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: 1972

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 1972 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.

1972

This year featured one of the more diverse arrays of styles so far in the Hugo reading list. There are two science fantasy novels (Dragonflight and Jack of Shadows), two women authors and incidentally the first time more than one woman author made the list (Anne McAffrey and Ursula K. Le Guin), some radically different New Wave sci-fi (A Time of Changes and To Your Scattered Bodies Go), pseudo time travel (Scattered Bodies…), and a hauntingly thoughtful–if flawed–look at the human psyche (The Lathe of Heaven). The science fantasy books are quite different as well. Anyway, I was deeply disappointed by To Your Scattered Bodies Go. It should have been so much better, but the author didn’t change tone no matter which of the incredible caste of characters he introduced. On the flip side, A Time of Changes is the book that got me to appreciate Silverberg. I have rarely been so moved as I was by that book, and listening to the excellent audiobook is what sold me on it. It’s strange and even uncomfortable at times, but it’s great. Dragonquest looks on the surface like an easy read but has incredible depth. Lathe and Jack were each fine novels, but not as intriguing as some of their authors’ other works.

Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey- Grade: A-
The quiet nature of these books by McCaffrey belies the epic scale of her world and the place she built in Pern. Dragonquest is a science fantasy novel of the best kind. There are dragons, hints of ancient secrets, dire threats, and human striving of the best kind. What makes the novel especially poignant is that the “villain” here is not really a person but a kind of natural threat. In a world with raging pandemics and climate change, the “natural” kind of evil in this novel is especially haunting. The dizzying heights of dragon flight and characterization help offset what would otherwise be a fairly bleak story. McCaffrey’s worldbuilding is especially dense, though in the first book, Dragonflight, it’s even more dense. I expected these books to be fairly breezy reading, but they’re in fact phenomenally deep explorations of a well thought out world that McCaffrey has created. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like about the characters and plot here, too, but the real star is the world she’s created. Readers who enjoy science fantasy should consider these must-reads.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer (Winner)- Grade: C-
Farmer had all of humanity to choose from for his characters, and he chose some truly awesome figures. The problem is that he never gave any one character the time or space to develop properly and show the unique personality of each. The characters should surely speak in radically different voices, have conflicting concerns, and even see the world in quite diverse ways. But instead, each character was a fairly standard science fiction trope with a historical figure’s name slapped onto him or her. Their voices all sounded the same to me on almost every page. The book came very highly recommended from a number of sources. I’m pretty disappointed, to be honest.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: B-
I thought the premise–a man whose dreams become reality–was a bit tacky, but Le Guin is a master of prose and makes it work as a compelling piece about humanity. Really, that seems to be what all I’ve read from her is about, at its core: human nature. What does it mean to be human? What kind of fears would guide us if we had such a power? Who might try to harness it and why? These are intriguing questions that are just lightly touched throughout the book. The characters, unfortunately, end up largely being stand-ins for various philosophies or ways to explore different ideas. Unlike some of Le Guin’s other works, I never felt connected in any way to the characters. They read more like caricatures than characters. That said, it’s a thoughtful work that I enjoyed greatly.

Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny Grade: C+
After reading this book, I looked it up online and discovered it was written in one draft. I’m impressed, but also somewhat dismayed, because it seems the book could have been much improved with some thorough edits and rewrites. The concepts are there for a truly excellent novel, but it’s hampered by a kind of meandering at points that means I as a reader struggled to follow along with the events. Zelazny’s talent is on display here in glimpses, but it only presents itself in fragments. The Jack of Shadows has power in the shadows, unlike many of the magic users of his world whose power relies on the light or darkness on their side of the planet. It makes for a cool idea, but doesn’t go much beyond a few lines of dialogue and some action scenes. I don’t know what it is about the book, I guess I just wanted more from it.

