The idea that there was an "official" list of the best sci-fi novels for each year intrigued the compulsive collector in me. For years I've been thinking of tracking down and reading the whole list (not necessarily in chronological order), and at some point in 2017 I finally started the quest.
Over the holidays as 2017 became 2018, I decided to put together this web page to track my progress and write "reviews" (or at least opinions and thoughts) of each book. This was partially inspired by an interview I heard on NPR with a woman who published what she called her "Book of Books", a log of reviews she'd written over the years of every book she'd ever read. Sounded like an interesting idea, and it coincided well with this Hugo quest, and thus this web page was born.
I imagine the serious, hard-core sci-fi readers will be laughing themselves silly over my scribblings (or be deeply offended that I didn't really like some of these books, especially some of the older ones), but that's just a risk I'll have to take.
NOTE: In order to save space on the page, all reviews are initially collapsed. To expand them, click on the book cover image. Click again to re-collapse the review.
ALSO NOTE: There are SPOILERS GALORE below. So if you're thinking of reading one of these books and don't want to know anything about it in advance, DON'T READ the review of that book. You've been warned.
ALSO ALSO NOTE: As of this writing (January 2018), this page is still in a very skeletal state. It'll get filled in as I read more of the books.
Now, without further ado, let's get to the list...
When I dug that old paperback out of storage and started re-reading it as a near-50-year-old, I was shocked at how much "antique" British vocabulary, humor and phraseology there was just in the opening chapter. I read this as a teenager and enjoyed it?!? At least 20% of it had to have gone right over my head back then. At least 10% of it still does.
But White's writing style draws the reader in. Within a couple chapters, you feel like the young Arthur (or Wart as he's nicknamed in the story) is your best friend. Even if you don't understand some of the phrases, somehow the humor still comes through. And White found a clever way to work some 20th century references in by having Merlin the Magician age backwards, so he has already lived through our times and can reference things like World Wars and plastic surgery. He even comments on how some of the things he says and does are anachronisms.
The first section, The Sword in the Stone, is the part that won the Hugo. It's very light and humorous in tone, with Wart and his older brother Kay going on various adventures like meeting Robin Hood in the woods and helping him rescue people from Morgan Le Fay. They also meet the comic Sir Pellinore who constantly pursues (but never catches) the Questing Beast.
In order to prepare Wart for his future role as a great leader, Merlin occasionally transforms him into various animals, so he can see life from alternate perspectives. Near the end Wart becomes Kay's squire and goes with him to a tournament where Arthur unwittingly draws Excalibur from the stone and becomes King of England.
A quick summary of the rest of the book: in the second part, The Queen of Air and Darkness, Merlin tries to guide the young King Aurthur away from the philosophy of "Might Makes Right" and towards a more just and chivalrous reign. But most of the book is spent in the north where the future Sir Gawaine and his brothers are raised by their witchey mother Morguase. Next comes The Ill-Made Knight, which tells the story of the homely Sir Lancelot and his unfortunate love for Queen Guinevere. In order to keep the two separated, Arthur eventually sends all his knights out on the quest for the Holy Grail. By the end of the story, all the characters have become old. A Candle in the Wind is basically a short (around a hundred pages) epilogue to the saga, with Morguase's adult sons led by Arthur's illegitimate son Mordred in an attempt to destroy Camelot by using Arthur's new laws against him and proving that his wife was unfaithful with Lancelot.
At the very end of the book, Arthur is preparing for the battle against Mordred and has a premonition that no one is going to survive. So he calls a young page named Tom into his tent and tells him his life story, explaining why he created the round table and did all the other deeds of his life. It's a nice way to summarize and wrap up the book, but the extra "hidden" bit is that young Tom the page is actually Thomas Malory, who would grow up to write "Le Morte d'Arthur", the manuscript from the 1400s upon which all modern versions of the Arthurian legends are based.
I highly recommend The Sword in the Stone. After that it's a case of diminishing returns with each section not quite as satisfying as the previous one. But if you like the Arthurian legends and White's writing style, you might like the whole book.
Update April 2018: While looking for Hugo winners in various bookstores, I stumbled across a T. H. White book called The Book of Merlyn which I hadn't previously even known existed. Apparently it was originally intended to go with the other four books when they were collected into The Once and Future King, but White's publisher declined to include the fifth book due to a WWII paper shortage and because they didn't want to be connected with the book's anti-war theme while England was fighting the war.
The Book of Merlyn picks up where Candle in the Wind leaves off, with Merlyn coming to visit Arthur before his battle with Mordred. In a plot that would have given The Once and Future King nice symmetry if it had been included, Merlyn once again proposes to turn Arthur into various animals so he can learn from them (and so White can use their examples for his anti-war, anti-Nazi and anti-communist messages). White was so disappointed when the fifth book was rejected that he took two sections, where Arthur is turned into an ant and a goose, and snuck them into a "revised" version of The Sword in the Stone which then got incorporated into The Once and Future King. So about a quarter of Book of Merlyn had already been published when the book finally came out in the 1970s.
I greatly enjoyed Book of Merlyn and blew through it in just a few days (it's a very short book). It includes a lot of dry, British humor and even some self-referential bits such as Merlin confusing Arthur by telling him he's in a book being written by "poor White". Despite the duplication, I think this was my second favorite part after Sword in the Stone. Shame it didn't get included in Once and Future King.
Read in September, 2017. Read the sequel, Slan Hunter January 20-22, 2018.
This book was cobbled together from a serialized version published in sci-fi magazines in 1940. Because of this, it reads like one of the old Flash Gordon movie serials - every chapter or two the protagonists are in terrible trouble, then they find some miraculous solution and move on to the next problem.
Slan is considered a cornerstone of science fiction and was so popular at the time that it inspired sci-fi readers to adopt the slogan "fans are Slans". It introduced the idea of a small group of not-quite-human beings with superpowers who are feared and persecuted by regular humans. This concept would later be used by everything from the X-Men to Harry Potter. In this book the super beings are the Slans, a group that has golden tendrils growing from their head that give them the ability to read minds. They're also much stronger and smarter than humans and can heal from injuries much more quickly.
Humans, considering the Slans a threat, tend to kill them on sight. In the past, the Slans have risen up and taken control of society, but humans' greater numbers let them eventually defeat the super beings and regain top dog status. Since then rumors have spread that an underground community of Slans is working on a secret super weapon that will let them defeat the humans once and for all.
The story follows two young Slans, a boy named Jommy and a girl named Kathleen. He's the son of the Slan who invented the super weapon, and holds the hopes of his species...if he can just stay alive. She's a prisoner in the human capitol who was captured as an infant and was studied with the understanding that she would be killed on her 11th birthday before she became dangerous. But political games lead to the dictator of the world needing to keep her alive to maintain his power base.
Further complicating matters, Jommy discovers that there's a third race that falls somewhere between Slans and Humans - they have all the characteristics of Slans except the tendrils that allow mind-reading. They can pass for human and shockingly they hate the Slans even more than the humans do. They're up to something, and while they assume the regular humans are too dumb to figure it out, they're afraid the tendrilled Slans will discover their plans.
A central mystery of the book is is where the Slans came from. Are they aliens? Are they mutants? Are they the result of genetic experiments? While the ending of the book seemed rather sudden and the big "twist" at the end wasn't as mind-blowing as I think the author meant it to be, it does at least explain were the Slans (both tendrilled and tendrilless) came from and how everything fits together.
The introduction to the book mentions that the author was working on a sequel when he died, and sure enough the last 20 pages or so of my library's copy were a "teaser" of that sequel, finished by another author from van Vogt's notes. I think that probably added to my "wait, that's the end of the book?!?" reaction, because I was expecting those 20 pages to wrap up the original story, not start a new one.
Since then I found a cheap hardcover edition in a used book store that contains both the original story and the sequel, so I took a break from the Hugo quest to read Slan Hunter (like I don't have enough other books to read). It's not as if the original book was "unfinished", but it probably left a lot of readers wondering what happened next. The second book picks up right where the first one left off, with the tendrilless Slans launching their attack against humaity and brings the story to a more definitive conclusion. It follows the style of the original to a remarkable degree, given that it was completed by another author. The story even uses 1940s era technology despite being written in 2007, with the explanation that the first Slan wars set humanity back so far that they're just now catching up to where they were in the 40s. I enjoyed the sequel, but didn't care for the ending all that much - like the humans are just going to forgive and forget having most of their planet destroyed (which happens early in the story). And as if that's not bad enough there's not one but two huge deus ex machina elements in the last chapter, the first of which makes for a happy ending, and the second makes for a big "twist" ending like the first book, but makes little to no sense and was completely unnecessary.
Originally read sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, re-read in late 2014 or early 2015.
If you've never read it, to understand The Mule you need a bit of backstory. Asimov's series begins in the near future with the Robot short stories and novels, which explain how the three laws of robotics came about, and eventually how robots helped mankind leave the Earth and start colonizing the stars. The Empire trilogy are basically stand-alone books that were later worked into the saga, and tell tales set in an emerging galaxy-wide human empire. By the time of the Foundation books, that empire is starting to fall apart, with the prospect of a dark age lasting thousands of years looming over humanity.
A brilliant mathematician named Hari Seldon finds a way to statistically predict the future by mathematically studying history and using it to describe how large populations of people behave. He realizes that it's too late to save the collapsing empire, but he comes up with a plan to shorten the dark ages to just a thousand years, which will end with the smart people in charge, hopefully creating a second empire that will last.
Things go pretty well - in fact the long-dead Seldon occasionally appears via pre-recorded holograms and congratulates his Foundation on perfectly following his predictions. But then the Mule comes along. A seemingly unstoppable military leader, the Mule conquers planets with little resistance and seems poised to rebuild the empire as a military dictatorship. It turns out that he has powerful psychic abilities that he uses to bend people to his will. The Foundation meanwhile is on the verge of a civil war and to the shock of the Foundation's leaders, when Hari Seldon's hologram makes its next appearance, he talks about the successful conclusion of a civil war that never happened, because both sides were too busy worrying about the Mule.
