Saturday, January 3, 2015

Year End Book List

I did a midyear roundup, but here's the wrap of the books I read this year:
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen (Fiction, Woman Author, Book Club)
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fiction, Woman Author, POC Author)
  • Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George B. Dyson (Nonfiction, Book Club)
  • Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic (Fiction, Translation)
  • Crossroads of Twilight, Knife of Dreams, Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, A Memory of Light all by Robert Jordan or Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, the end of my Wheel of Time re-read.  (Fiction, SFF) 5 books
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt (Nonfiction, Book Club)
  • Fire with Fire by Charles E. Gannon (Fiction, SFF, Nebula award nominee)
  • King Rat by James Clavell (Fiction, book club)
  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield (Nonfiction)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Nonfiction, Book Club, Woman Author)
  • The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones (Fiction, SFF)
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (Nonfiction)
  • The Martian by Andy Weir (Fiction, SFF)
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Fiction, SFF)
  • The Absolute Sandman Vol 1 by Neil Gaiman (Fiction, SFF)
  • Charlemagne: From the Hammer to the Cross by Richard Winston (Nonfiction)
  • Dawn by Octavia Butler (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author, POC Author)
  • The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (Fiction, SFF)
  • Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl (Nonfiction, Book Club)
  • On Basilisk Station by David Weber (Fiction, SFF)
  • Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (Fiction, Short Stories, SFF) - editors are nonbinary and person of color
  • Swords and Deviltry (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #1) by Fritz Leiber (Fiction, SFF)
  • Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author) 2 books
  • Jaran by Kate Elliott (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author)
  • Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (Fiction, SFF, Book Club)
  • Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author)†
  • Swords Against Death (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #2) by Fritz Leiber (Fiction, SFF)
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (Nonfiction, Book Club)
  • Night's Black Agents by Fritz Leiber (Fiction, SFF)
  • Upgraded edited by Neil Clarke (Fiction, Short Stories, SFF)
  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author, POC Author)
  • Heart of Veridon (The Burn Cycle #1) by Tim Akers (Fiction, SFF)
  • A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author) 3 books
  • Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin (Nonfiction, Book Club)
  • The Three-Body Problem (Three Body #1) by Cixin Liu, Translated Ken Liu (Fiction, SFF, Translation, POC Author)
  • Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (Fiction, SFF, Woman Author, POC Author) 2 books
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Nonfiction, Book Club)

That's 45 books.
Book Club - 8 books
Written/Edited by woman/nonbinary - 13 (9 in the second half of the year)
Written/Edited by person of color - 7 (only male POC are Daniel José Older, co-editor of Long Hidden, and Cixin Liu, the Chinese author of The Three Body Problem) (5 of these came in the second half of the year)
Sci-Fi or Fantasy - 32 (20 second half of the year)
Nonfiction - 9 (3 in the second half of the year)

General observations - basically all of my nonfiction reading came from book club, which I find a bit disappointing. I have good intentions of reading nonfiction, I just rarely pick it up. I dove back into Science Fiction/Fantasy in a big way later in the year. Some re-reads, some new-to-me older reads, some contemporary titles. (I read all but 2 of the currently buzzing titles that I'm at all interested in.  Still want to check out Goblin Emperor and maybe City of Stairs).  I am encouraged that my reading was more diverse in the second half of the year (partly simply because I finished The Wheel of Time)

Standout reading experiences of the year included -

Long Hidden - This kickstarted anthology was simply fantastic.  What amazes me is that every discussion/blog post I've seen about it highlights different stories.  For me, Marigolds, Collected Likenesses and Lone Women were three of the most engaging stories, but nearly every story would stand out as a "best" of nearly any other anthology I've read.

The Three Body Problem - This hard Chinese science fiction was an engaging read that I've been wanting for a while without quite being able to put my finger on.  The science explanations, going into problems of multiple star/planet systems, how a computer works, and delving into some more theoretical physics, encouraged me to imagine how science works.  All of this was presented from the unfamiliar perspective of modern china.  I'm not sure how realistic or complete this perspective is (Ken Liu has me pretty well convinced that looking for a "complete" view of Chinese speculative fiction would be nonsense), but I wrote about how important it was for me to read something that didn't center me.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is a first-contact story with aliens landing in Lagos, Nigeria.  Due to publishing quirks it's not yet available in the US (and I'm going to be very disappointed if this ruins its award chances), but I grabbed the Audible copy, which was a great choice.  The narrators and accents were excellent.  I enjoyed Okorafor's style, but also the interweaving of science and popular culture, the visions of the natural world, and the optimistic tone.  

