Tag Archives: Reading

2017 – Looking Forward

As Hugo Award season begins with the opening of nominations, I’m thinking about my plans for the year ahead – which include attending Worldcon for the second time (after Loncon3 in 2014), where I’ll get to see the Hugos given out first-hand.

I don’t travel much, but 2016 was a bigger year for me than usual – I spent a week in Norway, I attended Nine Worlds Geekfest in London (which was a really good con, that I wish I’d managed to write something about here), and I took my usual trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. In 2017 things are looking similar – I’ll be heading to Scandinavia again, this time to attend Worldcon 75 in Helsinki – unfortunately that doesn’t leave me much time for sightseeing, but I’m going to hang around an extra couple of nights to see the city. I’ll be going back to Nine Worlds, because it really was that good last year. And I’ll probably be going to Edinburgh yet again.

Of course, there’s one issue with these plans: They’re all in August. That is going to be one long and expensive month, which is why I’m not 100% certain about the Edinburgh Fringe this year. The rest of my year will be uneventful, I expect. The first few months of 2017 I’ll be trying, as usual, to get as much Hugo-eligible novel reading done as I can in time for nominations (nominating for the Hugos is a big deal if you care about the results, by the way – in the past categories have been swept by a small handful of voters, though this year there are new rules in place to help with that), which I’m further behind after my shorter-than-usual 2016 reading list.

As for the rest of the year, well. I’ll keep reading, keep gaming, keep watching great films and TV, and maybe even get around to writing about some of it here. More often than last year, at least.

Read in 2016 – Comics

Here are all the comics I read in 2016. I should probably organise this list better than “roughly in the order I read them”, but here it is for now. I’ve tried to do better about crediting people here – particularly colourists and letterers – but it’s not easy on some books and there’s often not enough space to list everyone.

Alias omnibus – Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth, and others
The Sandman: Overture – Neil Gaiman, J. H. Williams III, Dave Stewart & Todd Klein
Kaptara vol 1 – Chip Zdarsky & Kagan McLeod
The Wrenchies – Farel Dalrymple
Red Sonja vol 3 – Gail Simone, Walter Geovani, Simon Bowland and others
The Private Eye – Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin & Muntsa Vicente
The Wicked + The Divine vols 3 & 4 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles, and many others
The Wicked + The Divine 1831 special – Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans
Prophet vol 4 – Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Ron Wimberly, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Dave Taylor, Ed Brisson, and many others
Catwoman vol 7 – Genevieve Valentine, David Messina, Gaetano Carlucci, Lee Loughridge & Travis Lanham
The Fade Out vols 2 & 3 – Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Lazarus vol 4 – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Tyler Boss, Santi Arcas & Jodi Wynne
Batgirl vols 1-3 – Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Bengal, Maris Wicks, Serge Lapointe, Jared K. Fletcher, Steve Wands, and many others
Black Canary vols 1 & 2 – Brenden Fletcher, Annie Wu, Sandy Jarrell, Pia Guerra, Moritat & Lee Loughridge
Welcome Back vol 1 – Christopher Sebela, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, Claire Roe, Carlos Zamudio, Juan Manuel Tumburus & Shawn Aldridge
Secret Six vol 4 – Gail Simone, J. Calafiore, and many others
Secret Six (New 52) vol 1 – Gail Simone, Ken Lashley, Dale Eaglesham, Tom Derenick, Drew Geraci, Jason Wright, Carlos M. Mangual, Travis Lanham & Wes Abbott
Thors – Jason Aaron, Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Karl Story, Dexter Vines, Marte Gracia, Israel Silva & Joe Sabino
Injection vol 1 & 2 – Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire
Giant Days vol 2 & 3 – John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin, Whitney Cogar & Jim Campbell
Gotham Academy vol 1 – Becky Cloonan, Cameron Stewart, Karl Kerschl, Mingjue Helen Chen, Steve Wands, and others
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vols 3 & 4 – Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, and others
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe – Ryan North & Erica Henderson
Sex Criminals vol 3 – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Rat Queens vol 3 – Kurtis J. Wiebe, Tess Fowler, Tamra Bonvillain & Ed Brisson
Saga vol 6 – Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Paper Girls vol 1 – Brian K Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson & Jared K. Fletcher
ODY-C vol 2 – Matt Fraction Christian Ward, Chris Eliopoulos & Dee Cunniffe
Ms. Marvel vol 5 – G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, Nico Leon, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring & VC’s Joe Caramagna
Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat vol 1 – Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams, Natasha Allegri, Megan Wilson, VC’s Clayton Cowles & Joe Sabino
The Vision vol 1 – Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire & VC’s Clayton Cowles
Monstress vol 1 – Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Clean Room vol 1 – Gail Simone, Jon Davis-Hunt, Quinton Winter & Todd Klein
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson & Clayton Cowles
Velvet vol 3 – Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Elizabeth Breitweiser & Chris Eliopoulos
Black Panther vol 1 – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, Laura Martin & VC’s Joe Sabino
Pretty Deadly vol 2 – Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios, Jordie Bellaire & Clayton Cowles
Losing Sleep – Joe Latham & Luke Hyde
Egg – Amy & Oliver Murrell
Deeds Not Words – Howard Hardiman & Sarah Gordon
Mockingbird vol 1 – Chelsea Cain, Kate Niemczyk, Ibrahim Moustafa, Joelle Jones, Rachelle Rosenberg & VC’s Joe Caramagna
How to Be Happy – Eleanor Davis
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur vol 1 – Brandon Montclare, Amy Reeder, Natacha Bustos, Tamra Bonvillain & VC’s Travis Lanham
Wonder Woman 75th Anniversary Special – Various
Trees vol 2 – Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

