Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nebula update

When I last posted about my Nebula novel reading two-and-a-half years ago, I had read 24 out of the 41 novels. As a reminder, the Nebula awards are awarded to science fiction authors annually by their fellow writers. I haven't been in the mood for much science fiction for the past couple of years, but lately I've gotten back into it. Since I read one book on my recent trip to France, I thought it was time to do an update.

1969: The Left Hand of Darkness

I probably read this in 2006. This book falls into an interesting class of science fiction books -- they take place in a setting where interstellar travel exists, but it rare. Therefore, the book takes on an almost fantasy-world character, as it explores a different "Earth" -- in this case, one where inhabitants have no gender. The protagonist is an offworlder, sent to invite the planet's inhabitants into a galactic federation. Le Guin used this setting to explore gender in an interesting way. I can't say I loved this book, but I found it to be interesting and very well-written.

1983: Startide Rising

Another 2006 read. This one is the second set in Brin's "Uplift" universe, where humans have "uplifted" chimps, dolphins and other creatures to sentience. It's an interesting concept, but I found the parts that were told from the dolphin's point of view to be a bit tiring to read.

2005: Camouflage

Part of this story is about shape-shifting, immortal aliens who have been living among us. It's kind of interesting, but it really wasn't my cup of tea. It's not what I think of when I think "science fiction".

2006: Seeker

Seeker is the book I read while in France. It's the third book in McDevitt's "Alex Benedict" series. The first book appeared in 1989 and was about Benedict unraveling a story about the galaxy's military history. He was doing it when he came across a puzzle his recently deceased uncle, an amateur archaeologist, was exploring. The next two books in the series have appeared in the past few years and are told from the point of view of Chase Kolpath, Benedict's assistant, and deal with his business as an antiquities dealer. The books shift from what I'd consider "military future history" to "mystery", as well as changing narrator. McDevitt's work remains very good, and the fact that the mysteries are about events of galactic importance (it's not as cheesy as my phrasing makes it sound) allows the exploration of interesting "big ideas" like immortality and the nature of man.

The fourth book comes out next month, and I'm looking forward to reading that, as well as other, non-Benedict books by McDevitt.

2007: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

This book gives me a weird sense of pride for a number of reasons. One, I read it before it was nominated for a Nebula, so I didn't need that to know it was going to be a good book. Two, a Pulitzer-prize-winning author like Chabon decided to dabble in science fiction. Three, my fellow science fiction aficionados recognized this as the year's best novel (it won both the Nebula and the Hugo) even though it was written by an "outsider".

This book was really, really good. It takes place in an alternate history version of Alaska, where Jewish refugees were settled after World War II, instead of in Israel. But they were only allowed to stay for 50 years, and now they have to leave. Oh, yeah, and it's a murder mystery. And incredibly weird combination of ingredients, but Chabon not only makes it work, but elevates it to literature, not just "pulp fiction". Not only did this deserve the Nebula, it makes it clear that some of the other works on the list don't belong in the same category.

So I go from having read 24 out of 41 to 29 out of 44. I actually picked up some of the other ones in this time period, but I didn't make it all the way through them. That's not a good sign, but I'll try again at some point. I am also going to take a look at the runners up for more ideas about good books to read.

To make it easier on myself to keep track, here is the complete list of Nebula novels I've read as of October 2008:

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1969: The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  3. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  4. 1973: Rendevous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  5. 1974: The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  7. 1977: Gateway, Frederik Pohl
  8. 1980: Timescape, Gregory Benford
  9. 1983: Startide Rising, David Brin
  10. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  11. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  12. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  13. 1988: Falling Free, Lois McMaster Bujold
  14. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  15. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  16. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  17. 1995: The Terminal Experiment, Michael J. Sawyer
  18. 1996: Slow River, Nicola Griffith
  19. 1997: The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre
  20. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  21. 1999: Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
  22. 2000: Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
  23. 2001: The Quantum Rose, Catherine Asaro
  24. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  25. 2003: The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
  26. 2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
  27. 2005: Camouflage, Joe Haldeman
  28. 2006: Seeker, Jack McDevitt
  29. 2007: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Michael Chabon

[Note: Since my last Nebula update, Blogger has introduced the "labels" feature; this has allowed me to gather all of the updates here.]


Friday, January 13, 2006

Nebula update

When I last checked in with my Nebula-reading project, I had read 22 out of 41 novels. On our recent trip to Arizona, I read 2 more.

1977: Gateway

This first book in the Heechee series is one of the best that I've read recently. The structure of the book alternates between chapters in which the protagonist, older, looks back on his adventures in conversations with a robot psychiatrist and chapters in which he recounts the adventures themselves. Hmm, which chapters do you think work better?

