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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1971

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. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1971 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 included a brief overview discussion of the year’s nominees at the beginning. As always, there will be SPOILERS for the books discussed.

1971- Sometimes people ask me why I enjoy reading lists so much. Being handed a bunch of choices made by someone else isn’t always the most enjoyable thing, as any high school student can tell you. The reason I like lists is because it forces me to read things I may otherwise never have encountered. 1971 is a year that proved that for me again. The Year of the Quiet Sun is an absolutely fantastic book that I’m sure I never would have read otherwise. I liked it so much that I even wrote a longer post on it in my Vintage Sci-Fi series. The other books this year are widely variant in my enjoyment of them. My third time through Ringworld made me both like and dislike aspects of it more than ever before. I may try more of the series soon. Tau Zero was… not great, yet again. I don’t know if I’ve liked almost anything by Poul Anderson. He may be outside my taste. Star Light by Hal Clement is a great example of the pitfalls of hard sci-fi. Tower of Glass is another great Silverberg novel, exploring themes that go far beyond the surface.

Ringworld by Larry Niven (Winner) Grade: C+
I’ve now read this book twice and a third time on audiobook for various lists. The audiobook helped me really focus in on certain parts of it that I’d kind of skimmed before. I think the first half or so of the book is quite strong. Niven makes compelling aliens that are different enough from humans to seem truly alien–a gift he displays in other books as well. But once all the initial drama is out of the way and the mysterious nature of Ringworld is revealed… it all seems kind of ho hum from there. The immediacy of the breakdown of civilization on Ringworld is difficult to believe and somewhat forced. The strong sense of mystery when the Ringworld is first revealed is a letdown in its payoff. And the characters don’t hold interest after a while. But the first half was such compelling reading that slogging through the incredibly uneven back half is at least partially forgiven. I’m thinking I may finally go and get the next couple to read them, just to see if we get a better payoff for the ideas Niven developed earlier in the book. So, I guess my overall thoughts are that this was a mixed bag. The hard sci-fi elements were fascinating, and I loved the ideas for various aliens. But once the plot truly got rolling, it seemed to fizzle out instead of all come together.

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson Grade: D+
It’s hard sci-fi with all the ups and downs of the subgenre. Fewer ups than downs are present. It’s a good example of the things that can go wrong with hard sci-fi. Anderson actually pauses for paragraphs at a time to explain to his readers concepts like relativity. Perhaps that was necessary or seen as stylistically acceptable when it was written, but it disrupts the flow of the novel repeatedly. Is this an intro to physics textbook or a novel? It’s hard to tell. The plot isn’t terrible interesting, either. A colonization ship runs into a problem with a nebula; science and fake science ensues to try to solve it. Much misogyny is the name of the game when it comes to character interactions. Women are vessels for sexually explicit fantasies. The book is barely readable, in my opinion, and notable perhaps only for its helping establish the subgenre as something to be pursued. Easy to pass up now, and I’ve read it twice! Curse my commitment to reading lists! But it pays off sometimes (see below, The Year of the Quiet Sun).

Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg Grade: A
I read this book a second time as I came up on time to write this review, and I’m glad I did. I can safely say that the first time I read it, I didn’t understand it. I mean, I got the general idea of it as a kind of play on the Tower of Babel and the like, but I don’t think I got it. This time, I think I did, though, as always, the author may disagree with my reading. Anyway, the general plot is that there’s a possible alien intelligence trying to communicate with Earth from a star that doesn’t seem capable of supporting life, and the word’s richest man is building an enormous tower to try to communicate with these alleged aliens. Krug, the wealthy man, became so by creating Androids, who have since been assigned hierarchy based upon their abilities. What he doesn’t know (nor do any humans, apparently) is that the androids have made their own religion, turning Krug into a god, complete with a kind of Trinitarian theology and scripture. The androids dream of freedom, and throughout the book this is a major driving force of the plot. But when their freedom isn’t granted, the androids rebel, ultimately tearing down the tower, though some who remain loyal to Krug send him on his spaceship in cryo-sleep to see the aliens. None of these threads are tied off. Indeed, the book is full of loose threads at the end, but I didn’t mind. It forces you as a reader to sit and think about it. This is a book that I keep thinking more about every time I consider it. There’s so much going on in it, and I loved it.

