A new high water mark for me in terms of reading things this year. When you can never, ever sleep, you can get a lot of reading done. I have a GoodReads account now too, but I’ve been doing this blogside for five years or so, so I’m keeping it up. I started to dig through the “best sci-fi/fantasy of all time” lists and I’m discovering tons of absolutely unmissable stuff that is loads better than the Scalzi-esque crap that everyone holds up nowadays. This year, I’m not adding any collections of articles or professional books I didn’t read cover to cover (which was many).
In 2008, I read 31 Titles, 7,967 Pages, 21.77 Pages/Day
In 2009, I read 18 Titles, 4,960 Pages, 13.59 Pages/Day
In 2010, I read 36 Titles, 11,574 Pages, 31.71 Pages/Day
In 2011, I read 30 Titles, 10,163 Pages, 27.84 Pages/Day
In 2012, I read 45 Titles (!), 14,791 Pages, 40.52 Pages/Day
Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (526)
I like the sci-fi detective genre. I wish there were more good entries in it. This book came highly recommended but I found it to be simultaneously full of holes and full of unlikely explanations/excuses. The secondary characters were so unmemorable that I had to keep searching back to remember who such-and-such was when they were inevitably brought to the fore as a “twist”. It wasn’t terrible, but I think my expectations were just far too high. There were a lot of cool Ideas (capital I) in here, but the execution here just was not my style. I hear he is writing the Syndicate reboot… so…. yay?
Among Others by Jo Walton (302)
This is a highly nontraditional story, but I can’t help contrast it with Ready Player One (below). Both have obsessive subculture fans as their protagonist, but Walton’s is far more believable. She gets the rock-sure opinions and the highly conflated sense of being so right. The sci-fi references aren’t just for marking off a nostalgia checklist like they are in Ready Player One, it is actually for character-building. The plot itself in this is much weaker, but because I actually care about the characters, it matters less. The plot is almost weak on purpose–the really juicy events seem to be written off as prologue and it serves the theme of being grounded in the real versus being trapped in the unreal.
Babel-17 by Samuel Delaney (158)
Some interesting ideas percolating around an uninteresting plot.
Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock (124)
I know that this was published in the 1960s. But I couldn’t help feeling the same feeling I got when reading Lord of the Rings; that I was reading a pitch-perfect cliche. Now, obviously, LotR was the original and all my other related experiences were the cliche, but that didn’t change that I didn’t get much out of reading it. I feel the same way here: time-traveler meets an important historic figure who turns out to not be what history says he is. I’ve seen that before. Moorcock may have invented it for all I know, but that doesn’t change my reaction to it. Thankfully, it was novella-length. I don’t think editors would let you get away with that today.
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (416)
A great Science Fiction conceit, but the author doesn’t really seem to be concerned with developing his conceit. Or his plot. Or his characters. The first third is a truly awful satire of the rich carried along only by the promise of an interesting world beyond what the main characters are doing. It honestly felt a lot like Hemingway-rich people doing things that are hard to care about. The final third of the book is more interesting than anything before and a twist certainly pays off, but like most capital-L literature authors, he doesn’t feel like the audience is entitled to any sort of conclusion. There’s books that are “meh” because it is tough to care about them. Then there are books like this that are “meh” because there is so much good stuff hidden behind all the distractions.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller (334)
Amazing. I seem to have stumbled upon a theme in the past year of sci-fi books where the Catholic church plays a major role (Hyperion, Grass, this). Really one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read.
The City and the City by China Mieville (312)
Loved it. But not Mieville’s best, unlike the consensus opinion.
Clementine by Cherie Priest (208)
No Boneshaker, this. Pulpy steampunk airship pirate nonsense. Not much in the way of twists or setbacks. I hear her newest one has the same problems, so I may be done with her. Entertaining though to a point. No real strong feelings.
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett (240)
Been hearing about Discworld for ages, but this didn’t hook me at all.
Costume Not Included by Matthew Hughes (384)
I like Hughes a lot, but I found this one utterly pointless.
A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (1040)
A bad book in this series is better than average for any other series…
The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (176)
A Heart of Darkness by any other name.
Emphyrio by Jack Vance (222)
Truly great speculative fiction is a mix of Big Ideas, Little Ideas, Plot and Character. This is one of those rare works that has all four. I’ve been told I’d like Vance again and again and they were right. I’m adding a bunch to my to-read list.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (324)
Perhaps a little overhyped. Certainly miles better than Old Man’s War which rips this off left and right without any of the cleverness. I probably won’t read any others in the series. I liked it, though.
