On 2016, six days later

Jerry Holkins over at Penny Arcade wrote this the other day, and it crystallized a couple of things for me:


And… yeah.  That’s about right.  Not only was 2016 the worst year of my life, even before we take into account anything that took place outside of my immediate household, its nefarious and evil aspects spilled over into the end of 2015 and the end of 2017.  At the end of 2015 I had a Health Event, ending up in the hospital twice.  I was on medical leave for months and resigned at the beginning of 2016.  I figured I’d be employed again within a month.  Two, at the most.

It took six.  And I haven’t had a weekend off since, and three days a week I work eleven-hour shifts, barely get to see my wife, and effectively don’t get to see my son at all.  And my income is, well, we’ll say unstable.

I’ve sold one book (99 cents!) in the last two months and haven’t written a single word of fiction since July.

Oh, and my mother-in-law is in hospice and probably has less than a week to live.  It could very well be today.

And that’s before the part where we installed a fascist in the White House, a fact that overshadows every single other bad thing that happened outside of the walls of my home last year and that I have been firmly in a state of I Cannot Even for weeks.  I was talking with an old friend about it the other day; it’s really odd to know you’re in a state of denial, to recognize it and not be able to do anything about it.

My job is dependent on the economy being functional.  I need to be preparing for Armageddon over here, in what may as well be a completely literal fashion.

Nothing’s getting better this year.  Nothing at all. As much as I’d like to endorse that last sentence up there, and I really want to, I don’t know how to protect anyone from what’s coming.

Fuck 2016.  Fuck it to death.  And by God, by the end of this year I’ll probably be looking back at it with nostalgia.

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.


For obvious reasons

I’m not remotely in the mood for the universe right now.  George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Richard Adams in two days?  

“Fuck 2016” doesn’t even begin to cover it.


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 gestures, meaningless and otherwise

img_5089I got my first tattoo at a place called the Jade Dragon in Chicago.  It’s a pretty famous tattoo parlor; there’s pictures all over the walls of various celebrities who have gotten work done there and there are billboards for the place all over town.

At the time, much like now, I was bald and had a goatee.  In between my tattoo and the tattoo the friend I was with got, we ducked into a bar next door so that she could have a quick drink.  It was her first tattoo too, and hers was a lot bigger than mine was, and she wanted a touch of liquid courage.

A guy at the bar, also bald and bearded, wearing a denim vest over a black T-shirt, made eye contact with me, did some sort of fist-pump gesture, and yelled “Skinhead!  RAAH!” at us.  We got the hell out of there– I told my friend to steal the fucking glass her drink was in if she needed to– and went back next door to get her tattoo done.

You get a T-shirt if you spend more than a certain amount on your tattoo, and the place is overpriced as hell so just about everyone qualifies for a free shirt.  It’s got the logo of the place on it and a bunch of symbols all over the place.  I figured they were just random flash tattoos.  The shirt looked cool.  I wore it as often as I wore any of my other shirts, I suppose.

Fast forward about a year.  I’m chatting with this girl online and we get to talking about tattoos.  I mention that I’ve got one and tell her it’s from the Jade when she asks where I got it.

“Ugh,” she says.  “Don’t go there.  The place is run by neo-Nazis.”

I flash back to that guy in the bar next door.  And I do some research, and I discover that I’ve been wearing a shirt covered in white power symbols for a year.  Luckily for me, a shirt covered in obscure white power symbols, as I’ve been wearing them on the South Side of Chicago and that could have ended up going very, very poorly for me.

The shirt is thrown away on the spot.

I am on an L train heading somewhere; hell if I remember where any longer.  There’s a mom with several kids in the back of the train.  The kids are being loud– not ridiculously so, but they’re clearly excited to be on the train and I get the feeling that they’re not from Chicago and this might be their first time.  The train is maybe a third full; a few dozen people, perhaps.  Some jackass starts yelling at the lady about how loud her kids are being and how she needs to keep them under control and it gets very creepy and threatening very quickly.  The rest of the train car goes dead silent.

I unleash my teacher voice on the poor stupid bastard and redirect his attention from them to me.  I am still bald and bearded and I’m wearing a black trenchcoat.  I basically order him to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down and not say another word until either the family or him is off the train and then stare at him until he complies.

No one else on the train says a word.  One person– a white guy, maybe in his mid-fifties– nods approvingly at me.  I get off the train a stop early at the same place the family does in case he decides to try and follow them.  The mom thanks me.  The guy gives us the finger through the train window.  I blow him a kiss.

My wife and son and I go to hang out with some of our friends a few days after America decides to elect a fascist.  One of our friends is wearing a safety pin on her shirt.  I am not wearing one on mine.  I think about that family on that L train, and wonder about that safety pin.  Were they supposed to look around for someone wearing a safety pin, to appeal to that person for help?  If it’s winter, does the safety pin move to the outer clothing, or does it stay on the shirt, where you can’t see it under the coat?  And if the person wearing the safety pin stands up and makes herself visible, or speaks up and makes his voice heard, is the safety pin really making any difference?  Who is it there for?  Is it a reminder to ourselves?  A signal to other people that we are virtuous?  Both?  Neither?  If it’s not combined with action, does it really mean anything at all?

My friend has five children.  Those kids need to know to stand up, and she’s teaching them how.  And she walks the walk and talks the talk.  She will stand up.  The pin represents something real, on her.  I wonder how many others that’s true for.  How many people are just trying to make themselves feel better?  And do I have any right to criticize anyone else for making a small gesture that makes the world seem a little less bleak than it has recently?

I probably do not.

There is an American flag on the wall in my office.  America decides to elect a fascist and I find that I can’t stand to look at it any longer.  I order a rainbow flag from Amazon and hang it over the American flag, without taking it down.

I still believe in the things that America is supposed to represent, but I’m not sure the Stars and Stripes represents those things any longer.  The rainbow flag is better.  It expresses my ideals more concisely.

It’s on the wall in my office.  No one but me and my family is ever really going to see it.  I leave it there anyway, because I need the reminder.  So, for that matter, does my son, once he’s old enough to understand what it means.

I find myself looking forward to the day when I can take it down.