22 January 2012

A Flawed System

The first decade I’ll be reading is the 1950’s but as a result of a “Retro” award being given in 1996 for the year 1946, I’ve included the book in this decade since they didn’t hit every year in the 50’s anyway.  After all the hoopla about how to choose a book, of course the die tells me to read the first winner: The Mule by Isaac Asimov.  I am glad it worked out this way though because this book exposes straight away some of the many flaws with my very serious, but arbitrary, system that I’ve designed.  First, The Mule was originally published as a stand-alone novel but has since been published as Book II of Foundation and Empire, which is itself the second book in his Foundation Series (One of Asimov’s most famous, along with the Robot Series).  So there it is; the first book of this challenge and we've already hit on layer upon layer of problems with this ridiculous, but quasi-legally binding, system that I’ve designed.  Should I also read any books that weren’t winners, but were part of a series?  Should I only read Book II since Book I never won a Hugo Award?  Are Retro Hugo’s even real?  How many pages will count toward my page count?  How many questions can I ask in a row without losing people’s attention?

In order to make my way through this gauntlet of dilemmas, I had to rely on the same method I used to design this challenge.  That is to say, I submitted to whimsy and rapidly decided whatever the stink I felt like doing.  Of course, the most important of those questions was answered for me when I realized there are some winners like Mirror Dance which are quite deep in their series (it’s book 14 of the Vorkosigan Saga) and I would never be able to go through and read every book from every series (despite the very real anguish this causes me).  Although it makes sense, it could still present some very serious problems.  When the awards were voted on, readers presumably had the benefit of reading all the books leading up to that year’s winner.  Without that benefit, will I think less of a book without having met the characters before?  I really struggled with this problem so I think I very probably will.  So, consider this your warning that there might be some pretty heavy caveat-ing of some of my future posts.

In any case, this should be an exciting book as Asimov represents one of the “Big Three” of science fiction along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.  If we’ve learned anything from the amount of big three’s that have come and gone in the NBA, we should always be cautious about what seems to be the easy favorites.  In particular, Asimov was extremely prolific, having written over 100 books, so the likelihood that even a goodly portion will be home runs seems dubious to me.  I have also never read anything by Asimov before so all in all, I think the stakes are pretty damn high this week (which is a great way to start).

In order to make sure I have time to get books from various sources, I’ll be rolling the die a week in advance so here you go.  Next week’s book will be the 1958 (non-retro) winner, The Big Time by Fritz Leiber.


  1. Holy cow - a book a week; that's impressive. Can't wait to hear how it goes and what you think!

    I know nothing about the science fiction genre so I feel like I'm taking an extracurricular college course ;)

    1. I've only been reading it for a few years now so I feel the same way.


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