A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg- Grade: A
I admit part of my score here is likely due to the simply phenomenal reading by Tom Parker. I listened to it from my library and was simply blown away by the quality of this narration. Parker lends the novel a kind of alien/familiar feel that reflects the dichotomies found therein. Yet even if my score is slanted because of that, there’s no denying this is a pretty excellent read. Silverberg here creates a society that sees the revealing of the self as a great crime. Only among certain relationships is it permitted to even begin to reveal oneself to others. The use of words like “I” or “me” is considered horribly obscene. Inside this society, there are priests called “Drainers” who basically act as places people can confess their wrongs and “drain” their souls of them. The multifaceted nature of this is juxtaposed with Silverberg’s central drama, the autobiographical journey of the main character as he discovers the joys of self-revealing, in part due to the use of a drug from a society most people on his planet view as barbarians. Throughout the whole book there are a number of dichotomies. Alien/familiar is the most obvious, as the people of this society are humans but act so inhumanly by denying the self; civil/uncivil is another; pious/pagan another; and the list could go on. It’s a masterfully crafted, thought-provoking science fiction novel that manages to make a rather well-worn Nu Wave sci-fi trope (drug use) into something eloquent and fresh rather than tired and dated.

Links

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1970

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.

Links

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1967

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 1967 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.

1967- I think this year’s nominees were one of the best so far. Whether we’re talking about the absolutely heart-rending Flowers for Algernon or the familiar-yet-otherworldly Day of the Minotaur, this was a great year. Even The Witches of Karres at least has value as understanding where later ideas developed from. Babel-17 made me realize I should go back and re-read some Delany novels, perhaps finding more enjoyment the second go-round. I liked Babel so much that I’m convinced I may have missed something. Somehow Heinlein gets another year of eligibility for The Moon… and wins? I don’t understand. It’s a fine novel, but I don’t think it needed to be brought in to compete with the others this year, and certainly some of the competition was better. Which did you like?

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany- Grade: A
Babel-17 is through-and-through a concept novel. I don’t know if that’s a real term, but its how I refer to books that have an idea that they’re about more than characters or a main plot. To be fair, Delany makes some interesting characters in this book, but they’re not what it’s about. What it’s about is language and how it may shape the way we think and act. Indeed, if we have no word for something like a computer or any of its components, how could we even begin to understand it? More abstractly, what if something like “nationalism” was an unknown term or concept? How would we relate to others and the space in which we live? These are some of the types of questions Delany asks in this fascinating piece of science fiction. I liked it enough I may actually go back for another try at his alleged magnum opus, Dhalgren, which I initially abandoned fairly early on. This is first rate idea-driven sci-fi.

Day of the Minotaur by Thomas Burnett Swann- Grade: B
Impressive for its prose, especially for its time, this novel is one of the earliest attempts (I read a few places it might be the earliest) to re-tell Greek myth for the modern audience. The downside to the novel is found in the times when a few anachronisms from the time in which it was written sneak in–yes, there are a few clear “flower child” type scenes, as well as a few cringe-worthy comments about women. On the flip side, it seems Thomas Burnett Swann was trying to subvert some of the latter through the narrative, which has women acting independently and with authority at times. Day of the Minotaur is also nearly lyrical in its prose, something that was not often attempted, to my knowledge, at the time. It’s a quick read that’s worth looking into for readers interested in mythical re-tellings.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (My Winner)- Grade: A
Heart-rending and poignant, Keyes has created an enduring masterpiece. Yes, some aspects of it haven’t aged well (such as outdated psychological theories), but it’s the kind of science fiction that could be set in the past as something that has happened, so that doesn’t matter. It’s got one of the best aspects of science fiction storytelling, namely that it asks us to look at ourselves as humans and see what we are more fully. I readily admit I did not think I’d enjoy this one going in. It had all the makings of one of those books that is more literary than it is plot, but it is not that at all. I wept bitterly at more than one point in this haunting work. It’s a beautiful book.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner)- 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. Also, apparently it was eligible both in 1966 and in 1967?

The Witches of Karres by James M. Schmitz- Grade: C
How do you fairly evaluate a novel that seems like a possible precursor for many other ideas? The Witches of Karres has many of the elements later space operas would absorb, and the breadth of some of it is surprising. But it’s also… not very good. The ideas are there, but the execution is not. It reads about like what you would expect from an antiquated sci-fi adventure trying to grow beyond the bonds of the usual simplistic narrative. It’s admirable that the concept was developed here, but reading it for reasons other than history is not highly recommended.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1966

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 1966 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 have a short reflection on this year’s Hugo nominees at the beginning.

