Saturday, January 2, 2016

What Jake Read in 2015

2015 was a pretty interesting reading year for me. My second year amidst the Chicago reading fandom, with lots of good discussions, as well as books I wouldn't otherwise have opened or finished.

The Hugo kerfuffle brought social justice & the culture wars within fandom into sudden focus, which is good thing overall. And thanks to all that weirdness, a Chinese SF novel won the Hugo for the first time.

I didn't read as much new SF/F as I had hoped this year, but a good smattering. Two very different but essentially complementary works loomed large for me-- Stephenson's "Seveneves" and KSR's "Aurora". I read even less new fantasy, but am SO glad I stumbled on a review leading me to Dickinson's "The Traitor Baru Cormorant".

This list doesn't include re-reads (unless they were for group), non-SF/F & non-fiction, or the reading surrounding my Wiscon presentation on cognitive diversity. Just in case, like me, you are a bit concerned about how short this list is. Seriously:

The Peripheral by William Gibson
Sort-of time-travel story from the cyberpunk master. Brilliantly styled. I loved it. Chicago Nerds discussion.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
Classic fantasy, thematically rich, wonderfully written, surprisingly short. Think Galactic discussion.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
Secret ancient aliens who live inside human hosts. Stereotypical loser becomes amazing super-agent. I loathed everything about this. Chi-SF discussion.

Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
Post-singularity tale about Disney World.  More interesting for some of the almost-incidental ideas like the "Whuffie" (economy based on something like Facebook likes) than the actual plot. Sulzer SF/F discussion.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
YAish fantasy with ancient Greek influences and unreliable narrator tricksiness. Pretty good I guess. Blackstone FSF discussion.

Lexicon by Max Barry
Thriller based on Snow-Crash-Like "neurolinguistic hacking" with some shades of Potterish magic school & a surprisingly strong showing by the Australian desert. Enjoyable. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

A Natural History Of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Pseudo-steampunky fantasy with not nearly enough dragons. But fun, if very light. Supposedly the series really picks up a few books in. Chicago Nerds discussion.

40,000 in Gehenna by C.J. Cherryh
Cherryh, all hail. Multi-generation contact story between humans, a secondary-citizen class of cloned humans, and very non-human aliens. Future-historical & alien/other meditation SF at it's finest. Think Galactic discussion.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Short fairy-tale with some dark edges and good child-perspective. Blackstone FSF discussion.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Terribly fun, mad-cap cyperpunk classic with loads of stuff going on. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Slightly manic time-travel comedy-of-errors-and-also-manners. You've got to click to the style, but it's great. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Distress by Greg Egan
The theory of everything, the fate of humanity, peaceful anarchism, gender & genderlessness, autism. Incredibly smart and thought-provoking, though it relies crucially on some quantum woo. Chi-SF discussion.

The Just City by Jo Walton
Time-travelling Greek gods bring together people from various ages to attempt to recreate Plato's Republic. Probably the most interesting thing I read this year that is also 99% talking heads. Discussed by a few Chicagoland groups, but none I made it to.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
Brilliant and unusual fantasy novel very much concerned with literature. Tremendously atmospheric and haunting. Think Galactic discussion.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
Time travel examination of American race relations. Masterful, simply-styled, brutal. Pretty much a must-read, and it seems most SF bookclubs get around to this at some point. Talked about this with both Weird & Wonderful and Classic Sci-Fi this year.

Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
2015 was a year of me constantly saying "I really dislike fantasy, particularly pseudo-medieval fantasy," and then running into just that kind of fantasy and really liking it. "Chalion" draws on different inspirations than usual (think 15th century Spain) and really nails its characters and setting, with unusually-effective gods/magic. Sulzer SF/F discussion.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Dystopian YA tale in Future Brazil with echoes of "Logan's Run" among others. Has some issues, but very enjoyable. Think Galactic discussion.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwabb
Four versions of the world, each with different magic "settings", connected by a few people who can cross between, and then a worlds-threatening plot. Intriguing world, cliché-riddled execution. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
So good. The classic novel of true alien-ness. Psychologically rich, not much like most English-language SF of its time (except perhaps for Dick). Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley
McAuley returns to his "Jackaroo" near-future universe. I...couldn't finish this. Just didn't work stylistically for me.

