Hugo: The Left Hand of Darkness (1970)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Read June 16, 2010 – June 22, 2010

Premise: A political emissary from a planetary alliance tries to bring a frozen planet of ambisexual humans into the alliance and must contend with the strange society he finds there.

Verdict: I had read this book for the first time a few years ago and remember being incredibly moved and absolutely blown away. This time around I already knew the story and what was going to happen so I paid close attention to the details and the construction of the thing. It’s just as good on a second read and perhaps even more so since you can take a close look at what’s going on with the mechanics of the story instead of trying to figure out what’s going on. I’m not exactly sure what else to say, except that this is a very good novel and it reads very fast so even if (for some reason) you turn out not to like it you’re not out much.

I adore this book. It’s definitely a must-read, especially for a sci-fi fan.

Continue Reading

Hugo: Hominids (2003)

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer
Read May 13, 2010 – May 18, 2010

Premise: A Neanderthal man from a parallel (and Neanderthal dominated) world is accidentally thrust into the human world and causes a huge stir, both by his disappearance and by his adjusting to human society.

Verdict: This novel sounds amazing and I was very excited to read it. However, like many of the reviews I’ve read, I have to agree that this book is overly pretentious, patronizing, and absurd. I understand that the author was trying to show us that most aspects of humanity are not logical and are bad. Religion, violence, sexism, racism, yeah I get it, I know it’s all bad. Thanks. You don’t have to have a modern caveman pacifist flower-child come into this overpopulated world and point out the fact to me. You don’t have to explicitly portray a rape and then have Mister Hulking Gentle Manly Man heal the poor raped woman. I was offended not only by the author’s portrayal of humanity but also by his portrayal of women in both universes. He was pretending that women were treated as equals and had equal abilities but they all had emotional issues, rage issues, were vindictive bitches, or were extremely vapid, shallow, and self-centered. All of them were either “beautiful” or “plain” and were troubled by sexual assault issues or feeling awkward around nerds who stare at their overly exposed bodies. ‘Scuse?? Anyway, I definitely wasn’t impressed. It dragged on and on and the way he presented his approaches to social problems was sloppy and overly-preachy. This book was pretty terrible. There is a way to do “problem” sci-fi with finesse and intelligence. This isn’t it.

It sounds really awesome, but don’t waste your time on it.

Continue Reading

Hugo: Hyperion (1990)

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Read May 6, 2010 – May 13, 2010

Premise: A mythical creature known as the Shrike on a remote planet named Hyperion is worshiped by suicidal desperate people the universe over for it’s killing prowess and sudden gore-bath strikes. Hyperion is under imminent enemy attack and so a very select few are chosen to make the last pilgrimage to the Time Tombs (home of the Shrike) and ask it to grant their requests. We hear the stories of their connections to Hyperion and the Shrike, and why they are going on this pilgrimage.

Verdict: I just graduated from college this past Sunday. Why does that matter? Well, one of my degrees was in English, and I think that this book is almost as in love with John Keats as I am. That is by no means a bad thing. Keats had an unfinished poem called Hyperion (and if you click on that link read more of his poetry because I adore it and am a little English Romantic nerd.) This is a complexly structured non-chronological novel which uses frame stories to get you to the meat of the thing—sort of like a Romantic or Victorian novel. Gee. I also think that the entire point of this novel is the journey and the stories that led to the journey. I guess I could be disappointed in it and scream and flail, but I really enjoyed it and it still has me thinking about it even after I’ve finished it. And anyway, there are more in the series apparently. Yes, that means there is little to no resolution of the frame story. But the frame didn’t seem to be the point at all. It was getting there that mattered.

I loved the story, plots, and structure of this book and I’m afraid to read the rest of the series because I don’t want to be disappointed. This was highly enjoyable and I recommend it to other nerds of all varieties.

Continue Reading

Hugo: Blue Mars (1997)

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Read May 1, 2010 – May 6, 2010

Premise: The third and final novel in the Mars Trilogy and absolutely worth reading the other two to get to—they are all spectacular but they all lead up to this one which, I feel, makes reading the first two worth it no matter how long you think they are.