The Futurlogical Congress by Stanislaw Lem (149)
Completely batshit insane, but in the good way. Probably the highest per-page density of made-up words reflecting actual new ideas. Still though, nuts.
Grass by Sherri Tepper (540)
Fantastic. A little too neatly resolved for my tastes, but some of the best plotting I’ve ever read. I’m excited that, like Mieville’s Bas-Lag stories, the sequels are only in the same universe and are unique stories, not just a serialization of one story.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (400)
Excellent. I had seen Haibane Renmei a few years ago and it quickly became my favorite anime of all time, or at least is somewhere up there. Haibane is based on half of this Murakami book. Having started and put down 1Q84, I may go back to it now that I know what I’m getting into.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (374)
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (391)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (390)
It’s a thing.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons (481)
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons (528)
Endymion by Dan Simmons (736)
The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (720)
Hyperion cheats a bit. Instead of having to keep one plot moving for the length of the book, it really strings six novelettes together with a small overarching tale. However, the tales themselves have some interesting parallels that keep them from being just disparate stories in the same universe. What struck me here was not just the plot and speculative twists (There were many ideas worthy of their own stories just touched briefly) but the beautiful storytelling for each. Sol Weintraub’s story is not highly original but it is highly engaging. Simmons leaves enough mystery about the Shrike monster to keep the pages turning while giving the seven pilgrims their own interesting decisions and goals. My biggest disappointment is that the first book flows into The Fall of Hyperion. The climax of Hyperion is barely a climax at all. Fall is really the second-half of the book and raises the stakes significantly. Taken as one work, one of my favorite sci-fi books of the last decade.
Endymion and Rise of Endymion is a welcome continuation of the universe. It is a bit hand-wavy and overwrought at times and filled with way too many deus ex machina (both literally and figuratively) but the ending was so compelling that I forgive it its trespasses.
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin (176)
I’m not entirely sure why this is classified as sci-fi, but it is on the “sci-fi classics” lists all over the place. It seems to me to be more magical realism of a kind. Fantastic and obviously the basis for a lot of dreams-as-reality movies that have come since. Deep in theme and powerful without sacrificing plot.
Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (296)
I had issues with this one. Loved the premise that doesn’t actually show itself until late in the book, but felt it took a long time building.
Monster by A. Lee Martinez (295)
Lots of fun. Did Ugly Americans steal from this?
The Mount by Carol Emshwiller (240)
Excellent. A good core conceit and tons to say about ambition and freedom. May reread soon.
The Other by Matthew Hughes (240)
As in previous lists, I’ll buy pretty much anything Hughes does, especially if it is an Archonate story (which this is). The story starts very slowly and at that time suffers from Hughes’ completely uninteresting characters. Imbry could be Hapthorn for all the differences they share. For a con-man, he is relatively well-behaved. Hughes’ matter-of-fact tone and dialogue put a lot of people off but the mysteries he creates are so compelling that I always enjoy the ride. Having said that, after the rough start, this story gets pretty good with some non-obvious twists and then ends with the possibility of a sequel, which I will likely jump on. It isn’t Hughes’ best, but it is still a lot of fun.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (372)
Fanservice. I’m sure it will be a Major Motion Picture for Gen-X and Gen-Y kids to spend their coin on soon.
Redshirts by John Scalzi (317)
Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky (145)
Oddly enough, I started reading this a day after playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for the first time without knowing that the latter was highly inspired by the former. An amazing novella about living with the unexplainable. Surreal, yet identifiable.
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (190)
Very dry. I guess this is what they call “hard” sci-fi. Water mine down a bit. Characters were a bit hard-to-believe. But the “hook”, a damaged interstellar ship that cannot decelerate and must go faster and faster towards the speed of light while leaving everything that they could ever know behind is strong enough to carry the book through.
The Twelve by Justin Cronin (568)
Alternates between moving scenes with clever wordplay and massive sections of detail that end up being irrelevant. The Passage was one of my favorite books of 2010 for its unique version of post-apocalypse (albeit absolutely trite version of apocalypse), but The Twelve felt like half an amazing book and half filler. Remember how good Heroes Season 1 was when watching it live? The possibilities. The subtle connections? This is Heroes Season 3. I didn’t not like it, but compared to its predecessor, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Etyan Kollin (479)
Oscillates between brilliant and unbearable, with a little bit too much Hyperion thrown in. It’s probably the first book that thoroughly fleshes out a political system without making it either a utopia or dystopia to slam through a political point.
