Review - Ringworld - Hugo 1971 & Nebula 1970

Would I recommend it? - Yes.

I really enjoyed this book. The scientific concepts and how they related to the end of the book were intriguing. There was a lot of explaining going on, which may not have been the best story, and some repetition, but I felt I needed it to understand what was going on.

There was a pulp feel to it, completely expected for the publishing data, and the two female characters were the ship's entertainment and lucky ingenue, which, again, was not unusual, but is a bit grating nowadays. The human male protagonist was in many ways the peak of "coolness" for the day but in his inner life was ready to be self aware enough to know he had flaws. The alien species were well considered and presented as developed personalities with viewpoints arising from their backgrounds.

There is no character development of anyone. It's simply an adventure. It reminds me of Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels, which were first published at about the same time, just with a much older race leaving a much larger mystery.

How does it make me think? - I consider the importance of scale and the possibility of the unforeseen catastrophe. And I think of a dramatization of the importance of different perspectives in finding a solution.

Was it award-worthy? - Perhaps. I really enjoyed the book, but it's hard to consider some of these older books in context.

Ringworld by Larry Niven won the 1970 Nebula Award and the 1971 Hugo Award

Review - Annihilation - Nebula 2015

Would I recommend it? - Yes. It's different but worthwhile and attention-keeping.

The word that fit this the most was "weird". Weird atmosphere. Weirdly compelling. I felt like I just had to keep reading as the biologist explored and questioned and the revelations themselves just kept getting stranger.

The idea of not naming the characters was an amazing first step, because of how it set them apart and, initially, isolated. We never find out much about the other three, just see their actions. But, of course, we find out more of the internal thoughts and past of the biologist, as she's the main character. That the team of four were all women was nicely irrelevant in many ways, and yet I wonder if it helped me settle into the viewpoint of the main character differently than I would have otherwise. Although I also identified, to some degree, with her introversion, which was likely the stronger element.

I was pleased with the ending, even though it was without answers and without closure, which I don't really consider a spoiler, since it's clear from reading the blurbs of the sequels.

How did it make me think? - I'm beginning to think I need to stop asking this question because I find it hard to answer. Although that is why I put it in these reviews in the first place, to push myself a little more. With this book I was reminded how it can be to not know which way to go, to be confused, and have to select a path of some sort, even in the lack of knowledge and understanding.

Was it award worthy? - Yes. This book was compelling and inspired emotions on my part as I read it.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer won the 2015 Nebula Award.

Review - Stand on Zanzibar - Hugo 1969

Do I recommend it? - No. Well... I suppose if you like your books very dense with comprehensive world-building, then you might like to give it a try.

Stand on Zanzibar was a frustrating read for me. I almost didn't make it past the first 50 pages because of the invented "modern" slang that was being thrown in and it wasn't clear to me what was going on. But it either got easier to read or I got used to it. I still struggled through the rest of it more than I enjoyed it.

About half the main plot arc was a spy novel and the other half was more about a major business deal, but both were surrounded by a labyrinth of other things and deeply sunk into the flawed persons and emotional states of the two main characters. Neither was intrinsically satisfying to me. This was more a story about personal hopes and dreams and how they were impacted by this possible future than it was an action story. (And I'm glad it's not the 2010 we actually got.)

The structure was interesting and would have worked better if I'd realized earlier that the chapter headings are very important as to whether they say continuity or something else. The layered something-elses were interesting, some showing history or context or small stories of other people living in the overpopulated world. I might have appreciated the format more in a different book.

How does it make me think? - It was probably supposed to make me think about our population challenges and how our biology is designed to keep us from being successful in such close quarters. But most of what I remember is quirks of human nature.

Was it award winning? - It was certainly an accomplishment and an impressive piece of writing. I can see why it capture the imagination of many people even if I didn't personally like it much.

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner won the Hugo Award in 1969.

Oceanic Storm Trooper Decorated Helmet

Imagining an Oceanic Storm Trooper...

