In terms of writing, this was a good year; in terms of reading, not so good.
As far as fiction is concerned, this was the best year I’ve had for some time. I wrote two stories, and sold both of them. “Edenbridge” has already appeared in Fantastic Stories Presents: Fantasy Super Pack #1, edited by Warren Lapine; “Documents in the Case of Brother G” is due to be published next year.
I also did something I don’t intend to make a habit of doing, which is put up a story here on the blog: “The Lost Domain”. It’s nice to see a few people have read it.
In addition I’ve produced something in excess of 56,000 words of non-fiction, not counting blog posts but including regular columns for BullSpec and Vector, a paper for the M. John Harrison conference during the summer (which I now need to revise for publication), and a whole load of other essays and reviews.
All those words of non-fiction, of course, do not include my biggest writing news of the year. I am writing a book on Iain M. Banks for the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series from Illinois University Press. Delivery is due at the beginning of 2016, just over a year from now (as I write this I am well on the way with chapter 2 (of 5) so I’m not quite panicking about the deadline just yet), and I’m guessing that publication will follow later in that year.
With all of that my reading was way down, around 15 or so fewer titles than I would normally expect to get through in a year. There are several reasons for this: some of the books I was reading for review were massive and took a lot of time to get through; over the last couple of months I’ve been reading an awful lot of essays as research for the Banks book which has meant less time for reading books; and during the early part of the year my Campbell Award reading meant a number of books not listed here because I didn’t read every word. Even so, it was mostly just a matter of life getting in the way.
Nevertheless, these are the 56 books I did read. As ever, the ones I rate particularly highly are in bold:
1: Wolves by Simon Ings. Definitely one of the best books of the year. I reviewed it for Interzone, and reprinted the review here.
2: What Lot’s Wife Saw by Ioanna Bourazopoulou, which I wrote about here.
3: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Okay, if we are to believe the awards, this was undoubtedly the big book of the year, but it really didn’t set me on fire. Leckie really has an awful lot to learn about basic things like how to end a scene.
4: The Culture of the Europeans by Donald Sassoon, a massive volume that I’ve been working through for some time. I’ve written about it here.
5: Boon by H.G. Wells, possibly his most controversial novel, which I wrote about here.
6: The Age of Ice by J.M. Sidorova, which I reviewed for Strange Horizons.
7: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which I reviewed for the Sunday Telegraph.
8: Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson, another of the best books of the year. In my BullSpec column I said: “On the surface, it’s an engaging and effective spy thriller (Hutchinson always has been a very good storyteller), but under the surface there’s something much more interesting going on. He imagines a near-future Europe Balkanized into a myriad of independent statelets, some as small as a city district or as elongated as a trans-European railway line. The reasons why the continent has disintegrated this way, and the effects of all these countless borders, make this one of the most politically astute novels I’ve read for a long time.”
9: On the Steel Breeze by Alastair Reynolds, which I reviewed at SF Site.
10: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke. Beautifully written, and in places very good indeed, but it felt cluttered and in places there was far too much hand waving to make much sense.
11: Descent by Ken MacLeod, which I reviewed for Interzone.
12: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux. If I’d had my way, this would have won every award for the best novel of 2013, but in fact it didn’t make any shortlists, except for the Campbell, which it deservedly won. I wrote about it here.
13: The Secret Knowledge by Andrew Crumey, which I also wrote about here.
14: Sunburnt Faces by Shimon Adaf, which I reviewed for Strange Horizons.
15: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I also wrote about here.
16: Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn, which I reviewed for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
17: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, another indefinable work by Fowler, and one of the best things she has written. I wrote about it here.
18: The Brick Moon by Edward Everett Hale, a 19th century curiosity (accompanied by a curious novella by Adam Roberts) which I reviewed for Vector.
19: Nest of Worlds by Marek S. Huberath, which I wrote about here.
20: [[there]] by Lance Olsen, which I wrote about at Big Other.
21: Science Fiction by Mark Bould, a work of film criticism that I reviewed for Foundation.
22: 1913: The World Before the Great War by Charles Emmerson, a rather slight book that still managed to present a fair number of surprising facts, some of which fed into this article I wrote.
23: Big As Life by E.L. Doctorow. I wouldn’t pretend that this is a great book, but it is certainly the one I have been most eager to read. I wrote about it here.
24: Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen, which I wrote about at Big Other.
25: Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson, an interesting book but the tropes quickly become all too familiar, as if there are tics that she has to put into every one of her books.
26: Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow. His most recent novel, it feels slight compared to many of his other books but nothing by Doctorow is actually bad.
27: Hide and Seek: The Story of a Wartime Agent by Xan Fielding. One of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s companions on Crete, this is a fascinating and vividly told account of a very strange war, and I wrote about it here.
28: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. Re-read for the first time in ages. Wonderful stuff, which I wrote about here.
29: The Pastel City by M. John Harrison. Re-read as part of my research for my paper.
30: The Time Traveler’s Almanac edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, reviewed for Strange Horizons.
31: A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison. More research.
32: In Viriconium by M. John Harrison. And more research.
33: Viriconium Nights by M. John Harrison. Yet more research.
34: Ira Foxglove by Thomas McMahon, which I wrote about at Big Other.
35: My Real Children by Jo Walton, which I reviewed for Interzone.
36: The Race by Nina Allan, her first novel and I suspect she is going to do much better, but this is still a fascinating book.
37: Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham. My annual encounter with Allingham, which I wrote about here.
38: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, which I wrote about here.
39: Gothic Dimensions by Moira Martingale, a disconcertingly poor book about Iain Banks.
40: The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction edited by Rob Latham, which I reviewed at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
41: Bete by Adam Roberts, which I reviewed for Vector.
42: The Transgressive Iain Banks edited by Martyn Colebrook and Katherine Cox, like any collection of essays, this is variable, but one or two are very good indeed.
43: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. Research.
44: The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. Research.
45: The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks. Research.
46: Espedair Street by Iain Banks. Research.
47: Canal Dreams by Iain Banks. Research.
48: Iain Banks’s Complicity by Cairns Craig. Research.
49: Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks. Research.
50: Complicity by Iain Banks. Research.
51: The War of the Worlds by Barry Forshaw, for review at Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
52: Quatermass and the Pit by Kim Newman, for review at Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
53: Alien by Roger Luckhurst, for review at Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
54: Abducting a General by Patrick Leigh Fermor, which I wrote about here.
55: England and Other Stories by Graham Swift. His first collection of stories for some time. Their settings vary from the immediate aftermath of the execution of Charles I to the present day, yet there is a commonality of theme and tone and touch about them that binds them all into a unity. Most of them lay out a situation in which something is going to change, someone is going to be affected by things, but the stories invariably end just before the change happens; they are pregnant with possibilities, but we are always left waiting for the actual birth. His characters are mostly working class or lower middle class, they are not people who are going to make an impact on the world, rather the world is one the point of making an impact upon them. But there is always a new understanding hovering just beyond reach in all of these stories. They are beautifully judged, delicately constructed. This is one of his best books.
56: Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt, another monumental book and a very good one. Even though a lot of it covers events I’ve lived through, and in areas where I paid an interest, yet I was still finding out masses of new stuff all the way through. A fascinating account of Europe that makes you realise how little nationalist parties like UKIP understand about our common history and our economy. This should be required reading for every politician.