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was fantastic, as all of the awards, reviews, etc. indicate.  I'd have been blown away by Ancillary Sword had it been anything other than the sequel to Ancillary Justice.

Octavia Butler (Dawn and Parable of the Sower/Parable of the Talents) - I've heard Octavia Butler's name for years now, but hadn't ever read anything of hers.  Dawn was an incredibly good first contact-ish story that raised some very important questions about human identity and power relations.  The Parable books are prophetic dystopias that feel incredibly relevant in the age of #BlackLivesMatter.  I've more or less sworn off dystopias (post I still need to write), but the Parable stories feel like the essential dystopias that should stand up and be cited along with 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale.

Rereading Kate Elliott's Jaran and N. K. Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus has been a great pleasure.  My wife was recently between books and commented that "maybe I'll just read Jaran.  It's so good, which is why I end up reading it twice a year." I think this is exactly right.  I tend not to read for character interactions (one weakness of The Three Body Problem that I didn't even notice until I read some other reviews) but Jaran has a fantastic group of characters interacting in fascinating and delightful ways inside a fully-realized culture.  
When I first read the Inheritance Trilogy I was simply carried away by Nahadoth, who is such a compelling and overwhelming character.  I was actually worried about rereading this series, but it's even more fascinating and rewarding than I had remembered.  Having grown up on Lord of the Rings, Shannara, and The Wheel of Time, the Inheritance Trilogy gives me all of the vast, epic feel I love while simultaneously highlighting so many of the weaknesses in "Epic" fantasy.  I had remembered that Jemisin's gods are so vast and unknowable that they overhang the entire series (and show up every Olympian-ish god out there), but I had forgotten (or just missed) how much the series sets up a privileged group that aspires (literally) to cast the world in it's image and undercuts those notions of universality.  
Both Jaran and The Inheritance Trilogy are things I'll return to frequently, and recommend to anyone interested in speculative ficiton.

I also discovered short stories this year.  I'm rereading the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (an interesting anthology that's definitely showing it's age), read Long Hidden, Women Destroy Science Fiction (another kickstarted anthology, good but with a more uneven fiction selection), and Upgraded from Clarkesworld.  Short fiction is still a struggle for me - there are a lot of outlets and I haven't really worked short stories into my reading patterns, but I've been encouraged enough by what I've found that I really want to read more.

Disappointments - My big disappointment this year was The Martian.  Aaron Roberts' review (and in particular Ian Sales' comment) hits the nail on the head for me - this was so pedestrian as to be both uninteresting and unrealistic.  Man cannot live on potatoes alone.  It does occur to me that I've been wanting to read "hard" science fiction (which for me means stuff that foregrounds science that can be measured, although I realize this definition has some problems) and jumped at The Martian for that reason.  Maybe there's just not much out there right now? Rec me some, please!

Fire with Fire was awful in its portrayal of women, and the obsession with guns was uninteresting for me.  Nebula award nominees will probably not be a reading challenge I try again.  

I may re-read The Wheel of Time again sometime (I think Sanderson actually did a great job salvaging a series that had lost its way), but it's very much lost it's lustre.

Going Forward - In 2015, I do want to read some older "hard" SF to understand where that's coming from.  I'd like to avoid Heinlein and Asimov's Foundation series (which seem to have a lot of bizarre pseudo-social sciences) and find some things more like Hal Clement's Heavy Planet.  I solicited recommendations, but please drop me more.

I'm planning to reread another big epic fantasy series.  I was considering Erikson's Malazan, but I think it'll be Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars.  Likely in conjunction with reading a bunch of Elliott's backlist as well as her three(!) new books coming in 2015 (a collection of short stories, Black Wolves, a new epic fantasy, and Court of Fives, a debut YA novel).  N. K. Jemisin also has a new series starting next year.  My other goal is to dive into short fiction.  I want to read it, understand what's going on with short fiction, and find some more exciting authors.  Finally I want to read more people of color.  Daniel José Older's Half Resurrection Blues drops January 6.  I'm going to retry David Anthony Durham's Acacia, and try Samuel Delaney.  Again I'd love more recommendations!

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