Where Pohl shines in this novel is the unique world he has created. In the next century or two, humankind has discovered the remains of an ancient civilization -- the Heechee. Furthermore, we have discovered their interstellar, faster-than-light spaceships -- but we don't really know how to steer them. So "prospectors" go out on missions to unknown, and likely deadly, destinations in search of Heechee technology.

Good stuff!

1995: The Terminal Experiment

Reading Robert J. Sawyer's other work helped convince me of problems with the Hugo process. Since I was happier with the Nebulas I was surprised to see one of his novels on this list.

I will give the Nebulas this -- they gave the award to a 2-star book rather than a 1-star one. But, man, this guy can't write as well as he thinks he can.
"Pseudo was about fifty, and as slim as the Leafs' chances in the Stanley Cup."

Not so good stuff.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

This week in Nebulas

Last week, I told you I had read 19 Nebula award-winning novels. It turns out that wasn't actually accurate, but I am now up to 22. Here are the additions to my list.

1974: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed represents some of the best of what this Nebula project has given me -- the opportunity to read science fiction books that address deeper themes than run-of-the-mill airport fiction.

The novel's protagonist, a physicist, lives in an almost 200-year-old anarchist society that has been exiled to a planet's moon. The moon is a harsh society, but the anarchists have developed cooperative methods which allow them to survive, but not thrive. The physicist finds that even anarchistic societies find ways of wielding power, and he eventually finds himself unable to pursue his groundbreaking work on his home world. He becomes the first anarchist to leave for the main planet, where he is welcomed with open arms. But nothing is clear-cut in this novel, and he eventually becomes suspicious of his hosts' motives.

Le Guin, in fact, uses the different societies to examine the ambiguities and compromises inherent in any political system. The novel's subtitle is "An Ambiguous Utopia," and it's even ambiguous to which society this refers. Furthermore, I was pleased that none of it came across as thinly-veiled allegory for Earth societies, although the Cold War themes seemed stronger as the book progressed.

1980: Timescape

Sometimes, however, the Nebula project has led me to above-average, if ultimately forgettable fiction, like Timescape. How do I know that it is forgettable? I started reading this without remembering that I had read it before. Unfortunately, by that time, all of my other books were in my luggage, which I had left at my hotel after checking out (my flight home wasn't scheduled to leave until after 1 in the morning). So I re-read it. Until very late in the book, I didn't remember how it turned out. I blame that -- well, in addition to a poor long-term memory -- on a twist ending that doesn't really flow from the rest of the book.

1988: Falling Free

I enjoyed Falling Free more than Timescape, but it is probably closer to that in terms of weight than The Dispossessed. It's the story of some genetically-engineered humans with arms where their legs should be, and the corporation that treats them like disposable property. They, of course, have an inevitable fight for freedom, which is kind of fun, but fairly predictable.

So I've now read 22 Nebula novels. I have two more checked out from the library, although one is due tomorrow (despite Christina having checked it out on my behalf last week -- some sort of interlibrary loan issue). I should be able to renew it and push my total up by the end of the year.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nebula update

About a year and a half ago, I announced my project of reading all of the Nebula-award winning novels.

At the time, I had read 11 out of 40 award-winning novels. There are now 41 novels. I read the 1973 award winner, Rendevous with Rama, in Spring 2004. I read the 1996 winner, Slow River, and the 1997 winner, The Moon and the Sun, earlier this year. (I guess I never blogged them.) Both of them required me to request the Anne Arundel Public Library's only's kind of sad that less than 10 years after winning one of science fiction's most prestigious awards, these books are fairly difficult to track down. I read the 1999 award winner, Parable of the Talents, during Fall 2004. I read the 2000 winner, Darwin's Radio, last summer. I read the 2001 winner, The Quantum Rose this past winter. I read the 2003 winner, The Speed of Dark, in Spring 2004. I read the 2004 winner, Paladin of Souls, this past October.

So where does this leave me?

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  3. 1973: Rendevous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  4. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  5. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  6. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  7. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  8. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  9. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  10. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  11. 1996: Slow River, Nicola Griffith
  12. 1997: The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre
  13. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  14. 1999: Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
  15. 2000: Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
  16. 2001: The Quantum Rose, Catherine Asaro
  17. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  18. 2003: The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
  19. 2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
So that's 19 out of 41. The last six I've read have all been written by women. Hmm. And I now have read the last 9 winners. Part of what I've been doing is working my way backwards -- partly because those books are easier to find, and partly to see what's current in the SF world. I have the 1995 winner on hold at the library, and I have the 1974, 1980 and 1988 winners checked out right now.

One thing that holds me back from some of the other is my aforementioned need to read series in order. The 1983 winner, Startide Rising, is a sequel to a book called Sundiver, which I read yesterday. At the time, I couldn't remember which one won the Nebula, and which one was the first...Brin kept referring to past events, and I wondered if it was a gentle reminder of the events of a previous book. I guess not.

(It may amuse you to know that when I spell-checked this I had misspelled "library's" as "libary's". Blogger's spell checker suggested "Liberace.")


