My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1960

Yeah, that’s a sPaCe BlAsTeR!

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.

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner)- Grade: B+
Heinlein created a somewhat surreal story with a surprising lack of actual trooper-ing happening. I mean, there’s a lot of lead-up to fighting scenes, but very little of the action is portrayed. It’s good, but not quite as good as I was expecting. It also features what would become even more pronounced in later Heinlein writings- an insistence that you as a reader sit and read lengthy sections where he expands on his views of sex or economics. Despite that, it comes out at the other end a quite good novel, if not necessarily worthy of the hype it has. Hey, it’s better than the movie!

Dorsai! (AKA Genetic General) by Gordon R. Dickson- Grade: C-
It’s easy to see how this book influenced so much other military science fiction. It is also easy to see why it hasn’t remained the enduring classic that some of the others on this list have. It’s full of dull, stilted inner dialogue, thin characters, and ho-hum battle scenes. A stage setter? Absolutely. Still worth reading? Only for the historical value of it.

The Pirates of Ersatz (AKA The Pirates of Zan) by Murray Leinster- Grade: A-
Space pirates? I was pretty sure nothing could go wrong there, but I was surprised by how thoughtful this book was, and how not much at all like a pirate novel it turned out to be. I expected a campy book about some free shooting space pirate blowing stuff up. Yes, there is plenty of piracy here, but the novel is not about the action of space pirates raiding other ships. It’s about the main character, Bran Hodder, and his interactions in a sometimes careless universe. He initially is thrown into the plot because of a rather comedic scenario in which he accidentally made a possible death-ray emitter. From there, he goes on to fulfill a few action/adventure tropes, but he also has a fair share of Robin Hood in him (itself its own trope). But Leinster weaves these trope-like ideas together in a way that makes sense and actually contributes to the overall plot. It’s a very good read that holds up surprisingly well.

Brain Twister (AKA That Sweet Little Old Lady) by Mark Philips- Grade: B-
There is a healthy dose of humor in this pseudo whodunnit, pseudo action adventure, maybe slightly Red Scare novel. I’m still not sure what to make of it. The science fiction in it is downplayed, but essential to the plot. It’s a fun romp that you can read in just a few hours, and if you find it at a library or something I’d recommend taking the time to do so, just so I can ask you what the devil happened.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut- Grade: F
I have read enough of his books to think that yes, it’s him and not me. Anyway, this book has some bare bones plot about people going places and doing things so that you, the reader, may be subjected to a constant stream of consciousness of same-sounding dialogue that tells you about Vonnegut’s ideas. Nothing by Vonnegut is worth reading, in my opinion. His “dark humor” is laughably quaint and based on stupid jokes. His alleged wit about the way of the world is trite. His characters are infants. His dialogue is forced. His reflections on religion could be refuted by a first year theology student. There is nothing here that is not found in every other one of his books, recycled and reused. It is awesome in its awfulness.

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!

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.

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Reading Through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #56-60

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

56. The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton Grade: C-
“I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did. Hamilton seemed more focused on describing details of sex than upon advancing the plot. It’s another overly long space opera that makes length key to a good science fiction epic as opposed to substance. It was chock-full of cool ideas, though, so it gets a passing grade for that. I definitely see why others would love this one a lot. It just wasn’t for me. It’s also possible it hit me at the wrong time. I thought some of the discussion of worldview was offputting as well.”

57. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson Grade: B
“It never quite reached the heights of Snow Crash, and it seemed a bit too wordy, but it was still pretty thrilling. The interplay of the two (plus!) plots that were all woven together made it an interesting read just to see how it was written. Stephenson also does a tremendous job writing cyberpunk, though I guess it is technically postcyberpunk, based on a perusal of articles based on the book. It was intense at times, but also went down too many rabbit holes. A good, not great book.”

58. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick Grade: C+
“It’s only barely science fiction, which was disappointing. It’s basically a pseudo-autobiographical account of Dick’s own life in drug culture and the startling toll that culture makes its adherents pay. The characters aren’t much to write home about, but they get the job done. At times it shines through with the radical strangeness that makes Dick interesting to read, but I really don’t understand how it made this to 100 list, to be honest. It didn’t capture me at all through characters or plot.”

59. Startide Rising by David Brin Grade: C+
“I wanted to like this one so much. It started off with so many cool concepts–humanity helping along other species on earth to achieve space flight, among other things; a lost, ancient fleet discovered and all the promise there; some neat (and nefarious) aliens–but it never fully cashed in on any one of them. The scope of the plot was quite narrow, which made it even more difficult to swallow the somewhat plodding pace and lack of real development of characters. The other books in the series were better, but again felt more like ideas than fleshed out narratives.”

60. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Grade: F
“Not quite the disaster that is ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ but it has become clear after reading 3 Vonnegut books on this list that he is just not for me. Yes, I do see the moments of comic genius. However, those very brief and rare moments do not make up for hundreds of pages of jokes that fall flat, terrible pacing, boring (at best) characters, and stunted attacks on religion. It’s just not good. This is basically another iteration of the other two Vonnegut books on the list, just rinse and repeat. Plot that goes all over the place with little cohesion? Check. Characters full of themselves and writing that displays more pomp than content? Check. Inane references to aliens that are never fleshed out? Check. Asinine comments about religion that sound like a whining child? Check. Down the garbage disposal, for me. Glad I got these from the library.”

