growth.

The next book in the series comes out in May next year, and I will probably dive into a re-read of this delightful debut before I tackle book 2. I recommend it highly. Check out Space Unicorn Blues by T.J. Berry for a fun, insane science fiction/fairy tale mashup that will make you think more than you might expect.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

I don’t think I would have read The Stars Now Unclaimed unless my local library had acquired it. I pretty much automatically check out every single sci-fi or fantasy book at the local library for two reasons: 1) they don’t get much of it, and I want to show that there is an interest (there really is–a few books I’ve requested have been checked out a lot!) and 2) I basically can’t say no to new SFF. This one was a winner.

Again, the cover didn’t really draw me in much. It’s fine, but the text is so dominant and the ships look somewhat generic. Opening the flap, I didn’t know whether I’d enjoy it, but as a dedicated completionist (can’t check out a book without at least giving it a try, right?), I started reading it… and devoured it in a day. All 444 pages of it. I couldn’t put it down. Why?

Well, a few reviews I saw on Goodreads make comparisons to Star Wars, which I guess is accurate in a few places, but this is definitely not derivative from that blockbuster series. It’s a far reaching science fiction adventure novel with a significant peppering of space opera thrown in for good measure. The book follows Jane, an operative of the Justified, one of the many, many groups vying for intergalactic power in a rather unforgiving universe. There’s the ominous threat of another “pulse”- an event that crippled civilizations all through the galaxy, with few exceptions. There are major plot twists, lots of action, and a good helping of character development as well.

The book is also wonderfully paced, with a few moments to slow down and breathe in between some seriously fast action sequences. If I were to draw a comparison, I’d actually call it closer to a kind of grown up Titan A.E. with a dash of Star Wars and maybe even some of Iain M. Banks as well. That’s high praise, given that I just named 3 of my favorite science fiction visions.

Oh, and another thing I liked about this book is while it is part of a series (and Drew Williams was kind enough to reply to me on Twitter to say the series is planned for 3-4 books plus potential other in-universe works), it doesn’t feel incomplete or too much like a cliffhanger. Yes, you definitely want to know more right away, and there are some major plot points waiting for future resolution, but it has the kind of ending that is satisfying in a series.

If you want a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, check out The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams.

Links

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

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

SDG.

Reading through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Books- #61-66

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

61. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Grade: A
“It’s difficult to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book, because I really did not. It is not the kind of book to enjoy. It makes you uncomfortable, it challenges you, and it challenges some deeply held ideas. But this lack of enjoyment is, I think, the point. We don’t like to confront sexism and other issues that are systematically enforced in our society. But Atwood here forces readers to confront such issues in a very up-front way. It’s a good story, yes, but it is also a warning and a plea.”

62. Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks Grade: A
“It’s not as transcendent as The Player of Games, but what it lacks in the sheer volume of ideas in that latter volume, it makes up for in strong characterization and a sense of overall mystery that pervades the book. Stylistically, Banks continues to flash his brilliance. It would be hard to complain much about the structure of the plot and how it gets revealed. Banks is one of the few science fiction authors I’ve encountered who manages to make both the characters and the overall plot utterly compelling without sacrificing anything. No matter what length his books are, they seem to have an intimacy that cannot be ignored. He’s created an amazing future.”

63. Eon by Greg Bear Grade: B
“My favorite scene in this book occurs within the first 20 pages, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Revealing that favorite scene might spoil something so I’ll leave it there. Anyway, reading this list has made me feel a bit jaded about the ‘alien artifact’ selection within science fiction. Some of it is done incredibly well (see Revelation Space) while other attempts are kind of dull. It is clearly a topic that science fiction authors return to again and again. Bear manages to give a twist in this one by incorporating multiple sci-fi tropes in alongside the core ‘artifact’ idea, including time travel and Red Scare. I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit bloated at points. Ultimately, a satisfying read.”

64. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi Grade: A
“Scalzi has created a novel that borrows from the same well as Starship Troopers and The Forever War while, in some ways, transcending its influences. At first it seems a fairly standard space marine-type novel, but the unexpectedness of the alien races, the (ultimate) thoughtfulness of the main character, and the twists that are thrown into the mix make it easily one of the best of the bunch. I particularly enjoyed all the ideas Scalzi threw out there for aliens and our interactions with them. The sense of humor that is fairly consistent throughout the novel is also excellent. Top-notch science fiction.”

