Archive for January 9th, 2014

Great Hugo Read: Year One Wrap-Up

Perhaps the biggest victim of the rarity of blog posts around here has been the Great Hugo Read. I’m still going through the books, and there is still a small community of readers occasionally having opinions over at the Goodreads Group. This month is a double dose of Heinlein as we look at his Hugo winning opus Stranger in a Strange Land, paired with the Retro Hugo winner Farmer in the Sky. But let’s talk about those later, especially since I’m only about 80 pages into the quite long Stranger. Instead, let’s catch up with 2013. Specifically the old winners. And since the end/beginning of the year is the time for lists, here’s my ranking of the seven past Hugo winners that came up in 2013:

7) They’d Rather Be Right. Look, I don’t know what I expected going into this book. I’ve seen it called the worst novel to ever win the Hugo, and came away with nothing that convinces me otherwise. The novel has a decent start. For a handful of chapters, I even wondered if the reputation was ill deserved. However, the second half of the book falls rapidly apart. It’s a book I can only recommend to Hugo completists.

6) Double Star. This was probably my biggest disappointment of 2013. No, it’s not as bad as They’d Rather Be Right, but it’s a book that I actually had expectations for, and just fell flat. You can say what you will about Heinlein’s various novels, there are some of his books that drive me absolutely batty (Farnham‘s Freehold anybody) some that I’ve loved (Job) but falling flat is not a problem I ever expected to have from one. But…there it is.

5) A Case of Conscience. Much like They’d Rather Be Right this is a novel of two halves. The first half is a rather interesting story that hangs out on another planet that is suitably alien in every way, while still being approachable. The second half takes the story back to earth, and just didn’t hold me quite the way the first half did. It was the first of two novels in 2013 that had Catholic undertones to the science fiction, and that isn’t where the fault lies (if you look ahead, you’ll see). The fault lies in the integration.

4) The Big Time. This goes right in the middle because it was the novel that stuck with me the least. I could only remember six of the seven books while putting this list together, and I even had to remind myself of the plot to The Big Time. It’s fascinating in that it’s a small story told in a big world. A closed door mystery where, on the other side of the door, is a massive war being fought back and forth through time. Some books stay with you for what they do right. Some for what they do wrong. And some, perhaps by no fault of their own, just come and go. This fell into that third category, and it feels fitting to use it to separate the two other categories.

3) Starship Troopers. I’ve seen the movie. I love the movie. It might even be one of my top ten all time favorites, if you’d believe it. However, this was my first time reading the book. In part I haven’t bothered because I heard so many times that the novel and the movie are two very different things. That the movie is a satire of the novel. I knew the diehard fans of the book often don’t like the movie, so I assumed as a diehard fan of the movie I would dislike the book. I was wrong. It’s clearly the same story, but told in a very different ways. I see the bits that the movie decided to take out of context, to twist, to put into a different light. It was hard not to read the novel as a satire of itself, if that makes sense. To not take it at face value as I might otherwise. That I’ve put it at number 3 on the list says more about the novels ahead of it than the novels behind it.

2) The Demolished Man. I seriously thought about putting this as #1. For most of the year, I would have. About this time last year I started gushing about this book, because it simply blew me away. From word one, I was sucked in and was disappointed when it was over only because there was no more of it to read. I could go over my reasons, or simply point out that I wrote three posts on the book back in January 2013, and link to them here. (One Two Three) I will say, it was my biggest positive surprise of the year.

1) Canticle for Leibowitz. Alright, you looked ahead when I said my problem with Case of Conscience wasn’t the Catholic science fiction. Yes, that means I put the other right at the top of the list. Leibowitz creates not one, but three compelling futures, jumping centuries at a time between portions of the book. Each is eerily plausible, each flows from the previous. The third is, perhaps, the weakest, but the strengths of the first two sections carry so much gravitas into the ending. Perhaps it’s the futility that peppers the final third, combined with reading it so close to Christmas, turned me off the message of Book Three. I’ve made an attempt to not hold that against the book, which I apparently succeeded at, since I’ve put it at #1.

That’s my breakdown. If anyone read some or all of the books and has a different ranking, please let me know. I’m looking forward to another twelve months of science fiction classics I may not have otherwise read. Though there are some weighty reads coming up, with Stranger and Dune as primary reads, and the first two Song of Ice and Fire books as secondary reads.

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