My Year in Reading

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So, that was 2020. A different kind of year. A tough year in many ways. Through the latter half, I felt like I was perennially out of time, and that my reading was suffering as a result - but in the final analysis, that seems not to be the case. I read 58 books this year, surpassing my goal of 50. That's my second lowest annual number of books in the last five year, but across those books I read 19808 pages (as it tells me in my reading stats - my 'year in books' report gives the count as slightly less: 19,790). This is my second highest number of pages in the last five years - for an average of 341 per book. The count is slightly skewed this year because GoodReads lets me record the Great Courses lectures I listened to as books, but gives them a page count of zero.

I might have even achieved higher numbers that these, but took time out from reading a various points in the year to catch up on podcasts and the reading of published papers, neither of which count in the books total.

Here's what I read this year. Thirty three books are marked with a #. These are books I purchased and read this year. All others were things I already had on my shelves.
The 28 marked with @ are audio books. Those eleven which appear in italics were book club picks.

SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS:

Day of the Oprichnik, by Vladimir Sorokin
A disturbing near future, or perhaps alternate history, novel about a Russian Oprichnik, basically a government mobster in the service of the new Tsar, who goes about his day intimidating, beating, and murdering in the name of good order. Not for the faint of heart!

@ The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi
A story of power politics in near future water-scarce southwest USA. Decent but maybe not really my thing.

Fahreneheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury is a US national treasure. This is not my favourite Bradbury, but still very good.

Podkayne of Mars, by Robert A. Heinlein
Juvenile fiction from the master, bit dated and too young for me, but quality stuff. I much prefer his more sophisticated works like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land. This books features a young woman of science as a protagonist.

#@ The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks
Second book of the Culture series, of which the only other one I've read was The Algebraist. I enjoyed both of those and should explore the series more.

# The Urth of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
The final volume in the Book of the New Sun, a coda to the series. I decided to read this after enjoying the first four books as out 2019 Slow Read at the book club. This is a fine conclusion to the series. It finds Severian on a space-ship to the stars, and later he returns to Urth. We meet many of the old characters again. Some questions answered, new ones raised. I definitely recommend reading this is series with the other four, so they are all fresh in the memory.

#@ The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
An alternate history that re-imagines the world if the Bubonic Plague had been even more devastating in Europe and erased it as a power. The book is broken down into historical vignettes in different time periods, each one set in a different place and time, and featuring different characters, but the three main characters are all archetypes, who sometimes remember their past lives. I thought it was a masterpiece - probably my favourite book of the year.

#@ The Invincible, by Stanislaw Lem
#@ Fiasco, by Stanislaw Lem
#@ Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, by Stanislaw Lem
A trio of books by Lem, as I work my way through his catalogue. Invincible was my favourite, and probably my favourite Lem book to date. Lem seems to write either straight-up SF on the theme of First Contact (The Invincible, Fiasco, Solaris) or poignant, absurd, satirical futurist novels (Memoirs, Cyberiad, Futurological Congress). I much prefer the former. One main thrust of the First Contact group of novels (most blatant in Fiasco) is that any attempt to relate to aliens will be doomed to fail, because they're, well, really alien, and not just humans with knobs and scales on their skin.

#Always Coming Home (Expanded Edition), by Ursula K. Leguin
Another book club pick, this one by Barner Cobblewood. A fascinating read for me, and certainly one of our longest club books. Perhaps not the most engaging novel, as these things go, but really thought provoking in the final analysis, and it provoked one of the better discussions we had this year I think.

#@ Helliconia Spring, by Brian Aldiss
The first in a trilogy. I picked this one up because I quite enjoyed other Aldiss books I've read (Hot House, Non-Stop) and this series seems highly regarded. I thought it was OK. Will probably read the next book, but obviously wasn't compelled to rush into it.

Monday Starts on Saturday, by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
I continue to work my way through their body of work. This one is a curious make-up novel (made up of connected short stories) about a man's entry and work in a government 'institute of magic' located in the woods up near Finland. One of their more comedic and satirical works.

#@ Space Opera, by Catherynne M. Valente
Another book club book, it had some plusses and minuses for me. Ultimately, though, I'm just not that big a fan of 'humerous' SF.

@ The H.G. Wells Collection (The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, and The First Men in the Moon)
This is a wonderful collection with 5 of his most famous novels. These are Victorian SF, but for the most part you wouldn't know it. The Time Machine, Moreau, and The War of the Worlds are all knockout SF novels - well written, poignant, and timeless.

# The Languages of Pao, by Jack Vance
Book club selection. Not one of Vance's best works, and marred by the unexamined and needless inclusion of sexual violence, which means it doesn't stand up well to a modern reading.

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS

@ Hag: Forgotten Folk Lore Retold As Feminist Fables
This is quite a good collection of short stories commissioned by Audible.co.uk collecting stories by British female authors, retellings of local folk tales with a female perspective.

@ Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian SF (edited and introduced by Michael Sims)
This is a surprisingly good anthology of Victorian SF, which one might be tempted to think of as dated (all about mustachioed gentlemen in pith-shaped space helmets saying 'Oh, I say...' as they traipse around Mars) but it's really so much more diverse than this and most of it truly qualifies as top-notch speculative fiction. This collection features both very famous authors (Poe, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Thomas Hardy) and others less well known. There's a mix of short stories and excerpts from novels. All entries are very elegantly introduced by the author, who provides a lot of context to the stories and really adds to the work. I'm tempted to look for his other anthologies.