1966 Hugos– Overall, this was a great year for the nominees. Dune is basically on its second go-round of eligibility the first half having been eligible in 1964. Some voters may have been upset by that (I don’t know), but the novel itself is nearly incomparable. This Immortal is competent, but I don’t think it deserves to be in the same conversation as Dune. It’s fine. The Squares of the City was a novel I discovered many years ago, and it stands up to a re-read in sometimes surprising ways. I even wrote more extensively on it. Heinlein is hugely hit or miss for me, and The Moon… is more of a hit, but even there Heinlein can’t seem to avoid lecturing his readers on his preferred systems. E.E. “Doc” Smith is one of the progenitors of much sci-fi I enjoy, but Skylark DuQuesne, and, indeed, the whole series, barely holds up as readable. The sub-genres represented here aren’t very diverse, but the selection is good nonetheless. Which are your favorites?

Dune by Frank Herbert (Co-Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A+
Certainly one of the best novels ever written, Dune’s depth is astonishing. The characters are captivating, and the reader is put directly into their minds frequently. The book’s message is also thought-provoking on many levels–theological, scientific, ecological, and more. Herbert’s motivation to try to subvert the hero narrative makes this even more fascinating than it is otherwise, with its mashup of so many themes. There are questions that remain, though–did Herbert succeed in making an anti-hero hero? Or is Paul Atreides really some kind of true hero? To me, at least, the ending is ambiguous in this regard, even though many fans of the book remain convinced it is phenomenally successful in doing so.

This Immortal AKA And Call Me Conrad by Roger Zelazny (Co-Winner)- Grade: B-
There is little by way of character development or, really, plot here. But Zelazny is such a talent with words that I didn’t mind as much as I would have otherwise. Not as stylistically elegant as some of his other works, This Immortal nevertheless remains almost lyrical in the way it conveys its story. I can also see where many ideas for later science fiction came from, though maybe not directly. What exactly is the core premise of the novel? Is it a push to question one’s own assumptions about reality? Does it go that deep? Is it really just a kind of dressed up old-school sci-fi adventure? It is difficult to tell, in the end. The novel doesn’t reach the stunning heights of Zelazny’s Lord of Light, but you can see his immense talent here nonetheless.

The Squares of the City by John Brunner- Grade: A
I read this book as a young teenager and was blown away. On a re-read sometime later (extended discussion here), I am convinced that I didn’t grasp some of the bigger concepts happening in the novel. Nevertheless, I still loved it in a different way. The book’s main plot is based upon a real-life chess game in which the characters are moved like the pieces from that game that actually took place. That’s cool, but a bit gimmicky. Then, it turns out chess is a major theme in the book, but that the notion of black/white and racial inequality also threads throughout. The main character is a traffic planner brought in to deal with some issues in a fictional South American city in the future. Societal strife, racial tension, and more lurk under the surface and the main character and a rather large supporting cast must come to grips with it. It ends ambiguously and maybe pushes its theme a bit too hard, but it’s superbly written and deeply thoughtful. I love it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: B-
The book was serialized for two years and was eligible this year and next year. What? Anyway, 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 beautifully odd 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.”

Skylark DuQuesne by E.E. “Doc” Smith- Grade: D
E.E. “Doc” Smith is a major voice in early science fiction, and at the time some put him on par or better than Asimov. His Lensman series was edged by the Foundation Trilogy to be named the best science fiction series ever. I enjoyed the Lensman series pretty well, but this Skylark series has not aged well at all. I read all four books including this one in the series so that I wouldn’t be confused about what was going on, but I’m not sure I really needed to. Skylark DuQuesne is full of space adventure spirit, but also full of ridiculous treatment of women, paper-thin characters, aliens with little to motivate them, and an Ameri-centrism that defeats the notion of the scale the novel needs to make it epic. It’s definitely a pulpy read, but not in a good way.

Links

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.

2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel: My Reviews

I read as much sci-fi/fantasy as I can get my hands on, and have been working through the backlog of all the Hugo winners and nominees for best novel for some time. The 2020 Nominations were announced recently, and I wanted to read them all so I could review them and talk about/debate them with fellow fans. Without further adieu, here are my reviews!