A small group goes in search of the Mule, in the hope that they can convince him to spare the Foundation or else help them overthrow the current government and return the Foundation to democracy. They're joined by a top military spy and one of the Foundation's best psychologists, who has been trying to duplicate Hari Seldon's work. They also end up harboring a fugitive clown named Magnifico, who was previously the Mule's court jester. As they flee from world to world, the Mule always seems to be one step behind them, conquering each planet they visit - even the Foundation's capitol planet Terminus.
When the Foundation was created, there were hints that a Second Foundation was also set up, but its location was described vaguely as "the opposite end of the galaxy" or "at Star's End". Desperate for help, our heroes travel to the great library on what's left of the Empire's capital planet Trantor, hoping to find hints to the Second Foundation's whereabouts. Magnifico seems oddly intent on helping them, even to the point of killing the Emperor's son with a "visi-sonor" (a musical instrument that can generate nightmares). After nearly killing himself by researching night and day for weeks straight, the psychologist finally discovers the location of the Second Foundation, and that's when the real surprises begin.
If you've never read any Asimov, I highly recommend starting with the Robot novels and working your way through to the Foundation series (maybe skipping the two prequels Asimov wrote late in his life). His writing style makes for quick and easy reading, despite the complications in the plots, and if the ending of the final Foundation novel doesn't blow your mind, you're better at seeing plot twists coming than I am.
Read in December, 2017.
So what's this "juvenile" stuff? It means that he intended the books for younger readers (like junior high or high school level). That description is almost always followed by "but adult readers will enjoy them too"...but ehhh, not so much. I thought they read like Hardy Boys books with lots of 1950s science mixed in. And the plots were just ridiculous and always involved young boys doing things adults would find difficult. For example, in Rocket Ship Galileo, three boys help a famous atomic scientist build a rocket to go to the moon. And once they're there, they encounter space Nazis. I wish I was making that up.
Farmer in the Sky is probably the best of this bunch, but that's not saying a whole lot. It follows a teenage boy (big surprise) who is an Eagle Scout (big surprise) and can fly a helicopter (sure, why not). He lives with his widowed father on an Earth so overpopulated that each person is legally required to track the limited number of calories they eat each day. The boy and his father decide to enter a lottery to be among the first "farmers" to move to a new colony on a moon of Jupiter. They're selected to go...but the trip is only open to married couples and their children. So Dad quickly marries a single mother he's been secretly dating, and now junior has to adjust to both his new, unwanted family and life on a new world. A low point comes near the end when the main character learns that his step-sister died and he spends about two paragraphs feeling bad about it...and then the story moves right along.
I know that Heinlein is considered a master science fiction writer but...I've yet to read anything by him that really impressed me. I read Stranger in a Strange Land back in high school (or possibly college) and thought it was overrated. I barely remember anything about it, so I guess I'll eventually be re-reading it (since it's a Hugo winner). Anyway, these early juvenile novels haven't changed my opinion of Heinlein much. It doesn't help that he often goes out of his way to inject his political beliefs (which would nowadays be considered fairly right-wing) into the stories. Beliefs like "everyone should own a gun and it's none of the government's business" or "military service is everyone's duty and is good for you". He also sometimes goes off on tangents just to show off his scientific knowledge, like the entire chapter in Farmer where he explains how they made the atmosphere on the moon that's being terraformed (hint: it requires a non-existent "mass converter" that uses Einstein's E=Mc2 to convert small amounts of mass into huge amounts of energy). Come to think of it, those scientific asides are probably what won him the Hugo - I'm sure they seemed impressive when these books first came out.
On the plus side, the stories in this book were easy to read and they worked well together - concepts and plot elements introduced in one story would often crop up again in the next story, as if he if he had planned the whole thing out in advance. On the minus side the stories haven't aged well and don't have me looking forward to reading the several other Hugo winners by Heinlein.
Read in the first half of January, 2018.
The Demolished Man won the very first (non-retroactive) Hugo for best novel. It's the story of powerful businessman Ben Reich who has nightmares about a man with no face, and who is obsessed with finding a way to defeat his main business rival. He finally misinterprets a coded message from his rival as a declaration of war and resolves to murder him. The problem is that this is a future where many people are "peepers" - mind-readers whose ESP powers make it very likely that anyone thinking about murdering another human being would be spotted and committed to "demolition" almost immediately.
The protagonist (anti-hero?) comes up with a brilliant work-around. He gets his commercial jingle writer to craft a song that's such a massive earworm that it is constantly running through his head, thereby blocking the mind-readers from seeing his underlying intentions. Of course, when it comes time to commit the actual murder, things don't go as smoothly as he expects and there's a major complication. For the rest of the book he has to figure out how to stay one step ahead of the police, including head dectective Powell who is a first class peeper.
One of the interesting aspects of this book is the way wordless conversations between the peepers are presented. There's a chapter where a bunch of mind-readers are having a party, and the pages look more like paintings done with words than normal text pages. There are lines of words running diagonally, up the page, down the page, etc. It's a neat effect. The author also predicted the text shortcuts of the internet several decades early by having characters who have changed their names to include symbols, like "@kins" instead of Atkins.
One downside of the book is that the language occasionally tends to be fairly arch. Very dramatic and film-noir. During the murder scene the main character blurts out strangely stilted dialog. Other sections also had me thinking "OK, Bester, tone it down a bit." I was also surprised that this book (along with other sci-fi from the 50s) has people living on Venus. I didn't realize that it wasn't discovered until the late 1960s that temperatures on Venus are way too high to support human life.
This is a fairly short book, at least for sci-fi. Maybe it just seemed that way because I blew through it pretty quickly. The older paperback copy I have is around 175 pages long, and the newer edition (which uses a larger font) is around 250. But each time I'd sit down to read the book, I'd quickly blow through 30-40 pages, and I'm not one who usually cruises through books that fast.
My biggest criticism of this one would be that there are just too damned many characters. I kept finding myself saying "wait, who's he again?" and having to page back through the book until I found the paragraph or two where this character was last mentioned. Oh, and there are punchlines to running jokes like "I'm just one of the tourists" and "Who stole the weather", but they make little sense because the reader is never let in on the joke.
Ben Reich's character almost drops out of the second half of the book as it focuses on policeman Powell's attempt to solve the case. Actually "solve" isn't the right word - he knows exactly what happened and is always one step ahead of Reich, but just can't gather enough evidence to pin the murder on him. Which gets a little annoying after a while, considering that Powell practially has superpowers that let him get whatever information he needs from anyone, even Reich's accomplices.
The end of the book gets a little surreal, reminding me strongly of Philip K. Dick especially in the second to last chapter. The author attempts to raise the stakes by turning Reich into Hitler-level monster who could possibly destroy all of human society, and Powell into a martyr who has to use the combined psychic force of all peepers to stop him. But this sudden escalation of the story to "world shaking" proportions seems more than a little forced. Personally, I think the book would have been better if it had just been left as a simple police procedural (with psychics).
Overall though, I liked this book a lot. I can see why it was chosen to kick off the Hugo tradition.
Started re-reading this (see below) Feb 4th, 2018. Finished the novel Feb 8th, 2018. Finished the supplementary material (see below) Feb 11th, 2018.
This seems to be the sci-fi story that the "serious literary types" point to most often as a classic. And you can tell that it's "serious literature" by the way it's written - very flowery prose, bordering on poetic, with so any metaphors that it's occasionally hard to tell what Bradbury's trying to convey with any given sentence or paragraph. More recently my daughter had me read another of her school books, a famous literary work written by a French author in the 1940s, and Fahrenheit 451 reads much more like that than it does its fellow sci-fi stories of the 1950s. In addition to its overarching theme warning of the dumbing down of society, it just feels like every line in this book has some subtle secondary meaning.
The story is set in a future where books have been outlawed, partly because the government and advertisers find it easier to control people that way but mostly because people just found reading books too difficult compared to watching TV. While it's not a particularly politically correct view in this day and age, Bradbury also blames minority groups for getting any book that offends them banned.
The story's main character, Montag, is a "fireman" whose job it is to burn any contraband books...along with the entire house containing those books and any inhabitants who would rather burn than go to jail. The story's title comes from the fact that paper burns at 451 degrees fahrenheit (which, apparently, isn't quite factually correct but...close enough).
One day a new family moves in next door to Montag, and through conversations with their free-spirited teenage daughter he starts to slowly change his point of view. He becomes bored, particularly with his wife who spends all of her time mindlessly watching TV, and he starts to wonder if there might be more to life. One day while burning books, he rescues a bible and takes it home. We eventually learn that he's been doing this for a while and has a whole hidden library, although even he doesn't seem to understand why he's done this illegal thing. He recalls a conversation he once had with a man who used to be an English professor, so he decides to find him and learn about the hidden joys of reading. The two hatch a plan to bring the entire system of firemen down, but things go horribly wrong, first for Montag and then for all of society. In the end, the few people who are still literate hope to rebuild civilization from the ashes using the books they've personally memorized.
Despite its poetic style, unrealistic plot and (to some degree) attitude of condescension, I can see why this book is considered a classic that has stood the test of time. But, that said, I can't say I really enjoyed it the way I did Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. For that matter, while I don't remember too much from the paperback copy of The Illustrated Man that I read a while ago, I also liked that one more than Fahrenheit. I guess I prefer Bradbury's short stories, where he doesn't have the space to get quite as verbose, grandiose and poetic as he does in this full-length novels.
The copy of Fahrenheit 451 that I bought includes a section of supplemental material called "History, Context and Criticism" at the end which is almost as long as the book that it's commenting on. I was thinking of skipping its hundred or so pages and moving on to the next Hugo book, but decided to go ahead and read it. What the heck, I paid for the book, might as well read the whole thing. I can't say that I gleaned much from it that I hadn't already gotten from reading the book itself, but I have to admit that I'm very impressed by the lengthy, incomprehensible sentences full of super-obcure vocabulary words that some critics use to mask the fact that they don't really have anything original to say about a book.
Read from late December, 2017 into early January, 2018.
