At year’s middle, I’ve read 20 books, four shy of my goal of four books per month—but much closer to that total than I had expected after some long periods of minimal reading. While I’m happy to be reading more often again, there are only a couple of books I’ve read so far this year that are really good.
Last year, the standout was The Information, and in 2011 Embassytown and Debt were stellar. This year, the best book so far has been The Player of Games—a book I’ve read before. I may re-read the rest of the entire Culture series this year, partly because I’d been meaning to anyway, and partly driven by sorrow and respect for Banks, a wonderful author whose death is a great loss. I may also read all of his non-Culture work (or what there is of it that I haven’t read in the last several years), for similar reasons, but his Culture books are what I love most of his writing.
I re-read The Player of Games as part of this re-reading, and while I enjoyed it greatly, it didn’t quite shine the way it did the first time through. This is partly because I knew all of the plot twists, and so my empathy regarding the protagonist’s struggle and his relationship with games were different. It’s a Culture novel I feel I “should” like more, given that it is about a game player, but there’s something about Gurgeh’s portrayal that provides less of a connection for me than other Culture series protagonists.
The other highlight so far: Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which I was tempted to give a higher rating because of how much I loved it at the beginning. A third of the way through, I thought it was one of the best books I’d read in recent years. But it lost its hold on me, and I think it would have been better considerably shorter—or perhaps I somehow thought a different story was coming, and the one Faber actually told simply didn’t interest me as much. It became a domestic tale to a greater extent than I expected or wanted, and while that was part of the point, it ultimately didn’t fascinate me as did its beginning. I still recommend it, however.
I do not recommend the first book of The Mongoliad, a multi-author series about heroic warriors trying to resist the advance of the Mongol Empire into medieval Europe. It sounded like an excellent premise, quasi-historical fiction with fantasy elements and realism drawn from its historical setting, but—as could perhaps be expected from a work by several authors—it felt like it didn’t know what it really wanted to be. In addition, some of the writing was clumsy and simply bad.
Most of the science fiction and fantasy works I’ve read this year have been disappointing. Mark Lawrence’s of Thorns series started well, but turned into a mix of genres in a way that I don’t like. I will still read the third book when it comes out later this year, and might revise my opinion then.
George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen series also started stronger than it finished, the later books not really developing on the “Casbah Cyberpunk” ideas that made the first compelling.
- Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series remains one of my favorite trilogies, particularly for its handling of old fantasy tropes in some very new ways. But the sequel trilogy has been disappointing. (This will not stop me from reading The Unholy Consult when it comes out.)
The Expanse series, by the amalgam author known as “James S A Corey”, seemed promising but ended up reaching too far. It would have been better purely as a non-FTL SF series set in the relatively near future without adding alien life to the mix. That might have made it quite similar to C J Cherryh’s Alliance–Union series, but that’s not a terrible thing in itself, and there was plenty of differentiation without the larger-scale issues they brought to bear. I ended up feeling that it was covering some of the same ground as Neal Asher’s Gridlinked series, but not as interestingly.
David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy-four isn’t SF or fantasy, but is the first of a series. I liked it, as I liked The Damned United, but by the time I finished I felt that Peace’s style was not one I needed to read any more of, so I don’t think I’ll read the other books.
I was surprised by Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song, as my expectations for it had been low and now I’m undoubtedly going to read the sequel.
I decided that it was time to read another long fantasy series, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. I’d read the first two books long ago and not returned since, but now that series is done and it’s been recommended to me a couple of times. It’s been so-so; I felt the initial ideas had a lot of promise and that King hasn’t been able to come through on that. Some of what King seems to be trying to do with it is very interesting to me—he appears to be trying to encompass his entire life’s imaginative output within the framework of the series—but the story itself lacks something. I like and respect a lot of King’s work, but there’s a simplicity to this series—mainly in the ease with which the “good” and “bad” sides are demarcated—that makes me think less of it. I’m not yet finished it, however, so it’s possible the last book will reveal that I’ve misunderstood critical elements.
I’ll try to hit 50 books for the year—something I somehow haven’t done for a few years now—and I’ll hope that I read better books. It’s not like they’re not out there…
|01||Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence||70%||05 Jan|
|02||King of Thorns, Mark Lawrence||65%||05 Jan|
|03||A Fire In The Sun, George Alec Effinger||70%||13 Jan|
|04||The Exile Kiss, George Alec Effinger||65%||02 Feb|
|05||The White Luck Warrior, R. Scott Bakker||70%||09 Feb|
|06||Parable Of The Sower, Octavia E. Butler||65%||30 Apr|
|07||The Mongoliad: Book One, Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, et al.||50%||27 May|
|08||The Player of Games, Iain M Banks||85%||27 May|
|09||Nineteen Seventy-four, David Peace||75%||28 May|
|10||The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber||80%||15 Jun|
|11||More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon||75%||19 Jun|
|12||Caliban’s War, James S.A. Corey||70%||22 Jun|
|13||Abaddon’s Gate, James S.A. Corey||65%||22 Jun|
|14||Blood Song, Anthony Ryan||75%||26 Jun|
|15||The Gunslinger, Stephen King||75%||27 Jun|
|16||The Drawing of the Three, Stephen King||65%||27 Jun|
|17||The Waste Lands, Stephen King||70%||27 Jun|
|18||Wizard and Glass, Stephen King||75%||28 Jun|
|19||Wolves of the Calla, Stephen King||70%||29 Jun|
|20||Song of Susannah, Stephen King||65%||30 Jun|