Verdict: I get so caught up in all three of these novels that I forget 1.) I do not live on Mars, I live on Earth 2.) nobody lives on Mars—no one has even set foot on Mars 3.) I am not nor ever will be the various characters, even though I feel like I am. The entire series is so intricate and so large-scale and grandiose that I am just in awe and yet it’s so intimate and personable with the characters that you keep reading, even through the really technical mathematical scientific descriptions, just because you know that’s the nature of the characters and you want to know what happens with them. I just don’t know what else to say about this whole series. I know that I adored the first one, the second one was even better as far as character and such went—I guess simply because it was all the same people and still took them in really great directions. But for a conclusion, you cannot get better than this one. I’m still having trouble remembering that I am not on Mars, I’m on Earth. I can’t bring myself back out of it. I highly recommend this entire trilogy.

Go to the library, go to the bookstore, order them to your Kindle—whatever. But read these books.

Red Mars
Green Mars

Continue Reading

Hugo: Green Mars (1994)

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Read April 1, 2010 – May 1, 2010

Premise: The second in a trilogy, the novel follows the same group of characters from Red Mars, their children, and some newcomers as they feud over terraforming and Martian independence from Earth.

Verdict: I loved this novel even more than the first one, although that’s probably because I loved the characters from the first one so much that I was ecstatic to see them back. This book very skillfully builds off of the social structures established in the first novel and adds in the perspectives and desires of people born and raised on Mars, as well as new immigrants, and military forces that are in place after the first Martian revolution. Robinson also uses this novel to develop the flatter characters of the previous book—who were more staunch representatives of opposing or controversial positions—into open and dimensional beings. I love the simple and informative explanations of actual scientific principal as it applies to Mars in the novel, and I adore the construction of new social orders that strive to better the human condition, but my favorite thing about these books is the complex and insightful way that Robinson portrays human relationships with free indirect discourse expressing the thoughts and desires of the people directly to the readers as if they are feeling it themselves. I could hardly put this novel down because I was so caught up in trying to organize the discordant groups of Mars that I forgot that humans haven’t even set foot on the planet yet—I was pretty sure that I was there!

Can’t stop to talk—must read the next one!

Continue Reading

Pseudo-Hugo: Red Mars (1993)

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Read March 9, 2010 – March 26, 2010

Premise: An international group of scientists is sent to Mars to perform research and set up a colony, eventually leading to terraforming efforts to make the planet fit for human habitation.

Verdict: This novel didn’t win a Hugo, although it was nominated for one (and lost out to two novels, as this was a year there was a tie.) The final two books of the trilogy, however, won Hugos and this was one was necessary to understand those. This book is so smart and brilliant. The characters all have these flashes of poignant insight into the nature of life and humanity and the universe and I just want to stop and write them down. They make me go “YES! That is what I mean when I say x, y, and z.” This book goes very in-depth into the particular issues involved not only in the scientific and physical struggles of setting up life on Mars but also on the political turmoil and social dynamics of removing a portion of the population to a planet that is then exploited for its natural resources and the cheap labor on the surface. Add in the fact that the amazing scientists discover an immortality treatment and you get major overpopulation on Earth and multi-national corporations fighting to gain control of anything and everything within the scope of humanity. Yeah, ok, so it’s intense. But I really adored it. I loved all the characters, I actually cared about their romantic trifles (this is becoming a rare thing with me—caring about romance), and I love all the detail that Robinson put into this novel.

Can’t wait to read the other two.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.)

Continue Reading

Hugo: The Snow Queen (1981)

The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Read January 9, 2010 – January 25, 2010

Premise: Tiamat is a planet whose main export is an eternal youth/life preserver known as “The Water of Life” which is extracted from the blood of indigenous sea creatures. The planet experiences hundred-year-cycles of winter and summer with two peoples and cultures that correspond to each season—the Queen changing at each seasonal change to a woman of the coming season’s people. Where is the story, you say? The Winter Queen is 150-years-old, looks 19, is pretty much crazy, and clones herself in an attempt to stay on the throne forever. We follow the clone, named Moon, as she ends up inadvertently cavorting all over the galaxy and learning about her true purpose. This world is way too complex to properly encapsulate here and I’ve had to leave out way too much including technology, religion, disease, interstellar politics… I could go on. Apologies—if I were more specific this would become unreadably long.

Verdict: I found this book sort of by accident three years ago in the library. It said science fiction, I picked it up, I read the first chapter, I said “What the hell, this isn’t science fiction!” I was thoroughly annoyed with the immature characters and fantasy-esque setting. I gave it back to the library. This time, I caught the subtleties that Vinge was baiting me with and I kept reading, intrigued. Guess what! The characters grow up, all of them are complex and deeply troubled intense personalities, the universe is masterfully crafted, and the plot is compelling. Gentlemen, this is indeed science fiction! And very awesome science fiction at that. This, friend-Herbert, is how emotions are truly experienced—the same by both genders. Thanks. While the love lives of everybody are central and essential to the plot, I never felt that this in any way weakened or degraded any of them, even the ones who were degraded by the world’s society. The structure, the tension, and the actual details of this novel kept me yearning to finish it when I had to run off and read stuff for class. While the main character is just a bit too good (think Harry Potter level of self-righteous goodness), every other character makes up for it by being a conflicted mess of good and evil, justice and injustice, love and hatred. Another really neat feature is a sort of universal-internet which you access through human terminals called “Sybils.” Very nifty. This is a great book!

