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

SF of 2015: The Harlequin (2015) by Nina Allan

TheHarlequinOnce upon a demobilization…

Released in 2015 by Sandstone Press after winning The Novella Award competition, Nina Allan’s The Harlequin follows a war medic upon his physical and psychological return home to London at the end of The Great War. Haunted by specters of his past and present, Beaumont struggles to adjust to a life that no longer fits, (if it ever did), never fully aware of just how close he is to the edge. Continue reading

BSFA Shortlist Review: The Race by Nina Allan

theraceThe Race by Nina Allan

Setting: Begins in an imaginary near-future decaying resort town in England, transformed by frakking and toxic marshland, and later provides glimpses of re-imagined continents.

Format: Four intertextually linked novelettes, too dissimilar to give the reader a strong grasp of the textual reality.

Summary: A family trains smartdogs for racing, and the daughter has a special connection with them… A writer grapples with her traumatic upbringing… A journalist copes with love and heritage… A girl is confined and trained for her communicative abilities with animals…

They are all tied together loosely. The intent is consistent, but elusive.

Synopsis quote: Get real. This book is the anti-synopsis.

Flavor quote:

…that fishy smell and the slippery texture, sour and salty and not quite natural. Those frankfurters seemed to sum up my life, really. It was not a good time. [Loc.104]

How it feels: Not dark, but heavy, melancholy, uncomfortably intimate. Evocative, dreamlike, wispy. Conveys the limited affect of the traumatized. Hard to read.

Reading advice: Watch a good comedy with easy laughs after each reading.

Further reading advice: Trigger warning, SF debacles be damned.

Typical reader criticism: This isn’t really a novel!

My response: But it’s not really a collection, either. It’s not just a few stories tied together by a common theme. Its essence is ether, hard to grasp, but it’s there, and it cannot be perceived without a complete reading, maybe two.

Why it’s special: Nothing so real has ever felt so surreal. Forget graffiti-writing slug-monsters; read this for a text dripping with mood and tone, without the use of a thousand descriptors. I still can’t figure out how she did it.

Why it’s really special: A prime example of SF doing something different. Will inspire endless coffeehouse conversations about its meaning and significance. Speculative fiction that invites speculation.

My interpretation: How abouts you go read it and then we’ll talk about it over a coffee?

A better review: Jesse always says it better than me.

Parallel reading experience: I read this on the treadmill.

Should you read this? You mean you haven’t read it yet? I’ve been talking about this for months!


This review is part of a 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.

Previous BSFA Shortlist Review: Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson

Next BSFA Shortlist Review: Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge