My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1974

I adore this cover art.

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.

Protector by Larry Niven– Grade: B+
The first book in the “Known Space” series best known for RingworldProtector features the same mix of hard science and wild speculation. Niven’s style works well for me in this book, though it delves into some implausible explanations later in the novel. I did like the truly different feel of the aliens. There was a real sense of strangeness and foreboding in parts of the book, and the works relative brevity is in its favor. The drama ramps up well. Some characters’ blunders are frustratingly predictable, but I’m not convinced that’s a strike against the novel. The characerization, though, does leave something to be desired, as none of them stuck with me long after reading the book. It’s a solid first contact story. Also, just look at that cover!

Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: F
What the hell did I just read? Heinlein went off the deep end. This reads like 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 so is pedophilia and other forms of sexual exploitation by men, specifically. 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. Heinlein’s vision of sex in the future is that of the unfettered male, free to satisfy himself with anyone he chooses. Women are not included in this reasoning process, because they are simply the subjects of lust, expected to be willingly subservient to the sexual desires of the man, whether that man is their grandchild, brother, or adopted parent. Terrible, terrible book. I hate it.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke (Winner)- Grade: B
It’s not difficult for me to understand why this is a much-beloved classic. But it also is difficult for me to love it. The book’s pacing is the main issue, as it plods along for chapters with hardly anything happening until it suddenly, like a roller coaster cresting its summit, plummets into a series of startling discoveries and action that gets jumbled together with alarming swiftness. The middle of the book is particularly subject to the problem of pace, as it is wholly occupied with lengthy descriptions of people moving from point A to point B without much characterization or plot to go along with it. The conclusion is ambiguous, but not in a bad way. Again, it’s easy for me to see how this won the award and is loved by many. The bigness of the ideas Clarke explores are always fun. But the novel itself just doesn’t make me want to love it forever. It’s fine.

The People of the Wind by Poul Anderson- Grade: C-
I think a lot of science fiction in the 60s-70s could be re-categorized into its own sub-genre of sex, with sci-fi tropes. The People of the Wind would not be easily filed into this made up category, but it teeters on the edge. I think maybe there’s an interesting subtext here about how different societies or peoples can relate with each other. Sex is used as a kind of way to open the conversation–or, more accurately, themselves–to the perceived “other.” But the prose in the novel doesn’t support this higher level reading. Anderson oscillates between matter-of-fact and seedy here, such that as a reader I never could fully buy into the notion that something else might be going on behind the scenes. The best part about the book is that it doesn’t entirely go black and white on the morality of either society. The humans or Ythrians could each be seen as morally superior here. That props up enough interest to have kept me reading. It’s an okay story that in the hands of another writer might have been great.

The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold- Grade: C-
Gerrold wrote a fantastic exploration of the notion of time travel and how that might play out if one person got careless and perhaps a little wild with it. True to when it was written, however, it devolves that somewhat compelling thread into a series of explorations about sex and orgies and more sex and horse racing. What? Yeah, that’s basically how it plays out. It goes from was an initially decent yarn to a totally absurd tale about one’s self-absorption with himself. Actually, the more I think about the main plot, the more it annoys me immensely. I keep thinking I need to adjust the score down, because this book was basically just a narcissist fantasy told with time travel. It reads almost like wish-fulfillment for the most self-absorbed person alive. That said, Gerrold brings forward some genuine questions about time travel and its possibilities. It’s just not one that I can reflect on with much liking.

1974- Not a great year for the Hugo Awards, in my opinion. Each book feels as though it has missed opportunities for greatness, except, perhaps, the terrible Heinlein work. That book is total garbage, in my opinion. I could rant on about it more, but I think my brief review above is enough said. My choice for the winner probably isn’t the best book in the bunch. I think Rendezvous may be objectively the best book here, but I enjoyed reading Protector more. As always with awards, subjectivity is involved, and on other days I may have picked the Clarke novel over the Niven book. Anyway, time travel continues to be a sore spot for me. I love the idea of novels about time travel, but rarely enjoy the books I read about it. Gerrold’s book had one of the least sympathetic protagonists I’ve encountered. Poul Anderson continues to baffle me. It was possible to be great with the story he came up with, but his delivery is so off that I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was. There’s no nuance to Anderson’s writing, which is a shame, because with some nuance, People… may have been great. What did you think of these nominees?


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.

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My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1973

Not the original cover, but I picked it because… what is it trying to say?

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 1973 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.

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov (Winner)- Grade: B-
Another proof that Asimov is capable of at least somewhat interesting characters. The first part of the story is the most compelling, as an apparently free source of energy is revealed to have dire consequences and pretty much nobody cares. Free energy is free, right? So who cares if everyone will die billions of years in the future? It’s the exact kind of reasoning that would probably be used, to the end of us all. But that dire feeling is mostly lost at the end of the book as Asimov changes its tone into a kind of future look at human colonization of the moon and the problems that might face. Yes, there are still references to the earlier portions of the book, and the solutions offered are interesting, but it lost something of the truly bleak and all-too-reasonable feel of the beginning chapters.

