Books Read- 203 Books to Read-282 Percent Complete- 41.86%

Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I just finished 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' and I'm a little disappointed that I put off reading this book for so long.  It was a lot better than  I thought it would be, and a lot better than the first three pages indicated.  I kept reading those pages over and over and putting it back down over the last year.  I won't say too much about the novel here, I'll post a review for it in a couple days, but I'm becoming a bigger and bigger fan of science fiction that blends in some religion.  The first book I really read that gave it a shot was 'Black Easter' by James Blish, where a few guys get together and raise a bunch of demons from hell to see if they can.   It's a much better book than that one sentence makes it sound.  But I thought Canticle was pretty good, and I liked how he treated the church with some respect, often it's taking an easy shot to make the church the bad guy in a post apocalyptic novel.

I also wrote a review for 'The Eskimo Invasion' whose main claim to fame is both the weirdest title and coolest cover in all of science fiction. I recommend you check out the review for the second one.  Other than those two things it's not a great novel, but that cover really does it for me.  Heck, don't even click on the review, here it is:

600full-the-eskimo-invasion-cover.jpg (309×500)

What fifteen year old wouldn't hang that on their wall?

Like I said I'll be posting a review for Canticle pretty soon, and I think I'll post another one for the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson too.  I've also started 'Stations of the Tide' by Michael Swanwick and so far it looks good.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I've posted a new review, this one for 'The Doomsday Book' by Connie Willis, who many would call one of the greatest women writers in all science fiction, I would agree but subtract the 'women' statement.  Connie Willis is a great writer.  This novel won the Nebula Award for 1992, and tied with Vernor Vinge's 'A Fire in the Deep' for the Hugo Award, it also won the Locus Award for the year and several more awards for fantasy novels.  I'm a little disappointed in the Hugo voters for not giving Doomsday a clear victory.  Often I feel like there is too much science fiction being written and the voters just get stuck in a rut and consistently nominate the same authors over and over.  Vinge's book is good (I'll probably review it pretty soon since I'm bringing it up) but Doomsday stands high above all the other books from that year.  The amount of research Willis put into it, and the amount of detail that goes in to bringing her world to life are just too impressive.

There are a lot of issues that one can have with the nominations for the Hugo Award for best novel.  It's the ultimate popularity contest, anyone can nominate any novel for an award, and anyone willing to pay their dues can vote for whichever novel they want.  Let's look at statistics, there have been about 60 nomination years with about five novels shortlisted every year, but there have only been 128 different authors nominated, and only 42 authors have won the award.  So it looks like while new authors have a fighting chance to win the Hugo award (42 out of 60) the best way to get nominated for a Hugo is to have been nominated already.  Since the voting for the Hugo Award is done by the fans, those writers that have an established fan base have a built in edge in getting nominated for the award.  You'll see a lot of series on there, if the fans nominate the first book in a series it's a good bet they'll nominate the second.  Or, if an author who's been nominated for one series begins a second you can usually rely on it to recieve a nomination as well. 

Many authors do consider the Hugo to be the most prestigious award for sci-fi, but I've often thought that the Nebula Award (Only writer's get to vote) should be the most coveted prize.  It seems like an author would rather want the recognition of their peers than adulation from the fans.  What do I know.  The statistics for the Nebula aren't much better: 47 nomination years with 135 different nominees and 35 different winners, and the Nebula awards haven't always limited it to only 5 shortlisted nominees per year, in 1976 there were 19 novels nominated for the award.  So the Nebula Awards have the same problem as the Hugos with repeat nominations.

What does all this mean?  I don't know.  If you want to get nominated for an award for writing science fiction the best way to do it is to have been nominated already?  Maybe, or maybe it just means that the best writers in the business are constantly grabbing the top nominations.  Though there are a whole crop of great books and writers that have only been nominated once, books like 'The Inverted World,' 'China Mountain Zhang,' and 'Tea with the Black Dragon' and looking at these statistics I get worried that good books like these are being left out of nominations because their authors don't normally write sci-fi or aren't perennial nominees.

Going back to 'The Doomsday Book' I've got to say that my review is pretty long, it's a tough book to talk about.  Many people criticize it as being slow, or they make fun of the light tone in the first half.  I don't know what to say about all that, I think those aspect of the novel are important.  And also I feel the need to defend it because it made me cry like a little girl.  This book might be the most depressing thing ever written, but I think Willis is doing a lot here from a literary standpoint that needs to be brought up if you're goint to review her novel. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I've posted two new reviews over to the right, and these are two books that probably couldn't be any more different from each other.  One won the Hugo while the other was nominated for about every award in the business, though it didn't win anything.  I'm jumping around quite a bit in my nominations, and really I just got tired of talking about such old books.  There are a lot of interesting ideas to be had from sci-fi written in the early years but you have to jump around if you want to keep it interesting.  

