In January my resolutions were, as ever, to Read More Books, Dammit! and to Go to the cinema more. Not big on introspection but very big on realism. Even so I haven’t managed as well as I intended, especially on the book front.
Brief reviews below. No real spoilers here, but cut for length
The books I read in 2007:
1. Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link
Excellent short stories that–perhaps because I was bed-ridden with a sweaty cold–hit me like disorienting fever dreams. Even the more overtly humorous tales seem deeply sinister to me, matter-of-factly undermining the bedrock of reality and sanity. (This is a recommendation.)
2. Coalescent – Stephen Baxter
My first introduction to Baxter and a book I really enjoyed. A multi-generational saga intertwining the end of Roman Britain and the modern day, with some interesting–if perhaps exaggerated–ideas about evolution and the nature of humanity.
3. Exultant – Stephen Baxter
Progresses the themes of Coalescent into pleasingly vast star-spanning warfare. Nothing quite lives up to the wildly exuberant space opera of the opening scenes, and despite its strengths the novel spends a great deal of time on ciphers being led around the universe while debating interesting ideas on behalf of the author.
4. Circle of the Moon – Barbara Hambly
A really enjoyable fantasy tale set in an unusual semi-Arabian desert world. It continues the feminist themes and strong characters of its predecessor Sisters of the Raven, but for my money tells a more successful and better structured story.
5. Transcendent – Stephen Baxter
Has many of the strengths of Coalescent (intertwining far future and near-future) but I’m increasingly weary of Baxter’s tendency to infodump using characters who basically all have the same voice. Also I’m not completely sure that the pay-off is sufficient to the build up. On the whole, although the hand of the author grows a little too evident, this is an ambitious and enjoyable trilogy.
6. Never Have Your Dog Stuffed – Alan Alda
Dwelling very little on M*A*S*H (and at its weakest when it does so) Alda turns key moments from his life into a series of tautly-written, very wise essays. As I said at the time: “thoughtful, sharply observed, honest, witty, and about as far away from a showbiz memoir as it’s possible to get.”
7. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets – David Simon
As mentioned previously this is journalism-as-novel: an episodic year in the life of an actual Homicide squad. The detectives emerge as foul-mouthed, sexist, racist, dogged, honest, and ultimately impartial in pursuit of the truth. The job emerges as a never-ending conveyer belt of death and vice interspersed with sublime black comedy. More than the sum of its parts.
8. The Character of Cats – Stephen Budiansky
A refreshingly scientific and sceptical book explaining what we do and don’t understand about the genetics, history and behaviour of cats. Perfect for me because it tells things as they are rather than as people think they are.
9. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories – Susanna Clarke
Like a genteel version of Kelly Link. These short stories slyly insert surreal and dangerous elements of faerie into the mannered world of 18th and 19th Century society. There’s very little here that doesn’t feel like an out-take from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but it all succeeds brilliantly. The only story I dislike is the ‘fan-fiction’ for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which feels hurried and slight.
So, only nine books. I enjoyed them all, but I do feel like something of a failure in the Read more books, dammit! stakes. Maybe next year.
EDIT for obligatory statistics: Hey, I only read 9 books but 33.3% were by female authors. Go me! Then again another 33.3% were by Stephen Baxter so it’s possible the small sample size is skewing the data. 😉
My wife, meanwhile, succeeded in reading four times as many books as me:
1. The Green and the Grey – Timothy Zahn
2. Calculating God – Robert J. Sawyer
3. Ilario – Mary Gentle
4. Edenborn – Nick Sagan
5. Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
6. Ring of Swords – Eleanor Arnason
7. A Woman of the Iron People – Eleanor Arnason
8. Deliverer – C.J. Cherryh
9. Port Eternity – C.J. Cherryh
10. Vellum – Hal Duncan
11. World War Z – Max Brooks
12. The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
13. Manta’s Gift – Timothy Zahn
14. Voices – Ursula le Guin
15. Bloodmind – Liz Williams
16. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
17. Air – Geoff Ryman
18. Everfree – Nick Sagan
19. Shadowmarch – Tad Williams
20. Red Seas under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
21. The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
22. Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb
23. Voice of the Gods – Trudi Canavan
24. Humans – Robert J. Sawyer
25. Breathmoss and other exhalations – Ian R. MacLeod
26. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
27. The Demon and the City – Liz Williams
28. New Amsterdam – Elizabeth Bear
29. Empire of Ivory – Naomi Novik
30. The Court of the Air – Stephen Hunt
31. Bonesong – John Meany
32. The Ghost Brigade – John Scalzi
33. The Risen Empire – Scott Westerfield
34. Facets – Walter Jon Williams
35. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
Best. Wife. Ever.
EDIT EDIT Janet’s top five reads in no particular order:
Shadowmarch – Tad Williams
The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
New Amsterdam – Elizabeth Bear
The Court of the Air – Stephen Hunt
Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
The Risen Empire– Scott Westerfield
World War Z – Max Brooks
Vellum – Hal Duncan