The Year of the Quiet Sun by Wilson Tucker (My Winner) Grade: A
I’d not read Wilson Tucker before I dug this gem out of a pile somewhere online. It seems intensely out of print–no ebook edition (a problem I’ve run into more than once on this quest, to be fair), and many copies prohibitively expensive. Finally found an edition that collected it with a few other novels. Anyway, this book is stuffed with themes. Whether intentional or not, the way that the main character’s work and person is connected to many, many aspects of this time travel novel make it a wellspring of reflection. Brian Chaney, the main character, translated an ancient work that appears to show the book of Revelation is not, in fact, from the time of Christ but rather a few hundred years before. This side piece of information looms large on reflecting the major themes of the novel itself, but it’s done so subtly that it is easy to miss. Alongside this, Chaney is sent to a disturbingly possible future and the bleakness is so thick that the book is probably not for the faint of heart. It’s not flawless, as it has a decent helping of misogyny and the characters are rather thin. But overall, the novel is one of those I can’t stop thinking about, even weeks after finishing it. For that, it ranks among the masterworks for me. I couldn’t contain my thoughts on this fabulous book by Wilson Tucker in a single paragraph, so I wrote a lengthy reflection shortly after finishing it.

Star Light by Hal Clement Grade: C+
Hard science fiction is one of my favorite sub-genres of sci-fi. I just love having all the science piled on–whether real or fake–to dress up the plot in a veneer of lab coats and testable predictions. That’s not sarcasm–I truly do love this sub-genre. But there is a huge, common pitfall in hard sci-fi: it is easy to allow the plot to be reduced to a vehicle for the introduction of science. This is no different from the pitfall of other sub-genres, but it seems extremely common in hard sci-fi. Star Light falls headfirst into that pitfall, and perhaps does so willingly as Hal Clement delightfully waxes eloquent on various scientific concepts–both real and imaginary–throughout the novel to the extent that it became difficult, in my opinion, to focus on the characters and the plot in any meaningful way. It’s not a bad novel, and it kept me turning the pages, but it wasn’t anything fantastic. Due to the intense, constant focus on the science, there was little development of characters or even background for them. It’s fine, but not great. The edition linked includes both Star Light and Mission of Gravity. The former is superior, in my opinion.

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] Top 100 Science Fiction Novels- #81-85

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.

81. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle 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.”

82. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham Grade: A
“A haunting sense of foreboding similar to that of The Giver fills the first several chapters, followed up with a riveting story of flight from pursuers. The action is good, not great, but the central message: that we should not denigrate/hate/fear those who are different from ourselves is beautifully and subtly conveyed. For that message alone, it was getting high marks, but the intensity of the whole work–the feeling it gives that somehow, something is quite wrong about everything–pushes it even higher. An excellent, pithy read.”

83. Have Space-Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: C-
“The beginning of this book excited me. Yes, it was cheesy and very 1950s, but it was also sort of delightful: a young boy wants to go to the moon so he spends a bunch of time composing jingles for a soap company contest. Nice. I also thought the descriptions of ‘dad’ were great–he’s crazy, but not bad crazy. Just peculiar. But then aliens and weirdness and the book went off the rails of what I expected to happen entirely. Sometimes that’s good. Here it just seemed sort of silly. Great first 80 pages or so. After that, it just goes downhill.”

84. Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott Grade: B+
“It’s fascinating as a work of conceptualizing worlds starkly different from our own. Moreover, it pushes readers to think about our own assumptions about reality and how they might constrain our vision both literally and figuratively. It lacks much by way of character development, but makes up for it by being so unique that I didn’t mind. A fascinating, surprising read.”

85. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Grade: A
“There’s a reason so many people are cashing in on YA Dystopic novels. Collins created a surprising, but familiar world that forces readers to question everything. More importantly, she made endearing and enduring characters with realistic motivations and heart-capturing moments. It’s full of action, strife, and big ideas, just like the best science fiction. What’s more, Katniss Everdeen feels as real as the people you talk to every day. She is fully fleshed out in a manner not typical for some science fiction. Really, this is a superb book.”

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- #26-30 scores and comments

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.

26. 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. The central conflict surrounding how to deal with the different alien types and the revelations that come with that are intriguing. Quite well done.”

27. Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Orson Scott Card once again proves that he is a master of the character. The way he writes people is so very real, so intense, that it is difficult to come back to reality after reading one of his novels. Ender’s Shadow is another phenomenal tale of the human conscience set alongside the struggles of a street urchin who is raised above any position he would have dreamed of. It demands its place among the best ever.”

28. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Grade: A+
“Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Speaker for the Dead is endlessly amazing. Full of rich characters, mystery, strangeness, and beauty, it is a book that has stuck with me for years and only improved upon re-reading it. It is hard to describe just how intensely full of emotion and drama this book is. It features some of the most raw and true-feeling human characters I’ve ever read, while also having some of the most interesting aliens. The plot is beautiful and encourages readers to think about their own humanity in a way only the best science fiction accomplishes. It’s utterly compelling and fascinating.”

29. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton Grade: A
“Dinosaurs and people don’t mix. Such is the lesson I got from Jurassic Park. It’s a different picture than is painted in James Gurney’s Dinotopia, itself a masterpiece. Crichton is a master of suspense, and this vivid novel combines thought-provoking ethical discussion with intense action… and dinosaurs. You can’t really go wrong. It’s not necessarily an original plotline, but the ideas in it felt fresh and still serve as a warning today. How far can we push the world before it pushes back?”

30. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester Grade: B-
“I enjoyed it but it seemed to be very condensed, despite dragging at points. It was as though Bester was simultaneously reluctant to describe any details while also belaboring some fairly minor points. I still don’t know entirely what I think of it. I thought the beginning was quite good, but it never seemed to fully pay off on the potential. It’s not a disappointing book, but not among the true greats.”

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- #11-15 scores and comments

hyperion-simmonsI’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.

11. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov Grade: B+
“Asimov can write characters, though he still refused to give them much fleshing out or description. There is much to contemplate in this inter-related collection of stories. Is it a dystopia? A utopia? Yes and no to both questions. It’s a tale of hope as well as a story of warning. I enjoyed this one.”

12. Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein 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. Hey, it’s better than the movie!” 

13. Ringworld by Larry Niven Grade: B-
“I enjoyed this one, but it felt strangely verbose without going too far. Lengthy portions went by in which it felt like little-to-nothing happened. There is clearly more going on than meets the eye, but readers never get to access it fully. It also felt a little difficult to follow at points. Not a bad book, but I had really high hopes and didn’t feel like they were fulfilled with this one.”

14. Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke Grade: B+
“It’s a fascinating premise that kept me enmeshed in the story throughout. The middle drags a little bit, because there is so little action, despite it clearly being more of an action-oriented novel. It is overall a great novel with an ambiguous ending.”

15. Hyperion by Dan Simmons Grade: A+
“I’m embarrassed that I hadn’t read this one before. The stories contained within this novel are immersive and beautiful. It made me laugh, it made me cry. Each tale contained herein is magnificent and worthy of standing on its own, but the fact that they are interwoven into one overarching plot is astonishing. The depth of this book is limitless. One of the best books ever, it is a thing of beauty.”

What do you think? Which are your favorites? Are you surprised at any of the scores or what is on the list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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.