2010 Reading List

This was a great year for reading. A lot of excellent fiction was released, and I felt like I got a lot of good out of my year from the books that I picked up. Here’s what I read.

1- A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan (1-14)
This was a fantastic history on the Cold War, one that I wish I’d come across while I was working on my project. I’ve revisited it a couple of times since the start of the year for other projects.

2 – The Forever War, Joe Halderman (1-28)
This was a book that had come highly recommended for years, and I really enjoyed how it was more about people than guns and brawn.

3 – The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel (2-8)
During the Second World War, a team of specialists were dispatched around Europe to save art from the effects of war, the focus of this book. It’s a little uneven, but tells an astonishing story.

4 – We, John Dickinson (2-19)
This was a crappy book. Amateurish and poorly written.

5 – Coraline, Neil Gaiman (2-24)
I watched the movie around the same time, and I’ve long like Gaiman’s works. This was an excellent YA novel.

6 – Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, John Scalzi (3-4)
Scalzi’s Whatever blog is always an entertaining read, and this collection takes some of the better entries into a book of short essays. Thought-provoking, interesting and well worth reading.

7 – Shadowline, Glenn Cook (3-6)
With all of my complaints about military science fiction not being all that accurate or conceived of, Shadowline is one of the few books that have made me eat my words – there’s some well conceived ideas here, and this reprint from Night Shade Books was a fun read.

8 - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jeminsin (3-19)
N.K. Jemisin’s first novel came with a lot of buzz, and I really enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It’s a very different blend of fantasy than I’ve ever read.

9 – Spellwright, Blake Charlton (3-29)
Spellwright was probably one of my favorite reads of the year – it was fast, entertaining and thoughtful – a good fantasy debut, and I’m already eager for the sequel.

10 – The Gaslight Dogs, Karin Lowachee (4-21).
Karin Lowachee’s Warchild was a favorite book from my high school years, and I was delighted to see her back after a long absence. This steampunk novel is an unconventional one, and a good example for the rest of the genre to follow.

11 – The Mirrored Heavens, David J. Williams (5-17)
David J. Williams contacted me after I wrote an article on military science fiction, and I went through his first book with vigor – it’s a fast-paced, interesting take on military SF and a bit of Cyberpunk.

12 – Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu (5-28)
Charles Yu distinguished himself as a talented writer with his short fiction, and his recently released collection shows off some great stories.

13 – Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (6-1)
Bacigalupi goes to Young Adult fiction with Ship Breaker, an excellent read set in a post-oil world. He gets a lot of things right with this: the surroundings and trappings of the world aren’t always important, but the characters and their struggles are timeless.

14 – Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (6-8)
This much-hyped book was one that I avoided for a while, but I blew through it after I picked it up. It’s a fun, exciting read in the quintessential steampunk world that Priest has put together. I love this alternate Seattle.

15 – To A God Unknown, John Steinbeck (7-15)
Steinbeck’s book is a dense one that took me a while to read through while I was reading several books at one. It’s an interesting take on biblical themes and on faith itself.

16 – American Gods, Neil Gaiman (7-25)
This was a book that was a pick for the 1b1t movement on twitter (something I hope returns), and I was happy for the excuse to re-read this fantastic novel. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and this time around, it was fantastic to have that reaffirmed.

17 – The Burning Skies, David J Williams (7-25)
The followup to the Mirrored Heavens, this book took me a while to get through because it was dense and intense. A decent read, but it proved to be a bit of a chore to get through.

18 – How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (7-30)
This was probably one of the best science fiction books that I’ve read in a long time. It’s brilliant, well written, interesting and part of the story itself. It’s an outstanding take on time travel as well.

19 – River Of Gods, Ian McDonald (9-2)
I’ve long heard of Ian McDonald, but I hadn’t picked up any of his stories before now. His take on a future India is a fantastic one, and can’t wait for more of his stories. River of Gods broke the mold when it comes to western science fiction: the future will be for everyone.

20 – Clementine, Cherie Priest (9-3)
This short novella was a bit too compact for the story that it contained, but it demonstrated that The Clockwork Century is something that can easily extend beyond Boneshaker.

