Although a lot of my time was occupied with PhD studies this year, I did manage to read for pleasure. Almost all the non-academic stuff I read this year was awesome. Here is a quick recap.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction (12th Annual Collection) – Edited by Gardner Dozois (1995)
Seriously, I’ve had this book for about 13 years and I just finished it this year. Then again, I only started it last year. It’s got some pretty good selections, two of them by Ursula K. Leguin. I especially liked The Matter of Seggri. Some real interesting gender commentary there. There there is Ylem by Eliot Fintushel. That was some fucked up crazy weird shit. The kind of story you have to read twice just to try to get it. I love that kind of thing.
I like keeping a book of short stories by my bed because shorts are great for helping me relax and get to sleep. Since they are short, I don’t tend to get so absorbed that I lose all track of time like I do with a novel.
Another Fine Myth – Robert Aspirin
Ok, so technically, I read this at the tail end of 2008. One of my best friends gave me this for the holidays last year. It was especially meaningful because in May 2008, the weekend before I started testo, we had gone to Columbus, Ohio for a Sci-Fi conference. Robert Aspirin, who I had never heard of before, died unexpectedly shortly before the con and they had a spontaneous wake for him. Unlike any funeral I had ever been to, this wake was lively and jovial. People jammed and told stories about Aspirin. So it was nice to read something he wrote after I had been to his wake.
The story itself was entertaining. A nice blend of sci-fi and fantasy with magic, creatures, a quest and all that stuff. The characters are colourful and kept my attention. It was a nice, light, easy read. Not stressful and got quite a few chuckles out of it. Thanks again M!
Histoire D’O (Story of O) – Pauline Réage
This had been on my to read list for quite some time. It’s a sexy story about consensual BDSM, although that term is never actually used. It’s written from the point of view of the woman who submits first to her male partner, then to a group of men that he takes her to, then to another man that her partner basically “gave” her to. Her consent is sought every step of the way and she grows to crave torture. Definitely not for those who have any aversion to BDSM or “rough” sex. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I, um, had to stop reading a few times to, um, ya know . . . I don’t know if the English translation is as good.
Ways of Sunlight – Sam Selvon
I picked this up at a used book fair a couple of years ago. I had never heard of Sam Selvon before and when I picked it up this year and read a bit about his in the intro section, I was intrigued. From Trinidad, Selvon wrote about the life of East Indians in very poignant ways. The first part of this book contains short stories located in Trinidad. As an anthropologist, of course, I’m always interested in reading fiction located in other cultural contexts. One of the critiques I read about these stories indicated that he romanticised the way of life of the East Indian communities in Trinidad but I think many fiction writers do this anyway. To me, the ideas that are put across still say something about the worldviews of the people and some of the social realities they deal or dealt with.
The second half is about East Indians and other people from the Caribbean living in England. The stories are also touching and deal with issues that resonate with stories one can read about immigrants living in urban areas all over the Western world.
I was amazed by the writing and very moved by the raw humanity that was shared through Selvon’s writing. I highly recommend this.
The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Leguin
I had seen the movie many years ago so I already knew the story but I was looking forward to reading the book. I finally got to read it in it’s entirety in April on the plane trip to and from Florida to see Iron Maiden in concert. It was a quick read but packed. And deep. A futuristic story about a guy and his “effective” dreams, or dreams that actually change reality. Problem is, he is the only one who knows. I love LeGuin’s writing style and this is probably one of those books I’ll read again in a few years.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes – Maya Angelou
I finally to to read some Angelou! This is actually the sequel to her well-known book “I know why the caged bird sings” but I haven’t read that one yet. They are both autobiographies and the one I read describes her time in Ghana as a Black American looking for a home in Africa. It’s VERY touching and moving and I will certainly read it again. The people are passionate and lively and, like people that we meet in our own lives, try hard to balance optimism and realism.
Terre des Autres – Sylvie Bérard (Of Wind and Sand)
I loved reading this in its original French version. Not just because the author is a friend but because it was my first sci-fi book in French. It is not written in the typical linear fashion that most of us are used to. In her own words, the place is the main character of the story and is a planeet on which humans have settled. There was, of course, a whole other species living there before. I won’t say anymore than that because part of the fun of this book is being surprised by how people and things are presented. Suffice it to say that anyone interested in culture clash gone to extremes will enjoy this. If you can, I recommend reading it in French but fortunately for non-French readers, it is available in English. A must-read also for the interesting literary devices she uses.
