Friday, June 5, 2015

A Review of the 1970s

     Grad school is over and I can get back to reading and writing about science fiction and fantasy. I realized that I wrote my first entry about a book from the 1970s 2 years ago. I promise, dear reader, that it will not take nearly that long to finish the 1980s. So what better way to get back into a summary of the 1970s Hugo Winners? The 1970s was a great decade for science fiction. In my view, it was a more reliable decade than the 1960s which had some amazing novels but a number of duds as well. The 1970s contained no terrible books but nothing that quite reached the level of Dune. As a new feature (and something I plan to continue with future installments), each book from the decade will be ranked. Please let me know if you disagree.

1.       1970       Ursula K. Le Guin              The Left Hand of Darkness          
2.       1974       Arthur C. Clarke                                Rendezvous with Rama
3.       1976       Joe Haldeman   The Forever War              
4.       1978       Frederik Pohl     Gateway            
5.       1975       Ursula K. Le Guin              The Dispossessed            
6.       1972       Philip José Farmer           To Your Scattered Bodies Go      
7.       1971       Larry Niven         Ringworld
8.       1977       Kate Wilhelm     Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
9.       1979       Vonda N. McIntyre         Dreamsnake
10.   1973       Isaac Asimov*   The Gods Themselves    

It was very difficult coming up with this last because there was not a single novel here that I disliked. The only choice that was truly easy was The Left Hand of Darkness. It is a masterpiece of science fiction. When I eventually finish reading all of these books it will be in my top overall books. Even literary critic Harold Bloom placed the book on his list of the Western Canon of Literature. I try to persuade non-science fiction fans to read it.
Rendezvous with Rama barely edged out The Forever War for number two slot. Both were wonderful but for very different reasons. Rendezvous is classic SF: exploration and adventure. The characters are interesting but the main focus is on the sense of wonder from exploring an alien craft. The Forever War, however, did not fill me with a sense of wonder but of uneasy. William Mandella’s struggle to live outside in the “normal world” after military deployment echoed many of the feelings I felt when I returned from Iraq. Home is never the same as when you left. It was a powerful work and I am glad that this project led me to read it.
       Slots four and five were difficult as well because I liked the both so much. Gateway’s unconventional protagonist and bifurcated structure often left me guessing. The ending in particular really stuck with me. The Dispossessed suffered from not being as good as The Left Hand of Darkness (a difficult task) but still contained Le Guin’s characteristic world building and nuanced characters and writing.
       The bottom five were all good. To Your Scattered Bodies Go and Ringworld had just enough missing to hold them back from higher rankings but I would recommend them to other science fiction readers. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sing and Dreamsnake were thoroughly enjoyable yet not the work of greater fiction like some of the top science fiction stories I have had. They are not life changing.
       It almost felt wrong to place The God Themselves last. It was still good but lacked a certain something that the other books possessed. Most of the book lacked the tension and the wonder that other books in the decade possessed with the exception of the second part. I have since read other Asimov books and that part is among the strongest work he ever produced.
       Science fiction was clearly continuing to development into an excellent and complex genre of literature by the 1970s. Please let me know what you think. I plan to put out a review a day until I am actually caught up with my current reading. Until then, keep reading my friends. 


  1. Congrats on getting your degree! I really enjoy your reviews and look forward to reading more of them. I'm almost finished with the last in my Hugo quest. I read the book about 15 years ago, which was before I was writing reviews, so I'm rereading it specifically to write a review. I still have to post about 20 reviews, but they continue to be superceded by reviews of what I'm reading now. Eventually, they'll all be posted.

    1. Thank you, Stephen! Do you have a link to your reviews? I would love to read them.