Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Facing off Hugo winners

Okay, how about a different kind of contest, a retrospective contest —

Which would you vote best of these five past winners:

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, winner of the 1960 Hugo
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, winner in 1961
Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein again, winner in 1962
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick, winner in 1963
Way Station by Clifford Simak, winner in 1964

I must admit I hardly remember Canticle, though I read it. All I recall is that the author shocked me by killing the main character a third of the way through — the first time I’d ever seen such a thing (this was way before GRRM). I’m pretty sure that was Canticle.

I actually re-read Way Station not that long ago and frankly I wasn’t at all impressed.

I know which of these books I like best, which isn’t the same as the one I think had the greatest impact on the genre. Today, well, I’d have to read Canticle again if I were really going to vote to pick one out of those five.

Here’s the next group:

The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber in 1965
Dune by Frank Herbert in 1966
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein in 1967
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny in 1968
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner in 1969

I never cared much for Leiber and never read The Wanderer.

Once again, though, I have a clear pick for the book I really enjoyed the most versus the book I think was most important (though I liked both).

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin in 1970
Ringworld by Larry Niven in 1971
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer in 1972
The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov in 1973
Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clark in 1974

You know, I *really* need to re-read The Left Hand of Darkness, somehow it seems to keep coming up and I just don’t remember it at all. I wonder if it’s possible I never actually read it, considering that I do remember the rest of these, at least enough to have a general impression. I definitely know which one I’d pick to go on to the next round– I mean, which one other than Left Hand.

Okay, next group:

The Dispossessed, LeGuin again, 1975
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman, 1976
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm, 1977
Gateway, Frederick Pohl, 1978
Dreamsnake, Vonda McIntyre 1979

I didn’t remember that Dreamsnake won a Hugo. I really enjoyed the book. I don’t know the others that well. Actually, I’m not sure I read any of the others. First group where I think I only read one of the winners. I wonder if there’s a group of five Hugo winners where I didn’t read any?

I also notice that 1979 is the first year CJ Cherryh was a nominee, with The Faded Sun: Kesrith. She’d written a couple of the Morgaine books by then, and Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds. I do prefer the Faded Sun trilogy to those, I think.

Moving on:

The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C Clark, 1980
The Snow Queen, Joan D Vinge, 1981
Downbelow Station, CJ Cherryh, 1982
Foundations Edge, Asimov, 1983
Startide Rising, David Brin, 1984

For the first time, we’re passing over a lot of books I just loved that were nominated but didn’t win. McKillip’s Harpist in the Wind, Wizard by John Varley, Pride of Chanur, which I greatly preferred to Downbelow Station. I see Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury was up in 1983 — I think it should have won. Well, I was never a big Asimov fan, really. MacAvoy’s Tea with the Black Dragon — I adored that book.

Oh, I just realized, this was the period where I really discovered SFF. And I was a teenager, so this was the formative period for my literary tastes. No wonder so many of the titles from these years leap out at me.

Anyway, I do know which of the five winners I’d put forward — and it wasn’t Downbelow Station, never one of my favorites of Cherryh’s.

Okay, let’s see —

Neuromancer, William Gibson, 1985
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, 1986
Speaker for the Dead, ditto, 1987
The Uplift War, Brin, 1988
Cyteen, Cherryh, 1989

Oh, major pain making this choice! For the first time two books I know well and love go head to head. Oooh. Really tough.

Next group:

Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 1990
The Vor Game, Bujold, 1991
Barrayar, ditto, 1992
A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge, 1993, and
Doomsday Book, Connie Willis, also 1993 (they tied, I guess)
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson, 1994

Sorry, six choices, I’d rather keep the years even than the number of contenders. Difficult choices here, too. I never read Hyperion. I heard it was really really really impressive, but also a tragedy. I didn’t really care for Red Mars, but actually Green Mars was my favorite of the trilogy. And I totally admired the Tines from Vinge’s book. And Bujold! Yep, another tough group.

Mirror Dance, Bujold, 1995
The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson, 1996
Blue Mars, KSR, 1997
Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman, 1998
To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis, 1999

Well, another chance to pick Bujold. I admired The Diamond Age, and I suspect I would admire it more today, but I don’t think I really liked it. I might pick it, though. On the other hand, I could say exactly the same of Willis’s book. Not sure what I’d go for here.

Next:

A Deepness in the Sky, Vinge, 2000
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2001
American Gods, Neil Gaiman, 2002
Hominids, Robert J Sawyer, 2003
Paladin of Souls, Bujold, 2004

I have Vinge’s book, but I must admit I’ve never actually read it. Wow, that’s kind of embarrassing. 15 years on my TBR pile may be a record. I kinda hope it’s a record. That’s terrible.