 
 

In September 2015, when a whole bunch of new Star Wars merchandise came out, my daughter caught sight of the decorate your own Storm Trooper helmets and desperately wanted one. We said no... But recently we found three of the mini version on clearance, each about six inches tall. And I decided on an oceanic theme for mine. Colored in marker.

Review - The Doomsday Book - Hugo & Nebula 1993

Do I recommend it? - If you're willing to delve into detail and wait for your resolution.

The Doomsday Book reading experience is about the small concerns of living while there is a state of uncertainty around you and you actually can't fundamentally do anything to fix it. Even though the tension of the plot is about what went wrong with the time-travel drop and will Kivrin, the main character, make it home. Instead the story feels like it's about going forward through loss.

Even so, I spent most of the book in a state of suspense wanting to know what was happening. Or I would have if I hadn't, mmm, given up and flipped ahead.... and then went back and finished the book. So that might not be the best recommendation for reading it linearly. It turns out I'd started to read this once before, probably in college within a few years after it came out. I particularly remember the scene where Kivrin is first talking to Agnes about her cart. But I don't think I finished it then, probably got bogged down in those bits of living.

How does it make me think? - I was left with the impression of relief, that the persistence of survival on the one hand and the determined efforts on the other hand finally had an effect. That it was worthwhile because we never know what may happen. 

Was it award worthy? - Perhaps. It didn't blow me away, but I may be missing some historical context on the relevance of the novel structure or something along those lines

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis won the 1993 Hugo, the 1993 Nebula, and the 1993 SF Locus Awards.

Review - The Man in the Castle - Hugo 1963

Do I recommend it? - Yes, as long as you like subtle tensions and a literary feel.

The Man in the High Castle is about relatively normal lives being lived in the early 1960s, some of which interact with covert activities of foreign natures, in a world where the alliance of Japan and Germany won World War II. The setting was a bit mindbending, but plausible, that this could have been how history developed.

There isn't a clear quest or story arc here. Instead there are multiple smaller character focused stories are interesting and don't so much converge as influence each other in interesting ways. The ending was a bit odd and more obscure than I expected, but that did fit with the I Ching theme that also ran through the book.

The writing was easy to read but a little offset from a normal narrative. Many characters spoke and thought as a second language speaker might, without the small articles and joining words that make language flow, even the ones that did grow up as English-speaking citizens of the US before the war. It was distinctive without being intrusive.

How does it make me think? - The message I took away is that in winning, we may lose. That Germany and Japan won the war, but the truth is they lost because of the destruction of Africa, the devastation the future may bring. It's an interesting idea in context, because the book was published during the Cold War.

Was it award worthy? - No opinion on this one. Although I can definitely see why it seems to be a popular topic for analysis, with its multiple themes and possible meanings.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Enrichment Goals for 2016

Read

Last year I participated in reading challenges through Goodreads and it's inspired me to read more than I did the year before, particularly in classics and in things very different from my usual genres. In 2016 I want to focus my reading further.

  • To look towards the future, as it has been imagined, by reading the Hugo and Nebula Award winners, a task I've already started.
  • To look towards the past, by reading selections from a version of the Western Canon in the form of the 365 day review of Harvard's Five Foot Shelf
  • To look at the other side of the world by reading the Four Great Chinese Novels and other more modern Chinese literature

Write

Last year I've mostly written short book reviews on Goodreads and work emails. In 2016 I want to write in more depth, starting with some of what I read.

Create

In 2015 I created little and that only in dribs and drabs. In 2016 I want to complete one project of some sort each month, whether it is building something original out of Legos or drawing. My creative goals used to be large and multi-part, but I think this year what I mean by project is smaller and more contained.

Move

Earn my red belt in Tae Kwon Do. I just passed the test for my green belt black stripe so this will take going through three more advancements.

Grow

I have other goals, of course, related to growing skills that relate more directly to my career, or to things I would like to do with my family, or to more personal improvements. But they are ones I will keep private for the time being.