What I Read in December

Fiction

  • The Cruel Stars: A Novel, John Birmingham. I want to say I liked it, but its been 3 weeks and I have no memory of reading it. (reads blurb) Oh yeah! It’s okay enough to check out the sequel, at least.
  • Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey. It was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing on my kindle phone app so I went to Libby and there was nothing good available through the local library (at least nothing that I could quickly find), so I downloaded this and read 40 percent of it and I am 40 percent stupider now. I should’ve stared at the ceiling all night, instead. “A novel can’t just be a list of things you like,” is a thing I read somewhere, once. Deeply, gravely, sub-Hallmark Channel-ly dumb.
  • Bellwether, Connie Willis. This is the first CW book I haven’t enjoyed. Too much gimmick, not enough plot. Early in her career, but after some big success. That surprised me. (You can tell, once again, how she’s the master of research… but she made that part of the plot, instead of part of her behind-the-scenes job as author, which didn’t serve it well.)
  • Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan. I knew this author by reputation but had never read anything by him. It’s “Literature.” I read a while back that he sneered at “genre” fiction, which makes him an asshole (see this, and the zinger from Ken MacLeod immediately under it). It’s alternate-present because computers came along sooner because Turing lived, and now there’s a sentient robot in the main character’s kitchen. If that’s not sci-fi I dunno what is. The plot was supposed to be dramatic but it just felt like a series of deuses exing the machina. Meh.
  • “2 B R 0 2 B”, Kurt Vonnegut. A short snark about population control. Not nearly as striking as “Harrison Bergeron,” his best (AFAIK) story in this vein. (That’s supposed to be a “naught” in the middle, there. To Be R Naught To Be, get it. I’d rather read “Too Bro To Be,” honestly. “The guy who could not even.”)

Non-fiction

  • You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman, Mike Thomas. A well-done downer.
  • Hello. This bullet-point is here because the markdown plugin I’m using appears to only wrap bulleted paragraphs in p tags if there are 2 or more bullet points, but not a standalone bullet. Not sure that’s a “bug,” particularly if the idea is somehow rooted in the world of outlining, where you shouldn’t create a new indented subsection (or whatever) if you only have one item for that subsection (or whatever). But here’s the thing: I only read one non-fiction thing so there’s only the one bullet point and I need it wrapped in a p tag or the max-width and slightly-lighter color CSS attributes don’t get applied. See?

Ye Olden Tymes Fiction

  • “The Kit Bag”, Algernon Blackwood. Somewhere, probably on Metafilter, someone said “Give me some old-time short story scares!” Not my usual thing but I followed a few links and found two stories easily downloadable so I figured I’d give them a shot. This one was fun; I could see a young Stephen King being inspired by this and working up his own modernized version.
  • “Between the Lights”, E.F. Benson. …whereas this one was completely terrible. Not in a “old timey writing is dumb!” way, but in a “the day this was released this person should’ve been roundly criticized for writing a non-story story” way.

What I read in November

Fiction

  • Midnight Riot, Peter Grant. Last month, I said of The Municipalists, “Loved the premise (sort-of Laundry Files humor-tech but focused on civil infrastructure instead of Cthulhu.)” This is even more like the Laundry Files, supernatural-wise… but without the tech. Or the humor, really. Saw this recommended by a Londoner and with the very detailed descriptions of London neighborhoods and transport, maybe being a Brit is required context. DNF but strangely, would recommend.
  • In Xanadu, Lavie Tidhar. A short story that is hopefully a prologue for something bigger. AIs and interplanetary computer hidey-holes. Fun. (read free @ Tor)

Non-fiction

  • Medallion Status, John Hodgman. I’m going to automatically 4- or 5-star anything from the Judge on principal. I think I might’ve liked Vacationland, his last, a little more than this one, but then we saw him perform “Vacationland” as a live performance, so maybe that’s tilting the scales a little. Also: the hook that organizes this book is airplane travel, and I intentionally held off reading until I was on a plane. Length of book and flight matched almost perfectly. I was 5 pages from the Acknowledgements when the row in front of me started de-planing. If I hadn’t been pinning my stepson into the window seat, I’d have let the remaining passengers skip me, sitting there for another 3 or 4 minutes, to finish it up, just because. Also also, I got a retweet from JJH. Fun.

What I read in October

Non-fiction:

  • Play Anything, Ian Bogost. I like his shtick on twitter, @ibogost. (I skimmed the heavier philosophical bits.)
  • Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, Gaston Dorren. One of those fun books that comes around every now and then, full of language factoids. (It was near the Bogost book; I have a habit of grabbing one random-nearby-book for every book I intentionally seek out.) I just noticed while grabbing a URL for this entry, that other versions have different subtitles. Weird.

Fiction:

  • The Municipalists, Seth Fried. Loved the premise (sort-of Laundry Files humor-tech but focused on civil infrastructure instead of Cthulhu) but it dragged a bit; felt like a clever idea for a short story, stretched into a full-length novel.