I disliked American Gods. Never read Hominids. Pretty sure this would be an easy win for Bujold given that.

Okay:

Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell, Suzanna Clarke, 2005
Spin, Robert Charles Wilson, 2006
Rainbow’s End, Vernor Vinge again, 2007
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon, 2008
The Graveyard Book, Gaiman, 2009

Okay, I liked this one by Gaiman way, way better. Never read the three in the middle. I was so, so impressed by Clarke’s book. Wow, it was amazing. Not something I can see myself re-reading, though.

And at last! Here we are, caught up to the present:

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi, 2010
The City and the City, China MiƩville, also 2010
Blackout/ All Clear, Connie Willis, 2011
Among Others, Jo Walton, 2012
Redshirts, Scalzi, 2013
Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, 2014

Six contenders again, sorry. I’ve read all these except The Windup Girl. It’s another hard choice for me , though I can narrow it down to two pretty easily. Okay, down to three. I guess. Fine, okay, so I really loved one of these, deeply admired one, liked and admired one, and liked both the others quite a bit. Shoot, it’s actually pretty hard to choose.

Okay, vote, please. Which books would you all pick from each groups? Are there any choices you find particularly easy or difficult?

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22 Comments Facing off Hugo winners

  1. Kootch

    Hah! Good to see an author I like who does not like Lieber. A lot of good authors seemed to idolise him so I struggled through to page 60ish of one of the Lankhmar books before giving up. Anyway, my picks: Dune, 1966; The Forever War, 1976; Downbelow Station, 1982; Cyteen, 1989;Barrayar, 1992; Mirror Dance, 1995; Paladin of Souls, 2004; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, 2008; and I haven’t read any in the last group.

  2. pete mack

    Canticle
    Zanzibar
    Left Hand
    Sweet Birds/Dispossessed tie. Two favorite authors, two favorite books
    Neuromancer
    Tie, Fire on the Deep, Doomsday Book
    Diamond Age, Say Nothing of the Dog
    Deepness in the Sky.

    Some of the listed books are such classics it’s pretty much impossible to choose.

  3. Elaine T

    I don’t care much for Lieber, either, although I have read some. His work is .. um… cold? Unengaging? And even I could spot the Freudian crap in one of the Ffafwhosis books.

    Canticle, I think, then hmm.. next bunch there are three I liked and had impact (IMO).. DUNE for impact, I think. Next two bunches blergh to all of them, which I do remember reading more or less when they were new. (I never understood the fuss about LEFT HAND .)

    Probably Startide although I’m not sure what impact it had, it was really good. and now we’re getting to where I didn’t read as much in the sf line, so I’ll stop here.

  4. Macsbrains

    Hmm. I haven’t read a majority of these, even though many of them are sitting on my bookshelves waiting to be read.

    I first read Dune in high school and it’s dear to my heart in so many ways. In college I came across The Left Hand of Darkness in the used book bin at the bookstore with the Hugo sticker on it. I’d heard of LeGuin so I gave it a try and immediately followed it up with The Dispossessed, which blew my mind at the time. Those books shaped my view of what a Hugo award should entail.

    1960-1964 – Haven’t read any of those yet
    1965 -1969 – Only read Dune, but it’s my all-time favorite so…
    1970-1974 – Read only Left Hand and The Gods Themselves, of which I think LeGuin’s is better.
    1975-1979 – Read only The Dispossessed
    1980-1984 – Haven’t read any of those yet
    1985-1989 – Only read Ender’s Game

    1990-1994 – I read Hyperion rather recently and as much as I love Bujold, based on the first book alone I would go for Hyperion. However, the continuation, The Fall of Hyperion, didn’t work as well for me.

    1995-1999 – Mirror Dance is the only one I read, but it’s a good one.
    2000-2004 – I also didn’t like American Gods, and I like Harry Potter, but it’s not strong enough for a Hugo. Paladin of Souls has been next on my to-read list for about 4 years now, and I swear it’s next, I swear.

    2005-2009 – Haven’t read any of these, and not likely to.
    2010-2015 – Only read Ancillary Justice

    Clearly, I am behind in my reading.

  5. Rachel

    Macsbrains, yes, I’m afraid you must drop everything and immediately read all these books. There’s just no help for it. :-)

    Have you read The Curse of Chalion? Because you definitely should read that before Paladin. Then you should let us know which you prefer, because it’s interesting how people often come down really solidly for one of the other.