They'd Rather Be Right starts out as the story of a young boy named Joe who has telepathic abilities (why was early sci-fi so obsessed with ESP and mental superpowers?). His abilities have made him an outcast amongst children his own age, and towards the beginning of the story a psychologist even turns his own mother against him. The author(s) of this book REALLY seemed to dislike and have a very low opinion of psychologists (and scientists in general). In fact, they also disparage the government, religious leaders, the military, and especially the common man. Seems like they felt superior to nearly everyone (except Einstein), which gave the book a preachy vibe. Anyway, all seems lost for our hero Joe until he meets a dog that he's able to communicate with telepathically. Seems like the story is going to be about a telepathic boy and his dog...but nope.
We immediately jump forward 12 years to find Joe in college, working on a project to create a guidance system for airplanes that avoids crashes better than human pilots can. But the project succeeds beyond anyone's expectations, and the machine becomes artificially intelligent. Turns out Joe is behind it all, manipulating people on the project with his telepathic abilities. He hopes the machine, nicknamed "Bossy" can give other people telepathic abilities, so he'll have someone who understands him. But the public gets wind of the device and riots, fearing that it will replace them and take their jobs. Joe and the two project leads manage to smuggle Bossy out of the school just before an angry mob tears the place apart.
Eventually they hole up with some career criminals and continue work on Bossy. Kind of out of the blue the story changes the machine into a medical device, and the first person to receive "treatment" is an elderly ex-hooker named Mabel. It rejuvenates her, turning her into a beautiful 21 year old. The problem is, the process only works on people who are willing to give up all their prejudices, preconceived notions and core beliefs so their minds can be re-wired to see the world as it really is, which somehow rejuvenates the cells and de-ages you. Thus the book's title - the scientists soon find that most people would rather hold on to their beliefs and be "right" than be made immortal.
The new Mabel forgets things like the effect a completely naked 21 year old woman walking down the sidewalk would have. She ends up getting thrown in jail...until a mysterious benefactor hires a top legal team to get her released. Joe finds this benefactor and sets out to use his resources (along with Bossy) to change the world.
This was a quick, entertaining read...but the "science" behind it is absolutely horrendous. They must have had fairly low standards in the early days of the Hugo. And for some reason the authors were obsessed with the word "somatic". I had to look it up - it means "of the body, as opposed to of the mind". They use that word every chance they get, sometimes more than once per page, even when it clearly doesn't fit. I started to wonder if that was a popular buzzword in 1955, so I looked it up on Google and sure enough, right around the early 1950s usage of that word spiked sharply upwards.
Another downside of the story was that it didn't have a whole lot of plot, so the authors kept repeating things and making the same points over and over. But despite it all, I enjoyed this story and the rest of the "megapack". There was one other lengthy story in the pack about a colonist planet called Eden that I think I liked more than the Hugo winner. Unfortunately I can't describe much of it because nearly anything I say would be a major spoiler, and it's off-topic for this page anyway.
Bought from Amazon as a three-book hardback compilation (see below). Read The Puppet Masters Jan 22-25th, 2018. Read Double Star Jan 30-Feb 1st, 2018. Read The Door Into Summer Feb 2-4th, 2018.
The first story in the book is The Puppet Masters. Since it wasn't the Hugo winner, I'll just say that it's Heinlein's take on the alien body-snatcher tale. That's not really a spoiler - it's all laid out in the first ten pages or so. The twists here are that there's a super-secret government agency that was created specifically to deal with "unbelievable" things like this (hmmm, wonder where "X Files" got that idea) and parts of the story are told from the point of view of someone who has been taken over by one of the alien lumps. Despite the horrific nature of the story and some scenes that are a little gory or explicit (including people, even a session of Congress, having to go nude or topless to prove they're not carrying an alien parasite), the writing is in the simple style of Heinlein's "juveniles". Makes me wonder who the intended audience was. At nearly 200 pages, this is by far the longest of the three stories in this book.
At a slim 140 pages, Hugo winner Double Star is the shortest. I took a break before starting this one to read Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (spurred by her passing in early 2018), but it wasn't too difficult to jump right back into Heinlein's style when I resumed reading this one.
Double Star is another case where I can't quite figure out why it won the Hugo, especially considering that it was up against Asimov's The End of Eternity. Nothing much happens in Double Star. This is a huge SPOILER, but here's the entire plot in one paragraph:
A powerful and famous politician is kidnapped on Mars to prevent him from attending an important ceremony. His absence would be interpreted as a major snub by the Martians and could even lead to war. So the politician's confidants go to Earth and find a down-on-his-luck actor who can do a spot-on imitation of the politician. He is coached to the point where he can get through the ceremony. The real politician is rescued but is in bad health, so the actor has to keep playing his role. There's an odd, tacked-on romance between the actor and the politician's secretary. With at least 50 pages to go I knew the politician was going to eventually die and the actor would end up taking over his life, winning the election, marrying the secretary and becoming a great leader. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened.
So yeah, it's basically the plot of the movie Dave. Or rather Dave stole its plot hook, line and sinker from Double Star, minus the sci-fi elements. But in the end, I was left wondering what the point of the whole story was. Given its short length and fairly lackluster plot, why did this book win the third-ever Hugo for best sci-fi novel in 1956? I'm guessing Heinlein's storytelling style just really fit in with popular culture in the '50s. As the intro to The Big Lebowski says, "He was the man for his time and place". Most of his stuff that I've read so far reads like it was written as a World War II story and then hastily re-edited to be a sci-fi story instead. Change "bomber" to "rocket" and "Europe" to "Mars", throw in a bunch of lingo that was hip in the '40s and you've got a Hugo winner!
The Door Into Summer opens with the casual mention that Manhattan has been nuked - it's not part of the story, just background info. I think Heinlein had that same tidbit in The Puppet Masters, and I've noticed other sci-fi writers from the '50s who casually took it for granted that there'd be a nuclear war in the near future. Most of them treated it like it wasn't a big deal, with only Ray Bradbury approaching the darkness and gravity suitable to the topic.
At any rate, The Door Into Summer is considered a classic time travel story. Dan Davis is a brilliant engineer and cat lover (he is rarely separated from his tomcat Pete). He invents a floor-cleaning device that sounds remarkably like the modern day Roomba, and partners up with a lawyer friend to create a company to sell it. Once they start making some serious money, a sneaky secretary who works for them teams up with the lawyer to screw Dan out of his half of the firm. Then, since this is the futuristic year of 1970 (remember, the book was written in the mid-50s), they give Dan mind-control drugs and have him committed to suspended animation. He wakes up in the unimaginably futuristic year 2000 and has to try to reconstruct his life, while figuring out what happened to his inventions back in the '70s. He eventually finds a way to time travel back to 1970, and for the last act of the story there are two of him running around. There's also a decidedly creepy romance element, as Dan gets engaged to a 12 year old girl who has a huge crush on him in 1970 (remember, he's around 30 at the time) so he can marry her as an adult in the future. Kind of icky. Still, this was probably my favorite story in this book even if it did spend way too much time talking about the cat (I'm decidedly not a cat lover).
Oh, and I guess that inside-out woman on the cover is somehow supposed to represent The Puppet Masters (even though nothing even close to that happens in the story) because the picture in the lower left of the mushroom-headed Martian and the body double is clearly Double Star and the open door with the clock and cat behind it is The Door Into Summer.
Read Feb 11-15th, 2018.
I downloaded The Big Time to my Kindle because it was free, but then later found a $7 hardback edition that was in very good condition, so I bought it. Based on the thinness of the book, this looks like it might be the shortest of all Hugo winning novels (the copy I have is only 130 pages, including a 5 page introduction), which is odd when you consider the robustness of the world the novel creates. This is the sort of idea that most modern sci-fi writers would probably turn into a twenty volume series of books of several hundred pages each.
The basic premise is that two shadowy forces called the Spiders and the Snakes are fighting a war across all of space and time. The characters in this story are on the Spiders' side, although none of them are really certain who the Spiders are, or what their overall objectives might be. Each side has the ability to create Doppelgangers - they come to a person shortly before death and offer them the chance to be restored to their prime and live outside of time...with the catch being that they have to spend the rest of their lives serving the side that revived them. Since each side has all of time to choose from, the characters in this story cover a wide range including a roaring '20s flapper, a Nazi, a Roman centurion, an Amazon warrior, a Mississippi riverboat gambler, a London actor who knew Shakespeare personally and even non-human creatures from the distant past and far future.
Most of the revived people (who go by the term Demons, as opposed to normal people who they call Zombies) are soldiers who fight battles in the future or the past. One example given early in the book is that the Snakes have changed history by kidnapping Einstein as a child, and the Spider forces are fighting to get him back. But there's a "conservation of history" law in the universe - no matter how many changes the two sides make, history always reverts back as much as possible to what it would have been if no changes were made.
Interestingly, this book doesn't tell a tale of time-battle (although it seems like a ripe field to choose from, and alternate history buffs will have fun untangling some of the references in the first half of the story). Instead, The Big Time is set in an "Entertainment Place" - a haven outside of the cosmos where soldiers can go for medical treatment, musical and dramatic entertainment and...a little attention from the opposite sex.
At one point the characters have a heated debate about the nature of the war and whether it's even worth fighting, and while everyone's attention is on that, someone steals the device that creates doorways back to reality. Our motley crew find themselves trapped together in vault outside of time and space, and the tension is quickly turned up when one character decides to put them all in a life or death situation in order to smoke out the culprit.
Despite its short length, this book was a challenge. Leiber throws references to his fictional universe at the reader like we're just supposed to know what he means, and it might be a few chapters later that we finally get an explanation of what he was talking about. On top of that, he throws in phrases in German, Latin, slang lingo from ages past and even bits he made up of fictional languages...so not exactly easy skating. Probably didn't help that I was reading this while also keeping half an eye on the TV to watch the Winter Olympics. And I couldn't shake a feeling of Deja Vu, like I might have already read this book decades ago and just couldn't quite remember when. Or maybe I read it in an alternate timeline that has since been changed by the Big Time war.
At any rate, I rather liked this book and I'm betting (since it's such a short one) that I'll eventually read it again.
Read Feb 16th-21st, 2018.