Lovecraft's Monsters (edited by Ellen Datlow)
A collection of 17 stories by a variety of authors (including Neil Gaiman, Laird Barron, Elizabeth Bear, Gemma Files, Karl Edward Wagner, and Thomas Ligotti) all featuring a creature of H.P. Lovecraft's invention (or inspiration). A solid collection, but not a 'wow'.

#@ The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One 1929-1964 (edited by Robert Silverberg)
Another very fine collection, selected by the Science Fiction Writers of America based on votes from their SF author members. This collection has 26 of the very best SF short stories ever written, including Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, A Rose for Ecclesiastes by Roger Zelazny, The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke, and more. Introduction by Silverberg describes how the stories were selected, but the stories themselves are left to stand on their own merit.

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
Our final book club pick of the year, the first Ted Chiang collection (of which I think there are just two). This is a well-written and though provoking collection, as SF should be. It reminds me of several collections by Soviet SF authors I've read, for some reason.

Comments

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    FANTASY NOVELS

    # The Fifth Season
    # The Obelisk Gate
    # The Stone Sky
    The Broken Earth Trilogy, by N.K. Jemisin, historic 3-time running Hugo winner.
    This was our slow read selection for 2020, and effort we aborted after the second book, though I did go on to read the third book on my own, as did a few others. Ultimately, this series didn't tickle our collective fancy. The series has a strong theme about the nature of inclusion and discrimination, and a compelling exploration of mother-daughter relationships and what a mother is willing to sacrifice for her daughter, but unfortunately that's all it has. The fantasy world in which the stories are set is little more than a backdrop, the characters are largely unlikable, and the story itself is barely sensical. The writing is mostly serviceable, with a few stand out moments, and slightly more that are cringeworthy. It's hard for me to understand why this won 3 hugos, unless for political reasons.

    # Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch
    One of our earlier book club picks of the year, and urban fantasy mystery set in London which does a great job of making the the City of London a character in the novel.

    # Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
    Doing for Mexico what Rivers of London did for London, this modern fantasy is set in the Jazz age of Mexico, and as with Rivers features mundanes and Gods as characters.

    @ Tehanu, by Ursula K. Leguin
    The fourth book in the Earthsea cycle, and the fourth is Michael Miller's book-by-book club study of the series. This is another stand-out book for me this year - I just loved it. In fact, I read it twice in a row, and was tempted to give it a third go before the discussion even began! Thanks, Michael!

    HORROR AND WEIRD FICTION NOVELS

    @# The Glamour, by Christopher Priest
    Christopher Priest's exploration of invisibility and it's implications. I quite like Priest's books, and they make for very good audio listening. There's something very unsettling about the characters in his stories, who very often seem to just want to go about with their ordinary lives but keep meeting creeps and never quite know how to deal with them. I'd put John Fowles' The Magus into the same category.

    @# A God in the Shed, by J.F. Dubeau
    This is a Canadian horror/weird fiction novel very much in the vein of something Stephen King would write. Set in a small town called St. Ferdinand the Eastern Townships of Quebec, this novel features a local cult, a mass murderer, and yes - a god that lives in a shed - at the centre of all things. I think this is a fine early effort from this author in the vein of Koontz or King, but is far from the gest that King can muster in terms of writing and characters. I really didn't think that Dubeau captured the essence of South Eastern Quebec. His town felt like any old generic North American small town, and so I found myself really unconvinced. Surprising given this is a Montreal author, but perhaps he (or maybe the publisher) was trying to appeal more to a broad American audience. It's a shame that so often local character is suppressed in order to appeal to Americans - are they really so unworldly that they can't read a story set somewhere else? King has his finger on the pulse of the American people in a way that Dubeau simply does not, but then he's still early in his career here, and one hopes we'll get there one day.

    @# The Compleat Crow, by Brian Lumley
    Collected short stories of Titus Crow, a psychic sleuth investigating the world's mysteries. Neither wonderful nor terrible. Not nearly as compelling to me as Christopher Priest, nor as invetive, but this collection garners a 4.03 rating on Good Reads, where nothing by Priest scores over 4. I can't account for this, unless it's that Priest is being marketed as a literary author to people who find him too weird, whereas Lumley is marketed to the weird fiction market, where people don't necessarily expect works to be literary.

    @# Piranesi, by Susanna clarke
    A late book club selection by Doctor Mitchener, this one also reminded me of John Fowles' The Magus. It also features someone 'trapped' in an exotic location by a mad dilettante. In this case, though, the main character, Piranesi, is very much an insider who curiously finds his way out, rather than an outsider who trying to fit in. Very satisfying from a writing perspective, though I did find it sagging a little in the middle, despite being quite a short novel.