  6. Rachel

    Also, just FYI, I finally got disgusted with not remembering Left Hand, so I went downstairs and found my copy. Now that I’m a third of the way through it, I can pretty much be sure I never read it before. I can also say the following:

    The worldbuilding is really well done and interesting; especially with regard to drawing the world, the writing is beautiful. This is so much a “setting” novel — I mean, given characterization vs plot vs setting, this book emphasizes the third SO MUCH the other two aspects of the story virtually vanish. This is okay, not even exactly unexpected, just an observation.

    I really do not like the original pov protagonist. So far I think he’s boring as well as unappealing. In comparison with Bren Cameron (the obvious comparison), he seems both incompetent and unlikable. I grant that Bren has had a zillion books in which to grow in competence, but at least he started off likable. I’m hoping I find the native protagonist more appealing now that the story has switched to his/her point of view.

    The broader plot of the novel still seems shapeless to me.

    I have no problem with the weird fluid gender of the society described, but the broader human civilization seems laughably dated.

  7. Macsbrains

    @Rachel – Yes, I’ve read The Curse of Chalion, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I didn’t have a copy of Paladin of Souls at the time, and by the time I did it got sacrificed to my biblio-volcano. Every day I _almost_ pick it up (my Bujold shelf is eye-height by the door) but I always end up leaving with something else in my bag. I’m not sure how this happens.

    It’s been 15 years since I read Left Hand, but I do recall it was slow going for quite a while. I didn’t have much to compare it to at the time, since it was one of the few books not forced upon me by school, but I am a sucker for a good setting, and it was so new-to-me that after that and The Dispossessed I spent a year or two reading almost nothing but LeGuin’s entire backlist. The beginning of the end for me, in shelf-capacity and otherwise.

  8. Rachel

    >The beginning of the end for me, in shelf-capacity and otherwise.

    Hah! For me that was Patricia McKillip and CJ Cherryh.

  9. Mike S.

    I go back and forth between which book I like the best and which I suspect is most literarily meritorious. (And there are some close ones in both categories, but I’m not going to complicate it even further. :-) )

    Like:
    Starship Troopers
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
    Ringworld
    Gateway
    Downbelow Station
    Cyteen
    A Fire Upon the Deep
    Mirror Dance
    A Deepness in the Sky
    Spin
    Among Others

    Merit (whatever that is)
    A Canticle for Liebowitz
    Dune
    The Left Hand of Darkness
    The Forever War
    Downbelow Station
    Neuromancer
    Barrayar
    The Diamond Age
    A Deepness in the Sky
    The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
    Ancillary Justice

  10. Bret Grandrath

    This is fun with lots of my favorite books.
    Starship Troopers
    The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
    To Your Scattered Bodies Go
    75-79 I haven’t read any of these. Kinda busy, High School, (Jr) College, and first steady girlfriend.
    Downbelow Station, it’s better if you read it as a prequel to Merchanter’s Luck
    Cyteen, I read it when it came out and half way through I said “This should win the Hugo”
    Barrayar
    Mirror Dance
    2000-2009 I haven’t read any of these, it was a busy decade with both my kids on sports teams and my son Beating!!!! Leukemia
    Ancillary Justice, this is the book that got me back into the reading habit

  11. Linda S

    Interesting! I’m kind of embarrassed to realize how many of these I haven’t read.

    1960-64
    Of these, I liked Starship Troopers the best, but I’d probably vote for The Man in the High Castle on Mike’s “merit (whatever that is)” scale. I liked Stranger a lot when I read it, but I suspect it hasn’t aged well. I thought I had read Canticle, but now I’m not sure; I should probably try it again (or for the first time).

    1965-69
    I agree with Mike here. I liked The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress the best, but I’d have to vote for Dune on any merit/influence scale. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t actually like Dune much.) I know a lot of people love Lord of Light, but I bounced right off it.

    1970-74
    I liked The Gods Themselves a lot, and I think its Hugo was well deserved, unlike the one for (grrr) Foundation’s Edge. Ringworld was a great example of a big-scope book, which always gets extra points from me. But I have to agree with Mike that the merit award goes to Left Hand of Darkness. I do think that using male pronouns worked against LeGuin’s intentions, as I believe she mentioned in a later essay. Frankly, Estraven and the other Gethenians read as unambiguously male to me.

    1975-79
    Hmm…. I think the merit award has to go to The Dispossessed or The Forever War. I liked them both, but I suspect TFW hasn’t aged well, so I’ll vote for The Dispossessed. By the way, TD is an example of a book that it’s possible to enjoy even while disagreeing completely with the (apparent) politics of the author. I thought the anarcho-syndicalist society that LeGuin seemed to approve of was CRAZY–I would have been on the first flight out to the evil US-analogue, myself.

