“The Quiet Pools” by Michael P. Kube-McDowell- A surprising, forgotten classic

This cover is so very 90s.

The only reason I read The Quiet Pools is because it was a Hugo Award nominee. I love lists, and I’ve been reading through every Hugo nominee and winner. I tried to track down a copy of this book through the library system, after discovering it wasn’t available as an e-book (at least not anywhere I knew to look). The library system, even through interlibrary loan, took a while to track it down. I was surprised at its apparent scarcity, given it was a Hugo nominee and also a fairly recent (1991) novel. Then I read it, and was thrilled. It’s books like The Quiet Pools that make me want to read lists like I do–they help me discover reads that I enjoy immensely that I’d never have encountered otherwise. 

Kube-McDowell has crafted a surprising look at the launch of a generation ship. Many novels set around the same idea focus either on the generation ship’s flight or on the apocalypse that leads to its launch. Here, though, the entire book is around the leadup to the launch of the second generation ship to leave Earth. The first one was met with adulation, but this one is seen by some as stealing the best and brightest from Earth for chasing a forlorn and possibly heretical dream in the stars.

What surprised me most, though, is that the part of the book I was most interested in was following the imagined family dynamics of the future as Kube-McDowell explores the concept of a “Trine” (family group with three adults married) or other groups with more people through the lens, primarily, of the male partner of three. Initially, Christopher comes off as foolish and jealous, but the way the group gets developed is fascinating, as is the look at counseling for Christopher. It’s a familiar idea with new developments , and it gives a strong basis for character development that actually goes somewhere in the midst of this novel with bigger ideas. In a way, the whole book reads like a kind of slice-of-life novel set around a major world event, and the main thrust of the novel–the launch of the generation ship–can almost fade into the background at times as we see not just Christopher but several other characters living their lives. Yes, these lives are centered around the ship in many ways, but they also are lives lived, full of flaws and tragedy and hope and development. 

There are also scenes centered around the selection process for who goes on the ship and who stays. There are some action scenes around terrorist-fueled attempts to stop the launch or disrupt the selection process. There is tragedy and loss, and triumph. It’s all written in a rather quiet way. I saw the reviews on Goodreads/Amazon placing it squarely in the 3/5 camp on average, and that doesn’t surprise me. One almost has to be in the right mood for this book. It’s an exploration of humanity, but not one that is as wide and vaunted as a space opera, nor one as hyper-focused as some hard sci-fi thriller. And it hit me at the right time, in the right way. 

The Quiet Pools holds up well. Kube-McDowell doesn’t try to predict the future, but simply reports a version of it as he imagines it. And it’s believable, almost to the point of being humdrum. It just feels like it could be the near future, especially the near future as viewed from the early 90s, when the novel was written. I’m not saying that it is dated–and it probably is, in some ways–I’m saying that it is the kind of book that gives insight into the view of the world at the time in which it was written. I mean this in a good way. 

The Quiet Pools ought to be considered a classic of science fiction. It’s a subtle story that reflects upon human nature in the midst of greater events. And it deserves a wider readership.

Links

Sci-Fi Hub– Come read many, many more posts about science fiction novels and shows. I look forward to reading with you and discussing more books and shows!

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!

Vintage Sci-Fi– Click the link and scroll down to read more vintage sci-fi posts! I love hearing about your own responses and favorites!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Check out all my posts on reading through the Hugo Award winners and nominees. Tons of sci-fi fantasy discussion throughout.

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.

Nominating for the 2022 Hugo Awards! – A Reader Weighs In

It hasn’t been that long since the 2021 Hugo Award winners were announced, but it’s already nominating season for the 2022 Hugo Awards (and other related awards). I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on works I will be pulling for and think you ought to consider nominating as well! I have some categories I need to fill out, so let me know your recommendations.

