2015 Reading Roundup, Part I

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I’m a little disappointed with myself for going over a month without a post, but between the holidays and travel, I haven’t had a lot of free time on my hands lately, but I’m finally back at the keyboard to put together my customary “reading roundup” from the previous year.

I like to do this each January as a way to look back at the previous year and reflect I what I read. In 2015, I set a number of reading goals for myself so let’s take a look and see if I achieved any of them.

Goal 1: Read 30 books – Achieved!

In 2015, I read 31 books.

Goal 2: Catch up on ongoing series – Achieved!

Not too long ago, I realized that I was starting a lot more series than I was finishing and I decided that I needed to catch up or close out a few of them or I would go crazy. In 2015, I caught up on The Dresden Files, The Expanse, The Iron Druid Chronicles, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, Reckoners, and the new Mistborn series. I also finished The Powder Mage trilogy, The Magician’s trilogy, and the original six Elric novels. I think I did pretty well here.

Goal 3: Read books that will be adapted soon – Achieved, somewhat

So so many SFF series are being adapted right now and I always prefer to read the book first so I really wanted to finish some series that were coming to the small or big screen soon. In that vain, I read The Expanse, The Magicians, and Foundation, but there are many other works that I had intended to read (like The Man in the High Castle and Childhood’s End) that I didn’t get to.

Goal 4: Read more diverse authors – Not so much

Over the last couple years, I’ve become a lot more aware of the lack of diversity among the authors that I’ve been reading and I’ve hoped to improve on that. Unfortunately, I’ve struggled with this goal. In 2015, I read only two novels by women and the vast majority were written by white men. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading novels by white men, but I believe that there are a lot of benefits to reading works by a more diverse group and I also wish to support the larger SFF community. Hopefully, I’ll do better next year.

Goal 5: Read Classics – Achieved, somewhat

In 2015, I did read Foundation, The Master and Margarita, and several novels in the Elric saga, but that was about it when it came to “classics.”

Goal 6: Read Hugo eligible works – Achieved

About halfway through the year, I decided that I wanted to shift my focus to reading Hugo eligible novels so I can nominate and vote (with some degree of confidence) in 2016. By the end of 2015, I read seven such novels and I think that’s pretty good. Hopefully, I’ll read a few more before nominations open.

So that concludes Part I of the 2015 Reading Roundup. In Part II, I’ll take a more in depth look at my favorite reads of the year.

Shadows of Self

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I finished Brandon Sanderson’s Shadows of Self a few days ago. It’s the seventh novel published in 2015 that I’ve read and actually the second by Brandon Sanderson. Shadows of Self is a Mistborn novel set in the “Wax and Wayne” time period, which has very “turn of the century” flare to it.

I really liked The Alloy of Law, the first novel in this time period, so I was pretty excited about Shadows of Self and, while I thought it was pretty good (4 out of 5 stars), it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. In this novel, Sanderson pulled in the mythology from the first trilogy and worked it into the very fibers of the plot. In some ways, I liked that, but, in other ways, I didn’t.

Alloy of Law was so unique and unexpected. You could pick up little hints from the original series and get a vague idea of how and why the world progressed as it did, but it was fresh and new and had a life of its own. But then in Shadows of Self, Sanderson basically just went and explained all of the mysteries and connected everything very firmly to the characters and events from the original series, which made it feel much more like an extension of the original series than its own unique world.

Despite that, the plot was excellent. It was fast paced and exciting with plenty of suspense and mystery to keep you interested. And the ending was so good. So good.

I was also very glad to be reunited with Wax, Wayne, and Marasi. I really like all of the characters from this series. They are each very different, but work very well together.

Hugo Analysis

I think there’s a pretty decent chance that this will make my Hugo nomination list. If I had to make it right now, I think it would, but it’s already kind of a tough call. Out of the seven novels that I’ve read so far that were published this year, none of them really stand out as being way better than the rest so it’s pretty hard for me to figure out which two I would cut, but it may get easier as I read more.

What’s Next?

Right now, I’m listening to Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which is really good so far. I’ll almost definitely listen to Golden Sun after that, which will give me another 2015 novel. And then I think I might dig into John Scalzi’s Old Man’s war universe, because I read the first one a long time ago and really liked it, bought the second a year and haven’t listened to it yet, and I’m hearing good things about the latest installment, The End of All Things.

As for actual reading, I’ll be traveling soon so I’m going to stick with what’s on my Kindle. I have at least a half dozen novels lined up on there, but none of them are from 2015 so I guess I’ll have to take another hiatus for a bit.

Elric and Random Updates

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Elric

Lately, I’ve been catching up on Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. I’m currently reading, Stormbringer, which I think was originally planned as the sixth and final Elric novel, but, according to Goodreads, nine novels were published in the end. I only own the first six so I’m definitely stopping after Stormbringer for now and I honestly don’t know if I’ll read the other three at some point or not…there’s just so much to read.