    The Curse of the Wendigo, by Rick Yancey
    This book bears some resemblance to the Crow book above and, in many ways, to the urban fantasy type novels listed in the fantasy section above. In my opion, it's the best written of the lot, despite the author being the least well known. The story isn't perfect by any means - it drags in the middle and suffers from being a bit too long for the story - but has some very good description, compelling characters, and a clever and unusual existential menace that you are never really sure is a monster or not. This is 'book 2' in the Monstrumologist series about a young apprentice being mentored by Dr. Warthrop, a Victorian (if Americans can lay claim to naming an era after a monarch they rejected) New York City Monstrumologist. Though this is book 2, it stands alone just fine. I might explore the other offerings in the series.

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    HISTORICAL AND ADVENTURE FICTION

    @# Gone to Sea in a Bucket, by David Black
    Our first book club selection from last year, a WW2 submarine story that was quite well received by everyone. Solid historical naval war fiction, and the first in a series that I may will dip into again.

    @# Musashi, by Yoshikawa Eiji
    This is a re-telling of classic Japanese stories about a Samuari names Musashi. There's something naive about these simple romances, which makes them ultimately less satisfying for me. Also, many of the narratives are rather similar - Musashi is wrongly accused of some crime or other and wanders the wilderness while people try to track him down. He has run ins with local samurai schools which invariably lead to insults being thrown and the local school underestimating him, which in turn leads to a fight during which Musashi teaches the presumptuous locals some hard lessons. I feel like I've heard this one before.

    @Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
    Both the oldest and the longest book I took on this year, this satire is justifiable a classic. But like Mushashi, it's a long work composed of a series of rather samey episodes that can get a bit tiring after a while. I feel like it has a lot more to say about society, with some biting commentary, and that this elevates it above Musashi - but then, I don't know that much about Japanese culture and society, so it's possible Musashi has all this too, and I just missed it.

    # The Great Eastern, by Howard Rodman
    This was my club pick for this year, and I'm sure I liked it much more than everyone else. This was a story about Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ship The Great Eastern, and how it and its creator ended up in a war between Captains Ahab and Nemo over the laying of an undersea cable. I agree it didn't live up to the story-telling potential, had a rather flat deus-ex-machina climax, and Rodman took some wrong turns in trying to convey period language. But I think he did a great job voicing Ahab, and I give the author points for chutzpah.

    @ Sharpe's Escape, by Bernard Cornwell
    @ Sharpe's Fury, by Bernard Cornwell
    Books 10 and 11 in the Sharpe Series, both set in Spain during the Peninsular war. I normally shy away from series, and only followed this one this far because the narrator of this audio series, Rupert Farley, does such an amazing job of voicing all the characters. Have you ever seen the TV series starring Sean Bean? Farley makes it sound like you're listening to those very same actors. But, excellent narration aside, it's starting to feel like all the stories in the series are the same, and as such I'm not feeling too compelled to continue. My recommendation to anyone interested is to read the first three books, all set in India with a fascinating setting, and stop there.

    #A Grue of Ice, by Jeffrey Jenkins
    This is an adventure novel in the vein of Hammond Innes, set in the Southern Ocean between Tristan da Cunha and the Kerguelen Islands. It revolves around the settling of a hydrological mystery, and has conspiracy, murder, and whalers - so pretty much everything you'd expect. I don't remember how this ended up on my 'used bookstore wish list' but it was mentioned somewhere - in the introduction to another novel about south polar exploration, like perhaps Verne's Sphinx of the Ice Fields, or one of Hammond Innes' novels. I was never able to find this book, figuring it was an old, hardback travelogue by an obscure author. But this summer on my one trip to the Book Trader in Brockville, Ontario, during a lull in the pandemic, I discovered a new shelf, low to the ground at the back, with just this kind of adventure fiction on it, and there were a bunch of books by Jenkins, including this one. So I snapped it up an read it. It's very much of the quality of a Hammond Innes book, though since this is the only Jenkins book I've read, I can't quite say if he's as formulaic an author as Innes. Like Innes, though, he seems to know his stuff.

    HISTORY BOOKS

    Ancient Turkey, by Antonio Sagona and Paul Zimansky
    A survey of ancient people living in what has become Turkey, compiled mainly from archaeological sources. This book is divided into two sections - a pre-historic section up the the end of the Bronze age, and a second section post-writing covering the iron age. I found the second half more compelling than the first, which by necessity focuses mainly on pottery fragments. Probably not the best work for a lay-person.

    Letters to the King of Mari, by Wolfgang Heimpel
    This is an amazing piece of history, though very detailed and very specific. It features the translations of dozens of letters written to King Zimri-Lim of the city of Mari, who was first an ally and later an opponent of King Hammurabi of Babylon, c. 1765 BC. From these fragmentary letters written on clay, Heimpel puts together a complex and detailed picture of what was happening during those few years leading up to the fall of Mari. This book is definitely not for the faint of heart. Also quite expensive and hard to come by.

    Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer, by Robin Lane Fox
    Another challenging history book, in this case taking us to the early Greek colonies of the 8th Century BC to try to find some of the roots of Homer's famous narratives. Fox, himself a travelling hero by the sounds of it, gives us a rather circuitous narrative that seems to be built as much on wishful thinking as anything else, but it makes for an interesting story. Not the most clearly written of historical books, I must say, but oddly I feel compelled to re-read it, which probably means there's more to it than what's on the surface.