Best Novel

Novels are my preferred format, and I read more than 600 books last year. To be fair, a huge majority of those weren’t published in 2021, so that narrowed it down quite a bit. I still can’t get myself down to a top 5, though, and so I’m sharing some of my choices here in the hopes that you’ll weigh in and help me decide which to put on my nominating ballot.

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff- A dark epic fantasy about a world in which vampires have taken over after they used some kind of evil spell to darken the world and give them freedom to conquer. The story follows the narrative of  Gabriel de Leon, a vampire hunter known as a Silversaint. De Leon uses the combination of silver tattoos and vampiric powers to take the battle to the undead as he tells his story to a servant of the Vampire Empire itself. The relentless violence and action in the novel is supplemented by numerous twists and turns that keep readers guessing all the way through. It’s a fabulous read.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir- I always feel a bit nervous diving into a novel that is super hyped. Too often, it sets expectations so high that it gets hard to feel anything but unsatisfied after reading it. Andy Weir’s The Martian was a fun read, though, and I wanted to dive into his latest book. I’m glad I did, because Project Hail Mary lives up to the hype. It’s an inventive hard science fiction story that keeps throwing new wrenches into the works. Weir has a way of creating the atmosophere of “just one more chapter” in every chapter. I hugely enjoyed this book from cover-to-cover.

Catalyst Gate by Megan O’Keefe- The finale to O’Keefe’s “The Protectorate” series is a brick of a book with extensive political (and other) intrigue. This is a space opera/adventure novel that punctuates character moments with intense action scenes. It’s a fine conclusion to a great series.

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter- I went into this one with no expectations and walked away totally sold on the setting and characters. Speculative fiction being mashed up with mysteries is one of my favorite ways to do things, and The Helm of Midnight has mystery and intrigue in spades.

Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky- Tchaikovsky continues his blend of unique aliens, excellent action, big questions, and great characters with this novel, first in a series. It’s an epic space opera that certainly delivers the goods time and again.

Chaos on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer- Kritzer raises questions about religion, who we are, how to perceive reality, and teenage angst in this delightful read that continues the Catnet series. I was shocked beyond all when I fell in love with the first book, and this was among my most anticipated reads this year. It did not disappoint.

To End in Fire by David Weber & Eric Flint- Hey, everyone has favorite series/authors. David Weber is one of mine, and it’s beyond insane to me that he’s never gotten even a nomination for his many wonderful Honor Harrington books, Safehold series, or any of his other great books. This novel continues another side series to the main Honor Harrington series, and I know that it’s so many books in that it’s unlikely to get a nod, but dangit, Weber deserves it and I’m going to keep pulling for him. This book is a satisfying info dump of a novel that helps wrap up a number of loose threads and advance the story, and I love it.

Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee- The finale of the Green Bone Saga is a massive epic urban fantasy. I cannot emphasize how fantastic this series is, and Lee is just an absolute master of the genre. Magic, double-dealing, mafia-esque crime rings, and more abound.

Short Story

Here’s a category I have some catching up to do on, but I have a bunch of sci-fi magazines from which I can pick my favorites. I do have one work to discuss here, though.

Proof by Induction” by José Pablo Iriarte- this story rocked me when I read it early this year. In this story, Iriarte weaves an absolutely gripping story about the loss of a parent around some technology that allows a kind of continuing relationship with the deceased. I don’t want to spoil too much, and the story is freely available at the link I put there in the title, but this is a fabulous read. I lost my dad in 2020, and this short story helped me work through some of my own lingering issues and brought me to tears more than once. I consider it among the finest reads I encountered all year, and definitely an early choice for my best short story.

Best Related Work

Out of This World: Speculative Fiction in Translation from the Cold War to the New Millennium by Rachel Cordasco- An academic book about, well, what the title says. It’s a fascinating read by a true expert in the field and deserves to be on the ballot.

“The Problem(s) of Susan” by Matt Mikalatos (Tor.com)- What to do with Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia? I love Mikalatos’s approach here, and with the continuing influence of C.S. Lewis and the beautiful prose and thoughtfulness of this essay, I’d love to see it on the Hugo ballot.