NaNoWriMo

Good luck to all National Novel Writing Month participants as we come into the home stretch! I didn’t participate this year, but I’ve got four unfinished novels that I can credit (or perhaps blame) to previous NaNoWriMo attempts. Despite never “winning,” I still really enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about writing and just needs a good excuse to start.

Worldbuilders

It’s late November so that means it’s Worldbuilders season. In a nutshell, Worldbuilders is an amazing charity started by fantasy author, Patrick Rothfuss, that benefits Heifer International. There are bunch of different ways to donate, but I usually just enter the Lottery, which means that I have a chance to win cool prizes just for donating.

Taking a Little Hugo Reading Break

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As perhaps you can tell, I’m in the midst of a little Hugo holiday. I just got done reading The Master and Magarita by Mikhail Bulgakov after receiving it as an anniversary gift from my wife and now I’m reading The Bane of the Black Sword, the fifth Elric novel, by Michael Moorcock.

I’m also listening to Helene Wecker’s The Golem and The Jinni, which is simply lovely so far. Speculate! recently produced a couple of episodes about the novel and I’m looking forward to listening to them when I finish.

At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. There’s a pretty good chance that I’ll read another Elric novel since my craving for “hack and slash” sword and sorcery may extend beyond my current read, or I may pick up Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings and resume my Hugo journey.

For audio, the choice is easy: I will definitely be listening to Brandon Sanderson’s most recent Mistborn novel, Shadows of Self. Not only do I love Sanderson’s works, but I also love Michael Kramer’s narration of his work.

It’s been nice to read a couple books from my bookshelves, but I hope to get back to some new releases very soon.

P.S. GRRM has posted some thoughts about the Long Form Dramatic Presentation category that are worth checking out.

The Master and Margarita

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I read this novel at the recommendation of my wife. She grew up in Ukraine and it’s quite possibly her favorite novel. I marked it as “fantasy” on my Goodreads shelf, and it is, but it’s also a satire and a literary novel.

Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Magarita, what many would consider to be his masterwork, over the course of more than a decade, starting in 1928 until his untimely death in 1940. It was written in Soviet Moscow during a time when any criticism of the government, even in the form of satire, was nearly akin to treason. It was for that reason that the novel wasn’t published until 1966.

The Master and Margarita tells the story of the devil and his three cohorts and their mischievous exploits when they swing by Moscow for an unexpected visit. Needless to say, the group causes all manner of havoc, sending the city into a near panic and resulting in some of the most absurd explanations and justifications by the anti-religious regime.

The undercurrent of the novel is the love affair between The Master, the writer of a brilliant but misunderstood novel about Pontius Pilate, and Margarita, a discontent housewife.

But the real star of the novel is Behemoth, the gargantuan black cat and companion of the devil. He is a scene-stealing character, constantly performing amusing acts or making jokes. He brings a levity to a novel that might otherwise be considered too cynical.

Overall, I really enjoyed the novel. It was definitely a departure from the epic fantasies and space operas that I so frequently read, but a welcome one. It says so much about Soviet Russia and, yet, it can still be enjoyed solely upon the merits of its surreal and incredible story.

Goodreads Best Books of 2015

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Today, Goodreads kicked of voting for the “Best Books of 2015.” That strikes me as a little odd since there are still two months left in 2015. Here’s what the rules say:

Books published in the United States in English, including works in translation and other significant rereleases, between November 16, 2014, and November 15, 2015, are eligible for the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Huh. So a book published in 2014 can be one of the “Best Books of 2015?” Guess so.

But that’s not the strangest part. It’s not November 15, 2015 yet, but voting has already begun. So apparently that means a book that won’t be published until next week is only eligible for the 2015 award, even though voting has already begun.

I wonder if any of the official nominees haven’t been published yet. And if not, how did they become an official nominee?

So how are the official nominees selected to begin with?

We analyze statistics from the millions of books added, rated, and reviewed on Goodreads to nominate 15 books in each category. Opening round official nominees must have an average rating of 3.50 or higher. Write-in votes may be cast for eligible books with any average rating, and write-in votes will be weighted by the book’s Goodreads statistics to determine the top five books to be added as official nominees in the Semifinal Round. A book may be nominated in no more than one genre category, but can also be nominated in the Goodreads Author category. Only one book in a series may be nominated per category. An author may receive multiple nominations within a single category if he or she has more than one eligible series or more than one eligible stand-alone book.

My understanding is that Goodreads creates a list of “top books” for each category based on some statistical formula and then essentially selects the nominees by hand, though the selection process is left pretty vague overall.

They also have a write-in option that you can use if your favorite work isn’t an official nominee. And then the next round will factor the top five in each category into the voting.

At this point, I’m done trying to figure out the rules. They are confusing and unclear. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote! Go vote or nominate a write-in if Goodreads missed a book you love!

Best Fancast

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There a quite a few Hugo Award categories set aside for professionals, but there are also several designed to honor those in the fan community. As an avid podcaster listener, I’m very intrigued by the category of Best Fancast, which is “awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.”