    @# Warlords of Ancient Mexico: How the Mayans and Aztecs Ruled for More Than a Thousand Years, by Peter G. Tsouras
    This was a compelling chronicle of the ancient kings of Mexico, discussing the rule of one king after another in order. I did this as an audio book, and although the narration was fine, I found the names quickly become a blur in that format and it's hard to keep track of who;s who. Also, the nature of audio books (I listen to them while I'm doing menial things) makes it impossible for me to take notes, which I would have liked to do. So I'm earmarking this one for purchase and re-reading one day as a print book.

    Iron Kingdom, by Christopher Clark
    A history of Prussia, and my many accounts of of the best ones on the market for being balanced in its portrayal. It spends roughly equal time talking about the many wars (these were the exciting parts of the book) and the social reforms of various kings and ministers (the boring part of the book). I enjoyed the one much more than the other, obviously.

    # The Un-Discovered Islands: An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms, and Fakes, by Malachy Tallack.
    This is a little hardcover picture book with two or three paragraphs about a variety of islands that never really existed, but people thought did. It's easily read it little bits over a week or so, and I found it quite interesting and rather well written. It was an impulse buy off Book City's remainder table.

    # Erebus: The Story of a Ship, by Michael Palin
    Another standout books for me, and probably the best history book of this batch for the general reader because it's not just a history, but an adventure. The book is very engagingly written and I'm happy to add this to my arctic exploration books right beside Farley Mowat's Ordeal by Ice, to which this makes a very fine companion.

    HISTORY LECTURES

    My audible membership gives me access to the many Great Courses lectures available. These are not strictly books, but listen very much like well-written introductory history books or surveys of historic ages, delivered by people who are enthusiastic about their subject and quite used to communicating verbally. They are all four to five star quality - I haven't been disappointed by one yet. Here's what I listened to this year:

    @ The Vikings, by Kenneth W. Harl
    @ Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, by Edwin Barnhardt
    #@ The Lost Worlds of South America, by Edwin Barnhardt
    #@ The Ancient Civilizations of North America, by Edwin Barnhardt
    @ The Foundations of Eastern Civilization, by Craig G. Benjamin

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    edited January 2021

    ROLEPLAYING GAMES

    Vimary: A Tribe 8 Sourcebook, by Joshua Mosqueira Asheim
    This is a setting book to the core setting of the Tribe 8 roleplaying game, the island of Vimary. The setting, one of the most creative ever made for an RPG, is that of a post magical apocalypse with alien-like gods that have settled in and taken over the area around Vimary, itself based on post-apocalyptic Montreal (which was originally named Ville-Marie - The City of Mary). Since I'm a Montreal boy myself, this makes for compelling reading. I enjoyed browsing the map and looking for the many easter eggs.

    # Troika! Numinous Edition, by Daniel Sell
    This is a very neat and light little RPG with a (largely implied) science fantasy setting. The rules are mostly traditional, which I like, but with a few twists. I can see some inspiration from games like RuneQuest, but this isn't a D100 system. The setting is only very lightly described and very obviously inspired Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun. Being a science fantasy setting, almost anything goes, so it's easy to make up on the spot. Years ago I had the pleasure of doing a little playtesting of a Brad Murray effort tentatively called soft Horizon, which I don't think was ever published. But this book reminds me very much of what I understood that was going to be. I wonder if Brad ever read it? Probably.

    # Belly of the Beast, by Ben Dutter
    A very curious and self-contained RPG - basically a fantasy RPG set inside the belly of a monstrous world-eating beast. I bought this very much for the setting, which I thought sounded very creative and promising, so I was a little disappointed to find that it really very little setting in it at all. It feels like the setting is just a skein used to deliver the rules, which are themselves fine and nothing groundbreaking. But in my opinion, the setting should really shine in a book like this, and there's really not much here.

    # Alien: The Roleplaying Game, by Tomas Harenstam
    #Alient RPG: Chariot of the Gods (scenario from the Starter Set)
    This is a solid RPG in a setting I really enjoy. The rules are based on Fria Ligan's core system, which I find compelling enough to want to try. The setting is rather lightly described - much more so than in Belly of the Beast, and probably hits the sweet spot for most gamers. Much of the book is devoted to describing skills, traits, weapons, and factions. There is a gazetteer of locations at the end, which rather interestingly describes the various locations as 'set pieces' for Alien encounters - they focus on, for example, a refinery, or a prison, or whatever specific milieu feels industrial, isolating, and dangerous. Isn't that exactly what you want from a game meant to emulate the Alien Movies?

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    MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: THE TO-READ SHELF REDUCTION

    Reading at least 50 books is only one of my annual reading goals. So far, I've never had trouble meeting it. My other goal is, I think, a more difficult one: Reduce the size of my 'To-Read' shelf by making sure I read more books than I purchase in a given year. I have a huge 'to read' shelf which must have hundreds of books on it - some of which have been on the shelf for decades. The only way I'll ever get to all of these is to start buying less that I can read in a year. I've never actually taken an account of whether I did this in a given year, but this year I decided to give it a go.

    In 2020 I read 58 books. Of these, 33 were new purchases, which means I only managed to read 25 previously purchased books.

