John C Wright, in a post about changing, um, tastes in Hugo awards, presents two lists: the first 20 Hugo-award winning novels, and the last 20. What this list revealed to me was how limited my Sci Fi reading background really is.
Looking back, I didn’t start reading Sci Fi until about 5th or 6th grade, and then read it like crazy only until about my senior year in high school. I think I read everything Bradbury had in print up to that time, as well as a small boatload of Asimov. Read Tolkien the first time, and a bunch of other stuff. But there was no method to my madness – I’d go to the Whittier Public Library, wander the stacks or thumb through the card catalogs, see something interesting, and start reading – sometimes, sitting on the floor right there, lost in thought. That’s how I came to read Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings and a number of books on topics like frogs and paleoanthropology. I knew the Latin names of most of the common American frogs and toads, as well as the then-current family tree of hominids back to Australopithecus boisei and his homies.
Once, I don’t remember why or how, I ended up pulling the 2nd volume of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy off the stacks (volume 1 was checked out) and started reading right then. A couple hours later, I was sitting out front with my nose buried in it when my mom came to pick me up . I remember the agonizing wait for the first book to be returned – might have been a whole week. Then ripped through it 1 – 3. I’ve reread it a few times since.
But no method. Read some Arthur C Clarke; I didn’t go find Zelzany or Lafferty or Niven. Why these and not those? I have no idea – I suppose it’s what happened to be on the shelves at the time.
Unlike many of the writers and lifelong fans, it seems, too many things interfered with my pursuit of Sci Fi. First off, I was just interested in too many things. In addition to reading science, biographies, a little history, I played basketball, sang in the choir, built stuff out of wood, worked for my dad – just did a lot of stuff. Second, the library was almost three miles away from home and uphill – it was a few blocks from St. Mary’s School, so I’d walk sometimes after school when my ride home was flexible enough to get me later. But that wasn’t always. As a bike ride, it seemed just a little out of range. And by the time I was a junior in high school (and could drive myself), I’d applied to St. John’s College and so began reading philosophy and literature. The problem with those Great Books is you have to keep reading them – Homer and Dante I’ve reread multiple times; am rereading Hegel (yeach!) now – there’s no end to it! Finally, I lack the 100+ pages per hour reading speed of the Sara Hoyts of the world – and I’m slowing down as I get older.
All this by way of explaining how it is that I’ve only read *2* of the first 20 Hugo awarded novels. I’d collected three more in runs to Half Priced Books, and am reading them now. That leaves 15 more to go. Sheesh.
Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1961) – possibly my favorite Sci Fi novel of all time. I keep extra copies on hand to give to anyone who seems like they might read it. A terrible and beautiful story beautifully written.
Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1962) – Many of the ideas are interesting, and Heinlein is a good enough writer to keep you reading, even when it starts getting silly trying to be blasphemous. Super-cool mind powers tend to leave me cold for some reason. Anyway, certainly not a bad book, just ultimately silly when it’s trying to be daring or something.
Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1960 – just finished reading it) – I really enjoyed this book. It is amusing that people call Heinlein names because, in a book of speculative fiction, he, you know, speculates. It seems speculating on an all-you-can-eat, zero calorie sexual buffet makes one cool, but speculating on how a future society democratically ruled by highly-trained military veterans might look makes you *evil*. Sigh.
Niven, Ringworld (1971 – just started) If the rest of the book is as inventive and amusing as the first chapters, this is going to be a mind-bending scream. The Peirson’s Puppeteer is wonderful.
Herbert, Dune (1966) – next up.
I’ll get to the next 15 as I find them in cheap used bookstores. Then, we’ll worry about the more current winners.