    I was never really a Wilhelm fan, though she was obviously very talented, and Dreamsnake didn’t do much for me. I somehow missed Gateway, but based on Mike’s description, I should give it a try.

    1980-84
    This is a really tough one for me. The Snow Queen has one of my favorite characters ever, BZ Gundhalinu, plus a really interesting world. I agree that Downbelow Station isn’t Cherryh’s best, but it’s a fascinating setup for later Union/Alliance books. I guess I’d go with Startide Rising here, though as Mike points out, it’s not really a self-contained book, and the eventual solution to the mystery was pretty disappointing.

    1985-89
    Wow, what an amazing 5-year stretch! Neuromancer was obviously the most influential, but cyberpunk is very much Not My Thing, so I’ll pass on that one. I could honestly pick any of the other four, but if I absolutely had to vote, I’d go with The Uplift War. I loved the characters, and the society was fascinating. Cyteen would probably be my second choice; it was brilliant, but also deeply creepy. I think you mentioned that you don’t like to re-read the section before Ari I dies, and I feel exactly the same way.

    This comment is getting really long, so I think I’ll stop here for now!

  12. SarahZ

    I loved The Forever War (it’s one of my all time favorite SF reads), but I’m sort of shocked that Forever Peace got a Hugo. I thought it was pretty unnecessary.

    Windup Girl was a difficult read (all of Bacigalupi’s books deal with pretty brutal subject matter), but I was really impressed with it. It came together beautifully at the end, I thought.

    And, I really liked American Gods. Not sure if it’s the best out of that list, but I can’t wait for the tv adaptation of it to come out. Brian Fuller is going to do amazing things with source material like this.

  13. Rachel

    Interesting to see everyone’s opinions about the various Hugo winners! I’ll summarize all that next week or sometime, and give my opinions. I like how Mike divided them up, with the “Book I liked the best” vs “Book I think is actually the “best”, whatever that means”. Of course that lets you pick two titles, which is kind of cheating when the choices get hard.

    Linda, I hope you’ll complete the set! I like long comments!

    I’m feeling this definite guilt for never having read some of these that you all are particularly mentioning, and for forgetting others that I know I definitely did read. Maybe I should at least look at The Forever War and see if I ever read it? And if I glanced at The Snow Queen, which I know for sure I did read once, maybe I would remember BZ Gundhalinu, whom I just do not recall. And so on.

    And if I read The Windup Girl, I would have read all the books in that set, which would be kind of cool.

    And of course you notice I started with 1960. Before that, I don’t remember any but those by Heinlein.

  14. mona

    Of all these, I’ve only read 4: Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Goblet of Fire, and The Graveyard Book. That’s a pretty dismal record.

    When I was in high school, I started reading one of the prequels to Dune (it was a gift, can’t remember which one). There was something terribly tragic in it and I just couldn’t continue.

    I just bought Curse of Chalion, so it’s next on my TBR, and I’m very tempted to read many of the other titles everyone’s mentioned, but where to start? Hmmm. As Macsbrains said, clearly, I am behind in my reading.

  15. Rachel

    Mona, wow, really?

    I wonder how long it would take for someone to actually read through every Hugo winner on this list? Or go right back to 1950 or whatever and start at the beginning. That would be quite an undertaking. I’m sure a person would get quite a feel for the development of the field that way, but it would probably take all year.

    Dune is actually the first book in its series, and it’s a classic for a reason, so I honestly do think it’s worth a try. I believe it’s fairly well agreed that every sequel is about half as good as the previous book in line, and yes there was a terrible tragedy built in somewhere along the way, but since Dune stands alone, frankly I would just stop right there and not read any sequels.

    Cyteen! You must read Cyteen!

    Oh, all right, if you insist on designing your own TBR pile, I bet you will love The Curse of Chalion. And Paladin of Souls.

  16. Craig

    Mona, FWIW I read just Dune and stopped: it works as a stand-alone and fully deserves its reputation: I’d be pretty firm on advancing it, even though that’s a really strong group.

    On the merits (not my own favorites), I’d pick
    A Canticle for Liebowicz
    Dune
    The Left Hand of Darkness
    (…I haven’t read the Dispossessed, or several of the others, so I just don’t feel comfortable choosing)
    Startide Rising
    Neuromancer
    …aiieee – I don’t know how to choose among the next group, which I’m going to use as an excuse to bail out.

  17. Linda S

    Let’s see if I can fill in the rest.

