My Year in Reading
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.