If 2015 was a pretty good year for my reading and blogging, 2016 was just kinda meh. I can’t really complain about the book choices I made, as I can only point to one or two stinkers that I actively disliked, and almost every book I read had good elements that made the book worth reading. That said, due to various Real Life(TM) stuff I found it hard to keep myself motivated to read and blog, either because I had other things I wanted/needed to focus on, because all my books were boxed up (a fate which still befalls all of my paperbacks), and because in the post-election haze it was just easier to hide under a blanket and play video games.
So, I shouldn’t be surprised that my monthly views looked something like this:
When my blogging looked something like this:
That’s about 5 months on-schedule, 4 months of scattershot posting, and an entire quarter of the year in radio silence. Again, not complaining; I do this as a hobby (and because I want to record my thoughts on what I read so that they aren’t lost by my goldfish-like memory).
It’s also kind of sad to reflect back on how many good blogs I follow have stopped posting or had a drastic slowdown this year, either due to the blogger passing on (in the case of Ed Gorman), or because the blogger had various Real Life(TM) stuff similar to mine only that caused them to stop blogging (either good stuff or bad stuff). So with that in mind, I’d like to list out seven still-active blogs (knock on wood) I think are pretty darn cool. I follow a lot more than just seven darn cool blogs, but it seemed like a good lucky number, and lists are pretty darn cool, so I picked some of my faves off the top of my head. Maybe in time I’ll do an expanded list to include all the other cool blogs that are worth reading.
- If you’re not reading Megan at From Couch To Moon, you’re missing out more than you can ever know. I remember finding the blog when she first started, when it was “three things I liked and three I disliked about this book,” and thought it was cool to see a self-proclaimed outsider observing and attempting to approach the genre. Now, it’s home to some of the best wit, wry observations, cutting analysis, and insightful commentary on science fiction today.
- I have to assume that when most people finish writing an encyclopedia, they stop, rest on their laurels, move on to conquer another subject, something like that. After John Grant finished his Encyclopedia of Film Noir he started Noirish as an extension of the encyclopedia, to cover titles that for one reason or another didn’t make it into the book. It’s a brilliant idea and a brilliant resource.
- Ian Sales has done a lot of work to promote women-authored science fiction at his blog Science Fiction Mistressworks, which is a collection of Ian’s original reviews as well as those donated by reviewers across the blogosphere It’s a sorry state of society when so many great works by women writers exist, but have fallen out of the popular view in lieu of certain aging “classics.” SF Mistressworks points out that women have not only been writing SF for just as long as men, but many of their works are as good (or better) than some of those antiquated “classics” still held dear.
- It’s shocking to think that Greycope14 has only been blogging for around a year at Who’s Dreaming Who, where he posts insightful reviews of science fiction, fantasy, and horror books. Not only is he the only one of us to complete the PKD read-along challenge, he’s also starting a similar William Gibson reading challenge for 2017.
- Sergio at Tipping My Fedora offers thoughtful reviews and on-point analysis of detective novels, thrillers, and mysteries of all kinds, including films as well as books. He’s almost completed reviewing the entirety of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series of police procedurals, which alone is an accomplishment, and then you get into his posts on Georges Simenon and John Dickson Carr and the hundreds of other books he’s reviewed….
- I’ve always liked those blogs where people read terrible books and recap the plot in snarky, hilarious ways, but never really thought about doing that when I started blogging. Luckily, bloggers like AlmightyTim do it better than me so that I don’t have to. Go read his blog Schlock-Value, where his recent reviews include a Harlequin romance, a men’s action-adventure series (The Penetrator), and a boatload of terrible science fiction.
- Joachim Boaz is kind of the progenitor to this abomination, and I don’t just mean his site Science Fiction Ruminations: he has the uncanny ability to dig up people blogging about science fiction as easy as he unearths underrated New Wave gems. His comments and support helped me (and various others) get started in the blogosphere. Go check out his current guest post series, showcasing short science fiction written by women before LeGuin (pre-1969).
Thanks to all the commentors, people who suggested books to me, and people who wanted to know if I’d crawled under a bridge and died sometime in July. Thanks to all the publishers who provided ARC’s in exchange for open and honest reviews: in rough chronological order, Dover Publications, Doubleday, Tachyon Publicatons, Mulholland Books, Subterranean Press, Poisoned Pen Press, Open Road Media, Venture Press, 47North, Rebellion/Solaris, and Dark Regions Press.
Top 7 Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Reads:
- Europe in Winter – 2016 – Dave Hutchinson (Solaris). Third volume in a breakout series combining near-future SF with Le Carre-style espionage in a balkanized Europe. A smart, savvy entry that pulls all the right “sequel” moves but executes them flawlessly. The series continues is some of the best science fiction published today.
- Invaders – 2016 – ed. Jacob Weisman (Tachyon). An anthology of “literary”/mainstream authors writing short stories that encroach on the SFF/weird fiction space. A brilliant collection full of deep, thought-provoking stories that help tear down the artificial boundaries between “literary” fiction and the genre ghetto.
- Rogue Moon – 1960 – Algis Budrys (Open Road Media). The investigation of a deadly alien artifact on the Moon leaves its explorers shattered, broken men—until the perfect volunteer is found to plumb its mysteries. Despite what you’d expect given all that, it’s more of a pyscho-drama rich in layers and metaphor, a dark but thought-provoking novel that spends more time exploring humanity than the alien ruins.
- Book of the Unnamed Midwife – 2014 – Meg Elison (47North). In the aftermath of a plague that killed 97% of men and 99% of women, the unnamed midwife protagonist does all she can to survive… and offer the few surviving women all the aid she can give. A brutal feminist dystopia on-par with Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and nearly as good.
- Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe – 1973 – D.G. Compton (NYRB). With illness all but wiped out, the last days of those few incurables are played out on network television before a pain-starved public. When dying Katherine Mortenhoe rejects the network, they send their best newsman after her, a man whose eyes were replaced with cameras… but the story he films is much more than the death of a middle-aged woman. A deep, humane, and philosophical thinker. (Review coming in January.)
- Central Station – 2016 – Lavie Tidhar (Tachyon). A fixup novel by Israeli author Lavie Tidhar, following the inter-connected lives of those living in the shadow of a spaceport towering over a Tel Aviv. Tidhar blends literary elements, lush atmosphere, distinct characters, and a soft-touch plot into a masterful novel I found intoxicating.
- Slipping – 2016 – Lauren Beukes (Tachyon). Beukes’ first collection is a knockout, exploring humanity’s tenuous relationship with technology, privacy in the age of governmental surveillance, the bombarding influence of social media and reality TV, the love-hate world of toxic relationships and domestic violence, poverty, race relations, gender inequality, and more.
Honorable Mention goes to the many anthologies/collections of horror and weird fiction I read this year: Nightmares (2016, Tachyon), David J. Schow’s DJSturbia (2016, Subterranean) and Nightmare’s Realm (2016, Dark Regions Press).
Also a honorable mention to Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, but I already knew it was a favorite before I re-read it, and I wanted to showcase new-to-me favorites with this list.
2016 Reads By The Numbers
Books read in 2015: 75
Books written by women: 10 (bleagh)
Books written by men: 31
Books that were graphic novels: 29
Anthologies with more than one author: 5
Books by authors I’d never read before: 20
Books that were promotional copies/ARC’s: 24
Longest read: Interior Darkness: Selected Stories by Peter Straub, weighing in at 496 pages
Shortest read: “The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys, a 32-page short story/novelette
Total pages read: 14,108 pages
Average book length: 188 pages
My 2015 Readsolutions
Read more books not written in the decades I’ve blogged about the most, the 1950s/1960s.
I ended up reading a lot of books that weren’t vintage at all, which is slowly confirming my thesis that 1) there is great SF being written these days, 2) that I still don’t like most of the SF written in the ’80s, ’90s, or early ’00s, and 3) there are still great books to discover from the ’70s and before. All told, this year was weighted very heavily towards books written in the last 2-3 years, a lot of recent releases and re-releases. That’s probably due in no small part to the fact my library was boxed away, and I was using my tablet to read only ebooks for most of the year (I read 6 physical books in 2016). Much like last year I can point to a half-dozen collections published in the 2010s that reprinted older works (stories first published from the 1800s to the 1950s). But overall, this year’s reading was overwhelmingly contemporary.
2016 reading list, by decade, excluding all the graphic novels:
Join the 2016 Philip K. Dick Book Club and Exegesis Readalong.
I read the first couple of books (Ubik and Radio Free Albemuth) and got through 20% of the Exegesis before life happened and I stopped. I’d still like to read all the PKD novels off the list—I bought all of them to read, after all—but I can’t say I’m eager to dive back into the Exegesis anytime soon. It’s very informative of PKD’s experiences and views, but it becomes something of a weird, surreal slog through metaphysical religious allegory and absolute certainty in crazy ideas.
Read more books by women authors.
Ha ha ha moving right along. (This shouldn’t be as hard as I’m making it out to be.)
2017, The Year Ahead
For 2017, I plan on joining the Vintage SF Not-a-Challenge and reading only vintage science fiction novels, kind of a return to my roots as the last few years have seen my reading habitsn drifting back and forth across genres and decades (noir, horror, Golden Age mysteries, even some—gasp—modern SF books). I’ve tried to assemble a top-shelf list of vintage SF novels; it’s subject to change based on whatever whims I have, but here’s the outline:
- Burning Chrome – Gibson
- Damnation Alley – Zelazny
- Demolished Man – Bester
- Gather, Darkness – Leiber
- Dark Universe – Galouye
- The Dispossessed – Le Guin
- The Female Man – Russ
- Walk to the End of the World – Charnas
The Gibson is part of the 2017 William Gibson Challenge that I’ll be participating in off and on. I may end up switching some of these out and reading another Leiber if I really like that one, and I have a number of Robert Sheckly and Theodore Sturgeon novels I’ve been itching to read. So who knows, maybe I’ll read a lot more science fiction in 2017. I do have to say, in this political climate, I’m finding it harder and harder to want to read something dark and gritty like a post-apocalyptic novel or a brutal thriller. So set expectations accordingly.
I have a few advance review copies on my to-read shelf. In February, there’s Steve Rasnic Tem’s SF/horror mashup Ubo (Rebellion) and Clive Barker’s novella-length Infernal Parade (Subterranean), because apparently I’m not done scaring myself just yet. In March comes Joe Lansdale’s new Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade (Tachyon), which features the swamp noir duo’s earlier days. April sees the release of Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel, Winter Tide (Tor), a Lovecraftian novel set in the wake of “Shadows Over Innsmouth” where the town’s population was sent to governmental internment camps, where one of the camps’ two survivors is now asked by the government to help keep ancient relics out of the hands of Communist spies. Having liked Emrys’ short story that introduced this setup (“The Litany of Earth”), I’m pretty stoked to read the novel.
Lastly, a list of random thigns I want to get around to reading:
- Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville (my limited hardcover should ship in the next few months)
- Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (due to its gripping relevancy)
- Something by some of the authors who passed on recently, to remember them by (Tanith Lee, Sheri Tepper, Ed Gorman, Richard Adams, and others)
- Something Gothic for Oct — perhaps Charles Brockden Brown?