The Reading List

I haven’t done one of these lately, and it feels as though my reading list has accumulated a bit too much. Recently, I’ve picked up and finished A Handmaiden’s Tale, The Stars My Destination, and New Scientists’ Arc 1.1, all of which were very good. Here’s what I’m currently reading:

Fiction:

The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi: This one’s one that I’ve had my eyes on for a little while, but it was a review from Charlie Stross that got me more interested in reading it. It’s gotten very good reviews from all over, which is great for a first novel, although his writing style isn’t the greatest for an impatient and fast reader like me – I’m having to slow down for fear of missing things.

Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: io9 recently pointed this one out in a book review, and I loved the premise. It’s a fascinating read, and from a science fiction era that I’m really not familiar with: Cold War Soviet SF. So far, I’m really enjoying it.

The Nemesis List, by R.J. Frith: I came across this one randomly right before the wedding, when I was supposed to be buying wedding gifts for people. I’d never heard of it, despite the plot, and picked it up on a whim. So far, it’s not impressing me, reminding me a lot of The Gravity Pilot in terms of writing style.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed: I’ve heard almost nothing but good things about this novel, and decided it was about time to sink into it. On the way back from the Wedding, Megan and I stopped by Flights of Fantasy in Albany, NY, where I found it. Enjoyed the first couple of chapters.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi: I’ve been waiting to get to this one since it was announced. I enjoyed Scalzi’s last novel, Fuzzy Nation, and this looks to be pretty similar in style and tone, and having a nice, breezy novel to blow through will be excellent.

Nonfiction:

Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, by Nicholas de Monchaux: This book rocks. It’s absolutely stunning in its detail, covering the creation of the space suits used in Apollo, but taking in a greater view of the space race as it does so.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education, by Craig M. Mullaney: Megan recommended this one to me as I was doing some writing, and it’s an interesting read thus far, looking at the education of a West Point soldier who went on to Iraq.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam, by John A. Nagl: This one’s one that I’ve been picking away at for a couple of months. It’s a short but dense book on counterinsurgency. Very enlightening.

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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.

Currently Reading

I have a feeling that my reading will become a little more convoluted in a bit when I have a couple of reviewer copies coming in, and with a couple of books on the docket right at the moment, with some others in the queue, I need to get my head straight.

Battle: The Story of the Bulge, by John Toland

This is a definitive history of the Battle of the Bulge, one that I’m reading and referencing for the Battle of the Bulge project that I’ve been working on. I’ve also read through Gen. (RET) Ernest Harmon’s Combat Commander and John Eisenhower’s The Bitter Woods, which is yielding a lot of really good, detailed information on the strategic nature of the battle, but also some of the tactical elements as well. It’s helping me fill in a number of blanks with some of the units that I’m currently researching. Toland’s book is detailed, readable and very interesting.

Blackout, by Connie Willis

This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for a little while, and I bumped it up the list after trying – and failing – to get through Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed. Keeping with the World War II theme, this story follows a couple of 2060 Oxford history students who have been going back in time to study various points. Things are starting to heat up a bit, and the book is moving along nicely. I can’t wait to get further through it.

Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes

This is lauded as one of the best books to come out about Vietnam ever. I met (and got to talk with) Mr. Marlantes when he was presented the Colby Award for the novel – it’s awarded to an outstanding first work dealing with military matters, and it joins a prestigious group of books. It’s based loosely on his experiences in Vietnam, and while it’s a big book, I’m taking my time with this one, taking in the language and the story. It’s quite something so far.

Welcome To The Greenhouse: New Science Fiction On Climate Change, edited by Gordon Van Gelder

This book is one that caught my eye and I’m set to review it once I finish it. It covers what I’m predicting will be the next wave or dominant theme of science fiction: global warming (along the same lines that the Cold War dominated science fiction) and while some of the stories here haven’t been that great, there have been some outstanding ones. I think thus far, the anthology succeeds when the stories are well grounded in reality, and I hope that the stories coming up are like that.