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books – #36-40

With a classic book like this it was difficult to find a book cover. I use this under fair use.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, but realized I haven’t read a lot of those works considered classics or greats. I decided to remedy that, and found a list online of the Top 100 Science Fiction Books. The list is determined by vote from sci-fi fans online, so it may change over time. I am going off the order of the list as it was when I first saw it. Each book will receive a grade between F and A+ as well as very brief comments. I’m interested to read what you think about these books as well. There will be very minor spoilers in some of these.

36. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne Grade: A-
“At times it is a little wordy, but this classic has all the trappings needed for an adventure to the depths that remains as enthralling now as I suspect it was then. Quite different from popular portrayals in a few key ways, it is exciting as a stage-setter. The characters are stronger than in Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and this, I think, should be known as his masterwork.”

37. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton Grade: B+
“It lacks that certain something that the greatest science fiction has–whether it be a stunning way to look at the world, a stirring vision of humanity, or something else–but is nevertheless a thrilling ride all the way through. Crichton is a master at using believable science to create cutting-edge science fiction, and The Andromeda Strain is no different. It gives a warning, once again, about the dangers of the unknown, a recurring theme in Crichton.”

38. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Grade: D+
“It is difficult for me to process this as a novel. Like ‘Slaughterhouse Five,’ this book has as bare-bones a plot and characters as are as thin as possible. Unlike that horrendous nightmare, here Vonnegut manages to grab some interest by making up a kind of Gnostic vision of religion. It’s certainly not a good book, by any stretch, but it isn’t as abysmal as that most hated book. The primary difficulty is that, once again, Vonnegut apparently felt the need to couch his political and metaphysical commentary in what some people take to be a novel. But really, this is just a series of barely connected vignettes written in a kind of vomiting of consciousness. It would be like me writing down every thought I had on religion, politics, and the like all day and then inserting those thoughts into the mouths of poorly-constructed characters to push my ideas onto you. It doesn’t qualify for a good read, in my opinion, but at least I see where some pleasure might be derived from his work.”

39. Ubik by Philip K. Dick Grade: B
“It’s a kind of surreal, science fiction horror story where you’re never totally sure what is going on. It reads quite a bit like an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ I enjoyed it, though it never quite reached top-tier level of excellence. A fast, thrilling read.”

40. Contact by Carl Sagan Grade: C+
“Here’s the concept: SETI, the search for extraterrestrial life, actually finds something! I really liked the idea of this book. The problem was that Sagan did too, so instead of actually writing the novel, he spent about 60% of it telling me about the idea. Thus, as a reader, you must slog through pages upon pages of background explanation for why SETI matters, what kind of cool things might be found, whether or not there might be intelligence ‘out there’ or ‘behind it all’, etc. The somewhat tired and oft-violated maxim ‘show, don’t tell’ shouldn’t be a rule at all times for all places, but it is a ‘rule’ for good reason. Sagan flaunts it throughout this novel, which could easily have been a novella.”

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.

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- #21-25 scores and comments

snow-crashI’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.

21. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells Grade: A
“A classic that remains as powerful and terrifying as ever, The War of the Worlds is phenomenal. Wells also gives much to reflect upon throughout the book through integration of various ideas, and a speculative ending that will have readers searching the skies long after. It also has surprisingly strong characters compared to much early science fiction. It’s a masterwork.”

22. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury Grade: A
“Bradbury’s vision of Mars and our future is haunting. Filled with cynicism and almost relentlessly bleak, there is but little light offered to readers. It’s got the feel of ‘The Twilight Zone’ as well as the thrills. Each individual story left me with a feeling of almost awesome dread. A fantastic book, but not uplifting.”

23. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut F
I read this one in high school and hated it. I figured I should re-read it since I didn’t remember it at all, and–let’s be honest–I was a bit a of an idiot in high school. That was a severe mistake. Vonnegut’s humor is barely 4th grade level, including lines that I think are supposed to be funny like ‘The old man was in agony because of gas. He farted tremendously, and then he belched.’ Yes, this is apparently a classic. The plot is also completely incoherent, effectively set up so that the author could draw an amateurish picture of a necklace dangling between a woman’s breasts. How mature. Slaughterhouse Five is the worst book I’ve ever read.”

24. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin A-
“Le Guin created a world that feels strangely familiar, while remaining radically different. It makes you think about life and the struggles we face. The overarching plot wasn’t terribly strong, but the character-driven nature of it made that not matter very much. It’s an extremely personal novel. I enjoyed it quite a bit.”

25. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson A
“A pulse-pounding, mind-bending ride that I didn’t really want to end. The plot is somewhat hard to follow, but remains enjoyable throughout. The seamless integration of so many ideas is impressive and exciting. I particularly enjoyed the interweaving of Ancient Near Eastern culture with high-tech societies and the subtleties Stephenson introduced that way. Plus, there’s a delivery samurai guy. What can you complain about there? I discovered Stephenson with this book and I’m sure I’ll read more, especially because he has more books on this list.”

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.