This summer’s been a hot one, eh? That must mean it’s time for some smoking hot summer sci-fi! We’ve got a special rising star this year in novelist Ann Leckie, who has walked home with both the Hugo and the Nebula awards (and just about every other sci-fi award, too) for her debut novel, Ancillary Justice. Several of us in the library have now read this novel, and we can unanimously say that it is deserving of each award. The novel, as briefly as I can describe it, is about a sentient spaceship stuck in a human body, working toward sweet revenge against the forces who destroyed its thousand-year-old spacefaring form. The storytelling is excellent and not entirely straightforward, the plot is to die for, and you can’t help but love Breq, the once-great starship now trapped in a squishy body and trying its very best to succeed nonetheless.
Thing is, there have actually been a good few works of sci-fi over the years which were so innovative and fabulous, they won both the Hugo and the Nebula too! Here is a selection of well-known and less-well-known Hugo/Nebula double winners from years past.
A unique Alaskan police force brought about by a fresh squeeze of alternate history, this novel place a Jewish state in Alaska after attempts to create Israel fail following World War II. Meyer and Berko, two members of the detective force there, attempting to solve a murder that took place in Meyer’s apartment building. The plot and characters of the book are wrapped in quirky comic relief, creative wordplay with Hebrew (and of course, its weird cousin, Yiddish), a neighboring society of Tlingit Indians, and a fresh angle on the struggle for people of all faiths to find a place they call home.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (2002)
Using thoughtform as a basis for its world, American Gods is about Shadow, a man released from prison early because his wife died in a car accident. He takes a job as a bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday, who knows far more about Shadow than Shadow does about him. In this book, you’ll encounter gods (including, yes, American gods), a talking raven, astral projection, conspiracies, and the most awesome carousel in existence. If you’ve read anything by Neil Gaiman, you know how pointed and beautiful his language can get – this is, perhaps, the apex.
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis (1993)
Connie Willis has written quite a few books on time travel, but none have struck me quite like Doomsday Book. The title is a play on the real-life document by William the Conqueror called Domesday Book, and the goal of the novel according to the narrator is to provide “a record of life in the Middle Ages, which is what William the Conqueror’s survey turned out to be.” Thing is, it ended up being a little different than that. After convincing her professors to send her to Oxford in 1320 and study it as an observer, she goes back and discovers that she didn’t end up where she expected, but rather in 1348- during the pandemic of the Black Death in England. A parallel epidemic of influenza strikes Oxford in the modern day, causing everyone to wonder if there are some unforeseen consequences to sending explorers back in time.
Neuromancer, by William Gibson (1985)
This novel, the first winner of the science fiction “triple crown” (the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick Award), is also widely regarded as the world’s archetypal work of cyberpunk. Gibson rewrote the novel several times after seeing Blade Runner and fearing that everyone would think he ripped off the film’s visual texture, and ended up creating a work that stands right on the same podium. The novel is about a once-great hacker, now injured, incapable of accessing cyberspace, and suicidal, who is approached by a couple of mysterious employers with an offer he can’t refuse. If he offers them his services as a hacker, they can cure his poisoned nervous system and restore him to the hotshot he used to be. Unfortunately, pulling off the ultimate hack turns out to be far more than any of them bargained for. Neuromancer is the world that every other cyberpunk writer imagines when they begin writing their own stories. It is so well-built and compelling that it is a real challenge not to be derivative – in fact, it might not even be a bad thing to do so.
Startide Rising, by David Brin (1984)
Although this book is the true great of Brin’s “Uplift” series, you may want to start with the first volume, Sundiver, before moving along to this one. The concept of “Uplift” is to take a non-sentient species and improve it artificially through terraforming and planetary engineering, bringing it to an intellectual and conscious level rivaling one’s own. In Startide Rising, a group of humans and uplifted animals stumble upon a derelict fleet of starships in deep space, ships that might have belonged to the original race that uplifted all other sentient species. A discovery of this significance can’t stay secret for long, and soon, alien races from all across the galaxy are fighting viciously for the right to know more.