This book is lauded as one of the first science fiction stories to really tackle moral and religious questions, which right off the bat kind of put me on the defensive. To be honest, I'm still not sure whether I was supposed to agree and sympathize with the main character, Jesuit priest Father Ramon, or find his reasoning and actions ridiculous if not outright repugnant.
The story begins with four commissioners from Earth evaluating the distant planet Lithia. It's the first planet that mankind has found that is populated with beings that have high intelligence - twelve foot tall reptiles with their own language and sciences, but without space travel due to their world's lack of metals. The commissioners are to make a recommendation of what Earth should do with the planet. The physical scientist discovers that elements required for making nuclear bombs are abundant on the planet and recommends turning the whole world into a munitions factory. Another commissioner recommends building a station that humans can stop at on their way to exploring more distant stars. A third thinks the planet should be put off limits to humanity until the natives have time to develop their civilization further.
That leaves Father Ramon, who comes up with the most unexpected interpretation of all. I'll take this opportunity to warn again about how these reviews are major SPOILERS. Anyway, he notes that the natives are perfectly logical creatures - they have no crime and always do what is best for their society. They're also perfectly moral, despite the fact that they have no religion and have never come up with the concept of a God. Worst of all, their reproductive cycle proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the truth of the theory of evolution, which his Church has still never accepted. So his conclusion is that the planet is a trap set by Satan to lead humans away from the teachings of God, and could possibly even be the gateway to hell itself. He strongly recommends that the planet be quarantined forever.
In the second half of the book, the commissioners come back to Earth. In a plot development that makes no sense at all, Father Ramon accepts the gift of a fertilized Lithian egg to take home. The alien who hatches from the egg grows up in human society and becomes a TV celebrity. Earth has, for decades, been in the grip of what the author calls the "shelter economy" as every nation has spent a good portion of their budget to dig deeper and deeper shelters against possible nuclear attack. Tired of living underground and starting to go a little stir crazy, the population of Earth is ripe for the adolescent alien's message of anarchy and bringing down the system. Eventually he sets off a rampage that threatens to destroy the world, thereby fulfilling Father Ramon's prophesy of Lithia being the catalyst of the apocalypse.
Some of the reviews I read of this book said that the first section is good, but then it really goes off the rails in the second part, and I fully agree with that opinion. The descriptions of Lithia, its inhabitants and their society and technology had me devouring that first part pretty quickly. But once the big reveal is made that Lithia might be the work of Satan, the book goes downhill and just kind of gets more and more nonsensical from there. In the end, one could make the argument that the theories and actions of Father Ramon had no effect whatsoever on the course of the plot. One could even argue that Ramon and his church are the most evil elements of the story, as they're fully prepared to condem an entire planet of peaceful, intelligent beings to oblivion for fear that they might be the work of the Devil.
It didn't help that the author, who was a microbiologist by profession, felt the need to show off his knowledge of chemistry and biology every chance he got. He also went for a lot of flashy vocabulary words, some of which were so obscure that my Kindle couldn't find a definition for them, and some I'm pretty sure he just made up. Also, the bits where Father Ramon analyzes Finnigan's Wake were probably supposed to be symbolic of something or other, but just seemed to waste a lot of space in the first half of the book.
In the end, this seems like the kind of book a high school English teacher would use to try to spark lively debates in his class (probably to be disappointed that the kids either didn't read it or didn't get it). The first half is worth reading and was probably worthy of the Hugo award, but the second half doesn't live up to the descriptions I've seen of this book as a "sci-fi classic". And the ending...well, I'll just say that I found it kind of sickening.
Read Feb 22nd - Mar 2nd, 2018.
I've seen the Starship Troopers movie and heard the song by Yes - I should be able to fake a book report from that, right? Probably not, so I found a paperback copy of this one at 2nd and Charles that looked to be in really good condition. It wasn't until I started reading it that I discovered that it had been sliced somehow - in the cover pictured here, imagine a vertical slash that goes from the middle of the top edge to near the bottom of the "P" in "STARSHIP" and extends down through the first few pages of the book. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now except apply some tape.
In my entry for Double Star I mentioned that Heinlein's books often seem as if they started out life as World War II stories that were then converted to sci-fi. And I made that comment before I read Starship Troopers. In the first chapter alone, we see paratroopers dropped from outer space wearing super-armor that lets them leap tall buildings in a single bound and survive atomic bomb blasts. For some reason I was expecting this book to be a step up from Heinlein's work of the '50s, but other than it being preachier and harder edged it's actually pretty similar to the earlier book Space Cadet, just with more killing (but still zero remorse or emotional impact).
Our narrator is young Johnny. Right out of high school he joins the military, not due to any sense of patriotism but because his best friend is signing up and Johnny goes along and signs up too in order to impress a girl. It turns out he doesn't have the aptitude for any "desk" jobs, so he gets assigned to infantry and undergoes brutal training in boot camp. The boot camp section takes up most of the first half of the book. Hey Heinlein, I got it after the first 50 pages of beatings - boot camp sucks but it's what turns boys into men. At any rate it turns young Johnny into a hardened warrior, and a hundred pages later he and his companions are finally off to fight in an interstellar war against a bug-like species. Eventually Johnny attends officer's school, which gives Heinlein another opportunity to expound his world view.
That world view is the thing that makes this a "controversial" book (it says so right on the cover). For example, in Heinlein's future only military veterans can vote or run for office. Anyone who decides to go to college or pursue a career right after high school gets no say in how the government is run. Maybe that seemed like a great idea to an author who was a WWII veteran, but I think I can see a few problems with it. He apparently also believes that public floggings would keep people in line and end crime. Because, you know, that's worked so well in the parts of the world that currently practice it. Wikipedia says that some have criticized this book for being fascist propaganda, and I can totally see their point.
But the book's biggest failing is that, for a supposed action/adventure story, a goodly percentage of it is given over to deadly dull military tedium and trivia. For example, towards the end when it's clear that they're gearing up for a climactic battle against the bugs and Heinlein should be drawing the reader in and amping up the action, instead he decides to double down on the details to explain the chain of command, how many of each type of officer there are and how many men they have under them, etc, etc...even who sits next to who at dinner. It had me frequently checking to see how many more pages I had to slog through before I'd be finished with this damned book, and that's just a sign of bad writing as far as I'm concerned.
Anyway, I was hoping that this, the eighth Heinlein novel I've read in the past few months, would somehow be better than his previous works, but...I should have learned by now. His stuff is like the pulp sci-fi equivalent of junk food - empty calories that are occasionally tasty going down but in the end aren't very filling and leave me feeling like I should have consumed something better for me. The straw man political arguments in this one were a chore to get through, almost to an Atlas Shrugged level of tedium, but thankfully Heinlein kept his ramblings to just over two hundred pages (compared the thousand-or-so pages of Atlas which seem more like ten thousand).
This will probably make most long-time fans of sci-fi books write me off as an idiot, but...I genuinely think Robert Heinlein is hugely overrated. The kicker is that I could have read a Kurt Vonnegut novel if The Sirens of Titan hadn't lost out to this bit of military propaganda for the 1960 Hugo. Oh well.
Read Mar 2nd - 13th, 2018.
As I get into the 1960s Hugo winners I've noticed that the sci-fi books are starting to get a little meatier, pushing towards the size of modern novels. This one is over three hundred pages of fairly small print, and it feels more "solid" in the hand than earlier Hugo winners, like picking up a brick. Due to my copy's age, the pages are yellowed making them a little difficult to read, which actually fits the story about monks in the distant future who make copies of ancient twentieth century documents to preserve them, even though the meaning of the documents has been long since lost.
I have to admit that I had to look up the definition of the word "canticle". Turns out it's a religious song or chant. For the second time in three years, the Hugo award went to a book that mixed sci-fi ideas with religion. I guess that's what was popular at the time, sort of like how mind reading and psi powers were all the rage in '40s and '50s sci-fi.
The background to this story, which is gradually laid out over the first half-dozen or so chapters (or immediately, if you read the spoilery back cover blurb) is that the world was mostly destroyed by a nuclear war sometime in the late twentieth century. The few survivors turned against the knowledge that made the apocalypse possible, destroying technology, burning books and lynching any men of learning that they could get their hands on. A scientist named Leibowitz managed to stay alive by hiding out in a monastery. Eventually he tried to undo some of the damage to society by founding his own order of monks dedicated to preserving books and knowledge, which just got him martyred.
The book is divided into three sections, each given a title in Latin - there's a lot of Latin and even a bit of Hebrew in the book, but you can get by without knowing those languages (which I don't). But thanks to notes from the diligent Sue, I know that the section titles translate to "Let there be Man", "Let there be Light" and "Let thy Will be Done". Each one started out as a short story, and then Miller decided to expand and combine the three into a novel. The first story is set about a thousand years in the future and tells of a likeable but bumbling and none-too-bright monk named Brother Francis. He is involved in a potential miracle when a mysterious pilgrim helps him discover the hiding place of some of Leibowitz's writings. The problem is, the miracle seems too convenient, and might actually hurt the chances of the long-dead Leibowitz becoming a saint. Eventually the Pope summons Francis, after years of toiling in his desert abbey duplicating the writings of Leibowitz and others, to come to New Rome for the granting of his patron's sainthood. Along the way Francis encounters robbers, learns lessons and eventually is killed. Which came as quite a shock, since I didn't realize that the book was about to turn to a completely different story in part two.
The second section jumps ahead a few centuries and introduces more than enough new characters to make up for the loss of Francis. There's a brilliant scholar who is trying to re-invent theories of electricity, and an equally brilliant monk who uses those theories and the Leibowitz documents to build the first electric generator the world has seen in a millennium. There's the Abbot who is in bad health but is hanging on to try to guide his order through this new age of inventions that threaten the monks' livelihood and war amongst their neighbors that may threaten their lives. There's a poet, political leaders and various monks of the order of Leibowitz. But most intriguing of all is old Benjamin, a hermit who lives atop a mesa and claims to be hundreds, if not thousands of years old. He may even be the very wanderer who Francis encountered at the beginning of the book. One of the themes of this section is whether the ancient documents should simply be preserved as holy relics, or if they should be used to advance science and technology. Is such an advance even a good thing, given the power-hungry rulers who would immediately use any new technology to make war?
