Best Reads of 2009

When thinking of what I would pick for my best reads of 2009 I found myself confronted by a list of titles that was actually quite long.  2009 was, quite simply, a year of good books.  Looking at the list my eyes fell upon two titles who, in one form or another, have stuck with me in the intervening months since I’ve read them.  Whether via stirring imagery or powerful emotional imagery my two choices, despite the plethora of flotsam and jetsam, keep rising to the surface of my thoughts.  So hit the jump to see my picks.

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In Which Our Hero Examines His Blog: 2009 Edition

Well we are just about at the finish line for 2009 and, as usual for myself, I’m a bit behind in examining my thoughts on the past years worth of reading and blogging.  At the end of 2008 I promised myself that I’d post more frequently and more consistently (with more substantial posts) throughout this calendar year.  I’m happy to say that was a pretty big success and, with very few exceptions, managed to post on a fairly consistent schedule.

In terms of hard numbers well:

2008:  34 books reviewed

2009:  70 books reviewed

I know I read a lot this year.  I know I reviewed a lot this year.  I didn’t know it was more then twice as much as last year.  There are some caveats to that number. Namely the amount of video games I played, and completed, is significantly down and that number of music albums I’ve reviewed was also down.  That latter is a deficiency I noted earlier this year, and one I kept meaning to correct, but just never got around to. I’m a little disappointed in that fact since I’m a bit terrified to actually calculate the amount of money I spent on music purchases over the last 12 months.  Hopefully 2010 will see that change.

Towards the end of this year I introduced “themes” to my monthly reads.  It has so far been an enjoyable process and, if not comprehensive in the themes I chose, at least provided a stable base to look at what I was reading and provided some interesting insight into whatever genre or theme I had decided on.  I will definitely be carrying that same process forward into 2010 though likely not every month.  Though I intended it from the beginning I had intended for each month to end with some sort of post-game discussion on what I encountered during my little sojourns but never managed to actually sit down and do-it.  I came closest in October with some of my theme-related non-review posts but it was never quite at the level I wanted it to be.

From the very start I also intended to ground some of the themes with some-sort of non-fiction reading.  You can see the remnants of that intent in some of my October reviews that reference Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror In Literature.  I’m going to make a better effort at with my next project, hard-boiled detective fiction, my starting the project reading Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder.  It is a bit academic (it is the same way my Reading Interests of Adults class operated when looking at genre fiction) I guess, and a lot nerdy, but I’ll direct your attention to the title of the blog.  I don’t know if I can pull it off, but I’ll certainly try.

With the exception of my friend Val’s look at The Strain I’ve been the only poor sap posting around here which, at times, can be a bit trying.  I’d like to be able to convince some of my friends to write some kind of review for this blog here.  Or at least convince Ricker (you’ll note some of his science related posts in the archive during 2008) to try and start posting again.

Regardless, 2009 has been a pretty good year around here and I’m thinking that 2010 will be even better.  I’m not going to do another big year-end post with a lengthy best-of whatever but stay tuned tomorrow for, at the very least, my top two reads of 2009.

Review: Diving Into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Diving in the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Diving in the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Diving Into the Wreck
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Pyr, 2009

I won’t lie, this is precisely the kind of book for me.  I love derelict spaceships.  It also so happens I love science fiction that incorporates both historical and mysterious elements.  The discovery of ancient alien civilizations, the uncovering of here-to-fore unknown knowledge, and the recovery of lost technological wonders are all elements of story that I get consistently excited about.  In a sense Diving Into the Wreck manages to cover all those bases (well, the “alien” bit requires a bit of sideways thinking) with a certain deft aplomb and brevity that is at once immanently readable and, unfortunately, occasionally disappointing.

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On Reviews and Being a Librarian

I caught the tail end of the twitter back and forth that prompted Mark C. Newton’s recent post on review blogs, but then disappeared for four days only to return and find a lively discussion on the nature of blogging and reviews.  In addition to the comments on Mark’s original post there have been a number of response posts on other blogs as well, including Fantasy Book News and Reviews and Neth Space.  If you’re interested in reviewing and reviews (and well books and reading) I highly recommend you check out Mark’s original post, the comments there, and the above linked response posts for some fascinating reading.