Read in 2016

A slow-ish year this time, with my usual rush in January-March (more than half of the list) followed by a big ebb around mid-year. In the last few months all I’ve managed is starting a few chapters of one novel – at least my consistent audiobook progress keeps things moving a little. I blame my starting to play World of Warcraft again in August. I think I’m over it now.

New year’s resolutions: Read regularly, and update this blog more often.

Books

The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin
Radiance – Catherynne M. Valente
Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
Persona – Genevieve Valentine
Black Wolves – Kate Elliott
Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
Testament – Hal Duncan
Signal to Noise – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi
Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders
City of Blades – Robert Jackson Bennett
The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin

Audiobooks

Raising Steam – Terry Pratchett
The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
High Rise – J G Ballard
Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman
The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley
Sabriel – Garth Nix
Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr – Garth Nix
Abhorsen – Garth Nix
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen – Garth Nix
Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: Short Fiction Edition

I don’t read a huge amount of short fiction, but I read a lot more than I used to, usually stories I see linked on Twitter and save to the Pocket app. For the last couple of years I’ve taken to sharing each story I read on Twitter myself, but today I felt like collecting some of my recent favourites into a post.

Before I get to the links, though, I had a thought to share. I found myself thinking this morning that most of the really great short fiction I read, while it’s SFF genre, centres not the genre concepts or the plot, but the relationships between characters, romantic and otherwise. And it occurred to me that this is, in part, what the Sad Puppies were reacting against, way back in the early years of that kerfuffle.

Larry Correia’s stated purpose in starting Sad Puppies was to get award nominations for “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. The second half of that has gotten plenty of attention (there is indeed a large part of this which is a reactionary response to the increase in inclusive and diverse works being recognised for awards, for which see Foz Meadows’ excellent breakdown of where they’re getting it wrong), but it’s more to the first part my thoughts went today. In addition to the diversity backlash, the Puppies often set up a conflict between this “unabashed pulp action” and the supposedly more ‘literary’ work which was appearing on award ballots. And it seems to me that this part of it was about exactly what I observed above: the stories they object to are the ones that do not place action or cool SFnal ideas at their centre, but the interpersonal relationships of characters; where character and relationships are the main throughline and focus.

It does feel like there has been a popular shift toward that kind of fiction in recent years (in novels also – look for example at the popularity of The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Justice), but it’s hard for me to make a solid claim on that. The short fiction market has changed dramatically with the growth of online publishers, and many people – myself included – just did not read much short fiction before that change. I also can’t say what short fiction the Sad Puppy supporters have been reading now or in the past, but having been exposed to their complaints on and off for the last few years, it certainly seems like part of the trigger for their lashing out was seeing award-nominated stories which had their focus in a different place from what they were used to.

Personally, I’m one of the apparent majority who is very much enjoying these stories. Even the weirdest of weird SF is about people in some sense, and human relationships and emotions are a familiar point for readers to hold on to while experiencing the utterly unfamiliar. In addition, SFF concepts are and always have been a great tool for exploring ordinary human issues, whether large-scale social concepts, or just the way two people relate to one another. The small stuff is just as important as the large, and (IMO) can be a vehicle for more emotionally poignant stories.

I guess I’m just not in it for the action.

