2011 Reading Census

This year has been an interesting reading year for me, fluctuating between a bunch of really, really good books, and a couple that really sucked out any interest that I had in reading at that time, with a number of books in-between that I thought were fun reads. Here’s what I got through in 2011:

1- Grey, Jon Armstrong (1-8)
2- The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (1-21)
3 – Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear (1-23)
4 – Hunger Games, Suzanne Clarke (2-1)
5 – The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (2-4)
6 – At The Queen’s Command, Michael A. Stackpole (2-19)
7 – Mossflower, Brian Jacques (2-20)
8 – Embedded, Dan Abnett (3-7)
9 – Kraken, China Mieville (3-9)
10 – Leviathan Wakes, James A Corey (3-17)
11 – Little Fuzzy, H Beam Piper (3-28)
12 – Fahrenheit 451 Graphic Novel, Ray Bradbury (4-13)
13 – Yarn, Jon Armstrong (4-13)
14 – Welcome to the Greenhouse, Gordon Van Gelder (4-19)
15 – Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi (4-25)
16 – Spectyr, Philippa Ballentine (4-26)
17 – Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh (4-27)
18 – Blackout, Connie Willis (4-30)
19 – Locke & Key, Joe Hill (5-8)
20 – Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins, (5-22)
21 – Deathless, Catherynne Valente (5-27)
22 – Embassytown, China Mieville (6-18)
23 – Hex, Allen M. Steele (7-2)
24 – The Gravity Pilot, MM Buckner (7-4)
25 – A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin (7-15)
26 – The Big Roads, Earl Swift (7-19)
27 – Spellbound, Blake Charlton (8-2)
28 – The Magician King, Lev Grossman (8-4)
29 – Bright’s Passage, Josh Ritter (8-5)
30 – Grave Peril, Jim Butcher (8-13)
31 – Spook Country, William Gibson (9-6)
32 – Machine Man, Max Barry (9-10)
33 – Crisis in Zefra, Karl Schroeder (9-15)
34 – Halo: The Fall Of Reach, Eric Nylund (10-1)
35 – Germline, TC McCarty (10-5)
36 – The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (10-16) Audio
37 – Halo: Glasslands, Karen Traviss (10-29)
38 – Red Herring, Archer Mayor (10-20)
39 – Ganymede, Cherie Priest (11-11)
40 – Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (11-20)
41 – Ready Player One, Ernie Cline (11-26)
42 – Open Season, Archer Mayor (12-5)
43 – Seed, Rob Zeigler (12-11)
44 – Rule 34, Charles Stross (12-??)

In the pipeline: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, by Michael A. Stackpole, All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam by John A. Nagl and The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education by Craig M. Mullaney. Rogue Squadron is something I’m going to finish up sometime this weekend, and All You Need is Kill is somewhere behind that. The other two are a bit denser, and while they’re interesting, they’re taxing to get through.

Interestingly, this was the first year where I really read books electronically. I’ve dabbled with it in the past, ever since I bought an iPad, but this year, I made the jump and read a small percentage digitally: 7 in all: Grey, Lifecycle of Software Objects, Embedded, Little Fuzzy, Crisis in Zephra, Ender’s Game and Open Season. Add in Game of Thrones, with which I alternated between my paperback and ecopy, and that’s 19%, or just under a fifth of my book pile existed on a hard drive somewhere, rather than a bookshelf.

An interesting thing about eBooks: there’s really only a single novel that I read in which I felt really took advantage of the book’s digital nature: Crisis at Zephra. This novel, a short novella, really, was published by the Canadian Military, and incorporated a lot of data about new and upcoming technologies, and trends in said technology. I was limited in that I was reading on a wifi only iPad when I was away from the internet, which left me unable to click on the links scattered throughout the text, with explanations as to what the terms, technology and theory meant. This, I think, is where eBooks will eventually head: less reading experiences, and more immersive and interactive ones.