When HARLIE Was One by David Gerrold- Grade: B-
Apparently this is one of the first books ever that is strictly about AI and emergent intelligence. It was fascinating in many ways, especially as the designers interacted with HARLIE and came to appreciate the difficulties of doing anything with AI. Frankly, the book may have been better if Gerrold didn’t even bother trying to put characters into it. Where it bogs down is entirely in the places where characters interact with each other, and Gerrold attempts to tie the human interactions into the AI/human interactions. Thus, the love story that is central to the characters ultimately seems nothing more than a foil for trying to explain love to HARLIE, the AI. It seems to cheapen the overall effect. Nevertheless, for a “first ever” effort in this field, this is a great, imaginative book that lays out some of the questions we’re still asking about now: like how to tell if a machine is intelligent, what that might mean, and how parameters that we set for such intelligence may be bent or broken.

There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson- Grade: D
I think I’m getting to the point where I can definitively say that Poul Anderson just isn’t my thing. He’s a highly decorated author, so, as with anything, this is just a matter of preference. For this specific book, I thought the style was pedestrian, the interlude chapter with “definitions” was so on-the-nose that you could almost see “Libertarianism is the best system ever” smacked into the back of your eyeballs while you read it. I mean, that chapter is probably what killed my interest in most of the rest of the book. It’s sardonic, not even close to witty, and so full of self-congratulatory ideas that I just couldn’t get over it. The plot drags quite a bit too, and, as with too many of these early sci-fi novels, uses rape as plot device. As far as the actual time travel ideas, Anderson did avoid some of the pitfalls of time travel, as he used it much better as a device for his characters than as a gimmick to have a historical fiction novel. However, the time travel seemed somewhat inconsistent as we’re forced to wonder whether time is immutable (or not) at points. Overall, not my jam.

The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg- Grade: B
I feel extremely torn about this book. It has some of Silverberg’s best (that I’ve read, anyway) atmospheric writing. He writes with whit and foreboding, sometimes together, often apart. But it is also filled with some really awful comments about women, disabilities, and more. As is often the case, it’s difficult to tell whether these last aspects are all truly representative of Silverberg’s view, or whether they are his own satirical attack on the same. If the former, I would downgrade the book significantly. If the latter, it hovers maybe a touch higher. For better or worse, The Book of Skulls is a book that is still making me think about it, weeks after reading it. It has staying power, and it wriggles its way under your skin. It’s strange, compelling, repulsive, alluring, haunting, disturbing–it needs a lot of adjectives to describe it! I’d recommend it to readers who want to dig deeply into New Wave sci-fi, warts and all.

Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg (My Winner)- Grade: A
Considered Silverberg’s masterwork by many, I initially read this book at the beginning of my attempt to appreciate older science fiction and this is definitely not the book I would recommend to try to sell someone on vintage sci-fi. It’s dense. The prose is awkward at times. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles that at lot of people tend to expect when they hear “science fiction.” My first read of this was a disaster. I didn’t catch any of its themes. I didn’t really understand it at all. Since then, I’ve grown in appreciation of older science fiction and of Silverberg in particular. On a third reading, now, I finally understood some of its core themes. In particular, that of “Dying Inside.” This is truly a haunting tale about loss that everyone experiences, set in the mind of a telepath who is losing his abilities. The main problem I had the first time reading the book is that the main character isn’t particularly likable–he’s not. But when considered in light of this central interpretation–as a kind of metaphor or allegory of loss through aging or other loss, it becomes transformed into a thing of beauty. It haunts me. Dealing with my own loss recently, it helped me reflect on that more and come to see some of the light at the end of the tunnel. I loved this book. Give it a try… or three.

A Choice of Gods by Clifford D. Simak- Grade: A-
Simak has quickly ascended to being one of my favorite sci-fi authors. His pastoral way of writing means he can introduce some truly bleak and heady themes at times without you as a reader really even noticing. In A Choice of Gods, some of his major themes make their appearance–religion, robots, and pastoral settings. Lumped into this are some kinds of questions about colonialism as well. Standing alongside these questions, one is forced to ask about cultural appropriation, at points. Simak even touches upon this concern, though it’s never explicit; only implied. It’s much headier than it seems at first, though the central mystery of the plot is kind of a let down when it is fully revealed. There are several lengthy monologues, each of which I enjoyed immensely, but it might not be for everybody. I wouldn’t recommend this as an entry point for Simak, but it’s a great read if you’re already into him.


Six novels nominated for Hugo this year, and frankly 5 of the 6 I wouldn’t be mad at winning… except that Dying Inside definitely should have won, finally giving Silverberg a Hugo win (he’s been nominated 9 times with no wins for best novel, and I think at least a couple of them deserved the win). But more seriously, this is overall a great slate of nominees. Asimov is never my favorite, but The Gods Themselves has a cool premise that (as with several of his novels, in my opinion) ultimately collapses when he tries to bring it to a conclusion. When HARLIE Was One is strangely compelling in its AI, though the rest of the characters are cutouts. The Book of Skulls probably changed my perception of driving forever, and it stays with me to this day. Dying Inside is an all-time great. Simak’s entry this year, A Choice of Gods, is fascinating but has some flaws that lead many to dislike his work (lengthy monologues, somewhat inconsistent in its pastoral setting). Finally, There Will Be Time served as proof that Poul Anderson just isn’t my thing. What did you think this year?


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.

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!