Saturday, January 29, 2011

Best of 2010

2010 was another busy year here at Neth Space. The real world has kept me from reading as much as I’d like – but that’s nothing new, just a bit extreme as I dealt with the things ranging from the divorce of my parent to the birth of my second child and a few medical challenges thrown in. I did manage to read 30 books in 2010. A few interesting stats are summed up below.

Stats:

  • 30 books read
  • 24 Published in 2010
  • 3 Published in 2009
  • 3 Published earlier (2007, 1976 and 1969)
  • 1 was YA (down from 5 in 2009)
  • 20 are part of a series
  • 25 were provided by the publisher
  • I read more books published by Random House (7) and its various imprints than any other – 2 from Del Rey, 2 from Ballantine, 2 from Spectra, and 1 from Pantheon (I suppose you could bounce it up to a total with 8 if you count 1 book from Transworld on the other side of the pond). The next closest were Tor (6), Pyr (4) and Orbit with 3.
  • 3 books were published by ‘small press’ (down from 5 last year)
  • 2 are short story collections (same as last year)
  • 8 are written by female authors (up from 3 last year) and 5 were written by a person of color or other distinct ethnicity from my own (possibly more since this is a difficult thing to keep track of)
  • 6 are what I consider science fiction (up from 4 in 2009)
  • 10 are what I consider epic fantasy (down from 18)
  • Only 1 is what I consider steampunk (down from 3)
  • 8 are what I consider urban fantasy (up from 5)
  • 4 are what I consider sword and sorcery
  • Only  is what I consider alternative history/historical fantasy
  • I conducted 7 Interviews and helped out with a couple of others
  • There have been approximately 57,000 site visits this year (not counting RSS) from 139 countries. Roughly 45% from the USA, 12% from the UK, and 9% from Canada.
  • The Westeros Forums and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist are the top referring sites (other than Google).
  • My review of Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson was the most popular post by far. The next most popular post was my review of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, so this year seems to have been the year of Brandon. Third place by less than 100 views went to my review of The Passage by Justin Cronin. I find 4th place very interesting since it is my review of The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie – a series that has been out for a while now and a review that is several years old. This tells me that Joe has a strong staying power (or that my Google-fu for that post is particularly good).
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So, the best books I read this year are listed below. It’s not a top 10 list and it’s not presented in any particular order – though my ratings of the books generally get higher as you move down the list – with Who Fears Death as the clear top book of 2010.


Kraken by China Miéville (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

Kraken is the latest from the highly decorated China Miéville and a return to London. It’s a story of religious, cultist and criminal fanatics, it’s the story of a young man awakening to world around him, it’s a story of loss, it’s an apocalyptic, action-packed thriller, it’s magical, it’s squidpunk, it’s all a bad joke…and it’s simply an example of a master at work. Highly recommended. (full review)


The Way of Kings is Sanderson’s most recent original work and the first book in a planned massive series. It’s his best book to date and the start of something very promising. The world is wonderfully creative with a deep history and uncertain future, the characters draw you in and make you care, and it all combines into something very special. Sanderson’s name may have leaped into the spotlight on the coattails of The Wheel of Time (though he was certainly on his way up already), but The Way of Kings proves that he belongs. This is a book that all fans of epic fantasy need to read and it could serve a great introduction for new fans to the genre, both young and not-so-young, as long as they can get past intimidation of 1000+ page book. My final thought can only be this: Brandon, when do we get book 2, because I want it now! (full review)


So, does The Left Hand of Darkness stand up 40+ years later – emphatically, YES! This novel has a timeless feel about it and a wonderful subtly wrapped in important thoughts that are inherent to our society and species. We will always be a gendered society, but just what do these gender roles mean? And the dichotomies within can apply where they weren’t necessarily aimed – the Cold War of the planet Winter now reads much more like an interesting take on the differences between Democrats and Republicans in the US – and I’m sure that those from other places will find their own modern analogs if they wish. This book earns its write to be at or near the top of any ‘best of’ list and easily belongs in a series of Masterworks. (full review)


So, the buzz surrounding The Passage is already huge and I see it only growing. It’s a genre book from a literary writer with potential appeal to a much wider audience than either alone. For us genre readers, a vampire apocalypse novel may not seem like it should be the next great book, but as always, it’s all about the execution – and Cronin executes The Passage with near-perfection. This book earns the buzz, this book should be read and discussed widely, this book is both literary and genre, this is a book I highly recommend. (full review)