The Humans by Matt Haig
Had it's moments, but it's essentially "Mork & Mindy" with more sappiness. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

Fiasco by Stanislaw Lem
More satirical than "Solaris", but not as humorous as his robot books. Structurally a very weird novel, seems like three entirely different ideas jammed together. Ultimately about the (violent, destructive) inability to understand foreignness.

Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie
Easily the most-discussed SF of '14/'15. Space opera with gender & narrator intriguing bits. Not as earth-shattering as the discussions/arguments/awards around it made it seem, but highly recommended. Think Galactic discussion.

Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
"Bladerunner" inspiration and fun, weird novel about synthetic humans, a guy who hunts them, weird religious stuff, nuclear devastation, pets. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
Again, Cherryh, all hail. The beginning of her ongoing, massive series about relations between humans and the alien atevi. I love, love, love this book, but it might not be for everyone. Narration approaches stream-of-consciousness, material focuses on linguistic/psychological/cultural difference. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

The Vorrh by Brian Catling
Ugh, I have to return to this. Deeply weird novel revolving around a magic forest in Africa, difficult to tell how much it's this world and how much not, multiple weird plotlines going on. It was good, just long, and wasn't tying together for me. Have to come back to this.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Elaborate palace intrigue in a slightly-steampunky fantasy world with prominent racial issues. Strangely calm novel, somewhat hampered by a too-nice protagonist and an overly-elaborate conlang/naming system. Fun though. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond edited by Bill Campbell
Good, very diverse collection. Think Galactic discussion.

Stories of Your Life & Others by Ted Chiang
Can't recommend this enough. Story collection by one of the absolute best in the genre. Immensely thought-provoking and well-done. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Holds up remarkably well. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
First translated work to win the Hugo for best novel, this Chinese SF work is about a very slow, long-distance "invasion" of Earth that begins with an alien contact received in the 1960s. Large cast, intriguing ideas, interesting read. Phandemonium discussion.

Ventus by Karl Schroeder
Schroeder's work kept popping up on my radar; finally got around to reading this. Lots of intriguing philosophical/AI ponderings here, but REALLY deeply buried in a long, elaborate plot about terraforming & space-opera intrigue.

Feed by Mira Grant
Zombies & journalists. Pop-culture heavy. Fun but much lighter than it thinks it is. Think Galactic discussion.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Modern SF masterpiece, Canterbury-esque structure, space opera, AI, questions of faith, all kinda good stuff. Chicago Nerds finally crossed it off our "to-read" list.

The City & The City by China Miéville
Wonderful, Kafka/Chandler-esque procedural. Miéville's not to be missed, and this is one of his finest and probably most accessible. Seriously, read this. Sulzer SF/F discussion.

My Real Children by Jo Walton
Moving, oddly effective story of an elderly woman remembering two different lives, both ending in the same place but in worlds/timelines that are distinct from each other and from ours. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
Continuing in his "Laundry Files" series (about a UK government agency that deals with the occult), this one changes viewpoint characters, continues the trend of "more grim, less funny", has a pretty weakly-developed pseudo-A plot about superhero-like manifestations, while the more serious B plots draw on Chambers' "The King in Yellow". I highly recommend this series, but don't start here.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
Excellent utopia/dystopia, prime example of 70s feminist SF at its best. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Wannabe LeGuinesque featuring lots of pseudoscience & woo. A few neat things with blindness & sight. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Year's Best Science Fiction, 32nd Edition, edited by Gardner Dozois.
I read these every year, they're great, good introduction to new writers and a good sampling of great short SF--which can be otherwise hard to get on one's radar.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Another one of those books that everyone seemed to be reading/discussing. Literary post-apocalypse. Lots of meditation on art & memory, good characters; pretty weak qua post-apocalypse, though. Think Galactic discussion. There was a Weird & Wonderful one too, but I missed it.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Well-done, weird horror-ish story where some...thing...makes people go all murder-homicide if they see it, so the survivors figure out how to live without ever looking outside. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley
Sprawling near-future story about tensions & eventual conflict between different groups of humans within the solar system. Good read, and at the forefront of "realistic, in-solar space SF". Chi-SF discussion.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Not exactly SF/F, but a good/weird sorta-alt-history about elevator inspectors. Fell apart a bit in terms of its own worldbuilding, but an intriguing read. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

VALIS by Philip K. Dick
One of his trippier ones, featuring pink lasers bearing messages from God, authorial stand-ins, etc. Good stuff. Read this the better to follow John's Wiscon presentation.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
Story about a cure for autism. Well, that's not quite right--it's actually a story about some talented and successful people with autism, and then a cure jumps out on our protagonist at the very end. Good novel in the sense of interesting and well-written, but weirdly problematic. Read this prior to Jason's Wiscon presentation.

