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2018 Reading: Novels, Part 1

On 01/10/2019 at 03:19 PM by daftman

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By turning the little moments of downtime at work (and also lunch) into reading moments, I got through more books in 2018 than I ever have. I've blogged about books on occasion but with KnightDriver branching out in his blogs, I thought maybe I'd do the same. So first let's hit the novels I read last year.

I started the year with Robots and Empire by Isaac Asimov. Anything by Asimov is worth your time, though you ought to start with his first robot novel, The Caves of Steel, before reading this one. Next I read Ready Player One before the movie came out (which I never did watch) and it was fine. No Great Lit here but it's a fun story even if its nostagia is so heavy-handed. Those of you who like sci-fi and have not read Vernor Vinge are really missing out. Across Realtime is actually a collection of two connected novels. The first one, The Peace War, explores how an invention to create impenetrable stasis bubbles in space-time would affect the world, and the second, Marooned in Realtime, takes the idea to its logical end, wrapped in the guise of a murder mystery. Really, really good stuff.

Across Realtime

Next I went through a string of classics, starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first novel I've read by Arthur C. Clark. He really excels at describing the fantastic grandeur of space. I had intended to watch the movie after finishing the book but never got around to it. The Left Hand of Darkness was a choice to honor the passing of its author, Ursula K. Le Guin, and concerns the diplomatic mission of a man going to a planet where people do not have genders. Or perhaps I should say that both are possible and the people sort of turn to favor one naturally when they get with another person during "that time of the month," so to speak. (These are my clumsy words, not the book's.) Talk about thought-provoking literature! It also touched on the nature of patriotism vs. bigotry, something that is surprisingly apropos today coming from a book published in 1969. Then I hit something newer, the early cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, which got surprisingly deep with its concept of lingusitic viruses. Jumping back to 1962 I read Philip K. Dick's seminal alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle, an interesting look at what could have been if the Axis Powers had won WWII. And in typical Dick fashion it got pretty trippy and meta near the end without compromising what came before. (I detoured to read Deus Ex: Black Light, which I'd only recommend to big fans of the series, like me. It was good though.) And after years of putting it off for no good reason I finally read Lord of Light, which turns Buddhism into a sci-fi epic. It doesn't reach the heights of The Left Hand of Darkness but it is that same sort of thinking man's novel (it was published just two years earlier). There is really nothing quite like it.

The Left Hand of Darkness

Station Gehenna concerns an apparent suicide at a remote terraforming station on a dead planet. Or are there alien forces involved? Mystery ensues! Ancillary Justice is another standout for me. The great ships in this universe use wiped human bodies—ancillary units—for the ship's AI to use and get many things physically done at once. This revenge story follows a solitary ancillary unit after the rest of itself—the ship and other units—is destroyed. It's a really cool story, especially seeing how a fragment of a massive AI deals with what amounts to a human existence. Drastically switching gears, I read Guity Pleasures, the first Anita Blake book. I was worried early on because the opening felt very much like Twilight for adults (fifteen years before Twilight). So much vampire fetish estrogen! But then it pivoted into a supernatural PI procedural and I enjoyed it, though for me it scratches the same itch as Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and I prefer those (I need to get back to that series).

Ancillary Justice

***This blog became so long that I split it in two. Check back tomorrow for the balance!***



Matt Snee Staff Writer

01/10/2019 at 09:00 PM

I read about twenty books last year, mostly short story collections but a few novels, poetry, and nonfiction too. I hope to at least double that this year. I didn’t read for a while, but when I got back to it, I realized how much i missed it. 

I’ve read a bunch of Asimov. I recommend his Foundation series. His book “The Gods Themselves” is my favorite of his.

I’ve read Vernor Vinge too, but not those two books. I read earlier stuff.

I read a shitload of Philip K Dick when I was younger. That stuff gets pretty trippy!

I also read The Left Hand of Darkness maybe about twenty years ago. Great, great book. Really expands your perspective on what’s possible in this weird universe.  


01/11/2019 at 08:25 PM

Asimov is my all around favorite author. I haven't read all the Foundation novels he wrote later on but that initial trilogy...oh man. SO GOOD. I don't think I even have a copy of The Gods Themselves but don't worry, I'll rectify that sooner or later Tongue Out Have you read his Lucky Starr series? Those are such fun adventure stories.

Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep is a book I did blog about a couple years ago and I remember you chiming in then. His books are always flush with interesting ideas.

I recently picked up a copy of The Dispossessed. After how good The Left Hand of Darkness was, I'm looking forward to reading it this year.

Super Step Contributing Writer

01/11/2019 at 06:51 AM

I read more than usual last year as well, but because I joined a non-fiction book club and therefore automatically read a book a month starting in ... June? I'm trying to read one fiction and one non-fiction a month this year, starting with my Christmas present, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and Population Wars by Greg Graffin (it was my pick for the non-fiction book club this month). 

