Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Hugo Winners: Volume Two (1962-1970) by Isaac Asimov (editor)

The stories from the 60s mostly aren’t my cup of tea.

The Dragon Masters • (1962) • novella by Jack Vance
Humans who live on a colonized planet have captured hostile aliens and bred them to fight wars while the aliens have captured humans and bred them for the same purpose. The technological level is preindustrial and there are several human settlements that have fought against each other’s. It has been a long time since the last alien attack, and a new one seems imminent. But there is growing tension between human towns. Overlong and fairly hard to read story in spite of some nice ideas and interesting scenes. The language feels pretty dated and overly flowery. Not among my favorite stories. ***-
No Truce With Kings • (1963) • novella by Poul Anderson
Several factions are fighting in post-apocalyptic southwestern America. One of them are pacifistic “espers”. It turns out that there are aliens secretly working with them who try to influence things behind the scenes to prevent chaos and help humans become members of a larger galactic society. But everything seems to go badly... A bit overlong and very talky story with a strong 60s feel in it. ***-
Soldier, Ask Not • [Childe Cycle] • (1964) • novella by Gordon R. Dickson
An impartial journalist has come to observe a war where religious extremists fight against Dorsai mercenaries. It turns out that he isn’t so impartial after all. He has strong reasons to take part in the fight and he tries to do so. But he really doesn’t understand the mind set of either party, as religious fanatics and mercenaries turn out to be more complex and less black and white as people than he could have thought. The beginning of the story was pretty good, but the end where the main character explained what happened and why more or less as a lecture didn’t really work. Thematically very similar to the first two stories of this collection. Apparently military-style science fiction was popular at the time. ***
"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman • (1965) • shortstory by Harlan Ellison
Being late is punished by a “ticktockman” who subtracts the corresponding time from the life of the offender. But one man apparently wants to fight back. A pretty confusing non-linear story with experimental writing style. Not exactly my cup of tea. One of the best proofs that the “puppy lovers” don’t know what they are talking about as when they claim that only during the last few years that “literary science fiction” has gained too much influence. **½
The Last Castle • (1966) • novella by Jack Vance
Most humans live on separate castles around the world. Humanity has apparently lived for a long time on different worlds around the galaxy, but now at least some have come home. They have brought alien slave races for menial work and live “aristocratic” and pampered lives on castles. There are apparently original humans living in the wild, but aristocrats consider them to be savages. Everything seems to be comfortable, until the slaves revolt. They should not have been intellectually and psychologically capable of that, but several castles are stormed and all humans are killed. But together the humans might be able to beat the rebels. A bit overlong story with fairly flowery language. A decent tale, but nothing really especial. ***+
Neutron Star • [Known Space] • (1966) • novelette by Larry Niven
A man is hired to find what penetrated an impenetrable space ship shell and killed explorers who were studying a neutron star. A classic of hard science fiction and very good story - I still remember when I read this for the first time about 35 years ago. Well, actually the effect which was responsible for the deaths should have been crystal clear to anyone flying around in space, but the story is good anyway. ****+
Weyr Search • [Dragonriders of Pern short fiction] • (1967) • novella by Anne McCaffrey
A young woman is drafted by Dragonriders to bond with a dragon for life. At first, she has another agenda, but she turns out to be smart, confident and scheming. However, she doesnt really know what is in store for her. A fantasy story in the guise of science fiction - that is usually a style I am not a great fan of. It takes its time to get going - I almost abandoned it, when little seemed to happen and what happened was hard to understand, but the latter half was slightly better. Not really Hugo material though, if you ask me. ***-
"Riders of the Purple Wage" • (1967) • novella by Philip José Farmer
In a future welfare state, artists and art critics are famous. Everyone gets a “purple wage” from the state, which covers the essentials. If you are a malcontent, you might be transferred to another part to the world to increase diversity. The main character produces very controversial art, and his grandfather is a criminal who is hiding in an attic. It's a pretty experimental story which is influenced by James Joyce and references “Finnegan’s Wake” by name; another story which isn’t my cup of tea. ***
"Gonna Roll the Bones" • (1967) • novelette by Fritz Leiber
A loser who often beats his wife and uses his money on gambling goes, once again, to play craps. He is on roll and seems to be able to control the dice. Slowly, he wins a good amount of money in a strange game. Soon, he challenges a strange high stakes player who apparently seems to be a devil. The end of the story goes in a pretty surrealistic direction. The writing was pretty good, but a totally unsympathetic protagonist and dull description of a stupid game makes some pretty uninteresting reading. ***+
"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" • (1967) • short story by Harlan Ellison
A computer has killed almost all people. A few survivors are changed into grotesque caricatures of their former selves and are scouring for food in a desolate world. There are rumors of cans filled with food, and they are trying to find that bounty. A fairly surreal and distressing story with one of the most agonizing endings ever. The writing was very good. ***½
"Nightwings" • [Nightwings] • (1968) • novella by Robert Silverberg
The story happens in a far future Earth, where apparently several civilizations have risen and gone. Humanity has reached the stars, but has withdrawn back to the Earth. A group of three friends is approaching an ancient city, Room, where relics of several cycles of civilizations which span millennia can be found. One of the group is a watcher, a kind of guard for an alien invasion which will come at some undetermined date in the future. The invasion has apparently been coming for centuries, but the exact date is unknown. One is a winged female, who is able to fly at nighttime; in daytime, the "pressure of light is too heavy". The third is a mutant who isn't part of any guild – practically everyone is part of some guild which protects the interests of its members. Not being a member of any is a severe handicap. After they have arrived at Room, they have an audience with the Emperor of Room. They get a permission to go to the Imperial Hotel, but then the aliens attack. A pretty good story, after I got used to a pretty pompous writing style. ****-
"The Sharing of Flesh" • [Technic History] • (1968) • novelette by Poul Anderson
After a period of a “dark age,” humans are exploring the universe again. There are human planets which have been separated for centuries or more. On one world, a man is killed and literally butchered by a native. His pregnant wife wants revenge and tries to find the culprit. It turns out that every culture in the planet practices cannibalism as a puberty rite. Should the planet with such vile customs be abandoned completely? A very good story with nice, well-rounded characters. ****-
"The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" • (1968) • novelette by Harlan Ellison (variant of The Beast that Shouted Love)
Several story lines which are seemingly pretty separate and happen very far away in both time and space, but eventually turn out to be connected. A pretty experimental story which wasn’t too easy to read. ***-
"Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" • (1968) • novelette by Samuel R. Delany
A criminal rises in criminal world in a future where space flight is cheap and common. He competes with other criminals, and is chased by a special services agent while contemplating his past and his neurosis. The story is written in extremely hard and confusing language and it is hard to get into. I didn’t connect with the main protagonist at all. It is a far too experimental and fancy story for me – might be great art, but I had trouble getting through it. **

654 pp

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