I’m not going to get into specifics here on each of Mark’s points but offer kind of a third perspective on Mark’s sixth point: “You can’t love every novel” as it pertains to me.  Mark’s post, and the subsequent responses deal very much the relationship between author and reader and, in this specific case, the reader is also the reviewer.   It is a point that Ken over at Neth Space and Jeff C. of Fantasy Book News a Reviews agree and one that I struggle with.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever given a completely negative review.  Does that mean I haven’t reviewed books I didn’t particularly like?  No.  I mean, I reviewed both Twilight and New Moon without dissolving into vitriolic fits of apoplectic rage.  I’m going to say something, and feel free to blast away in the comments, but there is no so such thing as a bad book.

That isn’t to say a book can’t be written poorly, or suffer from bad editing, or any number of other things that might scream bad book, but I honestly and truly believe that there are no bad books.  Maybe it’s because I’m a librarian.  When I’m reading a book I don’t particularly like I can never really stop myself from trying to envision the type of reader who would enjoy that book.  I suppose that’s because if someone walks up to the reference desk and asks for a book recommendation I would be extremely limited if the books I could recommend were only the books I liked or didn’t like.  Sure I can use my own personal experience as the starting point for a reader’s advisory (as it’s known in the library world) question but I will inevitably run across a reader whose personal reading style is completely at odds with my own (you should have seen the deer in headlights look a gave a recent preteen looking for vampire fiction that a.) was actually available to check out, and b.) not something she had already read, which was most of what we had).

In 1931 one of the “fathers” of library and information science, S. R. Ranganathan, proposed a theory  known as the “5 Laws of Library Science.”  Of those 5 laws it is the first three that tend to inform my review process:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.

Can I not like a particular book? Most certainly. But as a professional whose job it is to connect a user with information I struggle, especially when writing reviews , to wholly dismiss a book based on my own personal experience.  Sometimes I think this sets me apart from other reviewers, but maybe I’m wrong.  Sometimes I think that as a librarian I’m this nebulous third party that hovers on fringes of the book/reader relationship.  Even when I’m reading for my own pleasure I can never wholly shirk that perspective.

Some Post-Holiday Updates

I’m back from Christmas “Vacation” which, really, was almost as exhausting as the work preceding it.  I expect that over the next few weeks things will settle back down at home/work to something resembling normalcy and I’ll get back to a more consistent posting schedule.  Over my brief break I got an e-mail from Robin Sullivan, wife of fantasy author Michael Sullivan, pointing me towards this blog post in which Michael gives everyone the wonderful news that the first print run of The Crown Conspiracy has sold out.  Good news is accompanied by bad since there won’t be a second print run until March.  All is not lost however as the Sullivans still have a number of author copies available for sale on their website via this page.  If you haven’t given the Riyria Revelations a try you should definitely jump at the chance to grab a copy while you can especially since the books (including Avempartha and Nyphon Rising) are being offered at a ridiculously low price point for signed copies!  If you’re still not sure you’re interested check out my reviews of The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha for some more information and some unapologetic gushing.

I should be up with a review tomorrow though it is looking likely that it’ll be my last before 2010 since I’ve barely scratched the surface of my impromptu read of Alistair Reynolds’ Redemption Ark. I’m still waiting on a copy The God Engines and just picked up a copy of First Lord’s Fury so I have a couple of titles to get through before I move on to January’s hard-boiled detective reading.

Review: Nova War by Gary Gibson

Nova War by Gary Gibson
Nova War by Gary Gibson

Nova War
Gary Gibson
Tor, 2009

Nova War is the sequel to 2008’s Stealing Light a book that, surprise surprise, has yet to get a release here in the states.  Nova War dispenses with some of the mystery of the first novel and trading it instead for some serious action.  Indeed things are ratcheted right up to eleven and amongst all the action and excitement I felt that Gibson still managed to do an excellent job in creating unique and memorable characters and wound up with a book that surpassed its predecessor in terms of quality.  If you haven’t read the first book be warned there will be some minor spoilers below.

