So I’ve finally about wrapped up my Nerd de Force of science fiction. My plan was to polish off as many Hugo Award winners as I could (I didn’t sidetrack from the list too much besides to delve into some Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a few others) to try to get a fairly accurate representation on the best works of the genre. If you figure they’ve given the award every year since 1953, plus a couple retro awards, I’ve now tackled a quarter of them. While it’s not my most esteemed of accomplishments, I’m feeling good about the dent I’ve made. In any case, it’ll be nice to move on to something new for awhile and to ride the bus to work without a book with a spaceship on it’s cover.
Not that every book is about space. Some don’t have anything to do with space and a lot are set on Earth, although when this is the case it usually has to do with aliens on Earth. My favorite book was possibly Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in an Strange Land”. A story who’s main character is the orphan of the first manned mission to Mars and grows up away from human contact, coming back to Earth to inherit his astronaut parent’s fortunes. This is my main draw to the genre. It’s away for us to think about who we are and why we are the way we are. The character comes to earth confused, unable to understand the idea of God or what constitutes our taboos, and fights the governments who are trying to take his assets. Obviously he proceeds to found a religion based on sleeping with people. Heinlien pushed the science fiction genre into mainstream in the 60’s and this book’s cover calls it “the most famous science fiction novel ever written”, most likely because Billy Joel used it’s title in a line of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
So far it is fairly similar to the book I just finished, 1975’s “The Dispossessed”. A story about a group of pilgrim anarchists who send one of their own to their capitalist/consumerist home world to reconnect. This is the basic tenet behind the genre. The idea of “what if”. What if we colonized another planet who set up new ways to live, what if we invented this, what if there were people like that… and it doesn’t necessarily have to be set in the future. There are a lot of sub-genre’s that people don’t think of as science fiction. For example there are a couple alternate history books on the list. Philip K. Dick’s (better known for the books behind the movie Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly) “The Man in the High Castle” is about what would the world be like if the Axis had won WWII and we lived in a country split into an East Coast Nazi and West Coast Japanese empire.
Then of course there are the staple space opera’s of the genre. I read a coule books in series of Herbert’s Dune and Asimov’s Foundation. Dune was up there on my list of favorites. I only read the opener to this series, but at some point I will check out the other books. The world he set up in the first book is just too thick with characters and plot to not want to know what happened to the family of the Atreides and the Harkonnens and the struggle of the desert planet. Not making the list, but possibly my favorite series was Arthur C Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” series which goes on to 2010, 2061 and 3001, all awesome stories about what an alien intelligence could be like.
Then there are the dystopia novel’s of “Neuromancer” and “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, which are interesting for their different positions on where our society is going. Neuromancer being famous for being partially set in, and popularizing the word, ‘cyberspace’ before the idea of an electronic place was understood back in 1985. “A Canticle for Leibowitz” takes the opposite spectrum being about a society that backlashed against technology after a nucular strike and destroyed all books to live a simpler, illiterate life. Similar to the idea of a backlash against technology is Stephenson’s book “Anathem”, robbed of the 2009 Hugo Award. The idea behind Anathem is what if a group of people tired of the perpetual media driven culture of the ‘now’ and the boom and busts of society, locked themselves away for centuries at a time shunning technology to study math and philosophy coming out every 100 or 1000 years to help soceity where they could.
For a sceptic such as myself there isn’t a much better place to find ideas about what could be if we weren’t stuck in our ways or if something were different.
my readings from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award_for_Best_Novel
1946 The Mule by Isaac Asimov
1954 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
1960 Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
1962 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
1963 The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
1966 Dune by Frank Herbert
1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
1973 The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov
1974 Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
1975 The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
1985 Neuromancer by William Gibson
1986 Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
1996 The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
2002 American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Wow, I’ve been waiting to get that off my chest for awhile now. It’s amazing (for lack of a better word) what you can do when you cancel your cable, huh? Well anyone has any interesting non-fiction for me, let me in on it. It’s been far too long since I’ve read anything documenting real events and I’ve got a good list going here (Guns Germs Steel, A short history of nearly everything, Undaunted Courage, Godel Escher Bach, Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman) that I’m about to start working on.