Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books I Read in 2014 and End of Year Review

Since I re-booted my blog at the end of summer here is my full reading list for 2014. I've bold the exceptional reads, and italicized the boring and disappointing ones.  

I should also note that I have a few stories by Benjanun Sriduangkaew on my list, but this was before I found out she is supposedly a notorious hate blogger.  

Zealot, Reza Aslan
The Vanished Library, Luciano Canfora
Herculaneum: Past and Future, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill

Return, Peter S. Beagle
Messenger’s Legacy, Peter V. Brett
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, Ted Chiang (re-read)
The Madonna and the Starship, James Morrow 
The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
Scale Bright, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Dream Houses, Genevieve Valentine 

Upgraded, Neil Clarke 
Midnight and Moonshine, Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter
Twenty-First Century Science Fiction, David G. Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee
Lowball, George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass
Dangerous Women, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Rogues, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Forever in the Memory of God, Peadar O’Guilin 
The Sword of Destiny, Andrzej Sapkowski
Reach for Infinity, Jonathon Strahan 
Lights in the Deep, Brad Torgersen
Beyond the Rift, Peter Watts

Foxglove Summer, Ben Aaronovitch 

Half a King, Joe Abercrombie
The Widow’s House, Daniel Abraham
Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
vN, Madeline Ashby
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
Lexicon, Max Barry
Turbulence, Samit Basu
Resistance, Samit Basu 
A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle
The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle
The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan 
Existence, David Brin
Red Rising, Pierce Brown
Hurricane Fever, Tobias S. Buckell 
Skin Game, Jim Butcher
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias 
Cibola Burn, James S.A. Corey 
Unwrapped Sky, Rjurik Davidson 
Enemies at Home, Lindsey Davis 
Terra Incognita, Ruth Downie
Food for the Gods, Karen Dudley
Kraken Bake, Karen Dudley
Zadayi Red, Caleb Fox
Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
Hild, Nicola Griffith
The Volunteer, Peadar O’ Guilin 
The Gospel of Loki, Joanne M. Harris 
The Secret of Abdu el Yezdi, Mark Hodder
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
The Memory of Water, Emma Itäranta
The Leopard, K.V. Johansen
The Way to Babylon, Paul Kearney
Riding the Unicorn, Paul Kearney
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie 
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
A Taste fur Murder, Dixie Lyle 
The World of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia Jr., and Linda Antonsson
Travel Light, Naomi Mitchison
All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park
The Bees, Laline Paull
Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett
Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
The Causal Angel, Hannu Rajaniemi 
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
Blood Song, Anthony Ryan
Tower Lord, Anthony Ryan
Veil of the Deserters, Jeff Salyards 
Words of Radiance, Brandon Sanderson 
The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski (re-read)
Blood of Elves, Andrzej Sapkowski (re-read)
Time of Contempt, Andrzej Sapkowski

Baptism of Fire, Andrzej Sapkowski 
Wild Cards X: Double Solitaire Melinda M. Snodgrass

The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer
Something More Than Night, Ian Tregillis
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine
Annihilation, Jeff VanderMeer 
Echopraxia, Peter Watts 
The Great Glass Sea, Josh Weil
The Martian, Andy Weir 
Three Princes, Ramona Wheeler 
Benighted, Kit Whitfield
The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara
Land of Love and Drowning, Tiphanie Yanique

Total: 90

Some Stats:
Science Fiction – 33                36.7%
Fantasy – 45                            50%
Fiction – 15                             16.7%
Anthologies – 12                     13.4%
2014 Releases – 46                 51.2%
Debut Novels – 20                  22.3%
New Authors – 32                  35.6%
Women Authors – 35               38.9%

Compared to last year I read a few less science fiction, fiction/literature, and anthologies/collections.  Debuts and new authors held steady.  Books I read more of include fantasy, new releases, and women authors.