[Edit: The Hugo Award for Best Novel went to “A memory Called Empire,” which is a truly deserving novel that I also loved. 2020 was a great mix of works showing a wide variety of speculative fiction. Let me know what you thought of this year’s nominees!]

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders- Grade: C
There are some cool ideas here, and a strong inspiration from classics like 1984 (the government determining times, for example). However, I felt the whole thing was hampered by a lack of enthusiasm from the main characters which led to me not caring very much about the stakes. Moreover, the strangeness of motivation behind some of their acts throttled my suspension of disbelief. Perhaps there are some metaphors or analogies happening here that simply went over my head. I’d love for someone to explain if I did miss some things of import here. Anyway, the whole thing ended up feeling kind of surreal in an off-putting rather than enthralling way. 

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Winner)- Grade: A-
I attempted to read this book four times. I say attempted because each time I got sidetracked by something else. It’s dense, and my life circumstances were such that I couldn’t concentrate on it as deeply as I’d have liked to. Finally, it went on a great sale and I grabbed the audiobook along with the ebook. Listening to the book was a great experience, and let me concentrate on it better than reading it on paper. The bottom line for A Memory Called Empire is this: How well do you like complexity in your sci-fi?
A) The more Machiavellian, the better! I want names that I have to write down to keep track of! I want political intrigue I need to chart to follow! 
B) I enjoy complexity quite a bit, but don’t want to inflict pain on myself for trying to follow a story.
C) Complexity is fine, as long as it is spoon-fed to me.
D) I admire the handiwork, but I don’t like it.
Whichever option you chose is basically what I anticipate your grade for this book being. There are names that are nothing like you’d expect. There’s mystery throughout. There are political maneuvers, thrusts, and counter-thrusts. It’s all there. This book is like a combination of the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie with some Iain M. Banks in it. The book has a phenomenal payoff for the investment of energy, as well. The last 40% or so of the book has all the political machinations that you could desire to go along with the central mystery. I love it, but I also had to work to love it. I can’t wait to see what the next in the series does to me.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir- Grade: D+
I don’t know that I’ve experienced as much hype surrounding a book as this one before I’ve read it. I also try to avoid being one of “those people.” You know who I’m talking about: the type of people who talk all loud and proud about how “I read that super hyped thing everyone loves and found it was just mediocre at best.” So instead, I’ll try to focus on real, substantive critique rather than posturing. First, I do not like pop culture references in my sci-fi/fantasy. Veiled references? Sure. If they make sense for the story? Absolutely. But straight up pop-culture references in a novel that doesn’t have a very good explanation for how they come into play for the main character? Hard no. Second, the novel ends up reading exactly like it sounds in the blurb: it’s a sci-fi space necromancer with a sword and cool tattoos and a lesbian who kills stuff and cusses and doesn’t care but maybe she does care more than you know and there’s magic and space castles and everything that’s awesome like skeletons and badassery and it’s there! Whew. There’s no such thing as too much cool stuff thrown together. I firmly believe that. But it has to actually work together, and here we somehow have all of that cool stuff in it without ever having a main character or interesting enough main plot for me to care whatsoever. Moreover, since the cool stuff is being hurled at the reader at a breakneck pace, one cna never really sit back and just absorb how awesome it should be before you’re getting confronted by the next thing. There’s a gothic space palace! What more do you want!? I know: I want to actually have that described to me. I want to envision how gothic it is. I want to feel its movement through space–or the mechanization that keep it in place. I want to read about all of these awesome ideas, not just have them pitched to me as one-liners and then thrown onto an increasing heap of ideas that are never fully realized. And this is what I think made the book so terribly disappointing to me. It had so many cool ideas–it oozed with them–but it never really cashed them in. 

