I’m a huge science fiction fan, and, having read a list of what are alleged to be the top 200 science fiction novels, I decided to next tackle a read-through of all the Hugo Award winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1970 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees. I put a small overview of this year’s nominees at the beginning.
1970- A new decade ushers in one of my least favorite batches of Hugo nominees so far. Let’s get the good out of the way: Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is fantastic. There hasn’t been a single book I’ve read from her that I’ve disliked, and this one is a renowned classic for good reason.
I didn’t like anything else this year. Macroscope was a fine offering, but it jumps around too much to ever establish itself and its world. I enjoy quite a bit of Silverberg, but Up the Line both annoyed me for not being great at time travel and was extremely gross/creepy at points. Bug Jack Barron, which I’ve read was an attempt to satirize racism and show its absurdity, but it came off as over the top even for that. It doesn’t help that there’s a good amount of sexism–intentional or not–throughout the book. I didn’t like it at all.
Vonnegut lovers won’t like me for this one: sorry. I just can’t stand Vonnegut. I kind of get where he’s coming from, I guess, but everything I’ve read from him (which is a lot, unfortunately) is something I’ve hated. I first read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school, which probably didn’t help. I thought it read like it was written by a dude who was even less mature than my 18-year-old self. And, re-reading it as an adult for this and another list, I can’t shake that perception. Some say that Vonnegut’s humor is so clever/dark/witty but I can’t read it as anything but infantile and going for cheap thrills. I will not read this one again unless I’m forced to.
Up the Line by Robert Silverberg- Grade: D-
I have enjoyed my share of Silverberg. In fact, I would rank a few of his books among my favorites. I quite enjoyed the cover of Up the Line I saw in the Kindle store. But wow I did not like the contents here. I like the idea of time travel fiction, and would rank the episodes of Star Trek having to do with time travel consistently among my favorites. But it seems like it must be extremely tricky to nail in the form of a novel. I’ve written before about the main difficulties I perceive in the sub-genre (Time Travel in Science Fiction). Up the Line falls victim to the problem I pointed out in that earlier post: ‘Too often in time travel books, the characters in the future or past are little more than vehicles for showing how strange or different that time period/place is.’ Yep, here the characters in the past are little more than objects of sexual desire/use by the main character, whose abhorrent acts have little to ingratiate him to the reader. Add in heaping helping of incestuous fantasy and you have a nearly Heinlein-ian level of creep factor happening here. I didn’t find anything to redeem the book, except that Silverberg is capable of weaving clever lines even in a book as gross as this one.
Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad- Grade: D-
Full of vile racism, which it was intended (apparently) to satirize, this novel is a really tough read. It is drenched in 60s/70s thought and expression, to the point that it is difficult to read it now without having had personal experience in those times. There are seeds of excellence here, whether it is the idea of warring reality shows as politics or the various cyberpunk themes. But add those to random sexism and a huge influx of hippy culture and it just isn’t a novel that was for me. It’s got a catchy title, some interesting ideas, and heaps of things that are annoying or gross. Take it as you will.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: 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. I was surprised, honestly, by how intimate the book was. It was to the point where it almost felt claustrophobic at points, but this reads as definitely intentional. One feels like an individual embroiled in the drama, set against the planet, set against others, ready to rise up. It’s an extremely personal novel. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut- Grade: 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 re-read 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 among the worst books I’ve ever read.
Macroscope by Piers Anthony- Grade: C-
Several books on this list are written in the ‘kaleidoscopic’ fashion, and this is one of them. At times, it works. At others, it doesn’t. Macroscope, for me, fell into the latter camp, though it didn’t completely fail. The problem is with so many viewpoints and things going on, there has to be a strong central narrative or character or problem, and though the book seems to have an easy candidate, the promise never materializes. I was hoping for much more from this book, so part of my grade may just be disappointment with that aspect. Also, the idea of a tool that could drive people insane simply because of its complexity/usefulness/etc. is neat.
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.
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