Monday, July 15, 2019

Joe's Books of 2019: Part One (January - June)

Good morning and welcome to my cataloging of all of the books I read in the first six months of 2019. I started this feature several years ago and it's something I really enjoy doing. I love making lists of books and I only review or even write about a small fraction of what I read in any given year. Doing all twelve months in one go would be overwhelming, but six months seems about right to me.
What I read during the year is not all about the new shiny, but I do try to keep up with some of the more prominent works of the genre coming out each year (and works that should be more prominent than they are). Even before the television show, there was no lack of conversation around The Expanse novels, but James S.A. Corey is doing some of the best work of their career with Tiamat’s Wrath. It’s the eighth novel in the series, and with the resetting of the deck with the time jump the previous novel, Persepolis Rising, they are reaching for new heights. Tiamat’s Wrath is all the richer for the journey of the previous seven novels, but damn, James S.A. Corey is at the top of their game.

Also on the top of her game is Charlie Jane Anders. The City in the Middle of the Night is her second speculative fiction novel and it is a tonal departure from her Nebula Award winning debut All the Birds in the Sky. The City in the Middle of the Night is reminiscent of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work with her Hainish novels, which is perhaps as high a compliment as one can give a novel. Expect to see this on awards lists and Best Ofs.

I am willing to go out on a limb right now and say that it is exceedingly unlikely that I am going to read a better novel in 2019 than The Light Brigade. We thought we were waiting for the final volume in her Worldbreakers Saga, but what Hurley has been doing the last few years is leveling up and then leveling up again. The Stars Are Legion and The Light Brigade are her two best novels and The Light Brigade is Hurley taking another step forward as one of the most important and vital writers working today. The Light Brigade is that damn good, people.

Not published this year, and I’ll mention it again when discussing some of the more explicitly feminist works I’ve read this year so far, more readers should pay attention to Isaac Fellman’s The Breath of the Sun. It is a quiet and extraordinary novel.

With Seanan McGuire on the Best Series ballot for the last three years (twice for October Daye, once for InCrytpid), I wanted to read a whole lot more of her work. I’ve adored a LOT of her work (Every Heart a Doorway is one of the best stories I’ve read, Into the Drowning Deep is spectacular), but until last year I hadn’t delved deeply into her longer series work. Last year I began her Incryptid series and feel head over heels for it. This year marked my big push to catch up and catch up I have. That Ain’t Witchcraft is the most recent Incryptid novel and it is just lovely. October Daye had been on the backburner for years after thinking Rosemary and Rue was just okay. I’m now four novels into October Daye and by the time this essay goes live it’ll be five. I have a ways to go, but I will eventually read all McGuire’s novel and novella length fiction. I’d say all of her fiction, but likely I won’t get to all her shorter work and I’m sure I’ll miss a comic book or three. What you shouldn’t miss, though, is her standalone (for now) novel Middlegame from Publishing. Seanan McGuire is a powerhouse and Middlegame is a more ambitious novel in terms of form and craft and she absolutely nails it. Also, don’t sleep on Alien: Echo written under her Mira Grant persona. It’s set in the wider Alien franchise and it is a killer (!) YA horror novel.

Another writer I’ve made a major push on this year is Lois McMaster Bujold. I was tired of being behind on her Vorkosigan series and I read eight novels and novellas I had left. Now I’m sad, because I have no more new Vorkosigan to read. It might be time to make that next push into her Chalion and Sharing Knife universes. I was delighted by Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I would love another novel from Ivan’s perspective, and I hope that The Flower of Vashnoi suggests that we’ll see more Ekaterin stories. Miles can’t have all the fun, after all. Cryoburn was excellent, but there is certainly room for more stories of Miles as Lord Auditor.

 If you’ve followed these twice annual essays, you may remember that one of my favorite things to do early in the year is to follow The Tournament of Books, a March Madness style bracket of novels pitted against each other in a completely frivolous and absolutely serious tournament. It’s been an opportunity for me to read stuff I might otherwise have never discovered (Homegoing! Pachinko! The Mothers!) and is something my wife and I enjoy discussing together (the venn diagram of our reading habits only partially overlaps). Some highlights this year include Tommy Orange’s debut There There, the Pulitzer Prizing winning novel The Overstory, from Richard Powers, and My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. I wasn’t able to get to Washington Black (Esi Edugyan) during the tournament, but do still plan to read it this year before my attention is gobbled up by next year’s tournament.