Dreamsnake, by Vonda McIntyre (1979)
Vonda McIntyre, who lived and wrote in Washington for much of her life, has spun a chilling post-apocalyptic tale in the wastes of the western United States following a disastrous nuclear war. The main character, a healer, must replace one of the snakes she keeps to help her with her trade, following an act of treachery by her fellow townspeople, who are afraid of her and the snakes. Along the way, she makes friends, meets enemies old and new, and the readers get to take a peek into this desolate world and the desire of humans to survive and thrive despite the hopelessness of the conditions.
The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov (1973)
Asimov’s most famous work, Foundation, never had a chance to make this list, as it was published before the Nebula Awards even existed. However, Asimov was of course destined to win one at some point, and he finally did so with this novel which spans not just the universe, but TWO universes. And hey, what would a list like this be without some sort of parallel universe? In The Gods Themselves, humans, through the use of a device called the Electron Pump, have been exchanging matter with aliens in a parallel universe where the laws of physics are different. This exchange, though seemingly beneficial to both races, may have unintended consequences for humanity and the Milky Way as the aliens attempt to prolong the life of their dying universe at any cost. Originally published serially in Galaxy Magazine, the installments are now compiled into one spiffy novel for your convenience.
Ringworld, by Larry Niven (1971)
One of the most imaginative books of both exploration and engineering- focused science fiction, Ringworld introduces you to Louis Wu, a two hundred year old man who has been driven completely bored out of his mind. His humdrum life is interrupted by Nessus, a Pierson’s Puppeteer, who offers him an exciting trip to the edge of known space. His mission, along with several other explorers, is to find and investigate a Ringworld: an artificially-constructed ring, a million miles wide, built around a Sun-like star at a distance roughly matching Earth’s orbit. Nessus, Louis, Teela, and Speaker-to-Animals think they are just going to figure out how it ticks, but after a grave miscalculation leaves them stranded on the ring, their involvement with the Ringworld and its inhabitants will run far deeper than they ever expected.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1970)
In a way, this novel shares more in common with Ancillary Justice than any other novel on this list, due to its unique treatment and exploration of gender roles and expression. Set on a fictional world where no one is inherently one gender or the other, it is the tale of Genly Ai, an ambassador from the coalition of humanoid worlds, and his quest to convince the nations of the planet Gethen to join with them. Their strange customs and mistrust of outsiders both confuses and endangers Genly Ai, and it is only through the assistance of someone he believes to be treacherous that his lofty goals might have a chance of being accomplished.
Dune, by Frank Herbert (1966)
There are very few works of science fiction and fantasy lauded as much as Dune, and it is only when you read it that you truly understand why. Frank Herbert, an ecologist and humanitarian, prioritized these ideals in his writing over lengthy explanations of technology and physical science, in essence bringing a more literary treatment to science fiction than ever before. Dune‘s winged ornithopters and menacing hunter-seeker drones are explained only to the level of plausibility, while his societies of Fremen and nobleman, ecological concepts and visions of terraforming the desert wastes of Arrakis, and the delicate economic and power balance of the universe are all laid out in meticulous detail. And, of course, there is the spice, and the haunting blue eyes it bestows on those addicted to it. It is Dune, more than any other book, that has made me feel like I truly traveled somewhere else while in the midst of its pages.
If you’re a completionist, or if you’ve read many of these titles and are looking for more double-winners, we at the library have created a brochure just for you! Available on the rack near the reference desk (or viewable as a record set here on the WCCLS website), this handy paper will tell you every book that has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Finally, If you’ve already read Ancillary Justice and can’t wait for the follow-up, hop onto the WCCLS catalog and place a hold on Ancillary Sword, set to be released in October. Check it out, and have a happy, science-filled summer!