I’ve also been doing a bit more with book reviews, on a number of different sites: SF Signal, The Functional Nerds, Kirkus Reviews, and my own blog, with a total of 15 books (34%) read for a review. In this instance, I’ve written reviews for a number, but these are books that were given to me by either the website that I wrote the review for, or sent by an author or publicist for my own purposes, even if a review wasn’t necessarily expected or promised. Just under a full third of my reading this year was subsidized by someone else, for review purposes. Of those books, I had a bit of fun, although my reviews weren’t universally positive. The caveat to this, of course, is that a majority of my reading, (29 books in all – 65%) are for my own pleasure, and a minor attempt to whittle down my own to-read list. I’ve got a feeling that I’ll never destroy the growing pile.

I’ve always described myself as a science fiction fan, rather than a fantasy one, and in years past, I’ve typically read more fantasy than science fiction. This year? I read 27 Science Fiction books (61%), 11 fantasy books (25%), 2 mystery novels (4.5%), 2 YA novels (4.5%), and 1 each of history and steampunk (2%). This year was certainly more science fictional than years past, which I’m happy about.

Interestingly, while I describe this year as being up and down, when looking over the list as a whole, there’s only four books that I really didn’t like. I thought just under half (20) were good, while just under a quarter (10%), were okay – decent, but nothing that really wowed me. 10 books in all really blew me away (22%). Of the books that I read this year, the more memorable were the really great ones, and of those, three really stood out for me: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman, Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh, and The Dervish House, by Ian MacDonald. (See my top 10 list for the full number of ones that impressed me this year.) These books are astonishing reads, and I really hope that we’ll see The Magician King and Soft Apocalypse get the attention they deserve: Grossman has gained a considerable amount of acclaim, but McIntosh’s first novel feels like it’s under the radar a bit, the underdog of the year. If you haven’t read it: I can’t recommend it highly enough. The Dervish House was nominated for a Hugo, but somehow ended up at the bottom of the polls. Still, it’s nice to see it nominated.

Of the really bad books, these all stand out as ones that I had the most trouble getting through: Seed, by Rob Zeigler, The Gravity Pilot by M.M. Buckner, Deathless, by Catherynne Valente and Hex, by Allen M. Steele. I believe that the reason why they stand out so much is because they were all books that I had high hopes for: Seed was lauded as the successor to Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, and utterly failed at that, The Gravity Pilot looked interesting, and didn’t work, Deathless was wonderfully written, but was a book that I simply couldn’t get into, and Hex was part of Steele’s Coyote universe, which started off so well, and has fallen so far with this book. There were some others, like Jack Campbell’s Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, which was so abysmally written that I couldn’t even get through the first chapter, and Sarah Hall’s Daughters of the North that I had a lot of trouble getting into and didn’t finish.

Everything else in the middle was entertaining, and some excellent novels: Susanne Collins’ Hunger Games was an excellent read, although the sequel was a bit too much of the same for my liking. I haven’t reached #3, Mockingjay, and I’m awaiting that one’s release in paperback. China Mieville’s Embassytown was interesting, a little flawed, but brilliant all the same, although I have to say that I liked Kraken quite a bit more. Leviathan Wakes was a lot of fun to read, and a promising start to a new series, while John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation was something I tore through in just a couple of hours on a plane. I finally got in on A Game of Thrones, and it lives up to the hype, somewhat. I even broke out of the SF/F genres, and picked up the fantastic The Big Roads, by Earl Swift, which was a fascinating look at the construction of roadways in the US. Karen Traviss’s entry into the Halo universe was also a fantastic one, and it’s dragged me in to that particular expanded world, as I picked up several other Halo novels, which will likely get read next time I’m on a Halo kick. I re-read Mossflower after Brian Jaqcues passed away, as well as Ender’s Game, and found both books really lived up to my memories of them. Ernie Cline’s Reader Player One was a fun, entertaining book, but it was lacking in other departments. Finally, I had a chance to go back and revisit Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which lives up to my first impressions wonderfully.