In a technical sense, our Feminist Futures initiative ended last year. We published 16 essays and reviews, from October though December, but in a sense Feminist Futures is forever because I’ve pushed myself to make changes in what I read and to continue to seek different voices that I may have overlooked. There were several books I planned to write about as part of Feminist Futures that I just did not get to during the main run of the feature. Pamela Sargent’s More Women of Wonder, a follow up anthology to her seminal Women of Wonder is just as good as the first and focuses on more recent (for the time) novelettes – though there is a Jirel of Joiry story from CL Moore. More Women of Wonder includes an Alyx story from Joanna Russ and a Hainish story from Le Guin which can serve as a mini prologue to The Dispossessed. The other anthology I had hoped to cover for Feminist Futures was Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. With stories ranging from 1978 to 2012, Sisters of the Revolution looks at what came after the crest of second wave of feminist science fiction. It is as good as advertised.

Having read two of Pamela Sargent’s anthologies, I wanted to take the time to read one of her novels. The Shore of Women reminded me in many ways of Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country, though it is important to note that Sargent’s novel was published two years before Tepper’s. They take very similar approaches to the idea of segregating women in a more “civilized” and advanced city and forcing the men out in the wild except to provide seed for the women to reproduce. I prefer The Shore of Women. I also reviewed Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Watchtower, an excellent fantasy featuring queer characters – something that was far more groundbreaking in 1979 than today. The novel holds up otherwise. Not specifically from the Feminist Futures project, but I would point to Isaac Fellman’s Breath of the Sun (published by Aqueduct) as an excellent feminist fantasy novel published last year.

Also, worth looking at – Adri reviewed Dreamsnake following Vonda McIntyre’s passing and Vance reviewed Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. I read The Female Man last year for Feminist Futures but couldn’t come up with a direction to write about it, and Dreamsnake remains on my must-read-this-year list.

 Since Hugo Award Season is eternal, I am reading: this year’s finalists, novels and novellas that may be in consideration for next year, and beginning a project for later this year looking back and previous Hugo Award winners. I think that just means I’m reading science fiction and fantasy. Anything more might cause my head to explode. I’d recommend Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos to get a year by year dive into the Hugo Awards from the beginning up through 2010. It’s a deeply personal consideration, informed by Walton’s tastes, but as with so many of her essays, highly engaging. Also on the Related Work ballot is Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, an excellent four-way biography of John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, that L. Ron Hubbard of scientology fame. It is a vital look at a part of the genre’s history. Also part of this genre’s history, They’d Rather Be Right won the second ever Hugo Award for Best Novel and it is generally known as the worst Hugo Award winner of all time. Naturally, I read it. It sure is a book.

More excellently, and on the Lodestar ballot for Best YA Novel, I can only give my highest recommendation to Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. It is so much better than I could have anticipated, and I already had very high expectations.

 I am somewhat off my unspoken goal pace of reading an average of one short story per day for the full year. I think I borrowed the goal from Bridget McKinney of the 2018 Hugo Finalist SF Bluestocking (but don’t worry, I’ll give it back), and though I don’t think I’m going to make it anymore, it is probably reasonable for me to read at least 200 stories this year published in anthologies and collections. Two of my most anticipated were Ted Chiang’s Exhalation and Sarah Pinsker’s Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea. It’s been seventeen years since Chiang published his last collection (Stories of Your Life and Others) and Exhalation lives up to the anticipation. Chiang is one of the genre’s best short story writers of all time. He’s not prolific, but what he puts out is of the highest quality.

Compared to Chiang, Sarah Pinsker is very much a newer writer in the early years of her career – though she has been publishing for seven years and her short fiction has been rightfully recognized for excellence from the start. Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea is Pinsker’s debut collection and at the very least, I’ve been following along with her award nominated fiction for the entire time. It doesn’t get much better than one of Sarah Pinsker’s stories.

I’ve read eight collections or anthologies so far this year, which even though it’s not quite meeting my borrowed goal, it’s a whole lot more short fiction than I’ve read in recent years. I’d also like to spotlight Kat Howard’s collection A Cathedral of Myth and Bone (also a 2019 publication), and New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl. Both are very much worth checking out. With an eye to some older fiction, I’ve read two feminist collections noted above (More Women of Wonder and Sisters of the Revolution) and Judith Merril’s 1956 anthology SF: The Year’s Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy (see my conversation with Adri and Paul).

Finally, I would like to take a look at my reading statistics for the first half of 2019 as it relates to gender. This is something I've been thinking about and working on for a number of years now and I have found that I tend to do a better job at meeting my goals when I check in after every month and continually monitor my progress. Even with five years of thoughtful reading choices, it is so easy to find myself reading fewer women than I would like.