So Sleepless is an apocalyptic crime story plus many other pieces that all add up to literary fiction. Yes, this is a book that is both genre and literary (in spite of having a plot). It is very much a discussion on the human condition – it’s just that most of the human conditions viewed are what so many of us would choose to deny exist. This is both a book that I can’t recommend highly enough and a book that I don’t think I ever want to read again. It is excellence, it is depressing as hell, and thankfully, it’s not entirely without hope. (full review)


Erikson has written something I think all authors dream of writing at one point or another but are either too scared or too smart to actually put on paper. Well, as a fan, a critic, and a far from noble knight, I have to say that I loved every juicy bit of Crack'd Pot Trail – I think I’ve developed a taste for it. (full review)


As I keep getting at, Who Fears Death is a lot of things, but most importantly, it’s a beautifully written book in a setting can only be considered unique in the world of fantasy. Okorafor’s writing magically reveals the story, effortlessly endearing characters to the reader, and engineering a story that simply must be read. The African feel of Who Fears Death may be what sets it apart from its contemporaries, and it may be the reason many choose to read or pass it by, but the timeless, human story within is the real reason to pick it up.

The bottom line is that Who Fears Death is the chance that readers should take. It celebrates the true diversity of SFF literature and reveals the struggles of a part of the world often overlooked. It’s a timeless, human tale that I highly recommend. (full review)

Honorable Mentions

Of course there are quite a few very good books that didn’t quite crack the uppermost tie – the 5 below just missed the cut. But really, I only read 1 or 2 books that I wouldn’t recommend for one reason or another.


And for kicks – the worst book I read in 2010


While The Chamber of Ten is a bit of a breath of fresh air in the world of urban fantasy – there’s not a werewolf or vampire in sight – it suffers under the generic feel of feeling like a Dan Brown imitation. The prose is a bit better that Dan Brown, but the storytelling is not. I think traditional SFF fans won’t find it terribly interesting and traditional thriller fans won’t buy into the speculative aspects of the story. This seems to leave The Chamber of Ten without an audience. (full review)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Something Completely Different

Haul truck at a copper mine in British Columbia. Take note of the stairs for an idea of scale - those wheels are about 12 feet in diameter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Books Received: January 10 - 18, 2011

For the past year or so I've been posting pictures of books received at Twitpic through my Twitter account. As of now, I've decided to go ahead and start posting them on the blog. At least until I get tired of it. I keep a full list of books received in this post, which hasn't been updated just yet to reflect the picture below.

Books received: January 10 - 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Another Year

With the changing of 2010 to 2011, I officially became a year older. And I sure feel it. I feel old because of all the shit I’ve had to deal with in the past 2 months, I feel old because I’m that stereotypical American with 2 kids and a mortgage, I feel old because my job title has the word ‘senior’ in it and a professional society thinks I’m presidential material, I feel old because I’m now closer to 40 than 30, but most of all I feel old because when I turn on the classic rock station I sometimes hear songs that were new when I was in high school – WTF and when did that happen.

Anyway – as for content around here, I hope to find some time soon to get reviews written for the books I’ve read lately – just look in the sidebar at currently reading. The top book is what I’m actually currently reading and those below are books that I’ve read but not yet reviewed. So, I think I owe around 4 reviews, my 2010 summary post (call it a best-of if you will), and I suppose I should put something together for my 5-year blogiversary coming up in April.

Did I mention that I feel old right now?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Something Completely Different

Here is an image that shows a bit of what I've seen way too much of over the past 2-3 months. Hopefully this is all over for a while.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont

Stonewielder (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is Ian C. Esslemont’s third novel set in the Malazan world he co-created with Steven Erikson. It is sequentially set after Return of the Crimson Guard (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and roughly at the same time as Dust of Dreams (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), likely overlapping somewhat with The Crippled God (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound). Esslemont continues to show improvement in his writing and Stonewielder is his best effort yet.

Warning, I’m a big fan of the Malazan books – more so Erikson than Esslemont, but that matters little. This is a sprawling epic story and world with many overlapping plots, a pantheon of species, races, characters and gods, empires, parallel worlds, magic and much more. This review is written from my perspective, a fan who has read all that has come so far from both Erikson and Esslemont, and this is written for those fans who have done likewise.

