I'm not one for compiling top ten lists. Inevitably when I encounter them I'm left wondering if the person who compiled it wasn't really familiar with the subject they're creating the list for between missing items, misrepresented subjects, and choices built more on renown rather than how they fit. Still I've actually read all of the Hugo Winners, my opinions went against popular decisions a full third of the time, and it would be fun so why not? So here's my selection for the ten Hugo winning novels that are must reads.
10. Neuromancer - It suffers a bit from the changes in technology since it was written and from being copied so many times but Neuromancer is one of the most influential science fiction novels of all time and features some superior prose. Neuromancer is the story of a hacker being recruited to pull of a major heist but what is really important to the story is how humanity and machines are becoming closer together.
9. Gateway - There's a large portion of science fiction that deals with humanity trying to manage strange alien technology and its well represented in the Hugos. Gateway is the best example of that and the story of people plunging into the unknown on the hope of riches rings true.
8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - Magical realism has become a major force in modern fantasy and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell throws that together with the style of an early nineteenth century British novel. It is written as a the history of the revival of magic in England through the work of two magicians who start out as master and apprentice but become rivals.
7. Ender's Game - Inevitably a popular choice for best science fiction work of all time this is one of the few times that I fall somewhat close to popular opinion. The key to making it work is that it is the story of a child being abused in order to save the world and the moral complexities involved.
6. Demolished Man - The first Hugo winner was also one of the best. How do you get away with murder in a world where the police have telepaths on their side? Bester builds a distinct view of telepathy and defines it for science fiction.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Heinlein won quite a few Hugo awards for his novels and this was the best of them. This tale of a revolution on the moon contains everything that is best about Heinlein and little of his weaknesses so it is also my favorite of his books.
4. A Canticle for Leibowitz - There are three books that I consider the definitive works of post-nuclear war societies and Leibowitz heads that list. The three linked novellas give the reader a wide view of the revival of civilization.
3. The Dispossessed - One of the biggest things to break my suspension of disbelief is poorly thought out economics. It's the reason I don't like Dune, for example. The Dispossessed is one of the rare times where I found a radical set of economics that I didn't feel like it was forced into place for the purpose of the novel and at the same time wasn't an excuse for the author to condemn modern American and European society. Somehow it still fits nicely into the narrative.
2. Lord of Light - Neil Gaiman may have made a career of putting old myths in new places but Zelazny did it decades before with this book that places Hinduism, Buddhism, and even a touch of Christianity in a new setting. Lord of Light also features Zelazny at his peak before he descended into self-parody.
1. The Forever War - It's a transparent Viet Nam parallel but it never gets heavy handed. A man returns to war time and time again over a span of a thousand years whiles dealing with changes that society goes through in that time. The combat descriptions are vivid but the rest of novel is just as strong.