65. The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: A
“I thought the beginning was utterly enthralling, with its portrayal of a strange post-human (?) city that had stood almost unchanged for countless eons. Injecting something ‘unique’ into such a city was captivating and exciting. The middle bogged down quite a bit, and it made it feel as though the book didn’t ever quite reach the stunning heights that I expected after the first few chapters. That said, I think it is an achievement of the imagination, and one with scenes that grabbed my imagination as few books have before.”

66. Sphere by Michael Crichton Grade: C-
“It’s not nearly as polished as The Andromeda Strain, and its core premise isn’t as strong as Jurassic Park‘s. What’s left is an interesting idea that seemed to me to get less and less entertaining as it went along. I had higher hopes for this one, to be honest. The payoff at the end is fairly low compared to Crichton’s other works, and because of this some of the flaws in his writing style are more distracting. Let’s not forget an over-defensive caricature of a female scientist, which may have been a rather poor attempt at introducing a pro-woman narrative into the plot (it didn’t work out). The biggest problem with the book is that it seems to get progressively less wonder-filled and devolve into a rather simple thriller. Not what I have come to expect from Crichton.”

Links

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

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #56-60

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

56. The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton Grade: C-
“I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. Hamilton seemed more focused on describing details of sex than upon advancing the plot. It’s another overly long space opera that makes length key to a good science fiction epic as opposed to substance. It was chock-full of cool ideas, though, so it gets a passing grade for that. I definitely see why others would love this one a lot. It just wasn’t for me. It’s also possible it hit me at the wrong time. I thought some of the discussion of worldview was offputting as well.”

57. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson Grade: B
“It never quite reached the heights of Snow Crash, and it seemed a bit too wordy, but it was still pretty thrilling. The interplay of the two (plus!) plots that were all woven together made it an interesting read just to see how it was written. Stephenson also does a tremendous job writing cyberpunk, though I guess it is technically postcyberpunk, based on a perusal of articles based on the book. It was intense at times, but also went down too many rabbit holes. A good, not great book.”

58. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick Grade: C+
“It’s only barely science fiction, which was disappointing. It’s basically a pseudo-autobiographical account of Dick’s own life in drug culture and the startling toll that culture makes its adherents pay. The characters aren’t much to write home about, but they get the job done. At times it shines through with the radical strangeness that makes Dick interesting to read, but I really don’t understand how it made this to 100 list, to be honest. It didn’t capture me at all through characters or plot.”

59. Startide Rising by David Brin Grade: C+
“I wanted to like this one so much. It started off with so many cool concepts–humanity helping along other species on earth to achieve space flight, among other things; a lost, ancient fleet discovered and all the promise there; some neat (and nefarious) aliens–but it never fully cashed in on any one of them. The scope of the plot was quite narrow, which made it even more difficult to swallow the somewhat plodding pace and lack of real development of characters. The other books in the series were better, but again felt more like ideas than fleshed out narratives.”

60. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Grade: F
“Not quite the disaster that is ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ but it has become clear after reading 3 Vonnegut books on this list that he is just not for me. Yes, I do see the moments of comic genius. However, those very brief and rare moments do not make up for hundreds of pages of jokes that fall flat, terrible pacing, boring (at best) characters, and stunted attacks on religion. It’s just not good. This is basically another iteration of the other two Vonnegut books on the list, just rinse and repeat. Plot that goes all over the place with little cohesion? Check. Characters full of themselves and writing that displays more pomp than content? Check. Inane references to aliens that are never fleshed out? Check. Asinine comments about religion that sound like a whining child? Check. Down the garbage disposal, for me. Glad I got these from the library.”

Links

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

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1953

First Edition Cover By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9110826

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 start here, at the beginning, with the first Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel. Each year, I’ll read all the books nominated and pick my own winner, while also noting which novel won the award that year.

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (winner/my winner)
Grade: A-
I thought I had the whole book figured out fairly early on, but Bester got me big on this one at a number of points. I didn’t figure out the ‘truth’ at the center of the novel until the very last pages. I am the kind of person who doesn’t really try to figure things out because I enjoy the development, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a masterful manipulation of the plot, but I think it speaks well of the strength of Bester’s storytelling. Does he rely on some pretty outdated psychology? Absolutely, but that doesn’t take much away from the overall enjoyment of the work. As this is the only book nominated this year, it makes my own choice of winner quite simple.

Links

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

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

SDG.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction books- #51-55

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

51. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Grade: A-
“It’s not really like any film version I’ve seen. The book was intriguing, historically grounded, and foreboding in a very different way than a green man with screws in his head. Not only is it a rather good novel, but it also helped me to see one of the biggest themes in science fiction playing out at a more removed time: that of writing in fear of that which is new. Many novels coming out are centered around dystopic scenarios based on things like social media, nanotech, and the like. Frankenstein is about electricity and it helps convey the sheer joy and utter terror that such a discovery would have conveyed to those who first encountered it. It’s truly moving in that regard. I enjoyed it immensely, and certainly much more than I thought I would.”

52. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes Grade: A
“Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.”

53. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard Grade: D
“Utterly bloated and in dire need of editing, Battlefield Earth is like a pulp science fiction novel gone wrong. The whole concept of pulpy sci-fi demands episodic structure with plenty of action. Though there is a lot of action here, it is annoyingly repetitive, and if I have to read about the need for ‘leverage’ one more time I’m going to go insane. But I must write about leverage: having an alien who is so concerned with self-interest was intriguing, but like basically every other idea in this novel, it was never developed beyond the surface level, at best. It’s like Hubbard thought ‘Hey, self-interested alien… that’d be a cool way to drive the plot.’ But then, instead of developing further, he just decided to write about ‘leverage’ every single time that alien showed up. Where’s my leverage. I must have leverage. Leverage! We get it, Hubbard. We get it. The book also spends about 150 pages at the beginning with an alien trying to figure out what to feed a human. Not a joke. Well, let’s just say I am not impressed by this one.”

54. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne Grade: B-
“It was a wonderful adventure full of imagination. Verne was far ahead of his time, and his novels, like those of Wells’, make you really appreciate the ‘speculative’ aspect of speculative fiction. However, it never felt like we got to fully cash in on the strangeness of the world. Simply having a premordial sea in which dinosaurs and ancient creatures move about was not as cool as it could have been. It’s clearly good, but dated.”

55. To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer Grade: C-
“Farmer had all of humanity to choose from for his characters, and he chose some truly awesome figures. The problem is that he never gave any one character the time or space to develop properly and show the unique personality of each. The characters should surely speak in radically different voices, have conflicting concerns, and even see the world in quite diverse ways. But instead, each character was a fairly standard science fiction trope with a historical figure’s name slapped onto him or her. Their voices all sounded the same to me on almost every page. The book came very highly recommended from a number of sources. I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest.”

Links

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

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #46-50

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

46. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson Grade: B-
“It reads a little like a poor folk’s Ben Bova. The trappings of hard science fiction are all present, but it never quite hits its stride with characterization, nor does it quite live up to its own lofty scope. At times, it is amazing. At others, it is bogged down with ever-increasing broadening of scope. I think the main problem here is that the book feels like an attempt to combine space opera and hard science fiction, and while I’ve enjoyed such a combination, it does not work as well here. But it has enough going for it to make it worth the read, regardless.”

47. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Grade: C-
“Do you mind trying to figure out slang? If so, don’t read this. At first it is very difficult to get into due to the word-swapping that is used throughout the book, but it eases up as you begin to understand what’s happening. It is relentlessly violent and dark, with very little hope until the very last chapter. Even there, though, it’s hardly enough. The whole thing seems kind of pointless after a while, to be honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not very good either.”

48. Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: F
“What the hell did I just read? Heinlein went off the deep end. Basically he just wanted to write an attack on religious sexual mores, but he did so in a way that seemed to combine crudeness, disgust, and a kind of remarkably naive misogyny into one confused, awful mess. Indeed, he basically admits that the book is an attack on any kind of sexual code as he, through the main character, writes that ”’incest” was a religious concept, not a scientific one… the last twenty years had washed away in his mind almost the last trace of his tribal taboo.’ Sin is similarly chalked up not as wrongdoing or evil but as a tired, backward way of looking at the world. Yep, incest is a-ok in Heinlein’s book, or at least that of his protagonist. Not only that, but those silly religious people and their ideas of not having sexual thoughts about very young minors, not sleeping with your sibling/parent, etc. Oh yeah, but let’s not forget that this is all couched in decidedly 1940s/50s concepts of male-female relations, such that it is accompanied by a not-so-subtle male-dominance matrix.  Forward thinking? not so much. Terrible, terrible book.”

49. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: A-
“Ever read a book that makes you think… a lot? No? Well, pick this one up. 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. 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. A great book, but not totally transcendent.”

50. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“Asimov again shows that he is more interested in ideas than execution. The novel spends almost as much time talking about scientific theory as it does giving readers a sense of the world around themselves. Like each Asimov book I’ve read on this list so far, I see the sparks that would make many readers fall in love, but as someone who enjoys well-written characters, the paper-thin motivation used throughout this novel falls flat. It’s as much a treatise as a novel, but not in a good way.”

Links

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

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!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.