So, why quantify my enjoyment? I’ve generally been accused from people of taking things like this too seriously, in reviewing films or books that should be ‘just for fun’. I’ve never subscribed to the ‘turn your brain off while you read/watch/listen’ train of thought, because I think that does a disservice to the author. Certainly, there’s books or films that I’ve done that with, enjoying them because they were written to be enjoyed. But, distilling a year’s worth of reading down into some easy statistics?

A couple of reasons: one, it helps me better understand my own interests by grounding them in reality. As mentioned, I firmly describe myself in the science fiction camp, but over the past couple of years, I’ve generally been surprised when I’ve read more fantasy than science fiction. My interests are all over the place, and I don’t generally remember at a glance what I’ve read as a whole. I was a little surprised that I hadn’t finished more than a single history book this year, despite the intense work that I did on various history projects: I’ve read portions of numerous historical texts, mainly about World War II and military history (including a couple that are still technically on the reading list), but never finished them, or needed to finish them. This might also be me forgetting to stick a book onto the ‘Read’ List.

Reading is an important part of what I do. I typically read at night, before I go to bed (increasingly, if I’m using my iPad, or at the beginning of the day, when I can get through 10-15 pages while I’m waiting for my computer to load up at work. Weekends usually mean a lot of time to blow through something, and when I was on public transportation for two trips earlier this year to Washington D.C. and Belgium, I read a lot: three books for each trip (for the DC trip, that was one book for the airplane, one for the second day on the train, and the third for the flight home, all in a couple of days.) Better understanding my own reading habits help me to read more, I think, and while it’s not quantity over quality, I’ve got a massive backlog of books that I’ve bought. Looking over my list from this year, I had a total of 6 books – 13%! – came off of that list, which currently numbers around 100. These are all books that I’ve owned for more than a year, while a huge number of books that I picked up this year were released this year, and this also comes as a bit of a surprise.

My thoughts going into 2012 is that I’ll be whittling down the to-read list. There’s a lot of books that I do want to get to in the near future. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number that are edging up the list: George R.R. Martin’s second entry in the Song of Ice and Fire, Clash of Kings is most certainly going to make it onto the list when the next season hits, the entire X-Wing series by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston will get re-read prior to the next novel in the series, Mercy Kill. I also want to revisit Timothy Zahn’s Icarus Hunt. I’ve also been wanting to begin David Louis Edelman’s Infoquake, finish out William Gibson’s Bigend trilogy with Zero History and get into Neal Stephenson, Iain M. Banks, and generally blow through a bunch of paperbacks and history books that I’ve had for a couple of years. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get through a portion of that, and hopefully, I’ll slow down the growth of my own library – we’re running out of shelf space (again).

It’s been a fun year, with a lot of good stories all around. It looks like 2012 will be just as much fun.

The Windup Girl, Revisited

In 2009, I picked up Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl based on the cover and early reviews. It looked like an interesting read, and I quickly devoured it, enjoying the complexity of the plot and intertangling characters in an all too frightening future that looks all the more plausible today. It’s been two years since I read the book, and finding myself stuck in my car for much of the weekend, I decided that listening to a book would be better than constantly fiddling with the radio: a good as a time as any to revisit a book that I’ve recommended countless times.

The book far exceeded my expectations when I first read it, and revisiting the novel has surpassed my memories of the book. In the time since reading it, much has changed in the world: we’re still in the middle of an economic crisis, one that has spread world-wide. Conflict has broken out in new places around the planet, and we’ve seen a number of ecological and industrial disasters that have been both highly public and highly contentious.

The Windup Girl has also done exceedingly well since my first read: it’s garnered Bacigalupi the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novel, the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel (along with with China Miéville’s fantastic The City & the City), the 2010 Compton Crook Award, the 2010 Locus Award for best first novel and the 2010 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Time Magazine has named the book one of the top ten books of 2009, and it’s established Bacigalupi as a major up and coming writer.

What impressed me the most about the book was the interconnected nature of the entire, overall story. Bacigalupi takes a snapshot of a contentious, troubled, point in our future. Global climate change has had a profound impact on the worldL sea level rise has impacted millions, while war, politics and corporate entities appears to be linked in a single dangerous dance.

The strongest point in the entire novel is in how the various stories are handled: one action influences all of the other actions. It’s an excellent example of two schools of thought when it comes to characters: characters either make the world themselves, through their actions (Self-made man), or the actions define the characters (Rising to the occassion). Jaidee’s White Shirts, the enforcement arm of the Environmental Ministry, work to ensure that their country and city do not succum to the horrors of the outside world: diseases, war, conflict, trade, and so forth. They act as customs for Bangkok and Thailand. Early in the story, they destroy a sizable amount of cargo that is being brought in by outside interests, one of which is Anderson Lake. Lake is there to get the seedbank and work with the Environmental Ministry’s rival, the Trade Ministry, to try and leverage his company’s way into the country. The third puzzle is Emiko, a windup who’s very presence is something that the Environmental Ministry is trying to keep from the country, and who runs to Anderson as life becomes more and more difficult for her.

The three storylines interact in an ever-closing circle. The destruction of the air pads and cargo at the hands of the Environmental Ministry sets into motion conflict between all three storylines: Trade and their interests are furious at the losses, and move against the Environmental ministry, which shocks the city into further conflict, with each of the numerous characters involved. The actions of one influence the larger picture in ways that’s hard to see individually, but clearer collectively.

Bacigalupi lays his fingers down on a key point when it comes to the interaction between government and politics, and The Windup Girl is a very political novel. Multiple sides are presented: the factions in the Environmental Ministry that sticks to a rigid goal of protection, while the Trade Ministry works to leverage their own advantages. At the end of the day, the story really looks to the influence of money on people: the highly corruptable, and the marginally less so, and how that motivates their rise and retention of power. While all sides are equally flawed – both sides are corrupt in their actions. It’s clearly a book that looks at what happens when large corporations gain a lot of influence and power in a political system. They work to their own advantage, an end that’s not usually in line with the overall good ends of a country and large population.

What does that sound like?

The Windup Girl hit at the right moment: We’re facing environmental degredation at the hands of a population and from corporations that can’t look to practical, long term requirements or beyond shareholder interests, and when power in politics is generally distrusted by a large number of Americans. While listening and reading this book, I’ve had snippets of news on the radio or from twitter about protests from around the world, protests against an entire array of opressive governmental power and economic disparity. I view science fiction as the literature of the moment, and this book has certainly hit on a wide range of important points. Bacigalupi’s future holds much of the same, in different forms and examples, in an all too realistic, frightening and plausible vision. It’s a book that’s not only held up to its first reading, but grown in significance.

Brave New Worlds

John Joseph Adams has distinguished himself in the past with outstanding speculative fiction anthologies, from Wastelands to The Living Dead and others. His latest volume, Brave New Worlds, is perhaps one of the finest sets of short fiction that I’ve ever read, with a stunning table of contents and authors to tell their stories of oppression.

Brave New Worlds is a complete turnaround from Wastelands, an anthology that looks at humanity after the demise of civilization. Here, the focus is on societies where government has not only remained, but strengthened to the point where the people themselves become the enemies of the state. It’s an incredibly frightening future, and one that feels far more relevant to today’s world than most works. The argument between Republicanism and Federalism is a familiar one to anybody who has tuned into the news over the past couple of years.

Indeed, this anthology came to me at a time of personal political crisis. The past couple of years have been ones of discussion, learning and thinking about the differences in political parties, and what these sorts of things mean at the end of day and down the road. The idea of an overly strong state that impinges upon the rights of its citizens is something that is undesirable to me, and what our country represents. Numerous actions taken by the government have had a speculative-fiction feel to it, such as the detainees in Guantanamo Bay and the kill order against a radical cleric overseas, to the authority of the Transportation Security Administration following some terrorist attacks. It is a frightening future, but one that also needs to be balanced against the idea of a libertarian world where little order or government control exists to keep people from killing or harming one another. As such, Brave New Worlds is scary much in the same way that Wastelands (of what I’ve read and heard of it) was scary: it exists at the other extreme end of the political spectrum.

