It has been a year! With books in! So I’m going to ramble on about that and someone might even read it. Truly, we live in an age of wonders.
First thing’s first, I did… not manage to complete my Goodreads reading goal. I got to 58 out of 75, which is a way off. The main reason for that is I took nearly two months to read one book, and god knows how long on another, which rather threw me of my 1.5 per week stride. I’d say maybe I need to get better at quitting bad books, but one of them was very good and one was for the Hugo read, so it wouldn’t even help. I just need the Hugos to be better quality this year, I guess? I’m going to keep the same goal going into next year, and hope I don’t get caught up like that again, because two months on one book is pretty ridiculous by my standards. Fingers crossed.
On the other hand, there have been some successes. I read along with the Hugo and Nebula novels (and was only a bit late finishing), even though I had to read a middle-of-series book to catch up on one of them (and it was dire). It remains a really good goal, and I’ll be carrying it through to this year, when the boyfriend has agreed to read along with the Nebulas with me. I am also toying with adding the Booker shortlist, but that might be over-ambitious, especially as I don’t think I’d have enough time between it being announced and the winner coming out to get through them all. I will consider.
I did also read more than last year, if not by as much as I wanted, and succeeded at blogging every book I read. That has been an interesting experience, and not always fun. I have definitely had pile-ups happen, and it is so, so hard to force myself to go back and catch up on those. But it worked, and I’m going to carry on with it, because I really enjoy the critical thinking process that goes into it – I’m inclined to read fairly analytically anyway, it’s not something I can turn off, but I find that having to write about it after provides an excellent set of mental scaffolding and helps me make all that more structured and coherent than it might otherwise be. Obviously this means the blog will still be mainly SFF, but retaining a subset of non-genre to keep me on my toes.
And now, to the books!
Best Novel of the Year: Well, this was DIFFICULT. I’ve read a lot of good stuff this year. But there are two major candidate for the spot – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Bright Air Black by David Vann. They both push the right buttons for me in different ways. Bright Air Black is one of the best Classical myth rewrites I have ever read… which is pretty high accolade. But I think The Handmaid’s Tale just edges it out, because it has that enduring relevance and impact that I don’t think the Medea story quite manages to drag out (however gloriously written). So that’s a win for The Handmaid’s Tale, and a very honourable mention for Bright Air Black.
Worst Book of the Year: This one is also difficult, and made more so by a strong late contender for the role. In the shortlist we have: Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer, The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu and just sneaking in at the end, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. They’re all awful, but they’re all differently mediocre, from the dizzying and ambitious heights of what-the-fuckery of Too Like the Lightning, to the raw, amateurish inadequacy of Red Rising, to the stunning mediocrity of Altered Carbon. So it comes down to a question of whether ambition should be rewarded, in spite of failure, or whether it is better never to have tried at all. Because Red Rising and Altered Carbon both suffer from a complete lack of skill, finesse, talent or originality… while The Dark Forest and Too Like the Lightning both manage to have some interesting ideas… and use them to plumb new levels of Jesus Christ why the hell would you do that. I think it comes down to two, AC and TLtL… and ultimately, I think the contrast of knowing Palmer can do better (some of her world-building is really very interesting) makes the awful bits that much worse by contrast. Also the worst bits are just worse, where Morgan just bumbles along a very low average and doesn’t deviate very far. But he should be proud; he came a very close second. So yeah, Too Like the Lightning it is.
Best Graphic Novel: No real contest here, as it’s got to be Monstress: Volume 1. I’ve read a lot of good comics this year, and it’s something I really want to carry on doing, but this one (which I’d been meaning to read for ages) just knocked them all out of the water. Good story, great art, great characters, wonderful world-building and a host of female characters peopling the fore- and background. Easy and well-deserved win.
Most Fun: This easily goes to Imperium, because what more fun could I ever have than in reading about Cicero*?
Most Likely to Become Comfort Reading: The Imogen Quy books all were a wonderful bundle of cosy detection, and I definitely foresee them joining the rota of books I read to cheer me up, especially since they’re quite so small.