Your sci-fi choices are really interesting though. I think I may go in that direction the next time I choose a fiction book to read. Funny how many titles you mention were made into movies or TV shows. It's definitely a genre ripe for interpretations. 

I think The Left Hand of Darkness sounds the most in-tune with a lot of what I've read lately. While you mention '69, I find that I can make comparisons between today's political climate and a lot of now more obscure events from almost any decade. On that note, I read It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which was frighteningly relevant right up to the point the dictator actually took over and then it felt cliche and pointless. That may well be less the book's fault and more the fact so many similar stories have been written since. Kind of like a Ghost in the Shell feels like it's ripping off The Matrix even though the former obviously came first situation. 

From what little I've read of Ready Player One and seen of the trailer, I'm not sure I'm the audience for it, but I definitely think I'd like the movie better than the book in that case. I don't feel the need to read descriptions of 80s movies. 

I'd be very interested in your thoughts on 2001: A Space Odyssey in movie form. The movie has so much "dead air" in it so to speak, just long stretches of Kubrick's cinematography that aren't really driving the plot forward, that I'm wondering how much was changed from the book. I still prefer the 21-chapter version of A Clockwork Orange to his movie, but he was pretty faithful to those first 20 chapters, so I wonder how close he hits the mark in 2001


01/11/2019 at 08:38 PM

The Left Hand of Darkness is a really solid choice if you're going to read just one of the books I mentioned. And if you can finagle someone else into reading it, all the better! Definitely a good book to talk about.

Trust me, you're not missing too much if you skip Ready Player One lol

I wish I had been able to watch 2001 right after reading it. But from what I read about it, the book and movie were developed at the same time, though there are some differences, like the book featuring Saturn but the movie going to Jupiter because Kubrick didn't think they could make the rings convincing. After hearing about Hal my whole life, I was shocked to discover he was only in the middle third of the novel.

Super Step Contributing Writer

01/11/2019 at 09:27 PM

He's honestly not in THAT much of the movie either, though probably more important to its plot. 


01/12/2019 at 09:25 AM

I always assumed the story was about a ship AI trying to kill the crew "for their own good" or something but no, Hal is just a bump in the road of the plot.

Super Step Contributing Writer

01/12/2019 at 11:07 AM
Hmmm ... The movie definitely has HAL in the more "plotty" bits and a lot of the rest of it is psychedelic imagery and maybe unspoken historical commentary? Now I'm interested in the book, because unless you're about to tell me the book has a bunch of descriptions of space and the station the characters are on, I have a feeling it's way different from the movie. That or it's just been long enough since I've seen the movie that I'm forgetting a bunch. Very possible.


01/13/2019 at 08:06 AM

The book has a bunch of descriptions of space lol. I say go for it. Perhaps I'll watch the movie this year.


01/12/2019 at 08:11 PM

Ancillary Justice sounds a lot like an early 70s novella I read once. 

I'm going to try this guy Gene Wolfe, a scifi writer I know little about even though I read so much scifi back in the 80s when he was writing. He's supposed to be great though. 


01/13/2019 at 08:10 AM

Gene Wolfe is super famous but I have somehow never read any of his stuff. Perhaps I'll rectify that one day but honestly, I could spend years reading just noteworthy works by well-known authors. There is so much to read O_O


01/15/2019 at 12:31 AM

Super famous eh? I guess I wasn't as aware of scifi writers as I thought back in the 80s 'cause I only just learned about him from a Facebook friend. 


01/16/2019 at 11:08 PM

That's always been my impression lol but perhaps I'm just too deep into the sci-fi bubble


01/18/2019 at 08:01 PM

No, apparently it's just my ignorance. I mean, he's sort of a writer's writer from what I've heard. Less popular but with a strong cult following. I never had many friends back then to tell me about writers. I just read what I saw on the stands at the local Encore Books. 


01/13/2019 at 06:17 PM

While I liked The Left Hand of Darkness, I realy prefer Zelazny's Lord of Light over it. But then again, I've been a huge Zelazny fan since I was 12 and real one of his short stories in an anthology (encountered my first Asimov short story there, too). I have most of his books. 


01/14/2019 at 04:53 PM

I read the first Amber book long ago and eventually got the ten-book omnibus but haven't read through it yet (it's in a box in my closet somewhere; only so much space for books on the shelves!). Any particular Zelazny favorites?


01/14/2019 at 11:19 PM

You've already read my favorite. He had a lot of short story compilations that are fantastic, I'd recommend any of them. I also loved the Amber novels, I have the first series in a two-volume hardcover set, and the second spilt into cheaply-bound hardcovers (thank you, Science Fiction Book Club!) and mass market paperbacks. Hmm...Eye of Cat was really good, as was A Night In the Lonesome October. Changling and its sequel Madwand I liked, too. 

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