There are a good number of fantastic stories here. The anthology starts off with Shirley Jackson’s classic story The Lottery and continues to tell a great number of tales such as S.K. Gilbow’s Red Card, where people are assigned by their state randomly to kill lawbreakers, Ten With A Flag by Joseph Paul Haines that sees citizens given rankings based on their potential and Geriatric Ward by Orson Scott Card, which sees people who have vastly accelerated life spans. One of my absolute favorites is Jordan’s Waterhammer by Joe Mastroianni, a tale of miners valued only as tools. Many of the stories here were fairly new to me: I’d either heard of them by reputation or read them once long ago, while there were also a fair number of stories that I have read before, such as Carrie Vaughn’s Amaryllis (published on Adam’s online science fiction magazine Lightspeed), Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report and Paolo Bacigalupi’s disturbing Pop Squad. There are few of the stories that I didn’t get into, such as The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin and O Happy Day! by Geoff Ryman, simply not suiting my own tastes for any number of reasons, but these were few and far between.

What impressed me even more than the excellent lineup of stories and authors was that the anthology didn’t feel repetitive. There are plenty of short stories and novellas that fall into the dystopian category, but one could have easily told story after story of an intrepid citizen standing up and fighting the power, so to speak. That certainly happens, in their own ways, but there’s a broad spectrum of stories to be told. Jordan’s Waterhammer is a story that I expected to see more often in the anthology, but stories such as Amaryllis, The Things that Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away (Cory Doctorow) and the funny Civilization by Vylar Kaftan (a choose your own adventure style story) shows a diversity in the story types, but also the morals and themes behind the stories. While Brave New Worlds is scary, it goes out of its way to demonstrate the numerous ways in which fascism can manifest itself in society, in any location.

One of my favorite stories here was Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, which I first read in the theater waiting for the movie to begin. Of all the dystopian stories that I can think of, the story and the film both demonstrate the core themes for any type of dystopian story: which is the greater evil, protecting the people from themselves, or allowing them to come to greater harm?

One particularly striking story that helped define the anthology was Tobias Buckell’s story, Resistance, on an asteroid colony that adopted techno-democracy, where everybody can vote on every decision. When the time required to vote becomes to much, their voting habits are taken over by a computer, which in turn creates a leader for them, based on their desires. The story demonstrated to me that in all cases, governance is the product of we the people. Society can certainly back the wrong people, as history has seen from time to time, with figures such as Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini, but rather than a universal evil, supporters remain, for whatever reason: fear, threads, naïveté or blind obedience. Despite the uproar online over the TSA screening procedures enacted around the holiday period, a majority of Americans supported them.

Brave New Worlds isn’t a book that’s appealing because I see some imminent threat of a governmental implosion or change (although some might view it that way), it is appealing because it recognizes and points out that fascism is a continual threat to society from a particular political philosophy of a strong state, while the opposite philosophy spells danger in much the same way – presumably what Wastelands will tell a reader. The threat is present within us all, through our overreactions and our indifference to the world around us, and for that, I think Brave New Worlds presents us with a stunning cautionary group of stories that shows the limits of what people will tolerate. As it stands, it remains an exceedingly relevant and poignant book that should be an essential addition to any speculative fiction fan’s personal library.

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.

Politics and Speculative Fiction

Michael A. Burstein (via io9) highlights an interesting point when it comes to genre fiction in a post that looks at the politics of a writer and looking to the point where a reader is alienated. It’s an interesting read, and I recommend checking out both his review, and the other review that he’s referencing. The question arose though, that wasn’t really addressed on a larger picture: When has science fiction been free from politics?

