Books read March

I struggled with my reading this month, starting but not yet finishing several novels (The Creative Fire, Deathless), “Wasting” a lot of reading time. Two fantasy novels, one science fiction, two non-fiction books this week.

The Shadowed Sun — N. K. Jemisin
Second in a duology of Egyptian inspired fantasy set on a world orbiting a gas giant, this one deals with the consequences of the end of the last one.

Dark Eden — Chris Beckett
This won last year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. It’s a decent enough sf heartland adventure story, but fell somewhat flat for me.

The European Colonial Empires 1815 – 1919 — H. L. Wesseling
An overview of the height of the European colonial system.

What Makes this Book So Great — Jo Walton
What makes this book so great is Jo Walton’s voice, who gets you passionate and interested in books you may never have considered otherwise.

Blood Price — Tanya Huff
First in an urban fantasy series. Not normally my cup of tea, but everything I’ve read of Huff I liked, so I bought more or less the entire series in one go.

Moar book loot

slightly too many books bought

So on a whim I decided to go to my favourite secondhand bookstore in Amsterdam, only to find they’d just gotten a shedload of science fiction/fantasy in as well as added a new comics section. This led me to getting slightly more books than I’d counted on.

But at least I got a lot of books I’d been looking for for donkeys. Tricia Sullivan’s Maul for one, as well as Dreaming in Smoke, sound Mind and Someone to Watch over Me. There’s Justina Robson’s Mappa Mundi and Robert Reed’s Down the Bright Way, as recommended by Jo Walton, several Bruce Sterling books (Crystal Express, Zeitgeist and A Good Old-Fashioned Future), the last in a John Meaney trilogy (Resolution) I needed, two Greg Egan books: Quarantine, Oceanic and one of K. W. Jeter’s steampunk novels (Infernal Devices).

I also got Tanya Huff’s complete Blood … series, a lot of Elizabeth Bear’s Promothean Age novels (as well as her science fiction novel Undertow) not to mention some more Gwyneth Jones books: Rainbow Bridge, White Queen and Divine Endurance as well as a Juanita Coulson novel, Star Sister to try out and perhaps review for SF Mistressworks.

Comics wise it was a mixed bag: two Pete Bagge collections of early, Neat Stuff work, an Marvel Essential Hulk collection, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, two volumes of Russell: the Saga of a Peaceful Man, A Smithonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, a thick slab of Strontium Dog, Oscar Zarate’s It’s Dark in London, a Samuel Delany adaptation, Bread and Wine and finally, Kyle Baker Cartoonist Volume 2.

And then I got home and the latest volume in Kevin O’Neill and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was waiting for me…

Books read February

February was dominated by one book and one book only: Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, which I started at the beginning of the month and only finished in the last week of February. Very unlike me, I couldn’t read anything else beside it, because this was a book that demanded and got my full attention. I needed to concentrate to read it and when not reading it, I had no desire left for other books.

Fortunately Dhalgren is a masterpiece, one of the greatest novels ever produced as science fiction, so I didn’t begrudge its monopoly claim on my reading.

However, I did manage to squeeze one other book into my reading at the end of the month, K. W. Jeter’s Morlock Night which, as both Jeter and afterword writer Adam Roberts take great pains to tell you, is one of the books that created the steampunk genre back in the late eighties. I’m not actually sure I agree with that: there were steampunk books published before it that actually have more in common with the genre as it exists now than this book does. It’s also not as good a book as it thinks it is, glorified pulp ultimately.

Two years, three months

For some reason it’s doing the shopping that gets me a lot, walking through the supermarket getting stuff for the weekend, nobody to take into consideration but the cats and myself. It’s been two years and three months since I last had to shop for anybody but me, and actually the two years before that saw me not needing to more often than not too. Sometimes that gets to me and I feel myself getting maudlin over by the sausage rolls.

Sandra’s toothbrushes are still in the cup on top of the sink in our bathroom. “Our” bathroom; I still find myself talking that way, or mentioning Sandra and then having to decide about to explain or keep sthum about the whole dead wife thing to coworkers when you’re just talking about Devon or whatever.

Keepsakes and reminders of her are everywhere of course, but you slowly see the character of our house change now she’s no longer here to put her stamp on it. It’s half in stasis, half turning into a slightly bigger version of my old student flat. I keep oscillating between wanting to keep everything as it was and wanting to change everything, in the end doing neither but letting entropy do its work for me.