21 – Pattern Recognition (9-11)
William Gibson’s book from a couple of years ago, taking science fiction to the present day in this thriller. It’s a fun read, and I’ve already got the sequels waiting for me.

22 – New Model Army, Adam Roberts (9-22)
This military science fiction book had an interesting premise: what happens when crowdsourcing and wikiculture comes to warfare. The book is a little blunt at points, but it’s more thought provoking than I thought it would be.

23 – Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman (9-26)
An excellent anthology of short stories from all over the speculative fiction genre. There’s some real gems in there.

24 – Andvari’s Ring, Arthur Peterson (9-26)
A translation of norse epic poetry from the early 1900s, this book looks and feels like a book should, and is one of those bookstore discoveries that I love. This was a fun book that has roots for a number of other stories in it.

25 – The City and The City, China Miéville (9-30)
One of my absolute favorite stories of the year came with this book, my first introduction to Mieville. This murder mystery set against a fantastic background has some great implications that go with the story.

26 – Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigaulupi (10-22)
A paperback version of Bacigalupi’s stories was released towards the end of the year, and I have to say, it’s one of the more disturbing reads of the year, but also one of the most excellent.

27 – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (10-31)
I did a little reading on Washington Irving and found an e-book of this while I was going through a bit of a fascination on the gothic / horror genre. This book does it well. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a bit more research on the author and his fiction this year.

28 – The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman (11-8)
The television show was an interesting one, and I finally was able to catch up on the comic that started it. They’re very close to start, but that changes after a couple of episodes. Some of the characters were spot on.

29 – Baltimore, or,The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola. (11-8)
This was a fun read: Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden both have some great storytelling abilities when it comes to horror fiction, and their take on vampires is an excellent one.

30 – Dreadnought, Cherie Priest (11-10)
Cherie Priest had a really good thing with Boneshaker, but Dreadnought was a bit of a disappointment. It didn’t have the same flair or feeling that the first book did, but it did do some things that I’d wanted to see in Boneshaker. It’s an interesting series, and I’ll be interested to see what happens next.

31 – Lost States, Michael Trinklein (11-13)
This was a fun book that I came across in a local store on states that didn’t make it. It’s a fun, quick read with a number of fun stories.

32 – The Jedi Path, Daniel Wallace (11-14)
While I thought this book wasn’t worth the $100 for all the frills and packaging, this is a really cool read for Star Wars fans, going into some of the history and methods of the Jedi Order.

33 – Horns, Joe Hill (11-22)
This was the other absolutely fantastic book that I read this year (reading it as an ebook and then from the regular book) from localish author Joe Hill. The story of a man who sprouts horns and a small, emotional story about his life. It’s an astonishing read, and one that will hopefully be up for a couple of awards.

34 – Doom Came to Gotham, Mike Mignola (11-24)
This was a fun, alternate take on the Batman stories in a steampunk world. Batman + Mignola’s art = awesome.

35 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling (11-28)
36 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (11-29)
37 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling (12-1)
38 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (12-3)
39 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (12-12)
40 – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling (12-15)
41 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, J.K. Rowling (12-18)
I’m not going to talk about each Potter novel in turn, but as a single, continuous story, Rowling has put together a hell of a story here. Outstanding characters and storylines, and the works as a whole are greater than the sum of their parts.

42 – The Magicians, Lev Grossman (12-27)

The logical book to read after the Harry Potter series was Lev Grossman’s novel that can be described as an anti-Harry Potter. It’s a fun novel the second time through, and good preparation for his followup this year.

43 – Brave New Worlds, John Joseph Adams (12-31)

The review for this book is coming shortly, but I have to say, it’s one of the best anthologies that I’ve ever read.

On to 2011!

Geek Things of 2010

This was possibly one of the best years that I’ve had in a long time. There were geek things abound, in all facets of life: in literature, film, current events, science, music and people. 2010 was a fantastic year for me. In roughly chronological order, here are the notable geek moments of the year:

This year seems to have been the year for newly-published authors. Nora Jemisin exploded out of the gate with her book The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first of a trilogy in an excellently conceived of world, one where gods and humans interact and where there are consequences for those who were chained, and those who held the chains. I was particularly blown away by this book, and look forward to diving into book two: The Broken Kingdoms sometime in 2011.

