The Books of 2021

Time for another year-end book list. Here’s my summary from Goodreads. Probably my biggest theme of the year was finishing off Robin Hobb‘s 16-book “Realm of the Elderlings” world (about 11 books this year, the others in 2020). The whole series is good, some of it great. Probably my favorite thing about the books, aside from the many interesting characters, is the way the separate stories relate and tie together, sometimes with the payoff or a-ha moment not coming for another 6 or 8 books; she obviously thought through the world she was constructing before writing any of it, and there are some beautiful moments of realization scattered throughout the series. My least favorite thing about Robin Hobb is her penchant for layering misery after misery onto her poor protagonists; sometimes it feels like too much. I did some rereading this year, returning to the Douglas Adams books I first read long ago and the N.K. Jemisin books I first read 5-6 years ago. Those were both good. Jemisin, in particular, held up well on a second reading; I forgot just enough to enjoy it all over again. Other than that, I’ll call out Sayaka Murata for the most disturbing book I read this year, Earthlings, and Yoko Ogawa for The Memory Police, which inspired me to write my longest review [spoiler alert] of the year.

– Robin Hobb – All the assassin and liveship things
– N.K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season, and the rest of that series, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and so on
– Jane Austen – Mansfield Park (yes, another reread)
– Martha Wells – The Element of Fire
– T. Kingfisher – A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
– JRRT – The Hobbit (another reread that holds up well)
– Austin Channing Brown – I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
– Susanna Clarke – Piranesi
– Deonn Tracy – Legendborn
– Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth

For fun let’s also talk about the 1/2-stars and DNFs. First, there’s The Wheel of Time. I read the first three books and that’s as much as I can manage. I didn’t think they were terrible, but the characters’ immaturity (have you ever spoken to an actual girl or boy?) and nonsensical thinking (why do you all hate the woman who keeps saving your lives and is nothing but decent to you?), as well as all the gender essentialism, were just too much for me to feel like trudging through another 11ish books with them.

– Robert Jordan – The Wheel of Time I could have spent reading something else
– Shannon Messenger – Keeper of the Lost Cities. Every YA cliche made as dumb as possible.
– Deborah Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand. A reread that did not hold up (DNF).
– Elizabeth Knox – The Absolute Book
– Fuminori Nakamura – Cult X. I started this, then read the reviews and decided it was not for me (DNF).
– Robin Hobb – Forest Mage. Sorry, Robin. This did not start great, and then I read reviews and realized it would get much worse (DNF).
– Tamsyn Muir – Harrow the Ninth. Remove everything that made Gideon the Ninth fun, add a bunch of meh, and then try to save it with an exciting finish. No.

The Books of 2020

Another year, another summary from GoodReads. I thought this might be a banner year for reading, what with being at home 24/7 for most of the year, but it was pretty in line with the last few years. Some themes for this year: finishing the Expanse series (so far) and the Steerswoman series; reading the entire Murderbot series (so far), which is delightful; the Children of Time books (evolved intelligent spiders, and then evolved intelligent squids); starting on Discworld (about 14 books this year, and there are many more); starting in on Robin Hobb with the Farseer and Liveship Traders series; and a handful of random YA books, some great and some awful.

– Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries
– Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest, Ship of Magic
– Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of Time, Children of Ruin
– Ellis Avery – The Teahouse Fire
– Becky Chambers – To Be Taught, if Fortunate
– Dexter Palmer – Version Control
– Rosemary Kirstein – The Lost Steersman, The Language of Power
– James S.A. Corey – Books 7-8 of the Expanse series
– Terry Pratchett – Going Postal, The Light Fantastic, Small Gods, etc

The Books of 2019

Thanks to GoodReads for keeping track of what I read in 2019. This year I apparently read a book every 4.3 days, and 93 pages a day, slightly less than 2018. My favorite book of the year had to be Le Guin’s The Other Wind. The whole Earthsea hexology is fantastic, but I hadn’t read books 4-6 before and they’re all great. The Farthest Shore was also a great reread; I didn’t appreciate it as much when I was younger. I know everyone is aware of the Expanse books, which I’m working my way through, but a lesser-known epic series I’ve also been enjoying is Miles Cameron’s “Red Knight” books. They’re sort of the fantasy equivalent of those SF books that focus closely on details of engineering and technology; here, there’s a lot about armor, logistics, the economy, and firing rates of various kinds of archers, and it’s surprisingly engaging. A couple more suggestions some may have missed: Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman books, where the hero is a sort of adventurer/scientist/librarian; and Minae Mizumura’s “A True Novel”, generally billed as a sort of Japanese “Wuthering Heights”.