The last section once again jumps forward several centuries. Technology has been advanced beyond pre-apocalypse levels...and the world once again stands at the brink of nuclear war. But the brotherhood of Leibowitz has a plan to preserve their order and their ancient documents. The wandering hermit who appeared in the first two sections also makes a couple brief appearances here, but doesn't have much bearing on the plot. A major theme of this last section is the question of whether terminally ill people who are suffering should be allowed to choose euthanasia, and like A Case of Conscience, I find the religious argument fairly repugnant as it boils down to "It's God's will that you're suffering, and the decision of when to end it is up to him, not you." However, the abbot who espouses that view is eventually given reason to question it, shortly before he encounters a strange, miraculous being who could be symbolic of...who knows what.
Overall I enjoyed this book. I could have done without some of the religious and philosophical ponderings and it seemed like each section was only part of a story that wasn't fully told, but this was still one of my favorite Hugo winners so far. I particularly like Miller's subtle, dry sense of humor. There are occasional throw-away lines that I only realized a paragraph or a page later were meant as jokes, then I'd go back and re-read them and get that "yeah, that's pretty funny" wry smile that is often more enjoyable than a full-out laugh.
Originally read back in the late 80s or early 90s. Read the "original uncut" version Mar 13-27th, 2018.
Then just a few days later I found this "uncut" hardcover edition for $8, so I returned the paperback and went with this version. According to the introduction written by Heinlein's widow, the original manuscript he submitted was over 220,000 words. His publisher thought that that was way too long, and also objected to some of the sexual and controversial content, and so insisted that he cut a lot out and reduce the book to around 150,000 words. He finally got it down to 160,000, and that's the version that was originally published. But Heinlein kept his first manuscript, and now that original, much longer version is available. Considering that I haven't really enjoyed much of the Heinlein I've read so far, buying a version that is expanded out to nearly 500 pages seems like a questionable choice, but what the heck. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The book tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, aka "Mike", a young man who was born during the first mission to explore Mars. His parents (and the rest of the crew) died when he was an infant, so he was raised by Martians. A subsequent mission a couple decades later finds him and brings him to Earth. This all happens in the first few pages and sets up a story in which a man who is completely "alien" in his language, social customs and even his physical and mental abilities learns about humanity (thereby letting the author comment on the subject). Not exactly a new concept - it's a similar tale to Tarzan and stories about humans raised by wolves, but this time it's set in the future and involves spaceships and Martians, so it's sci-fi.
Heinlein liked to maintain consistency from book to book, so the Martians described in this book are the same as the ones from Red Planet - they start life as round, fuzzy, energetic nymphs, grow into giant, slow-moving, tripod beings that live communally and eventually "discorporate" into Old Ones who run Martian society as sage, all-knowing ghosts. They seem to take little interest in humans...but that's because they could easily destroy our planet if they wanted to. Another recurring idea in Heinlein's works is that the asteroid belt used to be a fifth planet until the Martians decided that it needed to be destroyed.
In Stranger, Mike himself is just a background character for most of the book. We occasionally see things from his point of view, but more often the story is told from the perspective of Ben the newspaper reporter who explains how rich and politically powerful Mike is, or Jill the nurse who breaks him out of the hospital where he's being held prisoner by the government, or Jubal the wealthy writer and ex-lawyer who is clearly a wish-fulfillment version of Heinlein himself. Jubal lives in a mansion with three beautiful women who serve his every need and is always the smartest guy in the room, constantly two steps ahead of everyone else. He tries to set Mike up for a relatively "normal" life on Earth.
But then around three fifths of the way through the novel, the tone changes sharply. It's almost like the first sections were written for the old sci-fi pulp magazines, but the last couple hundred pages were written for Playboy. Mike wakes up one morning and decides he has learned all he's going to learn from Jubal, so he sets out to see the world. Jill, who up until this point was practically engaged to Ben, goes with him as his translator, assistant, teacher, student and sex partner.
Yes, Mike has finally discovered sex, and he really gets into it. The Martian friendship ceremony that used to just include drinking water from the same glass now includes having sex. Mike gets a job as a carnival magician, and it's not long until he and Jill are having a three-way with the tattooed lady. Mike becomes a Las Vegas casino dealer, and Jill becomes a showgirl so she can teach Mike more about lust. It's just...what the heck? Was Heinlein going through a major mid-life crisis when he finished this book? Eventually Mike starts his own church so he can sell his message to the masses - peace and fulfillment through communal living, nudity, wife swapping and group sex. Which I guess makes this both the third Hugo winner in four years that involves religion, and the sci-fi equivalent of the "smutty" historical romance novels that my wife likes to read. Although here it's all presented as being very spiritual and uplifting.
I was actually enjoying this book more than any previous Heinlein I had read, up until it started getting...icky. I was OK with all the sex stuff - like Jubal says, if I were twenty years younger I'd probably join Mike's church. But there are gratuitous homophobic bits and at one point Jill even puts forth the proposition that if a woman is raped, nine times out of ten she was asking for it. Granted, this book was written in a different era, but damn Heinlein - if you needed to cut some words out of the story, those would have been the ones to start with.
If for nothing else, Stranger will be remembered for inventing the word "grok", which for the most part can be translated as "understand". It's the Martian word for "drink" (a deeply meaningful activity to them, since water is so scarce on Mars), but its wider meaning is to experience and understand something so fully that it becomes a part of your being. Grok became a fairly common buzzword that was still popular when I was a kid, so I asked my daughter who just started college in 2017 if she'd ever heard the word. She had no idea what I was talking about, so I guess its popularity has faded. On the other hand, I just read an article on the web a couple weeks ago where the author casually used grok as if it were standard English.
I really didn't like this book when I read it as a teenager, and the last couple hundred pages reminded me why. But even aside from the "controversial" content, I can see why Heinlein's editor insisted on cuts - this expanded version is way too wordy, often making the same point over and over until I was left thinking "OK, you've driven this well and firmly into the ground, can we move on to the next plot point now?" This summary is making it sound like I hated the book, but I didn't, not really. The story had its moments and Heinlein's writing style makes for easy reading. But it's not a book I'd be likely to recommend to anyone.
Read around 2010 and 2015. Re-read for this Hugo project Mar 27th - Apr 1st, 2018.
To be honest, I'm kind of bummed that "High Castle" is the only Philip K. Dick novel to win a Hugo (and be turned into a TV series no less). I liked it OK, but if I had to rank all the Dick books that I've read (stop snickering), this one would probably only beat out one or two that he wrote late in his life, when he was (let's face it) starting to go a bit wonky in the head. If you've never heard his life story, he eventually became convinced that he was receiving messages from outer space via beams of light and having visions of alternate realities or alternate timelines.
Which fits in well with this book. The story is an alternate history where the Axis powers won World War II. Germany and Japan have divided the United States up, with the Nazis getting everything east of the Mississippi river and Japan getting the west coast to the Rocky Mountains. The land in between is a buffer zone between the two forces, needed because despite being on the same side in the war, the two countries are now trying to undermine each other to gain world dominance.
The plot follows a handful of interconnected characters. Robert Childan owns an antique store that buys supposedly authentic items from American history and sells them to the Japanese, who are obsessed with collecting such things. What he doesn't know (or doesn't want to know) is that these "antiques" are being created by craftsmen like Frank Frink who just lost his job and is considering starting his own business making jewelry. By doing so, he's hoping to win back his ex-wife Juliana, who has moved away to a small town in the Rockies to get away from Frank and the Japanese. Meanwhile Childan is hoping to find a quality item for Mr. Tagomi, a high ranking Japanese official who wants to use an American antique to bribe industrialist Mr. Baynes. But Baynes has secrets of his own...
Each of the characters has a quiet desperation to them. Childan is desperate to please the Japanese and improve his business, and also secretly lusts after Japanese women, particularly the wife of a young couple who patronize his store. Frink is desperate to find some way to get his wife back. Even powerful Mr. Tagomi fears making some social blunder and losing place. Baynes is possibly the most desperate of all, given his secrets, but he tries to hide it.
As is frequently the case in Philip K. Dick's stories, one can never be quite sure what is real. The American antiques may or may not be authentic. Mr. Baynes may be a businessman, or he may be a spy. Even the whole premise that the Axis powers won WWII might be an illusion...or might be the truth of an alternate universe. There's a writer in the story named Hawthorne Abendsen who lives in the Rocky Mountains in a fortified compound that he calls the High Castle. Abendsen has written an alternate history book in which the Allies won World War II. The Nazis banned his book, but it has still become an underground bestseller, inspiring the conquered Americans to think that maybe there's some way things could have been different. Or...maybe they are different. In a typically Dickian twist, Mr. Tagomi finds himself temporarily transported to a reality where Japan lost the war, and suddenly he's not a powerful government figure but a despised minority. There are plots within plots. Abendsen's life, the fate of Japan and even the history of the world hang in the balance.
Fortunately, the copy that I read had nine pages of endnotes to explain a lot of the historical references in the book, and to translate some of the German and Japanese phrases. Dick's alternate timeline actually starts in 1933, with an assassination attempt on Franklin D. Roosevelt. In reality (or at least in our timeline) the shooter missed. In the world of High Castle, FDR was killed. His successor was ill-equipped to handle the bombing of Pearl Harbor and tried to keep the U.S. out of the war, leading to the Axis victory. Interestingly, the alternate-alternate reality as written by Abendsen in the story is yet another timeline. The Allies win, but not quite in the same way that things actually happened.
There are a couple things about this book that might put people off. The thing that bothered me the most was that the Japanese characters and even the Americans that interact with them tend to talk (and even think) like Asian stereotypes, dropping definite articles and talking in sentence fragments. To pick an example at random, from the end of chapter four, "Childan felt a tiny measure of relief. Then few others would detect. Perhaps no one else. Secret Safe. Let matter drop?" The actions of the Nazis are also hard to stomach (although, it's pretty safe to say that would have been true if they had really won the war). They reinstitute slavery in the American south (and elsewhere) and commit another holocaust in Africa, killing most of its inhabitants. While many of the main characters of the book abhore these actions, a couple of them actually sympathize with the Nazis and think we're better off with them in charge.