Canadian Science Fiction author Peter Watts became a bit of a martyr in the eyes of many in the science fictional world when he was thrown into jail for resisting arrest at a border crossing earlier this spring. News of his imprisonment and the details of his predicament spread like wildfire, spurring outrage. Watts has since been convicted and released, and won’t be able to travel into the U.S..

I trooped in February with the 501st in New York City to support a product launch. What a surreal day: who would have thought of the combination of Star Wars, Snoop Dogg and Adidas?

The long-running UK show Dr. Who saw its latest rejuvenation in the form of Matthew Smith this year, along with show runner Steven Moffat, who’s penned some of the best Dr. Who episodes that I’ve seen in the latest run. I only was able to catch a couple of the new episodes, but what I saw, I really liked.

One of the films that was a sure train wreck from the trailers was Clash of the Titans. It’s decent, mindless monster porn with action and special effects, but for a regular movie? It was pretty bad, and the slapped together 3D helped show audiences that it’s a stunt on the part of movie studios to rake in more money per ticket. Where 2009 saw Avatar as the big bright moment for 3D, 2010 saw that it was only good when natively filmed with the extra dimension, rather than slapped on with additional CGI.

Another new author broke into the ranks of the published, author Blake Charlton, with his first novel, Spellwright. While the novel wasn’t perfect, it was enjoyable, and I’ve had the good fortune to talk extensively with him over the course of the year (while he splits writing time with his medical education). This book in particular draws upon Charlton’s own experiences with Dyslexia, which allows the book a unique feel when it comes to the mechanics of world building and magic. Bring on book two, Spellbound, due out this year. !

One of my favorite authors from high school / camp, Karin Lowachee, returned from several years of absence for a new book titled The Gaslight Dogs, one of the better Steampunk books that I’ve read thus far. Set in an unconventional world to the North, Lowachee weaves together some interesting characters and settings in an entertaining novel. I eagerly await the sequels for this planned trilogy.

Earlier this year marked a major uproar when amazon.com attempted to flex its muscles against Macmillan publishers, who had been pushing for higher prices for its new hardcover books. Amazon pulled the books from the publisher, which outraged a lot of people – authors who found that their books weren’t being sold for a couple of days before they were all put back into place.

April 20th saw a massive explosion on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig when a plume of natural gas came up the well that they were drilling. The resulting oil spill lasted for three months and involved a major engineering and environmental effort to cap and contain the oil spill. Undoubtedly, the effects will be seen for years to come in the environmental and economic health of the region. The containment of the well itself is an achievement in and of itself, with an apt description of the process as similar to the Apollo 13 rescue.

Vermont singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell gained quite a lot of attention with her concept album Hadestown, a post-apocalyptic folk opera retelling of the legend of Orpheus. It’s a mouthful, but an extensive cast of notable singers (such as Bon Iver and Ani DeFranco) join her in an impeccable work of music, story and art. This album was absolute perfection.

In July, at the urging of a former college professor, I drove down to ReaderCon, a regional science fiction convention that boasted an impressive list of authors and fans. Unlike most of the conventions that I’ve been to, this was devoted extensively to literature, and while there, I was able to meet a number of authors that I’ve long admired (and learned of there) such as Charles Stross, Allen M. Steele, Elizabeth Hand, Blake Charlton, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Forbes, N.K. Jemisin, and quite a few others. I had an absolute blast this year, and I’m eagerly awaiting the trip next year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to visit some other similar cons this year.

I didn’t catch this until later in the year, but Predators was a film that was released that had been one that I’d wanted to see in theaters. Where the first film was an 80s action film with too much brawn and no brains, this film was a smart, dynamic science fiction thriller, one that vastly improved the franchise. As io9 said, it’s the perfect B movie. I’m inclined to agree.