“Pro Wrestling is Fake (But You Already Knew That)” by Veda Scott (Uncanny)- I had a brief love affair with pro wrestling, even to the point where a bunch of us in college paid for the Pay-per-view for Wrestlemania. It was a lot of fun seeing the storylines and the humor surrounding the drama on the stage, and this article by Veda Scott was an absolute delight to read.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman- A fascinating biography of the (in)famous Stan Lee that shows his life both good and bad. I highly recommend it to any fans of comics, movies, or even speculative fiction generally. It’s a fabulous biography.

Best Novella/Novelette

Would love some suggestions here, but novella must include Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky because he’s the best.

Lodestar Award

I’m still doing my reading for this, so I’d love some suggestions.

Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko- the finale to her duology, this is another fantastic read that combines some unique magical trappings with great character building and epic moments.

Best Series

I think this is one of the most fun categories for which to nominate works. It’s also a great way to see what others are reading and pick up some new series.

The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee- What if The Godfather was about Yakuza-esque criminals and had magic and questions of colonialism? Yes, this series is that and then some.

InCryptid by Seanan McGuire- One of my favorite authors continued perhaps my favorite series of hers here. The InCryptid series features a bunch of awesome use of cryptid-like and fairytale monsters along with some originals, all with sets of rules and a family trying to deal with all the drama. Truly some of the most fun books to read that I know of, and I would love to see it get a nod here.

The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft- I am finding myself at a loss for words trying to sum up this series. It starts with a man trying to find his wife in the Tower of Babel, only to get sucked into a wonderful adventure that features sardonic humor, a myriad of characters, and so many wonderful locales. It’s a truly amazing experience and this series is fantastic.

The Protecorate by Megan O’Keefe- This series moves from being a rather intimate story about two characters into a massive space opera over the course of three books, and each one has its own unique feel. I hugely enjoyed this series and commend it to you.

Best Fancast

I’m intensely biased here, having appeared twice on the “Hugos There” Podcast, I would love to have it nominated for a Hugo! Please! Also, “Hugo, Girl” is an absolute delight in every episode and ought to be on your nominating ballot.

All Editors/Artist categories, as well as Fan Writer and more

Still doing research and would love recommendations.

Cora Buhlert- she was nominated last year, but definitely deserves to be on the ballot again.

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.

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: 1975

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.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
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. At no point does it seem like the society is merely a foil, except perhaps at times when questions of sexual relations is concerned. Even there, though, Le Guin has in-universe reasons for what is happening and ties it all into her detailed world-building. 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, but the plot is so intriguing that you don’t end up minding it as much as you probably should. So even the somewhat uneven characterization doesn’t take away from the glory of this novel. It certainly must stand as among the best science fiction novels ever written.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick- Grade: C-
Can there please, please be one Philip K. Dick novel where the answer to everything is not “drugs did it”? [Yes, I know there is more than one. But come on.] I saw the “twists” in this novel coming from miles away. I saw the main reveal coming from the beginning of the book. Dick was capable of creating mind-bending plot threads, and this one was no different. Waking up going from famous to a nobody isn’t the most original idea, but Dick’s writing is capable at even the worst, and he had me hooked fairly early on. However, delving deeper and deeper into the book made me think, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t end up as another ‘The answer is drugs’ when the big reveal hits.” Well, sure enough, it is. And that basically sucked all of my enjoyment from the novel. It’s fine. I guess.

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. That’s probably the greatest strength of this novel, and the one that kept me coming back. The aliens are just so much fun to figure out, and the way the humans slowly find out more about them is written such that it is rewarding to keep peeling back the layers. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.

