Monday, December 31, 2018

Hugo Winner Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel in 1963, this is an alternate history story in which Germany and Japan won the second world war.

An unusual novel, the plot concerns a number of characters whose lives intersect. Taking place in the 1960s, it paints a believable picture of a possible future. An interesting twist is the existence in the story of a fictional novel that depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war.

It has an number of unusual and unexpected plot twists, but no satisfying ending.

Readers may be more familiar with the author's novel do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the film Blade Runner.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Hugo Winner Book Review: Dune by Frank Herbert

This novel won the Hugo award for best novel in 1966 and has been called the world's best-selling science fiction novel.

A sweeping novel, Herbert invented an entire universe with depth and detail like few other novels. It is alien, yet strangely familiar and could have taken place in another universe, or maybe in ours some time in the past or the distant future.

It spawned a series of novels. I first first read it in the 1970s, and remember seeing the spectacular failure of the 1984 film version by David Lynch.

I recall trying to read at least one of the sequels and was not able to finish it. Maybe I will give make another attempt.

The novel held up well on re-reading and, while long, is definitely a must-read for science fiction fans.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hugo Winner Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

This is another Hugo award winner by Heinlein (who won the award for best novel six times, more than any other author). Written in 1961, it won the award for 1962.

The inspiration for the book was said to come from an offhand comment Heinlein made in a speech (and later in one of his books) about the fact that no one ever wrote a book about a Martian named Smith.

Other than the premise of a human raised on Mars, the book is not heavy science fiction. The book was incredibly popular, becoming the first science fiction novel to make the New York Times best-seller list and had sold 5 million copies by 1997 and is still in print.

It's depiction of free love and commune living made the book controversial. The beliefs and politics in the book were substantially different from those in his previous novels. Friends of Heinlein have remarked that it reflected turning point in his personal beliefs from conservative to liberal values, which apparently also coincided with his marriage to his third wife. Heinlein claimed that he had planned and worked out the novel for years, but had to wait until society was ready to accept it. It was certainly in line with many of the societal changes that happened in the 1960s.

The book was even responsible for adding a new word, "grok", to the English language (and is recognized in the Oxford English Dictionary).

I've read the novel several times in the past, and enjoyed reading it again. I don't personally agree with many of the ideas in the story, but the goal of the author was to make the reader think and questions their values, and I fee that he succeeded.

I would rate this as the peak of Heinlein's career. Some of his later novels seemed to try to a similar approach but in my opinion came across as just trying to shock the reader. Overall this is an ideal novel for the non-science fiction reader.