If you've never read any Philip K. Dick, I wouldn't recommend starting with this one, Hugo winner or not. Do Androids Dream... is probably the best introduction to Dick's style, as it includes most of the mind-bending elements of his stories while still telling a compelling story (which is why it was made into a movie). If you don't like that one, then Dick's probably not for you. But if you're like me, you'll soon be reading all of his works that you can get your hands on. His stories are usually character-driven, with plots that are always intriguing and often have totally unexpected and surreal twists, plus there's something about his writing style that lets the reader (at least this reader) just breeze through his books.
Read April 1st-5th, 2018.
Since I've been reading the books in (mostly) the order they were published, it wasn't until April Fools Day in 2018 (which also happened to be Easter Sunday) that I got around to reading this one. The day was one of the first really nice days of Spring, with sunny skies and (almost) warm temperatures, and I had most of the day to myself because my wife was off visiting our daughter at college. So I put some music on, grabbed a six pack and a couple cigars and sat out on my deck and read for most of the afternoon and into the early evening. I got through the last hundred or so pages of Man in the High Castle and then started on this one.
Way Station starts with the question of how a man who fought in the civil war could not only still be alive in the 1960s (when this story is set) but also look like he hadn't aged much past 30 years old. The answer turns out to be aliens. In the mid-1800s, Enoch Wallace was recruited to turn his house into a station in a transportation system for various advanced alien races traveling through our neck of the galaxy. One big bonus is that while he's inside the house/station, time basically stands still for him - he only ages when he goes outside, which he only does for an hour or two a day.
Because of the remote, backwoods location of his house, it took the government over a century to figure out there was something weird going on. But now they know, and they have agents staked out all around Enoch's place, trying to figure out how he could have remained young all these years, what he's up to, and why his house seems to be an impregnable fortress. Meanwhile, the only humans that Enoch has contact with are his mailman (who brings him news of the outside world and any supplies he needs to survive) and a deaf-mute girl who appears to have supernatural powers of healing.
About mid-way through the book, everything starts to go wrong. Enoch loses his only friends - artificially intelligent "holograms" that he created with alien technology. He also gets embroiled in a feud with his hillbilly neighbors which causes him to break the cardinal rule of being a gatekeeper by bringing another human into the station. Government agents steal the body of an alien who had died in the station and was buried in Enoch's family plot. All of these things are being used as arguments to shut down the way station by powerful alien groups who want to abandon our spiral arm of the galaxy and invest their resources elsewhere, ending humanity's chances of someday joining galactic society. And it turns out that all of these things, to one degree or another, result from the loss of a spiritual talisman that has kept peace in the galaxy for centuries.
But worst of all, Enoch has used advanced statistical models that he learned from an alien race to determine that humanity is irrevocably headed towards global nuclear war. When he mentions this to a visiting representative from Galactic Central, he's offered a solution that would eliminate any chance of nuclear war...but the price to humanity would be nearly unbearable. And as Earth's sole representative, Enoch must decide for us all whether the solution is worse than the problem...or find another way out.
I really liked this book. Simak's writing style mixes twentieth century literature with Stephen King, by which I mean that his descriptions and prose have that simple but highbrow feel to them (after writing this, I saw someone on a sci-fi newsgroup describe Simak as "Steinbeckian", which is exactly what I was trying to get across), yet the pages flow by pretty quickly, the characters are odd outsiders and Simak knows how to add a disquieting low-level anxiety to the story. I wasn't surprised when I read the "about the author" blurb on the back of the book and saw that he had been given a lifetime achievement award by the Horror Writer's Association. This book seems like a pretty even mix of sci-fi, literature and light horror.
My only criticism might be that Simak packs the story with too many ideas. As I read it, I got the impression that there were a lot of plot elements that were just added to pad the story out to novel length or because the author thought they were neat, but which don't have any bearing on the plot. But then, much to my surprise, Simak managed to make it all come together in the end, although he had to resort to a bit of a deus ex machina (a character who hadn't been in the story at all up to that point somewhat illogically shows up with exactly what's needed to solve everyone's problems). The ending also features an interesting twist that I didn't see coming, although in hindsight it made perfect sense.
Another feature this book shares with a lot of Stephen King books is that, as I was reading it, I was picturing it as a movie. I'm surprised no one ever filmed it. The story has a lot of visual elements, and the novel almost reads like a screenplay. According to Wikipedia, a group called Revelstone Entertainment bought the movie rights in 2006, but never did anything with them. What are they waiting for?
I bought a nice used hardcover copy. Read April 5th-14th, 2018.
The title refers to a purple and gold colored planet the size of Earth that suddenly appears in our night sky, just beyond the moon. It quickly captures the moon, which goes into orbit around it and begins to break up due to massive tidal forces. Those same forces cause earthquakes, mudslides, fires, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and monsterous ocean tides here on Earth. The new planet also has a strong magnetic field which disrupts all radio and television transmissions on Earth.
The story involves dozens of different characters. Way, way, way too many characters. Making things even more difficult for the reader, Leiber refers to several of them both by their real name and by nicknames that other characters give them. If you're able to keep them all straight, you're a better reader than I am. I guess Leiber's reason for including so many people from all over the world was to show the planet-wide scope of the disaster, but it's just too much to cram into one novel and most of those characters end up adding next to nothing to the story.
Early in the book, there's a conversation between a writer and a poet, and the writer opines that science fiction can never be great literature because it focuses on phenomenon and not people, saying nothing about the human condition. Leiber seemed intent on making this literature then, because he focuses almost entirely on people and their reactions to the Wanderer. The first 30 pages are pretty much nothing but character introductions and foreshadowing. Half-way through the book, with the action well underway, we've gotten to know a lot about various characters but next to nothing about what the Wanderer is or why it appeared. Fortunately, the second half of the book answers those questions. This isn't a Rendezvous With Rama type of book that introduces a fantastic bit of alien technology and then never explains it. Although when the answers are finally given (as the lead-up to a bizarre human/alien sex scene), the future looks even bleaker for humankind.
Even with so many characters the book has to focus on someone, so the bulk of the story concerns Paul, a public relations man for the space program, and his unrequited crush Margo the wife of an astronaut. While on their way to observe a lunar eclipse, they detour to a flying saucer convention as a lark. Paul, Margo and the "saucer students" at the convention become the main stars of the story. But each chapter also includes a paragraph or two featuring military officials, inner-city stoners, South American revolutionaries, a Welsh poet, a British author, drug runners, a cruise liner overtaken by terrorists, a man sailing solo across the Atlantic, Margo's astronaut husband Don (who manages to escape the crumbling moon in a rocket) and probably others that I'm forgetting. As the situation on Earth rapidly goes from bad to worse, not all of these characters will survive.
For some reason Leiber decided the name-drop a bunch of his fellow science fiction writers in this book. Within the first six pages he mentions Heinlein, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Elsewhere he brings up E. E. Smith and others. It's like he wrote this book as a love letter to "golden era" sci-fi. But you have to take the bad with the good, and since it's a golden era sort of story you're expected to accept a good bit of casual racism and sexism. One of the good guys is actually a klansman whose initials are KKK. I wish I was making that up.
While I couldn't have cared less what happened to the majority of the book's characters (never a good sign), I have to admit that there were a few that I got invested in. I was bummed when a couple of them were killed off. But even with all the death and destruction depicted on Earth, the thing that upset me the most was the gradual demolition of the moon throughout the story. None of the characters really seem that distraught over it (I guess they had bigger problems), but just the description made me want to run outside at night and confirm that our neighboring world was still there and still whole.
I was looking forward to reading this one after enjoying Leiber's The Big Time, but I have to admit that The Wanderer was a bit of a slog. The book could have used some heavy editing - take out at least half a dozen of the completely unnecessary characters and trim some of the excess verbiage, and you'd have a decent 150-200 page adventure story here. As it is, I'm surprised this won the Hugo. It's not a great book, and apart from the events being driven by the "mystery planet" there's not really that much sci-fi content. Most of it is purely a disaster/survival story. Looking at the other Hugo finalists for 1965 I don't recognize any of the titles, so maybe it was just the case of picking the best of a weak field that year.
This is a HUGE SPOILER, so if you are planning on reading the book skip the rest of this paragraph, but I found it highly amusing that Leiber made his aliens humanoid cats. They're completely self-centered and don't seem all that concerned that their actions are ruining the Earth and killing millions of people, as long as they get what they want. As someone who grudgingly shares a house with his wife's two cats, I can say that's exactly how a species of intelligent, human-sized cats would act.
I read most of the Dune series in the 80s, then re-read the original book at some point, and then re-read the first six books again around 2014.
I think my dislike for this series can be summed up by way David Lynch's movie version had to have the characters constantly doing whispered voice-overs to explain what was going on. There's just way too much hand-waving, mystical mumbo-jumbo in this series. That said, it's entirely possible that the problem is me, and all the brilliant, subtle plot points are just going over my head.
The story of the first book follows young Paul, son of a planet-ruling Duke. It turns out that Paul is the grand result of a centuries-long breeding program being run by an ancient sisterhood called the Bene Gesserit who have mysterious powers and are trying to create a genetic superman. His mother is a Bene Gesserit member, but she is somewhat of an outcast because she was not supposed to have a son - she was to give birth to a daughter who would have been the miracle man's mother. But she decided to skip ahead a generation because her beloved husband wanted a son. So no one is quite sure if Paul is the real deal.
Paul's father is forced to take control of a planet called Dune as part of an elaborate plot to discredit and destroy his family. The desert planet is the only source in the universe for a plant called "the spice" which has magical abilities and is desired by basically everyone. When the Emperor's forces storm the Duke's home, Paul is forced to flee into the desert, where he befriends the natives and learns their water-conserving ways. He takes a massive overdose of the spice and develops the mental powers that are supposed to only be available to members of the Bene Gesserit. He also learns how to control the giant worms that live in the desert, and eventually leads a force of desert dwellers on giant worms to capture the Emperor and take control of Dune.
