In which I think about the future

51chrfXHMNL._SX277_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI did something the other day that I haven’t managed to do in years:  I cleared out my Unread Books shelf in my bedroom.  It has been damn near a decade since I had less than at least a couple of books on that shelf waiting to be gotten to, and there have been plenty of times where the shelf was literally the entire shelf.

What can I say; I buy books.  Lots of them.

Anyway, I had a problem: the last book on that shelf was Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, which is a book that I both 1) ought to read and 2) genuinely want to read.  However, I’ve discovered over the last few days that I absolutely do not have the necessary headspace available to handle reading Hannah Arendt.  This is depressing but true; I can’t do heavy nonfiction right now, and heavy nonfiction about antisemitism and totalitarianism is just not a thing I’m capable of.  So that’s gonna end up DNFed until I’m in a place where I can reflect and think more clearly.  I’ll get to it eventually.

Last night as I was having those thoughts about reading it occurred to me that somehow, despite being a fan of science fiction and fantasy for forty years, I’ve never read anything by Terry Pratchett.  I quickly downloaded The Color of Magic to my Kindle and read the first hundred or so pages last night.  And, well, now I think my project for 2017 is going to be to read every single Discworld book.  This somewhat conflicts with my previously-set goal to keep books by straight white men to no more than 30% or so of my reading.  I may amend that to no more than thirty percent of the authors being straight white men.  This sort of feels like a cheat but it’s my goals and my rules and I figure I can probably change them on the fly if I damn well feel like it.

What do you think?  Is 2017 the Year of Terry Pratchett?  Should I go for it?

#Review: DREADNOUGHT, by April Daniels

51CxH4-aSoL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgI don’t remember buying this book.  I don’t remember where I first encountered it, either, but it must have impressed me, as I must have pre-ordered it immediately.  I got a notification from Amazon that it had been shipped and actually had to look it up to figure out what it was.  And then I read the blurb and I was like, oh, right, this is definitely something I want to read.

I can’t call this the first great book I’ve read in 2017– it’s the third, actually– but one of those three was a kids’ book and the other was the third book in a trilogy.  So is it okay if I call this the first new hotness of the year?  It’s my blog, so yeah, it is.

This is one of those books where the premise will let you know right away whether you should buy the book or not: Daniel Tozer is a fifteen-year-old boy who happens to be the closest person when the world’s greatest superhero is killed, and he inherits the powers of that superhero, Dreadnought, when he dies.

And the first thing Dreadnought’s new powers do is remake Daniel’s body into the perfect body Daniel has always wanted.  Which means that Daniel becomes Danielle, and wakes up with unimaginable power and a woman’s body.

So that’s the first three pages, and there we go from there.  The broader beats of the story are sorta predictable, and you can probably imagine several of the complications that work their way into the story– friends, parents, a superteam that may not be what Danny thinks they are, and another high school friend who turns out to be a hero too.  The worldbuilding is solid (this is the first book of a series, so there’s room for not everything to be explained) and the action is solidly written– as fascinating as the premise is, you absolutely have to be able to nail action sequences to properly write a superhero novel, and Daniels excels at it.

So, whoever it was that turned me on to this book (Charlie Jane Anders blurbs it, so maybe it was her?), thank you.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series, and you should go read Dreadnought right the hell now.

The Top 10 New(*) Books I Read in 2016

I do this at the end of every year: the top 10 new books I read during that calendar year for the first time, where “new” means “new to me.”  That said, this list has turned out to be pretty heavy on 2016 releases for some reason; the oldest book on here is from 1989 and the second-oldest from 2005.  The order other than the top three or so doesn’t matter all that much, and had I written this on another day it might be a bit different; anything mentioned on here is gonna be a hell of a read.  I read 103 books this year, and it might be 104 depending on my free time today, so there’s a fair amount of competition.

And, just in case you’re curious, here are the 2015 listthe 2014 list and the 2013 list.