Special Mention: Everfair by Nisi Shawl. I didn’t love it and I didn’t want it to win the Nebula. But it did an amazing job of showing what Steampunk could do, if it decided to stop glossing over the inadequacies of the past, and what the genre really could be if it ever stopped to try. Not that I think it’ll change much in that regard – I don’t think much will trample the Steampunk aesthetic for a good while, only time, distance and maybe some painful hindsight on some people’s parts – but the fact that it exists and showcases a better way of doing things I think is really laudable. I’ve recommended it to people, and will continue doing so, because it really really engages with the realities of the Victorian world, and the darker, grimmer parts of that that we should never ignore, lest we be seen to be glorifying a part of our history that was entirely built on those exact grim realities. It’s not a fun book, but the best ones aren’t, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who think Steampunk isn’t for them on these grounds. Also it is very, very well written.
Best Film: I would be shouting “WONDER WOMAN” at the screen without pause, had I not recently seen Thor: Ragnarok. As it is, I’m still going to settle on Wonder Woman, because very few films affect me emotionally the way it did. It’s such a step in the right direction for women and the superhero genre, and I really really want to see more. Shame Justice League is a) apparently rubbish and b) full of Joss Whedon throwing sexual tension at WW and indeed c) whichever idiot sexied up the Amazons’ costumes. I’ve not seen it, and based on the above, definitely don’t intend to give it cinema money to do so. Maybe when it’s on Netflix. I await WW 2 with unbridled joy, however.
Author I Should Have Got to Sooner: This one’s a tie, between Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler. Both wrote amazing books I read this year (multiple for both) and both are sufficient notables of their respective genres that I have no excuses for dithering. I adored Kindred and Bloodchild, and I’ll be making the effort to pick up more of Butler’s work, having honestly never heard of her until she came up in a FB discussion earlier in the year. Atwood… I had been meaning for so long to read The Handmaid’s Tale, and when it really didn’t disappoint, it kicked me into getting onto some of her other work. The Penelopiad particularly was such a beautiful thing, clearly resonant with understanding and research of what she was discussing, that I felt genuinely sad younger me didn’t get to experience it.
And that’s that!
So, did I meet my aims from last year?
- Continue an average of one ‘blog post per week for the year. CHECK
- Continue to read more current SFF, ideally from within the last 12 months. Not… entirely. Must try harder.
- Try to increase diversity of authors in what I read. CHECK
- Read along with the Hugo novel nominations CHECK
- Read along with one of the Nebulas, BFA or Hugo not-novel nominations. NEBULAS CHECK
- Vote in the Hugos. … I’m too much of a cheapskate, ok?
- Log all of my read books on Goodreads (or similar) so I have a record of how many books I actually read in the year. CHECK
- Try to read at least some of my now 80+ item To Read list. Does it count if I no longer have the list as it died when I got a new phone? I’m going to say yes…
And indeed, here are my aims for this year:
- The Nebula and Hugo readalong was a good idea, especially adding the Nebulas, so I’m definitely gunning for a third year of awards reading.
- I might add the Booker shortlist, time pending. This one isn’t set in stone.
- Speaking of which, I’ve picked up several really wonderful bits of literary fiction this year, and I need to get on that more often. Even if I don’t do the Bookers, I want to increase the literary portion of my reading.
- I also have some non-fiction I’d like to get into, so I’m going to try to up my portion of that as well.
- I didn’t manage to read that much published in 2017 this year, so I’m going to make a dedicated effort to seek out and read things that are really current, especially within genre.
- My Goodreads reading challenge is once again set to 75, and this time, I fully intend to get to it.
- And I’m going to continue blogging every book, as I’ve found that really helpful. The aim is to get each post out before I finish the subsequent book (which I nearly always achieved this year).
I think those are reasonable things to be getting on with, and mostly achievable. The main issue is my social life keeps getting in the way of reading, distressingly, so I’ll need to work on making time to just sit and read, rather than dithering on the internet.
So, wish me luck!
Next post will either be The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy or the second volume of Ms. Marvel, both of which seem an excellent way to start the year.
*Don’t answer that.