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley- Grade: C
I am so torn about this book. I love so many of the ideas in it. There’s a foreboding sense that aspects of Hurley’s vision of the future are not far off from the reality we may experience if we let greed continue unfettered indefinitely. The trauma of war, the pervasiveness of changing reality through the way that news can shape people’s minds, and the like are all explored here through what is, ultimately, a character piece about a soldier, Dietz. But Dietz is not, to me, particularly likable as a protagonist, and there’s a kind of paper-thin quality to not only Dietz but every other character in the book that made me start losing interest. There are so many cool concepts here, but I don’t know that we ever get to enjoy them as well as we should. It’s a thrill-ride, but one that may not have enough meat on the bones to sustain the interest of all readers. For me, it was a middling read, though I may go back to revisit it sometime. 

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (My Winner)- Grade: A+
Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite authors, and she did not let me down with this sprawling epic about the twins Roger and Dodger and the strange, weird, magical world they–and we–inhabit. McGuire is a master of peeling away layers of reality so that it seems like you, the reader, haven’t actually thought about everything yet. Maybe there is magic just around the corner. Perhaps there’s a strange, disturbing creature lurking just under that rock. Witches may have a coven over in that moor. These things seem so possible in McGuire’s deft hands, and Middlegame is one of her best efforts yet. The central plot and characters are riveting, to the point that I basically didn’t put this book down until I’d finished it. McGuire writes with a tone that is somehow both light and dark, conspiratorial and friendly. You want to love the characters from the outset, and by the time the action really gets intense, your heart is racing along with theirs. I don’t know if McGuire will explore the world she created in this standalone (so far) novel, but I’d go back in a heartbeat. 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow- Grade: C+
I loved so much about this book. It’s one of those books that is a book about books for people who read books, and those tend to be right up my alley. Harrow created January, a fantastic main character whom I love and for whom I rooted the entire time, but then didn’t really… seem to do anything with her. Throughout the whole book there were echoes about how there are these ten thousand doors and so many possibilities and so much more to reality than we expect, but then that infinite set of possibilities never seemed to get realized for me as a reader. I felt let down by the payoff, which didn’t really even begin until about 60-70% into the book. By the end, I found myself reminiscing about the earlier portions of the book, when I had a character I adored and the anticipation that something big would happen. The prose is lyrical and endearing. Ultimately, I felt the book was merely okay, due to the main plot stumbling along, but it shows immense promise. I will absolutely seek out the next thing Harrow writes, because she has the gift.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1965

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. I’ve given grades for each book, and underneath those grades, I’ve added a reflection on that year’s Hugo Awards.

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber (Winner)- Grade: D+
Thoroughly shrug-worthy, this one has most of the features I dislike in classic science fiction. First, it’s overly focused on concept rather than execution. Second, the women are all throwaway characters. Third, the dialogue is laughable. Fourth, you can really tell that it’s dated. Fifth, the aliens are basically just humans that got reskinned. Hey, it won the Hugo Award, so good job on Leiber, I suppose. Also, I think it is one of the early innovators of the sort of mutliple-main-characters viewpoints in science fiction way of telling stories, so there’s that.

The Whole Man by John Brunner- Grade: D+
This is apparently a novel that marks Brunner’s breakout from space opera, and the style does seem like a transition. It has a little bit of the feeling of New Wave sci-fi while also some of the campiness of adventure sci-fi. The stylistic jumps make it feel a bit haphazard to me. I also do not particularly enjoy how Brunner dealt with “disability” in the novel, using generally derogatory words to discuss disabilities and running with the notion that anyone with a disability is a kind of person to be pitied. The novel, in other words, has not aged well at all. Not one of Brunner’s better works.

Davy by Edgar Pangborn- Grade: C-
Post-nuclear-apocalypse coming-of-age stories were apparently very “in” in the 50s and 60s. Here’s another one. It’s decently well done, though not nearly as good as some other notable ones (thinking here, in particular of The Long Tomorrow). Here, Davy is a kind of future pirate ne’er do well who’s writing back on how he came to be where he is. It has its moments of fun and fear, but it takes forever to really get going, and when it does it suddenly feels so rushed it is hard to get on top of it. A decent book that I’d recommend for those who like pastoral apocalypses.