Wool: Omnibus by Hugh Howey (540)
First Shift: Legacy by Hugh Howey (238)
Second Shift: Chaos by Hugh Howey (268)
Wool is a wonderful otherworldly post-apocalyptic short story that is then expanded into full novel form in Parts 2-5. While 1 was tight and self-contained to wonderful effect, the later parts get a little more into tropes and vary in quality but add up to an overall compelling experience.
In First Shift, Howey pulls back the curtain to so many of the unanswered questions from Wool… and it is pretty boring. Sometimes there is magic in a world with loose ends. There’s almost nowhere to go from here. It’s like he spent a ton of time building an interesting world with interesting mysteries and then he reveals all the mysteries. It’s like spoilers.
By Second Shift, Mr. Howey is clearly cashing in on the goodwill generated from his first collection of Wool novellas. Second Shift doesn’t stand alone as an interesting story. It’s almost like Wool fanfiction at this point. The inciting incident really doesn’t take place until more than halfway through the book and by that time I was really aching for it to get interesting. With the mystery of the series extinguished, there’s really little carrying reader interest forward. Every smaller-scale mystery that gets posed in this resolves in the most obvious manner possible. There was one that he leaves open (for the next one, I assume), but by then it is far too late. Howey was able to make Mayor Jahns and Deputy Marnes interesting and heartfelt characters in a small amount of space in Wool 2 but he has mostly lost that ability in this “Shift” series. There are few characters here to care about or even wonder about. There’s little to no subtext that is anything different from the first five. Everything here is just forgettable.
I’ll probably keep buying them because I feel trapped by the series, hoping it will go somewhere as interesting as it had promise to.
100 Things Every Designers Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinsheck (242)
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinsheck (272)
Nice little summaries of findings on presentation and design. Not too much I didn’t already know, but a nice accessible reference.
Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater (144)
False Idol: Barack Obama and the Continuing Cult of the Presidency by Gene Healy (92)
Really just an addendum to Cult of the Presidency which is really the best politics book I’ve read in a decade. Not like the crap demagoguery you get from the right or left. It continues to examine the 44th president under its thesis as Cult did for up to W. Bush.
The Libertarian Vote by David Boaz, et al (224)
Mostly poll data and reprints from Cato’s site. Not a lot of original information.
Mindset by Carol Dweck (288)
Every now and again I find a pop-psychology or just general pop-non-fiction that really speaks to me. Last year, it was Drive. This year it was Mindset. An incredible theoretic tool for educators and general perfectionists like myself. I read a lot in this genre but rarely finish. This one gets highest marks, but like many in its field, can be distilled down to a chapter and probably retain the same message.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks (256)
Reading horror novels before bed doesn’t give me the heeby-jeebies like it does some people (my wife), but this book was absolutely terrifying. It’s a collection of case studies of the oddest edge cases seen in the author’s long neurology career, from the titular doctor who was seemingly fine but could not process the shape of things into its representational object to people with full cognitive capability yet who could not control their limbs to a man who was convinced his leg was stolen and someone put a disgusting foreign leg on him to replace it. I know that comparing humans to computers is flawed, but I couldn’t help but when reading this to compare this conditions to obscure software bugs that end up teaching you more about the systems you have written.
Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy (208)
I was a bit worried about this. Anna is known for, how should I say, being a bit bombastic. None of that (okay, maybe a little drips in from time to time where the editor’s wand missed) is present here in this incredibly personal and earnest entreaty to stop letting games only be produced by giant teams for the lowest common denominator. The message is delivered well with great supporting references and asides. It is fairly bite-sized; I read it on a flight from SFO to LAX coming from GDC FWIW, but that doesn’t mean the elaborations on the central theme (make some damn video games right now) aren’t necessary or meaningful. Good stuff.
Social Game Design by Tim Fields and Brandon Cotton (223)
Full of good throwaway stats, but utterly depressing in that it treats gameplay as irrelevant and users as only important insofar as how much money can be extracted from them or how many people they can invite in order to extract money from. Great for mercenaries.