This was a surprisingly complex and intense novel that was a true treat to read. If you can find it, I recommend it.

Continue Reading

Hugo: Dune (1966)

Dune by Frank Herbert
Read January 19, 2010 – January 24, 2010

Premise: A planetary Duke and his family take up leadership of an environmentally harsh, but universally economically important desert planet that produces a mind-altering spice that is poisonously habit-forming and which you cannot cease to take once you’ve begun. The family is then hunted in a galactic family feud and thrown out into the desert to live among the wild people. The son of said Duke is apparently the focus of about fifteen different legends throughout the cosmos. And consequently we focus on his doings as he fulfills his destiny.

Verdict: I hated this novel. I hated everything about it. It has no redeeming features or qualities. This was the fifth time I tried to read it and the first time I ever succeeded (the only reason I made it through was because I had to read it as a Hugo and for class.) Usually, the first chapter is enough to piss me off so much that I take it back to the library. I bought my own copy this time and marked it to pieces.

What I hate:
1.) The writing style. This man cannot write. He repeats every single purpose, point, motivation, and detail at least three times every two paragraphs. Does he think I’m stupid? Does he think I can’t understand what he wants to me get out of what I’m reading? Does he think he has to jam it down my throat? Or is he just that poor of a writer that he can find no other way to express his ideas? Overall, this made for an extremely annoying read—like a sharp trill going off in my head the whole time.
2.) This is my gender police speaking again. It’s not exactly the portrayal of women that I find bothersome. It’s more the way he has tried to express the mentality of women as if it were universal truth that all women think in a certain way. And that certain way that they think is about as substantial as the thoughts that must run through the mind of a half-naked kidnapped woman on a pulp cover. Not only that, women exist for three purposes: to have random children at random times, to get into troublesome situations that the men must get them out of, and to be emotional attachments that are used against men by their enemies as leverage. If there is a female character she is either blindingly beautiful or a crone. The Bene Gesserit are supposedly a strong universal coalition of powerful females—excepting that their only purpose is to breed and be pretty, and their training seems to be focused entirely on overcoming “weak girly emotions.” Yeah, real strong there. I can just see the power oozing off of them. Also (what always pissed me off about the first chapter) the women, in their omniscient Bene Gesserit magical state, can only see “feminine” things. However, the man who will come save the universe can not only see masculine things, he can also see feminine things. This computes how exactly? Illogical.
3.) The main villain is a morbidly obese, homosexual pedophile. We can’t just have him be a bad man—damn it, you’re going know he’s a bad man because all fat people and homosexuals are certainly horribly. We’ll throw in the pedophile thing to make sure you get it.
4.) I hate all the characters. Every single one. That’s a lie. I love Gurney Halleck. He has motives I can care about, morals and reasoning that I can admire, and is a poet as well as a warrior. I haaaaaaaaaaate every other character and when they died, I cheered. When they were sad, I would write things like “oh, give me a break” in the margins. If they were trying to murder each other, I would simply get annoyed with the repetition of all their motives fifty times. I guess they had motives that made sense—I simply didn’t care about them. The characters were as alive as cardboard cutouts putting on a puppet show.

I do not, can not, and probably never will understand the appeal of this book to so many people for some many decades. I hate every bit of it. I suppose if I didn’t know that women don’t really think the way they do in this novel—i.e. if I were male and thought it possible that such apparently strong women actually did have such vapid consciousness—maybe I could enjoy it. But I doubt that even then I would give a damn about the plot or characters. The good news? I’VE READ IT!! This was the one and only major hurdle in my Hugo Project. And now it’s done. The rest should be a piece of cake.

If you have no opinions or thoughts of your own, by all means read this novel and enjoy the hell out of it. If you actually have a brain, I say don’t waste your time. There’s nothing here of real value or even interest. You can get a hell of a lot more out of other novels.

NOTE This novel tied for the Hugo in 1966 with Roger Zelazny’s This Immortal.

Continue Reading