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Quantum Rose

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started Catherine Asaro's "Saga of the Skolian Empire" explicitly to read The Quantum Rose, the sixth book in the series, which won a Nebula. (I'll probably end up reading to the ninth, which I got her to sign.) Here are a few reasons why it may have won the Nebula:

  • The entire novel is an allegory for quantum scattering theory. This is a clever and unexpected device.
  • The series brings back the old "space opera" style of science fiction. (Think "Star Wars.")
  • The technology described in the books is much more carefully balanced with current scientific knowledge than in most "space opera" books.

And here's one reason why maybe it shouldn't have won a Nebula:

"If thwarted passion could have powered space ships, she and Vyrl would have launched an entire fleet by now."


Tuesday, October 05, 2004


As part of my Nebula reading project, I read Darwin's Radio in June. I also read the sequel, Darwin's Children. Not as good.

The latest (15th) book I've read in that project is Parable of the Talents. But first, I had to read Parable of the Sower, the first book in the series.

Yep, had to read it. I can't stand to pick up the middle book in a series and start there. When I was a kid, I read all of the Hardy Boys books in order, up until, I think, Number 33. I read them in order, even though the only connection each book had with others in the series was in the beginning, where the book would say something like, "The young detectives had recently broken a car theft ring...", or at the end, with, "The young detectives did not know that events were already occurring which would soon involve them in another challenging case, The Great Airport Mystery."

(I stopped reading when I thought I had lost Book 33. It turned out, I think, that I had forgotten returning the book to the library. Still, the experience spooked me enough to stop reading the series. Yes, I was the kind of child who was spooked by overdue library books.)

Where was I? Ah, yes, the Parable of the Sower. The book is set in a dystopian near-future in the US where climate change, something or other...fuel shortages, I think...have plunged the United States into something approaching Third World status. I found the whole scenario fairly implausible, but then I noticed the word "parable" in the title. Well, why was I taking things so literally? But then, after finishing the book, I read the author interview that was included with the "reading group" edition. Apparently, this book reflects the path that she feels the country is headed down if things continue as they are.

Huh. I sort of recognize this point of view from my days on college campuses --- it's a particular kind of leftist "things are doomed" worldview. I say this, please understand, as a registered Democrat who thinks we aren't taking climate change and alternate fuels seriously enough. But America doesn't rely on a good climate and oil supplies for its position in the world economy. If anything, Third World economies are more dependent on raw materials (oil, food) than the US. So I found the premise of the book (well, both books) hard to swallow.

That said, I found the narrative fairly compelling, if bleak. The characters were extremely nuanced and human --- unfortunately a rarer occurrence than it should be in science fiction. They were books I had a hard time putting down, but I was also happy to be done with them and to move onto lighter fare.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Books I Read on the Switzerland Trip

Travel is always a good time for me to catch up on my reading, especially with long transatlantic flights. I read the better part of the following three book on our recent trip to Switzerland.

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark is part of my new Nebula reading project. It's the most recent winner, and the 12th Nebula I've read.

It's a near-future story about an Lou, an autistic man, who, with the help of modern therapies, has found a functioning role in society. His new boss, however, wants to start him on a new therapy to "cure" him of his autism.

That's the source of some of the conflict in the book. The interesting part, for me, however, was the point-of-view. Most of it is told from the standpoint of Lou, through all of his lack of understanding of "normal" human nuances of emotion and behavior. It's thought-provoking about what really is "normal" or "correct" behavior.

The Diamond Age

I had started The Diamond Age during my now-defunct Hugo project. I knew I needed to grab another book before taking to the air, so I picked this one up. It was mostly enjoyable, although it did get a little bit weird during the end. The political/scientific mumbo-jumbo towards the end got laid on a little thick, but some of the characters were very compelling. I'm generally not a fan of "nanotech" fiction, so this is probably as much as I could be expected to enjoy this book.

Fear of Wine

I picked up Fear of Wine on the same having-something-to-read principle. It wouldn't be my first choice in wine books (indeed, Christina got me a wine book that I've been enjoying). But it's nice to pick up a few tips (like the difference between the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate) from different sources. This book went into a little bit too much detail about the different regions (in that way, it might work better as a reference work), but it had a lot of stuff I was glad to read.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Hugos vs. Nebulas

In a previous post from 2002 that kicked off my Hugo-reading project, I wrote:

The Hugos are awarded annually by a vote of science fiction writers (as opposed to the Nebulas, which are fan-driven).

Oops. Turns out, I had that exactly backwards.


I guess it's time to start over again. I made it up to 24 Hugos. Looking at the Nebula list, looks like I've read 11.

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  3. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  4. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  5. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  6. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  7. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  8. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  9. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  10. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  11. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Of course, there have only been 40 Nebulas awarded (to novels), so it'll be a shorter list to make my way through.