Tag Archives: science fiction

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?

Reading Recap: 2015

The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken LiuHi all! I’m sneaking back in after a hiatus, with the aim of posting weekly. To kick things off, here’s my annual reading recap…

Favourite Books of 2015

In no particular order, my favourite books last year were:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Janus by John Park
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Honorable mention: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (reread)

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge questions/twists, either in plot or in worldbuilding, that seem like they could have no possible answer…until they do
  • location, location, location
  • strong narrative voice
  • interpersonal conflicts, not necessarily with a single clear antagonist
  • layered stories – frame stories, tales within tales, etc.

Reading Stats

blog-Janus-coverI have no idea if these statistics fascinate you as much as they do me (if they do, please comment…) but here goes.

In 2015 I read 20 books, 4 fewer than the previous year. Not good! Must correct!

Genre

  • 6 were adult fantasy, 3 were adult SF, and 1 was hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction
  • 2 were YA fantasy, 1 was YA SF, and 1 was YA speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF YA fiction
  • 1 was a book of poetry, and 1 was a graphic novel
  • I read no anthologies for the second year in a row. Or rather, I read parts of two but did not finish. Short fiction is just not my gig right now. I also read parts of two non-fiction books but did not finish them either.

12 of the books were parts of series – almost all of my genre reading. The exceptions were Janus by John Park, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (which almost made my “favourite books” list), and Moonheart by Charles de Lint.

blog-Thirteenth Tale-coverAuthors and Publishing

9 of the authors were male and 11 female – a much more even showing than most years, as I tend to tilt heavily female.

To my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) However, in 2016 the stats will be much better because I’m doing a book-buying challenge – half of all the books I bought in 2015 were by authors of colour. I just haven’t read them yet because my buying is at least a year behind my reading…!

Of the 20 books I read, 14 were published in the last 5 years – a higher ratio than years past, thanks in part to the Turtleduck Press books I read and in part due to a book club I’m part of on Twitter (#20reads — come join!), which tends towards recently published books.

Acquisition

I got 3 books from the library, 2 were e-ARCs (electronic Advance Reader Copies), 2 were rereads, 1 was a gift, and 1 was a loan of a physical book. The other 11 I bought.

11/20 were ebooks – 55%. The ratio of ebooks to physical books I read continues to creep upwards – last year it was 40%, then 33%, then 25% (the first year I had an ereader). I own a smartphone but don’t tend to read books on it; I don’t own a tablet. What I acquire in ebook form breaks down like this:

  • books where the paperback wasn’t out yet and I wanted to buy it right away but didn’t want the hardcover (3)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • e-ARCs (2)
  • library books (2 of the 3 library books I read were ebooks)
  • big fat fantasy novels that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (1 – I’m looking at you, GRRM)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

…argh, I counted something twice there, but I can’t be bothered to go back and figure it out. Ahem.

Your turn! Did you notice any patterns in your reading last year?

 

Reading Challenge: Authors Not Like Me

If you hang out on the Internet a lot, you may have seen this post by K.T. Bradford:

I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year

It’s been the subject of much discussion, which I’m not going to get into here. Suffice to say that I’ve been thinking about it a lot. For several years I’ve been intending to buy and read more “authors not like me”, as John Scalzi puts it, but somehow it keeps not happening.

I do read a lot of female authors — last year was roughly 3/4 female, the year before was more like 60% — but they’re nearly all white, straight (as far as I know), and cisgendered (i.e., not trans).

I think it’s time that changed.

So here’s my highly personal variation on Bradford’s challenge:

For the rest of 2015, more than half the books I buy/otherwise acquire will be by writers not like me: women and men of colour and/or LGBTQ writers.

I’m setting the bar lower than Bradford’s because I know I’ll end up making some exceptions–for example, authors on my auto-buy list, or series I’m in the middle of. Again, most of these are likely to be women, so at least there’s that.

The fine print:

  • I’ll probably keep my reading habits the same in other respects. I read mostly SF and fantasy (both adult and YA) and that’s not likely to change.
  • I said acquire, not read. A lot of the books I read this year will be those that are already on my shelf/ereader, because I don’t want all of them to languish for another year. But at least some of the ones entering the queue will be more diverse, and some of them will get read this year.
  • I may also add other sorts of “not like me”, such as works in translation and/or writers with disabilities — especially if they are also POC or LGBTQ.