    However, I purchased (or was given) many more books than the 33 I read this year, I also purchased other books that got added to my self. Here's what I purchased (or was given) that got added to the shelf this year, but haven't yet read:

    1. Frankenstein in Baghdad: A Novel, by Ahmed Saadawi
    2. Synners, by Pat Cadigan (SF Masterworks series)
    3. Born in Heaven, Made on Earth, by Michael B. Dick (Ancient history about Mesopotamian god statues)
    4. Ahab's Return, or The Lost Voyage, by Jeffrey Ford (fiction)
    5. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, buy Yuval Noah Harari (Audio book)
    6. Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined, by Stephen Fry (Audio book)
    7. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story, by Douglas Preston (Audio Book)
    8. The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, by Kevin Mitnick (Audio Book)
    9. A Boy and his Dog At the End of the World: A Novel, by C.A. Fletcher (Audio Book)
    10. The Evidence, by Christopher Priest (Audio Book, currently reading).
    11. The Star Rover, by Jack London (The Book Trader)
    12. The Crystal World, by J.G. Ballard (Book City)
    13. Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories (Book City)
    14. Alien RPG: Destroyer of Worlds (scenario boxed set)
    15. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse (The Book Trader)
    16. The Amateurs, by Liz Harmer (Fiction, x-mas gift)
    17. An Atlas of Tolkien, by David Day (non-fiction, x-mas gift)
    18. Reading and Writing Along the Borderland, by Michael Chabon (non-fiction, x-mas gift)
    19. Senlin Ascends, by Josiah Bancroft (fiction, x-mas gift)
    20. The Arabian Nights: A Companion, by Robert Irwin (non-fiction, x-mas gift)
    21. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River, by Alice Albinia (history/travelogue, x-mas gift)
    22. The Writing In The Stone, by Irving Finkel (fiction, x-mas gift)
    23. Historiae Mundi: A History of the Known World, by Mark Smylie (RPG setting)
    24. Lyonesse by The Design Mechanism (RPG)
    25. The Secret of Chimneypots, by Christian Jensen Romer (RPG scenario for Casting the Runes)
    26. New Fire
    27. Temikmatl: Book of Dreams, by Jason Kaminsky (RPG)
    28. The Things We Leave Behind (RPG scenarios for CoC)

    So, altogether I added 61 books to my To-Read shelf, but only took 58 books off the shelf - a net gain of 3 books!

    Obviously, I'm going to have to try harder in 2021 to resist buying books!

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    My reading was more modest than yours this year - according to Goodreads I managed a total of 44 books and very nearly 13k pages (hence just under 300 pages per book). That is staggeringly consistent for me (only in 2016 did I break through 50), and also rather surprising as I had thought that the hectic nature of work during lockdown meant that I had read a lot less this year. That I managed this number of books is in considerable measure thanks to this club.

    Now, Goodreads does not know about two other books I read - a very short one about Hadrian's Wall which, astonishingly, GR does not list, plus a rather longer fantasy one I read on request and which the author wishes to modify before a review goes out. (I also overheard parts of a couple of books that my other half was listening to, but I haven't counted them cos that would be like cheating...).

    In terms of ratings, there were 14 x5* books, 24 x 4* and 6 x 3* - it is rare for me to give 3* and exceptionally rare to go below that, seeing as how I do like to find some good in the efforts that an author has made, especially if they are comparatively unknown. Basically 2* only happens when the author is well known or nationally recognised, but then makes an utter hash of things which I know about. So I felt a bit mean this year.

    In terms of genre, I classified them as:
    5 alternate history
    9 fantasy
    2 geeky (ie non-fiction)
    2 historical fiction
    1 romance
    28 science fiction
    1 timeslip

    (the attentive reader will discover that some books were classified in more than one category)

    Normally my "geeky" count is higher, and with some background research I intend to do this year, 2021 should be back to pattern.

    What really suffered this year was not so much reading as writing of all kinds - I did get The Liminal Zone out, back in May, but since then have barely started my next project, and my blog writing has been virtually non-existent since May as well. Here's hoping 2021 is a bit different, though here in the UK we have started the year with another lockdown...

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    @Apocryphal said:
    #@ The Invincible, by Stanislaw Lem
    #@ Fiasco, by Stanislaw Lem
    #@ Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, by Stanislaw Lem
    A trio of books by Lem, as I work my way through his catalogue. Invincible was my favourite, and probably my favourite Lem book to date. Lem seems to write either straight-up SF on the theme of First Contact (The Invincible, Fiasco, Solaris) or poignant, absurd, satirical futurist novels (Memoirs, Cyberiad, Futurological Congress). I much prefer the former. One main thrust of the First Contact group of novels (most blatant in Fiasco) is that any attempt to relate to aliens will be doomed to fail, because they're, well, really alien, and not just humans with knobs and scales on their skin.

    Yeah, he really does write the best first contact books. They have kind of ruined almost all hard SF with aliens for me - they all seem just too speciest, which destroys my ability to suspend disbelief and participate in the world. I find the common thread in his books is the space between reason and what is, even the absurd books. Have you got to his detective stories e.g. The Investigation, Chain of Chance? What did you think?