The Planet Buyer AKA The Boy Who Bought Old Earth AKA part of Norstrilia by Cordwainer Smith (My Winner)- Grade: A
Yes, the publication of history of this is a bit complex. I ended up reading it as part of Norstrilia because that’s the version I could get my hands on. Anyway, Cordwainer Smith is one of those almost forgotten authors whose works really ought to be much more influential and well-known than they are. He wrote many more short stories (this is his only sci-fi novel), and each one of them is haunting and wacky in its own way. The Planet Buyer/Norstrilia is set in the same world as the rest of his sci-fi, a world in which the Instrumentality of Mankind rules. However, Old North Australia (Norstrilia) is the only place that can produce an immortality drug made from its genetically diseased sheep that are raised in pastoral settings preserved by ludicrously high tariffs and powerful defenses. Through speculation, a man is able to acquire an immense fortune, but then has to go on an adventure and into hiding in with the underpeople, some animal-people who are treated as slaves by others. The story somehow mixes elements of the absurd, New Wave, and pastoral sci-fi together in unexpected ways while still maintaining a cohesive, fascinating narrative. Smith also made choosing my personal winner for this year especially easy. The other nominees this year are either not very good or show their age in overwhelming fashion. By contrast, this novel feels fresh and inventive more than 50 years later. I definitely recommend reading all of Smith’s sci-fi corpus.

1965 Hugo Award for Best Novel: It’s likely this won’t be the only time that the book I considered (tied for) worst of the nominees won the award. The Wanderer was just boring. It’s almost a pure concept novel of the sort that has people today hate on hard sci-fi as a sub-genre. Leiber has entertained me before, so I was surprised by how little I liked this one. The Whole Man was little better, and I’m honestly a bit upset that I spent my money on that one because I couldn’t get it through interlibrary loan. It hasn’t aged well, and likely is only worth reading if you’re trying to look at the origins of space opera. Though even on that latter regard, I’d say the Lensman series is a more fun entry point, despite having its own significant flaws. Anyone out there who enjoyed either of these books? I’d be interested to read your own opinions on the novels. Or, if you also disliked them, join me in hating on them in the comments.

Davy was bland as well, but had moments of interest. It’s a mix of tropes that have been done many, many other times, but is written in a winsome enough way that I didn’t mind. It certainly has more staying power than the previously discussed books. Then, we get to The Planet Buyer (et al.). It’s so delightfully fresh and strange that it blew me away the first time I read it. I initially only read the book because I found the Baen edition of Cordwainer Smith’s collected sci-fi in a bookstore and it had a dragon in space on the cover, which convinced me that I had to figure out why that would be the case. I then plunged into his works and read all the sci-fi he’s written, enjoying each individual piece. The Planet Buyer absolutely stands the test of time, as Smith deftly wove many seemingly contradictory styles into one haunting narrative that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It’s absolutely top notch science fiction, and I commend it to you, dear readers.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1964

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 1964 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.

Way Station (AKA Here Gather the Stars) by Clifford Simak (Winner, My Winner)- Grade: A-
I think the best word I can think of to describe this book is ‘quaint,’ but I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It is quaint in the best way–it hearkens of a different time and different ideas. But that shouldn’t undermine the magisterial work Simak did here, because he was forward-thinking in many ways, including the awesome idea at the heart of the novel. The way he tied so many divergent threads back together was marvelous as well. It’s a great read that shows the huge promise early science fiction pointed towards. I’m being intentionally vague because to be anything but would ruin things. Definitely worth the read.

Glory Road by Robert Heinlein- Grade: D+
This is weird Heinlein, and not in the good way that some weird Heinlein is. At times it reads like a rather prosaic space adventure novel, but at other times it delivers Heinlein’s anachronistic hippy fantasies into the plot as well. Is this a Mary Sue book? Almost certainly. Heinlein seems to love writing characters who are desired by strange women (or all women, or everyone) and also seems to think that this is especially edgy or delightful. Given the number of times he shows up on award lists, he wasn’t alone, but many, many of his books do not stand up well to the test of time, and Glory Road absolutely is one of those. Honestly, who cares what happens in this book? It alternates between surreal, weird, silly, and dull. I think that’s enough of a summary.

