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.

Reading Through the [Alleged] Top 100 Sci-Fi Novels: #86-90

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.

86. Way Station by Clifford Simak 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.”

87. Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky Grade: B
“A haunting, thinly-veiled condemnation of the notion that all will be made happy through Soviet-style Communism. Yes, there is a lot more to this book than that, but the core message is there. The concept that some aliens might just be hopping around on a picnic and litter Earth without ever realizing the damage they were doing or possibly doing is pretty fun, if bleak. The notion that some technology could be so much higher than ours that we might glean uses out of it without ever actually knowing what they’re for is equally intriguing. I just don’t think the book itself ever quite hit on all cylinders at once. It’s an imaginative, foreboding work of the imagination.”

88. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: A-
“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. That said, it’s a thoughtful work that I enjoyed greatly.”

89. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson Grade: D+
“Don’t kill me, but the movie was way better. The book lacked the bleakness I felt it should have had, though my perception may have been colored by the movie. I mean, the whole thing had a feeling of silliness throughout that I just couldn’t get over. The title of the story is so awesome, and the idea, while basic, is solid. The execution? Not so much.”

90. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner Grade: B
“A phenomenally difficult and dense read. The style is particularly interesting, though I read that it was largely modeled after a work Brunner admired. Basically, some chapters are kind of info-dumps giving background on the setting, other chapters are more extensive background information, and still others follow a narrative. It makes the whole thing a bit of a chore to read through, and I can’t help but think that it seems a bit forced. However, the central narrative and the background context are each intriguing, and the dystopic future it envisions are, in some ways, chillingly accurate (though in others laughably quaint).”

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- #46-50

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.

46. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson Grade: B-
“It reads a little like a poor folk’s Ben Bova. The trappings of hard science fiction are all present, but it never quite hits its stride with characterization, nor does it quite live up to its own lofty scope. At times, it is amazing. At others, it is bogged down with ever-increasing broadening of scope. I think the main problem here is that the book feels like an attempt to combine space opera and hard science fiction, and while I’ve enjoyed such a combination, it does not work as well here. But it has enough going for it to make it worth the read, regardless.”

47. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Grade: C-
“Do you mind trying to figure out slang? If so, don’t read this. At first it is very difficult to get into due to the word-swapping that is used throughout the book, but it eases up as you begin to understand what’s happening. It is relentlessly violent and dark, with very little hope until the very last chapter. Even there, though, it’s hardly enough. The whole thing seems kind of pointless after a while, to be honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not very good either.”

48. Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein Grade: F
“What the hell did I just read? Heinlein went off the deep end. Basically 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 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. Terrible, terrible book.”

49. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin Grade: A-
“Ever read a book that makes you think… a lot? No? Well, pick this one up. Ursula K. Le Guin sketches out a remarkably detailed anarchist society, while pitting its pseudo-utopian problems alongside problems with capitalism and socialism. It’s really well done and incredibly deep. She also explores the question of how much our upbringing can cloud our thoughts regarding being self-critical and analyzing our own views. Why not the highest possible score? Because other than the main character, an intriguing scientist with a good amount of depth, every other character is exactly what you might expect. They’re created purely for the sake of the plot. A great book, but not totally transcendent.”

50. The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov Grade: C-
“Asimov again shows that he is more interested in ideas than execution. The novel spends almost as much time talking about scientific theory as it does giving readers a sense of the world around themselves. Like each Asimov book I’ve read on this list so far, I see the sparks that would make many readers fall in love, but as someone who enjoys well-written characters, the paper-thin motivation used throughout this novel falls flat. It’s as much a treatise as a novel, but not in a good way.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books– Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Reading through the [Alleged] Best 100 Science Fiction Books- Check out more posts in this series as I continue.

SDG.