One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was about my thoughts on every Hugo Award winning novel. I didn’t write much about any of the books, I just placed them into categories. Now, I’m going back through each of those categories and giving some more in-depth thoughts on the books. This post is about the winners that I loved the most. Many of these aren’t just my favorite Hugo winners, but my favorite books of all time. Anyway, here’s the list:
The Forever Machine (1955) by Mark Clifton & Frank Riley
When I first started reading the Hugo winners I had a hard time deciding which books to start with. There were just too many, and I didn’t have the experience to determine which authors or books I would likely enjoy. Because of that, I narrowed down my list to only those books that had won both the Hugo and the Nebula. Once I made it through those, I decided to go in chronological order (I didn’t stick to that, but it was a nice way to start). That put this book as the second one I read, and I loved it. I know that the novel itself isn’t considered great, and it hasn’t aged particularly well, but I was fascinated by the characters and the ideas behind the story, especially since I was studying computer science at the time. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Carter starts to take control of the project and starts combining specialties. I’m a little nervous to read this book again just because I’ve heard so many negative things about it. I may just choose to stay ignorant and nostalgically enjoy it.
Starship Troopers (1960) by Robert Heinlein
Before reading this one, the only knowledge I had of Starship Troopers was from an edited for TV version of Paul Verhoeven‘s movie. I didn’t particularly like the movie, but I thought the effects were cool. I considered the movie to be eye candy until I saw it again later after reading the book. I still don’t agree with Verhoeven’s take on the story, but at least I understood the satire a bit better. Anyway, back to the book. When reading it, I took it seriously. I’ve heard some things about how Heinlein wrote it as a criticism of the military, but I’m not sure I buy it. I loved the universe that he built, and even though most of the characters aren’t as developed as they could be, I think that works in a story about military personnel. This was one of the first military/political sci-fi books I read, and I’m glad it was. In general, I’m not too interested in those subjects, but this book showed me that I could really enjoy them. This is also the book that got me reading Heinlein outside of the Hugo winners, something I’ve never regretted.
Way Station (1964) by Clifford D. Simak
I really don’t remember much about the story or characters of Way Station, but what I do remember is closing the book once I had finished, and just being really satisfied. I don’t have any specifics, but I enjoyed this book from the first page to the last. This is another one where I’m a little nervous to go back through it, just because my memory of enjoying it is so strong that I don’t want it to be broken if I don’t feel the same way after reading it again. I’ve been scouring my memory, and I don’t remember any other book that left me feeling as satisfied as this one.
The Gods Themselves (1973) by Isaac Asimov
I know that most people will say that the Foundation series is Asimov’s best work, and while I really enjoyed it, I’ll take The Gods Themselves any day. I remember hearing the story of how Asimov was criticized for never including aliens or sex in his science fiction, so in response he wrote this book. One thing that makes it so great is that it’s all about aliens and sex, but it’s nothing like what you’d expect. Asimov’s science isn’t great, but the ideas are fun and his writing’s fantastic. I got attached to the characters and was engrossed in the story. This is one book that I want to read over and over.
Rendezvous With Rama (1974) by Arthur C. Clarke
This was one of the first books I read after deciding to read the Hugo and Nebula winners, and it quickly became a favorite. I started recommending it to friends almost the second I finished it. What I loved about it the most was that the characters were smart. They behaved like the professionals they were. They made decisions based on the information and resources they had, and the decisions made sense. Clarke completely disappeared from the book, and having the author vanish so completely is something that I don’t think I’ve experienced since. Not only that, but the last line in the book is one of the best I’ve ever read. It was the perfect way to close the book.
Note: I also read Rama II, which was not written by Clarke, and it’s one of the very few books that I actually regret having read. It took everything good from the first book and replaced it with soap opera level personal drama that destroyed the franchise. I loathe that book more than any other I have ever read and strongly recommend that you never read it or any of the other sequels.
Ender’s Game (1986) by Orson Scott Card
I’ve read this book quite a few times. At least once I read it in a single sitting. I’ve regularly seen it mentioned in the top 10 sci-fi books of all time, and there’s good reason for that. The book is exciting and engaging. The characters are well-thought out and intriguing. The story is fantastic, and the ending is great. The writing is clear and clean, but not simple. It’s easily Orson Scott Card’s best book (though I will say that Children of the Mind was my personal favorite from the Ender series). One of Card’s strongest traits as a writer, and specifically as a science fiction writer, is that he keeps description and explanation within the flow of the story. There’s never a time when something that is commonplace in the world gets a lengthy description, and if something does need to be described, it’s almost always given to a character who needs the information. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an author do this as well as Card does in this book.
Barrayar (1992) by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Vorkosigan books quickly became one of my favorite series after reading this book. Most of them focus on Miles, and he’s a great character, but Barrayar is still my favorite Vorkosigan book (though Komarr and A Civil Campaign each gave it a scare). One of my favorite things about Bujold’s books is her characterization. Every character is unique. Some of them may be a little too perfect (that’s really the only problem with Cordelia), but despite that, they behave and act like real people. They may make the right decision, and for the right reason, but somehow it blows up in their faces and they’re stuck dealing less than ideal consequences. That’s something that really struck me with Barrayar. For some reason, when I first read the book, I could really relate to Cordelia. I don’t know why, I was in my early twenties, in the middle of working on my bachelor’s degree, and spent most of my free time reading and playing video games. She, on the other hand, was an early middle aged woman, newly married, expecting a child, and struggling to both change and integrate into her new world. The next time I read the book I was married with a newly born son, and the connection made a little more sense. This is the one book I keep trying to get my wife to read, but she stubbornly refuses (for no good reason).
The Graveyard Book (2009) by Neil Gaiman
I’m not really sure that this book quite belongs among my favorites, but I like it more than those in any of the other categories, so here it is. I think one of the reasons I like this book so much is the fact that it’s a children’s book that deals, very graphically, with death. Not just death, but violent death. I’m sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t classify this as a children’s book because of that, but I do. I’m not the biggest fan of Gaiman’s books, but I do enjoy his ideas. That may sound a little weird, but somehow it’s the case. Maybe that’s why The Graveyard Book makes this list. It’s the only Gaiman book I’ve read where the writing, the story, and the idea all came together for me. I didn’t have that with his other books (the only others I’ve read are American Gods and Anansi Boys)
Redshirts (2013) by John Scalzi
This book made my favorites list solely because it made me laugh. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and later on became a big fan of the original series as well. For me, this was like the book version of Galaxy Quest. It plays so well on the subject of its mockery that it’s obvious that it was done out of love, not scorn. The story is fun, the ideas are great, and the jokes are a riot. To top it off, Wil Wheaton was the reader for the audiobook. I will say that I wasn’t a big fan of a lot of the characters. I didn’t find any of them to be distinct enough, so I occasionally got them confused. (Some of that may be because Wheaton isn’t the best reader)