The very nature of the genre is one that can lend itself to political elements, on both the right and left sides of the house. Science Fiction is about the changing nature of humanity and people’s work to understand the world around them, either in the future, past or present, but most of all, science fiction is influenced by the culture that helps to shepherd its creation. Looking over a couple of books that I’ve read and am somewhat more familiar with, there’s a good selection of books that cover any number of larger political issues, either explicitly, or referentially.

The story in question in the original review is Fossil Figures, by Joyce Carol Oats in the anthology Stories, where a pair of brothers are made distinct: one is labeled a Demon Brother, and through the course of the story, it’s fairly clear that he’s a conservative politician, and by extension, it can be interpreted that Oats is deliberately labeling the Republican party as one of demons. (At times, I can’t say that I disagree) Clearly, there is a political statement to be made here, and I felt that the distinction didn’t feel out of place, but helped set the story in a modern, relatable setting that the reader will identify. This tends to fall along one of the more explicit references to modern politics, but other stories that have come out recently delve into some other hot-topic issues.

Karen Traviss’s Wess’Har Wars deals heavily into environmental policy, from the first book, City of Pearl, where her main character, Shan Frankland, is set off on a mission to Cavanagh’s Star, several hundred light years away, to locate a missing colony. As the story transpires, a weighty, pro-environmental message comes out, as Frankland comes across the Wess’har, an alien race that has very set opinions and beliefs on the sanctity of nature, and have gone through great lengths to protect Cavanagh’s Star, to the point where they are willing to destroy entire races and species. This ties in closely with the futuristic world, and it is possibly one of the earlier books to be influenced on the modern attitudes of global climate change. Another author, Paolo Bacigalupi, has penned two novels (The often mentioned The Windup Girl and Ship Breaker), both of which deal with a closer time of climate change, and the influences that is has upon human society: there are major consequences. In Traviss’s take, these consequences take the form of an alien race that’s very dedicated towards rolling back some of humanity’s mistakes with the climate: at our expense. Bacigalupi paints a very bleak picture of humanity as a sort of post-human individual, where people have adapted to literally eat rocks in The People of Sand and Slag.

Global Climate change is a major political issue at the moment, and I personally believe that this is the next major movement when it comes to science fiction themes and content, much as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union sparked its own set of science fiction influences. Politically, Climate Change is one major issue, especially as its full effects aren’t going to be instantaneous, but played out over a larger stretch of time. The future elements and implications associated with this have sparked the political world as people begin to think about how to plan ahead: the impacts on business and society are immense, and clearly, this is good trawling grounds for the near future. At the same time, a large number of people still harbor doubts about the concept, and in Bacigalupi’s works, there’s clearly a political message that will turn some people off, if a couple of the lower amazon.com ratings are anything to go by.

Going back a couple more years, a read through Philip Pullman’s fantastic novel The Amber Spyglass, which took the story that had been set up by the two prior books in the series, and dropped an extremely thoughtful and controversial story within that addressed the nature of the fall of mankind and original sin. This largely anti-established religion story had been building throughout the His Dark Materials Trilogy since it the first book, but The Amber Spyglass was the fulfillment of most of those thoughts. Around the same time, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was aggressively attacked by people who fervently believed that the story was aimed towards converting children towards the occult, something I’ve always been puzzled by, especially with the release of Pullman’s series, which could do a lot more serious damage to the Church itself with some of the ideas that were within it. Pullman’s recent book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, where Pullman himself noted that there was a deliberate attempt to rouse people in the name of free speech. (His comments are here.) The American political right and the much of the religious community seem to work very well together, and when it comes to fiction, religious is likewise ripe for speculative fiction, given the similarities between searching for meaning and context in one’s life, or in the future. Pullman’s words have certainly put off readers, given the content, but at the same time, there’s quite a story behind those words, which readers would do well to think about.