Short Stories
“Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy”, Saladin Ahmed
“Little Knife”, Leigh Bardugo 
“Gordon, the Self-made Cat”, Peter S. Beagle
“Exhalation”, Ted Chiang
“The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu
“The Weight of a Blessing”, Aliette de Bodard
“Ship’s Brother”, Aliette de Bodard
“In the Age of Iron and Ashes”, Aliette de Bodard
“Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages
“La Santisima”, Teresa Frohock
“The Angelus Guns”, Max Gladstone
“The Astronomer Who Met the North Wind”, Kate Hall
“The Ink Readers of Doi Salet”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt
“The Ninety-Ninth Bride”, Catherine F. King 
“The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal
“Mountain Ways”, Ursula Le Guin
“The Pirate Captain’s Daughter”, Yoon Ha Lee
“Architectural Constraints”, Yoon Ha Lee
“Wine”, Yoon Ha Lee 
“The Contemporary Foxwife”, Yoon Ha Lee
“The Bonedrake’s Penance”, Yoon Ha Lee 
“The Plague”, Ken Liu
“Build-a-Dolly”, Ken Liu
“The Silk Merchant”, Ken Liu
“The Litigation Master and the Monkey King”, Ken Liu
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, Ken Liu
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel”, Ken Liu
“The Clockwork Soldier”, Ken Liu 

“Reborn”, Ken Liu 

“The Long Haul From the ANNALS OF TRANSPORTATION, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009”, Ken Liu 
“Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Ken Liu
“Driftings”, Ian McDonald
“Observations About Eggs from the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa”, Carmen Maria Machado
“‘Possum Trot”, J. Harley McIlrath
“The Lost Sepulcher of Huascar Capac”, Paul Park
“I Met a Man Who Wasn’t There”, K.J. Parker
“The Things We Do For Love”, K.J. Parker 
“Heaven Thunders the Truth”, K.J. Parker
“Safe House”, K.J. Parker 
“The Last Log of the Lachrimosa”, Alastair Reynolds 
“Dawn and the Maiden”, Sofia Samatar
“Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar
“Wake-Rider”, Vandana Singh 
“Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon”, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Chang’e Dashes from the Moon”, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade”, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky
“Sing”, Karin Tidbeck
“86,87,88,89”, Genevieve Valentine
“Six-Gun Snow White”, Catherynne M. Valente
“Salvage”, Carrie Vaughn 
“The Colonel”, Peter Watts
“Daedalum, the Devil’s Wheel”, E. Lily Yu
“The Urashima Effect”, E. Lily Yu

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: two mini-reviews of Messenger's Legacy and The Dispossessed

Messenger's Legacy is Peter V. Brett's third limited edition novella set in the same world as his Demon Cycle series.  This one follows a young boy in a swamp after he loses his family in an accident.  It's a decent enough story at first, even with a secondary character from the main series getting his own POV, but then partway through there's a big time jump to a point past the timeline in The Daylight War effectively tying this story to the rest of the books.  None of the other two novellas were like this.  You could read them with the series or not without any difference.  If it wasn't obvious before, it should be by now that Brett has lost control of his series.  Disappointing.

Rating: 5/10.

The Dispossessed probably doesn't need an introduction!  It's another one of the classic sci-fi books by Le Guin I hadn't yet gotten around to and finally did.  There is a reason Le Guin is rightfully considered a Grandmaster of the genre.  This book is full of ideas, analyzing and deconstructing both capitalist and anarchist societies.  There is some really brilliant stuff here.  Highly Recommended. 

Rating: 8.5/10.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

The year is 1949 and Valdimar Haraldsson, an eccentric Icelander with elevated ideas about the influence of fish consumption on Nordic civilization, has had the extraordinary good fortune to be invited to join a Danish merchant ship on its way to the Black Sea. Among the crew is the mythical hero Caeneus, disguised as the second mate. Every evening after dinner he entrances his fellow travelers with the tale of how he sailed with the fabled vessel the Argo on its quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

What unfolds is a slender but masterful, brilliant, and always entertaining novel that ranges deftly from the comic to the mythic as it weaves together tales of antiquity with the modern world in a voice so singular as to seem possessed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

In Greek mythology there's a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes.

Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother's girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf?

Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: two mini-reviews of Upgraded and Zadayi Red

Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld magazine, edited this Kickstarter anthology about the positive and negative impacts of cyborgs in science fiction.  As a cyborg myself, I was curious enough to contribute to the project.  There quite a few big-name authors involved, and the anthology is quite well written with very few duds.  A few stories, while good, seem a better fit for a more general sci-fi anthology, but most do a good job presenting a more thoughtful look at the cyborg experience itself. 

Rating: 8/10.

Zadayi Red is a mythical, fantasy story about the ancestors of Native Americans.  The author, Caleb Fox, is himself a Native American of Cherokee descent and this story was inspired by his ancestral legends and myths.  Indeed, there are mythical fantasy elements including shape-shifting, spiritual journeys, spirit companions, and ritual magic.  It's a good lyrical quest story, though not near as good as say, The Last Unicorn.

Rating: 7.5/10. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Award-winning author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the beautiful and ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip - allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien - is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Format: Hardcover, 399 pages
Publisher: Tor
Cover Art: Stephen Martiniere
Release Date: November 11, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0765377067

Wang Miao is a Chinese researcher working on nanomaterials with the eventual goal of creating a space elevator.  He seems to be living in strange times however, as scientists are committing suicide and the military asks him to join a secretive scientific organization as a double agent.  He also comes involved in an online video game that seems deceptively simple at first, but turns out to be incredibly complex and may be have staggering implications to the real world and mankind’s place in the cosmos. 

The name Cixin Liu, or more properly Liu Cixin, is probably not familiar to most Americans or other English speakers and that’s because the author is Chinese.  To others, he is one of the biggest authors of speculative fiction in China, and his Three-Body trilogy, of which The Three-Body Problem is the first book, is China’s biggest-selling hard sci-fi series, spanning time from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution to the end of the universe.  This is not the first time Liu’s work has been translated, but The Three-Body Problem is his first novel to have been so. 

One of the first things someone might ask about this book is how well was it translated and how does it stand up.  To my eyes, it does so extremely well.  The translation was superbly handled by Ken Liu, one of the best emerging sci-fi authors of the last few years.  In his translator’s postscript, Liu mentions that very slight changes, with the author’s permission, were made to help explain background detail of China and to streamline the storytelling differences between Chinese and English. 

So what is different about the story than most Western readers would expect?  It’s actually a little hard to put my finger on it.  If I were pressed, I’d say one thing is that while the plot is very straightforward and linear, the structure is somewhat unusual in that it jumps around a lot focusing on bits here and there that contribute to the story.  In other words, the plot may be pretty direct but the story is not.  Those who prefer a simpler novel may be put off, but those used to unconventional narratives should be fine.

One thing in particular I want to mention about this book is that I think it works better if you don’t know much about it going in.  I believe the story reads much better if you ignore the official blurbs in order to avoid spoilers.  That’s why the synopsis I provided above is fairly minimal, and it’s therefore why I won’t say much other than that the novel involves aliens, complicated physics, and an interstellar struggle for survival. 

The final point I do want to make is that this book, and the trilogy by implication, is quite complex.  It has many of historical and literary aspects that would appeal to Literature readers while also covering many philosophical, mathematical, scientific issues in often mind-numbing detail.  A rudimentary understanding of physics is not just recommended, it’s required.  It’s easy to see why these books have garnered so much popularity and acclaim in China.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is a great, enthralling book and I’m glad it’s now available in English.  It is a complex science fiction book and it’s easy to see why it is so popular in China.  It is a welcome addition to world speculative fiction.  Strongly recommended. 

Rating: 8.5/10.