To be honest, I’ve been running in stationary myself as well. The days go by and things change, but I’m just going along with the flow, no clear goals in mind. Living with somebody for so long, having been so focused on getting Sand better for the last five years, then having all that effort be for nothing, these past two years just have left me goalless. Living alone again after so long isn’t getting any easier. Not even after two years.

Books read December

And with nine books read in December, we say goodbye to a year that was somewhat disappointing in the quantity of books I read, if not the quality. Too much time spent on other interests, especially gaming, led to both reading and reviewing less. Of the eightyone books I managed to read in 2013, I’ve so far only reviewed twelve, plus three more from earlier years. It’s not doing much to reduce my backlog of to be reviewed books.

Turning to what I read in 2013, threequarters (61 books) of it was fiction: twothirds (40) fiction, with the rest made up of fantasy (19) and detectives (2). The non-fiction (20) was mostly history (6) and warfare (7). I’ve had years with more diversity in my reading.

As ever since I discovered how few female writers I read, I’ve made an conscious effort to include as many as possible, at least in fantasy and science fiction. In science fiction, of the twentythree writers I read, five were male and eighteen female, including one writing duo (Sharon Lee & Steve Miller). In fantasy there were nine writers, with only Terry Pratchett on the male side of things; there were also two trans women included, Jan Morris and Caitlín R. Kiernan, though that was coincidence rather than deliberate inclusion.

What I want to do in 2014 is to continue to include more diversity in the writers I read, read more unknown writers, as well as make a dent in the backlog of old favourites I have. I also want to read more non-fiction, but that very much does depend on what I’ll find.

Anyway, here’s the last batch of books read in 2013:

Grail — Elizabeth Bear
Third and final novel in the Chill series. After centuries of being stuck in transit, the generation ship finally reaches its destination, only to find somebody else was there first.

Voodoo Planet — Andre Norton
You know that if you read a lot of Golden Age science fiction, it becomes obvious that a lot of it is pulp adventure stories reworked to take place in space? Yeah, sometimes it’s really obvious, as with this story of a big hunt in pseudo Africa gone wrong and how western space science has to overcome superstition manipulated by an evil medicine man. (Has there ever been a non-evil one?)

Afrofuturism — Ytasha L. Womack
Afrofuturism is an art/political movement with roots in funk, science fiction and the black experience in America. This is a somewhat breathless exploration of the movement in all its facets, one of the most interesting and innovative things to happen to science fiction in the past few decades.

Crashcourse — Wilhelmina Baird
Wilhelmina Baird is an interesting writer: wrote some short science fiction at the dawn of the New Wave (as Kathleen James), then returned in 1993 with this, a cyberpunk inspired novel with overtones of the sort of fifties satirical sf Pohl and Kornbluth wrote. She wrote three more novels, two sequels to this, then disappeared.

The Defiant Agents — Andre Norton
A sequel to Time Traders, though not the direct sequel. A group of “Red Indians” (sic) is transported to an alien planet to colonise it, after first having lived through their past lives by way of racial memory to make them more suited to frontier living. Unfortunately the real Reds are their too, with a horde of Mongols as their slaves…

Operation Northwind — Charles Whiting
A disappointing history of the last German offensive in WWII, in Alsace. Whiting is too vague in his descriptions to give a clear picture of the fighting, somewhat too involved in his story of heroic yanks, dastardly Germans and waffling French.

Moxyland — Lauren Beukes
This was her debut novel, a dystopian (what else) cyberpunk story set in a not too distant future South Africa. Chillingly plausible is I think the best way to describe this.

Neptune’s Brood — Charlie Stross
A post-human historian-accountant stumbles over a thousands years old conspiracy spanning dozens of star systems that leads her to seek sanctuary with a colony of communist uranium volcano mining squid.

Then Will the Great Ocean Wash Deep Above — Ian Sales
Third in the Apollo Quartet of alternate history Cold War space exploration; not as good as the first two, sadly.

Books Read November

Twelve books read this month, finally starting to make a dent in my backlog, though I’m still buying books faster than I can read them #firstworldproblems.

The Dispossessed — Ursula K. LeGuin
Le Guin’s classic utopian novel is interesting but dated in its gender treatment, especially in the segments outside of its anarchist utopia.

The Normans — Marjorie Chibnall
A short introduction to the history of the Normans.

Silk — Caitlín R. Kiernan
Horror fantasy by a writer who has said some very smart things in various online sexism controversies. Good enough for me to read more of her work.