If all that doesn't sound too preposterous, in one of the sequels Paul's son figures out a way to merge with a sandworm to become a monstrous giant worm with a human face...and becomes the near-immortal emperor of the galaxy.
This one has always been a head-scratcher for me. I find it hard to put into words, but the book just seems to me to spend most of its time trying to convince the reader of how mind-blowing it is and how super-awesome the characters and concepts are...but never delivers much in the way of a story that actually justifies any of it. That said, I've been reading the analysis of some big fans of the series on the written sci-fi newsgroup, and they seem to find it every bit as deep as I find it ridiculous. They see warnings about how disruptive sudden, massive changes can be on a society. They see a tale of multiple generations being given the chance to save the future of mankind at horrible cost to themselves. They see the dangers of knowing everything about your ancestors, if you choose to listen to the most powerful and evil of those ancestors. And they see Herbert's message boil down to "beware of heroes".
But I find the whole thing...well, I was going to say "ham-fisted", but it's not that, not exactly. It's just too convoluted, too far-fetched. The books work so hard to make all their big-picture points that the actual details (you know, the stories themselves) suffer and become a tough slog. But that's just me. Considering how many hard-core fans there are of Dune and its sequels, I'm obviously in the minority on this one.
Found a paperback copy but haven't started reading it yet.
After months of searching for this book, I went to a little paperback-only bookstore that I hadn't visited before and found a used paperback that reeked of mold and mildew and actually had spider webs and dust bunnies on the top edge. This book was next on my "to be read" list for this Hugo quest, so I bought it figuring a smelly, dirty copy was better than nothing. Later that same day I went to a book store that I've been to several times before and they had gotten in a much nicer paperback copy. So I had to buy it again. Figures.
I really liked Zelazny's Amber series, so I've got high hopes for this one. On the other hand, I've read that the Amber stories were sort of "light fluff" that Zelazny only wrote because they sold well, and his other books are more "serious sci-fi". Guess I'll find out. At any rate the used book stores certainly attest to the popularity of the Amber series - used Amber books are everywhere, while Zelazny's other sci-fi writings are almost impossible to find.
I found a fairly beat-up, used large format paperback copy at 2nd and Charles, but haven't read it yet.
I found a used, fairly worn and yellowed paperback copy but haven't started reading it yet.
I haven't found a copy yet.
My daughter found me a fairly beat-up paperback copy on a display table of recommended reading at a used book store after I walked right past it at least five times. Read January 26th-30th, 2018.
Prior to starting this Hugo quest, the only Le Guin I had ever read was the Earthsea Trilogy, and to be honest I didn't really care for it. Seemed like a simplistic, overly preachy fantasy that was sort of a poor man's imitation Tolkein. So although various friends over the years recommended other books that she'd written, I never went out of my way to find any of them. I also never looked for the fourth through sixth Earthsea books, once I learned of their existence.
Upon learning of Le Guin's death in mid-January, 2018, I decided to skip ahead and read this book. After blowing through a bunch of sci-fi books written in the 1950s, this book was like hitting a brick wall. Much denser and more challenging reading. Le Guin doesn't ease the reader in at all - you're thrown right into the middle of an alien world, made-up language and all. In fact, Le Guin's use of vocabulary occasionally makes it hard to tell if a word you're unfamiliar with is just some obscure English word or something she made up for the alien language.
The thing most people point out about this book is that it's set on a world where people who don't have a gender most of the time. Three out of every four weeks, they're hermaphrodites. Then they go into "heat" (called kemmer in their language) and pair up with another person in kemmer. Eventually hormones will randomly cause one of the two to become male or female, and the other immediately becomes the opposite. If the female one becomes pregnant, then she remains female until the child is born, otherwise they both immediately go back to being gender-neutral.
That's really just one aspect of the story though. You could also focus on how the fictional world, called Winter by outsiders, is in an ice age and suffers through sub-arctic conditions most of the year. Le Guin uses that element to work in some comments on global warming, which is remarkable considering this book was published in 1970.
But the main plot follows an alien envoy who has come to Winter to try to convince the rulers of the world's various nations to join a galactic federation that controls trade amongst all the populated planets (including Earth). The leaders aren't going for it though, for fear that it would lessen their power. A lot of the book involves the political maneuvering of various powerful people, including a prime minister who is exiled from his country for attempting to help the envoy. While most of the story is told from the envoy's point of view, a few chapters are told by the prime minister.
This book has kind of confirmed for me that I just don't like Le Guin's writing style. I thought maybe it was just the way she wrote the Earthsea books, since they're supposed to be high fantasy. But this book reads the same way - as if it's more of a biblical parable than a sci-fi story. Everything has that arch tone and self-consciously "literary" feel to it. A few of the chapters don't even have much to do with the main story, instead giving folklore from the planet Winter - tales with a moral, although it's left up to the reader to determine what that moral is.
The book picks up steam as it goes along (or maybe I just got used to Le Guin's writing style and the fictional world the story was set in). My favorite part was probably the chapters near the end that told of the envoy and prime minister's epic journey across a massive glacier.
But if The Dispossessed is written in this same style, that will confirm for me that Le Guin is just not to my tastes. I can see why many regard her as a great writer and I'll probably end up reading Left Hand of Darkness again at some point, just because it seems like the kind of book that can't be fully "groked" on first encounter. But I find her writing style makes for tough sledding (no pun intended).
I bought a used paperback copy, haven't read it yet.
Actually, I think I might be confusing the Ringworld series with the Discworld series. At some point I wanted to read one or the other. Or possibly both.
I found a fairly nice large-format paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
I found a used paperback copy but haven't read it yet.
I read this in the early 1990s.
Rendezvous With Rama was one of those books. One downside to the book club was that it seemed like whoever put their editions together purposefully picked the worst cover art they could find. Like the astronaut trapped inside a disco ball pictured here.
Anyway, I knew this book was considered a classic, and I had already read Clarke's novelization of 2001 and liked it, so I was really psyched to read this. I dove into it and waited breathlessly, page after page for something to happen. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And nothing ever happened.
OK, maybe that's going a little overboard, but seriously - this book brings up all sorts of interesting concepts and asks all sorts of interesting questions...and then never answers any of them. It's sort of like the Hugo novel version of "The X Files" or "Lost" (not that I was a regular viewer of either of those shows).
Rama is about a mysterious, gigantic spacecraft that is spotted traveling through our solar system. A mission is sent out to explore it. They find their way inside and discover all sorts of marvels. It appears to be some sort of interstellar ark, with everything a civilization would need to survive for centuries. But there's no one in it. And they never figure out where it came from or where it's going.
It's been a long while since I read it, so I just kind of dimly remember it. Maybe it was more interesting than I thought. But I definitely remember the ending seeming like a huge anticlimax.
Clarke and Gentry Lee have written a series of sequels, and I might have even read the first one, but overall I just couldn't get into the whole Ramaverse. I can't even find my copy of the first book any more - I probably sold it or gave it away at some point.
For what it's worth, I thought Greg Bear's Eon was a much better book (aside from some projection of the 80s cold war into the 21st century). It starts with the same concept (alien artifact suddenly shows up in Earth's orbit) but actually builds an interesting story around it, and answered all the questions Rama left hanging.
I bought an expensive paperback copy, but haven't read it yet. Why are Le Guin's books so hard to find and so expensive once you do find them?
I bought a used trade paperback edition that looks brand new, but haven't read it yet.
Read in December, 2015 into January, 2016.
Anyway, I found a paperback copy of this book on a lunchroom table at work where people drop off books that they've read and are now giving away. I almost didn't pick it up due to its flowery title and the romance novel style artwork on the cover. But a glance at the back cover showed that it was a Hugo winner about cloning - maybe I should give it a shot. Here's a slightly condensed version of the review I wrote for the book on Amazon:
On the plus side, the relatively short 200 page length and the author's writing style makes it a quick read. Wilhelm keeps the story moving and doesn't get bogged down in the sort of details that would have made this a 500 page novel or even a series of books had it been written by some other sci-fi writers. Her characters are generally likable and well written - you can usually see the "bad guys" side of things and why they would do what they do.
On the other hand, I have to laugh at the Amazon editorial review's assertion that the book is "rigorous in its science". There are some scientific elements to the story, but the author never lets facts or even logical consistency get in the way of her tale of individualism triumphing over collective group think.
The plot starts with a series of world-wide catastrophes that nearly wipe out the human race and cause the survivors to become sterile. Fortunately the patriarch of the Sumner family sees this coming and builds a fortified hospital for his extended family with a secret research lab in an attached underground cave (and even gets the government to foot the bill). They manage to continue the species by cloning themselves, but soon learn that the clones have no use for their biological originals. The clones set up a society of their own, with the goal of creating more and more clones to try to rebuild the ruins of nearby cities and restore "humanity" to the technological level they were at before the world fell to ruin. About half-way through the book, the last person born through natural methods tries to convince the clones of the error of their ways, and eventually starts sabotaging them in an attempt to set up a new society that's not so dependent on quickly failing technology.
So that sounds like it could be interesting - where does the book go wrong? Well, the whole thing is so far-fetched. First off there's the apocalypse. It involves a whole bunch of unlikely catastrophes all happening at the same time. The book also can't seem to decide if the root cause was pollution or nulcear war. But the kicker is that all living creatures become sterile. Good thing that one family had the resources and expertise to get the cloning program going.
And then there's the clones. They act like a completely different species from the the people they were cloned from. They're pure logic like Mr. Spock, they always act in groups, they panic when separated from their "bothers" and "sisters", and they can nearly read each other's minds. Each new generation of clones gets further and further from human. They eventually devolve mentally to the point where they can only do tasks that involve step-by-step instructions - imagination or ingenuity is beyond their grasp.
Another annoyance is that just when you start getting attached to a character, they literally walk out of the story. The first third of the book focuses on genetic engineer David, but once he realizes how badly the clones are turning out, he just walks into the woods never to be seen again. In fact, all of the original "biological" characters just vanish from the story.
The author also seems obsessed with sex. When David finds his long-lost love Celia early in the novel, they immediately have sex in the woods in a rainstorm despite the fact that she's sick and nearly starving to death. And the clones are constantly boinking each other, having heterosexual, homosexual and group sex. It's really kind of creepy how often Wilhelm returns to the subject, and makes me think the romance novel cover was actually pretty accurate.
