My 2015 reading, so far… Reviews and mid-book thoughts!

I don’t get around to writing many full-length book reviews for this blog. But this year, I’ve decided that I’m at least going to write semi-regularly about what I’m reading, and what I’ve read so far.

My pace was abysmal in 2014, and it’s slightly better in the first month and a bit of 2015 — but I still catch my attention wandering a lot whenever I sit down to read almost anything. I’m sure I have some kind of attention span issue, and the fact that I’m currently reading 5 books simultaneously is testament to that possibility. I’ll list those books shortly, but first I’ll talk about what I’ve successfully finished since the year began.

(Note: I thought about listing comics and graphic novels in this post as well, but I might save them for separate posts.)

BOOKS I’VE FINISHED

pandoras-star-by-peter-f-hamiltonPandora’s Star by Peter F Hamilton – ★★★★

First up this year I finished this absolute monster of a tome. I actually started it in October last year, and it took me that long to get through the 1100+ pages. But it was pretty good! The real star of the book was the incredibly detailed world, which Hamilton attended to with the eye of a documentarian. It’s a fundamentally fantastical future universe (what with FTL and wormholes, not to mention the magic elf-like aliens) but thanks to Hamilton’s skill it feels plausible, and that’s an amazing achievement.

There were tons of characters too, and I can’t honestly say I was equally enthralled in all the different plotlines. When some characters showed up and took center stage for 50 pages or more, I could barely scrape through to the next chapter. But other characters’ stories were absolutely compelling, and I tore through those sections. I’ve seen a lot of dislike out there for Ozzie’s chapters, but his adventures were some of the best parts for me.

I’m really looking forward to Judas Unchained and the end of the saga, but before I begin that journey, I need to get some shorter SF novels under my belt.

22377695Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett – ★★★★★

My 17th Discworld book — yeah, I’m reading them in a really weird order. This might be the most laugh-out-loud funny of the bunch so far. It was just a non-stop barrage of amazing jokes and references to the world of fiction.

There were basically two halves to this book: the first half was an extended travelogue, which entailed the Lancre coven going from place to place and commenting snidely on things. Considering I love the three main characters, and Pratchett’s dialogue is perfect, this was entirely amazing. The second half was the storyline in Genua, which I also really enjoyed. Genua seemed like Pratchett’s love letter to New Orleans and Disneyworld mashed together. Amongst the hilarity there was a lot of intelligent commentary about race and class.

The absolute best part of this book, the jewel in the crown, is Nanny Ogg. She’s probably my absolute favourite Discworld character. Everything she says and does is hilarious — she’s my hero. I also adore Greebo, and seeing him turned into a human for a night was a real treat. What a fantastic sideplot.

One other really clever thing was the mirroring (pun intended?) of SPOILER ALERT the Weatherwax sisters — their deeds and their thoughts, and the somewhat troubling question of “is Granny really the good sister?”. I thought the final juxtaposition of scenes where both of them are trapped in the mirror world, and each responds in a different way to Death’s challenge, was kind of profound. END OF SPOILERS

Brilliant book. Bring on more Witches novels!

20578529How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor – ★★★★★

Not a genre novel, but it’s of interest to SF/F fans so I’m going to mention it here! I wrote quite a long review on Goodreads, but for this blog I’ll sum up what I thought in fewer words.

I love books about the making of movies and movie franchises, and this was one of the best examples of such a thing I’ve ever seen. It was a pleasingly comprehensive exploration of the entire Star Wars franchise and phenomenon, covering so much: the writing, making and marketing of the films; the early scripts and treatments; the Expanded Universe of books, TV shows, and comics; the endless merchandising; the critical and commercial response; the recent sale to Disney; and most importantly, the origins and expansion of the fandom to its present and enormous size.

It’s mostly a chronological telling, although every so often there’ll be a whole chapter acting as a present-day aside, where Chris Taylor profiles various groups and individuals of note within the fandom (cosplayers, collectors, and so on). Taylor packed so much research, history and analysis into this book (including dozens of new interviews), and it never stopped being gripping and readable. There’s tons of highs and lows, and the history of Lucasfilm is told with plenty of warts — there’s tidbits in here that Lucasfilm would never admit to or acknowledge.

I’m a pretty casual fan as far as Star Wars goes, but this book has gotten me really damn excited about Star Wars. Since I read this book I watched the original trilogy again (the theatrical versions only, of course), and now I’m hyped more than ever for Episode VII. I’m also going to check out the Thrawn trilogy of novels (by Timothy Zahn) later this year.

11138378The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett – ★★★

18 books into the series, I decided to finally go back and see how it all began. I’m glad I didn’t begin my Discworld adventure with this book. While it had its moments (the ending, and the part where Rincewind and Twoflower momentarily visit our world), a lot of it just dragged on and on, with genuine laughs being few and far between. None of the pastiches of other fantasy works were funny to me. It’s barely half the length of the later Discworld books but it seemed longer somehow. It just didn’t feel like the Discworld I love.

Terry improved so much since this book. Every other Discworld book I’ve read has been either a solid 4-star or a shining 5-star work. I can’t say the same for this one.

