Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The Hugo Awards are this weekend! But time-travel Hugos are much more fun! So let’s go Back to the Hugos: 1995!

The member vote for Best Novel:

MirrorDance1MotherofStorms1Beggars&Choosers1BrittleInnings2TowingJehovah1

Oh, Hugo voters… AYFKM? I thought we had finally reached an understanding after last decade.

 

MY pretend, retro ballot for Best Novel:

BrittleInnings2TowingJehovah1Beggars&Choosers1MirrorDance1MotherofStorms1

(Interesting note: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower made the shortlist but was deemed inelegible.)

 

Wrong, Hugo voters. You got it ALL wrong.

Allow me to explain:

Brittle Innings is a rich, full-bodied tale about humanity and its monsters in the pre-Civil Rights era South, and involves brilliant literary interplay. It’s gorgeous. Towing Jehovah is an intelligent, biting, religious satire that offends everybody, even the intended audience. Beggars and Choosers is brimful of imaginative near-future technology with (often over-involved) philosophical ponderings, and its problematic nature makes analysis even more worthwhile. Bujold’s Mirror Dance is the “Give your sociopathic clone son a starship” edition of the “Save-yo-fetuses” series, which always puts my deeply internalized pro-choice sensibilities on edge, not to mention the elevation of uberwealthy characters undermines difficult moral quandaries by making them easy, fun to read, and not really a big deal. And Mother of Storms is a kitchen sink filler-thriller about superficial character cliches surviving a global weather disaster.

SPANALYSIS

If the Spaz Clumpies are correct about post-1985 SF, 1995 should be an ideal indicator of a liberal and literary hijacking of the Hugo Awards. Continue reading

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Beggars and Choosers (1994) by Nancy Kress

Beggars&Choosers1Techno skepticism in a dystopian world controlled by a few genetically-modified humans, the second of the Beggars trilogy brings to mind Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage” (Dangerous Visions, 1967) where a society lives in trashy decadence on government-provided salaries upon the advent of fully-automated manufacturing and agricultural industries. Both stories share a crude, unenlightened vision of “The Welfare State,” but Kress breaks from Farmer’s negative characterizations of the lower classes by embedding her aloof, self-centered protagonists into the fold of thoughtful, questioning citizens who are confounded by regular breakdowns in technology and a growing sense of isolation from outside affairs.

And finally! After the first volume of bickering between the moderate Sleepless Leisha and her reactionary Sleepless foes, we finally get to see the social decay that Beggars in Spain often fuzzed about.

But first, let’s just come out and say it: The titles for these books are awful. Continue reading

Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga #8) (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold

MirrorDance1

Hey! It’s Richard Branson, everybody!

With clones and diplomatic intrigue muddling up the Vorkosigan lifestyle, yet again, another adventure takes Miles out of the picture. Instead of our normal Vorkosigan friends, Mirror Dance offers a unique point-of-view, that of an intruder, giving fans, and detractors, a new perspective on this wealthy Barrayaran family

A series with character, as in strictly character driven, with things happening and things to be accomplished, Mirror Dance belongs somewhere in the early middle of this lengthy series that revolves around members of the same noble family. The Vorkosigan series reminds me of a dollhouse where the fashionable and wealthy characters leave their mansions each day, and drive their expensive, powerful cars (or starships), to run errands and have adventures. Maybe someone gets kidnapped, or deals with a bad guy, or sinks into quicksand… I’m pretty sure I played out these plots with my dolls as a little girl. (Though my dolls did more dressing up than hijacking of rocket ships, but they were pretty adventurous.)

In this episode, Miles’ doppelgänger, Mark, the genetic clone brother who was originally created for the infiltration and destruction of the Vorkosigan family, tricks Miles’ mercenaries into aiding in the rescue of other clones held on Jackson’s Whole. Miles finds out, but before he can put a stop to the violent conflict that follows, he is killed by a grenade. His body is cryogenically frozen for future medical attention, but then lost in space in the chaos of battle. Despite this, the Vorkosigans accept Mark into their home, but Mark feels responsible for the loss of his hated clone/brother/enemy, and his investigative actions result in his own imprisonment and subsequent torture.

But, like the adventures of Barbie and Ken, it’s always going to work out for Miles and his lot, and there is always the same root, the same hearth, the same heart to which they return. But unlike Barbie and Ken, the Vorkosigan charisma and fortitude might be entertaining and inspiring enough to distract from the aristocratic glaze of this elite Barrayaran family. Continue reading

Mother of Storms (1994) by John Barnes

MotherofStorms1It’s an interesting experience to pair John Barnes 1994 multiple award-nominated Mother of Storms with Ian McDonald’s 2004 multiple award-nominated River of Gods. I read both during the same week, alternating between books in order to avoid story fatigue, and found the structural similarities uncanny, and the differences, including my reactions to each, vast.

It’s 2028, and a baby nuke explosion in polar ice (for a reality T.V. show, I think, but I’m not quite clear on it, to be honest) releases clathrate compounds that form a monster hurricane that spawns more monster hurricanes. People die. The tale follows a number of characters including: a vengeful dad, a reality T.V. hottie, a cardboard college boy and his activist girlfriend, a weather scientist, an astronaut in space, his weather scientist wife in the ocean, a businessman, and the president and vice president of the United States, as they seek to either solve the problem, save themselves, or profit from the disaster.

It sounds completely different from the super-tech, culture rich exploration of McDonald’s India in River of Gods, but allow me to list the similarities of these two speculative collages: Continue reading

Towing Jehovah (Godhead #1) (1994) by James Morrow

TowingJehovah1…opening God’s tympanic membranes would not be sacrilegious—heaven wanted this tow… loc. 1208.

A difficult book to grasp. A difficult book to review. James Morrow’s 1994 religious satire defies the excessive eye winks and elbow jabs of familiar SF critical humor, a la Pohl & Kornbluth or Pratchett & Gaiman, (calm down, boys, we get it), while also challenging the reader expecting relentless cannonballs lobbed at its religious and conservative targets. While those targets certainly do get their share of bruises, so do the skeptics, and the novel’s overall respect for faith, despite the blasphemy, makes this a very different kind of satire. Continue reading

Brittle Innings (1994) by Michael Bishop

BrittleInningsThe afternoon’s fractured dazzle hung on us like warm honey, golden and clingy (43).

…and sweet and sticky, cloying and suffocating. An apt description for a novel thick with the muggy, oppressive climate of the southern United States in the midst of World War II and at the height of baseball season, where nostalgia ambers and crystallizes the past, but stops short of sweetening reality.

But this is a tale about monsters. The daily monsters. The people monsters. The go-about-your-business-and-don’t-you-dare-try-to-change-the-status-quo monsters. The oppression monsters.

It’s the perfect place for a real monster to hide. Continue reading

Glory Season (1993) by David Brin

GlorySeason(1stEd)After enjoying David Brin’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel Startide Rising (1983), I wanted to sample more of his catalog, but perhaps without the talking animals that so easily characterized his novel as juvenile. With Glory Season, the juvenile label still applies, yet, like Startide, the content is engaging, critical, and deeply speculative. (And the lack of talking animals helps, too.) Continue reading