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 books that I fall just short of being fantastic. They’re books I’ll likely read again at some point, but were very memorable the first time through. Here’s why:
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1967) by Robert Heinlein
This was the first Heinlein book I read that wasn’t exclusively geared toward adults. The others I had previously read were Starship Troopers, and Stranger in a Strange Land, both of which were quite heavy. I liked the light tone in this book. It was very different from my previous experiences with Heinlein, and helped me appreciate the quality of his writing. Plot wise, the book is fun and easy to follow. The characters are entertaining, and the setting is great. It’s not a difficult read, but there are quite a few layers within the book. When I read it, I was just looking for a good story, and I found one.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1972) by Philip Jose Farmer
I probably liked this book more than I should have. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, so I don’t remember if it’s a particularly well written book, but it sure was fun. The idea of everyone in history getting thrown together in randomly assigned groups was just bizarre enough to catch my attention, and then the execution of the idea kept me reading. I wish it had a more complete conclusion, but even as a stand-alone, I thought it was good. The sequel has been on my reading list for years, but I just haven’t ever gotten around to reading it. That’s probably why I couldn’t put it on my favorites list. I loved reading the book, but the world wasn’t quite enough to pull me back into it.
Gateway (1978) by Frederik Pohl
I loved the ending to this book. The story builds well throughout, and the climax of the story is really satisfying. I didn’t see it coming, and it fit the rest of the book. There are really only two reasons why this book didn’t make it onto my favorites list. First, it doesn’t hold up as well the second time around. I’ve tried to re-read Gateway a few times, but I can never get through more than two or three chapters before abandoning it and picking up something else. It may be that I just haven’t been in the mood to read it again, but I know that a part of the problem I have is that I know the ending, and it takes away from some of the tension. Second, I haven’t read anything else in the Heechee saga. As fascinating as Pohl’s world is, I haven’t gotten back into it, though I probably would if I could get through Gateway again.
Speaker for the Dead (1987) by Orson Scott Card
I debated as to whether I would put this book here or in my next list of books that were good, but not great. I put it here because it’s the only other book in the Enderverse that won the Hugo. Ultimately, I liked Children of the Mind much more than Speaker for the Dead, but I won’t deny that this is a great book. The way that Card deals with the aftermath of the Formic War is solid. I’m not really convinced that Ender could disappear as completely as he has in the book, especially with the legacy he left, but that doesn’t really matter in the story. I really need to read this again, but that would probably mean going through Xenocide again, and I’m not sure it’s worth it.
The Uplift War (1988) by David Brin
I finished re-reading Startide Rising not too long ago, so this book is back on my short list of books to start soon. I remember liking this book a lot more than its predecessors, so I hope this one holds up because Startide was really good the second time around. The best part of this series is the universe that Brin has created. The history and politics of the different species is vast and rich. What I really liked about this one, more than the others, is that it’s the first time the Earth species have a real intimate story with some Galactics. The first book has some of that, but it’s still very human centric, while the second book keeps the Galactics at a distance. This book has everyone together. I haven’t read any of the second series, but I’m hoping to start it after going through this book again.
The Vor Game (1991) by Lois McMaster Bujold
I really like the Vorkosigan series. The Vor Game isn’t my favorite, but it’s a great book in developing Miles and starting to show his progression from overzealous upstart to a military member that has to think beyond immediate consequences. As always, I love Bujold’s characters and like that they act intelligently. Miles is a punk, but he’s smart and capable, even if he’s isn’t very wise in this book. Bujold, as the author, definitely helps him out of a few tough situations, but not often enough or blatantly enough to really pull me out of the story, so it’s forgivable.
Mirror Dance (1995) by Lois McMaster Bujold
My thoughts on this book are similar to The Vor Game, in that it’s another solid addition to the Vorkosigan series. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s important as it sets up a major shift in the universe and the lives of the characters. I’ve appreciated this book more and more as I continue through the series. I wish I could have gotten into the book more than I did, but for some reason it just didn’t grab me the same way as many of the others have. Unlike previous books, the focus of this book isn’t really on Miles, which may be why I wasn’t as engaged. The main characters are still well written and the story is good, but without the comprehensive background of Miles, they just weren’t quite as captivating for me.
To Say Nothing of the Dog (1999) by Connie Willis
This is a weird book. I once described it as a Victorian era, science-fiction mystery, rom-com. If you’ve read the book, that makes sense. If you haven’t, it may seem a little contradictory. Connie Willis’s time travel is fantastic. I first encountered it when I read Doomsday Book, and I liked it even more here. I prefer this book because it deals more with the temporal effects of time-travel, while also showing the type of fatigue that skipping around through the past could cause. I also liked it because it’s much more light-hearted than Willis’s other books in the same universe.
Ancillary Justice (1999) by Ann Leckie
I really like when authors don’t ‘introduce’ a world, but rather let the description and background of their universe grow organically within the story. Leckie’s great at this. While it may be confusing at first, Ancillary Justice introduces some fantastic characters with very unique properties. There have been a few other Hugo winners that have dealt with hive minds, but this book is different in that it focuses on what happens when one piece gets separated from the rest. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reading the rest of the books in Leckie’s series, but this was a fantastic start.