Inverted World by Christopher Priest Grade: A
When I write book reviews, I try to avoid words that I think get overutilized in book blurbs or endorsements. One of those words is “engrossing.” But I have to say, Inverted World could best be described as “engrossing.” From start to finish, it is a spellbinding tale that adds complexity nearly every time you turn a page. I thought at multiple points I had figured out the twist for the novel, only to have another puzzle thrown at me that I could not explain. Ultimately, Inverted World is about how we perceive–or refuse to perceive–the world around us. Will we be like Helward, refusing to see reality even as it is shown to us? Or will we be open-minded enough to allow our perceptions to be mistaken? Or do our perceptions confine us to reality in ways we might not anticipate? Priest made me think of all these possibilities while captivating me with his world-building. If there is a flaw in the novel, it’s that almost no one besides Helward is of any interest. Even Eliabeth, introduced late in the novel, has little to offer by way of development. But this is a book that forces you to think about the world after reading it, and I tend to think those are the best kind of novel to read.

Fire Time by Poul Anderson Grade: C-
My overall impression of Poul Anderson is that he comes up with great ideas but doesn’t flesh them out or execute them as well as I’d like. Fire Time is a prime example of that. The premise has a hard sci-fi bend: a planet’s interaction with its three stars cause a “Fire Time,” which is an incredibly hot time every thousand years as the planet approaches one star in particular. Of course, tons of mythos has sprung up around this time, and adding humans into the mix of aliens causes additional avenues for conflict. The conflict itself could be an analogue for a real world conflict, as well. Somehow this promising premise gets reduced to a few vignettes of characters who aren’t terribly interesting. After the first 10% or so, it quickly becomes a tedious read that rides its premise along for the latter portions without any other reason to continue. At no point did any of the characters grab me and bring me along. I just kept hoping for more.

1975- As a follow up to a somewhat disappointing 1974, this year was fantastic. The winner, The Dispossessed, is unquestionably one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written. It stands up under multiple re-reads and continues to find depths to explore each time. The obligatory PKD and Anderson books are there, and if you’re fan of their styles, you probably will like them more than I did. PKD, in particular, is very hit or miss for me. Rounding out the year are two other fantastic reads that are radically different. Inverted World is an absolute mind-bender of a novel from the magnificent Christopher Priest, while The Mote… is a fabulous first contact novel. It’s just a great year for the Hugos with a superb collection of works.

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.

The Hugo Award for Best Series: 2021 Reviews

Reading the nominations for the Hugo Awards for Best Series takes dedication. I have read at least the first three books of every single one of the series and given the series a grade and review based upon that reading. If I have not read the entire series, I have noted it in my review of the series. I would love to talk about these series with you, dear readers, and want to know what you think about them. Which is your favorite? Have you read them all? This year’s nominations are a pile of excellent books, so it’s worth diving in.

S. A. Chakraborty: The Daevabad Trilogy- Grade: A (The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, The Empire of Gold)
There’s an allure about this whole series that stays with the reader all the way through. Chakraborty does such a fabulous job of building the world that the sights, smells, and sounds of the trilogy stick with the reader long after the books are closed. The different tribes of the Djinn make for some surprising conflicts and even protagonists and antagonists. The shifting nature of allegiance throughout the series means readers have to pay close attention even as they admire the prose and movement of the stories. It’s somewhat rare to see the final volume of a trilogy be the strongest, but I personally thought that was the case here, with The Empire of Gold providing a truly wonderful conclusion to the trilogy that had been building throughout. Chakraborty will most certainly be on my list of authors to read more