In case you’re thinking of a similar challenge, here are some LGBTQ speculative  fiction writers I’ve read and enjoyed:

  • Candas Jane Dorsey (bonus: she’s Canadian)
  • Kelley Eskridge (mini-review here)
  • Nicola Griffith (mini-review here — and I haven’t yet read her latest, the very well-received Hild)
  • Tanya Huff (also Canadian)
  • Ellen Kushner

Writers of colour, ditto:

  • Kathryn Anthony
  • Kazuo Ishiguro
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Thomas King — okay, technically what he writes is more literary than speculative, but it’s also hilarious and meta. My favourite is Green Grass, Running Water.

Finally, here are some of the SF&F writers of colour on my radar:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed – Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn
Saladin Ahmed
Aliette de Bodard
Tobias Buckell
Octavia Butler
Joyce Chng / J. Damask
Samuel R. Delany
David Anthony Durham
Andrea Hairston
Nalo Hopkinson
Keri Hulme
Ogawa Issui
Chohei Kambayashi
Cynthia Leitich Smith
Malinda Lo (YA)
Marie Lu (YA)
Tahereh Mafi (YA)
Nnedi Okorafor
Helen Oyeyemi
Cindy Pon (YA)
Michelle Sagara / Michelle Sagara West / Michelle West (both YA and adult)
Sofia Samatar
Douglas Smith

Your turn! Would you take Bradford’s challenge or something similar? Who am I missing in that list up there?

Quick administrative note: My short story The Haunting of Heatherbrae Station is now posted at Turtleduck Press. Go! Read! Enjoy!

Reading Recap 2014

Starfish by Peter WattsIt’s that time again…the best-of roundup posts! I’m a little late to the party, but who cares? Here — in no particular order — are the best 5 books I read in 2014, plus some reading statistics just because…

Disclaimer: I’m always playing catch-up in my reading, so these aren’t the best books published in 2014, but the best I read. For links to some lists of the former, see the bottom of the post.

The Books

1. Starfish by Peter Watts.

Peter Watts is a Canadian SF author who writes very dark, very hard SF centered around biology. His novel Blindsight was shortlisted for the Hugo a few years ago, and the sequel, Echopraxia,  came out last summer (I bought it promptly but haven’t read it yet).

Starfish was his first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the quality. It’s about a deep-sea station manned by people who’ve been modified with built-in wetsuits and breathing apparatus, which raises a couple of questions. First, what kind of people are willing to have that done to them (and live at the bottom of the ocean, next to an oceanic rift, for months)? Second, when your body is altered to live under these conditions, what does that do to your psyche? And that’s just for starters….

The Passage by Justin Cronin cover2. The Passage by Justin Cronin.

This book was big when it came out in 2010 (remember what I said about playing catch-up with my reading?). Cronin had previously published some family drama novels, and it shows…so this is a vampire apocalypse novel with family/small-town drama at the core and also a quest structure. Sounds like a strange mash-up, but for the most part, it really works. Cronin’s cross-genre roots serve him well — there’s a lot of hard-hitting emotional stuff intertwined with the end-of-the-world action.

My only quibble is the length. Despite the epic scope of the story, it didn’t need to be 900 pages long — 700 would have done just fine. Having said that, I devoured it at twice my usual reading speed, so make of that what you will.

Room by Emma Donoghue cover3. Room by Emma Donoghue.

This is the only non-genre book on the list (another high-profile 2010 novel), but I loved it in part for genre reasons, and I’ll tell you why. The concept is tough to read: it’s the story of a woman kidnapped and kept in captivity in a soundproofed garden shed, told from the perspective of her young son. Jack has been sheltered from the truth of their existence. To him, Room is the entire world; everything and everyone he sees on TV is pretend.

Watching him slowly learn otherwise is painful at times, but it also hits at the heart of what I love about genre: that sense of discovery, of learning about a world and how it works. As a bonus, the POV and narrative voice are extremely strong: we’re in five-year-old Jack’s head the whole way, even when we understand things he does not, and that’s both heartbreaking and amazingly effective.

Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley cover4. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

You’ve probably all read this already, so I won’t say too much about it. It’s an ’80s novel, which made me all nostalgic — in part because I’ve read (and loved) other McKinley novels before, in part for the writing conventions of a time before YA was a “‘thing” and fantasy was just fantasy.