While it was a sparse year for good genre films, one stood easily out amongst the others: Inception. It was a fantastic balance between action and story, with a thought-provoking storyline that dips its feet into the science fiction pool just as much as needed to push the story forward, exploring the mind and the possibilities of imagination. It’s on my slowly growing list of top science fiction films ever.

1B1T proved that Twitter could be more than mindless, as Wired Magazine ran a poll to see if they could get all of twitter reading the same book. The result? Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, broken down into an easy reading schedule – it made for a great excuse to re-read the book and talk to a number of people on a global scale.

Another new author, Charles Yu impressed me with his short story collection, Third Class Superhero this past spring and doubly so over the summer with his book, How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, a brilliant time travel story that stands out from most books that I read this year. Yu’s book becomes part of the story itself, and can easily be compared to the works of Douglas Adams with its dry humor.

Last year, Paolo Bacigalupi blew me away with his novel The Windup Girl, and this year, his follow-up YA novel Ship Breaker could easily fit into the same post-oil world. Global warming is rampant, people are exploited, and with that in the background, there’s a very basic and interesting story that pulls the reader through. Bacigalupi’s a guy to watch, and this book demonstrated that he’s no one hit wonder.

Apple launched their new device and product category this year, the iPad, and when a really good deal came through earlier this year, I bought one, something that I wasn’t expecting to do. So far, it’s easily the best thing that I’ve bought all year long. It’s an amazingly good computer, and it works very well with what I’ve long used a computer for, while being more convenient than a laptop. It’s a multi-purpose device that I’ve been able to use extensively over the course of the year, for writing, reading, web work, music and games. For my first Apple early adoption, it’s come off far better than my first iPod.

This year’s Hugo Awards presented a rare event: a tie for Best Novel: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and China Mieville’s The City and The City (more on that in a moment) both received the award in addition to every other award that they scooped up along the way. (Quite a few!). Moon also picked up the movie award.

The animated Star Wars Clone Wars TV show has been popular, but for me, up and down in quality. The opening episode was impressive, but from everything that I’ve seen beyond that, it’s become an exceedingly boring show. When the ads point to the passage of an arms bill in the Republic senate as the exciting bits, you should probably reevaluate. Hopefully, it’ll get a bit better soon.

When it came to television shows that disappoint, LOST came to an end is year with a finale that ended the show, but one that didn’t wow me like it should have. There was too much lost when it came to possibilities, and it felt more like an ending and an epilogue that wasn’t needed.

Masked is a superhero anthology, featuring a number of authors taking on the super powered and the caped. I’ve yet to finish it, and while I’ve been enjoying most of it, there are only so many stories of a Batman clone before I have to question the need for the story to be included.

One of the better anthologies that I read all year, Stories: All New Tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio is an impressive book that looks to the idea that stories should be things that demand that you turn the page to find out what happens next. This collection of stories, which boasts an impressive list of contributors, is one that I really enjoyed reading through – there’s a bit of every genre here, from science fiction to fantasy to horror to crime fiction. Worth picking through and reading for all of the excellent stories.

Military science fiction stories are fascinating reads – I’ve read a number of them this year, and by far, the most thought-provoking was Adam Robert’s New Model Army. The premise is one that’s very modern: what happens when the wiki-culture moves into warfare? While I think that a lot of what would have happened in the book would never come to pass, it does have some interesting ideas behind it, and by far, was one of the better books that I read all year.

Iron Man 2 would have done well to capitalize on the military science fiction stories that the first was known for: a tight, interesting and well conducted special effects spectacular. The trailers looked awesome, but the film just fell flat: it was overblown, nonsensical at times, and not nearly as good as the first one. It did have its good parts, such as Sam Rockwell’s zany character, and some fun action scenes.

Kirby Krackle completely rocked my world this year. Their sound is pretty basic when it comes to the actual music, but they rocked it pretty well. In a world where there a few songs that are so passionate about Green Lantern or zombies, their album E for Everyone really stood out for me, and it’s an awesome bit of music to bounce around to. These guys are the new voice of fandom.