Witch World by Andre Norton- Grade: C+
How I long to love Andre Norton’s work, but I’ve yet to find one that truly gets to me. Witch World is a fine novel, but as much as it certainly is not bad, it also isn’t very good. I listened to this one, which usually serves to increase my enjoyment (it forces me to pay attention and also a good narrator improves even bad stories). Witch World is a kind of science fantasy, one of those books that transports the protagonist into another world, here with strange fantastical powers/witches. The pitfall of so many of those books is that they read like the author just wasn’t sure how to make a protagonist strange enough and alluring enough to appear “other”–as in from another world/species/etc.–and in Witch World, that pitfall is triggered. As I said, it’s fine. There are even some cool moments of worldbuilding mixed in there. It just isn’t particularly compelling.

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 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.

Dune World by Frank Herbert- Mulligan
I am not counting this one here as it was later added to the full Dune and I will be reading/reviewing that for the Hugo Awards in 1966.

Links

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1963

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 1963 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.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (Winner) Grade: B-
I still can’t figure out the ending, but it was an enjoyable book. Fascinating idea (Japan/Germany win WW2) that is frequently-explored in alternate history but done well here. Dick’s strength is in the way he conveys a mix of humor and horror. Most of the book feels a bit like a travelogue, though, and one that doesn’t seem nearly as foreboding or interesting as it ought to be given the compelling idea behind the plot. Dick’s obsession–like many other SFF authors of his time–with questions of sexuality and pushing whatever boundaries he thought he needed to push against isn’t overwhelming here, but it is definitely an underlying theme. Since reading the book, I’ve watched the first two seasons of the TV show, which is pretty fantastic and shows directions Dick could have gone to make the book even better. I liked the book, but wish it had been more.

The Sword of Aldones by Marion Zimmer Bradley- Grade: C
There’s way more going on here than I expected when I read that this was a sword-and-planet science fantasy work. It’s almost more of a family genre/mannerpunk book in some ways than it is a science fantasy book. Genre questions aside, Bradley offered a compelling enough world and characters, but throughout the whole book there was a lack of punch. I just kept losing interest. Maybe that was my expectations about what I was getting into, but it just felt kind of ho-hum to me. The edition I got had an introduction from 1977 from Lester del Rey (cofounder of the publishing house) that was particularly revealing when he noted that Bradley’s work kept getting categorized as juvenile fiction because of a lack of overt sex. I guess that shows what was going on in that time related to SFF and also, if true, helps explain why so many books in this earlier part of the Hugo awards seem utterly obsessed with (ironically) juvenile notions of sex and titillation.

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke (My Winner)- Grade: A-
There’s something about a good sci-fi thriller mixed with hard sci-fi that I find totally irresistable. This is an earlier one of Clarke’s works, but of those I’ve read from him it is the one that seems the most human. He puts a group of people together in a skimmer on the moon (and yes, we know the moon isn’t covered with a sea of dust now, but it could be any fictional place), has disaster fall upon them, and we sit with them as search and rescue begins, seeing the action from several angles. There’s something alluring about this plot. It’s so basic, but so fascinating. It’s like the stories about getting stuck in an elevator and befriending everyone aboard–it just works, with this inherently relatable feel to it. I was absolutely absorbed by this book from the beginning to the end. The only fault is that it shows the casual sexism of the 1960s through and through, whether it’s women naturally being selected for cooking, or appealing to vanity for women to get them to do things. Nevertheless, this book is a gem, and exactly the kind of book that makes a quest like my Hugo Award reading worth doing. Clarke weaves hard sci-fi throughout as well, as he explains without too many details–never in a boring way–the science or fake science behind so many of the events. And unlike other authors of hard sci-fi who sometimes get to the point where it reads as a textbook, Clarke weaves the science into the narrative in ways that even the occasional info dump seems to make sense–it just becomes a ratcheting up of the tension. A fascinating, fantastic read. Also, that first edition cover is stunning in its simplicity.

Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper- Grade: B-
The titular creatures are cute, and Piper seems to have been one of the few authors to pioneer the “aliens might not be the worst” subgenre of first contact novels. The writing is a little uneven, and the characters don’t quite break out of their molds, but it is all done in a kind of vanilla fashion that doesn’t leave that much to complain about. It’s an enjoyable taste, but nothing life changing. What is clear though, is the tremendous impact this book has had on the first contact subgenre of science fiction, from the debates over sentience/sapience to the way characters make discoveries about the aliens. It’s an influential book, and a quick read.

