Favorite Books of 1998

23:12 Thu 09 Nov 2006. Updated: 06:01 23 Aug 2009
[, , , ]

Slightly late, but getting closer… soon I might reach books I read this millennium.

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley (17/01/1998)

A fantastic retelling of the Arthurian legend, excellently written, extremely atmospheric. I loved it. Emilie gave it to me to read, correctly judging that I’d appreciate it.

Greetings from Earth, Scott Bradfield (17/02/1998)

Primarily for one story, "The Dream of the Wolf", which I ended up using as a focal story in my MA thesis. Another gift from Emilie, again spot-on.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt (03/03/1998)

I remember enjoying this a lot, but I don’t think I got as carried away by it as many of my friends. Vividly rendered and fascinating.

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner (15/03/1998)

Rather insightful in some ways, off the mark in others, I liked Brunner’s overpopulation-themed science fiction (proto-cyberpunk, perhaps?) novel quite a lot.

Berlin Game, Len Deighton (21/05/1998)

I just list the first one here, but in 1998 I devoured all nine of Deighton’s epic spy series. And loved every one, although the last three seemed weaker than the rest. If you like spy fiction at all, read them.

The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, Stephen R. Donaldson (08/10/1998)

Similarly, while I only list the first one I read that year (second in the series), I devoured all of the Gap series, too. At the time I considered it one of my favorite science fiction series—apart from the first book, The Real Story, which I hated and which I still think doesn’t fit with the rest. The rest, however, won me over entirely with an entirely plausible struggle by spacefaring mankind to overthrow a corrupt pseudo-democratic corporate oligarchy (political relevance, anyone?). Perhaps heretically given my Fantasy Bedtime Hour role, I prefer this series to the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, at least what of them I’ve read so far.

Hyperion, Dan Simmons (again) 24/10/1998

I had read Hyperion before, but it didn’t matter. I loved it the second time, and this time I could move right on to the second book in the series. I put the Hyperion books way up there as one of the all-time great science fiction series.

L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy (31/10/1998)

I read a lot of Ellroy in 1998, and I think I liked this the best, but am not completely certain. I think the book outshines the movie (which I also like a lot), partly because of greater complexity and partly because it doesn’t try to wrap things up neatly—or make the reader think that everything should be better now—at the end.

40 Stories, Donald Barthelme (31/10/1998)

Forty funny and whimsical and bizarre stories from Barthelme. I highly recommend it. I also used this as source material for my thesis.

The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F. Hamilton (28/11/1998)

I thought some of the politics objectionable, some of the politics and economics simplistic in a wishful-thinking way, many of the characters caricature-esque, and some of the style cheesy. However, I really, really enjoyed it, and could not stop reading it. I simply had to know what would happen next, all of the time that I read this book (and for the rest of the series).

I recently came across some reviews I wrote closer to the time, and include them below:

The Unholy Hymnal, Albert E. Kahn
Wolfe, London 1971
1, 03/01/1998

This is a compilation of quotes from the 60s and early 70s, taken from news sources and American government / military officials or politicians. Kahn simply takes the material and arranges it so as to best show what was going on. The subtitle is ‘Terminological Inexactitudes and Delusions’, and this is an ironic, understated description of the text, given such classics as:

“There are no American combat troops in Laos”
President Richard M. Nixon
March 7, 1970

followed by

San Francisco Chronicle
May 19, 1970

There are more, but taking them out of the text probably spoils their impact, which just keeps growing as the book continues. The lies pile higher and higher, and it’s amazing that the era (which hasn’t really ever ended) was known by such a polite phrasing as "The Era of the Credibility Gap".

Kahn appears to be fully non-partisan, showing up Democrats, Republicans, and various other groups equally. It’s a very funny book, but it gets quite painful to read after a while, and whenever I read more than a chapter at a time it made me fume at the fact that so many of the ‘Inexactitude Renderers’ got away with lying through their teeth to everybody so regularly.