It should go without saying, but I know there will be misunderstanding if I don't. This isn't about denying one set of books (written by men) for another (written by women). It's not. This is about embracing as much as possible. This is about discovering new favorite books and new favorite authors that I never would have discovered if I didn't make a point to see out authors I've "always meant to read" but never have. How many of these women have written my favorite books, if I only I took the smallest amount of effort to find them?

Ultimately, I want to read everything. All the books.

If my count is correct (and I have been known to miss a book or two, despite my obsessive list making), 67 of the 91 books I've read were written by women (73.62%).

I should also note that I am only counting those writers who use female pronouns in my count of female writers versus male. Any mistakes in this count are mine alone and I apologize for any misunderstandings I may have propagated.

Here are my stats from the last four years for a point of comparison.
2018: 68.42%
2017: 51.50%
2016: 56.21%
2015: 58.59%
2014: 45.92%

Now, on with the lists!

1. The Italian Teacher, by Tom Rachman
2. The Breath of the Sun, by Rachel Fellman
3. Speak No Evil, by Uzodinma Iweala
4. Komarr, by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold
6. Winterfair Gifts, by Lois McMaster Bujold
7. Born to the Blade: Season One, by Michael R. Underwood, Malka Older, Cassandra Khaw, Marie Brennan
8. 1634: The Galileo Affair, by Eric Flint and Andrew Dennis
9. The Dictionary of Animal Languages, by Heidi Sopinka
10. Magic for Nothing, by Seanan McGuire
11. Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold
12. Diplomatic Immunity, by Lois McMaster Bujold
13. Sisters of the Revolution, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
14. More Women of Wonder, edited by Pamela Sargent

15. Lioness Rampant, by Tamora Pierce
16. Tricks for Free, by Seanan McGuire
17. The Recitation of the Most Holy and Harrowing Pilgrimage of Mindy and Also Mork, by Seanan McGuire
18. There There, by Tommy Orange
19. Outside the Gates, by Molly Gloss
20. Charmed Life, by Diana Wynne Jones
21. New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl
22. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold
23. Short Fiction: January-February 2019, by John Chu, Elizabeth Bear, Mimi Mondal, J.Y. Yang, Mary Robinette Kowal, Annalee Newitz
24. The Parking Lot Attendant, by Nafkote Tamirat
25. Friday Black, by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
26. Blackfish City, by Sam J. Miller
27. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
28. Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje 

29. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
30. The Fall of Io, by Wesley Chu 
31. The Bastard Prince, by Katherine Kurtz
32. Alliance Rising, by C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher
33. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, by Vylar Kaftan
34. The Overstory, by Richard Powers
35. Atlas Alone, by Emma Newman
36. On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas
37. In the Shadow of Spindrift House, by Mira Grant
38. A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, by Kat Howard
39. The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu

40. Sparrow Hill Road, by Seanan McGuire
41. SF: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy (1956), edited by Judith Merril
42. Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
43. Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, by Scotto Moore
44. Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold
45. The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders
46. The Test, by Sylvain Neuvel
47. Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
48. Watchtower, by Elizabeth A. Lynn
49. Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
50. Assassin's Price, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr
51. Salvation Day, by Kali Wallace
52. The Red Wyvern, by Katharine Kerr 
53. Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea, by Sarah Pinsker
54. An Artificial Night, by Seanan McGuire

55. Wild Life, by Molly Gloss
56. The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager
57. The Shore of Women, by Pamela Sargent
58. The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
59. The Flowers of Vashnoi, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
61. Atmosphaera Incognita, by Neal Stephenson

Astounding: John W. Campell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee
70. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing, by Ursula K. Le Guin and David Naimon
71. Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
72. On a Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard
73. The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun, by Aliette de Bodard
Hunting Party, by Elizabeth Moon
76. That Ain't Witchcraft, by Seanan McGuire
77. The Measure of a Monster, by Seanan McGuire

78. Exhalation, by Ted Chiang
Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire
81. Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman
82. Tiamat's Wrath, by James S.A. Corey
83. They'd Rather Be Right, by Mark Clifton and Frank Reilly
84. A History of the Hugo, Nebula, and International Fantasy Awards, by Donald Franson and Howard DeVore
85. Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland
86. The Luminous Dead, by Caitlin Starling
87. Terran Tomorrow, by Nancy Kress
88. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black 
89. All Over the Map: A Cartographic Odyssey, by Betsy Mason
90. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, by Hank Green
91. Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.