Can the award-winning science fiction novels of the past actually still be worth reading several decades later? Do they have messages, technology, and characters that are pertinent in modern society? Have I just been reading rehashed versions of past award-winners? There's only one way to find out...
read and review the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning novels.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, tied for the 1967 Nebula Award for Best Novel. It also received a Hugo Award, but in a slightly different form for Best Short Story. If your education was anything like mine, you read this book at least once before high school graduation--probably more than once.

I enjoyed reading Flowers for Algernon in school, and felt that I remembered it very well--I almost decided not to re-read it for this project. Re-reading it was entirely worthwhile, and I found layers to the book that I missed on previous reads.

The key passage, for me, comes midway through the book when a coworker tells Charlie, "'s not meant for man to know more than was given for him to know by the Lord in the first place. The fruit of that tree was forbidden to man." Charlie blindly follows Adam & Eve down that well-beaten path, discovering wonders but also tackling previously unknown emotions like shame and condescension. Ultimately, Charlie learns that ignorance is only bliss if you've never known anything else.

Flowers for Algernon is well-written and compelling, and its language evolves right along with its lead character. In my mind, it *barely* qualifies as science fiction, but it's certainly worth reading--again.
Rating: 5/5

Monday, November 16, 2009

Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17, by Samuel R. Delany, tied for the Nebula Award in 1967. As best I can remember, this is the first book by Delany that I've ever read. It blew me away.

I'm a sci-fi fan. I don't go to (many) conventions, but I'll watch almost any genre series on TV. Two of my favorites are Babylon 5 and Firefly. Brilliant writing, brilliant execution, and worthy additions to the genre. Clearly, in reading Babel-17 I'm going better-late-than-never where these series' creators have boldly gone before. I found many delightful descriptions and scenes in Babel-17 that I now recognize as homages in Babylon 5, Firefly, and other series & films. Delany has a fleet of shadow-ships, and smaller spider-ships, that were more than familiar from B5. Early in the book, a female character writes "Present location: I'm sitting in a folding chair in the freight lock looking over the field." If you've watched Firefly, you'll remember Kaylee in precisely this scene. There are many others, and it's fun to recognize them, even after the fact.

Delany gets to join my list of authors who love word-play, and who are skilled at it. I'll avoid specific examples, because they're just so darn fun to read (and I hope you'll find this book and read it!); I'll just say that the strategies for his space battles are novel and descriptive.
Rating: 5/5

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein, received the 1967 Hugo for Best Novel. It was Heinlein's 4th Hugo win, and a nice companion to his previous novels. As in many of his earlier works, Heinlein uses the book to share his political ideologies with the reader, specifically individual responsibility.

In my opinion, the political goings-on slowed the book down a bit; consequently, it's not as easy or entertaining a read as Stranger in a Strange Land or Starship Troopers. It is, however, a well-written political story with interesting perspectives on revolt and government. Rating: 4/5

And Call Me Conrad (aka: This Immortal), by Roger Zelazny

And Call Me Conrad (aka: This Immortal), by Roger Zelazny, tied with Dune for the 1966 Hugo Award. It's a "grand tour" story with a sci-fi overlay, and it's a darn good book.

Zelazny plays with language, and does it very effectively. My favorite was his description of a world leader, "...his function is rather like that of an anti-computer: you feed him all kinds of carefully garnered facts, figures, and statistics and he translates them into garbage."

The story is steeped in Greek myth and legend, and has many intriguing layers and characters. It's books like this that make this project worthwhile! Curiously, I'm finding that the more I like a book the less I have to say about it; if it keeps me turning the pages, I don't have any interest in making notes about what I'm reading, apparently. Rating: 4/5