Sunday, December 11, 2005

This week in Nebulas

Last week, I told you I had read 19 Nebula award-winning novels. It turns out that wasn't actually accurate, but I am now up to 22. Here are the additions to my list.

1974: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed represents some of the best of what this Nebula project has given me -- the opportunity to read science fiction books that address deeper themes than run-of-the-mill airport fiction.

The novel's protagonist, a physicist, lives in an almost 200-year-old anarchist society that has been exiled to a planet's moon. The moon is a harsh society, but the anarchists have developed cooperative methods which allow them to survive, but not thrive. The physicist finds that even anarchistic societies find ways of wielding power, and he eventually finds himself unable to pursue his groundbreaking work on his home world. He becomes the first anarchist to leave for the main planet, where he is welcomed with open arms. But nothing is clear-cut in this novel, and he eventually becomes suspicious of his hosts' motives.

Le Guin, in fact, uses the different societies to examine the ambiguities and compromises inherent in any political system. The novel's subtitle is "An Ambiguous Utopia," and it's even ambiguous to which society this refers. Furthermore, I was pleased that none of it came across as thinly-veiled allegory for Earth societies, although the Cold War themes seemed stronger as the book progressed.

1980: Timescape

Sometimes, however, the Nebula project has led me to above-average, if ultimately forgettable fiction, like Timescape. How do I know that it is forgettable? I started reading this without remembering that I had read it before. Unfortunately, by that time, all of my other books were in my luggage, which I had left at my hotel after checking out (my flight home wasn't scheduled to leave until after 1 in the morning). So I re-read it. Until very late in the book, I didn't remember how it turned out. I blame that -- well, in addition to a poor long-term memory -- on a twist ending that doesn't really flow from the rest of the book.

1988: Falling Free

I enjoyed Falling Free more than Timescape, but it is probably closer to that in terms of weight than The Dispossessed. It's the story of some genetically-engineered humans with arms where their legs should be, and the corporation that treats them like disposable property. They, of course, have an inevitable fight for freedom, which is kind of fun, but fairly predictable.

So I've now read 22 Nebula novels. I have two more checked out from the library, although one is due tomorrow (despite Christina having checked it out on my behalf last week -- some sort of interlibrary loan issue). I should be able to renew it and push my total up by the end of the year.
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