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    Len wrote in a third style? I haven’t read those, but will keep an eye out for them.
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    Was that New Fire the mesoamerican RPG? If so, the PDF's been sitting around unread for years. It's large and dense, and I need some impetus to actually engage with it. If you do plan to read it, let me know, and perhaps we can discuss it as we go.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Len wrote in a third style? I haven’t read those, but will keep an eye out for them.

    I don't know if I would call it a style - it's still quite SF, but the conceit is detecting chains of previous events. I was really impressed with Chain of Chance.

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    edited January 2021
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > Was that New Fire the mesoamerican RPG? If so, the PDF's been sitting around unread for years. It's large and dense, and I need some impetus to actually engage with it. If you do plan to read it, let me know, and perhaps we can discuss it as we go.

    Yes, that would be interesting. 😃

    Btw-are you entering the new monthly rotation? See the latest Newsletter thread.
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    > @BarnerCobblewood said:
    > (Quote)
    > I don't know if I would call it a style - it's still quite SF, but the conceit is detecting chains of previous events. I was really impressed with Chain of Chance.

    Thanks, I’ll look for it.
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    @Apocryphal said:

    @NeilNjae said:
    Was that New Fire the mesoamerican RPG? If so, the PDF's been sitting around unread for years. It's large and dense, and I need some impetus to actually engage with it. If you do plan to read it, let me know, and perhaps we can discuss it as we go.

    Yes, that would be interesting. 😃

    Sounds like a plan.

    Btw-are you entering the new monthly rotation? See the latest Newsletter thread.

    Thanks for the reminder. Done.

  • 1

    Happy New Year to everyone,

    Here's a stock of what I what I read this year, and what I purchased for reading in future years. This year I managed to set a new record for both the number of books (85 books) which beats my old record by a whopping 13, and for pages read (25,135) which is just about 1000 more than my old. This gives an average page length of 295, which is bit lower than in my previous highest year (2018), where the average length was 334pp, or last year where it was 339pp. But much higher than my lowest year of 260pp.

    Broken down by category, here's what I read. Books marked with + are books I purchased and read this year. Books marked with @ are audio books. Books listed in italics are book club books:

    Science Fiction:
    @The Evidence - Christopher Priest, 2020, 360pp
    Far Rainbow / The Second Invasion From Mars - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, 1967, 240pp
    @A Boy and His Dog At the End of the World - C.A. Fletcher, 2019, 365pp
    Sleep Donation - Karen Russell, 2014, 110pp (re-read)
    Clade - James Bradley, 2015, 239pp
    @+Helliconia Summer - Brian Aldiss, 1983, 576pp
    @+The Affirmation - Christopher Priest, 1981, 247pp
    @+A Dream of Wessex - Christopher Priest, 1977, 224pp
    @+Helliconia Winter - Brian Aldiss, 1985, 392
    The Islanders - Christopher Priest, 2011, 342 (re-read)
    +Aztec Century - Christopher Evans, 1993, 352pp
    Into the Niger Bend - Jules Verne, 1905, 192pp
    The Island of Doctor Moreau - H.G. Wells, 1896, 142pp (re-read)
    @+A Memory Called Empire - Arkady Martine, 2019, 462pp
    The City in the Sahara - Jules Verne, 1905, 192pp
    The Dream Archipelago - Christopher Priest, 1999, 313pp (re-read)
    Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell, 2004, 509pp (re-read)
    +The Gradual - Christopher Priest, 2016, 400pp
    @+The Parable of the Sower - Octavia E. Butler, 1993, 295pp
    Binti: The Complete Trilogy - Nnedi Okorafor, 2019, 368pp
    @+When the World Shook - H. Rider Haggard, 1919, 288pp
    Hawksbill Station - Robert Silverberg, 1967, 188pp
    +The Adjacent - Christopher Priest, 2013, 384pp
    @+Alas Babylon - Pat Frank, 1959, 320pp (re-read)
    @+The Separation - Christopher Priest, 2002, 374pp
    @+The Chrysalids - John Wyndham, 1955, 200pp

    Fantasy & Weird Fiction
    The Vorhh - Brian Catling, 2015, 500pp
    @+Mort - Terry Pratchett, 1987, 222pp
    The Erstwhile - Brian Catling, 2017, 480pp
    @+Storm Front - Jim Butcher, 2000, 355pp
    +The Cloven - Brian Catling, 2018, 448pp
    @+The Gunslinger - Stephen King, 1982, 231pp
    The Clocks of Iraz - L. Sprague de Camp, 1971, 161pp (re-read)
    The Demon in the Mirror - Andrew J. Offutt, 1978, 192pp
    The Bones of the Old Ones - Howard Andrew Jones, 2012, 307pp
    @+Vita Nostra - Marina Dyachenko, 2007, 416pp
    The Fisherman - John Langan, 2016, 266
    The Library at Mount Char - Scott Hawkins, 2015, 390pp
    A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar, 2013, 299pp (re-read)
    Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea - Adam Roberts, 2014, 320pp
    The Unbeheaded King - L. Sprague de Camp, 1983, 180pp (re-read)
    The Eyes of Sarsis - Andrew J. Offutt, 1980, 207pp
    The Ginger Star - Leigh Brackett, 1974, 186pp
    The Book of Three - Lloyd Alexander, 1964, 219pp (re-read)
    The Black Caultron - Lloyd Alexander, 1965, 220pp (re-read)
    The Castle of Llyr - Lloyd Alexander, 1966, 206pp (re-read)
    Taran Wanderer - Lloyd Alexander, 1967, 254pp (re-read)