Stonewielder takes place on the mysterious sub-continent of Korel – in fact, details about this region of the Malazan world have been so lacking that until this book it wasn’t known if Koreli was truly a continent, subcontinent, archipelago or some combination of the all. The lack of details about Korel to date is explained here with a mysterious guardian entity/god that protects and isolates Korel as well as prevents traditional warren sorcery from working. In Stonewielder the Malazan Empire and its new emperor decide to re-invade Korel as a follow-up to the earlier failed invasion and they tap the disgraced, enigmatic former commander Greymane to lead.

This being the third book by Esslemont in the Malazan world and a book that time wise falls between the 9th and 10th books by Erikson in the same world, it’s not recommended for someone not familiar with other books to take this one on. Yes, there is a complete and relatively independent story arc at the heart of the book, but the details of the world, significance of some of the characters that may only be hinted at will confound a new reader.

Esslemont shares many similarities with Erikson but generally sticks to the plot without getting as philosophical as Erikson is prone to. Whether you consider this a positive or negative varies quite a bit across the spectrum of Malazan fans (for example I tend to enjoy Erikson’s philosophical wanderings). Esslemont’s books are shorter (though at 600+ pages far from short), more to the point and a bit longer in the action. This is great when we get scenes of a Moranth navy battling an undefeatable Mare navy, running battles through caverns, Crimson Guard Avowed fighting Stormriders, etc.

Esslemont also shows improvement in his characters – Kyle from Return of the Crimson Guard has grown significantly, as has Kiska of Night of Knives (though she’s still a fair bit annoying), and he populates Stonewielder with a few new, green recruits. All in all, I felt that his writing was simply far more interesting this time around and I was very pleased to find a lack of the last-minute, dues ex machina super mage from nowhere who saves the day.

Stonewielder follows a few plot arcs – the invasion, a local magistrate, the Stormwall, a few Crimson Guard, a peasant rebellion, a journey into Shadow, and a couple of cross-overs. Not all offer nice, neat conclusions and some are more interesting than others. And some seem a bit pointless. In this respect, Stonewielder could have benefited significantly from a tighter bond and more overlap between these subplots. As it is now, some seem to be wasted space, though they were interesting enough stories on their own.

One of the over-arching aspects of Stonewielder is the annual invasion of the Stormriders and the soldiers of the Stormwall that repel them. What are the Stormriders? What do they want? These two simple questions seem to be at the heart of mystery that is Korel and these two questions remain largely unanswered in the book. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of all. Either Esslemont is being too subtle or too evasive – either way, it’s a big letdown in an otherwise decent volume in the Malazan saga.

Stonewielder shows a big improvement in Esslemont’s writing and offers up a healthy dose of just what the doctor ordered for Malazan fans. I generally still favor Erikson’s writing style and there are a few things I would have liked to see Esslemont do better, but in general, this is pretty solid offering in the Malazan saga. 7.5/10

Update with Scotch Whisky

So, my daughter is recovering well from her second surgery in 2 months of life and I’m slowly trying to get my life back in order. I’m still at least a week away from any real progress with this, but I’m at a point where I can start thinking on other things in life (such as work, blogging, etc.). I may even find some time for adding some real content around here in the next few days. We’ll see.

In about a week I should be back to a normal, though I honestly expect it’ll be a month or two before I’m truly back to regularly scheduled blogging. I won’t be absent, just not consistent – expect blogs will come in fits and starts separated by longish lulls.

But I always try and find some positives in my world, so I’ll leave you with a small bit that certainly raises my spirits. My birthday is one week after Christmas and after a lifetime of combination gifts I’ve fully embraced them. In fact I ask for the exact same thing from everyone – gift cards to BevMo so I can buy good Scotch. Below is a picture of the spoils from this year which was a banner year in part due to my parents’ divorce last year and a relative doubling of their contributions – amazingly enough I didn’t spend too much more than the amount I was given (relatively speaking anyway).



Care to guess which one I cracked open first?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Pause

Well, life has thrown me another curve ball that hit me squarely in the balls, so things will be quite around here for a bit. I have no idea when regular content will begin again, but it could be several weeks. I hope to have some time to post every now and then, but it just isn’t clear right now. I have a couple of reviews half-written and a 2010 best-of post that need to be posted, but it may be on towards February before I can get to them.

Hopefully I’ll surface from time to time as long as life doesn’t completely drown me. In the mean time, don’t forget me while I’m gone and stick to all the tired old discussions that I don’t care to participate in anymore J.

Ciao,
Ken

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