January 2017 Reading Review

For the past few years, January has been Potential Shortlist Catch Up Month for me, when I try to read all the big name books I overlooked the year before, in preparation for the 10-month SF book award season that’s about to kick off. So that I may have opinions on things. So that I may nurture my FOMO. So that I may mock the system I continue to participate in. So that I may mock myself.

This year is no different, though, to be honest, I’m not really feeling it this year: It all feels trite and meaningless compared to more important things going on, so I’m basically just going through the motions. I mean, why bother seeking out contrived experiences of estrangement and repulsion by reading SF when I see it played out in the political arena every day? I need respite, but books feel false. I experienced a similar plummet in enthusiasm after the 2000 election and 9-11 fallout, and it took me over a decade to recover interest in anything that involved critical engagement with the world, so… if this blog isn’t an interesting space to watch, at least my wobbling dedication to it might be.

Fortunately, things are coming up… BIG THINGS… and that’s enough to keep me active for at least another season. The kindly prods from other people have been unexpected and welcome.

I must say, though, it does feel nice to just sit down and get all this out finally. There is that.

Eesh, and it is a lot. I read an average number of books this month, but a collection of mini-reviews can be a big task. On we go…

2017 BOOKS I READ LAST YEAR Continue reading

A (very) late review of the 2015 Kitschies Red Tentacle Shortlist

Yesterday, I brought you my thoughts on the 2015 Kitschies Golden Tentacle shortlist (the newbie award). Today, I bring you my thoughts on the Red Tentacle shortlist (ie the established writer’s award).


This year’s breakneck pace between shortlist announcement and award ceremony made it impossible for most people to play along at home with The Kitschies’ search for the most progressive, intelligent, and entertaining speculative fiction. A full list of ten novels, five book covers, and five digital creations (one of which is another novel), is a lot to digest in a matter of weeks. Without a chance of making the deadline, I opted to string out my Kitschies reading for most of the year.

So, ten months later… I give you my impressions of the Kitschies Red Tentacle list. In short, this is a good list, notwithstanding a couple of odd inclusions.

I reviewed the Golden Tentacle list here.

The Red Tentacle list (the old hat veteran writer award) Continue reading

The 2015 BSFA Best Novel Rundown: My Thoughts

The 2015 BSFA Award winners were announced this weekend! Here’s my rundown on the Best Novel shortlist.

After discovering new favorites on previous BSFA award lists, and thoroughly enjoying five-eighths of the BSFA Best Novel shortlist last year, I finally got myself a BSFA membership, perhaps becoming the only Texas member of the British Science Fiction Association. I didn’t nominate or vote because it just doesn’t feel right to do so as an outsider, but I do like to play along and support things I like. Call me a shadow member.

I didn’t experience as much delight with this year’s BSFA Best Novel list, (and no, I haven’t yet touched the short fiction nominees, though I might do a rundown of the really fab nonfiction nominees later on), but this selection of novels is way more interesting than this year’s Hugo list that hasn’t been determined yet but I’m probably right.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel shortlist: Continue reading

SF of 2015: Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

EuropeatMidnightThe Medical Faculty had been the last to fall. The Faculty Members had fought down to the last man (loc. 327).

Europe had been like a huge asylum, a deafeningly noisy and busy place. The Community seemed to be in a dream, drifting along in slow gentility (loc. 5583).

‘It’s the end of borders,’ he told us. ‘A quite simple trick of topology. It’s not magic’ (loc. 4402).

 

I may have been the only one who, just over a year ago, clapped the cover shut on Dave Hutchinson’s underdog hit, Europe in Autumn, with no expectations for a sequel.

Continue reading

BSFA Shortlist Review: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson

europeinautumn Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson

Setting: Near-future Europe, a balkanized mess of ineffectual and often short-lived mini-states, including an anarchist neighborhood in Potsdam, and a sovereign transcontinental railroad.

Summary: An underground system of Coureur messengers do the complicated dirty work of trespassing the numerous physical, digital, and bureaucratic boundaries to maintain communication and crime networks. Rudi, an Estonian restaurant cook living in Poland, gets a taste of the Coureur lifestyle and becomes enmeshed in the underground world, building Legends and Stringers, while uncovering the most underground secret of all.

Synopsis quote:

The Union had struggled into the twenty-first century and managed to survive in some style for a few more years of bitching and infighting and cronyism. Then it had spontaneously begun to throw off progressively smaller and crazier nation-states, like a sunburned holidaymaker shedding curls of skin…

Officially, [the European Union] still existed, but it existed in scattered bits and pieces, like Burger King franchises, mainly in England and Poland and Spain and Belgium… [Loc. 425]

Flavor quote:

In Rudi’s opinion, whoever had set up the Coureurs had overdosed on late twentieth century espionage fiction. Coureur operational jargon…sounded like something from a John le Carre novel. [Loc. 713]

Moment of prescience: Coincided with last year’s Scottish Independence referendum.

How it feels: Grounded, but imaginative. Complex, but full of dry funnies. The protag is stiff and unaffected, while the peripheral characters sometimes steal the show. Not a book for people who want emotional, character-driven content. Not suspenseful, but uncertain-y. This is more about exploring the continent, getting the feeling of something bigger, yet intangible, going on. Lonely Planet with a stiff upper lip.

SF literary sibling: Mieville’s The City and the City, but with European sightseeing.

Irrelevant observation: The story is way better than the cover.

Future status: Ends on a cliffhanger, sequel in progress.

Should you read this? Yes. Yes, you should read this.

*The UK version lists the author as Dave Hutchinson, while the US version lists him as David Hutchinson. IT’S LIKE HE’S AS SHADY AS HIS CHARACTER!

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This is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Upcoming BSFA Shortlist Review: The Race by Nina Allan