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: 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. 

Links

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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 through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #16-20 scores and comments

childhoods-endI’m a huge science fiction fan, but realize 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.

16. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Grade: A-
“As interesting for its historical context as it is for the plot that fills the pages, The Forever War is speculative fiction to the extreme. What happens ‘back home’ while soldiers are off at war? Who changes more: the soldiers or those sent to protect them? When will wars end and why? Haldeman constructed a classic. My main complaint is that for all of its grand speculation, the core of the plot is somewhat lackluster compared to later, similar efforts.”

17. Brave New World by Alduous Huxley A-
“Full of chilling moments of utter carelessness, Huxley’s book is eerily prophetic while remaining utterly ‘other.’ It has a sense of foreboding strangeness about it that I cannot shake off. Better than a lot of dystopias that have come out since.”

18. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells Grade: B
The Time Machine is a great read told in a somewhat archaic style. I enjoyed the interplay of fiction and speculation about philosophy. The main complaint against it is, again, the delivery, which is almost entirely a monologue of one person telling everyone else what happened.”

19. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: A
“I saw the SyFy [*shudders at spelling*] miniseries before I read this book. I liked the series quite a bit, and the book was even better. It’s unexpected and haunting. It is bleak. It questions everything. An excellent work, that challenges raders to think about what it means to have hope in humanity–or not.”

20. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: B-
“I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. It was enjoyable, but the style dragged it down somewhat. It felt very matter-of-fact about even the most intense moments of the book. It’s not as beautiful as Stranger in a Strange Land nor as challenging as Starship Troopers. It’s still enjoyable, but the whole plot felt predictable. It lacked the excitement that comes with many other science fiction books. Not bad, certainly, but neither is it spectacular.”

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.