Anyway, that (long) tangent aside, let’s get to the story recommendations. I can’t say all of these will fit the type I’ve referred to above, but I can say that I greatly enjoyed every one. These have all been read in the last month or so, mostly while I was on holiday (when I did a lot of reading in airports and on planes). Listed in alphabetical order.

Android Whores Can’t Cry, by Natalia Theodoridou, in which a reporter visits the Massacre Market, where people engage in illicit trading of evidence of the government’s atrocities (and then things get much weirder).
Candidate 45, Pensri Suesat, by Pear Nuallak, in which an agender art student struggles with their place at a demanding school.
Infinite Skeins, by Naru Dames Sundar, in which a parent searches through infinite alternate worlds for their missing child.
Meshed, by Rich Larson, in which a talent scout has to convince a young athlete to have a “nerve mesh” installed, but his father objects.
Morrigan in Shadow, by Seth Dickinson, in which the question is posed of whether achieving victory is worth making monsters of ourselves.
The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley, in which a darker and weirder take on Star Trek transporter tech is used for war.
When Your Child Strays From God, by Sam J Miller, in which a mother sets out to find her son, who has taken a strange new drug.
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy, by Saladin Ahmed, in which three brothers are trapped in another man’s story, robbed of their own name and nature.

What I’ve Been Reading – Winter Edition

I started writing this post in March, but I was never quite happy with my summarising of the books. I’ve been in a reading slump and have not finished any reading or writing I’ve done for the last two months. I finally decided to try to finish what I had here and just post it. It took me 10 minutes. /shrug

Since the last time I made one of these posts, I’ve only written about two books on this blog – Seveneves and Radiance – but there are several others I haven’t mentioned. Here are some brief thoughts on all those other books.

Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear
A steampunk western about the residents of a brothel who become targets of a powerful and ambitious criminal after taking in a rescued trafficking victim. Meanwhile, a serial killer is targeting prostitutes in Rapid City, and Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves seeks their help with his investigation.
There’s plenty of wild steampunk invention in this alternate history where “Mad Scientist” is a licensed profession, from submarines to mind control to mech-suit sewing machines, and a lot of action. The main strength of the book however is probably the narrative voice of the protagonist, Karen Memery, who aspires to own a ranch and write adventure novels, and finds herself right in the middle of all this trouble.
I can’t say it’s among my favourites of Bear’s work, but it’s certainly a fun read.

The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin
In a world where frequent major tectonic activity causes devastating “fifth seasons”, some people, known as “orogenes”, have developed the ability to control and cause tremors. Feared and hated by ordinary people, orogenes, once discovered, are either killed or sent to the Fulcrum in Yumenes, to train in captivity to serve the empire.
The Fifth Season tells the story of Damaya, Syenite, and Essun – a child found and taken to train at the Fulcrum; a young women travelling with a powerful orogene to fulfill one of the Fulcrum’s missions; and a woman whose son has been killed and daughter taken by their father, who she now chases after as the world begins to end around her. There’s more going on than there seems, however, with mysteries surrounding the strange beings called Stone Eaters, the floating Obelisks, and the truth behind the origins and methods of the Fulcrum.
This complex novel fits together these three stories from three times in a way that gradually peels back the surface of this society and begins to show us the mysteries underneath, and something of the truth to come. The story of Syenite is the most complete here, as she travels with Alabaster, the most powerful Fulcrum orogene, and begins to learn the reasons for his bitter cynicism toward the empire. It’s between this and Damaya’s storyline that Jemisin addresses the slavery of the orogenes, and how the empire keeps the worst truths of its treatment of them hidden away. Essun’s story, on the other hand, seems mainly to lay groundwork for the future of the trilogy; if there’s one place the book suffers, it’s in being the opening volume of a series. Overall this is an excellent book, and very much a series to watch.

Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
Published as part of Tor.com’s new novella imprint, Binti tells the story of a young woman who is the first of the Himba people to be accepted into the most prestigious university in the galaxy. Leaving without the approval of her parents, she sets off on a spaceship journey to Oomza University – only for things to go wrong when the ship encounters a hostile alien species.
Binti is about identity, communication, and understanding – in particular, it’s about respecting one’s heritage and culture while forging your own path, and discovering who you are as an individual. It’s a charming story with a strong lead character who solves problems through empathy.