Read all that?  Okay, here we go:

10) THE FAMILY PLOT, by Cherie Priest.  I once got into a (civil) conversation on Twitter with a noted female horror writer about how there didn’t seem to be very many female horror writers.  By the end of the conversation I was convinced that the largest part of the problem was a weird definition of “horror writer” that I had in my head, one that only had room for Stephen King (notably, a dude) and no one else.  Well, fully a third of this year’s entries are horror novels by women writers, and we’ll kick it off with Cherie Priest’s The Family Plot.  This is that most simple of all horror stories: a haunted house.  It is not, I will admit, the most original thing you will ever read, although the hook of the house’s victims being pickers hired to tear the place apart to resell its guts at a profit is a nice touch.  But this book creeped me the hell out, and I stayed up much later than I ought to have two or three nights in a row in order to finish it.  It’s a nice stylistic change for Priest, too, who is turning out to be an impressively versatile author; I’d not have been able to guess she wrote this had I not seen her name on the cover.

9) DEAD SOULS: A NOVEL, by J. Lincoln Fenn.  Fenn is a new author for me this year, and I think I encountered this book through John Scalzi’s Big Idea series.  I have a second book of Fenn’s waiting on the shelf for me to get to it already.  In many ways I could write the same exact paragraph for this book that I just wrote above for The Family Plot, except that instead of a haunted house this book is about a deal with the devil, and with the added detail that this book has easily the creepiest ending to anything I’ve read in years.  I probably should have seen it coming, at least in part, but the ending catapulted the book from something I was really enjoying reading to holy shit find more books by this person and tell everyone they should read this one.  Very nicely done, and I look forward to reading more of Fenn’s books.

161308) ALEXANDER HAMILTON, by Ron Chernow.  I didn’t read a ton of nonfiction this year, and I went back and forth on whether I should rank this book or the next one on the list higher and eventually decided I didn’t care– but Chernow’s bio of Hamilton is a masterwork, and if you’re even vaguely interested in American history you should definitely make time for it.  Make a lot of time, actually, as the book’s big enough to kill small animals with.  For added fun, do what I did and memorize the soundtrack to the Hamilton musical before reading the book, as it will provide a nice accompaniment to the book in your head and will also shed some interesting light on some of the side details that Miranda included in his musical.  Most disappointing: that Alexander Hamilton did not actually punch a bursar while attempting to be enrolled at Princeton.

51ykx5hd5pl-_sx331_bo1204203200_7) AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN, by Ralph David Abernathy.  From biography to autobiography; I actually reviewed this after I read it, so feel free to click over to that for a more detailed look at the book, but the gist of it is this: Abernathy is doing several things here, writing his own autobiography, a history of the Civil Rights movement, and a biography of Martin Luther King, all at the same time and in the same book.  Also true about Ralph David Abernathy: he’s a bit of a dick, and uses the book for some score-settling from time to time, including with King himself, who Abernathy knew better than anyone.  It’s a reminder throughout that some of America’s greatest heroes– and Abernathy should be rightfully counted among that group, even though he’s less well-known than many of the people he discusses– were people, and not the bloodless icons that they’ve been turned into over the decades.  Very much worth reading.

256679186) BINTI, by Nnedi Okorafor.  One of the very, very few positive things about 2016 was the reemergence of the novella as a Thing that is Available to Read.  There are three novellas on this list, and a fourth that really probably ought to be.  Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti was the first I read of the bunch, and it’s a doozy: a sci-fi tale of a woman leaving her home and her culture behind to study at a prestigious university on another planet.  One problem: it’s in the midst of a war zone.  Okorafor can be a bit hit or miss for me; I also read Akata Witch and Lagoon by her this year, and I loved Akata but wasn’t too enthralled by Lagoon.  This one’s outstanding, though.  And that cover.  Damn.

114702775) GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, by Kameron Hurley.  This is book one and two of a series, and book three is on the shelf waiting for me to get to it.  I went back and forth a bit trying to decide if I was going to include one or both and whether I liked one more than the other and my answer ended up being “Screw it, my list, my rules.”

