Hugo: To Say Nothing of the Dog (1999)

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Read January 13, 2010 – February 16, 2010

Premise: The time-space continuum is presumably screwed up when a “historian” (basically, a professional time-traveler) saves a cat from drowning in the Victorian era. The characters then spend the rest of the novel trying to avert universal disaster and strive to regain the balance of history.

Verdict: This is a very clever novel and, despite the convoluted time-travel plot (such things are the bane of my mother’s existence) it actually made sense in the end. I loved the characters, the setting, the style, and just about everything about this novel. I kept forgetting it was science fiction while I was reading it. It comes off as an engrossing story rather than a pretentious mass of scientific facts strung together to sort of make a story. True, it is about time travel, and you can’t really detail that the way you might a biological theory or something. But I like it better when you have loose science and a really great story. The majority of the plot takes place in the Victorian era, which is a lot of fun because the book picked up on lots of conventions of Victorian novels, as well as paying attention to the real societal pressures and limitations that the character’s would be experiencing. But what’s even more fun than actual Victorian novels is that the narrator is from 2057 so you get built in snark and amusement. At any rate, I think I have a new favorite character in the science fiction genre: Cyril, the English Bulldog who belongs to an Oxford student in the Victorian era. Things to add to my list from here: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (not science fiction), Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein. Aside from Cyril, my favorite thing has to be “time-lag.” Time-lag is what happens when you go on too many “drops” or time-travel trips. You basically become an overly-sentimental mess who cannot hear properly, see properly, or function at all. Sleep deprivation on steroids. I was pretty sick when I started reading this book and as the narrator was disoriented, I was sure whether I was just sicker than I thought or if the book really was as crazy as it was going into my head. It was pretty crazy.

Amusing, fun, well-written, and a good read. Highly recommended if you like science fiction, Victorian novels, mysteries, or all of the above.

Hugo: Starship Troopers (1960)

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Read January 26, 2010 – February 6, 2010

Premise: A future militaristic fascist utopian human society fights a constant war with the hive-minded communist Bugs on an alien planet. We follow cadet Juan Rico from the time he joins the Federal Service through his ascent up the chain of command.

Verdict: You know, I really adored this novel. This was another book we had to read for class. The discussions that come up about Heinlein’s worldview and politics amuse me exceedingly. The man wrote 32 novels and they try and pin him on just this one. The other that I’ve read is Stranger in a Strange Land—vastly different in all respects. You will notice my love/hate relationship with that novel. This one I simply love. Let me put on my gender-police hat for a minute: the females are just as crucial as the males to the success of any given mission and all Naval captains are women because they are more skilled. The amusing remarks about women being sexy etc are not even write-offs of their gender but exaltation of their ability as well as their attractiveness. Also, if anything were to be offensive, it’s a first-person narrative and therefore is not saying things with the omniscient truthful authority of a third-person narrator. Gender-police hat off. This is a really cool book! It makes you think. It gets you all hyped up with the action-adventure and then makes you pull back a minute and say “woah Sparky! Those are some interesting politics you have there.” And then once you say that you realize that there’s no reason they aren’t valid except through our own social conditioning. Very interesting. This book also stands up well to the years. It was published in 1959 and it felt just as current in technology, flow, and style as if it were published last year.

I enjoyed this novel and recommend it. It’s short, fast, and fun. Heinlein is becoming a swift favorite.

(For the record, I do like Sirens of Titan better—a novel also nominated for the Hugo this year—but I suppose I understand why this won in 1960.)