What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I haven’t blogged about books since April(!) and that was about a book I read in January, so I think I need to get back on top of that. Long gone are my days of Book-A-Week, which I was never going to manage to sustain. Anyway, there are a lot of things I’ve been wanting to talk about and not getting round to, so I thought I’d throw up a shorter post about them here before the tumbleweeds start rolling through.

These are the books I’ve been reading since early August:

The Eternal Sky Trilogy, by Elizabeth Bear
I have tried to write a longer post about these books, but keep getting stuck. An epic fantasy trilogy set in a world inspired by central Asia, these three books – Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, and Steles of the Sky – are very much worth picking up. Great, complex characters; a setting that contains a wide diversity of cultures and peoples; interesting mythology and magic (each culture has an entirely different sky, different gods, different magic, and all of it is real and true simultaneously); and an excellently written and plotted story. The trilogy, as a complete work, will probably take a slot on my Hugo ballot next year.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer
The final volume of his Southern Reach trilogy (after Annihilation and Authority, which I also hadn’t written about), probably VanderMeer’s strongest work to date. A work of weird science fiction with something of an environmentalist theme, these books about the mysterious Area X, and the Southern Reach organisation that studies it, are difficult for me to describe, except to say that they are strange, beautifully written, and full of mysteries that will keep you guessing at the true nature of everything that is depicted inside. Acceptance provides a very satisfactory closing chapter to that tale, with just enough answers and just enough mystery remaining. This trilogy will also probably make it onto my Hugo ballot.

Lagoon, by Nnedi Okorafor
A science fiction novel about an alien invasion that is really a book about the Nigerian city of Lagos and its people – their different lives, their beliefs, their language, and all that makes Lagos what it is. A lot of dialogue in Lagoon is in Pidgin English, which I found a little tricky to follow at times (I did not notice the glossary in the back until I was done), but don’t take that as a criticism of the book – I’m only a monolingual Brit, and I still found a little confusion worth it for the feel the use of these characters’ natural speech gave the book. An enjoyable read, and a little weirder than I had anticipated. Worth checking out.

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley
I started talking up this book and recommending it around before I even read it. Luckily I was right to do so: This is a really excellent beginning to an epic fantasy series, and it has some of the most original and complex worldbuilding I’ve come across. A world filled with hostile, flesh-eating plant life, where bears and dogs are huge creatures used as mounts, where magic is granted by strange satellites in the sky, and where every 2000 years, one particular satellite appears and brings with it invaders from other worlds. Not only that, but Hurley has created unfamiliar new cultures for each of the nations on this world, from a pacifist, consent-based society with five genders, to a violent matriarchy where men are little more than breeding stock. The strangeness of all of this at once (and more besides) at the beginning of the book can feel a little daunting, but after a few chapters it becomes a fast, compelling read. It is also a pretty violent book, and Hurley seems to like to put her characters through the wringer. Highly recommended – another candidate for my Hugo ballot.

“Scale-Bright”, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
I’ve mentioned it before: Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes really excellent short fiction. “Scale-Bright” is her first novella, and it confirms that she is just as good in a longer format. Gods and demons, romance, family – Sriduangkaew gives us all this in a beautifully written package, one that I very much enjoyed reading. You can guess what I’m going to say: Hugo ballot.

Anyway, those are the books I’ve read since the start of August. I’m not sure what is next – I have big stacks of unread books, and a few of those are brand new releases I want to get to. I will try to write about the things I’m reading here more often.

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Reading Short Fiction

My reading habits have changed a little recently, in that I’ve started to fairly regularly read short fiction. Usually I spend all my reading time on novels; I’ve had a few magazine subscriptions (Electric Velocipede, Weird Tales, Fireside Magazine), but what always happens is after a few issues I start putting them to one side and never getting back to them – I still have years-old issues, unread. I get the Tor.com newsletter and follow them on Twitter, but rarely visit the site directly.

What’s happened now, though, is that I started collecting links people share on Twitter. I’ve been doing it for a while with articles, but now whenever a piece of short fiction is mentioned I save that link in Pocket, too. It can take me a while to get round to reading these – I usually do it on a train ride into Newcastle two or three times a month – but I’ve been really glad to have read this stuff I would have missed otherwise. I’ve only read some of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s stories because I saw links on Twitter, and now I know she’s one of the best writers out there right now.

The interesting thing to me is that deliberately keeping up with publications – whether print or online – has failed for me, and I’ve found myself now reading stories where the venue is irrelevant, where I’m barely aware of which site is hosting the piece I’m reading. I read individual stories, not publications.

Obviously I realise that kind of reading behaviour is bad news for the sites in question – particularly when I do so through an app that mostly just pulls the text and images from the body of the page and leaves out everything else, such as ads. I know I want to support sites that are providing me with this content, but I’m not inclined to want to visit all of these pages on a regular basis and see what’s there – I’ve grown accustomed to just having certain ones picked out and directed my way by names I trust (ie, writers and other book people I follow on Twitter). So I have a conundrum there.

There’s a panel at Loncon3 on the Friday called A Reader’s Life During Peak Short Fiction which looks at things like how people find short stories and pick out what to read in the current environment. It looks like an interesting one, and I’ll be looking forward to it, and looking for insight to apply to my own habits here. Of course they’ve scheduled it alongside the Diversity in Comics panel, which I’ll be disappointed to miss, but oh well.

I’ve rambled on long enough without reaching any conclusions. Now I have to get to sleep. Less than two weeks to go until Loncon3!

(I’m going into Newcastle on Saturday. I wonder what stories I have saved up.)