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Review: The Quiet War by Paul McCauley

The Quiet War by Paul McCauley
The Quiet War by Paul McCauley

The Quiet War
Paul McCauley
Pyr, 2009

In a future where Earth has been ravaged by economical disaster humanity is split down two divergent paths.  Down one path are the Outers, exiled first to the moon then to Mars and now settled on the moons surrounding Jupiter and Saturn they espouse the ideas of Ancient Greek Democracy and use genetic manipulation to modify their bodies in ways both practical and cosmetic. Meanwhile, on Earth the powerful Brazilian government, ruled by a class of powerful families, follows a nature based religion predicated on restoring the Earth, or Gaea, to her former glory.  These two societies find themselves at social and ideological loggerheads not only with each other but within divergent faction within each society as well.  It isn’t long before the spectre of war looms on the horizon.

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Warbreaker Full Cast Audio

I cracked open Dec. 09 issue of AudioFile and immediately noticed a quarter-page ad from GraphicAudio for a full-cast reading of Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker complete with “cinematic music” and “digital effects”.  GraphicAudio has been around since 2004 and produce full-cast versions of a variety of material a lot of it from the comic book and speculative fiction areas.  I haven’t actually heard one yet, but they do offer what looks to be a 60 Minute sampler of Warbreaker so if you do give it a listen let me know what you think.

Stuff that isn’t a review

Yup, I’m behind already.  I’ll try and make some headway in my reading but the series of cogs that power my brain seem to be chugging along quite slowly this morning.  December is now officially the month I will be posting about why I’m not posting.  On a side note I managed to squeeze in an episode of Dollhouse last night and was pleasantly surprised by the new episode.  The show seems to lack the spark that made previous Whedon ventures so enjoyable and the humor, when it surfaces, seems to fall a bit flat amongst the darker tone of the series.  It is still a fascinating concept and the episode I saw finally moves towards exploring the greater continuity of the Dollhouse world; which is a shame since we are a season and a half in and this the first time we’re really seeing that kind of stuff.  Anyway I’m still somewhat glad Whedon is going to be moving onto new things.

I also saw the 1986 film You’re Never Too Young To Die on Saturday night.  This gem of a film was a John Stamos vehicle prior to his appearance in Full House (which debuted in 1987) and after leaving General Hospital.  John Stamos is Lance Stargrove a college gymnast who must take up his fathers mostly unexplained to job to stop the evil transgendered Velvet von Ragnar from poisoning the water supply with radioactive waste.  Velvet is played by Gene Simmons.  It is exactly as terrible as you’d expect it to be…and then some.  In the climatic final fight there is a point when Stargrove bites Ragnar’s breast…it was both hilarious and horrifying.  If you’re desperate to know the details about the movie I recommend Something Awful’s summary.  Having watched Crossroads right before this (with Rifftrax on) I can’t even tell you which movie was worse.  No seriously I can’t.   At least the company was good and it was a much needed bit of relaxation after work.

Review: Seeds of the Earth by Michael Cobley

Seeds of the Earth by Michael Cobley
Seeds of the Earth by Michael Cobley

Seeds of the Earth
Michael Cobley
Orbit UK, 2009 (MM, Jan 2010)

Seeds of the Earth is the first in a new space opera series by Michael Cobley.  The cover features a nice one line quote from space opera master Iain M. Banks describing the novel as “Proper galaxy-spanning space opera.”  A statement that couldn’t be more true.  Seeds of the Earth is very old school with a large cast of characters and a diverse and wonderfully vibrant phalanx of ideas that makes for an great read and excellent starting point in jumping from my epic fantasy reading of November into the stars and beyond.

Seeds of the Earth opens with humanity’s first contact with the alien Swarm.  Or at least the tail end of that conflict as we more or less witness the departure of three human colony ships (note: I read the prologue while I had a fever of 103 and, for shame, didn’t go back and re-read it after).  The novel picks up a century and a half later on the human colony world of Darien where, after struggling with the rogue AI of their colony ship, the humans have settled in a peaceful coexistence of the nature loving Uvovo.   The discovery of an ancient Uvovo ruin dating back thousands of years to a conflict with a powerful and mysterious enemy sets off a chain of reactions that thrusts Darien and its human and Uvovo inhabitants straight into danger.

More to follow with potential spoilers…

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