This series is some of the most original sci-fi I’ve ever read, a story of an assassin living on a planet-wide war zone where all of the men are off fighting in a holy war, the wider culture is loosely based on Islam, and advanced technology and magic are both based on bugs.  Yes, bugs.  There’s gene piracy and organ selling and I think the main character has died three times in the space of the two books already and it’s all fucking brilliant and you should read it immediately.

268835584) THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM, by Victor LaValle.  I said already that this was the Year of the Novella, and this and the next book are both products of Tor’s new novella line– a line I have (I think) bought every single release from and which have all been uniformly excellent.  Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe really ought to be in the top 10 as well, but three Lovecraft-inflected novellas on the same list seemed a bit much.  Black Tom is Tommy Tester, a hustler in 1920s New York, a guy who does what he can to get by, which includes dabbling in moving the occasional magical artifact.  If that setting’s not enough for you to want to pick up this book all by itself, I don’t want to be friends with you.  If you haven’t read Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook, you might want to do that before reading.  Or not, I suppose it’s up to you, and it’s not one of his better stories.

301993283) HAMMERS ON BONE, by Cassandra Khaw. This book features my favorite writing of any of the books on this list, writing that makes me want to absorb Cassandra Khaw’s powers so that I can write as well as she does.  It’s another Lovecraft-flavored novella, about a private detective who is hired by a ten-year-old to kill his stepfather.  The stepfather is not what he seems.  Neither, as it turns out, is the detective.  But to hell with the plot, as I said, the writing is the star here, a bizarre Mickey Spillane/ Lovecraft/ James Ellroy-esque pastiche that stays with you for days afterwards.  I would love to be able to write a book like this.  I want to be able to write a book like this.  Cass Khaw already did, and she is awesome.  She’s also got a full-length novel coming soon and a sequel to Bone; I can’t goddamn wait.

172350262) THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, by Mike Carey. I know Mike Carey primarily from his comics work, and wasn’t aware that he wrote prose books as well.  I only found out about The Girl with All the Gifts from the trailer for the movie adaptation, which still isn’t available Stateside anywhere I can see it, which makes me very upset.

Mike Carey should write more books.  The Girl with All the Gifts starts off feeling a bit run-of-the-mill; my wife is reading it right now after being harassed about it for most of the year and just asked me today if the book was basically a novelization of The Last of Us.  But the farther in you get the more enthralling the book becomes, and by the end it’s its own thing and while, yes, it’s still a zombie story, it’s a bloody goddamned great zombie story, one that despite having a damn movie made out of it still hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention.  I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked this up, guys.  It’s phenomenal.

189523811) THE WALL OF STORMS, by Ken Liu. This is the rarest of things, folks: a second installment in a planned long-run megaseries that is better in every way than the first book.  I liked The Grace of Kings quite a lot when I first read it, but by the end of the year the shine had worn off a bit and it only ended up (“only,” he says) in the Honorable Mention section of that year’s list.  The Wall of Storms fixes every single thing that is wrong with the first book and improves on the large quantity of stuff that was amazing.  Liu calls his China-flavored fantasy fiction “silkpunk,” and the discovery of electricity plays a big role in this novel.  So do dragons.  Sort of.  The title of the series, The Dandelion Dynasty, should also be taken seriously.  Note that last word.  It’s kind of important.  Storms doesn’t quite have the poetry of language that Hammers on Bone does, and isn’t quite as pulse-poundingly exciting as The Girl with All the Gifts, but that doesn’t keep it from being a tremendously inventive and rewarding piece of fiction from an author who keeps getting better.  It’s the best book I read this year.  You should read it.  Now.

Honorable Mention, in no particular order: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson, Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, Invasive and The Hellsblood Bride by Chuck Wendig, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West, The Rising by Ian Tregillis, The Secret Place by Tana French, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and Bloodline by Claudia Gray.