John Scalzi: The Interdependency– Grade: B+ (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, and The Last Emperox)
Scalzi is endlessly entertaining. Every one of the books in this trilogy made me grin and even laugh out loud at times. Reading his novels can sometimes feel like reading an entertaining blog post that happens to go on for hundreds of pages. It’s not the strongest prose, but it’s captivating and always fun. All of that said, the story of this space opera felt alternatively epic and rushed. The premise is that there’s a way of travel that connects an entire empire together, and that way of travel is collapsing. The powers that be must then figure out what to do to secure their power or run into the night before the inevitable doomsday for all society. It’s a great premise, and it, along with the entertainment factor of Scalzi’s writing, carries the series on its back. The characters here aren’t as strong as some of the other works on this list, and the plot of the last book, The Last Emperox, feels extremely rushed. It’s unfortunate, because the series does have that sense of the epic at times, but as the events spiral too quickly, it loses it. Scalzi walks that fine line space operas must so often walk between being so huge they get overdone and rushing events too quickly, and he leans over to the “rushing” side with some frequency. All of that said, the series is immensely enjoyable top to bottom simply because of his writing. It also features one of my all-time favorite book dedications with The Last Emperox: “To the women who are done with other people’s shit.”

Mary Robinette Kowal: The Lady Astronaut Series- Grade: A+ (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, The Relentless Moon, and several short stories)
Kowal is a master of characterization, and this series demonstrates that beyond measure. An alternate history in which an asteroid strike smashed off the east coast of the United States and forced humanity to look to the stars for hope in colonization sounds like a pitch that would play out somewhat differently than it does. The thrust of these novels is much less about the impact of this asteroid strike on civilization than it is about following a few characters caught up in the work to become (lady) astronauts and explore space for the sake of all humanity. I have not read any of the shorter stories in this series, but did read all the novels, including the first one twice. Anyway, the first book, The Calculating Stars, won the Hugo Award for best novel a few years back. It touches on issues of racism, sexism, and more, all while couching it in familiar 1950s-60s vibes and culture. Kowal did her research and historical notes at the end of each book gives some fascinating insights into the novels. The second book, The Fated Sky, gives surprising insight into the characters we grew to love (and hate) in the first book, and it has launched itself in among my favorite science fiction novels. The third novel, The Relentless Moon, is also a nominee for best novel this year, and it follows one of our lady astronauts on the home front as others are on the way to Mars in the second book. Each novel is fantastic, and the series as a whole is as well. Fans of science fiction and/or period pieces will eat this up, and the series is a clear frontrunner for best series.

Martha Wells: The Murderbot Diaries- Grade: A- (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy, and Network Effect)
The star of this series is the titular Murderbot, a security robot whose busted its programming and sometimes fantasizes about the murder it could carry out but mostly spends its time instead on protecting those close to it and binging TV shows. It’s a solid setup that allows for Wells to bounce from one-off to one-off while developing longer character arcs here and there. The first four works are novellas, and they move with the intensity and action of their format. Network Effect is the first novel in the series, and it has gotten a Hugo nomination (and a Nebula Win) under its belt already. The hugely popular series is popular for good reason: they’re just plain fun to sit down and read. Time and pages fly past when you read these largely escapist books. Wells weaves a few hints at our own political and societal concerns into the series as well for readers looking something deeper. The series is also continuing, as Wells signed a contract for several more works in the series with Tor Books.

Seanan McGuire: The October Daye Series- Grade: A (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, and many more novels and stories)
A huge series with 15 (and counting) novels and a host of shorter works to go with it, the October Daye series follows our half-fae character, October (Toby) Daye and her adventures intersecting the realms of fairy and our own. Whether she’s solving a murder, getting involved in kidnappings, or fighting demonic fae, the series brings action and whimsy together in delightful story after delightful story. These are quick reads, but they are more robust than you might think based on that description. McGuire has a way of worldbuilding that continues to work on itself, block after block, in ways that surprise and delight. The wild thing about this is that this isn’t even my favorite series from McGuire, but her writing is just so good that I keep coming back regardless of what she’s writing. I recommend you give it a try, too, because it’s worth finding out if you, too, can have another author that you plan to read everything from at the earliest possible moment. I love it. I read the first 5 novels before writing this, and plan to read the rest forthwith.

