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Voice Of The Fans: What’s The Worst Award-Winner You’ve Read?

In the course of scouring Amazon to find books to load onto my Kindle, I happened to run across one of my favorite books, A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge. Sure there’s a Kindle link, but what I found more fascinating was that a few of the 1 star reviewers said this was one of the worst books they’d ever read. Now everyone’s taste is different so I’m not going to argue over the worthiness of the book. However, it did bring to mind a question:

What is the worst award-winning story you’ve ever read?

Since there are numerous awards out there let’s focus on the Hugos and Nebulas. The story can be either in book form or one of the shorter lengths, your choice.

I can’t say that I’ve read any Hugo/Nebula winner and come away thinking, “Geez, that was a terrible book.” I’ve never really thought, “This was a Hugo/Nebula winner??” Then again, I haven’t read as many of those as I’d like so I may have missed some. I’m curious to see what you all have to say.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

49 Comments on Voice Of The Fans: What’s The Worst Award-Winner You’ve Read?

  1. Nobunaga73 // July 16, 2010 at 2:12 am //

    “Cyteen” by C.J. Cherryh

    “Hominids” by Robert J. Sawyer

    Of all of the Hugo-award winning/nominated novels I’ve read, these books were the only two that ever made me angry.  I didn’t enjoy either book and couldn’t believe that they won the Hugo — both were excruciatingly boring.

  2. Spar by Kij Johnson.  Needlessly vulgar, plotless, nothing interesting about it whatsoever.

  3. Kind of a cruel subject. I worked my way through almost all of the Hugo Award winners not long ago, and while there were more than a few gems, I was shocked by how many terrible novels had won SF’s big prize.


    The worst of the worst? Mark Clifton & Frank Riley’s “They’d Rather Be Right” is legendarily bad, and Fritz Leiber’s “The Wanderer” was a brutal slog. But by far the book I detested most was David Brin’s “Startide Rising.”


    The man is an incompetent storyteller and an almost laughably bad stylist. I’ll be honest, I still haven’t worked up the courage to try to make my way through “The Uplift War.”

  4. Anything by Jon Courtenay Grimwood – though his direst work, reMix, is not award nominated, it is the worst SF i red that decade though.

    I can’t comment on A Fire Upon the Deep as I could never get through more than about 15 pages, which si unusual for me as I have slogged through plenty of SF series.

    Oh and Harry Potter – they win awards but I found them appalling as an adult read.

  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, James Tiptree, Jr. Award, Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis and the British Science Fiction Association Awards, and I have no idea how… it was deathly dull with not a single discernable point of interest, character or plot twist worthy of the description. I read this before it came out and struggled to the end as the author was a friend of a friend and had managed to accquire a preview copy, but it has to be one of the worst novels I have ever read to completion.

  6. Migraine // July 16, 2010 at 4:33 am //

    Picked up Boneshaker after it picked up the Hugo this year.  Still wishing I hadn’t.

    I found this year’s other winners disappointing.  Spar – WTF?

  7. China Mieville’s The City and The City and Perdido Street Station – couldn’t finish either of them. China, like Vernor I think, comes up with some great ideas and setting for his stories but the narrative doesn’t hold me as a reader. Something about China’s work ends up being a bit cliched and lacking in character development. Story tends to be sacrificed for the sake of idea. 

  8. The Battlefield Earth novel that got nominated in the 80’s is probably the worst *nominee* I’ve ever encountered.


    The worst winner? I really really didn’t like Forever Peace.  (which annoyed me, I loved The Forever War and earlier Haldeman stuff)

  9. “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang. Way too much technical stuff, and not enough character. I gave up on reading it after a few pages. (Won a Hugo.)

  10. Xelgaex // July 16, 2010 at 6:11 am //

    Rainbow’s End, another Vinge book, is one of the few books I just put down and couldn’t finish. The main character is a jerk, though that wasn’t really the problem. It was the way he was a jerk and the way he thought about it that put me off. He’s sort of a hyper-rational misanthrope. He doesn’t make any excuses about how they deserved it or how they were ticking him off or anything. He just does it because it makes him feel better (and explicitly says so). I can handle reading objectively unjustified behavior from a character’s POV, but subjectively unjustified is something else. It just pulled me out of the story. It was like reading a (non-humor) story about a guy who actually buys a sports car because he feels sexually inadequate and then proceeds to explain this as his reasoning for the purchase.