* * * * *

BOOKS I’M CURRENTLY READING

17404280The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I’ve been a bit slow to get into it, but since I upgraded my Kindle (from an old no-keyboard/no-touchscreen one to a Paperwhite) I’ve delved further into this charming little book. It’s a standalone fantasy set in a world of elves. They’re not exactly like Tolkien’s elves though, as they’re portrayed a little more animal-like, especially with their expressive ears. The main character is only half-elf as well, having been born to a goblin mother — and thus shunned by most of elf society. He finds himself, unexpectedly, the heir to the throne of the empire when his father and three brothers all die in a mysterious airship crash. A crash course in the ways of empire-ruling and court intrigue ensues.

It’s very well written, although one drawback is the veritable ocean of made-up terms that the reader is expected to stay afloat in. There is a character and terminology glossary at the end of the book, which is only a little annoying to navigate to on the Kindle.

I can’t complain too much though. It’s a fun and cozy novel. The book has gotten a ton of praise for being warm and optimistic in tone — a perfect antidote to the current trend of grimdark, violent fantasy. I’m 31% through now, and looking forward to every chance I get to pick it up.

9447868Excession by Iain M Banks

I’m about 80 pages into this book, and it’s a bit puzzling working out what’s going on so far, but I’m definitely enjoying it. It’s the fifth Culture book I’ve read, so once I’m done with it I’ll be halfway through the whole series!

So far the writing is immaculate (it’s Banks, so this isn’t unexpected) and the dialogue is a blast, as always. This book is already winning points for featuring far more of the Minds — they’re one of the things I love the most about the Culture. The Affront are also a fun (although quite repulsive) alien species. I keep forgetting how creative Banks can be with his aliens, so whenever a species like this shows up, it’s a treat.

92141Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Just after Christmas I saw the musical for the second time and figured it’s about time I read the book it was based on. I’m roughly 20% in, and wow, the differences from the musical are huge! It’s so much more grim in tone. I really enjoy the relative lightness of the musical — a lot of the time when I feel glum, I can just put on the soundtrack and be transported back into that cozy world — so it’s a bit disconcerting to see the same characters in a pretty nasty world.

At the same time, there’s way more detail and nuance to Elphaba’s life story. It’s fun uncovering all this extra material (and, having never read the L Frank Baum books, I don’t care about its canon/non-canon status; for me, Oz in Wicked is the only Oz).

I’ve just finished the section about Elphaba’s childhood. Next the story skips forwards to her years at Shiz University, and I’m excited to see how the novel portrays characters like Galinda and Dr Dillamond. I also can’t wait to get to the future events, in the sequels, that the musical doesn’t cover.

20007633The Gunslinger by Stephen King

I’ve literally just started this one! I read the introduction and foreword last night, and I’ll be diving in today. I have the whole series on my Kindle, waiting to be enjoyed.

I am a big fan of Stephen King but I’ve kind of neglected his work for the last few years. I have a massive backlog of his books that I want to read (many of them re-reads, because damned if books like The Stand aren’t among my favourite books of all time), but foremost on my list is something that I’ve never done: I’m going to finish the Dark Tower series.

I first started them at the end of 2004, right after I finished high school, and I got up to the start of Wizard and Glass before I started university in 2005. Then I sort of just… stopped. The new demands of university and college life got in the way. I always meant to go back and finish the series, but so much time has passed now, and I think it’s time to begin again. I can’t wait to reread the first three, all of which were amazing the first time around — and then finally continue on with the rest of this opus.

2193680The Complete Making of Indiana Jones by JW Rinzler

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe left me wanting to read another book like it, so I picked one about another film franchise I enjoy, and so far this is pretty great! It’s far more focused on the actual production of the films than Conquered was, with relatively little about their impact, fandom, and ancillary products.

Not that I mind: it’s basically like a really in-depth set of DVD special features, only in written form. The history of these creative visionaries — Lucas, Spielberg, et al. — and learning about an age of film-making where everything was practical instead of digital, is endlessly fascinating. There are tons of photos and pieces of artwork accompanying the text, which make this book a visual treasure as well.

All in all, it’s great fun. Of course, I’m going to watch all the movies for the umpteenth time as I read through this book. I have a Blu-ray boxset of them which I haven’t christened yet…

* * * * *

BOOKS I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO

It’s kind of irritating, but even though I’m reading 5 books concurrently, my brain keeps itching about the next ones I want to read. I keep taking them off the shelves, and having to force myself to stop and wait until I finish at least some of my current ones.

I’ve already written a lot more about all the books I want to read this year, so I won’t spend too much time covering them again. Briefly, for now, I think these will be the next few books I read:

  • The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett (it’s the continuation of The Colour of Magic, and I’m interested to see where it goes next even though I didn’t enjoy the first book too much… and then I can get back to the later, better Discworld novels!)
  • Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds (I have a hankering for more Reynolds and this is one of the few I haven’t read yet… but if the third Poseidon’s Children novel comes out before I get around to this, I might go straight for that)
  • A Darkling Sea by James L Cambias (a good, short standalone SF novel should really hit the spot, coming off reading Pandora’s Star and a Culture novel back-to-back!)

And that wraps it up for now. I’ll probably come out with another post like this in a couple more months. I’ve got to keep the pace up this year, there’s just so much good stuff to read!

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