R. F. Kuang: The Poppy War- Grade: B- (The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic, The Burning God)
Kuang’s first book, The Poppy War, contains some of the absolute most gruesome and horrific descriptions of violence I have ever read in any book, whether fiction or nonfiction. I believe that is on purpose. However, I found the extreme amount and brutal details of gory violence to genuinely eat away at my enjoyment of that novel. It was especially surprising because early on, the book feels a bit like a Young Adult novel. I am not at all critical of something being YA. I love YA. I think rejecting something just because it’s YA is the height of stupidity regarding reading habits. I’m only saying it felt YA because it read like a “hey we’re going to school to learn how to fight” story that dominates a lot of YA fantasy at times. Then, it got so supremely dark that I almost felt sick to my stomach reading it. Such extreme violent could be pointless–and it almost feels like it here–but it’s also true that Kuang seems to be emulating some real life events, whether it’s an examination of Japan’s atrocities on China’s mainland in the second World War or more modern events (like the casual violence of running someone over to ensure you don’t have to pay for disabilities after an accident). These are themes worth exploring, but the extreme nature of the violence is so intense that I found it taking away from my enjoyment of the novels. Maybe, on some higher literary plain, there’s a sense that novels aren’t for enjoyment and that they can be for instruction or activism. I don’t disagree, but I also wonder whether the level of description was necessary. Regardless, I did read the whole series and I think the central plot is good, and sometimes surprising. I admit I started to skip over whole sections of text when I discovered more violence coming, though.

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.

Reading the Lodestar Awards for Best YA Book- 2021

I am a Hugo voter this year (you can be, too, by paying the fee) and I have set off to try to read everything that was nominated in the awards so that I can more fairly vote for what I believe are the best works of the year. The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book is not technically a Hugo Award, but it is awarded at the same time for the best YA novel of the year in the genres of science fiction or fantasy. I have read all the nominatees for this year and given them reviews and scores below. I’ve also chosen my winner. Let me know what you think!

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn- Grade: A-
A retelling of King Arthur in which a magical society made of white people is enlisted for help fighting demons by Bree Matthews, a black woman. Racial tensions loom large in this story that has a number of refreshing themes that spin off the Arthurian core in surprising ways. I ate it up in a lengthy afternoon read. My main complaint is that the book, weighing in at almost 500 pages in hardcover, felt like it was just as long as it is. It’s got a bit too much exposition crammed in between the covers for my liking, but once it gets going, it goes. Matthews is an intensely likable protagonist and the theme found throughout the book make it resonate with today in challenging ways. It’s a great read.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (My Winner)- Grade: A+
Raybearer is a story that subverts expectations time and again. It starts with The Lady assigning our protagonist, Tarisai, to a task of befriending and killing the crown prince. As a reader, certain expectations got built in to what I thought would happen based on that. Some played out, but many didn’t. Even those expectations that were fulfilled went in ways I didn’t foresee. But Ifueko’s talent for subverting the narrative isn’t the only great thing about this novel. Her prose is beautiful; the plot remains compelling throughout, the system of magic used is intriguing, and the world is captivating. Raybearer reveals Ifueko as a remarkable new talent, and I will most definitely be reading everything she puts out in the future.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik- Grade: B-
I love Novik, and this novel has some of her strongest work. The reason I didn’t rate it higher is because it truly takes somewhere around 200 pages for me to start liking any of the characters. The reasons for this are extreme spoilers, but suffice to say that I’m convinced you’re not really supposed to fall in love with any of the characters early on. However, that means that the book relies on its worldbuilding for those first couple hundred pages to keep you going. The worldbuilding is quite strong–strong enough to carry the load–but it doesn’t make it entirely enjoyable. That said, this is a series I am waiting for the next book with supreme eagerness.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger- Grade: B+
Elatsoe is a triumphant tale of a young Apache woman who’s able to summon the spirits of dead animals. It’s got noir aspects, some elements of horror, questions of racism, and some good art mixed in. The novel reads a bit like a travelogue to me, which feels wrong to type because it isn’t one. It just reminds me of the spirit of the older travelogue-style speculative fiction. Elatsoe is a fun character, and I love her interest in fossils. This is a perfect read for a freezing cold day indoors next to a fireplace. This isn’t a cozy mystery, but it had some of the same comfortable elements as cozy mysteries I enjoy, with a character in Ellie/Elatsoe who carries the story with her spirit.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher- Grade: B+
A wizard with powers of baking animate bread has to fend off an attack on her home city and all wizardkind. Defensive Baking is a fun fantasy romp combined with a mystery. Fun is a simple word, but it seems like the right one to describe this book. It’s just a delight to read. That said, I think the plot bites off a bit more than it can chew. I loved the first half with its blend of mystery and wizard baking, but when it came to the actual defensive baking, it felt more generic. I would definitely read more set in this same universe.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas- Grade: B-
A latinx school/urban fantasy that includes necromancy, LGBT+ affirmation, and teen drama! Cemetery Boys is full of interesting ideas, but suffers from major pacing issues. The opening scene and story concept take far too long to develop for what isn’t a very long novel. Then, the rest of the story rushes quickly past in a blur. It slows down again near the end, only to stuff a bunch of fulfilling plot points in at the very end. It felt a bit like being jerked along on a chain. That said, the core concepts that are there–teen drama, finding oneself, and a splash of dark magic–made it a fast and fun read.