In my review for 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' by N.K. Jemisin I talk a lot about fantasy in general, but I'm probably not as well read in fantasy as I should be to make the sort of blanket statements I make.  But, the reason I don't read as much fantasy as I probably should is that I feel the genre as a whole is kind of stuck in a loop, if you read one book with orcs and elves in it you really don't need to read more, do you?  I really like Kingdoms because it left the last fifty years of fantasy behind and struck off in a new direction.  Rather than a riff on past performance Jemisin leaves all the mythology of western culture behind and tries for something new.  I really recommend this book to anyone with an interest in fantasy.

I also reviewed 'The Wanderer' by Fritz Leiber.  This book is tough, and considered by many to be one of the worst books to ever win a Hugo award.  I try to treat the book with the amount of respect it deserves, but there's a lot that's wrong with this novel, and plenty of other people have trashed on the novel all across the internet.  I included links in my review to two other ones on the internet, one good and one bad, so anyone with a real curiosity about the novel can get multiple opinions.  

It was a nice change of pace to review a novel more recently published, and I think I'll stick with it.  For my next review I'm thinking about 'Blood Music' by Greg Bear or 'The Doomsday Book' by Connie Willis, both very good authors who have won several awards. I'm also moving closer to finishing 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' and I'll post a review for that when I'm finished, so far it's not too bad.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm going to start reading 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' by Walter Miller as my next book.  I've been putting it off for awhile and I can't really say why.  It's a real classic of the genre and it's high time I finished it off.  I've also posted a review of 'Dark Universe' by Daniel F. Galouye.  This is sort of a tough book to review as it has a fair share of problems, but the concept, I believe, deserves notice.  Galouye tried to do something with this novel that I haven't seen before or since, and that deserves a little respect and recognition.

I try to remind myself whenever I read a book that the same amount of energy, love, dedication, and time goes in to making a bad novel as goes in to making a great one.  Someone took the time and energy to put their baby out there for public consumption, the least a critic can do is treat it with a modicum of respect.  You'll read a lot of reviews on the internet that will trash anything the reviewer doesn't like as being the worst thing ever, the anonymity of the internet provides a great wall from which to hide behind while we sling insults.  That's not the kind of person I want to be, and those aren't the types of reviews I want to write.

There are books out there I don't care for, and there are a lot of books written in the early days of science fiction that border on unreadable for a variety of reasons.  But all of them add up to something, all of them contribute to the genre as a whole, and all of them need to be considered with care.  That's why I'm reading all the nominees, not just the ones that are considered classics. And even with those 'bad' novels I'll try to point out why I think they're important to the genre as a whole, or to either one of the awards.  I have a hard time just bashing on any novel.

But take a look at the new review and tell me what you think.  Next I believe I'll review 'The Wanderer' by Fritz Lieber.  Then after that I'm going to try talking about something that was maybe written a little bit sooner than the ones I've written to date, maybe something that was written before my father was born might be in order.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I've now finished 'When HARLIE was One' by David Gerrold.  This novel was nominated for both the 1972 Hugo award and the 1973 Nebula award, but lost out on both nominations to Isaac Asimov's 'The Gods Themselves.'  I think both those nomination periods should be best know as the years Robert Silverberg had TWO novels nominated for both awards, it seems like not a year went by in over two decades when Silverberg didn't have a novel nominated for some award, but this year he had two up there, and both of them pretty good.  I'm looking forward to writing a review of 'The Book of Skulls,' but 'The Masks of Time' is one of the earliest science fiction novels I ever read (though really you shouldn't give that book to your kids).

I've also included a list of how far I am in my goal to read all the Hugo and Nebula nominees.  On top of the reviews I've written is a tab for 'my progress' that will take you to the entire list of nominees and the ones I've completed.  As you can see I've got quite a ways to go, but I'm making progress.

I've posted a review of HARLIE on the side as well, I liked this book a lot.  Though probably not for the reasons Gerrold was imagining, he was really able to keep me in suspense about the love story in the book, and about the ending as well.  I'd recommend HARLIE to someone who hasn't read anything else by Gerrold, it's a little more accepting than 'The Man who Folded Himself' or the 'Star Wolf' series.  The first can put people off by the sex in it, and the second can put people off because it's basically Star Trek.  Though I really love Gerrold, and I give him a lifetime pass for Folded, so I might not be the most objective person to review HARLIE.

