My 2015 reading, part two… More reviews and thoughts!

2015_2Now that we’re at the year’s halfway point, once again it’s about time I collect my thoughts and mini-reviews about all the books I’ve read recently. Here’s the first of my 2015 posts. In this post and all future ones I’ll exclude the books that aren’t directly genre-related (which in this case is just one, the entertaining but pulpy World War II thriller, Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean).

So, it’s been half a year and my reading rate has been absolutely atrocious. I won’t go into reasons, but it’s partly things out of my control, and partly being too easily consumed by video games and TV shows when I do get free time.

My goal for 2015 was to read at least 40 books, and so far I’m just on 13 ones finished (with a few in progress). I think I might revise my goal down to 30 and really try to prioritise ones I’ve owned and wanted to read for a long time, instead of getting sucked in by new releases.

Some of the reviews below are more just collections of thoughts about the book rather than coherent reviews, and often I’m cribbing from what I wrote on Goodreads when I finished each book. But I think I give an impression of what appealed to me about each book.

So read on for books featuring fantasy (of the dark, comedic, and “cozy” flavours), futures both optimistic and pessimistic, human-alien relationships, and more!

FINISHED IN FEBRUARY

20007633The Gunslinger by Stephen King – ★★★★½

I think this is my third time reading The Gunslinger, but I’ve never made it all the way through the whole Dark Tower septology before. This time I want to complete the series.

I forgot to write a review when I finished this back in February, and now I don’t have much to say about it, other than it’s a great first book broken into a handful of novellas, each weirder and unveiling more about the world than the last. I particularly love the journey Roland takes through the mountains with Jake, and the remnants of long-dead civilisation that they find there. Haunting.

FINISHED IN MARCH

17404280The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison – ★★★★

If you like, check out what I wrote about this book in the last one of these posts, while I was still reading it. There may be some overlap in what’s written below, though.

This is a pretty “cozy” book, in that there’s not much in the way of adventure or action. It almost all takes place within the court and palace of the new, reluctant emperor Maia, who just happens to be one of the most pleasant and likeable characters I’ve come across in any fantasy book. Maia is just an all-round great guy, and the entire book is focused on his attempts to not be a shitty emperor like his father was. He’s a complex character with interesting motivations, fears, strengths and weaknesses. He’s a protagonist you feel really good about rooting for.

The book was just thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end, with some great supporting characters too. The main race in the story are elves — there are also goblins, and half-breeds like Maia, and only one or two mentions of humans — but they’re a bit different to Tolkien elves. One of the most interesting thing the author did was to have the characters’ ears move and convey emotion all the time. This made them a lot more animal-like in my mind, and thus they felt like a fresh take on a fantasy staple.

The world (more steampunk-tinged than your usual medieval setting) and its history were interesting; and there were some positively portrayed gay/lesbian minor characters, which is always a plus.

The one downside to the book was the over-use of made up words, and complicated fantasy names/titles. It took almost half the book to wrap my head around who was who, and what meant what. After that though (and after upgrading to a Kindle with the X-Ray feature, which acted like a pop-up glossary of characters), it was just smooth sailing.

One of the reasons I picked this book up in the first place was because it’s a standalone. Sometimes I just need that kind of thing instead of a whole new series. But now I’ve finished it, I wish there were sequels forthcoming!

17426064Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett – ★★★★½

Rest in peace, Terry. I decided to pick this book up on the day I heard of his death. I thought that beginning another Discworld book (the 19th I’d read so far) would be the best way to honour the man. I’m really glad I chose this one to go with rather than The Light Fantastic (which I was planning as the next one to read), because this is one of the best Discworld books I’ve read yet. It’s fundamentally a war story, but it has so much heart. I liked it much more than the other Discworld war book, Jingo.

Here are some somewhat disjointed thoughts:

  • It had some of the best supporting characters in any Discworld book. Jackrum evolved from a walking stereotype into an incredibly nuanced character by the end of the book; Maladict was delightful all the way through, throwing out many great quips; Igor was kind of adorable, and had some of the best jokes.
  • Talking of Igors, I think they’re one of the most creative fantasy “races” in the entire genre.
  • And, LGBT characters in Discworld! It’s about time.
  • Some of the farcical scenes involving Lt. Blouse’s cluelessness were a riot. Also, add him to the list of excellent supporting characters. He turned out to be a thoroughly decent guy.
  • Maladict’s Vietnam flash-sidewayses were genius. Vampires can hallucinate into other dimensions, it seems.
  • Just like in The Truth, the extended Sam Vimes cameo was nice.
  • I’m still in the mindset of finishing one of the standalone DW titles and thinking “Hopefully Terry will revisit these characters in a later book!” … *heartbroken sigh*

20550624The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj – ★★★¼

This was a fairly interesting but very short novel — a fiction experiment of sorts, mashing together erotica with science fiction.

The plot (a community of intellectuals rallies in the aftermath of a terrorist attack) and the setting (a university town on a planet populated by humans and aliens) were great; but they played second fiddle to the exploration of a spectrum of sexual and romantic relationships. This book had a lot of sex: between humans and humans, and far more interestingly, between humans and aliens. It also had a lot of flashbacks and family drama. The sex was more interesting.

I cared for some characters more than others. I wasn’t too absorbed by the two leads, Amara and Narita; but the supporting characters (especially the saurian alien, Gaurav, stoic after the death of his human lover) were interesting.