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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: 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?

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.

Hugo Award Nominations for Long Form Dramatic Presentation 2020: “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”

For the first time ever, I’m a Hugo voter (you can be, too!). I am trying to work my way through the mass of nominations in order to feel fully informed as a voter. I have young kids and I don’t watch movies often, so I hadn’t watched any of the nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. So, here goes nothing! Time to watch a bunch of movies.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, written by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele, directed by David Dobkin (European Broadcasting Union/Netflix)

Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t like gatekeeping on fandom. I think it’s an awful waste of time and energy. So I’m not going to debate whether or not this movie counts as speculative fiction. It’s got at least one scene that seems to undeniably make it such, and it has a Hugo nomination, so here we are.

What a wild ride! Will Ferrell probably touches some people the wrong way, but I love his overly earnest, expressive characters. Here, he plays a man who has dreamed his whole life of winning Eurovision, something I have to admit I’d never even heard of before it started popping up all over my Twitter feed in May 2021. The Eurovision Song Contest is some kind of international competition for an original song. It’s also, so far as my Very Extensive Research (not very extensive and based exclusively on a couple image searches and Tweets) can tell, known for extravagant outfits and presentations.

This movie is fun, exciting, and full of great music. It’s got Dan Stevens (playing Russian singer Alexander Lemtov), who really should be lead in a lot more roles because that guy is talented. What a voice! The plot follows Lars (Ferrell), the bumbling idiot, and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), a woman in love with the Eurovision-obsessed Lars, as they manage to get through the contest on technicalities and explosions–yes, explosions. Oh, and murder(s). As they advance, they meet other singers and realize how outclassed they are, even as their erotic tension increases. Alexander tries to lure Sigrid away, seeing her talent for what it is even as Lars sees himself as the star. The culmination of everything leads to Lars realizing that his life with Sigrit is more important than Eurovision, and they return home bigger stars than they could’ve imagined.

Can we talk about how fun the original music is for this movie? “Volcano Man” is an absolute banger. I desperately want a “full version” with a completed music video (eg. 3+ minutes). Other songs are fabulous, too, such as the innuendo laden “JaJa Ding Dong” or Dan Stevens belting out “Lion of Love.”

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is the first of this year’s Hugo-nominated movies I’ve watched. As it stands, it would certainly get my vote over “No Award.” It’s a fun, often hilarious movie with more heart than one might expect. I loved it, but I could see a more serious spec-fiction movie unseating it for my vote this 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.

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.