In the 1980s, 8 out of 10 of the Hugo winning novels were from multi-book space operas. That compares to 1 (arguably 2) out of 11 in the ‘60s; 4 or 5 in the ‘70s; 5 in the ‘90s; 1 in the 00s. In other words, this is the peak of the space opera. Shall we call this "the Star Wars effect"? In the '80s, even as the Cold War flared up again in the early '80s, President Reagan spent more time evoking Luke and Vader than he did nuclear Armageddon. They’re generally pretty good space operas at that, with Hyperion and the Uplift books (and The Snow Queen, for that matter) especially trying to do some different things with unfathomable technologies and aliens to create a fantastic feel.
The Nebula award seemed to go out of its way *not* to give wins to this new wave of space opera classics. They recognized Ender and Startide Rising, and gave an early nod to Bujold, but they also made some odd choices. No Enemy But Time, Falling Woman, and Healer’s War are all of a piece: they’re personal character-driven stories, more fantasy than science fiction, that deal with topical or controversial issues. I’d also say they’re all, to varying degrees, failures that have not aged particularly well.
I always thought of the ‘80s as the era of cyberpunk, but the awards didn’t seem to take much notice. Neuromancer deserved its wide recognition, but other than some glancing references in Hyperion, I didn’t see nearly as much cyberpunk as I expected.
I don’t have a lot of other trends to point to. The awards I’m covering are diverse enough that they’re harder to spot, and there are no clear movements like the New Wave or the ‘70s retrenchment. It was interesting to watch the development of gender in sf over the decade. For several books in a row I noted the lack of strong female characters. It actually started to get ridiculous by ’87 or so. Then, suddenly, there was a wave of sf self-consciously focused on gender, and specifically feminist issues. I don’t know if this is coincidence or the latter is a reaction to the former. Either way, it will be interesting to see where things go moving forward.
Top 5 novels:
Book of the New Sun (kind of cheating, I know – I’d choose Claw of the Conciliator if I had to pick one)
Again, in my opinion, the Hugos do a pretty solid job of capturing the best sf compared to the other awards, though they missed the boat on Gene Wolfe.
Bottom 3 novels:
Top 5 movies:
Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future, Aliens, The Princess Bride
Sorry, sf world, no Blade Runner. It’s up there though.
I actually enjoyed all of the ‘80s films to some extent, so no bottom this time.
I'll probably be back first Monday of the New Year with the beginning of the '90s, unless I find some time after Christmas.