Italian Aces of World War 2 — Giovanni Massimello & Giorgio Apostolo
One of those slim Osprey books, mostly tedious summings up of various Aces’ kills and such. But the pictures are good.

Ancillary Justice — Ann Leckie
It was Ian Sales review that got me to read this and I wasn’t disappointed. A very solid space opera debut.

Command and Control — Eric Schlosser
Schlosser, who you might know from Fastfood Nation dives into the history of nuclear weapons in the USA; specifically how they were controlled and by whom. Turns out that control was often illusionary and accidents with nuclear weapons happened more often than you’d like…

Vanished Kingdoms — Norman Davies
Norman Davies looks at the more obscure corners of European history, showcasing some of the countries and states that didn’t quite make it. Interesting but a bit wearing in the end.

Plague Ship — Andre Norton
Read on my mobile phone, a download from Project Gutenberg, this is the second novel in her Star Queen series in which wily independent traders outwit the stodgy cooperations that rule the stars.

Conflict of Honors & Carpe Diem — Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
The second and third novel in the Liaden series. Very readable science fiction adventure stories, the sort you plow through in a couple of hours.

Dust — Elizabeth Bear
The first in a trilogy, a science fiction story set aboard a crippled generation ship parked in orbit in a binary star system which could go supernova any moment…

Chill — Elizabeth Bear
The sequel to Chill, opening up the world and dealing with the fallout of the previous book.

Two years

sandra watering the garden

Today it’s two years ago that Sandra died. Not a day has gone by that she hasn’t been in my thoughts. So much of who I am has been shaped by living with her, so much of my daily routine has its origins in hers. A part of her will always be with me.

The picture above was taking at my brother’s birthday in 2008. He has a gorgeous, large garden and Sandra was always a gardening enthusiast, so no wonder she took it on herself to water the plants. That year was the last year she was in anything resembling good health; she would get ill at the end of the year and start dialysis the next. This is how I like to remember her.

Books read October

I finally picked up the pace somewhat this month, with seven books read.

Fledgling — Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Another free novel set in their Liaden universe, this is a classic coming of age science fiction novel, amusing but perhaps better read when you’re twelve.

1938 Hitler’s Gamble — Giles MacDonogh
A very useful overview of the political and military events that shaped the last year of peace before World War II, showing how opportunistic Hitler’s policies were.

Filthy English — Peter Silverton
An amusing overview of bad language of all kinds.

Vast — Linda Nagata
Hard science fiction of a subgenre that also includes Alastair Reynolds’ revelation Space and Paul McAuley’s Eternal Light: humantiy stumbles over the remains of a millions of years old war and is hunted to extinction by the left over killing machines of the war. I hadn’t read anything by Nagata yet, save for perhaps some short stories but on the strength of this she’s a writer I need to read more off.

The Battle for the Rhine 1944 — Robin Neillands
An overview of the campaign in western Europe from Normandy up until the Battle of the Bugle and very concerned with putting the record straight with regards to Montgomery’s part in the war.

The Eye with Which the Universe Beholds Itself — Ian Sales
Second chapbook in the Apollo Quartet, this is alternate history hard science fiction about a slightly more ambitious Apollo programme.

Child of the Grove — Tanya Huff
I like her military science fiction so I thought I’d check out her fantasy work as well. A decent but weirdly paced novel.

Books read September

Another month and five more books read. I can’t seem to read much more than a book a week recently.

Swords -Dancer — Jennifer Robson
A northern swordswoman comes to the desert south to search for her brother, taken by slavers. Tiger, one of the greatest swordmen of the south, takes pity on her and accompanies her on her quest.

The Silver Ship and the Sea — Brenda Cooper
On a barely settled colony world, six posthuman teenagers have to win the trust of the small human colony, a decade after the war their parents waged against the colony was lost.

A Bridge too Far — Cornelius Ryan
The classic account of Operation Market Garden, the airborne assault on Arnhem to provide a corridor over the Rhine into Germany and how it failed.

Going Under — Justina Robson
Third in the Quantum Gravity series. Lila Black is still in hell, now married to one of the top demons there and has to deal with becoming increasingly less human as her machine parts slowly take over her body.

Agent of Change — Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Lee and Miller have just released this as a free ebook, a teaser for their Liaden series. This made it perfect for me to finally try this series, a cult favourite amongst online sf fandom. What it turned out to be was a decent romance/adventure science fiction romp, that unfortunately ended on a cliffhanger. Which means I’ll have to get the rest of the series. Bastards.