Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Hugo winners face-off, part II

Okay, for those of you following along at home, although no group actually achieved consensus, a couple came close — I bet you already know which ones, but let’s take a look!

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

I read all these, but the only ones I re-read several times and remember well are Heinlein’s. I did re-read Waystation, but didn’t think much of it. The one I like best from this group is definitely Starship Troopers, but I feel that Canticle should probably take the group on importance and influence and merit, even though I don’t remember it well. That gives Canticle five out of seven votes for this group, making it the decisive winner even though three of us preferred Starship Troopers on a personal level.

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

I never read The Wanderer and I don’t remember whether I read Zanzibar, but it hardly matters. I agree with nearly everybody that Dune is the clear standout winner in this group — it got seven of nine votes. I really did like Dune, too, and re-read it several times, though I’ve tried to forget the two sequels I read because I sure don’t think they added anything. Of the group, though, the ones I actually liked best were Moon and Lord of Light — and I’d give the edge to the latter, unlike any of the rest of you. Even though I don’t think Lord of Light entirely succeeded, I really loved it and still do.

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

Five of you voted for Left Hand,, and I can see why now that I’ve read it. I didn’t really like it, though, and I think LeGuin made a big mistake when she had Genli Ai default to masculine pronouns for the native people. This almost entirely prevented the gender thing from working, as the native characters all read as straight masculine to me. I honestly think it would have worked a LOT better if she had chosen to have Ai use the word “person” rather than “man” and if she’d used invented pronouns or constructions such as “manwoman”.

The worldbuilding and use of language are wonderful, though, and I love the way LeGuin sprinkled native stories between the main chapters. I see why people were so impressed by this book. Nevertheless, my personal pick for this bunch of winners is Ringworld. I think Niven also did a great job of worldbuilding, this time on a physics more than a sociology level. His characterization was fine, at least as good as LeGuin’s, and if his prose is perhaps not as beautiful, he didn’t get in his own way with pronouns, either. And I liked Ringworld quite a bit better on a personal level, not hard since I really disliked Genli Ai and didn’t feel that we ever got to know anyone in Left Hand. For pov characters, both he and Estraven remained very opaque.

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

This was a tough group for a lot of people. Three of you voted for The Dispossessed and three for The Forever War, neither of which I ever read. Since the only one in this group I did read was Dreamsnake, I don’t feel I can vote. I’ll have to leave this one a tie.

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

I think I read everything here except Fountains. I never really liked any of the novels by Clark or Asimov. I read Snow Queen, but although I remember liking it, I don’t remember much about it. Although you all know I love CJ Cherryh, I don’t love Downbelow Station, though I grant it’s important in her universe.

I did love Startide Rising and I don’t care that it doesn’t really stand completely alone. I loved what Brin did with dolphins and the whole concept of uplift, and this is certainly the book I vote for out of this group. That makes me a tie-breaker, because until I voted, Startide Rising had split the vote with Downbelow Station. Ironic that I’d be the one downvoting a Cherryh book, but there you go.

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

But here I’ll make up for it by voting for Cyteen without the slightest hesitation, even though I loved Ender’s Game. I think Cyteen was a genuinely important book that had a lot to say about cloning and status and social order and personality and, well, it was just a very big book overall. I get what Linda means by calling it creepy, but I loved and still love Cyteen. In comparison, I loved Ender’s Game, but imo it didn’t raise the serious ethical questions Cherryh’s book did — serious in the sense of cloning is likely actually be possible, whereas the question of finding child geniuses to lead the world in war is not. And I totally hate telepathic hive minds.

Several of you voted for Neuromancer, and you may all be right, though I can’t see anything beating Cyteen. Since I never read the former, I’ll never know if I’m wrong about assuming would strongly prefer the latter. Given my vote, they tie.

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

Everyone loves Bujold! Or practically everyone. So do I, but I am going to break a tie between Barrayar and Fire Upon the Deep by voting for Fire. I didn’t love the book as much on a personal level, but Vinge made me love his telepathic group mind aliens, which I hadn’t believed was possible. It was also a bigger, more ambitious book. I also admired Green Mars, but when it comes down to it, I go for Fire.

I do wish I’d read Hyperion, though, because I’ve heard it’s extremely impressive and I’m sure that’s true. But I don’t know that I ever will read it, given that it’s supposed to be tragic as well as impressive.

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

I really feel that The Diamond Age should probably win this chunk on the Merit thing. I don’t remember it well, though I remember I sorta kinda liked it and definitely admired it. Generally if I thought a book was impressive back when, I expect I would only see more to be impressed by today.

I liked To Say Nothing, but Connie Willis’s big, impressive works tend to work for me only on an intellectual level, and that was the case for this, though handling the historical setting and that particular intellectual humorous tone, it’s quite something to pull that off. Which I think she did. And it’s so amazing that she can write several books in the same world and yet make one a humorous homage to the period and one a serious historical treatise.

All that aside, though, I definitely loved Mirror Dance, plus I think that is one where Bujold really handled the difficult psychological aspects of the story perfectly. So in the end, having read all of these except The Forever Peace, I’m going to go with the one I loved the best and pick Mirror Dance, which agrees with the majority of you — that makes five out of nine votes for Bujold’s winner.

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 only read three from this group, but I guess I’ll still vote. I’m not inclined to vote for the Harry Potter one, and of the others I didn’t like American Gods and didn’t read Hominids or Deepness. Several of you voted for Deepness, but I’m going to go for Paladin, which is the one I read that I liked the best. That means Deepness and Paladin tie.

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

I only read two of these, Jonathon Strange and The Graveyard Book. Several of you voted for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but I can’t see anything beating Jonathon Strange and that’s the one I hereby vote for. I liked Gaiman’s book a lot, though, and let me say that if you haven’t in the past really been into his novels, me either. This one was more approachable and less weird than some of his other. I liked Neverwhere, but definitely thought it was weird, and I didn’t like American Gods. The Graveyard Book was far more to my taste and I do recommend it.

Even so, my vote creates a tie between Jonathon Strange and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

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

I vote for Ancillary Justice, which wins by a mile. The only thing that beats it in proportion of votes is Dune.

I think that’s interesting, that with a small number of commenters here whose tastes are fairly diverse in some ways, the two most definite winners were those. Dune is such a world-central book, but it has enough characterization to appeal to readers who primarily read for character and also admire worldbuilding. And a lot of us probably read Dune when we were young and ready to be impressed by a great book. I do think Dune is one that stands up to re-reading over the course of decades, though, which is perhaps not the case for some of the others. Someone (Linda) commented that she suspects Stranger in a Strange Land might not age well, and I agree, for me it did not, though I really liked it when I first read it.

Ancillary Justice is imo character centered, with worldbuilding secondary (but very important). This is the right order of priorities to most appeal to me as a reader. And I think, judging by re-reading it recently, that it is likely to hold up well and continue to appeal to me for a long time.

Also, although the female-pronoun thing in Ancillary Justice did not strike me as all that important a facet of the book, I think if you compare this book to The Left Hand of Darkness, Leckie’s use of pronouns and gender works better than LeGuin’s. Leckie makes gender seem stranger in her world than LeGuin does in hers, even though gender is actually far more peculiar in LeGuin’s world. Though more fundamental even than that, Leckie’s book is centered around a character I really like (Breq), while LeGuin’s book puts worldbuilding first and then the most important character is one I don’t like (Genli Ai).

I’m curious: those of you who really liked Left Hand, which did you prefer? Left Hand or Ancillary Justice?

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