    1990-94
    Another tough choice. I remember being blown away by Hyperion, though I agree with Macsbrains that Fall of Hyperion wasn’t really a satisfactory conclusion. Barrayar was great, with some really interesting character arcs and a plot that didn’t rely as strongly on coincidences as some of Bujold’s earlier work. But I think I have to go with Fire Upon the Deep here. Huge scope, big ideas, and also great characters that I really cared about–FUtD is almost the definition of the kind of book I think of as Hugo-worthy.

    1995-99
    This one is much easier for me. I’m still annoyed with Blue Mars for stealing a Hugo from Memory, and I agree with Sarah Z about Forever Peace (actually, I’m not sure if I even read it). The Diamond Age was very cool, but I seem to recall that the ending wasn’t great. So Mirror Dance it is.

    2000-04
    This one is between Deepness and Paladin, and it’s a tough choice. Deepness was very well done, but I didn’t like it as much as Fire Upon the Deep. This was partly because I didn’t think the characters were as likable and partly because I found some plot elements so creepy that the book was difficult for me to read. I’m going to give the nod to Paladin of Souls, which I loved, though I suspect I’m being unfair to Deepness.

    2005-09
    I think I’ll go with Spin for this one. I agree that Strange and Norrell was very impressive, but I seem to recall that I found it kind of cold and distant. I normally love Vinge’s work, but I wasn’t crazy about Rainbow’s End; I didn’t really buy the premise, and I didn’t like the characters much. I haven’t read Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Graveyard Book. Chabon is hit or miss for me, but I really should try Yiddish Policemen’s Union sometime. I like Gaiman’s comics, but his novels don’t do much for me.

    2010-14
    Definitely Ancillary Justice. Its closest competition is probably Among Others–a very different kind of book, but very well done. Redshirts was fun, and I liked Blackout/All Clear, though I seem to recall finding Willis’s patented communication breakdowns a little annoying this time around. I haven’t read Windup Girl because everyone says it’s very dark, and City and the City is one of those books I really need to get to.

  18. mona

    *adds Cyteen to TBR list*

    *looks at Dune* …. *adds Dune* I will get around to Dune sometime this year. Probably. Rachel, it was one of those sequel-prequels. I think it was actually written by Herbert’s son. Thanks, Craig. It helps to know that it stands on its own.

    I’m all for a TBR of your choosing, Rachel! Especially as an intro to authors with a long backlist, haha. In fact, most of my TBR is currently compiled of recs from you and your commenters. I might just try to read all the Hugo winners now.

    Did anybody else avoid award-winning books? When I was younger, if I saw a book that said “Hugo Award” or “Nebula Award” on it, I wouldn’t pick it up. I was one of those contrary children.

  19. Rachel

    Thanks, Linda! Some of those are tough choices for me, and it doesn’t help that I haven’t read a couple of your picks.

    Oh, a sequel-prequel. Yeah, I was barely aware of those because I’ve been avoiding Dune sequels since forever.

    I know, right? My TBR pile is mostly a compilation of commenters’ and bloggers’ suggestions. If you do settle down to win all the Hugo winners, well, I’m sure it will be an experience. I probably wouldn’t commit to reading ALL THE WINNERS all the way through, though, if it were me. If I hated a book a third of the way through, I’d let myself quit.

    I wasn’t contrary, but I think I never cared one way or another if a book was an award winner. I guess I’ve always cared a lot more about friends’ recommendations plus the first page of the book plus the back cover copy, not by awards.

  20. Craig

    Fine: completing the list … more or less…
    A Fire Upon the Deep (after considerable struggling)
    The Diamond Age
    A Deepness in the Sky (a weaker book, but an easier choice; I haven’t read AG or Hominids)
    (Only read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so even though it seems a worthy choice it would be irresponsible to pick it)
    Ancillary Justice — though when I get around to reading the Willis books* I may change my mind. Is it just me, or is this a weaker set than most of the others?

    * embarrassing to admit I haven’t, since I got them as a gift from our hostess.

  21. Rachel

    Good job completing the set!

    I was really impressed by Blackout/All Clear, even though they weren’t entirely to my taste. And I actually loved The City and the City and thought it had the ambition I would look for in an award winner, even though I’m not entirely sure MiĆ©ville quite pulled it off.

  22. Craig

    I liked The City & the City quite a bit, but I don’t think it ultimately came off: he shouldn’t have pulled the curtain off Breach if he didn’t have a better idea how the whole thing worked.

    Incidentally, looking over my whole list, I only chose my own favorite twice (Startide Rising and A Fire Upon the Deep), so I may have actually been overcompensating in reaching for objective merit.

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