    Historical/General Fiction
    @+The Chronicles of Captain Blood - Rafael Sabatini, 1931, 210pp
    @+The Quiet Woman - Christopher Priest, 1990, 242pp
    @+The Fortunes of Captain Blood - Rafael Sabatini, 1936, 200pp
    @+Final Harbour - Harry Homewood, 1980, 364pp
    @+The Giant, O'Brien - Hilary Mantel, 1998, 208pp
    The Flame Before Us - Richard Abbott, 2015, 374pp
    The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate - L. Sprague de Camp, 1961, 416pp
    The Golden Wind - L. Sprague de Camp, 1969, 250pp
    @+The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood, 2000, 641pp
    @+The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again - M. John Harrison, 2020, 272pp

    Short Stories
    Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories, 2019, 184pp
    @+The Real and the Unreal: Selected Stories Volume 1: Where on Earth - Ursula K. LeGuin, 2012, 320pp
    @+The Real and the Unreal: Selected Stories Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Land - U.K. LeGuin, 2012, 330pp
    @+The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2A: The Greatest SF Novellas of All Time - Ben Bova Ed., 1973, 544pp
    @+The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2B: The Greatest SF Novellas of All Time - Ben Bova Ed., 1973, 559pp

    Non-Fiction: History
    @+The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the History of the Flood - Irving Finkel, 2014, 352pp
    @+The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy - Adrienne Mayor, 2009, 448
    @+The Company: The Rise and Fall of the Hudson's Bay Empire - Stephen R. Bown, 496pp
    @+Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle For the West, 2005, 418pp
    @+Tammerlane: Conqueror of the Earth - Harold Lamb, 1928, 216pp
    Life and Society in the Hittite World - Trevor Bryce, 2002, 326pp
    @+Herodotus: The Father of History - Elizabeth Vandiver, 2000, n/a
    @+The Crusades: The Definitive History of the War for the Holy Land - Thomas Ashbridge, 2010, 784pp
    The Return of the Shadow - Christopher Tolkien, 1988, 297pp
    Letters From Early Mesopotamia - Piotr Michalowski, 1993, 160pp

    Non-Fiction: RPGs
    Alien: The Destroyer of Worlds - Andrew E.C. Gaska, 2020, 88pp
    +Jackals - John-Matthew DeFoggi, 2020, 272pp
    +Superfluous Spells - Philip Reed, 2020, 27pp
    +Monstrum Prodigium - Philip Reed, 2020, 27pp
    +The Cursed Colony of Meslamtaea - G.P. Davis, 2021, 48pp
    +Odd Occurrences - Philip Reed, 2021, 27pp
    Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies - Chad Underkoffler, 2009, 328pp

    Non-Fiction: Other
    @The Lost City of the Monkey God - Douglas Preston, 2017, 326pp
    @Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow - Yuval Noah Hariri, 2015, 450pp
    @+Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, Avi Loeb, 2021, 240pp
    @+The Road to Oxiana - Robert Byron, 1937, 393pp
    @+Curiosity - Alberto Manguel, 2015, 377pp
    Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands - Michael Chabon, 2008, 222pp

    Metrics:
    Audio Books: 39 (46%)
    Print Books: 46 (which 12 were re-reads and 9 were newly-purchased books)
    Book Club Books: 10 monthly, 3 slow. 13 total, or which 9 were SF, 3 were Fantasy, and 1 was historical.

    And the most important metric - did I clear more books off my To-Read shelf than I bought?
    Books cleared from my To-Read shelf this year: 25
    Books to be added to my To-Read shelf this year: 57

    So, that's a big fail. To make matters worse, most of my added books have a much higher page count than the ones I read. Oops. Better luck in 2022?

    Most notable books:

    Science Fiction:
    A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A Fletcher was a very good Post Apocalyptic story.
    I read 9 books by Christopher Priest this year, of which I would say The Affirmation, and The Adjacent were also noteworthy.
    Silverberg's Hawksbill Station was quite good in the 'classical SF' department.

    Fantasy/Weird:
    Brian Catling's Vorhh trilogy was quite something - well-written, creative, weird fiction. This deserves to be better known.
    Adam Robert's Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea was also very good, and despite being obviously a sort of fan fiction, was quite creative.
    Leigh Brackett's Ginger Star was a nice surprise. Not literary, like the others, but a descent tale with some interesting world-building and some depth to the characters.

    Of course, Sleep Donation, The Island of Dr. Moreau, A Stranger in Olondria, The Islanders, and Cloud Atlas are all very good, but are less memorable for me due to having read them all before.

    Historical/General Fiction: A Flame Before Us by Richard Abbott made the most impact on me, followed by Priest's A Quiet Woman. The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison is a very interesting literary exercise worth reading. It's more about mood and clever description than 'story' per say, so it may not appeal to everyone.

    Short Stories: You can beat the SF Hall of Fame selection.