 

On what I’ve read: 2016

I know not all of you are friends with me on Goodreads (and you should be!) but I’m getting close to closing out 2016 for the year and writing my Best Books I Read post.  Just in case you were wondering, this is the competition:

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down Abernathy, Ralph David
Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, #1) Ahmed, Saladin
All the Birds in the Sky Anders, Charlie Jane
Karen Memory Bear, Elizabeth
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (The Song of the Shattered Sands, #1) Beaulieu, Bradley P.
Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 3 (Alias (Alias (2001-2003)) Bendis, Brian Michael
Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 2 Bendis, Brian Michael
Jessica Jones: Alias, Vol. 4 (Alias, #4) Bendis, Brian Michael
City of Blades (The Divine Cities, #2) Bennett, Robert Jackson
Crystal Rain (Xenowealth, #1) Buckell, Tobias S.
Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1) Caine, Rachel
The Girl with All the Gifts Carey, M.R.
Alexander Hamilton Chernow, Ron
The Tale of Yin Chng, Joyce
The Terracotta Bride Cho, Zen
Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5) Corey, James S.A.
Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1) Córdova, Zoraida
The Devourers Das, Indra
Are Prisons Obsolete? Davis, Angela Y.
The Wizard Killer – Season One Dreece, Adam
My Soul to Keep (African Immortals, #1) Due, Tananarive
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne
Black Wolves (Black Wolves, #1) Elliott, Kate
Dead Souls: A Novel Fenn, J. Lincoln
A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger, #1) Files, Gemma
The Force Awakens Foster, Alan Dean
The Drowning Eyes Foster, Emily
The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5) French, Tana
Kenyatta’s Escape Goines, Donald
Kenyatta’s Last Hit Goines, Donald
Crime Partners Goines, Donald
Death List Goines, Donald
Bloodline Gray, Claudia
Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2) Gray, Claudia
A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1) Gray, Claudia
Three Slices (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #7.5; Blud, #3.5; Miriam Black, #3.5) Hearne, Kevin
Staked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #8) Hearne, Kevin
The Destruction of the European Jews Hilberg, Raul
A Rage in Harlem (Harlem Cycle, #1) Himes, Chester
Brown Girl in the Ring Hopkinson, Nalo
God’s War (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #1) Hurley, Kameron
The Geek Feminist Revolution Hurley, Kameron
Infidel (Bel Dame Apocrypha, #2) Hurley, Kameron
A Brief History of Seven Killings James, Marlon
The Children of Men James, P.D.
The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) Jemisin, N.K.
The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe Johnson, Kij
Ahsoka Johnston, E.K.
The Unquiet Dead (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak #1) Khan, Ausma Zehanat
Hammers on Bone Khaw, Cassandra
The Ballad of Black Tom LaValle, Victor
Moth and Spark Leonard, Anne
The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty, #2) Liu, Ken
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories Liu, Ken
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Liu, Marjorie
MJ-12: Inception (MAJESTIC-12 #1) Martinez, Michael J.
Chaos Choreography (InCryptid, #5) McGuire, Seanan
Pocket Apocalypse (InCryptid, #4) McGuire, Seanan
This Census-Taker Miéville, China
Lagoon Okorafor, Nnedi
Akata Witch (Akata Witch, #1) Okorafor, Nnedi
Binti (Binti, #1) Okorafor, Nnedi
Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba, #2) Older, Daniel José
Infomocracy (The Centenal Cycle, #1) Older, Malka Ann
Midnighter, Vol. 1: Out Orlando, Steve
Mr. Fox Oyeyemi, Helen
Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota, #1) Palmer, Ada
The Family Plot Priest, Cherie
Chapelwood (The Borden Dispatches, #2) Priest, Cherie
Concrete Park Volume 2: R-E-S-P-E-C-T Puryear, Tony
Concrete Park Volume 1 Puryear, Tony
The Female Man Russ, Joanna
A Stranger in Olondria Samatar, Sofia
Calamity (Reckoners, #3) Sanderson, Brandon
The Quest for Cush (Imaro #2) Saunders, Charles R.
Imaro Saunders, Charles R.
Fire Boy – Book 1 of the Djinn-Son duology Shah, Sami
Hoodoo Smith, Ronald L.
A.D. After Death, Book One Snyder, Scott
Scale-Bright Sriduangkaew, Benjanun
An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1) Tahir, Sabaa
The Root (Wrath & Athenaeum #1) Tilahun, Na’amen Gobert
The Rising (The Alchemy Wars, #2) Tregillis, Ian
Pride’s Spell (Sin du Jour, #3) Wallace, Matt
Lustlocked (Sin du Jour, #2) Wallace, Matt
Fluency (Confluence, #1) Wells, Jennifer Foehner
Aftermath – Life Debt Wendig, Chuck
The Hellsblood Bride (Mookie Pearl, #2) Wendig, Chuck
Invasive Wendig, Chuck
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman West, Lindy
Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World Wiseman, Rosalind
Hope Rising Witter, Pamela H.

