2011 Reading, Part One, Part One

Yes, “Part One” twice. Part one because it’s the first half of the year, and also part one because it’s going be a multiple-part post.  I really don’t go much into what I read on this blog, I figure I may as well peek back at what I’ve read so far this year. Here’s the list of fiction in rough order of when I read the books:

 

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

Major Karnage – Gord Zajac

The City & The City – China Miéville

The Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson

The Door to Lost Pages – Claude Lalumière

Flashforward – Robert J. Sawyer

Blindsight – Peter Watts

Boneshaker – Cherie Priest

Farthing – Jo Walton

Burning Days – Glenn Grant

The Book of Tongues – Gemma Files

Island Dreams – Anthology edited by Claude Lalumière.

 

Not a bad total, considering there’s a part two coming of different works and I read a whole pile of non-fiction I won’t be getting into at all. I’m not going to go in-depth into any particular book. I’m a bit behind the major trends in my reading, since very little of what’s here is what could be called new, but that’s typical for me. At one point I built up such a backlog of reading material that I decided I wasn’t going to buy hardcovers anymore because by the time I got around to reading them the paperback had come out and I could have saved myself $20 and shelf space. Unless stuff comes out in trade or paperback to begin with, I tend to be at least a year or two behind the hot trends.

Of the three 2010 Hugo-nominees on the list the one I enjoyed the least was The City & The City (Windup Girl and Boneshaker being the other nominees here). It wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it had a very, very steep learning curve that had me confused for a while. It didn’t help that I was reading it while renovating my bedroom so I was reading it not in my own bed, and in fits and bursts when I wasn’t too damned tired to read at night, often going a day or two without reading it at all and then only 8-12 pages at a go. It seems like the sort of thing that gets better with rereadings, as you find all the little subtle bits you missed the first time around, and is definitely good enough that I’ll go back to it one day when I can give it more attention.

The standout favourite is The Windup Girl. If I find a better book this year I’ll be ecstatic, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. From the compelling multiple viewpoints, to the worldbuilding, to the plotting and action, it’s an instant personal favourite, and something I can’t stop recommending to people. Crazy good. Jealousy-inducing good.

Major Karnage is a book I mentioned earlier. “Good” is something that’s often very hard to quantify. As a book, it wasn’t as “good” as Windup Girl, but at the same time it was soooo good! I still find myself wishing I had a goober gun.

Blindsight was excellent, but holy shit was it ever a downer. It’s the sort of book that has you doubting whether it’s worth taking your next breath by the end of it. Worse, it has you doubting whether that decision to take your own life would even be a conscious one you could make or avoid. Even Boneshaker, a horrorish steampunk mother-tries-to-rescue-son-from-death-by-zombie-horde, felt upbeat by comparison. I highly recommend both titles, though for wildly different reasons. Boneshaker always had you rooting for somebody to pull through, Blindsight has you doubting whether anybody is even worth rooting for. You decide which you prefer, or read both. In retrospect, I probably should have saved Flashforward for afterwards because I could have used an optimistic chaser. That last book was very good but I would have preferred it to be longer, though that’s probably selfishness and simply wanting more. Sawyer’s focus on a few key characters and their lives while using exposition to speed things along was part of what made the book as compelling as it was, longer may not have translated to better.

Farthing was a surprisingly good book. I say surprising not because I doubted the quality, but because I kept looking for the fantasy and there wasn’t any (I don’t know why I expected it to be a fantasy, it doesn’t claim to be one anywhere on the cover. I guess I’m just used to reading fantasy from Tor Books and the title put old-world currency in my mind). When I realized it was pure historical fiction I wanted to be disappointed, but it was too good a story and it never let me down, thus the surprise. It’s an extremely gripping book told in two different and ridiculously well-executed viewpoints. It had (depending on how low you set the bar) a sad ending but it was also a perfect one. With that finish, the book was doubly depressing because I see people falling today into the trap Walton shows us we could have fallen into 60 years ago, though today the cultures involved aren’t the same. We’ll never learn.

A Book of Tongues was tough to pin down. It’s largely a personal growth story and the story of two men in love in an old West setting with a lot of magic and South American mythology thrown into the mix. Most of those elements aren’t usually present in the fiction I’ve enjoyed reading (magic being the constant). Given the eclectic mix, if you’d told me that I would read this book and enjoy it I probably wouldn’t have believed you (I soured on Aztec/Incan/Etc. mythology about 15 years ago with an abysmally bad trilogy and never looked back until now), but enjoy it I did and I’m looking forward to reading the second in the series.

Quick hits for the rest:

Well of Ascension was decent, but less good than the first book in the trilogy – Mistborn. It presented partly as a mystery, two mysteries even (three if you count Elend’s big reveal), all of which I guessed very early on so the resolution proved underwhelming. That won’t stop me from reading the third one. Island Dreams is a solid anthology of very diverse fiction by Montreal speculative fiction writers, edited by Claude Lalumière. His latest collection, The Door to Lost Pages, is also on this list – a series of independent stories with a mysterious bookshop and a mythology that ties them all together. Burning Days is a short but very strong collection of cyberpunk stories spanning Glenn Grant’s writing career.

All in all a good start to the year, and a wider variety than usual, possibly because I wasn’t reading very much which was part of a series. Lots of stuff here from smaller presses I didn’t think would be as good as what the big publishing houses put out but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s nothing in this list I would consider not worth the time reading and a couple (Farthing and A Book of Tongues, most notably) prove it’s worth venturing outside what you think is your literary comfort zone once in a while. Here I have to confess there’s one book I left off the list because frankly I’ve never read anything I enjoyed less. I decided I wasn’t going to use this blog to trash anyone’s writing, and I felt this one to be a total mess, so I just ignored it for the purposes of this post. Despite that low point, a very good crop.


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