The first big cancellation from SyFy earlier this year was Caprica, which launched with a great cast of characters and a whole lot of potential, this precursor to Battlestar Galactica was a show that really needed to be trimmed down and to find its focus a bit. Numerous storylines, characters and themes all running together worked well, but the writing was on the wall early on: the show could have been just as good or better than BSG, (and was, at points), but its ratings couldn’t sustain it. It’s a real shame: the show could have been better than BSG.

In it’s second season, Stargate Universe continued to impress me, and it’s recent cancellation has me far more upset than the axing of any other television show that I’ve watched (even Firefly, although I saw that post-cancellation). A step up for the franchise as a whole, this season of Universe was brilliant, well acted and had a lot going for it, and I hope that the next ten episodes will see some good closure and storytelling. Still, maybe it’ll be one of those shows that was awesome and never had a chance to get bad, much like Firefly.

One of the absolute best books that I read this year was China Miéville’s The City and The City, which was up for a number of awards this year, including the Hugo. I picked this up after the hype started to go, and it lived up to, and exceeded my expectations by a long margin. Wonderfully plotted in a well thought-out world, Miéville crafts a murder mystery with a fantastic background, and puts to paper one of the best books of the year.

The mathematician who was responsible for some major advances in mathematics and theory died earlier this year, Benoit Mandelbrot. Also the subject of a Jonathan Coulton song: Mandelbrot Set.

Stephen Moffat ruled the Dr. Who universe for a while now, but I liked his take on Sherlock Holmes far more. Set in the modern day, Sherlock is a retelling of the story, with Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. A far better take on the character than Robert Downey Jr.’s in the film adaptation (which was also quite fun), Sherlock was fantastic from start to cliff-hanger. I already can’t wait for Series 2.

In the wake of Sherlock, Martin Freeman was selected to play Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, which is finally moving forward, along with what looks like a great cast. It’s still a shame that Guillermo del Toro isn’t directing though.

Zombies have been all the rage for a while now, and (no pun intended) have been done to death. The Walking Dead falls into a couple of categories with me. The pilot episode was fantastic – one of the better takes on a man waking up to find civilization gone, but it’s a story that really doesn’t add much to the canon, and while it had its interesting points, it’s something that I’m more or less indifferent to. We’ll see how Season 2 goes.

While Zombies have been very popular, 2010 saw a bit of a decline in the hysteria over Vampires, while Steampunk came in as a solid genre. The Steampunk craze has gotten some major attention: Sherlock Holmes took on a couple of Steampunkish elements, while Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) in the show Castle became a convert as publishers such as Pyr and Tor have published a number of books in the genre. It’s something that’s here to stay, that’s for sure.

When it comes to Pyr books, one of their offerings for the year that I read earlier this was Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, which took place in a futuristic India. The Dervish House is his latest book, taking place in a futuristic Turkey. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m loving its rich attention to culture and interconnected storyline.

Going back to geek music, a friend of mine, John Anealio, turned me towards Marian Call earlier this year at ReaderCon, and when she came through Vermont on her 49 state tour this year (an impressive feat in and of itself), I was able to catch her at Montpelier’s Langdon Street Cafe for a geeky set of music and a couple of quick words with Marian. She’s a lovely singer, one who’s popular for all of the right reasons. Geek music was something that I focused on quite a bit this year, putting together a playlist that’s almost 700 songs long, and while doing so, came across a strange trend with some of the more higher-profile stuff that trends more towards Geek Pop music. Songs like G33ks and G4m3r Girls by Team Unicorn were almost unlistenable earworms, laundry-lists of popular geek things without the real soul of “geek” stuff to begin with. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s more of it as geek stuff gets more and more popular.

Speaking of John Anealio, he’s someone to keep an eye on, and someone that I befriended earlier this year at ReaderCon. John’s an excellent geek musician, with some fantastic songs released earlier this year, such as ‘Stormtrooper for Halloween’ and ‘I Should Be Writing’. Kirby Krackle might speak for fandom, but Anealio speaks for the fans themselves. I can’t wait to see what he comes up next.

Another outfit to keep an eye out for is Symphony of Science, which continued to release a number of tracks of auto tuned scientists (namely Carl Sagan) with a wonderful collection of music that speaks to science and the wonders of the universe.

