A strange year. I was made redundant at the beginning of January, which relieved me of the need to spend five hours a day commuting and spend too damned many hours sitting in an office; and yet it had the perverse effect of giving me less time to read. Ah well, these are the 66 books I did read. As ever, the ones I rate particularly highly are in bold:
1: Civil War by Trevor Royle – I used to be very interested in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (as what was once naively known as the English Civil War should more properly be called), but it is years since I read anything about it. This is a fairly good readable general history of the period, though I found it confusing in places.
2: Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper – which I wrote about here.
3: Seasons in the Sun by Dominic Sandbrook – the fourth of Sandbrook’s massive histories of post-war Britain brings us to the late 70s, culminating in the ‘triumph’ of Margaret Thatcher’s election. I think the books have become weaker as they go on, and I’m certainly finding far more to argue with as they overlap with my own memories.
4: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – reviewed for Bull Spec, a novel in which I find the reinvention of John Dos Passos’s technique of far more interest than the rather bland story.
5: Any Day Now by Terry Bisson – a chunk of autobiography disguised as an alternate history novel. Bisson is always an engaging writer, but I lost interest in the alternate history long before I lost interest in the autobiography.
6: The Time Ship by Enrique Gaspar – which I reviewed at SF Site.
7: In Tearing Haste edited by Charlotte Mosley – the letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Derbyshire (nee Mitford); patrician, snobbish, full of name-dropping, and still somehow absolutely compelling.
8: vN by Madeline Ashby – I really don’t know what the fuss is about, I thought this was a weak novel that doesn’t really hold together.
9: Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell – a very routine near-future thriller with climate change overtones but no real innovation or engagement.
10: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin – the book that supposedly inspired Spielberg’s film Lincoln, though the events covered in the film occupy a bare handful of pages in this huge and much more wide-ranging book. It is the story of the members of Lincoln’s cabinet, in particular of those (Chase, Seward) who had stood against Lincoln for the Presidency and considered themselves better suited to the job. It is thorough, fascinating and very readable. (Incidentally, I wrote about the film here.)
11: Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson – not much to say about this, other than the fact that I loved it.
12: The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt – which I wrote about here.
13: Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway – I wasn’t surprised to see this on various award shortlists, it is written with real verve. I think I would have been less comfortable if it had won.
14: Slow Apocalypse by John Varley – an old-fashioned catastrophe novel set in Los Angeles, and well done of its kind. But I’m most interested in the fact that such stories are suddenly becoming common in American sf, which may say something about current American political sentiment.
15: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen vol 1 by Alan Moore et al – I’ve heard so much about this that I thought I’d give it a try, and what a mess it is. I don’t think I’ll be going any further with the series.
16: The Story Until Now by Kit Reed – easily the collection of the year, which I reviewed at Strange Horizons.
17: When the People Fell by Cordwainer Smith – which I reviewed at SF Site.
18: Intrusion by Ken MacLeod – his best novel for some time.
19: Light by M. John Harrison – reread for an LARB review.
20: Nova Swing by M. John Harrison – reread for an LARB review.
21: Empty Space by M. John Harrison – reread for an LARB review, which is here.
22: LARB Digital Editions #12 Science Fiction edited by Jerome Winter – which includes my essay ‘The Widening Gyre’.
23: Nod by Adrian Barnes – terrible novel that I reviewed for Interzone. The review is here.
24: Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald – which I reviewed at SF Site.
25: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord – which I reviewed at SF Site.
26: John Brunner by Jad Smith – which I reviewed for Extrapolation.
27: Other Seasons by Neal Barrett, Jr. – which I reviewed at Strange Horizons.
28: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – not one of his best.
29: Astounding Wonder by John Cheng – which I reviewed for Vector.
30: Merivel, A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain – which I wrote about here.
31: John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk – which I also wrote about here.
32: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – one of my books of the year, which I wrote about here.
33: On My Way to Samarkand by Garry Kilworth – which I reviewed at SF Site.
34: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks – it’s still too soon after his death to really work out what I feel about his career, but I thought this last Culture novel was good but not one of the best.
35: Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh – which I reviewed for Interzone. The review is here.
36: The Adjacent by Christopher Priest – reread for review in Vector, and definitely one of my books of the year.
37: Stardust by Nina Allan – which I wrote about here.
38: Benchmarks Continued by Algis Budrys – which I reviewed for Foundation.
39: Five Autobiographies and a Fiction by Lucius Shepard – which I reviewed at SF Site.
40: Benchmarks Revisited by Algis Budrys – which I reviewed for Foundation.
41: The Battle of the Swash by Samuel Barton – part of Political Future Fiction.
42: Benchmarks Concluded by Algis Budrys – which I reviewed for Foundation.
43: Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley – which I reviewed for Interzone.
44: The Silent Land by Graham Joyce – which I reviewed for Vector.
45: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – which I reviewed for Vector.
46: The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce – which I reviewed for Vector.
47: Raw Spirit by Iain Banks – research for an essay for Foundation.
48: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks – research for an essay for Foundation.
49: Parabolas of Science Fiction edited by Brian Attebery & Veronica Hollinger – the best non-fiction of the year, which I reviewed at Strange Horizons.
50: Walking on Glass by Iain Banks – research for an essay for Foundation.
51: The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor – the surprise conclusion to his epic trilogy, which I wrote about here.
52: The Bridge by Iain Banks – research for an essay for Foundation.
53: Getting Out of There by M. John Harrison – in the absence of a new novel from Harrison, let us celebrate this chapbook.
54: The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236 by Robert W. Cole – part of Political Future Fiction.
55: Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham – my annual fix of Allingham.
56: Legions of the Dawn by Allan Reeth – part of Political Future Fiction.
57: The Affairs of John Bolsover by Una L. Silberrad – part of Political Future Fiction.
58: The Inheritors by Joseph Conrad & Ford M. Hueffer – part of Political Future Fiction.
59: A Lodge in the Wilderness by John Buchan – part of Political Future Fiction, which I reviewed for JFA.
60: The Water Sign by C.S. Samulski – which I wrote about here.
61: The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata – which I also wrote about here.
62: Maps of Utopia: H.G. Wells, Modernity, & the End of Culture by Simon J. James – which I reviewed for Foundation.
63: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton – which I wrote about here.
64: Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss – it seems to me that the older Aldiss gets, the more his work seems to resemble the later novels of H.G. Wells. Rather than letting the ideas emerge naturally from character, plot and setting, he seems to regard character, plot and setting to be incidentals that can be tacked on to the big idea. This is better than a lot of his recent work, but nobody has conversations they just make speeches; things happen without any seeming reference to what has gone before; he loses interest in anything that might be considered a plot before it is resolved; and he has the most godawful deus ex machina it has been my misfortune to read in a very long time.
65: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – another re-read which prompted this post.
66: Harvest by Jim Crace – I’ve been meaning to read something by Crace for a long time, but this is the first of his novels I’ve got round to. It is wonderful; a strange mixture of the precise and the imprecise. We know the everyday detail, but not where or when we are, and the tragedy accelerates with an inevitability that is entirely rooted in the nature of the village and the villagers. Now I need to go back and read more of his books.
On top of that I wrote not far short of 60,000 words of essays and reviews (a number of which have not appeared yet); well over 60,000 words if you count my various blog posts here and at Big Other. So let’s see what 2014 holds.