HARLIE falls in to that sub-genre about computers that come to life, it came not long after '2001' and 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,' so it was a heady time for this sort of novel.  So much of this stuff has become a cliche by now that someone would really have to pull out all the stops to even get a novel like this published anymore.  You can't have a computer go crazy in space anymore, you can't have a computer help you fight a rebellion anymore, I think HARLIE neatly lock up the "you can't have a computer help you fall in love" cliche.  Gerrold really does a good job of avoiding the pitfalls of the sub-genre, and tackles some subject matter that keep this novel pretty fresh today, despite some of the more glaring anachronisms, like smoking indoors.

I haven't picked a book to read next, and I still haven't found my copy of 'Farthing,' but once I decide on my next book I'll post it up here.  I'll write another review tomorrow for a book I've already finished, I'm thinking 'Dark Universe' by Daniel F. Galouye.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Well, I have lost my copy of 'Farthing' that I was reading, the 2006 Nebula nominee by Jo Walton.  It'll come back eventually, but while I wait for it I've decided to read 'When Harlie was One' by David Gerrold.  This novel was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula award for best novel in 1973-74.  Gerrold should be a huge name in science fiction, but he's largely been tossed aside by history.  No one really talks about it but Gerrold was instrumental in creating the Star Trek as we know it.  Any differences between the original Star Trek series and Star Trek TNG can be directly attributed to Gerrold's influence.  He was responsible for adding the executive officer (Commander Riker) and for putting Worf in the show at all.  Though he's not even attributed after the first season because of an argument with the writer's guild, they wanted him to have a creator credit which he refused, wanting Star Trek to remain Gene Roddenberry's baby forever.  Gerrold also wrote the Star Trek handbook and several Star Trek novelizations.  Most importantly perhaps he wrote the original episode 'The Trouble with Tribbles,'  which would probably be enough to put him down in the sci-fi hall of fame forever.

In genre circles now Gerrold is perhaps best known for his War Against the Chtorr series, a sort of middle of the road science fiction series that pits the men of earth against an invading group of monsters, I haven't read much of it but know that none of the novels involved have been nominated for any awards.  Also the Star Wolf series, which I have read, which is basically Gerrold's take on Star Trek, enough names are changed that he won't get in any trouble but it's an interesting take on what Star Trek might have been if Gerrold had more of a free reign in deciding it's direction, and also if one wants a sex scene involving the Klingon stand-ins and a human being.  None of the novels in this series were nominated for an award either, but they're pretty light and fast reads if someone wants an alternate take on the ST universe.

Gerrold was a pretty busy writer, and still is, the last few books of the Chtorr series are still forthcoming, but he has only been nominated for two best novel awards in his career.  One for HARLIE and another for 'The Man who Folded Himself.'  It's this second novel that wins Gerrold his lifetime pass in my book.  There are certain circles of science fiction fans, my circle, which is basically just me, that consider this one of the definitive novels about time travel.  It's one of the first novels to end in a recursive loop, and it certainly has the first (if not only) instance of a person having a homosexual relationship with themself.  Time travel novels can go in certain directions, the author can allow a paradox to take place or not, they can allow for parallel timelines or not, but in all instances it needs to lead to almost an entropic level of complexity.  There are a few time travel novels I don't really like and they're all the ones that act like the sub-genre can be approached lightly and not very much thought put into the mechanics of time travel.  I would encourage most would be writers to approach it with care, and if you do feel like taking a light approach use Heinlein's 'The Door into Summer' as a guideline on how to make it work.

When talking about time travel I think there is really one big question the writer needs to ask themself: 'Can the past be altered?'  If the answer is yes then you need to wonder if the existing timeline is then destroyed ala 'Back to the Future' or if you then create an alternate timeline like Kang in the marvel universe or Gerrold's character in Folded.  If you opt not to create a universe in which the past can be changed you're creating a world like the sort that Futurama had in 'Roswell that ends well', where you can be your own grandfather but it was always that way, or Connie Willis' Oxford series where no matter how you try to alter the past something will always occur to stop you, because the past has already occurred.  There are a lot more ways in which to parse the fiction that deals with time travel, but there are great examples no matter how you choose to deal with the mechanics, and I think 'The Man who Folded Himself' is one of the first and the best, no matter how pedestrian the rest of his novels may be, (and I've barely even started HARLIE yet) that one novel totally earns him a pass.

There are a lot of people on the internet reading all the winners for either the Hugo or Nebula award for best novel, and that book is one of the prime examples for why you shouldn't do that.  Reading only the winners would lead you to 'Rendezvous with Rama' by Arthur C. Clarke as the winner for both Hugo and Nebula for 1974 when really at least one of them should have gone to Gerrold.  I gush more over this book in my review and really I just meant to talk about time travel in general and HARLIE, I really shouldn't get myself started on 'The Man who Folded Himself.'