The book has a number of excellent black and white illustrations, one accompanying each chapter, which add to the quality of the package.

FINISHED IN MAY

pwakePoseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds – ★★★★

A solid end to a solid trilogy, but it didn’t reach the heights of the Revelation Space series or House of Suns. Nonetheless, it was a very optimistic SF work in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke, and we need more of those!

We got some answers, but even more questions; and little closure in the end. The coda about the destination of the ship Zanzibar was tantalising but all too brief. Perhaps a future novel?

Overall, a low-key ending to a fairly low-key trilogy about space travel, elephants, robots and philosophy — devoid of the galaxy-dooming horrors and cutthroat factions of Reynolds’ other works. Low-key isn’t necessarily bad, though. Despite the relative lack of excitement, I’ll always look fondly back on these books. I think I’ve come to love the Akinya family, the headstrong yet compassionate people that they are.

FINISHED IN JUNE

25201920The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – ★★★★★

I just wrote a full-length review for this book which you can read here, so I won’t repeat myself too much in this post.

The gist of that review though: It’s like Firefly, or a grungier Mass Effect, with amazing characters and cool aliens. It’s optimistic just like The Goblin Emperor was, and there are touching relationships — notably, the book features not one but two interspecies romances! Three if you count a human-AI romance in the vein of Her. The exploration of the future of love and diversity really makes this book special.

It’s exactly the kind of SF book I’ve been yearning to read for years. I really hope there are sequels in store.

FINISHED IN JULY (SO FAR)

19341493The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub – ★★★★¼

Another sprawling epic from Stephen King (and Peter Straub of course). It features one of my favourite characters from all of Stephen King’s work, Wolf. He’s the shining light and heart of this book. I think the next time I visit this book it will just be for him.

The length made it a bit of a drag, especially as some of the episodes in Jack’s journey west weren’t as thrilling as others. But some memorable moments really stick out: escaping from monsters (both human and non-human) in a seedy little town; taking a werewolf to the cinema; and a nightmarish train ride through an otherworldly landscape. The latter really put me in mind of similar sequences in The Dark Tower and China Miéville’s Iron Council. It’s a bit of a specific trope, but one that I’ve realised I love whenever it pops up in fantasy fiction. Authors, please insert more terrifying and inexorable train journeys in your stories!

The final act of the book was my least favourite part. The black hotel could have been way scarier, and the final battle was a bit anticlimactic. The very ending was a bit confusing and abrupt, as well. Basically, although the last third of the book had some great moments (like that train journey), it was hard to remain as enthused as I had been before. And that was for, well, reasons of a spoiler-y nature.

Still, a cracking portal-fantasy adventure. I’ll wait for a while before I decide if I want to read the follow-up novel, Black House. I have more Dark Tower books to read in the meantime.

tumblr_inline_n8gc9oZ9fk1s0669xSlow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds – ★★★★

A nifty story full of the usual Reynolds staples: mysteries in space, dangerous sociopaths, gruesome moments (Crowl’s trip to the med-bay is a memorable scene), and unknowable alien horrors.

It’s a good tale, kind of a fresh angle on the people-waking-on-a-generation-ship trope. There are some thoughtful moments about the preservation of culture. The arc about Scur’s need for revenge against Orvin plays out well, with a surprising and satisfying resolution.

Some disappointments, though. Murash is an interesting character who needed to be featured more. I’m still not entirely sure on the ship’s purpose or why some people were included in its complement, and I want to know more about the places it goes at the story’s end. Most egregious: the Sickening are one of Reynold’s creepier creations, so it’s disappointing that they get described once and then barely feature again in the story.

The length suits the story well. It moves at a great pace, with no dull bits. But the way it was published was just a bit disappointing — it could have been the star attraction in a new (and long-overdue) collection of Reynolds’ stories and novellas. Instead it’s kind of an overpriced chapbook: readers pay full novel price for just 40,000 words.

Nonetheless, it’s a must-read for Reynolds’ fans.

* * * * *

CURRENT BOOKS AND ONES UP NEXT

At the moment I’m slowly wading through The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, which I’m enjoying about as much as I enjoyed The Colour of Magic (see the last post). I can’t wait until this is done with so I can get back to the later Discworld books. I feel like another Witches book next, I think.

I just started Brightness Reef by David Brin, first book of the second Uplift trilogy. I really liked the first trilogy — Startide Rising most of all — and I’ve heard this continues the story from that book. Excellent! So far I’ve just read the initial journal entries of Alvin, and it seems like his part in the story will be like Stand By Me but with aliens. I’m so on board for that! After that, I’ll hopefully be able to get my copy of A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias back from my brother.

I have some non-fiction books to be getting on with as well, including an interesting-looking one about the human history of Antarctica. I’m also eyeing a new book about the making of the Back to the Future trilogy called We Don’t Need Roads. It sounds right up my alley, so I might be buying that soon!

Finally, at the end of this month I should get Three Moments of an Explosion in the mail! Words cannot describe how much I look forward to that. I plan to do a big story-by-story feature on this blog.

That’s it for now! Next post like this in 3 months or so, with hopefully more completed books under my belt.

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2 comments

  1. Someday I, too, will finish the Gunslinger series. I have yet to read a single book in it, but people keep recommending it to me.

    The Stars Change sounds really interesting, so thanks for that rec.

    Right now I am reading Embassytown, which I am really loving, though at the moment it is progressing a bit slowly for my taste. What did you think of that one (assuming you’ve read it of course)?

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