One of the most notable examples of science fiction and politics merging is through Robert Heinlein, and his numerous books. Two of my favorites are Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, both of which touch upon libertarian and the overall relationship towards government. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress struck me as being far more libertarian when I read it years ago (it’s currently awaiting a re-read), with echoes of the American revolution within it, as the colonists on the moon sought to free themselves from a distant government, while Starship Troopers is notable for its anti-communist feelings, but also the responsibilities of people to be active in their society, contributing towards the good of the whole, rather than a government enforcing such values from the top down. These books came at a time when science fiction was heavily influenced by surrounding cultural occurrences, from the possibility of war to competing political ideologies.

The political elements of science fiction are generally shaped by the culture around it. I’ll go back to the argument that I’ve generally made before, that art is created within a certain context, and that people will gain different appreciations for things at different points in time. Politics represent a major opportunity for authors because of the variety of underlying philosophies and outlooks that they tend to promote: conservative values look towards a smaller, less intrusive government, while liberal politics look to a more well structured and powerful central government, and the conflict between these two viewpoints has existed for as long as the country has been around. Doubtlessly, it will continue to rage on in the pages of science fiction novels as well.

ReaderCon 21

Readercon

This past weekend was consumed with a convention called ReaderCon, which was hosted down in Burlington, MA. As a member of the 501st, I’ve attended several different types of conventions before, but out of all of them, I think that this convention was one of the best ones that I’ve ever gone to, and already am looking around for comparable ones to attend. Far from the costuming and media cons that I’ve visited in the past, ReaderCon lives up to its namesake: it’s all about speculative fiction literature.

Never was this more apparent when I arrived on Friday morning and picked up my badge. Patrons in the lobby were engrossed in books, reading away, waiting for the first day’s events to start. There was quite a few panels and discussions throughout the weekend, and I was particularly interested in a select number of these, for the content of the panel, but also because of some of the people that were attending: Blake Charlton, Paolo Bacigalupi, Allen M. Steele, Samuel Delany, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Hand, Brett Cox (My Gothic Lit professor) and Nora Jeminsin, just to name a couple. The entire participants list numbered over two hundred people, but those names were ones that I had particular interest in meeting, as I’ve read all of their books.

Over the course of the weekend, I attended a number of panels: New England: At Home to the Unheimlich, about the propensity of horror writers to be influenced by the region, Influence as Contagion, about films and expectations, Citizens of the World, Citizens of the Universe, Global Warming and Science Fiction, about new directions for the genre to take, New And Improved Future of Magazines, Folklore and its Discontents, Science for Tomorrow’s Fiction, How I Wrote The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and How to Write for a Living, to speak nothing of the hours that I spent in the bookstore looking over what was for sale, and carting away my own, large, expensive pile of books.

The highlight though, was getting to meet a couple of authors whom I’ve befriended or talked to as I’ve worked for SF Signal and io9 over the past year or so, Blake Charlton, Paolo Bacigalupi and Nora Jeminsin. These three authors were ones who have just delivered their first novels, recieving quite a bit of acclaim (Bacigalupi has already received the Nebula award, the Compton Crook and Locus awards for Best First Novel, and apparently, is on the short list for the John Campbell Award for his book The Windup Girl) Meeting these guys was just amazing, because not only did they sign my books, I got to talk to them extensively about their books and science fiction, and generally have a good time. Along the way, I also met SF/F author David Forbes, whose book I picked up at the conference, as well as geek musician John Anealio, whom I’ve talked to online (I was on his podcast at one point) and who’s music I really like.

This convention seemed to be much in line with what the science fiction scene seemed to be back in the 1970s when there wasn’t much beyond the literature scene for science fiction and fantasy materials. That’s largely changed with the introduction of blockbusters, with major Comic Cons springing up all over the place, which get a little tiring beyond the autographs and vendor tables. ReaderCon offered a stimulating experience for me, with a number of panels and opportunities that really got me thinking and interacting with a lot of other fans of the genre.