One of the films that I’m practically drooling over in anticipation for is Battle: Los Angeles, which can best be described as Independence Day meets Black Hawk Down. The early buzz from San Diego Comic Con was good, and the trailer showed that there was going to be some excellent looking action. The film is due out in March of 2011, and I really hope that it’ll live up to my expectations.

While I panned iFringe when it first came out, but I’ve grown to love it and really rued my words: with Stargate Universe off the air, it’s easily the best science fiction show on TV right now, and while its ratings have dropped and it’s been moved to Friday nights, I’m hoping that the show will continue onwards. This season has seen less of the blood and gore, but has an excellent alternate universe storyline that’s heating up. I can’t wait for new episodes starting up later this week!

One of the coolest things to happen in the realm of space exploration happened was the Deep Impact Probe, launched on 2005 to take a look at the 9P/Tempel comet. The probe released an impactor earlier this year and took a number of high resolution pictures as it passed by and analyzed the impact to see what it was made of.

The other top book of the year was easily Joe Hill’s second novel, Horns, mixing popular culture, horror iconology and religious allegory together in a story that absolutely gripped me and blew me away while I was reading it.

It was a sad day in December when Leslie Nielsen passed away. Airplane is one of my favorite comedies, while Forbidden Planet is easily one of my favorite science fiction films. He will certainly be missed. Right on the heels of Nielsen was Irvin Kershner, who directed the greatest of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a shame that his work was never quite matched with the franchise. Ironically, his film was one of 25 preserved by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry.

On December 9th, the private space firm SpaceX made history when it launched it’s Falcon 9 rocket into orbit carrying a dragon capsule. It became the first private firm to orbit the earth and safely return, joining a small number of countries who have accomplished the same thing.

When it comes to dragons, a film released this year that I only just caught was How To Train Your Dragon, a great kids film with a fun story and some good graphics. At the same time, I can also recommend Toy Story 3 for many of the same reasons – excellent storytelling and a positive end for that franchise.

Wikileaks occupied most of the news coverage for the last part of the year as they released thousands of diplomatic cables in addition to their leak of classified military dispatches written over the course of the Iraq / Afghanistan war. The leaks demonstrated the power of the internet: and the necessity to keep secrets a bit more secure. Given the lack of ability of the British government to keep track of their own files, I’m surprised that they haven’t been the target of more leaks.

I first saw the original Tron earlier this year in anticipation for Tron: Legacy, and I came out of the theaters with a film that met my expectations. It was a blockbuster that was fun, but it could have been so much more than it was. With Disney working on sequels and a television series, I’m not sure that the franchise is going anywhere, but box office results have been somewhat lax, given all the advanced hype and marketing for the film.

That ends out the year. It’s been an impressive one, and one that marked a couple of milestones for me: I’ve written, talked to, read and watched so much in the speculative fiction genre, and I’m loving the immersion. There’s a long list of people to thank for it: Annalee Newitz, Charlie Jane Anders, John DeNardo, John Anelio, Patrick Hester, Aiden Moher, Blake Charlton, Charles Yu, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Forbes, Jim Ehrman, N.K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, David J. Williams, Christie Yant, John Joseph Adams, Karin Lowachee, Megan Messinger, Bridget McGovern, Brit Mandelo, Scott Eldeman, Blastr, everybody at io9, SF Signal and Tor.com, people who commented and e-mailed me because of what I wrote and everyone who encouraged my writing and reasoning over the year. Most of all, Megan, for everything. It’s been the best year for me to date, and I’m looking forward to an even better 2011.

A Couple Random Things

This past weekend was the Wizard World Boston comic convention, held at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston, something that the New England Garrison has been planning for almost a year now. This has been quite the year for conventions for the group. We were at the Boston and Granite City Comic Cons earlier this year, then Celebration 5, and now this one, with SupermegaFest coming up.

Generally, I’m not a fan of conventions. I don’t like standing around, waiting for people to take pictures of me with them. I never really feel that it’s a good use of my time and so forth, but this one had a bunch of options to allow us to really interact with the general public: A Jabba the Hutt puppet that people could pose next to, and a shooting gallery, where we raised around $840 for Autism Speaks, a charity that the NEG works with closely.