Science Fiction: The Best of the Year (2006 Edition) – Edited by Rich Horton
M. picked this up at World Con in Montreal in August. I would have loved to go but it was way too expensive for me : ( And I was in very dire financial straights at that time (HA! That hasn’t actually changed!) Anyway, it was a freebie that M. picked up and passed along to me. Another collection of short stories. I enjoyed it but I have to say that I felt a major difference between this and the collection I described above. The other one is older and has more “old fashioned” sci fi . . .the kind of sci fi I grew up with. Stuff dealing with outer space, etc. This newer stuff is OK but . . .I dunno. It doesn’t touch the same chord that the older stuff does. One notably disappointment was the short story Triceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick. It was an ok story and kept my attention. But his novel: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter is one of my top 10 books of all time. Weird, twisted, confusing and innovative stuff that I like. In my everyday language term: Fucked up crazy shit. I recommend it to almost anyone who asks. So I guess my expectations were super high. So I’ll try to read it again with a clearer mind at some point. Again, it wasn’t BAD. . . just not fucked up crazy shit like I was hoping for. The Edge of Nowhere by James Patrick Kelly was quite interesting though. It takes place in some nebulous area where survivors of some kind of apocalypse of sorts continue to thrive because they can still access knowledge and equipment from before by asking some kind of unseen force. It’s pretty vague in my mind now after all this time but I remember being intrigued by it. And Understanding Space and Time by Alastair Reynolds absolutely blew my mind! It has to be one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long, long time. Fucked up crazy shit : ) And quite a few chuckles on top of that. It starts off looking pretty depressing what with this guy left all alone on a planet. But it gets pretty interesting when he meets other entities . . .and I shall say no more than that except that Elton John fans will love it.
Kuchiel’s Dart and Kushiel’s Chosen – Jacqueline Carey
My girlfriend had been bugging me to read this book for quite some time. She insisted that I would like it. She was right! I enjoyed this re-writing of history with a heavy touch of fantasy. And I REALLY liked how women played a prominent role, how bisexuality and homosexuality were non-issues (people’s sexual preferences were usually mentioned as just another thing about them if at all), how BDSM practices were common and especially how the main character described her sensations. Most of all, I enjoyed the fact that sex work took on a spiritual meaning, at least in one of the cultures described. The only thing that bugged me, and this bugs me about a LOT of fantasy novels, is the racial and ethnic categories and how closely they mimic the stereotypes we all know. It seems there aren’t many authors that can give me the satisfaction of getting away from classic ethnic typologies. *sigh*. But given all it’s got going for it, and given that it’s relatively mild “ethnicism” in the sense that there are both “good” and “bad” characters in most of the ethnic groups described, I’m willing to put up with this aspect enough to see the series to its end, hopefully this winter.
Medicine River – Thomas King
I enjoyed every last page of this novel that takes place in a Native community in the Canadian prairies. The characters are delightful. Not one of them has anything to do with the usual Native stereotypes. And there is no overarching linear storyline. The main character, in each chapter, describes events in his current life while also reflecting on things from his past. The reader is thus taken through a series of juxtapositions of past and present anecdotes that always have something in common. Sometimes you have to mentally dig a little to make the connection but there always is one. I will read this again when I’m older – it’s the kind of novel that I know will teach me something different at different stages of my life just because of its own emphasis on inner growth.
So, as far as I can recall, this is it. I didn’t re-read any novels this year. There are some that I re-read every few years but this year, I focussed on new things. There are few things I love more than getting completely absorved in a novel. And as I was recently explaining to my girlfriend, it’s not just about escapism. I really learn about myself with every novel that I read. Whether I like it or not, whether I have emotional reactions to it or not, whether I bond with some characters or not, I am confronted with myself and forced to analyse why this and not that, why them and not the other one, etc. I tend to get inside the characters, especially the ones I like but even sometimes the ones I don’t like and put myself in their position. Sometimes, if they do something I think I would never do, I ask myself if that’s really true and try to imagine circumstances in which maybe I *would*. If they do brave and heroic things, I question whether I would have that kind of courage when I needed it. Also, getting into the minds of different characters helps me learn more about the complexities of humans. Dealing with characters that I like that do things I don’t like and vice versa makes me confront the reality that anyone is capable of just about anything.
All that and, yeah, escapism is nice too : )