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Generation starship novel that is deeply pessimistic about that going well. I love KSR's stuff, and this was no exception, although it's a bit depressing--a calculated attack on the easy optimism of most space-faring SF. Blackstone FSF discussion.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
The narrative alternates between a young refugee's travel to Ethiopia, and a girl walking across the ocean on a tidal generator from India to Dubai. Lots of psychosexual...stuff going on here. A troubling read. Think Galactic discussion.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
"World War Z" with robots instead. Deeply dumb and poorly-written. Midnight Literary Society discussion.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Sword-and-sorcery type, with a fantasy world based on the Muslim caliphate. Fun, formulaic, but with some twists. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
The moon blows up. Humans race to near orbit to survive. Then the story jumps ahead five thousand years. Gripping, science-heavy page-turner. My money's on this for the Hugo. Chi-SF discussion.

Railsea by China Miéville
YAish, outlandish, fun plays on "Moby Dick" and other high-seas tales. Pales next to more developed Miéville novels, but a fun read. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
My introduction to "urban fantasy". This book is a hot mess. Sulzer SF/F discussion.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante
Short, bizarre, strangely compelling novella. Demigods, sex, violence, cusswords.

Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Excellent. Near-future tale on a moon controlled by warring corporate families. Lots of interesting stuff going on here, and lots of clear but tasteful homages to earlier SF.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
Classic anti-war piece is still highly readable but feels rather tame now. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okarafor
Aliens touch down in Nigeria. But also...superheroes, spiritual forces, myths coming to life? Something about technology? I didn't actually like this novel. Not confusing, but too confused itself to do anything for me. Chicago Nerds discussion.

Vampire Junction by S.P. Somtow
Urgh. "Gratuitous sexual violence", defined. With a thin wrapping of Jungian archetypes on top, I guess. Not a fan. Think Galactic discussion.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
One of my favorite books from the last few years, and likely to remain a classic. Nature & horror intermixed and brilliantly written. Think Galactic discussion.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Surprisingly fun read, workmanlike prose notwithstanding, although the Satanic bits feel pretty dated. Hints of feminism here were what pulled me through. Weird & Wonderful discussion.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
From the same universe as "To Say Nothing of the Dog", this one is about a young researcher going back in time to a village getting hit by the plague, and a different plague tearing through the future-oxford she came from. The book's a bit uneven--some compelling characters, others just cartoons, comedic bits juxtaposed oddly with serious ones, and it would have been twice as good at half as long. Glad I read it, though. Classic Sci-Fi discussion.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Six linked stories nested within each other. Interesting. Not sure what it was "about". Chicago Nerds discussion.

Saga by Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Graphic series about a hunted, cross-species family from different warring factions. Really delightful. Think Galactic discussion.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
SF's comic masterpiece. Chi-SF discussion.

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Oh Crichton. How can you be so weird, and dumb, yet readable/filmable all at once? Sulzer SF/F discussion.

Octavia's Brood edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown.
SF/F by social justice activists. There were some good stories in here, but also some really poor ones. Think Galactic discussion.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Best new book I read this year, bar none. Intricate psychology & interpersonal connections. Riveting, realistic geopolitics. Plot that just would not stop with the gut punches. Looking forward to discussing this.

Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
Read this on my "read everything connected to Stations of the Tide" quest. Weird, many-layered. Shape-changers, colonization. Weird.

Welcome To Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
Novel set in the same town as the amazing podcast. On the whole, it didn't translate terribly well, but if you're a fan of the podcast this is definitely worth your time. Chicago Nerds discussion.

I'm thinking about putting together a "what's on my radar so far for 2016" kind of post, so look for that. There are also a lot of fun Chicagoland SF/F things on the horizon I'll be posting about, but in the meantime you can check out the suprisingly-already-populated 2016 events list. Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. Cool and nifty. I think reading Lady of Mazes which is substantially less sub rosa with its meta-identity politics that Ventus (and exists in the same timeline) might aid your engagement with Ventus.