Persona – Genevieve Valentine
The United Nations meets beauty pageants. Persona shows us a future where every country has a Face, an individual who serves as a mix of ambassador, personification, and figurehead. Faces are the public representatives of their governments, their images and lifestyles tightly controlled; celebrities whose reputations are tied closely to those of their countries. When an assassination attempt is made against Suyana, Face of a tiny South American nation caught between competing powers, she ends up having to rely on photographer Daniel – an aspiring member of the illegal paparazzi – to help her uncover who was responsible and find a way to restore her position.
A light and fast-paced political thriller, this didn’t quite match the strength of Valentine’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (one of my favourite novels of 2014), but I still enjoyed it. At the ending I was left feeling that a lot more could have been done with the story, so I was happy to hear that a sequel, Icon, is on its way.

Black Wolves – Kate Elliott
The outsider King Anjihosh has conquered the Hundred, killing the Demons who ruled the country and uniting it under his rule. Decades later, under his grandson King Jehosh, it seems like the peace and unity he created is beginning to fall apart as factions within the palace scheme for power.
As the foreign ruling family impose their customs and faith on the country, this fuels discord among the people. King Jehosh himself is no longer sure how much power he really holds. Dannarah, the king’s aunt and formerly Chief Marshal of the giant-eagle-riding Reeves, sees the systems of the Reeve Halls being torn apart and remade in dangerous forms by her great-nephews. Kellas, once the most trusted Captain of King Anjihosh and his son Itani, is brought out of retirement to help Jehosh, but he is part of another, larger agenda. They and others become caught up in the plots that are tearing the Hundred apart.
This is a big, complex epic fantasy, where every character has their own secrets and you’re never really sure who can trust who. It’s hard to summarise, with so many characters and so much going on. What I can say is that it was one of the most engaging and well-crafted epic fantasies I’ve read, full of great characters (the back-cover copy – and the very long prologue – focuses on Kellas, but it tends to be the other characters, mostly female, who carry the story), and written with a clear awareness of issues of prejudice regarding race, gender, religion, and culture.
The Black Wolves trilogy is a follow-up to an earlier series, however you do not need to be familiar with those books to follow the plot of this one – I have not read the Crossroads trilogy, but based on the strength of Black Wolves, I intend to.

Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
Zacharias Wythe is the new Sorcerer Royal of England, but faces hostility from the magical establishment in his role – Zacharias is black, a former slave freed and adopted by the previous Sorcerer Royal, Sir Stephen Wythe, and trained in magic in an effort to prove to the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers that people of his race are just as capable of magic.
On a visit to a school for “gentlewitches” (which specialises in teaching young women how not to use magic, which is considered unladylike) he encounters Prunella Gentleman, an orphan of unusually powerful magical ability, and seizes on the idea of training her in order to demonstrate the capabilities of women – just as she seizes on him as a means of escaping her current life and finding a better station for herself in London society. Together they end up dealing with assassination attempts against Zacharias, the efforts of a Malaysian witch to stop British magicians supporting persecution of her people, and the unexplained closing off of Faerie and dwindling of magical power in England.
The novel is written in a style that mimics the period, but with a willingness to address Britain’s colonialism, and the ugliness of race and gender prejudice. It’s been earning a lot of praise and award consideration, and I can see why.

Archivist Wasp – Nicole Kornher-Stace
In a post-apocalyptic setting where ghosts wander the world, Wasp is the Archivist, whose role is to capture these ghosts and from them try to learn anything she can about the world before. The ghosts, however, do not talk – until she encounters one strange spirit, a soldier who seeks out Wasp’s help in finding his former partner. Their journey together will lead Wasp through many questions and discoveries about who she is and where she came from.
Archivist Wasp is a journey-through-the-underworld tale with a very original spin, and woven within it is the touching science fictional story of the ghost soldier and his partner. Both sides are ultimately about finding your own identity, and escaping the roles that others have shaped you for.

*

In addition to the above, I’ve gone through a number of audiobooks, but I’m having a harder time shaping my thoughts on those. I’ll leave you with these for now. I’m currently reading Testament by Hal Duncan, which is doing some very interesting things with its reinterpretation of the gospels, but has taken me a very long time to get through as the Bible can be somewhat dry.

