Showing posts from December, 2008

2008, A Year in Reading: Best and Worst Books of the Year

I read 66 books in 2008, a slight uptick from last year but nowhere near the numbers I used to rack up when I was gainfully unemployed. In terms of quality, too, 2008 showed a slight but noticeable improvement over 2007, though it still wasn't as exciting a reading year as I could have wished. Genre-wise, the books I read this year clustered mostly around SF and contemporary-set literary fiction. I've been reading less and less fantasy and historical fiction for several years now, and in 2008 I seem to have bottomed out with both genres. On the other hand, the number of nonfiction books I read this year is quadruple that of last year (which is a more impressive way of saying I read four nonfiction books) and I've started to get back in the habit of reading graphic novels and YA fiction. Of my reading resolutions , I failed to meet only one--I had planned to read something by Willa Cather, or George Orwell's less-known books, but never got around to either. The one

2008, A Year in Reading: Best Short Stories of the Year

I made a startling discovery when I sat down to put together this list: at a very rough estimate, I've read in excess of 200 short stories this year. And, with a very small group of exceptions, they were all genre stories. And, with a slightly larger group of exceptions, I read them all in the last few months, as I started gearing up for the Hugo nomination deadline. The results of this glut are both rewarding and slightly disappointing. There are nearly twice as many stories on this list as there were last year (including honorable mentions), and each one of them is a fine, exciting piece of writing. For each excellent story, however, my slowly-accumulating list of potential Hugo nominees contains two or three pieces which I found interesting or well crafted but ultimately not that special, and in order to find each one of those I had to wade through several others which were mediocre, predictable, or just plain bad. I'm starting to get a feel of just how exhausting it w

Tender Thoughts on Nothing

"This war touches people that your congress holds in the same contempt that King George reserves for the people of Boston. I mean women, and yes slaves too, for that matter. Though I'm sure you wish I would not mention that subject, as it might upset your southern friends." Abigail Adams, John Adams , "Independence" In Matt Cheney's review-slash-meditation on the second and concluding volume in M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Story of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation , he expresses a sentiment that I've come back to several times in the last few months: the difficulty and trepidation with which a reader returns to an author whose previous work has astonished and delighted them. "Merely replicating the experience is not enough. Once a mind has been blown, it develops tough scar tissue, and a larger force is necessary next time." And, Cheney is sad to conclude, the second Octavian Nothing volume, The Kingdom on the Waves , doesn&#

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

Allegra Goodman is a tough author to quantify. She started her career as a thoroughly ordinary literary fiction author. Admittedly, her topics were somewhat esoteric-- life in Hawaii , ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in the 70s --but, from my one foray into her early career, still thoroughly respectable psychological novels, full of unhappy marriages, strained parent-child relationships, and frustrated desire. Along came Intuition , a novel about an ethics scandal in a cancer research lab, whose emotional crux was the importance of science and scientific research to all of its characters. With her follow-up to Intuition , The Other Side of the Island , Goodman has once again made a hard left turn, this time into YA dystopian SF. As jarring as this transition is, it can hardly be described as choosing the road less traveled. Novels for children by authors of adult fiction have been all the rage for the better part of a decade, and dystopian, SFnal futures having been steadily g


My review of Brian Francis Slattery's second novel, Liberation , appears today in Strange Horizons . Also of interest might be my review of Slattery's previous novel, Spaceman Blues .

Father Knows Best: Thoughts on Dexter's Third Season

There are certain genres and story types one associates with serial killers. Procedurals, thrillers, intense games of pursuit and evasion between detective and killer or killer and prey, psychological horror or the regular, visceral kind. In its first season, Dexter hewed pretty close to the expectations created by its premise, pitting the eponymous (anti-)hero against a rival serial killer whose ultimate goal was to turn Dexter away from the path of provisional righteousness on which he was set by his cop father, who taught him to kill only those who deserved it. In its second season , the show abandoned the mystery which drove the first season, but retained the procedural and detective elements surrounding it, as Dexter struggled to avoid being uncovered by his fellow cops when the bodies of his victims were discovered on the ocean floor. Dexter 's third season, which concluded this week, seems to have cast off even these elements. Though the season had its share of gruesom

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Nation begins with the arrival of a ship, the Cutty Wren , on a cold, snowy night, at an English port, where its crew is forbidden to disembark, its body is soaked with disinfectant, and its captain is informed that he must turn around at once on a matter of national importance. The captain shook his head. "This is not good enough, Mr. Blezzard. What you are asking--it's too much. I--Good God, man, I need more authority than some words shouted through a tin tube!" "I think you will find me all the authority you need, Captain. Do I have your permission to come aboard?" The captain knew that voice. It was the voice of God, or the next best thing. But although he recognized the voice, he hardly recognized the speaker standing at the foot of the gangplank. That was because he was wearing a sort of birdcage. At least, that's what it looked like at first sight. Closer to, he could see that it was a fine metal framework with a thin