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Showing posts from December, 2009

2009, A Year in Reading: Worst Books of the Year

As if my lack of enthusiasm for even the year's best books weren't bad enough, 2009 was also a year in which, unlike 2008 , I was very much not stumped for choice when the time came to choose the year's worst reads.  Looking at this list, which contains two Hugo nominees and one of the most talked-about genre books of the fall, it's hard not to draw conclusions about at least some of the reasons for my reading malaise.  A lot of my reading this year was motivated by a desire to keep with the conversation and with SF fandom in general, and that has turned out to be a mistake.  I need to listen to my instincts.  The ability to trash the Hugo nominees from an informed position is surely not worth the heartache of such a lackluster year's reading. As usual, these books are presented in ascending order of their stinkiness. Saturn's Children by Charles Stross ( review ) This was one of the three books I read in preparation for my review of the Hugo-nominated n

2009, A Year in Reading: Best Books of the Year

A lot of bloggers and reviewers have been posting their decade's best lists, but I'm sticking with the end of year format.  On the whole, I've found most of the best of decade lists I've seen rather samey.  Past a certain resolution, one loses sight of the interesting, idiosyncratic choices that make best-of lists so much fun.  Besides, after blogging for nearly half the decade (a scary thought, that) I hope it doesn't need a best-of post to make it clear that I consider books like Air and Atonement , Cloud Atlas and Perdido Street Station to be among the best I read in the aughts.  More importantly, I think that to linger on these fantastic books would only cast a harsher light on 2009's reading.  I read 60 books in 2009, a slight drop from last year (mainly because the last few weeks have been swallowed up by a major work project, which unfortunately will continue monopolizing my time in the first quarter of 2010) which doesn't quite convey just how muc

2009, A Year in Reading: Best Short Stories of the Year

Even more than 2008 , 2009's short story reading was dominated by genre fiction (aided and abetted by the Torque Control short story club ) and by reading specifically directed at finding worthy Hugo nominees for the 2009 and 2010 awards, which is to say recent stories.  I read only one non-genre collection this year, Jumpha Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth , and though it was an excellent read and is highly recommended, no single story from it lingers strongly enough in my mind to make it onto this year's best short fiction list, which is thus populated exclusively by recent genre stories.  I'm deeply fond of all of the stories on this list--I have nominated or plan to nominate all of them for the Hugo--but I feel the absence of mainstream and older fiction, or for that matter of reading fiction just for the pleasure of it and not in order to meet a deadline and do my duty by the Hugo award.  I plan to remedy that oversight in 2010 (once, that is, the Hugo deadline passes-

Avatar

Let's get this out of the way: Avatar is a beautiful movie.  Stunningly, even shockingly beautiful, and not in the inert, static way of Watchmen or the more recent work of Tim Burton, which emphasize the creation of detailed, meticulously crafted tableaux.  Avatar is beautiful in a cinematic way.  The individual details of its locales are lovely, but it's the movement--walking, running, swimming, flying--within those locales that takes one's breath away.  And breathtaking as its beauty is, Avatar isn't eye-popping.  The film encourages you to forget that you're watching computer generated characters in a computer generated environment, and its use of 3D technology is subtle and thought-out.  Avatar is the third 3D film I've seen this year, and if Up treated the technology as an afterthought and barely made use of it, and Coraline went out of its way to poke the audience in the eye (and made me very queasy in the process) with Avatar James Cameron has ful

Putting Away Childish Things: Dexter Goes Fourth

After four seasons, it's easy to become blasé about the magnitude of Dexter 's accomplishment.  In a television landscape in which so many shows flare brightly and briefly and then go to pot, and others are cut off in their prime, and others still are content to wallow in carefully maintained mediocrity, Dexter is that rare artifact--a series that has maintained, with some peaks and troughs, a high and highly satisfying level of quality for four years.  It's not a perfect show by any means.  It relies too heavily on clomping, obvious dialogue and an times insultingly over-explanatory voiceover; its pacing is often off, with seasons dragging in their middles and racing towards their endings; it tends to shunt off interesting minor characters into uninteresting, dead-end plotlines.  The fourth season, just now concluded, suffers from all these flaws as well as other, more serious ones, which we'll discuss below.  But it also displays the show's strengths--a rollickin

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi's debut novel, The Windup Girl , reads like an extended version of his short stories.  It is set in the future introduced in his 2005 short "The Calorie Man," in which the global economy has been brought to its knees by oil collapse, and genetically engineered plagues have killed many people and most naturally occurring grains and crops, creating a 'calorie monopoly' of biotechnology companies who sell their disease-resistant, sterile strains, whose copyrighted genomes they protect with ruthless efficiency, to the starving nations of the world.  It takes place in the same Bangkok which was the setting of Bacigalupi's 2006 story, "Yellow Card Man."  Its characters are either transplants from these stories or parallels of their protagonists, and its themes are the same grim fare that permeates all of Bacigalupi's output.  This is both a very good and very bad thing. It's a good thing because Bacigalupi is one hell of a writer,