Things I read in May 📚

Non-fiction (tech):

Fiction:

  • Home and The Night Masquerade, Nnedi Okorafor. Books 2 and 3 of this series. I said of the first, “A little thin on plot but a refreshing character…” The plots got more interesting. I liked ‘em.
  • The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie. I liked this, too. I gather this is a continuation of a fantasy world she’s already built in short stories over the years; it was all new to me.
  • Revenger, Alastair Reynolds. I didn’t finish this until June but I was still on vacation so it counts in May. A little different than most of his stuff but pretty good. (I don’t love it when he leans into ultraviolence; happens in Revelation Space books here and there, too. I guess I’m just a squish.)
  • Permafrost, Alastair Reynolds. An unexpected time-travel thing from AR. Novella-length maybe? I read it on my Kindle while on vacation. My complete Goodreads review: “Good, but Connie Willis has mined this vein so deeply it’s hard not to compare.”

In May I said, “I got 10% of the way through an absolute doorstop of a fantasy novel.” I ran out of newer books while travelling, and plowed through another 20% or so of The Dragonbone Chair. Having put this much time into it, I’ll probably finish it, but it really is such a pastiche of better work that I won’t mind putting it off.

Things I read in April 📚

Non-fiction (tech):

  • Man-Computer Symbiosis, JCR Licklider, 1960. That link is to the text, @MIT. Not really a “book,” but I wanted to remember that I read it, so I put it in Goodreads. “The 15 [years until AI is sufficiently advanced] may be 10 or 500, but those years should be intellectually the most creative and exciting in the history of mankind.”

Fiction:

  • I, Partridge and Nomad, Alan Partridge, Rob Gibbons, Neil Gibbons, Armando Iannucci, Steve Coogan. After going on a binge of all the Alan Partridge shows last year, I queued these up and they finally came around. Surprised at how well A.P.s mannerisms translate from show to text. Also now binging on the new show (I think we’re on the 3rd watch-through now, after acquiring the series 2 weeks ago.) These seemed longer than I expected; part of the reason I only read a few books this month. Well, that and the fact that I read another big Alastair Reynolds book.
  • Elysium Fire, Alastair Reynolds. I like this Prefect series a lot. The Glitter Band has so much more story-telling potential than the Rust Belt. (Open it up to other writers, maybe?) I was worried at first that the plot was going to be too-much an allegory for 2016 politics, but it snaked away from that stuff. For the record I don’t buy the deep premise of the voting machines and the Prefects, as “really” politically workable, but it’s a fun idea to chew on.
  • Binti, Nnedi Okorafor. A little thin on plot but a refreshing character, part of sci-fi’s general widening in the last decade or two. I have the next two queued up; I hope Binti keeps being interesting.

Last month I said, “now at the end of the month I’m stuck in another long sci-fi novel that I’m not even enjoying. I may give up on it.” And I did! It was a time-travel concept, and at one point the traveller got “dropped off” in the past. He found the digital macguffin and “sent it forward” to his own time, acknowledging that the transmission speed for that process was a matter of hours. Then a few pages later he’s having a real-time full-duplex conversation with his “handler” up there in the future where his document is headed. If you can have a live chat, you should be able to send your email in a flash. Claude Shannon and whatnot. C’mon.

Anyway at the end of April I got 10% of the way through an absolute doorstop of a fantasy novel. I like it well enough but it may be something I read in bits and pieces over the course of a year. Feels like a broad pastiche of Arthur & Merlin/Fairies/Chronicles of Prydain/D&D/etc. Comfort food of a sort.

So, coming up: more Binti, a Claude Shannon bio (speaking of), another Alastair Reynolds paperweight, maybe more of this fantasy stuff…

Things I read in March 📚

Non-fiction (memoir/bio):

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader, Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzeli. Someone said this was far superior to the Walter Isaacson one. They’re just different, not better/worse. This one is too apologetic for his King High Emperor Dickhead behavior. “He was my friend so those people are wrong.” Mokay. I love the fact that this is the top question (of 4) about this biography, on Goodreads:

Fiction:

  • Blindsight and The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Peter Watts. I no longer remember where I saw P.W. recommended, but these were just so-so for me. (The first was Hugo nominated, so obviously I’m wrong.) Good ideas but the writing was kinda try-hard. Fun to imagine Niven in his prime, doing the same idea.
  • Golden State, Ben Winters. This was okay, sort of a lightweight 1984 at first, but then a twist that you maybe saw coming. I liked his previous series better, but this was a good read.
  • The Black Cloud, Sir Fred Hoyle. Someone asked a question on Metafilter, “What did this person mean when they said science-fiction doesn’t have to be all aliens and sentient clouds? What works of sci-fi involve clouds?” and of course there was a immediately a Trekkie in the thread, but then someone mentioned this 1957 chestnut, which sounded interesting so I found a PDF of it.The plot wasn’t super amazing but I like Hoyle’s style. Hemingway-esque short, declarative sentences. No one does this anymore.

That’s it. I got stuck in the Jobs one for much of the month, and now at the end of the month I’m stuck in another long sci-fi novel that I’m not even enjoying. I may give up on it.