Coming up after this batch of books are a couple of new books that came in yesterday: Catherynne Valente’s Deathless and John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation, along with Jack Campbell’s latest addition, Dreadnaught, in his Lost Fleet series, as well as Spectyr, by Philippa Ballantine, all slated for reviews over the next month or so. Along with those, there are a couple of other books that I want to tackle after that: Ian M. Bank’s Use of Weapons is one that’s high up on the list, as well as William Gibson’s Spook Country (and eventually, Zero History), as well as N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdom. China Mieville’s upcoming novel, Embassytown, is also high up there, with a number of good reviews already.

There’s also a couple of non-fiction books that I’d like to get to. I need to get through to Footprints in the Dust, edited by Colin Burgess, about the Apollo 12-17 missions back in the 1970s, part of the Outward Odyssey series. I’ve fallen off that bandwagon for a little while as I read Ambassadors from Earth, and was put off by the horrid text, but this one looks like it’ll interest me a bit more. I’ve picked up a couple of other books as well: John Keegan’s First World War (A war I know precious little about), Thucydides, about the study of history and the upcoming Falling to Earth, by Francis French, about astronaut Al Worden.

There’s a lot more beyond that, but it’s a start.

Lightspeed Magazine

I’m happy to report that I’ve been asked to join the Lightspeed Magazine team as a submissions reader. Lightspeed, a relatively new magazine focusing on Science Fiction, edited by John Joseph Adams, who’s edited Brave New Worlds and Wastelands.

I’ll be working to help sort out the so-called ‘slush-pile’ that magazines get from writers hoping to be published, sorting out what should be included, and what shouldn’t be. It’s something that I’m interested in, and I’m hopeful that this will be a good look at how the industry functions, especially as someone who enjoys writing and putting together stories. It’s an exciting opportunity, I think, one that could potentially open doors or at least show me which way to the door, down the road.

In the meantime, it’s a magazine that I’d recommend anyway: the stories that I have read have all been fantastic, high-calibre pieces of fiction, and a lot of these stories have gone on to other anthologies or have been nominated for some awards in the field. The magazine’s website is: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/, with the ability to read online, or via various ebook formats.

Brian Jacques & Redwall

According to the BBC, children’s author Brian Jacques, who is most famous for his Redwall books, has passed away at the age of 72. I’m very saddened by this, because Jacques’ books were one of the first introductions that I had to fantasy literature as a child, starting in late elementary school and lasting throughout my time in High School.

My high school library was well stocked by the time that I reached Harwood. The first book that I remember reading from the series was Mossflower, the second book published in the series, with Martin the Warrior fighting against the evil Tsarmina in the castle Kotir, where he frees Mossflower from tyrany. The stories were clearcut, easy to read and no matter how many times I revisited them, I was always entertained by their stories and characters.

There were a number of favorites in the series for me: Mariel of Redwall and The Bellmaker stand out, as well as Mattimeo, The Pearls of Lutra, The Long Patrol, Marlfox, and Lord Brocktree, not to mention the book that started it all: Redwall. But, of all of the stories, Mossflower has long remained a favorite read.

What impressed me the most in the series was the interconnected nature of Jacques’ world. The books were published outside of a timeline, and as new books came out, they typically visited different parts of the story’s overall chronology. Characters that I read about in one book had become myth or legend in the following, giving an impressive sense of scale for the series, which probably left the biggest impression on me as I began to read fantasy.

Redwall was a series that I eventually phased out of my reading as I got older and found new things to read. As new Redwall books came out, I began to realize that there really wasn’t anything new from book to book: the same formula, dialogue and largely – heroic characters – which came into conflict with other things that I was reading that allowed for more variety, and more ambiguity to the characters and plotlines.

I’ve never looked back on the series since High School, but I’ve never forgotten that had I not read Redwall as much as I did, I may never have gotten into other speculative fiction books: Harry PotterThe series came towards the end of the Redwall books. This was also at the same time that I started reading the classics of science fiction: Dune and Foundation, I, Robot and Starship Troopers,

The Redwall stories are pivotal novels, perfect for that age: full of adventure, heroic characters and rich worlds, they have an absolute moral compass, but exist outside of the normal conventions: religion doesn’t muddy the waters here, and the reliance isn’t on the magic or the instruments of the world (in most cases), but on the superb characters themselves that Jacques created.