    Non-Fiction History: Easily I most enjoyed Irving Finkel's The Ark Before Noah, followed by Bown's The Company.

    RPGS: The winner here is Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies. Not a perfect book by any means, but it has lots of good stuff in it.

    Other Non-Fiction: Homo Deus is the winner, with Extraterrestrial by Avi Loeb and Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon being close behind.

  • 1

    Like you, I had an unexpectedly high year for reading - 68 books, totalling 22261 pages (327pp average). A big jump up from last year - 44 books and 12893 pages (293pp average). I'm normally in the 40-50 books and 12-13k pages area.

    I couldn't break it down in nearly as much detail as @Apocryphal , but by my reckoning the classification was

    • Science fiction 33
    • Fantasy 12
    • Historical fiction 9
    • Biography / autobiography 4
    • Graphic novel 4
    • Poetry 3
    • Geeky 3
    • Crime 1

    (One book got classified as both sf and fantasy).

    I was pleased that my choices included more older books than the last couple of year, with several in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    In terms of my response, I gave

    • 5* - 25
    • 4* - 32
    • 3* - 8
    • 2* - 3

    2* is a new category for me, basically meaning "I gave up on this and didn't finish it - I didn't like it but I suppose it's possible it got better sometime later on". 3*, in contrast means "well, I did finish it, but it didn't do much for me and I can't imagine rereading it ever". 5* are books that I thoroughly enjoyed and confidently expect to reread at some point, and (obviously) 4* is everything else.

    Bio/auto-bio is a new area for me and a very variable one, so I'm not inclined to persevere much with it.

    A year ago I wrote "What really suffered this year was not so much reading as writing of all kinds - I did get The Liminal Zone out, back in May, but since then have barely started my next project, and my blog writing has been virtually non-existent since May as well. Here's hoping 2021 is a bit different, though here in the UK we have started the year with another lockdown..." - well, all that is still largely true. The aforementioned "next project" is making extremely slow progress (but at least there is some progress), and I've hardly written anything in the blog. Ah well.

  • 1
    edited January 4

    I had a tremendously awful year for reading, due entirely to my year long musical experiment, in which I released an album of 12 original songs each month, recorded within in that month, for the 12 months of the year - this yielded 12X12 or 144 songs recorded. This left me almost no time for recreational reading, and I was always behind in my book club readings, but the experiment was successfully concluded at the end of the year, and I was not creatively burned out. I also managed to release one RPG as well, along with a compilation album of previously released songs.

    I should add that the experiment as an experiment was worthless beyond proving that it was indeed possible. No one would ever be mad enough to attempt to repeat it, so it is just a statistical outlier.

  • 1
    Could it get your name in The Guiness Book of World Records?

    I also had a major musical project, which was to listen to every obscure 70’s Progressive Rock album I could find. This amounted to over 1000 albums, not just from the 70’s and not just Progressive, but also psychedelic, folk rock, and fusion jazz. I made some very interesting new discoveries. Most of that listening happened while I was reading.

    Anyway, now that that’s over, I can spend some time catching up on Clash albums. :-)
  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Could it get your name in The Guiness Book of World Records?

    I have no idea. Never thought about it once.

    I also had a major musical project, which was to listen to every obscure 70’s Progressive Rock album I could find. This amounted to over 1000 albums, not just from the 70’s and not just Progressive, but also psychedelic, folk rock, and fusion jazz. I made some very interesting new discoveries. Most of that listening happened while I was reading.

    I love prog rock. Unfortunately, in my opinion prog rock bands have a point at which they tend to fly up their own asses and the songs become just showpieces for their superior musicianship - Jazz and Metal have the same problem, though less so...

    Anyway, now that that’s over, I can spend some time catching up on Clash albums. :-)

    I recommend London Calling, Sandinista! and Combat Rock :D

  • 0

    @clash_bowley said:
    I had a tremendously awful year for reading, due entirely to my year long musical experiment, in which I released an album of 12 original songs each month, recorded within in that month, for the 12 months of the year - this yielded 12X12 or 144 songs recorded. This left me almost no time for recreational reading, and I was always behind in my book club readings, but the experiment was successfully concluded at the end of the year, and I was not creatively burned out. I also managed to release one RPG as well, along with a compilation album of previously released songs.

    I should add that the experiment as an experiment was worthless beyond proving that it was indeed possible. No one would ever be mad enough to attempt to repeat it, so it is just a statistical outlier.

    That's an extraordinary amount of playing and recording to sustain for so long!

  • 1
    edited January 4

    @RichardAbbott said:
    That's an extraordinary amount of playing and recording to sustain for so long!

    Like I said, no one else is mad enough to attempt it... :D

  • 1
    I have no issue with quality musicianship, and I like that prog bands experimented and made long, variable songs. But even so, I like them to still be melodic and, you know, hummable. A lot of, for example, King Crimson’s driving metal work doesn’t interest me much, but I love Starless and Court and so on.

    Exploring the international stuff has been something, though. Italy, Argentina, Germany, Quebec, and Spain had some pretty interesting scenes back in the day.
  • 1
    edited January 5

    I'm an original Crim Head - from when Court of the Crimson King was released. And I agree - it's when the song gets lost in the performance that I get testy. B)

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