Radiance by Catherynne M Valente

In a universe where the worlds of our solar system are close, and every one of them is habitable, humanity left the bounds of Earth in the nineteenth century, establishing itself across all the planets and their moons. This expansion was fuelled by the discovery of callowmilk, a substance extracted from mysterious creatures in the seas of Venus called Callowhales; their milk provides humanity with much of the nutrients it needs to survive beyond Earth. The cities of Luna, the Earth’s moon, became the centre of the nascent cinematic industry; an industry that remained largely silent and monochrome, held back by the exorbitant fees charged by the Edison Corporation for use of their patents on sound recording and colour film.
A filmmaker, Severin Unck, disappears during production of a film about the unexplained destruction of a Venusian colony. Radiance is this universe’s attempt to make sense of what happened, through her films, through recordings of her life and those who knew her, and through the attempts of her father, the legendary director Percival Unck, to tell her story.
It’s a novel that at times feels like a complicated puzzle, presenting pieces of information, telling Severin’s life out of sequence, and circling in on the events that occurred in the village of Adonis – events tinged with weird horror, of which you made gradually aware. There are shifts in tone along the way, through noir and gothic and fairy tale narratives, each taken up and discarded as Percy Unck attempts to find the shape of his film. And it’s this element that makes it the most interesting – the knowledge, repeatedly made clear, that everything in the book is told at one remove; second hand or interpreted by the mind of a filmmaker.
The story of Anchises St John, sole survivor of Adonis, attempting to discover the truth about Severin is not reality, but the plot of Percy’s film. Scenes from Severin’s movies, which are documentary and very personal, we are assured are heavily scripted and rehearsed. Even Percy’s home movies are suspect, as we are told of how he would have his family re-enact events until things were just right. There was a point, around two thirds of the way through the book, where I became very aware of the unreliability of everything I was being told, and I assumed the book would ride this ambiguity all the way to the end, providing no solid answers and leaving the explanations a matter of interpretation.
I was a teensy bit disappointed, then, when the final sections of the book not only offered up an explanation, but seemed to confirm that this explanation was the correct one. It was a very neat and tidy conclusion. This is not to say it wasn’t satisfying, however; the ending takes all of the pieces, all the clues layered throughout the text, and brings them together to show you how they all fit, and the solution to the mysteries is a weird and wonderful bit of worldbuilding in itself.
In all, I found Radiance a fascinating and entertaining read, even if it didn’t quite end up where I would have expected. It’s a fun book, one that rewards close reading, and quite unlike any other I’ve read. If the idea of a book that mixes pulpy planetary sci fi, cinema, mystery, and unconventional storytelling appeals to you, definately check this out.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

(This isn’t exactly a review, as I’m trying to be fairly relaxed and brief in my thoughts here. I always have trouble writing up my thoughts on books, and am trying to make it easier.)

I don’t usually read hard science fiction (I generally don’t read all that much sci fi in general), but Neal Stephenson is an author I’d seen a lot of talk about over the years, and his latest novel Seveneves was getting some positive buzz, so I went ahead and got it.

Seveneves is about what happens after the moon breaks up. How it happens doesn’t really matter to the story – it’s an unexplained phenomenon, a mysterious Agent that strikes the moon and breaks it into several pieces – because this is a story of how civilisation might survive the catastrophe. It’s a near-future setup, not quite our current day; this is a world where we have captured an asteroid and attached it to the ISS (a development that allows it to survive falling debris from the former moon), and where genetics and robotics technology are both a little more advanced. But apart from those few things, it attempts to tackle how humanity might find a way to survive in orbit when they know the earth is about to become uninhabitable.

There’s a lot of technical detail in this novel, going into how every part of this survival scheme works, backing everything in real science. Because of this Seveneves can be a little dry in places, but I was surprised by the way Stephenson was still able to make this a compelling read. It’s an extreme survival story, with a lot of science, a little politics and some action, and though dense it moves along pretty well. The main appeal of the book is not so much characters as it is the presentation of problem and solution, and the worldbuilding that results. (That isn’t to say there’s a lack of compelling characters; that would be untrue, and selling the novel short.)

That worldbuilding takes full control in the final section of the novel, which is set five thousand years after the initial disaster, and shows humanity as it is beginning to return to the earth’s surface. I found this the least enjoyable part of the story, to be honest, as it often felt like its purpose was to show off the fantastic technologies Stephenson had extrapolated from the earlier parts, and the unusual ways he’d come up with for humanity to develop. I found the ending itself a little abrupt, as if he had finished giving us the tour of all the ideas he had come up with, and that was it. I’m being a little unfair to the book there – I can see the intent; it ends on a note of hope, at a point where the reader can see a the potential future of the earth and wonder on how it will work out – but since the actual plot of the final section was slow-moving and somewhat predictable, the thought that it was only there to showcase the author’s worldbuilding was forefront in my mind.

All in all, I did enjoy Seveneves – the ideas were fascinating, and Stephenson knows how to keep the infodumping readable and occasionally compelling. I still feel like I’m selling the book short; it’s the work of a skilled author after all. If you’re at all interested in the ideas of how humanity could survive in space, this is a book worth reading.