Even with that serious side, it’s a humorous, light read, really more suited for dipping in and out of than ploughing through. It’s also great for wonderful quotes to disillusion the over-credulous…

Whit, Iain Banks
Abacus, London 1995
2, 07/01/1998

Whit is considerably more light-hearted than much of Banks’ other work. The eponymous heroine belongs to the small cult of Luskentyrianism, a highly plausible invention of the author’s. Luskentyrians eschew modern technology, live a fairly hermetic existence, and consider themselves devoted to spirituality rather than material pursuits. The plot hinges on Whit being sent to London (which the Luskentyrians call Babylondon) to find her cousin Morag, who has ‘gone native’ amongst the unenlightened.

Banks renders the narrator extremely well. Her beliefs and her naivety are satirised only gently. While some of her dogma, such as always sitting on hard surfaces, are shown as ridiculous, she comes across as a strong, likeable and good person. Rather than laugh at her for her illusions, we are led to look sharply at those who deceive her and to admire her determination to take what is good from those illusions and try to make it real.

Banks has serious points to make about human nature and fallibility, as well as resourcefulness. Whit is enjoyable and funny, but also weighs in with important concerns, especially near the end. It’s also populated with a great cast of characters. Ultimately a good read that raises a lot of important questions both about modern society and also the importance of what we choose to believe in.

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
Penguin, London 1993
3, 17/01/1998

The Mists of Avalon is an incredible book. Hugely ambitious, superbly crafted, it is a startling retelling of the Arthurian myth. It focuses on the female characters in the story, and could be seen as a feminist reclamation of the tale. It centres on Morgaine, known more commonly as Morgan le Fay. Marion Zimmer Bradley manages to get an awful lot out of the mythos, and constantly keeps the reader guessing as to how she is going to keep the events faithful to the original (insofar as there is an ‘original’). She reinterprets the myth brilliantly, with some complete surprises.

A major thread in the novel is the clash between Christianity and the older Druidic religion. Bradley handles this excellently, and gives the reader much food for thought regarding Christian values. I particularly loved the comparisons between Christian and pre-Christian ways of regarding nature and the land.

Each of the characters is meticulously drawn, and it is amazing how Bradley ensures her characters are recognizable as the characters we all know from other versions, and yet are so different. Gwenhafyr, Arthur and Lancelet are especially well done (as is Morgaine).

The story is richly rendered; Bradley’s narration wonderfully captures the strangeness and beauty of the setting. There is a powerful sense of fate running through the book, and this is one of the elements that makes it so tragic.

Overall it is a magnificent, compelling, epic work.

The full list of what I read in 1998:

  1. The Unholy Hymnal, Albert E. Kahn 03/01/1998
  2. Whit, Iain Banks 07/01/1998
  3. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley 17/01/98
  4. Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosley 23/01/98
  5. The Thought Gang, Tibor Fischer 28/01/98
  6. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 03/02/1998
  7. Knowledge of Angels, Jill Paton Walsh 06/02/1998
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston 06/02/1998
  9. Greetings from Earth, Scott Bradfield 17/02/1998
  10. Espedair Street, Iain Banks 22/02/1998
  11. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt 03/03/1998
  12. Why Things Bite Back, Edward Tenner 08/03/1998
  13. Total Chess, David Spanier 10/03/1998
  14. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner 15/03/1998
  15. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks 18/03/1998
  16. Spycatcher, Peter Wright and Paul Greengrass 23/03/1998
  17. Non-Stop, Brian Aldiss 30/03/1998
  18. An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks 03/04/1998
  19. Only Forward, Michael Marshall-Smith 14/04/1998
  20. Amongst Women, John McGahern 23/04/1998
  21. The Affirmation, Christopher Priest 24/04/1998
  22. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov 10/05/1998
  23. The Damnation of Theron Ware, Harold Frederic 11/05/1998
  24. Ghosts, Paul Auster 13/05/1998
  25. The Locked Room, Paul Auster 13/05/1998
  26. Accordion Crimes, E Annie Proulx 18/05/1998
  27. Berlin Game, Len Deighton 21/05/1998
  28. Mexico Set, Len Deighton 23/05/1998
  29. One Flew Over The Cuckoo‘s Nest, Ken Kesey (again) 24/05/1998
  30. Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow 25/05/1998
  31. London Match, Len Deighton 02/06/1998
  32. A Red Death, Walter Mosley 03/06/1998
  33. White Butterfly, Walter Mosley 03/06/1998
  34. Burr, Gore Vidal 11/06/1998
  35. Spy Hook, Len Deighton 14/06/1998
  36. Spy Line, Len Deighton 17/06/1998
  37. Postcards, E. Annie Proulx 19/06/1998
  38. Sundiver, David Brin 25/06/1998
  39. Spy Sinker, Len Deighton 26/06/1998
  40. Faith, Len Deighton 27/06/1998
  41. Hope, Len Deighton 27/06/1998
  42. The Unlimited Dream Company, J G Ballard 01/07/1998
  43. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut 03/07/1998
  44. The Sykaos Papers, E P Thompson 06/07/1998
  45. Charity, Len Deighton 07/07/1998
  46. War Fever, J G Ballard 09/07/1998
  47. Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom, David Wingrove (again) 13/07/1998
  48. Native Tongue, Carl Hiaasen 14/07/1998
  49. Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, Scott Adams 16/07/1998
  50. The Hanging Garden, Ian Rankin 18/07/1998
  51. The Last Defender of Camelot, Roger Zelazny 20/07/1998
  52. Hawksmoor, Peter Ackroyd 21/07/1998
  53. Yesterday’s Spy, Len Deighton 23/07/1998
  54. The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, Michael Dibdin 24/07/1998
  55. Inverted World, Christopher Priest 26/07/1998
  56. The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson 31/07/1998
  57. The Naked Sun, Isaac Asimov 05/08/1998
  58. The Evolution of Graphical User Interfaces, Kevin Teljeur 07/08/1998
  59. Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian 09/08/1998
  60. The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks (again) 11/08/1998
  61. The Butcher Boy, Patrick McCabe 16/08/1998
  62. Chung Kuo: The Broken Wheel, David Wingrove (again) 18/08/1998
  63. The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton, Larry Niven 19/08/1998
  64. Roadmarks, Roger Zelazny 24/08/1998
  65. The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy 28/08/1998
  66. The Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy, Rober Anton Wilson (again) 11/09/1998
  67. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem 13/09/1998
  68. Cabal, Michael Dibdin 01/10/1998
  69. The Man Who was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton 03/10/1998
  70. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger 06/10/1998
  71. Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb 08/10/1998
  72. The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge, Stephen R. Donaldson 08/10/1998
  73. The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Stephen R. Donaldson 09/10/1998
  74. The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order, Stephen R. Donaldson 09/10/1998
  75. Class Warfare, Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian 10/10/1998
  76. The Kennedy Conspiracy, Anthony Summers 16/10/1998
  77. The Gap into Ruin: On This Day All Gods Die, Stephen R. Donaldson 22/10/1998
  78. Hyperion, Dan Simmons (again) 24/10/1998
  79. The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons 25/10/1998
  80. Dreaming of Babylon: A Detective Story 1942, Richard Brautigan 25/10/1998
  81. Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970, Richard Brautigan 26/10/1998
  82. American Tabloid, James Ellroy 29/10/1998
  83. White Jazz, James Ellroy 30/10/1998
  84. L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy 31/10/1998
  85. 40 Stories, Donald Barthelme 31/10/1998
  86. Chung Kuo: The White Mountain, David Wingrove (again) 02/11/1998
  87. Chung Kuo: The Stone Within, David Wingrove (again) 02/11/1998
  88. Talking Heads, Alan Bennett 04/11/1998
  89. Chung Kuo: Beneath the Tree of Heaven, David Wingrove 12/11/1998
  90. Chung Kuo: White Moon, Red Dragon, David Wingrove 14/11/1998
  91. Chung Kuo: Days of Bitter Strength, David Wingrove 15/11/1998
  92. Chung Kuo: The Marriage of the Living Dark, David Wingrove 17/11/1998
  93. The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy 22/11/1998
  94. The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F. Hamilton 28/11/1998
  95. A Second Chance at Eden, Peter F. Hamilton 05/12/1998
  96. Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey 26/12/1998
  97. The Chomsky Reader, Noam Chomsky, ed. James Peck 31/12/1998

One Response to “Favorite Books of 1998”

  1. NiallM Says:

    I’m very pleased that I was able to contribute substantially to this list.

Leave a Reply