  11. I did not like:

    Larry Niven     Ringworld

    Roger Zelazny Lord of light

    Frank Herbert   Dune

    and worst of all:

    Robert Heinlein   Stranger in a strange land (just to hippy for my liking)

    BTW I thought Ted Chiang Exhalation was fantastic, one of the best stories ever.

  12. “The Word for World is Forest”.

    Left me with a lifetime aversion to Le Guin that I am only now beginning to get over.



    Couldn’t finish Rainbow’s End.  But I liked the poet guy, and got bored when the story veered away from him.


  14. really didn’t like The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

  15. I would agree with Forever Peace…. started off intersting enough but then turned into a giant turdfest that was so bad it spoiled the excellent Forever War it was meant to be a sequel to. When put in context it even makes the Matrix sequels look brilliant.

  16. @Andy – the Hugos aren’t out yet, it’s just recieved a nomination. 


    I have to say Vendor Vinge’s Fire Upon the Deep is one that I really haven’t been able to get through, or into, for that matter. There’s a couple of others, but that’s the one that’s really stuck in my mind. 

  17. Rainbow’s End was very disappointing. Couldn’t finish it.

    Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog (?) was very painful to finish

  18. I think this needs a little context. I have enjoyed all of the award winners I’ve read. I’ve like some less than others. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness comes to mind. But I’ve never felt compelled to not finish / give up on / loathe any of them. (Perhaps I have low standards?)

    But, put into context with other nominees the same year…

    Brin’s The Uplift War was a tough read. Bear’s The Forge of God was nominated the same year (1988 Hugo) and was a much better book, IMO.

    And Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire beating out Sawyer’s Calculating God (2001 Hugo)? Tragic. Again, both are good books—in fact, Goblet is (IMO) the best of the series. But Calculating God is one of my favorite books.

    Finally, going back to the first book I mentioned (Left Hand…), for both the Hugo (1970) and the Nebula (1969), Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five was a co-nominee. Need I say more?

    Of course, this all comes down to taste, as well. Some of the books mentioned—and panned—above are among my personal favorite award winners (not to be confused with my favorite books, btw); To Say Nothing of the Dog (Willis’ best, IMO), Perdido Street Station, The Sparrow.

  19. Galaxy Zed // July 16, 2010 at 10:22 am //

    The City and the City left me cold. I  found it a real chore to get through. Excellent idea, but not well executed. And the dialogue was terrible. The author distinquished between characters’ voices by having one say f*&# every-other word.

    While I’m being honest, RJ Sawyer has never impressed me either. Great ideas, but stale writing.

    Often, the hype machine is way off.

    There, that’s my negative venting for the day.

  20. Galaxy Zed // July 16, 2010 at 10:25 am //

    How about a follow-up to this discussion: What books should have won? Maybe next week?

  21. I thought Neuromancer was overrated. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst book I’ve ever read, but I have never cared for the refrigerator magnet approach to storytelling (I can always hear the pitchman in my mind’s eye: “It’s like Tron meets The Big Sleep!”) The book seemed more style than substance, and didn’t really present many fresh ideas…just applied an old style to a rather obvious sci-fi topic. And like a lot of GenX fiction, it was unrelentingly dark and overrun with characters who make me wish megacorps of the future would dump their medical waste in the town reservoir, in hopes that at least a LITTLE Prozac would find its way into their damaged psyches. 

    Gibson is great when it comes to the colorful metaphor, but I think sci-fi is the literature of ideas, and there just aren’t that many in this book. 



  22. For short stories I only like the ones on Escapepod, except the Hugo nominees.


  23. Michael Habif // July 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm //

    I agree with startide rising by david brin. The book throws so many big and interesting questions at you and has the universe brin creates has so much potential for an epic space opera. But instead Brin gives us a bunch dolphins stuck on a planet. Huge disappointment.

