After a few years of reading less than I wanted, I managed to make more of an effort in 2013. 2013 was the second year that I made myself rate books after reading them, and thus far the year with the lowest average rating. There were still some gems, however.
I’ll start with the two brightest gems and switch to chronological order later: Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers was the best standalone work I read in 2013, a science fiction novel that approached from a completely different direction than I’d expected and hit hard despite a few missteps near the end. Disturbing but worth it.
Scott Lynch’s long-awaited The Republic of Thieves started poorly, and I was worried that the beginning represented a dropoff from the series’ earlier heights, but after that start it improved radically, expanding the series in interesting ways and—again—making me eager to discover what Lynch will do with it overall.
The year started with disappointing series works; I thought that Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire series had promise but that the cosmology just went awry, that George Alec Effinger’s Audran works started really well but couldn’t sustain the atmosphere, that The White Luck Warrior was the worst Second Apocalypse work so far, and that The Mongoliad was just terrible despite the big names associated with it.
I now remember The Parable of the Sower more fondly than the rating would suggest, but I’m not sure what that means.
I’m slowly going through all of the Culture works again, and re-reading The Player of Games was great. I’m still not sure whether it’s a better introduction to the Culture than Consider Phlebas; I prefer Consider Phlebas but it’s admittedly a more convoluted work. Later in the year, I also read The State of the Art, and again enjoyed those Banks short stories.
I loved the first half of The Crimson Petal and the White, and thought it was going to be amazing. It’s tough to resist a book with a narrator who comes out with sentences like this:
If you are bored beyond endurance, I can offer only my promise that there will be fucking in the very near future, not to mention madness, abduction, and violent death.―65. Michael Faber. The Crimson Petal and the White. Harvest Books, 2003. ASIN: B004H1U288.
The tone, style, and story were all excellent, and Faber made great use of the setting. But it tailed off later, and that was a real disappointment. It wasn’t simply the ending, but much of the second half lacked the verve and fascination of the first. I still recommend it, but it was good, not great.
I’m not entirely sure why I decided I needed to finish Stephen King’s Gunslinger series, but I worked my way through it. I again thought that The Gunslinger was an excellent opening, but apart from Wizard and Glass (which I now have trouble distinguishing from the rest of the series) the subsequent books were all worse. The later volumes, in which King tries to have the cosmology of the series encompass most of his other creative works, struck me as particularly clumsy.
Midway through the year I joined a second reading group, Books & Brews, and the collections of Le Guin short stories we started with, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, was a good one. The title story was excellent, a science-fiction take on Oisín in Tir na nÓg.
The Thousand Names was an excellent fantasy series opener, one that surprised me a couple of times and made me eager for the sequel.
Random Acts of Senseless Violence was a brilliantly-rendered tale of social breakdown through the eyes of a young girl, and I found it more compelling than Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
K J Parker’s Shadow was a fascinating beginning to the series, but Pattern and Memory, while still good, weren’t up to its standard. But if you like well-written quasi-fantasy with a lot of pragmatism that always seems to point towards terrible bloodshed, you should read it.
The People of Paper was a brilliant piece of writing, magical realist metafiction reminiscent of Calvino (but quite different), and also a book that can only really be read in physical form. It had perhaps my favorite line from the year:
She had heard that Los Angeles was the last refuge for those who had lost their civilization and were afraid of the rain.―25. Salvador Plascencia. The People of Paper. Harvest Books, 2006. ISBN: 9780156032117.
Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects was amazingly good minimalist near-futurist science fiction. I think I only rated it 80 because I wanted there to be a lot more of it.
I re-read The Crying of Lot 49 (trusting that it wouldn’t bring my reading to a screeching halt as did Gravity’s Rainbow in 2011) and enjoyed it a lot; I had liked it the first time I read it, long ago, but I seemed to read it in a very different tone this time, with more humor—the first time I felt it was darker and more oppressive, whereas this time the absurdity was funnier.
I’ve started collating reading statistics, so here are some about my 2013 reading:
51 books with an average of 439 pages per book, an average rating of 72, taking an average of 6 days to read.
The books I read in 2013 (rendered more pleasantly here):
|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, 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|
|21||The Dark Tower, Stephen King||65%||03 Jul|
|22||Promise of Blood, Brian McClellan||75%||06 Jul|
|23||The Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi||75%||09 Jul|
|24||The Fractal Prince, Hannu Rajaniemi||75%||10 Jul|
|25||Aristoi, Walter Jon Williams||65%||13 Jul|
|26||Downbelow Station, C J Cherryh||70%||18 Jul|
|27||The State of the Art, Iain M Banks||80%||19 Jul|
|28||A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Ursula K Le Guin||80%||21 Jul|
|29||Merchanter’s Luck, C J Cherryh||75%||25 Jul|
|30||The Thousand Names, Django Wexler||80%||27 Jul|
|31||Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Jack Womack||80%||01 Aug|
|32||Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill||60%||11 Aug|
|33||Emperor of Thorns, Mark Lawrence||65%||22 Aug|
|34||The Twenty-Year Death, Ariel S Winter||65%||01 Sep|
|35||Slow Getting Up, Nate Jackson||70%||18 Sep|
|36||The Red Knight, Miles Cameron||75%||27 Sep|
|37||Shadow, K J Parker||80%||30 Sep|
|38||Pattern, K J Parker||75%||02 Oct|
|39||Memory, K J Parker||75%||05 Oct|
|40||The Carpet Makers, Andreas Eschbach||90%||09 Oct|
|41||The Republic of Thieves, Scott Lynch||90%||12 Oct|
|42||Maul, Tricia Sullivan||65%||20 Oct|
|43||Colours in the Steel, K J Parker||60%||27 Oct|
|44||The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia||85%||17 Nov|
|45||The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang||80%||18 Nov|
|46||The Mature Optimization Handbook, Carlos Bueno||80%||19 Nov|
|47||The Belly of the Bow, K J Parker||60%||25 Nov|
|48||Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan||70%||03 Dec|
|49||The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon||80%||08 Dec|
|50||Castle, J Robert Lennon||75%||19 Dec|
|51||Dangerous Women, Gardner Dozois, George R R Martin||70%||26 Dec|
|||It’s actually a retelling of the Japanese Urashima Tarō legend, but I’m sure the Japanese stole it from the Irish.|