With his death, the world is missing one excellent storyteller, and for that, I’m saddened, because the stories that he told were the ones that needed to be told: right verses wrong, and that even the meek can go on to become something great, even legendary.

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.

Books To Read in 2011

With the new year upon us, I’ve wrapped up my list of what I’ve read all of last year, and taken the books that I’ve got sitting on a shelf waiting to read for the next 365 days. I’ve got no illusions that I’ll get through this entire list in one year – there’s certainly books that I had planned to read in 2010 that I never got around to, but it’s a starting point, to be sure.

The Dervish House, Ian McDonald
I’m currently working my way through The Dervish House, a near future tale set in Turkey. It’s a dense, fascinating read, one that I’m trying to take my time with before finishing.

Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear
A man wakes up cold and alone on board a space ship, completely disoriented. I’ve wanted to get this book for a couple of weeks now, and it looks like a fun story, and I hope that it turns out better than Pandorum did.

The Habitation of the Blessed, Catherynne M. Valente
I thought this book was due to come out this year, but happily, I picked it up over the weekend. It’s a strange book thus far, a fictional take on a myth, and its rich story and prose is intriguing.

Grey, Yarn, Jon Armstrong
Yarn has caught my eye over the past couple of days from its gorgeous cover, and while reading up on it, I found that Grey, Armstrong’s first book, is available for free as an online read from Nightshade books. I can’t wait to read both.

At the Queen’s Command, Michael A. Stackpole
My last encounter with Michael Stackpole’s books was his ‘When Dragons Rage’ cycle was published a couple of years ago. This alternate history take on colonialism looks like a fun romp.

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal
Kowal’s first novel has been described as a sort of Victorian story, with fantastic elements, and so far, I’ve liked what little I’ve read of it. It’s on the sidelines for the moment, but I look forward to picking it up again.

The Unincorporated Man, Dani and Eytan Kollin
I know very little about this book – I’ve heard little buzz, seen no reviews or talk about this book or its follow-up, but it looks like a neat read, and it’ll be refreshing to go into a book with little context or bearings.

Spook Country and Zero History, William Gibson
I read the first book in this loose trilogy, Pattern Recognition, earlier in 2010, and really enjoyed it. I’ve since picked up the two follow-up novels, and I’d like to get around to them at some point in the year.

The Handmaiden’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood did a number on fanboys with her definition of science fiction a while back, which provides a good lesson in genre classification. Clearly, her books are speculative fiction, and according to a bunch of people, they’re really, really good.

Masked, Lou Anders
I started this last year, and never got around to finishing it. I’ll have to pick away at the stories over the year.

Nights of Villijumar, Mark Charan Newton
Another book that I started last year, but haven’t finished, Newton’s book is a good one thus far, but it’s been slow going, and I had to put it aside to meet a couple of deadlines.

Blackout, Connie Willis
Time-traveling historians. This book looks awesome to the military history masters recipients with a geek background crowd.

Machinery of Light, David J. Williams
David J. Williams has finished out his intense Autumn Rain trilogy with Machinery of Light, and I’ll be interested to see where he goes next with it. The first two were an experience, that’s for sure.

Kraken, China Mieville
I loved The City and The City when I read it last year, and Kraken, ironically, was a book that I was thinking of getting to first. No matter, this year will be the year. Hopefully, I’ll get it done before Embassytown comes out later this year.

Undoubtedly, this is an ambitious list of 16 books, in addition to the growing list of books that are coming out this year that I’d like to get to. If anything, it speaks to a goal to read more. Hopefully, I’ll be able to top my reading list of 43 books for 2010.

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!