– Ursula Le Guin – The Other Wind, read/reread Earthsea and a bunch of her other books
– Miles Cameron – The Red Knight & most of its sequels
– James S.A. Corey – Books 2-6 of the Expanse series
– Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit, my favorite of that trilogy
– Rosemary Kirstein – The Steerswoman, The Outskirter’s Secret
– Ann Leckie – The Raven Tower
– Sayaka Murata – Convenience Store Woman
– Minae Mizumura – A True Novel
– Sylvain Neuvel – Sleeping Giants & sequels
– Jessica Amanda Salmonson – Tomoe Gozen
– Iain M. Banks – Look to Windward
– Ellen Kushner – read/reread the Riverside books

The Books of 2018

And what I read in 2018. It was a very good year for reading, and I read a bunch of books I really enjoyed. I mostly continued my recent trend of reading writers who are not white dudes, and enjoying a lot of new perspectives (like fantasy/sf grounded in African rather than European mythology); then again, I read a ridiculous number of Alastair Reynolds books this year and liked (almost) all of them. Weirdest books of the year have to be Yoon Ha Lee’s “Ninefox Gambit” and sequels. After the first book, I thought a lot of the technobabble was meaningless (albeit poetic), but deeper connections are made by the third book. At any rate, the books are very strange, with a basic concept that is more fantasy than science fiction in some ways (in short: a civilization can warp reality if it can get all of its citizens to believe in the same things). The words and the concepts sort of flow past the reader without entirely making sense, but working on a poetic level.

– Tamora Pierce – all the books
– Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Witch, Akata Warrior, and the Binti books
– Alastair Reynolds – Revelation Space, and a bunch of other books set in that universe
– Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun
– Ursula K. Le Guin – A Wizard Of Earthsea, The Tombs Of Atuan
– Malka Ann Older – Infomacracy, Null States
– Min Jin Lee – Pachinko
– Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber
– S.A. Chakraborty – The City Of Brass
– Issui Ogawa – The Next Continent
– Robert Jackson Bennett – City Of Stairs (and its not-quite-as-good sequels)
– Seth Dickinson – The Traitor Baru Cormorant
– Naomi Novik – Spinning Silver
– Pierce Brown – Red Rising, Golden Sun, Morning Star

The Books of 2017

Totally forgot to do this last year, so here’s what I read in 2017.

I can’t really say there was much of a theme to 2017. It was kind of a mishmash of me trying to find new writers to follow, after exhausting Cixin Liu and N.K. Jemisin in 2016. When I look back over the list, I can’t remember what half of these books were about, or whether I liked them. The one I hit on is Tamora Pierce; I read her “Alanna” series in 2017 and have read most of her other stuff since, sharing some of it with Nora (though she’s not ready for all of the books). I read and enjoyed Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” and then, hungry for more Novik, slogged my way through several of her Temeraire books (thing Hornblower or Aubrey/Maturin but there are dragons) before giving up. They’re not terrible, but they’re not great either.

But here are some favorites:
– Tamora Pierce – Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna)
– N.K. Jemisin – Stone Sky
– Kazu Kibuishi – Amulet graphic novels
– Mary Doria Russell – Children of God
– Naomi Novik – Uprooted
– Hiroshi Yamamoto – The Stories Of Ibis
– Ada Palmer – Too Like The Lightning, Seven Surrenders
– Lian Hearn – The Tale Of Shikanoko quartet
– Neal Stephenson – Seveneves (the first part anyway)

The Books of 2016

Fortunately, Goodreads does most of the work for me: here’s what I read in 2016.

My year in books was pretty much dominated by N.K. Jemisin. I read pretty much all her published novels, all three series, and loved basically all of them. I’m sad that I don’t have any more of her to read (until The Stone Sky comes out next summer), but at least I can recommend her to everyone I know. She creates good characters and stories, but even more remarkable are her strange and fascinating worlds. The year’s other obsession is probably Usagi Yojimbo, which both Nora and I have been working our way through avidly. Fortunately, there are decades of Usagi stories to read, and they’re all good. It’s a samurai rabbit, wandering the world, righting wrongs; what’s not to like?

Here are my top books (or series) of 2016:
– Anything by N.K. Jemisin
– Cinda Williams Chima – the Seven Realms books
– Stan Sakai: All of Usagi Yojimbo
– P.D. James: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
– Cixin Liu: Death’s End
– Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow
– Robin Sloan: Annabel Scheme
– Many things by Joe Abercrombie
– Hiroshi Sakurazaka: All You Need Is Kill
– Noelle Stevenson: Lumberjanes
– Madeline Ashby: Company Town, Vn (but not iD)
– Max Gladstone: the Craft books
– Ursula K. Leguin: A Wizard of Earthsea

The Books of 2015

The last couple of years, I’ve been making lists of the music I listen to all year and my favorites. I’m working on my 2015 music lists, but I thought I’d do the same with books this year. As with music, these aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2015, but ones I read. The unquestioned top books for me this year were the first two books of Liu Cixin’s “Three-Body Problem” trilogy (the third is due to appear in English translation in 2016, I believe). They are amazing. If you like any kind of science fiction or speculative fiction (or even if you don’t), you should read them. “Ancillary Sword” (and its sequel) was another science fiction book I really like this year, with a great protagonist. “Fingersmith” was another one that I recommend to all, with a great, twisty, Dickensian plot and cast of characters. It turns out that Goodreads will also summarize your year in reading; here’s mine.