At least the book was a quick read (unlike this review), but the bad science, glossing over of details and illogical plot devices just to move the story forward made it a less than satisfying experience.
I bought a hardcover edition but haven't read it yet.
I bought a used paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
Bought as a used hardcover book. Haven't read it yet.
My goal is to read all the Hugo winners in the category of best novel, but when I saw this hardback collection that's in fairly nice condition and was going for a reasonable price (on sale, no less), I had to grab it.
I bought a copy but haven't read it yet.
Found a nice used paperback copy but haven't read it yet.
I found a really beat-up, old hardback copy with a dust jacket that's torn in about a dozen places, but I haven't read it yet.
I first read this not long after it came out, and more recently revisited it in early 2015 as part of a re-read of the entire Robot/Empire/Foundation series.
Anyway, I have an impression that I saw this book in a rack of cheap paperbacks at a grocery store and liked the cover, and that's what started my whole Asimov (and really, my whole sci-fi) fanhood. I could be completely misremembering that though. It's just as likely that I ran across it during one of my habitual trips to the late, lamented Walden Books in the Park City mall in Lancaster, PA.
There was no way this book wasn't going to win the Hugo. After a couple decades writing mostly non-fiction, Asimov decided to return to science fiction and with a sequel to his legendary Foundation trilogy no less. This book gave Asimov room to stretch out - it's around three times longer than the longest previous Foundation story, and he used that space to add a lot of detail and character development. And for the first time, the story is told as much from the Second Foundation's perspective as the First's.
Foundation's Edge features a couple of my favorite characters of the entire saga, the adventurous politician Golan Trevize and his scholarly bookworm sidekick Janov Pelorat. Both are members of the (First) Foundation. Trevize believes that the Second Foundation was not really destroyed at the end of the original trilogy, because the damage that the Mule did to the Foundation's thousand year plan seems to have repaired itself, and the original plan is right back on schedule. While most attribute this to the brilliance of founder Hari Seldon, Trevize is convinced that the Second Foundation is still secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes. But when he starts announcing this publicly, the mayor of Terminus sends him into exile, saying that it's for his own good - if the Second Foundation really does still exist, she doesn't want them coming after him. Secretly, she believes that they do still exist and is hoping that Trevize will act as a "lightning rod" that will draw them out into the open where she can destroy them. Asimov originally wanted to call the book Lightning Rod, but the publisher insisted on a title with the word "Foundation" in it, since it would probably sell better.
As a cover story, the mayor sends Trevize and Pelorat on a quest to find the mythic planet of human origin, Earth. As the hunt proceeds, Trevize begins to wonder if the clue that the Second Foundation is located at "the other end of the galaxy" might be speaking chronologically, meaning that they're based on the oldest populated planet in the galaxy, since Terminus was the newest at the time that Seldon made that statement. He thinks that such a forgotten planet would be the perfect home for the secretive Second Foundation, and soon he's more determined to find Earth than historian Pelorat.
Meanwhile Stor Gendibal of the Second Foundation has also become concerned that the Seldon Plan is progressing far too perfectly. Granted, the Second Foundation has been pulling strings to keep everything on track, but some deviation should still occur. The fact that the plan has been unfolding absolutely perfectly makes Gendibal suspect that some even more subtle power must be behind it, with the same goal - to eventually control the second Empire. When Gendibal finds evidence that inhabitants of the planet Trantor have been tampered with in a way too subtle to have been the Second Foundation's work, he is given the task of pursuing Trevize in the hopes that he'll lead the Second Foundation to this unknown new group.
The story reaches its climax on the planet Gaia, where an unexpected third option for the galaxy's future is presented, and Trevize must make a choice that will affect all of mankind.
I really liked this book, possibly more than the original trilogy. And I think the next sequel, Foundation and Earth was almost as good (with a fantastic twist ending that wraps the entire saga up nicely). Probably heresy to say the sequels were better than the original, but this book's Hugo win wasn't just given as a "lifetime achievement" award to a living legend author - it really deserved the win. Unfortunately, instead of continuing the story, Asimov decided to spend the rest of his life writing unnecessary prequels to the original trilogy that don't add much and frankly weren't very good.
I found a hardcover book that contains both this one and The Uplift War but haven't read either yet.
I bought a used paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
Bought as a cheap used paperback. Haven't read it yet.
Apparently Doubleday publishing originated The Hugo Winners collections, but for whatever reason they decided to discontinue the series in the early 1980s. So Baen publishing jumped in to create collections of the winnning shorter works of the 1980s and early 1990s, adding "New" to the name to avoid lawsuits (I'm guessing).
I read this one sometime around 2012.
If you haven't seen the movie or read the book, the tale is set in a future where humanity is fighting an alien species that look like insects. No, I'm not talking about Starship Troopers. In this story, the aliens have a hive mind and come close to wiping out humans before we can beat them back. Again, I'm not talking about Starship Troopers. Against the backdrop of a fairly right-wing society, a young man undergoes rigorous training to help turn the tide in the battle against the bugs. No, I swear, I'm not talking about Starship Troopers.
All human children have to undergo testing to see if they'd be suitable for military service. The main character, nicknamed "Ender" (I've already forgotten what his real name was) scores off the charts, so he is forced to go into the army, unwillingly. Since he's such a small kid, he gets beaten up a lot by bullies in the service.
But there's one thing he's really good at - computer simulations of battles. He's so good at it that the military keeps promoting him until he's the leader of a group of other children with similar talents. Eventually they're given a simulation of the ultimate attack, to see if they'd be willing to completely wipe out the enemy. If you have two brain cells to rub together, you can probably figure out the "surprise" ending.
There's also a weird side plot about a dream that Ender has where he plays a video game and ends up killing a giant and climbing through its skull or something like that. It makes very little sense in this book, and turns out it's just setting up the sequel.
Overall I can't say I was all that thrilled with this book, but I guess I liked it enough to read the next book in the series. I've heard that Ender's Game started out life as a short story, and general opinion seems to be that the short story is better than the novel. I haven't read it, so I can't comment.
I got this from the library and read it in late 2012 or early 2013.
So in this book he travels to a planet that the bugs had inhabited and discovers that one Queen managed to survive. If I remember right, she was hidden in an area that somehow resembled the video game with the giant that Ender played in the first book. It might have been that she was mentally projecting those images to Ender to try to get him to call off the attack or something like that.
Anyway, the bugs are telepathic and somehow explain to Ender that they didn't mean to kill all humans, they just didn't realize that we were an intelligent species because we don't have a hive mind. Or something like that.
Ender has to rescue the Queen and keep the other migrants from Earth from destroying her. Or something like that. I honestly can't remember many of the details from this book - it made that little of an impression on me. I can't believe it won a Hugo. It certainly didn't make me decide to read the rest of the series.
I found a hardcover book that contains both this one and Startide Rising but haven't read either yet.
I bought the three-volume version in paperback but haven't read it yet.
I bought a used paperback copy but haven't read it yet.
I found a fairly worn old paperback copy but haven't started reading it yet.
I found a paperback of Cordelia's Honor which includes this one but haven't read it yet.
I found a good, used paperback copy but haven't read it yet.
I bought a pretty nice used paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
Have it in paperback but haven't read it yet.
My daughter found me paperback copies of Green Mars and its sequel Blue Mars at a farmer's market. They both looked like they were once used as mold farms, so when I found another paperback copy of Green Mars in much better condition for just a few bucks, I went for the upgrade. Later I found a nice, used hardcover edition Blue Mars and upgraded that one too.
I found a pretty good used paperback copy but haven't read it yet yet.
This was Bujold's third win, all for books in her "Vorksigan saga". I'm pretty sure that makes it the only series to win more than two Hugos for best novel.
I keep seeing various chunky hardcover books by Stephenson in used book stores, but haven't found a copy of The Diamond Age yet.
I have a decent hardcover copy but haven't started reading it yet.
Found a good, used paperback copy but haven't started reading it yet.
Found a used hardcover edition in fairly good condition but haven't read it yet.
I bought a used hardback edition of this in really nice condition, but haven't read it yet,
I've got my daughter's well-worn copy, but haven't read it yet.
OK, admittedly, I hadn't read any of the Potter books. But I was under the impression they were meant to be kids books. I gave my wife crap when she read the series. And now I have to read one?
And come on Hugo voters - the fourth book in a seven book series? You couldn't have given the award to the first book? Now I've got everyone telling me I need to read the entire series and not just the book that won, despite the fact that I've already sat through all the movies. Ugh.
This one definitely takes the "least looking forward to reading" prize.
I found a used, slightly beat-up, large-format paperback copy. The same store had a nicer, newer looking copy but it was way more expensive so I went for the cheap one.
But apparently Gaiman also writes novels, and this is one of them. It's even been turned into a TV series, and I've had multiple people recommend both the book and the TV show to me. Still...I'll give it a chance, but I'm leery.
I found a used paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
I found a nice, used hardcover copy but haven't read it yet.
I found a nice, used hardback copy, but haven't read it yet.
Oddly, the book store where I found it had two used copies - one had a black cover with white print, and the other had a white cover with black print. I'm assuming they're the same book. I bought the black one.
I found a used paperback copy in good condition, but haven't read it yet.
I found a pretty nice, used large-format paperback copy, but haven't read it yet.
Haven't found a copy of this one yet. For some reason, my daughter (who was very helpful in searching used book stores with me and found many of the books on this list) found the title of this one to be really funny.
I haven't been able to find a copy yet.
I found a nice used large-format paperback copy. I haven't read it yet, but the owner of the store where I bought it said she really enjoyed it.
I haven't been able to find a copy yet.
I haven't been able to find copies yet. (Apparently this is actually two books)
I haven't been able to find a copy yet.
I found a used, trade paperback copy in good condition but haven't read it yet.
First book of a trilogy. I found all three but haven't read them yet.
Yet another first book of a trilogy. I've found the first and third but not the second. Haven't read any of them yet.
I haven't found a copy yet.
I haven't found a copy yet.