I found the pacing and conflict a bit uneven by today’s exacting standards, but the protagonist’s journey felt larger-than-life as she *ahem* gets dragged through the fire and has to rebuild herself stronger than ever. Plus, there’s a horse who really feels like a horse, with a complete personality. And I’m not the only one who loved it — this is a Newbery Medal winner.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor cover5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

By contrast, this is a contemporary YA fantasy (from 2011), so it’s full of familiar tropes. BUT I think this is what literary agents mean when they say they want writing that feels “fresh”. Despite the tropes, the characters ring true and bring depth to the story, and the sentence-level writing reaches for poetry without being overdone. I particularly enjoyed the fact that although the protagonist, Karou, is “special”, she’s also lonely and deeply insecure; and also the relationship with her best friend, full of in-jokes and teasing.

Fair warning: this is book 1 in a trilogy, and it shows.

Summary

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge character arcs
  • SFF stories in which the whole world is affected/changed
  • sentence-level writing that rises above the ordinary, whether it’s poetic (Laini Taylor) or a strong narrative voice (Emma Donoghue)
  • strong sense of the world/place

That summary is especially timely for me right now, as I seek to regain my writing mojo. Note to self: read (and maybe, eventually, write) more of that!

Reading Habits

On to the statistics…here’s hoping I’m not the only one interested in them. 😉

 Genres

I read 24 books in 2014, 7 fewer than in the previous year, but that’s not surprising because I was on a six-month sabbatical that year!

  • 6 were adult fantasy (9 last year) and 6 were adult SF (5 last year).
  • 2 were non-genre adult fiction (1 last year)
  • 5 were YA fantasy (2 last year) and 2 were YA SF (2 last year)
  • 3 were non-fiction (5 last year)
  • I read no anthologies, poetry, YA non-genre (1 of each last year), or graphic novels / webcomics (3 last year)

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia cover17 of the books were from my to-read list (14 last year).

17 of the books were part of series – almost all of my genre reading. (The exceptions were The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia.)

Authors

I read books by 22 different authors (not counting collaborations), of whom 9 were new to me this year (12 last year) and 13 were new-to-me books by previously read authors (11 last year).

6 of the authors were male, 15 female, and 1 presented as non-gendered (Mazarkis Williams, although hir novel, The Emperor’s Knife, was solidly hetero). Last year was 9 male and 14 female.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin coverTo my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.) I keep resolving to do better in this regard and falling short.

Publishing and Buying

Of all 24 books I read, 10 were published in the last five years – a ratio consistent with years past.

2 books were acquired for free from an SFF convention, 1 was a library book, 1 I read as an e-ARC (Advance Reader Copy), and 1 was free from Project Gutenberg. The rest I bought.

10/24 were ebooks – about 40%. (Last year was 33% and the year before was 25%, so it’s gradually creeping up! At the end of 2013 I finally got a smartphone, but it hasn’t changed my ereading habits much – I still read mostly on my Kobo B&W e-ink reader.) What I buy in ebook form:

  • big fat fantasy novels or trade paperbacks that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (2)
  • older books that I can’t get in print from my local bookstore (3)
  • out-of-copyright books (1)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

I buy from my local indie SF&F bookstore whenever I can, otherwise that number would likely be higher!

Other Reading Recaps

Last year’s recap is here.

And here are some reading recaps/ “best-of” lists that actually cover SF&F books published in 2014…

Your turn! What were the best books you read in 2014 (any genre)?

 

New Turtleduck Press Book: Even the Score by KD Sarge

I’m baaaack!

Okay, I’m going to duck into hiatus again shortly, because the wrist issues are not yet solved and until they are, I’m going to use my limited keyboarding time to write stories.

But I’m here because I have to tell you about a new book! This is the return of Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge‘s best-loved characters, Taro and Rafe. Their latest SF adventure takes them into murder-mystery territory…

Even the Score by KD SargeOne, two, three,
How many will my victims be?
One, two, three, four,
How many more to even the score?

When Taro Hibiki leads a survival class into the backwoods, he has two goals: to prove himself as an instructor, and to propose to his beloved Rafe before he loses his nerve completely. In the wilds might seem a strange place for that, but it’s where Taro feels most at home—and the only place the couple can escape all their other responsibilities.

On BFR, proud colonists say the name stands for “Big Effing Rock,” and brag about their planet’s dangers. More treacherous than bomb bugs or sight scamps, though, is a human seeking vengeance. Soon Taro’s students are dropping one by one, and no matter what Taro does, the killer stays a step ahead. Worst of all, Taro comes to suspect that the students are targets of opportunity—that the ultimate goal is Rafe.