2011 Books

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
As 2010 closes out, there’s the inevitable looking forward to the new year. There’s already a small, but growing list of books that are coming out that has been percolating in the back of my head. Some of these are authors that I’ve never read before, some are ones from familiar people, but all looked interesting to me. Here’s what I’ve got thus far:

Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear

This is actually a 2010 release, but by the time that I buy it, it’ll be well into the new year. A man awakes on a far out spacecraft from hibernation and takes stock of his surroundings. It looks like a fast-based, stripped down sort of novel. Hopefully, it’ll be better than Pandorum.

The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John Volume 1, Catherynne M. Valente

I’m not usually moved by covers (There are some exceptions, like The Windup Girl), but this one looks interesting, and the blurb hasn’t deterred me at all:

This is the story of a place that never was: the kingdom of Prester John, the utopia described by an anonymous, twelfth-century document which captured the imagination of the medieval world and drove hundreds of lost souls to seek out its secrets, inspiring explorers, missionaries, and kings for centuries. But what if it were all true? What if there was such a place, and a poor, broken priest once stumbled past its borders, discovering, not a Christian paradise, but a country where everything is possible, immortality is easily had, and the Western world is nothing but a dim and distant dream?Brother Hiob of Luzerne, on missionary work in the Himalayan wilderness on the eve of the eighteenth century, discovers a village guarding a miraculous tree whose branches sprout books instead of fruit.

Spellbound, Blake Charlton

Spellwright, by Blake Charlton, was a fun read that I came across earlier this year, and from the early (and now cut section) look that I had earlier, this looked very interesting, and a cool continuation of the world that he’s set up. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Leviathan Wakes, James A. Corey

Another one where the cover grabbed me, this start to a series looks to interstellar space, colonies, and ancient secrets lost in the solar system. Looks like it could be a promising romp in science fiction. Blurb:

Humanity has colonized the planets – interstellar travel is still beyond our reach, but the solar system has become a dense network of colonies. But there are tensions – the mineral-rich outer planets resent their dependence on Earth and Mars and the political and military clout they wield over the Belt and beyond.Now, when Captain Jim Holden’s ice miner stumbles across a derelict, abandoned ship, he uncovers a secret that threatens to throw the entire system into war. Attacked by a stealth ship belonging to the Mars fleet, Holden must find a way to uncover the motives behind the attack, stop a war, and find the truth behind a vast conspiracy that threatens the entire human race.

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s an author that I’ve followed quite a bit over the past year, and while I haven’t read his followup books to ‘Old Man’s War‘ (have them, haven’t gotten to them yet), Fuzzy Nation is probably going to jump to the front of the list. It’s a reboot of a hugo-award winning novel, Little Fuzzy, something he doesn’t think has happened before. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with that, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Scalzi can put together a fun tale.

Embassytown, China Mieville

The City and The City is one of my favorite books that I read over the past year, and as he turns to science fiction and aliens, I’m confident that he’ll be putting a unique twist and look on the genre. In the meantime, I’ve got Kracken to read.

Bright’s Passage, Josh Ritter

I actually don’t know anything about what this book will be about. But, it’s by Josh Ritter, one of the best singer-songwriters out there, and if this is anything like his music, it’s going to be a very good read indeed.

The Magician’s King, Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman blew me away with The Magicians last year, and this followup to the book has me really intrigued. Where the first one could be described as the anti-Harry Potter, I have a hard time seeing how this one could play out. The ending moved to a bit more of a traditional fantasy novel, and if he can craft something in the same vein, that should be interesting indeed.

Unknown, Austin Grossman

Brother of Lev Grossman, Austin is known for his fantastic novel Soon I Will Be Invincible. Nothing much has come from the author since that was published a couple of years ago, but reportedly, he’ll have something coming out. I’ll be checking it out as soon as I get more information on it!
Of course, all of these books could be horrible. They could be brilliant. Time will tell, but I can’t wait to find out. Hype in any form is a dangerous thing for a book: it can raise expectations beyond what is reasonable, or it won’t be enough for a brilliant book to get off the ground. Things like cover art, while cool, aren’t the literature world equivilent of trailers, although they’re hyped up to be, and while I do love great cover art, it doesn’t always pay off by translating into a good book. Most of the authors on this list are ones that I’ve known and read before, although there’s a couple of newcomers. Fortunately, this is a small risk to take. I can buy a book based on the cover and advance reviews, and hope for the best. In some cases, it’s paid off. In others? I have a book that sits on my shelf, looking nice. Here’s to hoping that 2011 will be as good of a year as this year was.