Without further ado, here are my top 10:
– Liu Cixin – The Three-Body Problem
– Liu Cixin – The Dark Forest
– Sarah Waters – Fingersmith
– Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
– Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – The Terrorists
– Karl Schroeder – Ventus
– Richard Price – Samaritan
– N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
– Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor
– Richard Roberts – Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain

And here’s the complete list, in chronological order:
– Terry Pratchett – Monstrous Regiment
– Maj Sjowall – The Terrorists
– Steven Erikson – House of Chains
– Sidney Perkowitz – Universal Foam: From Cappuccino to the Cosmos
– Darin Bradley – Chimpanzee: A Novel
– Richard Roberts – Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain
– Hannu Rajaniemi – The Fractal Prince
– J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit
– Rosalind Wiseman – Queen Bees and Wannabes
– Nick Harkaway – Tigerman
– Anthony Hope – The Prisoner of Zenda
– Daphne du Maurier – The Scapegoat
– Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
– Donna Tartt – The Little Friend
– Donna Tartt – The Secret History
– James S.A. Corey – Leviathan Wakes
– Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice
– Tim Kreider – We Learn Nothing
– Liu Cixin – The Three-Body Problem
– George Pelecanos – The Cut
– Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
– Richard Price – Samaritan
– Leonora Carrington – The Hearing Trumpet
– Dennis Lehane – Gone, Baby, Gone
– M.K. Smith – Serena’s Fall
– Karl Schroeder – Ventus
– Liu Cixin – The Dark Forest
– Karl Schroeder – Lady of Mazes
– Judd Trichter – Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
– Robert Charles Wilson – The Affinities
– Derek Raymond – He Died With His Eyes Open
– Simon Reynolds – Rip it Up and Start Again
– Derek Raymond – The Devil’s Home on Leave
– Nick Mamatas – The Future is Japanese: Science Fiction Futures and Brand New Fantasies from and about Japan.
– James Ellroy – The Best American Noir of the Century
– Sarah Waters – Fingersmith
– Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor
– J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
– N.K. Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
– Philip Reeve – Mortal Engines
– Diana Wynne Jones – Howl’s Moving Castle
– Warren Ellis – Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow
– C.S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters
– J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
– Zoe Heller – What Was She Thinking? [Notes on a Scandal]
– C.A. Higgins – Lightless

Books, August 2012

**** Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game. I’m not sure how I never read this book before, but it was as good as everyone says.
**** Frank Herbert – Dune. Another one I shockingly never read before, and also really good. Now I have to see the movie, and read the rest of the books.
* Olaf Stapledon – Star Maker – I started this one, forced myself through it for a little while, but could not muster any interest in it.
*** Keith Roberts – Pavane. Good alternate-history story (actually, a collection of interlinked stories), in which the Catholic church still controls Europe and much of the world, suppressing much science and technology, with a coda that has a twist. An interesting exploration, though as a series of short stories, it doesn’t pull the reader into the characters as much as a single novel would. The stories also felt more poetic or fairy-tale esque than realistic, leaving me feeling somewhat disconnected. The twist at the end is thought-provoking but doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
*** Robert Charles Wilson – Spin. An interesting gimmick to build a science fiction novel around, hampered by too much attention given to interpersonal relationships that I had no interest in. Not that I don’t want interesting characters in a science fiction book, but these were neither very convincing nor very compelling. Still fairly readable.
** Peter Watts – Blindsight. I really liked the narrator, a person whose social inhibitions lead him to feel like he is simulating being human and to become an excellent observer. And the classic slow-discovery-of-alien plot was fairly intriguing — until the end, which just didn’t work for me. It was neither very convincing nor very interesting. And there wasn’t enough good stuff that preceded it to make the book something I overall enjoyed.
* Knut Hamsun – Mysteries. What a shitty fucking book. It’s “modernist” and “existentialist” which means that when you read a bunch of nonsensical ramblings from an unappealing, unconvincing, and uninteresting protagonist, you’re supposed to be moved by it and thereby question the underpinnings of society, or something. Or, you know, not.

Books, July 2012

*** Brian Eno – A Year with Swollen Appendices. I got about 1/4 of the way through this book. It’s full of interesting anecdotes and inspiring ideas and thoughts about the creative process, but it doesn’t make for very gripping lie-on-the-couch material. I’d like to get a copy and keep it around to dip into occasionally, but I don’t see myself reading it through in any hurry.
*** George R. R. Martin – A Feast for Crows.
*** George R. R. Martin – A Dance with Dragons. Both of these were a definite step down from the quality of the first three books.
*** Ames & Ilg – Your Three-Year-Old.

Books, June 2012

*** Sir Walter Scott – Ivanhoe. This one starts off pretty slow, and that plus the rampant anti-semitism makes it hard to get into. But the story picks up and ends up being pretty entertaining. Regarding the anti-semitism, my guess is it was fairly enlightened for its time, but it’s kind of annoying to read now.
*** C.J. Sansom – Dissolution. Gotta love a decent historical murder mystery.
** Herman Melville – Moby Dick. I was unable to get into this one and drifted away from reading it.
**** George R. R. Martin – A Storm of Swords.