My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1976

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

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

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

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

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

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

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SDG.

Reading through the [Alleged] Top 100 Science Fiction Books- #66-70

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.

66. Sphere by Michael Crichton (1987) Grade: C-
Apparently I can’t count and in my last post, going 5 at a time, I included this one. Oops, now it gets to be here twice.
“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.”

67. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1953) 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. Reading this list has clearly taught me that science fiction + mystery = awesome.”

68. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000) Grade: A
“Reynolds has managed to construct one of those rare books that manages to truly convey the scale of a space opera while not losing itself. The disparate plots come together in a satisfying way, and the sheer bigness of it is delicious. Throw in a healthy dose of alien archaeology and this is a book I will remember for a while. In fact, some time ago I read just the opening scene at a book store, but couldn’t remember what book it was from until I picked this one up from the library for this list. That openig scene, with its hidden archaeological secrets, had stuck with me for perhaps a decade or more. Now that I’ve read the whole novel, I’m pleased to say it stands up well.”

69. The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (1956) Grade: C+
“It doesn’t reach the greatness of some of his other works, nor does it hit the depths of some of his misses. It’s a competent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek story about time travel and corporate baddies. I enjoyed it not so much for the end product as for the clear fun that was had on the journey. It’s silly, but not so silly as to put you off. A worthy read, but not a great one.”

70. The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison (1961) Grade: B+
“A classic campy adventure novel, The Stainless Steel Rat hits on just about all the points one expects from its time period and genre. It is clearly referential to the time in which it was written, and has some backward views represented therein. It is also a constant stream of action and adventure that left me feeling almost exhausted afterwards. A fun read.”

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- #26-30 scores and comments

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.

26. The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle Grade: A
“The authors created a unique first-contact story that I enjoyed immensely. Plenty of twists and strangeness mixed in. It conveys a sense of the strangeness of the alien that isn’t always found in first contact books. They truly do feel ‘other’ in a way that authors don’t always manage to capture with aliens. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.”

27. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Orson Scott Card once again proves that he is a master of the character. The way he writes people is so very real, so intense, that it is difficult to come back to reality after reading one of his novels. Ender’s Shadow is another phenomenal tale of the human conscience set alongside the struggles of a street urchin who is raised above any position he would have dreamed of. It demands its place among the best ever.”

28. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Speaker for the Dead is endlessly amazing. Full of rich characters, mystery, strangeness, and beauty, it is a book that has stuck with me for years and only improved upon re-reading it. It is hard to describe just how intensely full of emotion and drama this book is. It features some of the most raw and true-feeling human characters I’ve ever read, while also having some of the most interesting aliens. The plot is beautiful and encourages readers to think about their own humanity in a way only the best science fiction accomplishes. It’s utterly compelling and fascinating.”

29. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton Grade: A
“Dinosaurs and people don’t mix. Such is the lesson I got from Jurassic Park. It’s a different picture than is painted in James Gurney’s Dinotopia, itself a masterpiece. Crichton is a master of suspense, and this vivid novel combines thought-provoking ethical discussion with intense action… and dinosaurs. You can’t really go wrong. It’s not necessarily an original plotline, but the ideas in it felt fresh and still serve as a warning today. How far can we push the world before it pushes back?”

30. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester Grade: B-
“I enjoyed it but it seemed to be very condensed, despite dragging at points. It was as though Bester was simultaneously reluctant to describe any details while also belaboring some fairly minor points. I still don’t know entirely what I think of it. I thought the beginning was quite good, but it never seemed to fully pay off on the potential. It’s not a disappointing book, but not among the true greats.”

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.