Revisiting Harry Potter

In 2007, I worked at the Berlin Mall Waldenbooks branch as a bookseller. In July of that year, we were able to take part in what was probably one of the biggest literary launches to date: the release of the final volume of Harry Potter, The Deathly Hollows, a highly anticipated book that had people lining up down the mall, and which saw an arrival of hundreds of sturdy white and red boxes with special tape to prevent theft or tampering. In my short time as a bookseller, I’ve never seen the same fervor or attention placed on a novel’s release. My sister, dressed up as Luna Lovegood for the line, purchased our family’s copy just after midnight, and returned home to start it. The next couple of days saw us stealing the book from one another, reading it chapter by chapter while we pretended to be ready to release spoilers for the parts that each other had yet to read. We both finished the book, and moved on to other things.

In fact, I only owned a UK edition of The Order of the Phoenix, really only as a curiosity because of its fantastic cover, rather than with plans to read through it any time soon. I fostered my memories of the books, slightly disappointed with the ending, and planned in the back of my mind to eventually buy all the books and re-read them at some point in the future. While browsing through a bookstore in Montpelier earlier this fall, I came across a cheap, used hardcover in excellent condition, and bought it. I kept my eyes out on my frequent bookstore visits, and soon, I had all of the books in hand (All hardcover, in good condition, like I had as a kid.)

With all of the books in hand, and needing to read something I didn’t have to pay as much attention to, I reread the entire series in twenty days, or 3853 pages at just under 200 pages a day. It’s a pace that I haven’t read at for a long time, as the books that I pick up have changed and my education has brought my reading speed down. It was refreshing, exhilarating and fun and a good opportunity to pull in the entire Harry Potter story within a small amount of time.

The Harry Potter books were something that I had picked up early in High School. Around 2001, the books had become incredibly popular, I found myself borrowing out the first two the day before a snow storm. With a snow day right after, I was angry: I’d read through both books, and had to wait for a full day to borrow out the latest book, the Prisoner of Azkaban, still one of my favorites. The fourth book came while I was working at Camp, and the fifth was snatched up by my sister while I went on a graduation trip with my classmates in 2003. Books Six and Seven came out while I was in college, and for the most part, were completely unmemorable.

As I blew through the first four books in the series, I was reminded of why I loved these books so much as a high school student. Despite the drawbacks when it comes to the writing style (there’s a reason why I can blow through each book quickly) and some of the more less-nuanced parts of the stories, Rowling has put together an incredible series, one that certainly appealed to my high school imagination, and its grown up counterpart.

What struck me, on this read through, was at how well each piece fits together at the end. While the first three books really function as their own separate pieces, book four introduces some of the major plot elements that stretch through to the end. Pieces of the first book return to impact and flesh out the events of the last. It’s a clever bit of retrocontinuity, or some incredible planning on Rowling’s part, or a bit of both, but after taking a break from the books for the better part of three years, returning felt like putting a pair of fresh eyes on the story as one continuous unit, rather than taken in piecemeal over the seven or so years that I read the books as they came out.

Where I was disappointed with The Deathly Hollows before, I was blown away by it this time around. While the book has its problems – the first half feels like filler, while the last half feels like an information dump – it accomplishes what some books have a very hard time doing: saying goodbye to a longstanding story and tying it up in a satisfactory way. The ending is happy, perfect, while major themes on good vs. evil, destiny vs. self-determination and friendship vs. enemies all play out around this. Young adult fiction has been a growing market for both youths and adults, and after reading through the seven books here, it’s easy to see why: it’s a perfect balance between entertainment and morals. While they seem to shuck some of the subtlety that I appreciate in some of the upper echelons of genre literature, these offer much the same end result.