My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1961

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 Awared winners and nominees for best novel. Let me know your thoughts and favorites.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (Winner, My Winner) Grade: A
It’s basically a thoroughly Roman Catholic ‘Mad Max.’ Is it even possible to not like that as a concept for a novel? Effectively three short-stories tied together, this novel tells of a dystopian future at three stages. A Roman Catholic order of monks, those who follow Leibowitz, have preserved human knowledge after major nuclear war and pushback against learning and science have set humanity back centuries. It’s a haunting, beautiful novel with character and delight to spare. Fantastic.

The High Crusade by Poul Anderson Grade: B-
Ever wanted to know what would happen if you had Medieval Knights running around in space? If your answer was yes, then this is the novel for you. But really, that’s… basically what this is. Your visceral reaction to the concept question that I started with will probably be a great guideline for your level of enjoyment of the novel. It’s campy, it’s weird, it’s a bit dragged out, but it also has a weird kind of classic feel to it that makes it read almost like a weird sci-fi Once and Future King. It is definitely not as good as that masterpiece of literature, but it captures that feel occasionally, and that makes it worth a read as well. I realize I’ve written this much and barely talked about the novel itself, but it would be pretty spoilerish for this one to say almost anything about the plot, so here we are. Read it if what I’ve said appeals.

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys Grade: C-
It’s hard to hate on this novel as much as I wanted to at times. Yes, it reads rather choppily. Yes, its characters suffer from early sci-fi tropes and lack of characterization. Yes, it feels somewhat like a hack job. But it also manages to highlight so many of the things that make later hard sci-fi so great. Budrys here gives us a prototype for so much other hard sci-fi that would come later, and he fits it together with a kind of fun-house horror that somehow is not as terrible as it really ought to be. By no means is this an excellent work–it should be read largely for historical value–but it’s not awful, which is about as good an endorsement as I can give it.

Deathworld by Harry Harrison Grade: A-
I think this book benefited some from blowing my expectations out of the water. After reading The Stainless Steel Rat, I was pretty sure what to expect here. But instead of something that was pure action, Harrison delivered a remarkably thoughtful mystery of what is happening on a deadly world. The humanity with which it was delivered was also somewhat surprising, given the rough-and-tumble attitude he seems to have in his writings. Harrison’s view of women reflected his own (backward) perspectives of the time, but he did, to his credit, include one female character who was actually more three dimensional than many other characters, including males, in the book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but was somewhat disappointed with the next two. They were okay, this one was great.

Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon Grade: C+
Sturgeon wrote here an interesting experimental novel. What if gender norms and sexes were totally irrelevant? What would society look like? That’s the question he asks with this set piece novel. Much of it is spent on exposition, to the point where it starts to lose interest at points. The answers Sturgeon provides to some questions that naturally arise at times seem dated and even quaint, but this was clearly ahead of its time when it was written. Not a bad read, and short enough that it doesn’t outlive its stay.


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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My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1959

I have no idea who thought this was a good cover for this book, but here we are.

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. Each year, I will show which novel won the Hugo, as well as my own choice from the bunch of which should have won. They aren’t always the same!

We Have Fed Our Sea AKA The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson- Grade: C
It’s a kind of space adventure that this period is particularly known for, but I couldn’t honestly see anything distinguishing or interesting about this particular book. It’s an inoffensive, at times entertaining romp in a thoroughly 1950s style science fiction setting. If you like that, read it. If not, it’s probably skippable.

Who? by Algis Budrys- Grade: C
A man shows up and claims to be a lost scientist, but here’s the catch: the Soviets have had him under their power for a time. Is he really who he claims to be? Can he be programmed as a spy? Yep, there’s a lot of Red Scare in this one, and the characterization and pacing isn’t all that great, but the idea of it is interesting enough. How do you know someone is someone? What makes you you? Those are the kind of questions that are explored, with however blunt an instrument, in this book.

A Case of Conscience by James Blish (Winner)- Grade: B
I find Blish’s writing style to be a bit impenetrable for my taste. It’s like reading something through a fog. I don’t know how else to describe it. In this work, we have one of the few forays into religious questions found in this era of science fiction. How can an alien race without religion be moral? The Jesuit priest in this book asks that question and ultimately doesn’t really get an answer, leading to some spectacular difficulties in the process. Reading the book, though, is like wading through mud. I enjoyed the ideas, but had difficulty understanding the writing.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein- Grade: C
Younger Heinlein is in top form here, which means you get his action with much less of his preaching at you about how we should all have sex all the time. Unfortunately, this early Heinlein is not as talented as some of the later Heinlein turned out to be, though I think Heinlein’s works are kind of a roller-coaster of quality. Anyhow, this one is basically just a coming of age story with a spacesuit. If that sounds interesting, you’ll probably like it well enough.

Time Killer AKA Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley (My Winner)- Grade: B+
The premise initially seemed pretty standard–a man gets sucked into the future without any knowledge of what’s happening to him. But as the story developed, the intricacies Sheckley adds, layer by layer, to the plot and premise makes the book feel more and more special. Exploring what would happen if there were a scientifically verifiable afterlife was an unexpected pleasure, as was the way Sheckley deftly danced around questions of the mind-body problem, religion, and more. None of it seemed heavy-handed, which is what I was expecting once I got a feel for what was happening in the book. Instead, it was a unique look at one of sci-fi’s tropes- transhumanism/immortality. It also had a couple compelling characters, which isn’t always the case in some of the classic sci-fi. I recommend this one, folks.

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!