Monday, February 2, 2015

The Hugo & Nebula Novel Project: 1956


Hugo Winner: Double Star, by Robert A. Heinlein

Nebula Winner: None Awarded

Thank goodness we're past the last winner and I can start enjoying the winners again.  

We're back to fiction that's fun and has a point.  Double Star is the story of one Lawrence Smith, AKA Lorenzo Smythe, AKA "The Great Lorenzo", down on his luck actor who's been recruited for his greatest role: impersonating a politician who's been kidnapped just before he joins a nest of Mars and perhaps stops a political catastrophe!  I'm a sucker for Prince and the Pauper pastiches and this is a fun one.  You have:

1.  Lorenzo Smythe, who's a fun character who's both a natural coward but also enough of a professional to put his best foot forward in impersonating John Bonforte, leader of the Expansionist coalition that wants to open full citizenship in the Empire to Martians and eventually the Venusians as well.

2.  Science fiction that doesn't get bogged down in technology.  Sure, there are rocket ships and space elevators and moon cities and so on, but all of that is just background and setting.  We don't get ten pages on how the rockets work, just bits on how annoying it is to have to go through high-g acceleration just to get to Mars.

3.  A really fun supporting cast of rogues and handlers and secretaries.  Sadly, we're still in 1956 so the main female character is swooning over someone, but at least she's an MP like half the people in this novel.

4.  Speaking of MPs, I like how the Heinlein tosses off that Earth has unified under a parliamentary monarchy under, of all people, the House of Orange (the current monarchs of the Netherlands).  The Emperor, by the way, is one of the most fun secondary characters to show up in the novel.  His scenes with Smythe, who's impersonating his good colleague Bonforte, are pretty damn delightful.

5.  And there's where we get to why I really liked this: it's funny.  This could easily have been a dreadful novel of politics and rights and movements, but there's a deft comedy to it that makes me understand more why people keep comparing John Scalzi to Heinlein.  It’s a lot of fun, at times a comedy of error by people trying to do the right thing, a nice example of how farce is something we should cherish when it shows up in science fiction.

What Should Have Won in 1956:  Honestly, this is a tough year.  My candidates (and we still don’t have formal runner-ups in Hugo voting):

  • The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  • The Shrinking Man, Richard Matheson
  • The Man Who Japed, Philip K. Dick
  • The Naked Sun, Isaac Asimov

Of those, I’d have to go with Double Star, which I know will disappoint Bester fans but my personal preferences in science fiction are for early Heinlein over Besteresque seriousness.

My Hugo Novel Rankings So Far:

  1. Double Star (1956)

Next Time: The 1958 winner, Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time.

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