Sylva by Jean Bruller- Grade: C
The plot is that a fox becomes a woman becomes a wife becomes a fox-human mom. It’s weird. There’s a literary quality to it that both makes it seem a bit more well-written than some early science fiction while also managing to avoid being pretentious. But really, this is a kind of strange tale. The ending is much more alarming than I expected, though not because its horror or anything of the sort. It was just a major surprise. I found it a decent book, but not one I’d return to. It is so obscure now, apparently, that searching “Sylva Bruller” on Amazon doesn’t actually bring anything up. I feel fortunate to have tracked a copy down through interlibrary loan.

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1962

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 1962 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.

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye (My Winner) Grade: A-
Have you read about Plato’s cave? Okay, now that you’ve searched it and done so if you haven’t we’re on the same page. This book is a science fiction exploration of Plato’s cave. It’s done extremely well, combining elements of nuclear scare/red scare with world building that make a whole culture that lives purely in darkness. It’s fascinating all the way through, with how Galouye thought to even drop common sayings like “I see what you mean” out of the vocabulary of a culture that cannot see. The downside in the book is that the characterization is a little on the lighter end. Overall, a must-read, especially for those philosophically-minded science fiction fans.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner) Grade: B-
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. It is clear that Heinlein wants to push his own view of the world, and that takes the reader out of engagement with the haunting story, at times.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting, engaging work. One of Heinlein’s better works. Though, like every Heinlein book I’ve read, it loses its luster the more I think about it. Yes, there was too much preaching from Heinlein about sex and drugs. Yes, it was hopelessly enamored with Heinlein’s favorite ideas. No, its characters aren’t three dimensional outside of the main character. It has serious issues all the way through, such that my initial largely favorable thoughts (I initially graded this one an A- on my first read-through) become more and more negative as I think about it. I also dislike it more the more I think about it in context of his overall body of work, though that’s hardly a fair measure. As a single book, standing alone, read in the right mood, this is excellent.

Planet of the Damned aka Sense of Obligation by Harry Harrison Grade: D+
I’ve enjoyed a few Harrison books, but this one was cliche in almost every regard. The characters were utterly predictable. The “surprise” discoveries were projected far in advance. The sexism was blatant, like when it is casually stated that women could not compete with men in a decathlon because women would “never” beat men at chess. It’s campy, but not in an endearing way as can happen. It’s just not a very well-written book in any regard.

The Fisherman aka Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak Grade: C
Clifford Simak is one of those names that looms large in classic sci-fi, but whose works, in my opinion at least, haven’t aged particularly well. Time is the Simplest Thing finds the protagonist engaged in a rather lengthy road trip basically trying to do… what? Having read the book rather carefully, I’m still not entirely sure why Shep Blaine decides he needs to flee when he encounters an alien that gets inside his mind. Is there some protocol of torturing information out of human hosts? Is there some way the alien is leading him? Kind of maybe. But the way it all plays out is written in a rather ho-hum, just the facts approach that doesn’t engage with the reader. Moreover, there is very little background for any character, making it difficult to really care at all about what’s happening. On the positive side, there is the occasional interesting exploration of themes like power, intelligence, and prejudice. My feelings after reading the book mirror the narrative style: ambivalence.

Second Ending by James White Grade: B-
James White is quickly becoming an author for whom I have a deep appreciation. The thing that makes him stand out, particularly for his time, is his almost total commitment to peaceful or even pacifist type solutions to problems. I have only read this book and the first of his Sector General novels, but I look forward to more. Anyway, Second Ending‘s biggest flaw is that it is too short for the story to really get off the ground. Yes, it is certainly possible for a short work to have a complete feeling to it, but this felt more of an amalgam of ideas than a deep plot. That’s okay, though, because the ideas–while somewhat dated–are interesting. White doesn’t have “red scare” in the traditional sense. Again, it’s all about what we–all of humanity–are doing to ourselves. If we destroy the world, what next? I enjoyed this pithy read, but it left me wanting more. Perhaps it’s time to dive into the next Sector General novel!

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.