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Currently I'm reading 'Farthing' by Jo Walton, an alternative history novel.  The novel was nominated for a 2007 Nebula award, and I figure it's a good enough primer for the author.  I've never read anything by Walton before and her newest novel 'Among Others' just this year won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, usually a good indicator that a book is pretty good.

Normally I'm not very in to the sub-genre of alternative history but 'Farthing' seems pretty good so far.  I also took this as an opportunity to write a review of Philip K. Dick's 'The Man in the High Castle.'  If you're going to be talking about alternative history you should probably start with the grandaddy of them all, and many would say the best as well.  I think High Castle might be one of the reasons I've never been able to get excited about other alt. history novels, if you're going to talk about alternate realities go ahead and make it about alternate realities, don't just set the novel in a world where the Russia got the bomb first and make it about life at home.  Though that's really just me saying that I wish more novels were like High Castle,  I'll reserve judgement on 'Farthing' until I'm complete, hopefully it will open my mind a little more to what alternative history can be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I've posted two review for novels on the right side of the blog.  After awhile I'm going to have to figure out a way to archive these for easier access, I can't have the near five hundred novels that have been nominated just sitting there linked on the right.  So these are my first two reviews, the first of many I hope.  It has been awhile since I've read either of these, so I give my impression of what I remember, if the review aren't the best bear with me I read them when I was a teenager.

I won't write too much about these novels here but once you click on the reviews be aware that it's not a spoiler free space.  I'm operating on the assumption that anyone that clicks on them has already read them.

I'll be jumping around a lot in my reviews, mostly because that is how I read the books as well.  I'm going to try to skip back and forth between books on the list I've read recently and books that I've read a long time ago.  I don't want to spend the next few years constantly writing reviews about books I read five years ago, I've got a lot of reviews to write before I get caught up to where I am now.

Also worth mentioning is that I am not, repeat, not reading these books in the order in which they were written.  Try reading all the novels written in any one decade and you'll drive yourself crazy.  The genre over time follows certain patterns, something I'll talk more about in the future, but the important thing to know is that science fiction is full of novels written about anything (the past, the future, wizards, talking squirrels) but overall always meant to inform about the present.  Meaning these novels can almost always be dated to the time in which they were written, some more than others.  To sit down and read ten straight sci-fi novels from the fifties would be to learn more about life in the 1950s than any sort of exploration of the genre.

This gives me an added difficulty.  Before I open any novel I try to see the date in which it was published then place it into the pantheon of science fiction and identify the influences of the time on the novel.  The alternative would be to go crazy reading novels set in the year 2000 written in the sixties that have absolutely no bearing on our modern world.  To read some of these novels you really have to be a lover of the genre, we'll get more into those later.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I've always read science fiction, and a few years ago I realized that more and more I was looking to the Hugo and Nebula awards list to find my next book.  I'd already read quite a few, so I started looking to the winners, those that had won both and those that had won either individually.  Books like 'Stranger in a Strange Land,' 'The Dispossessed,' and so on.  After that I became curious about those books that had lost out those really great novels.  'Bug Jack Barron' lost out to 'The Left Hand of Darkness' for the 1970 Nebula Award, and Walter Tevis' heartbreaking 'Mockingbird' lost out to Benford's 'Timescape,' but these are great novels that simply might be overlooked by readers only hitting the winners and not the nominees.

So, I set myself a goal to read all the winners and nominees for the Hugo or Nebula award for best novel.  There are over 400 novels on this list, with at most eleven added every year.  So this is quite the deal.  Even if I can bang these out at over forty books a year it's going to take me almost a decade to read them all.  And there's a few icebergs up ahead that are going to take me some time to navigate (I'm looking at you 'Gravity's Rainbow). But, I love my sci-fi, and I don't see that going anywhere so I'm giving it a shot.

Once I decided on doing this I wanted a place where I could discuss some of these books with other people who had read them.  People who loved their award winners as much as I do, and wanted to talk about some of the more obscure books on the list that most others might not have read.  There really isn't any place to do that, I tried Goodreads and loved it, but their discussion board is only good if I want to read a book report or bash on 'Blackout/All Clear.'  So I'm going to give this a try.  As I finish each book on the list I'll write a review, and I'll try my best to get the ones I have read updated as soon as possible.  Hopefully by the time I'm done I'll have a review for every book that has ever been nominated for the two biggest awards in science fiction.

That is my goal.