In 2003, I made a personal project to read every single Hugo award winning novel. I knew that I had already read a sizable number of them. I also wanted to write my personal opinions of them. All of the opinions below are entirely mine.
The project has been a surprise to me. I was surprised at how good some of the novels are, and I was surprised at how bad some are. Even more surprising was that widely known and popular authors have written some real clunkers which won the award.
Now part of the Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation books. Nicely written and unexpected tragedy that is different than the other early Foundation novels
Quaintly dated, but typical Heinlein. Obviously written as a juvenal novel, but uses that as an excuse for some truly bad science.
Fascinating mystery with a disturbing ending, discussions of identity and society.
One of the classics, written more mythological than I remembered at first.
Now titled Forever Machine. Geeks invent computer, get chased by mobs. Laughably bad writing and quaintly dated. It does a little foreshadowing of the concerns in the 70’s that computers would take over people’s jobs.
Kagemusha in space opera style. Far better than 1951’s winner, but not his best.
Locked box single room mystery for time travelers. Not bad, but not much sci-fi
Jesuit biologist has to make a tragic decision. Gripping and an excellent early first contact story. I think religious issues are more pointed in this novel than Canticle for Leibowitz.
Right wing politics with military trappings. Excellent writing and more serious that 1956’s winner
Fiction as history, wonderful story of how history and society survive
Back in the 60’s I am sure all the sex and drugs were shocking. When I read this in the 70’s they were merely “naughty’. Now it is oddly disappointing as a story with seriously sexist main characters.
The only good alternate history novel written (and I include everything up to 2005 when I say this)
Fascinating little story that has a surprise ending.
Humans get the shock of their lives when aliens first appear. Ribald and silly, but a good quick read and has the biggest ships I have ever seen in sci-fi. (Even bigger than the Death Star!)
Now titled This Immortal. A fun read of a travelogue of an immortal guiding an alien around a devastated Earth.
First and best enviro-fiction with enough subplots to tangle up even Tolstoy. The best Herbert book.
I think this is Heinlein’s best novel, and a precursor to the cyberpunk movement.
Human colonists become gods, and then fight with each other for centuries. Fun read, but not terribly deep, and more like fantasy than sci-fi.
Near future novel which has a real surprise in because final twist is very modern even for today.
I consider this the best of LeGuin’s novels, a tight and intimate study of gender and identity.
Fun romp to a giant hula-hoop with a murderous cat and a paranoid monster. More juvenile than I remembered when first reading it.
The first Riverworld novel, and I think the best of the lot. Overall just an excuse to get characters from different historical periods to talk to each other.
Humans and aliens interact, but set from the alien’s point of view. Not perfect as a study of non-humans, but not bad either.
Probably the best Clark novel. Mysterious ship appears, but humans are not sure what it means.
A very good semi-satire of the Soviet/US relations, but I thought the ending was a little too easy.
Wildly disappointing. This book thinks a left wing spin on Starship Troopers means a lot of sex and drug references on top of a sledge hammer anti-war message.
Badly written post-apocalypso, with plot holes large enough to drive a nuke through. The editors should have turned this down rather than publishing it.
Alien contact done well. A little sketchier plot than I remembered, and the later sequels kind of detract from the grand mystery set up here.
Typically McIntyre plot, and she uses many of the themes in this book in later novels. However it isn’t terribly deep and it is very predictable if you have read any of her other novels.
I can’t understand why Clarke won for this one. It is a competent book, but not much else. My favorite part is his satire on the Earth's religions reaction to first contact.
The fairy tale recast as a sci-fi. Nicely written plot and characters
Turgid and frequently confusing plot connecting several other novels in Cherryh’s universe. It is nearly unreadable in sections. An editor should have taken a scalpel to this one.
Asimov should have left well enough alone. This turns the historical-style sci-fi of the Foundation series into a potboiler space opera with grand politics.
My favorite of Brin’s novels, and a nice introduction to the Uplift universe.
Amazing how this novel did NOT age well. I am sure it was good when it kicked off the cyberpunk movement, however now it reads like watching “I love the 80’s” on VH1.
I have to review these two together. Card’s short story versions of these books were FAR AND AWAY better than the novelizations. I felt like the editor called in a romance novelist to ghostwrite the short stories up into novels, the padded text is so obviously different from Card’s writing.
Another good Brin, but not as good as Startide Rising.
Much like Downbelow, her writing is turgid and almost unreadable at times. I am surprised that she didn’t win for the “Fading Suns” series, but did win with these.
Canterbury Tales does Sci-Fi, with very interesting characters and plot twists. Now that I have read the 2nd half, I found this book to be a very good read, with very interesting technologies.
Now collected in the book Young Miles. Interesting main character, silly plotlines, with plot holes big enough to jump a fleet through.
The story of Young Miles mother, who has to cope with sexism. Almost as implausible as Vor Game, but with a more interesting lead character.
See Also Deepness in the sky. This time the space opera plot is interesting and the alien plot is totally annoying.
A time travel novel that completely misses the point, and on top of that has a character who is female and yet accepts every possible degradation from males to validate her existence.
The sequel to Red Mars (see Nebula awards page), however it is just more of the same, not much new happens.
Another Young Miles story. This time his clone-brother learns to like Miles after a bunch of pointless rescues and improbable twists.
A charming story about a girl learning from a very special book. It kind of loses it's way at the end, but it was a fun read.
The sequel to Green Mars (see above), however it is just more of the same, not much new happens.
Surprisingly good retake on the future of war, and an honorable follow up to the disastrous Forever War, but not a sequel.
Time travel humor story that barely covers the real intent of the author. This is a person trying to boast how much she knows about the Victorian period. I am amazed at how badly the jokes are written.
This reads like two novels that an editor should have cut apart. The first contact story has the most interesting point of view I have ever read, the space opera story is dull.
Kids’ stuff, not much else, certainly not worthy of a Hugo. On top of that, this should have been on the fantasy lists, not the sci-fi lists.
Slow starting but interesting characters make the story work. It would have been better as a graphic novel.
An attempt to render life as a Neanderthal would live it. But the Human part of the plot isn't interesting and involves an unnecessary rape scene.
Boring little melodrama about a middle aged woman trying to get her boyfriend back.
Fantasy title, but a much better one than the recent fantasy books. A sort of duel between two wizards develops in Victorian times.
Soap opera set over 300 million years, and about 1/2 as interesting. (somehow I read Camouflage, but it is a Nebula winner instead)
Vinge combines cyberpunk and a senior-citizen moment. Surprisingly good, only a few Vinge digressions.
Not sci-fi, and not fantasy. Just a detective novel set in an alternate world. An O.k. read, but it doesn't belong on this list at all.
Not bad for Gaiman, but it’s still a book for kids
Weird murder mystery set in a divided city, with an oddly disappointing ending.
Post-cyberpunk novel with some disturbing predictions. Good read
All photographs, images and text are copyright of Stephen Douglas 2011