My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1962

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. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1962 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.

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye (My Winner) Grade: A-
Have you read about Plato’s cave? Okay, now that you’ve searched it and done so if you haven’t we’re on the same page. This book is a science fiction exploration of Plato’s cave. It’s done extremely well, combining elements of nuclear scare/red scare with world building that make a whole culture that lives purely in darkness. It’s fascinating all the way through, with how Galouye thought to even drop common sayings like “I see what you mean” out of the vocabulary of a culture that cannot see. The downside in the book is that the characterization is a little on the lighter end. Overall, a must-read, especially for those philosophically-minded science fiction fans.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner) Grade: B-
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. It is clear that Heinlein wants to push his own view of the world, and that takes the reader out of engagement with the haunting story, at times.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting, engaging work. One of Heinlein’s better works. Though, like every Heinlein book I’ve read, it loses its luster the more I think about it. Yes, there was too much preaching from Heinlein about sex and drugs. Yes, it was hopelessly enamored with Heinlein’s favorite ideas. No, its characters aren’t three dimensional outside of the main character. It has serious issues all the way through, such that my initial largely favorable thoughts (I initially graded this one an A- on my first read-through) become more and more negative as I think about it. I also dislike it more the more I think about it in context of his overall body of work, though that’s hardly a fair measure. As a single book, standing alone, read in the right mood, this is excellent.

Planet of the Damned aka Sense of Obligation by Harry Harrison Grade: D+
I’ve enjoyed a few Harrison books, but this one was cliche in almost every regard. The characters were utterly predictable. The “surprise” discoveries were projected far in advance. The sexism was blatant, like when it is casually stated that women could not compete with men in a decathlon because women would “never” beat men at chess. It’s campy, but not in an endearing way as can happen. It’s just not a very well-written book in any regard.

The Fisherman aka Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak Grade: C
Clifford Simak is one of those names that looms large in classic sci-fi, but whose works, in my opinion at least, haven’t aged particularly well. Time is the Simplest Thing finds the protagonist engaged in a rather lengthy road trip basically trying to do… what? Having read the book rather carefully, I’m still not entirely sure why Shep Blaine decides he needs to flee when he encounters an alien that gets inside his mind. Is there some protocol of torturing information out of human hosts? Is there some way the alien is leading him? Kind of maybe. But the way it all plays out is written in a rather ho-hum, just the facts approach that doesn’t engage with the reader. Moreover, there is very little background for any character, making it difficult to really care at all about what’s happening. On the positive side, there is the occasional interesting exploration of themes like power, intelligence, and prejudice. My feelings after reading the book mirror the narrative style: ambivalence.

Second Ending by James White Grade: B-
James White is quickly becoming an author for whom I have a deep appreciation. The thing that makes him stand out, particularly for his time, is his almost total commitment to peaceful or even pacifist type solutions to problems. I have only read this book and the first of his Sector General novels, but I look forward to more. Anyway, Second Ending‘s biggest flaw is that it is too short for the story to really get off the ground. Yes, it is certainly possible for a short work to have a complete feeling to it, but this felt more of an amalgam of ideas than a deep plot. That’s okay, though, because the ideas–while somewhat dated–are interesting. White doesn’t have “red scare” in the traditional sense. Again, it’s all about what we–all of humanity–are doing to ourselves. If we destroy the world, what next? I enjoyed this pithy read, but it left me wanting more. Perhaps it’s time to dive into the next Sector General novel!


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