1977: The Award Winners, a guest post by Brittain Barber
Posted January 17, 2014on:
I told my guest posters they could write about anything they wanted for Vintage Science Fiction month, so long as it was speculative fiction related and happened before 1979. I didn’t give anyone any specific direction, on anything. Ladies and gentlemen, today you are in for a treat. Brittain didn’t just write about one book, or one author. He went all out and read through the nominated and winning novels of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards of 1977.
1977: The Award Winners
by Brittain Barber
Brittain Barber is the o-owner of and main writer for the blog Two Dudes in an Attic, where we read Gary Gygax novels so you don’t have to. Scribblings on Two Dudes emanate from the Pacific Northwest and sit at the nexus of science fiction, fantasy, political science, Japan, music, and soccer. (This makes for a killer Venn diagram.)
When the invitation came to do a guest post during Vintage SF Month, I tried to come up with
something more entertaining than a simple book review of some cobwebby relic. Many of my posts tend towards aimless, politico-economic rambling, I quickly shot that down as requiring far too much research. Finally, I settled on the idea of looking at the award winners and nominees from a particular year; in this case, my birth year of 1977. (Does this make me vintage as well? I prefer to think otherwise.) (Also, I realize that the books here were all published in 1976, but we’ll just talk about them in terms of 1977, for simplicity’s sake.) The topic thus decided, I set about to read as many of the major books from the year as I could, in hopes of providing capsule reviews here. It is fortunate that 1977 was still a year of thin, concise volumes. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in an age when the average page count ticks up over four or five hundred.
My focus for this piece is what I consider to be the three big prizes of Western SF: The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. I read the winner of each and as many of the nominees as I could get my hands on. I skipped World Fantasy, Campbell, and a couple of others, but there may be time for a follow up later on. I also passed on short fiction in a bid to prevent this project from spiraling out of control. Fortunately, the nominee listings (and awards!) had considerable overlap. Starting with the winning books, below is a selection of the best and brightest of 1977. I may still ramble.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm – Wilhelm took home the Hugo and Locus with this book, a mix of elegy, apocalypse, and clones. The writing is lyrical and hypnotic, as Wilhelm manages to make her clones both sympathetic and wholly alien. I was disappointed in the end with the conflict she decided to make unavoidable and the results she made inevitable, but that is a matter of opinion rather than technique. I’m a little surprised that this book has faded from the SF consciousness a bit, as it appeared to make a splash at the time. It has also aged well, with little inside to date it. In fact, it may be even more relevant now, with cloning back in the public eye. Recommended reading and a worthy winner, I think. At the very least, I haven’t read anything else from 1977 that is clearly better.
Man Plus by Frederik Pohl – 1977 may be a high water mark for the New Wave. What makes me think this? Fred Pohl grabbed a Nebula Award and several other nominations for a snark-free, mostly Earth-bound character study of a man undergoing extreme bio-engineering. The victim is being transformed into something capable of surviving unaided on the Martian surface. This alone is fascinating enough for a novel; from Pohl I would have expected more science, more Mars, and probably more biting satire. In the absence of all of these, Pohl turns in one of his strongest performances. Normally I would be disappointed, as I rather like typical Pohl, but this was a great read.
Mindbridge by Joe Haldeman – Somewhere, I have a summary of this that I wrote up seven or eight years ago. I can’t find it now, but it mentioned something about me enjoying this book, but not being blown away by it. It is immediately recognizable as Haldeman and fun to read. Still, I wonder if this was nominated on The Forever War‘s coattails. Haldeman does some serious misdirection with this one, threatening to take the book in several directions before settling on his narrative, the details of which escape me these many years later. I loved the ending.
Triton, by Samuel Delany – Prior to Triton, I hadn’t read any Delany beyond a game attempt at Dhalgren, which I found aimless and pornographic. A lot of people seem to love that book, but I am not one of them. Delany netted Nebula and Locus nominations for Triton, which is at least shorter than Dhalgren. It still isn’t my thing though. While the world he creates is fascinating, and the war between inner and outer Solar System settlements potentially so, Triton is essentially the story of white male privilege incarnate being a jerk and failing at life. This was probably huge at the time, but wasn’t the most entertaining read now. Don’t get me wrong – I am sympathetic to Delany’s politics, I just prefer them mixed in with, rather than overrunning, my science fiction.
A World Out of Time by Larry Niven – Luckily for me, I happened to have a signed copy of this sitting on my bookshelf. (Not because I actually got it signed, but because my dad spotted these coming into the used bookstore where he worked and nabbed three for me. Thanks, “Penny!” Hope you don’t miss these.) I must have read A World Out of Time back in 9th or 10th grade, but I only remembered a scene or two. Likely I understood very little of it at the time. Reading now, I would rate this as one of Niven’s best efforts. He covers astonishing ground in a very short time, from a clever, near future dystopia to the center of the galaxy, then to an Earth some million years hence that (intentionally?) echoes H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. If the characters are a bit flat and the gender roles iffy, well, it’s Niven. Lots of fun, even midst the cringes.
Inferno – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – I probably shouldn’t even put this here, since I haven’t read it in 20+ years. Still, it got a Locus nod and I thought it was pretty cool at the time. What could go wrong when Niven and Pournelle rewrite Dante?
There’s even a recent sequel that I have considered, but not yet read.
Silverberg’s Shadrach in the Furnace was on every award list as well, but, remarkably, neither of the giant library systems at my disposal has a copy. The first of C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Saga sits on my shelf even as we speak, but I got sidetracked by an N.K. Jemisin read-along and fell behind. Children of Dune also got a Hugo nod, but I can’t justify messing around with half-baked Dune sequels when I’m on a deadline. Jo Walton covers things in more depth here, for those curious about other books from the year. Listed there are Clarke’s Imperial Earth and Bova’s Millenium, both of which I would like to read. (I may have read the Clarke already. If I have, I remember nothing.) That seems to about cover it.