I currently listen to eight SFF podcasts and I think they would all be considered “non-professional” although I’m not entirely sure what that means. I think all eight of them have Patreon pages now and essentially take donations from their fans. Some of them also have sponsorships of some kind. Does making a profit mean they are “professional” or do the hosts have to be authors, illustrators, etc. to earn that distinction?

I have no idea, but does it really matter? Podcasting is something that anyone can do. You don’t need expensive equipment or expert technical knowledge. I did a podcast for five years and we were able to make it sound pretty good using a $20 microphone and free audio software.

And why are we excluding “professional” podcasts from awards anyway? There is no “professional” equivalent given out so why are we distinguishing in the first place? That seems like we’re cutting out a segment of podcasts for no good reason.

But it’s also worth noting that some podcasts might actually be better suited for some of the other award categories. For example, there are some podcasts that could probably fall into the category of “Best Dramatic Presentation,” like Welcome to Night Vale, which is essentially a serialized story in the tradition of the old radio dramas. Perhaps others could fall under “Best Fanzine” or “Best Semiprozine” (best what?), like Escape Pod or Podcastle, which provide audio narrations of short fiction stories.

Overall, I like that there’s a “Best Fancast” category, but I wish the category was a little more clearly defined (or that I understood it better). I’ll definitely be nominating several of my favorites, including Tea & Jeopardy, Geeks Guide to the Galaxy, and Sword & Laser. I would probably use my other two nominations for The Coode Street Podcast and Rocket Talk, but I also enjoy The SF Signal Podcast, The Once and Future Podcast, and Speculate! If you like author interviews and conversations about all things genre, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Providence of Fire

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So the other day, I finished up Providence of Fire, the second novel in Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the wonderful Simon Vance. To put it simply, it was pretty good. Not my favorite, but pretty good.

I like the world that Staveley has created. It has a lot of traditional fantasy elements, but sometimes that familiarity is nice when it’s done well. Staveley also writes some very good fight scenes and a fast-paced narrative, which I greatly appreciate.

I’m not as fond of Staveley’s characters however. All three point of view characters (Valyn, Kaden, and Adare) experience some pretty serious lapses in judgment and I struggled to understand their motivations at times.

I don’t really feel like giving a full review at the moment, but I will say that I enjoyed the first two novels enough to read the third in the series, which I believe will be the conclusion.

Hugo Analysis

Although I found the novel to enjoyable overall, I don’t think it will make my Hugo nomination ballot.

The Fold

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I picked up The Fold by Peter Clines at the library on something of a whim. I was scanning through the new books section, because I wanted to read something published in 2015 as part of my ongoing Hugo Awards quest. Several novels caught my interest, but, for some reason, I gravitated to The Fold even though I knew very little about it.

Having finished reading the novel, I have to say that I made a good choice. The Fold was definitely an entertaining read and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The novel follows Mike, a genius who just wants to normal, who’s recruited by a friend to investigate a top secret DARPA project that has everyone on edge.

The novel does a great job building suspense and mystery, making more than a few allusions to Sherlock Holmes. Likewise, the novel was  very well paced and I found it hard to put down. Another pleasant surprise were the numerous geeky references, which helped add levity at key moments.

Overall, the novel was well written and simply fun. It even has a nice twist that takes the novel into unexpected territory. I would certainly recommend it any readers who enjoy near-future science fiction.

Hugo Analysis

Is The Fold likely to make the Hugo shortlist? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. It was certainly entertaining and it may end up on my ballot, but I haven’t seen much buzz about it online. Do I think it’s good enough to be considered? Maybe. It certainly wouldn’t be the strongest contender, but it was definitely fun and imaginative and I think that counts for something.

What’s up next?

Right now, I’m partway through Brian Staveley’s Providence of Fire on audiobook, which is pretty good so far. I also just started The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s a classic Russian science fiction novel and one of my wife’s favorites, so when she gave it to me on our recent anniversary, I decided I should take a break from my Hugo quest and read it.

The Martian

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Just a quick note today. Last night, I went to see The Martian. It was very entertaining and I would recommend it to anyone. You certainly wouldn’t have to be a science fiction fan to like the movie. However, if you are a science fiction fan, I think the movie will be that much more enjoyable.

As you probably already know, The Martian is an adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same title. I listened to the audiobook in April of last year and I loved it. I even remember thinking that it would make a great movie. I mean, the image of Mark Watney driving a Mars rover while listening to disco–that’s just pure gold right there.

So yeah, this one’s almost certainly going on my Hugo nomination ballot for “Best Presentation (Long Form).” Voters can “nominate up to five entries in each category” and I fully expect that when the year is out, I’ll still consider The Martian to be one of the five best SFF films of the year.

What else will I nominate in that category? Well, at this point, I would only put money on Ex Machina, but I still haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road and I’ve heard so many goods things.