    Another is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Most of the action in the book seems like a cheesy soap opera at times. An example would be when the technician is about tell the history teacher the bad news and (oh no!) he falls over sick. Then for the next two hundred pages the book clearly shows that the scientists sent her to the wrong time period but then attempts to surprise you with this fact later on. Furthermore, almost every character in the book is annoying and I could have cared less for the girl stuck in the time of the Black Plague. I also could not get into To Say Nothing of the Dog. I understood what Willis was trying to do with the novel but it just wasnt for me.

    I am very pleased to that Willis’ new book Blackout has received many poor reviews. It is like everyone has come to their senses and is seeing that Willis is not the pen name for God. Willis, much Fritz Lieber, is a terribly overrated novelist. However, I do love Lieber’s short work and maybe I will find the same with Willis.

  24. Grumpy Mr. Gruff // July 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm //

    On the Hugo/Nebula winner’s list, it’s a toss-up between A Fire Upon the Deep (reading this almost kept me from picking up my favorite Vinge book, A Deepness in the Sky) and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (super-dry historical urban fantasy, blah).  In the former I was expecting Vinge’s hard sci-fi.  My expectations may’ve ruined the book for me; Vinge’s Zones of Thought premise was too weird and I was craving a good hard sci-fi read.  The latter book dragged on and on.  Dammit, less Georgian parlour discussion and more plot-moving action!  It was a high-brow book, but too full of itself.

    The 09 Nebula went to Windup Girl, the book that tied with Boneshaker as my least favorite two nominees.  They’re on the list for this year’s Hugo.  Fingers crossed that the not-too-great City and the City gets it.  Maybe it can be chalked up to a bad year for SF in general.

  25. Stranger in a Strange Land.  It took me three attempts to get through the book and when I finally did, I found I just didn’t like it.  Odd because I liked just about everything else Heinlein has written.

  26. Althoguh I thought The Wind-Up Girl didn’t live up to the hype, the Award-winner I enjoyed the least was Downbelow Station.  V-e-r-y s-l-o-o-o-w.

  27. almost hated Hyperion. thought it was the least original sf novel i’d ever read.

    got painfully bored with Stranger in a Strange Land, Ringworld (actually, every winner piece written by Larry Niven, which is, to be honest, the only stuff i’ve read by him), Foundation’s Edge, and, to a lesser degree, Rendesvouz with Rama.

    also, Double Star was a great disappointment (i loved Starship Troopers).

    there are some stories i can’t even remember reading, but that i know i read, so i think they were also disappointing. Spider Robinson’s “By Any Other Name” is one, some George Martin, some Gordon Dickson…

    well, i could go on, and i’m just starting the list of the eighties…

  28. This is a target-rich environment.

    Short Fiction:

    Scott Conner’s “Guide Dog”

    Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”

    James Morrow’s “Bible Stories for Adults #17: The Deluge”


    Exluding things I couldn’t finish, <b>Falling Free</b> is pretty bad; I think I actually liked it slightly less than <b>They’d Rather Be Right</b>, which is less a novel than a crass attempt to pander to every single one of John W. Campbell’s prejudices. (However, I have not read <b>Hominids</b>, which many people tell me is unbelievably bad; having read <a href=”″><b>Starplex</b></a>, I can believe it.)


  29. Crap. Forgot Foundation’s Edge.

    Also forgot that staright HTML doesn’t work here…

  30. Yeah I would agree with Hyperion, to me it all felt kind of forced and ‘different’ for the sake of being different rather than trying to tell a good story.

  31. Dave in Tucson // July 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm //

    The Man In The High Castle–Phillip K Dick.  Certainly an interesting premise, but… I’ve never really liked Dick’s style of story telling.

    Pretty much  anything by Samuel Delany.  I’ve tried a few times, never got past the first chapter of anything he’s done.  Same for Gene Wolfe.