The weekend was also Megan’s first time at a con, along with the added bonus of getting to see some of the people from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m not a huge fan, but she and some of her friends enjoyed it – We inducted James Marsters into the 501st as an honorary member.) Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin – at $60, they were too expensive to really talk to), Doug Jones’ Manager (Jones himself was talking to someone else when I was around) and Christopher Golden, who wrote the book Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which I coincidentally picked up at the same con.

The opportunity to take part in the shooting gallery was definitely the highlight, because I could act out a bit and be really ridiculous with it. Kids, somewhat unsurprisingly, are really good shots with dart guns, and I was hit in the face and head a lot. Something about a Storm Trooper falling flat on his face seems to get people laughing, so that made it worth it. I’ve got a couple of pictures here.

I’ve been doing a bit more reading lately, and I’ve got a stack of really good books stacked up next to my bed. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories is the book that I’m carrying around at the moment, which is a fantastic collection from a fantastic author, while I’m also reading the aforementioned Baltimore, which is proving to be a really cool read (and with some awesome illustrations from Mike Mignola), Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought, which is proving to be fun (but not quite as much fun as her prior book Boneshaker, but better than Clementine), Masked, edited by Lou Anders, which is a fun, but somewhat dense anthology of superhero stories, and Nights of Villjamur, by Mark Charan Newton, which is proving to be a slow read, and unfortunately, not as good as I was led to believe. (It’s interesting thus far though). I’ve got a couple of other books on the horizon that I really want to read before the end of the year: Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House and China Mieville’s Kraken.

I’m thrilled at this pile of books, and some of the other ones that I’ve read already this year – The City and the City (China Mieville), Pattern Recognition (William Gibson), Stories (edited by Neil Gaiman), Spellbound (Blake Charleton), How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Charles Yu), Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (N.K. Jemisin, and the River of Gods (Ian McDonald, just to name a few, because I’ve fallen into company in person and online that have pointed me to some fantastic books and I feel that I’ve learned and grown as a reader and writer because of them. There’s been some duds of reads this year, but overall? I’ve been pulled into fantastic world after fantastic world.

Still, reading is something that I enjoy, and I’ve been finding that I really don’t enjoy the entire book-blogger environment that I discovered. Too much drama, complaints about how SF/F isn’t perceived as a legitimate genre, sucking up to authors and so many reviews a week / month that I can’t believe that people can read and retain the contents of dozens of books a year. It’s not for me, and I’ve found that I’ve got little patience and interest in it. I’ll stick with my moderate pace and go from there.

John Scalzi posted up a fascinating essay earlier today, Today I Don’t Have To Think About…, which fully and utterly puts one into one’s place. After being amongst and listening to a number of coworkers, family members and friends complain about how things are going in their lives and the drama that ensues, this is a really good thing to read, because there are people who are a helluva lot worse off than me in the world. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, but it’s worth remembering. I’ve taken the essay and printed it out. One copy went onto my desk’s wall. I’m not sure where the other nine will end up, but they should be read.

Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu

A forthcoming book caught my eye last month: How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. It had a slick cover, and I got my hands on a copy to review. While I was waiting, I did a bit of background research on the author, coming up with only one other work to his name, Third Class Superhero, a collection of short stories. Yu, who was selected by the National Book Foundation as one of the ’5 under 35′ authors to watch in 2007, and seems to be a promising writer to keep an eye on, demonstrates an exceptional skill throughout Third Class Superhero.

The book is a collection of eleven short stories, each of which covers a broad range of subjects, but each with a very poignant style that goes right to the heart of contemporary and speculative fiction. Reading over the book, there’s clearly an edge towards speculative fiction, but if anything, it’s the subtle touches and even the style of the prose that pushes the book over the genre edge, allowing Yu to tell a number of stories that are highly relatable in any setting.
The title story, Third Class Superhero, is by far my favorite, one that looks to a struggling superhero, something that would fit well in the worlds created for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog or the UK show No Heroics. It’s a story that’s singularly human, demonstrating the temptations and dreams of the more average, overshadowed by others who are more skilled. A couple of other stories, such as 401k, and Man of Quiet Desperation Goes on Short Vacation look to some of the problems in a modern, commercial world, where we are so connected with everybody, but so alone at the same time.

