What I read on my vacation

Over the past few years, the amount of time I spent on recreational reading has shriveled to a pale shadow of what it once was. In 2014, I read two novels; in 2013 only one. This is not who I am, so when I had two weeks off without any travel plans, I decided to get back in the habit. The Hugo controversy helped, but it was not my sole motivation. My reading speed is not what it once was, and there were some other things that needed doing, but I did get a few nice novels under my belt as well as some critical writing. Here’s what I read over the past two weeks:

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
A lovely fantasy of manners/court intrigue (let’s call this genre a Ferrero Rocher Opera) that I enjoyed but ultimately did not love. Very much a case of not-my-thing done very well. Likely to be my No. 3 pick for the Hugos this year. Read Martin Wisse’s more insightful review or just buy it from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Three-Body Problem – Liu Cixin, translation Ken Liu
My likely No. 1 pick for the Hugos this year. A much harder Science Fiction novel carefully plotted around the limitations of sub-light-speed communication, taking in the broad sweep of history over the 50-year period that first contact would take under these conditions, if the civilization you’re contacting lives as nearby as theoretically possible. One that I personally couldn’t put down. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

TARDIS Eruditorum – An Unauthorized Critical History of Doctor Who Volume 2: Patrick Troughton   Philip Sandifer
This second volume of Doctor Who-related writings fom Philip Sandifer did not impress me as much as the first. It seemed to me that compared to the first one, it had undergone less revision from the original versions as posted on Sandifer’s blog (where you can read the majority of the articles for free). This is just a subjective impression, because even on a vacation I still don’t have the time to go through the different versions and compare them directly, but it’s one that’s backed up by a number of mechanical editing errors I spotted. It’s also based on the style of the writing, which is less fluid than Sandifer’s is today, and considerably more bloggy than I remembered the first volume being. Also, I kinda dropped out of my attempt at watching the whole classic series during the Troughton years, which means I have less of a connection with this era than with the Hartnell era, which I’ve seen nearly all existing episodes of. All that being said, Sandifer is one of the best and most accomplished critics writing about Doctor Who today and I recommend buying these books just to subsidize his new writing. Buy from Amazon US/Amazon UK.

The Day the World Turned Upside Down (Novelette) – Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translation Lia Belt
This will likely be the only work I will vote for in the Hugo Best Novelette category, and I may put it below No Award. I can overlook that it doesn’t work that well as What We Think Of When We Think Of A Speculative Fiction story, but I can’t get over the unlikability of the narrator/protagonist, with the narrative itself being consistently on his side (there is no sign that the narrator/protagonist is aware of what a douche he is, or that he should be. The case for no-awarding it is made in this review by Secritcrush on Livejournal. I didn’t read the events in the story as magical realism, but as literary parallelism, but while such a reading is easier to enjoy, it doesn’t remove the protagonist’s issues entirely. Read for free at Lightspeed magazine, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
Not a Hugo nominee this year, but the book that won all the major awards last year and the prequel to the Leckie novel that is nominated for Best Novel this year. I read the blurb for this one after I took it home, and immediately showed it to my wife, because she plays (played, honestly) Halo and read several Halo novels. I haven’t read any of those or played the game myself, but she’s told me enough about them to suggest that when the back of a book talks about warships and ship AIs given flesh, that’s something that she’d be interested in. She said she was and also that she’d actually heard of the Imperial Radch series that this is the first novel in. Er, I just wrote 500 words on this book today so I don’t feel like recapping it right now. Buy it on Amazon US/Amazon UK.

As part of my personal Hugo voting process, but also to help me train up my critical abilities again, I try to write something about all novels and stories I read. I didn’t do that for the TARDIS Eruditorium volume, because I don’t enjoy writing criticism of criticism anyway. For the time being, I’m doing this in the form of unstructured notes; what I like about doing it that way is that there’s no expectations of insight or quality attached to that format. I am not in a place where I can spend a day to hammer out 2500 words of well-structured argument on a book, and it would be very harmful for me to even try. The notes will help me remember, at voting time, what I thought of any of the works read, and hopefully trigger some other memories as well when I go back to them.

I did spend some extra time to add some Amazon links to the paragraphs in this post, containing my old Amazon Associate codes. This was probably pointless as the blog is now much more of a personal thing I write for myself, but you never know if people do decide to purchase, and if they do, that would give me some extra disposable income to buy more books. I would hope, though, that these posts help cause more books being sold! If you read this and want to buy one of the books discussed above, please feel free to ignore the Amazon links and instead support your local book store. My current home town of Hoogezand-Sappemeer (NL) has no real bookstores left. I did some of my shopping in Groningen and was appalled to find out that both major stores selling new books in the center were now part of the same regional chain, offering roughly the same selection of books. I expect they will consolidate to a single location in the center soon as well. For comparison, Hoogezand-Sappemeer, pop. 30,000, still has a good record store and Groningen, pop. 200,000, supports half a dozen record stores.

Or get the electronic editions! That’s what I did for several of these.