    Saturn’s Children–Charles Stross.  I like some of his other stuff (Accelerando, Iron Sunrise, Halting State).  Well enough that I slogged through to the end of SC even though I really started to actively dislike pretty much every character in the book by the time I got to the end…


  32. I know i’ll probably get my sci-fi fan license revoked for saying this, but i really never liked Heinlein, with a few exceptions.


    My absolute least favorites would be anything by Delaney.   That might not actually be fair because I never managed to finish any of them.

  33. Mervius // July 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm //

    I loved the Connie Willis books mentioned above, but then nearly despised Locus Award-winning “Passage.”

  34. moonglum // July 16, 2010 at 11:31 pm //

    American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

    Totally average, boring, and old hat. Zelazney did mythology made manifest sooo much better.

    I liked Fire Upon the Deep, though. Weird physics, but still interesting. I prefer Alister Reynolds, but he didn’t exist as a writer of space opera back then.



  35. joshua corning // July 17, 2010 at 12:34 am //

    Hyperion not only the worst Hugo winner i have read but also the worst Sci-Fi novel i have gotten to the end of.

  36. Bob Blough // July 17, 2010 at 1:29 am //


    I’ve read every winner and nominee in the Hugo and Nebula Award History –  both novels and all short fiction (except  a few from from this year’s Nebula list – have them on my “to read shelf”) and often I think the one that should win doesn’t.  But actively bad?  I’d hveto mention these: 

    “They’d Rather Be Right” is accepted as the worst – which is too bad because Mark Clifton wrote some wonderful short stories.  But this novel is the worst.

    I really hate (and have read them both twice) “Starship Troopers” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”  Love “Double Star” and “Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” however.

    I think Asimov’s “The God’s Themselves” (except for the second novella) is crap as is “The Fountains of Paradise” by Arthur C. Clarke.  Which brings me to one of the worst stories given a hugo – “Gold” by Asimov – a re-telling of that middle novella in “The God’s Themselves”.  I was aghast to read it as  a “new” story .

    Also, this is probably heresy but I really dislike “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card.

    There are others I disagree with, but could  still see something in them.  Lot’s of the short fiction dismays me – but I could go on too long about that.

    Agree about the worst nominee being “Black Genesis” by L. Ron Hubbard but some hefty novels are in the running as number 2: “Cryptonimicon” and “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson (love his Hugo winner, though – “The Diamond Age”), “Rollback” by Robert Sawyer, “The Remaking of Sigmund Freud” by Barry Malzberg, “Redshift Rendezvous” by John Stith, “King’s Dragon” by Kate Elliott, “How Few Remain” by Harry Turtledove, “Picoverse” by Robert A. Metzger, “The Pirates of Erzatz (Zan)” by Murray Leinster, “The Mote in God’s Eye” and “Lucifer’s Hammer” both by Niven and Pournelle and finally “The Butterfly Kid” by Chester Anderson.







  37. I’m constantly surprised at how many people like China Mieville.  King Rat was terrible (at the climax, why didn’t anyone think to just cut the power???) and so was Perdido Street Station.  Interesting ideas and settings but the story, dramatic tension, and characters are so poorly implemented I’ve come away severely unimpressed.  I’ll probably never read another novel of his no matter the praise.

    Read Ringworld and the first sequel a few years back.  Maybe it was just too dated for me to appreciate, but it seemed no better than silly pulp sci-fi from the 60s.  Nivens work is pretty derogatory towards women as well.  They kind of are stupid idiots that get in the way unless the main character is actively doing them.

    Brasyl by Ian Macdonald–I had a lot of trouble finishing this book.  I think the world and characters Macdonald creates are great, but it took so long for the story to really start (and then it promptly ended).

  38. End of the World Blues – By Jon Courtnay Grimwood


    The most sanitised cyberpunk I have ever read.

  39. fheywood // July 18, 2010 at 12:58 pm //

    I can think of a lot of award winners that didn’t appeal to me for whatever reason – and although some I came back to in later years and enjoyed, some I know I never will.

    But I don’t think I’ll contribute to this “let’s trash a bunch of brilliant SF writers” thread.