Taro would die for Rafe in a heartbeat, but who’s going to take care of Rafe if he does?

As it happens, the killer has a plan for that, too.

Check out Even the Score at Turtleduck Press, including free sample chapters and “buy” links for the ebook format of your choice (print version coming soon!).

KD Sarge writes for joy and hope, and works for a living. She has tried her hand at many endeavors, including Governess of the Children, Grand Director of the Drive-Through, and Dispatcher of the Tow Trucks. Currently KD loves her job at a private school for children with autism.

Past accomplishments include surviving eight one-year-olds for eight hours alone (she lasted about ten months), driving a twenty-foot truck from Ohio to Arizona by way of Oklahoma, and making a six-pack of tacos in twenty-three seconds.

Writing achievements include the Weightiest First Draft Ever, as well as eleven other, much lighter, completed novels. She has somewhere between five and ten universes under construction at any given time, writes science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, smut (in many genres), and means to one day undertake a cosy mystery. A widow, KD lives in Arizona with her biological daughter, her internet daughter, two cats, and a hermit crab named Bob.

KD can be found on the internet at kdsarge.com or turtleduckpress.com. Follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, where she mostly talks about cool things she found when she should have been writing.

One last note from your host: I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November. Here’s how it went and what I learned.

Reading the World

As you may have noticed, I have a fascination with other countries. No single country in particular, though there are some that exert more of a pull on me more than others — rather, the whole world intrigues me.

But I don’t read nearly as much international literature as I’d like. I’m going to guess you’re the same way.

Here, then, is a starting list of (mostly) fiction I’ve read from countries other than Canada, the USA, and England. It’s very 101-level for the most part, but still, I hope it’s helpful! If you have recommendations from countries not your own, in translation or otherwise, please chime in…

  • Albania – Ismail Kadare, The Successor (literary)
  • Argentina – Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand (magic realism)
  • Belgium – Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin (comics)
  • Columbia – Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold (magic realism) and Living to Tell the Tale (autobiography)
  • Czech Republic – Karel Čapek, R.U.R. (science fiction play)
  • Denmark – Hans Christian Andersen (fairy tales)
  • France – Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, Paris in the Twentieth Century (science fiction and/or adventure); Albert Camus, The Stranger (literary)
  • India – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (literary)
  • Ireland – James Joyce, Ulysses, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners (literary)
  • Italy – Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before (magic realism)
  • Lebanon – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (spiritual)
  • Nigeria – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (literary)
  • Norway – Knut Hamsun, Hunger (literary); Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter (historical); Henrik Ibsen (plays)
  • Poland – Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (science fiction)
  • Russia – Ekaterina Sedia, The Secret History of Moscow (urban fantasy); Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch (urban fantasy); Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (science fiction); Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (literary)
  • Sweden – Astrid Lindgren (children’s books)

That’s 16 countries. As you can see, there’s a serious tilt towards Europe and away from genre fiction. That’s because I read most of these in school. If you can expand the horizons of this list, please do!

Further reading:

A Year of Reading the World

Women in Translation Month

Another time I’ll share with you the (much longer) list of international books that are on my radar but that I just haven’t gotten to yet…

Your turn! What books/authors can you add to this list?

 

September Book Trailers

Just a quick post today, because I somehow killed my wrists and am trying to minimize typing. Instead of words, how about I show you some videos instead?

First up: the book trailer for an upcoming YA science fiction novel, Earth and Sky, by Canadian author Megan Crewe.

I got to read an early version of this novel, and it was pretty neat. Time travel! Aliens! OCD female protagonist! Coming October 28.

Second, here’s a longer trailer for a historical non-fiction book, Prevail by Jeff Pearce, that covers a 20th-century war I’d never even heard of. Jeff’s trailer says it all:

Prevail will be out November 4.

Both books are already available for preorder at your book provider of choice.

Finally, happy 30th anniversary to the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy by Canadian fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay! Most of Kay’s work is set in fantasy worlds closely modelled after historical places and times. The Fionavar Tapestry involves a clearly different (secondary) world…but one that echoes several mythologies in our own. Norse, Welsh, Celtic, and Arthurian myths are evoked.

Without giving too much away, I’ll tell you that some of the characters stand in for mythological figures — a trope that fascinates me. I enjoyed seeing it done in N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and much earlier, in Diane Duane’s Deep Wizardry. If you know of any others, I’d love to hear about them.

Your turn! What upcoming books are you looking forward to? And what are your best tips for saving a writer’s wrists?