For reasons that aren’t quite clear to me, that list (which I just pulled off of Goodreads) doesn’t match the number of books that GR says are on my 2016 shelf, but screw it, it’s close enough.  I should pass 100 books read in the year rather easily by the end of the month, which means I read a bit less this year than I usually do– which kind of surprises me.  I’ve read 97 books this year, only a very few of which were rereads– not enough, honestly.  45 of them were by authors who were new to me and 74 were by women or authors of color.  I’m going to keep up this plan next year, too, although I’m going to toss sexuality into the mix– I’m going to keep books by straight white men to no more than about a quarter of what I read.  I liked what that did for my reading choices this year so I don’t see any reason to not keep it going.

Anything on the list you particularly liked?  Anything I should make sure to get to next year?

On sorcery

BeatsByDrDre_AChristmasMiracle15.jpgIt’s snowed twice this winter.  The first time was last week, which was basically just a dusting– a bit wetter than that, maybe, but nothing that was any big deal.  It melted within a couple of days.

My neighbors, down the road, have a full-sized snowman in their front yard, and it’s been there for a week.  At one point, it was completely surrounded with green grass since the rest of the snow had melted.  It’s as tall as I am.  It’s been snowing for the last day and a half or so, way more than the first time it snowed, and I still feel like there’s not enough snow on the ground to make a proper snowman.  I don’t have any idea how they pulled this shit off; there are cul-de-sacs all over the place in the neighborhood so there are plenty of crossroads to sell your soul to the Devil at, but it seems like a snowman is maybe not the best use of that transaction.

I’m this close to knocking on their door and asking them how the hell they did it.  I’d speculate about some sort of snow-packed-onto-a-giant-kids’-ball thing, but I’m no more certain that’s possible than building a snowman out of no snow.

Explain this to me, someone.


I’ve spent my weekend playing The Witcher 3 and reading.  Neither is going well.  I just bailed on Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which is as openly convinced of its own cleverness– the narrator literally brags about it– as anything I’ve ever read in my life.  I know people who would probably really like it, and I’m not sure I’d bother arguing with someone who loved it, but it’s one of those “not for me” things.  I’ve had bad things to say about the Witcher in the past, but the huge number of accolades it’s continued to receive and a sale over Black Friday weekend where the game and both its DLC expansions went on sale for less than twenty bucks managed to catch my attention.

And as of right now?  Meh.  It’s keeping my attention– it’s not terrible, by any means, but I’m going to lose interest before I finish it.  I slaughtered a bunch of guards at one point for making a rape joke.  It’s that kind of game.

Diving into Michael J. Sullivan’s The Death of Dulgath next, which ought to hit the spot.  It ain’t gonna be art, but I don’t really need that from my fantasy.  And I’ll keep playing Witcher until either the next rape joke or the combat gets boring; we’ll see what happens first.