What struck me far more, however, was not necessarily the content of the stories, but the style in which they were laid out. Thinking back to the stories that I read, the only word that can adequately sum up the books is ‘Surreal’, something that seems to be incredibly difficult to accomplish for any writer. Moreover, where it’s difficult to get subject matter across in such a fashion, the presentation itself is generally difficult to accomplish, and Yu manages to accomplish both excellently, using the stories, characters and content in most of the book to specific methods where tailored towards specific ways in which the story was written, by changing the tense and even physical appearance of the story to suit his needs. The result is content and the physical delivery of the content that go towards approaching specific themes that the writer is trying to convey to the reader.

What Yu does here is what every story, (long or short) should be doing: presenting a problem, in a fictional setting, that allows for someone to relate to and examine said problem outside of the regular contexts. This way, they can come across avenues of thought that might be different with the differing contexts. Allegory comes in any number of means, and I’ve often thought that the science or speculative fiction genres offer one of the more unique ways for people to address problems that they face, either with major, global events, of intensely personal ones that they might otherwise not see an answer to.

The result is a very good collection of short stories, and the praise that Yu has received for already, with only a Third Class Superhero under his belt is very noteworthy indeed. The stories themselves were very interesting – if a bit on the pretentious side of things – and go very much to the heart of critical and contemporary literature. In anything, the series of stories, plus Yu’s approach to speculative fiction (subtle, pointed elements, supporting the story, rather than the other way around) leave me very excited to see what’s in store for his upcoming How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe in September.

The To Read List

My reading list has been build up again with stuff, some of it fun, some for review and some for research and general interest. I just wish that there were more hours in the day.

Currently reading:
American Gods, Neil Gaiman – This is a book that I read a number of years ago, and while I enjoyed it, read it over a couple of months/years, and probably didn’t get as much out of it as I am now. Selected as the first 1 Book, 1 Twitter crowdsourcing movement, the book is being read piecemeal over a couple of weeks, and I’m sticking with a couple of chapters a week to stick to the schedule. Thus far though, I’m really enjoying it, and it’s bringing back memories from when I first read the book.

The Burning Skies, David J. Williams – The follow up to the first book in the Autumn Rain series, The Mirrored Heavens, that I just reviewed, The Burning Skies continues the trilogy. I’ve only made it about a chapter or so of the way in, but I’m hoping to finish it up a bit faster than the last one.

Third Class Superhero, Charles Yu – This book is one that I’m burning through, and is a collection of short stories by acclaimed author Charles Yu. He’s about to release his first novel later this year, (which I’ll get to in a moment), but I wanted to read up on him, given the praise that’s been heaped on his short fiction already. So far, Third Class Superhero is a surreal, interesting and highly entertaining collection of stories.

Next to Read:
Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife, John Nagl – This book is a work on how militaries learn from their prior battles. A particular interest of mine at the moment is this very thing, especially as a historian – how do militaries learn from their past mistakes, and how to they use those lessons to prepare for the upcoming challenges? This book is quite highly acclaimed, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Ambassadors from Earth, Jay Gallentine – One of the latest books in the Outward Odyssey series, this book focuses on unmanned space systems. Given the quality of the research and stories that this series is telling, I have high hopes for this one.

The Machinery of Light, David J. Williams – The third and final book in David J. William’s Autumn Rain trilogy, coming out tomorrow, and this book looks to finish up the series. Unfortunately, this one is somewhat contingent on me finishing Burning Skies. I am looking forward to finishing up the series.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu – This book is one that I’ve been really looking for. Yu, as noted before, has previously released Third Class Superhero, which I’m still working through. This book, which deals with time travel and parallel universes, looks to be like it’ll be quite a bit of fun, and hopefully, a little surreal like his first collection of stories. It’s his first novel, and already, it’s getting some good reviews from people, when the book isn’t out until September.