  40. Stephen // July 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm //

    I did like Boneshaker, that was a fun read.  Could easily see it being made into a popcorn type movie.  Fire Upon The Deep I read and really did not enjoy it, was a struggle to finish it and I was glad I was done.  Not completely terrible but I thought was rather pretty boring.  

    Ringworld was pretty neat, I understand how it would have been slightly ahead of its time back in 1970 when it first came out, but reading it for the first time in 2010 I really could have skipped it in hindsight.  I really do not think it brought much to the table in terms of anything new.  Granted, being that the book is 40 years old already I can see how its probably unfair to compare it to new books since some of the newer stuff is more than likely based on some of the ideas Ringworld came up with.  I tried reading Return To Ringworld and gave up.  I hate giving up on books, but I am really too slow of a reader to finish them all.  

    Wind Up Girl was another I found to be pretty dull.

  41. thought the Windup Girl was boring, its premise unsupportable and predictable in most ways. just didn’t see why everyone was so excited about that book.

    Boneshaker? god that book was terrible – actively looked at it to see if i could maybe return it to borders after i finished it.

    also never finished American Gods – got bored and dissinterested and just never picked it back up. ah well.

  42. I have to agree with Sensawunda up top.  I found “Spar” to be one of the most disappointing winners I’ve ever read.  There are a lot of books and stories that win that I don’t think deserve it, but a lot of the time, those books/stories seem to have something going for them.  I don’t see that with “Spar.”

    But, I’ll stop being so negative…even though the point of this post is to do just that…

  43. Anything by Robert Sawyer – absolutely AWFUL writer. Catherine Asaro’s pretty embarrassing as well.

  44. Martin S // July 24, 2010 at 12:58 am //

    I didn’t really like American Gods by Neil Gaiman too, no way award material.

    And I seem to have the same problem with Mieville that some other commenters here have: I loved the world he build, with all those details and how alive it felt in Perdido Street Station – but the story just wasn’t interesting enough, so far I didn’t manage to finish it.

  45. Fred Collignon // July 24, 2010 at 11:02 pm //

    I’ve read all the Hugo and Nebula award winners except this year’s.  The worst by far was the Nebula winner, The Quantum Rose.  None of the others were close, but the 2nd least favorite was the 2nd Nebula for Vonda McIntyre, but it was a good read.  I agree the  Hugo, They’re Always Right, was the least good in that award,but I admired it once half way through. I’ve never found a bad Hugo.  Generally, I’ve found the Hugos far better in quality and in reading enjoyment than the Nebulas.  I gather the Nebulas have much more politics, but it’s a smaller inbred group – the “professional” writers.  Sadly to me, many of the bloggers are listing as the worst my favorite science fiction reads that I recommend to all interested students and friends.  Obviously, and not surprisingly, there’s a wide divergence in interests and tastes among readers in this field.

  46. “Fire Upon the Deep” was good, not great–same with “Rainbows End”–but “A Deepness in the Sky ” was outtatheballpark awesome.

    To some of the above commentators who didn’t grok ” The Left Hand of Darkness” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”–wow, take an english class or something.  Two of the best novels, in any genre, ever written.

    After many, many years of reading I generally don’t read “bad” novels, no matter how many copies they may have sold or how many awards they may have won.  wtf is this “Harry Potter” you are speaking of?

    Also, Asimov was a great science writer, but his fiction was always sleep-inducing.  All of it.  Even Foundation.

    Plus, Neal Stephenson won for his weakest novel, “Diamond Age” and not “Snow Crash”?  wow

  47. To the above-poster: What drugs are you taking, to call Asimov’s workw–works from perhaps THE greatest science-fiction writer of the 20th century–“sleep-inducing.” They are nothing of the sort. I would suggest you try to approach them again, with a better frame of reference.

  48. I’ve read almost half of the Hugo and Nebula award winners since 1966. Ender’s Game was the worst and Lord of Light was the best. I admit that I have intentionally avoided reading poorly reviewed books.

  49. Some others:

    Red Mars – too boring
    Nova – no nova


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