Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Wrap-Up

(2006 finished...updated for 2007 and probably for 2008!)

(For thoughts several months after I originally wrote this, see below the fold.)

So here we are. 85 books completed. What were the best of the year?

Tops on my list are actually novels that are not (gasp) science fiction. Patrick O'Brian contributed three novels to my list this year, all three were smashing good sea yarns of the first water.

In the non-fiction department, Jefffrey Kluger's Journey Beyond Selene tops the list. It's an excellent tale of the various unmanned probes that we've launched.

What about short fiction? Given over 700 items read, is it possible to just pick a few?

Gregory Benford: Bow Shock. I read (and re-read) a lot of short stuff by Benford this past year. This story, making its first appearance in the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe is a great hard SF tale, showing how science "really works" and featuring some nicely drawn characters. One of the best I read all year.

John W. Campbell: Several of the stories that appeared in A New Dawn (one of NESFA's usual high-quality collections) have long been my favorites.

Jack Dann: DaVinci Rising.

David Drake, Eric Flint and Jim Baen (editors): The World Turned Upside Down. Probably the best multi-author collection I read during the year. Get it for your bookshelf! You won't regret it!

Paul Di Filippo: A Year in Linear City.

David Drake: The Darkness. Another story from the first issue of Jim Baen's Universe. Excellent military SF tale and one of the best short stories I read all year.

Bud Sparhawk: Jake's Gift stuck in my mind. I don't even know if you could call it science fiction, despite its appearance in Analog. Nice small package, great characters, one interesting idea.

So what about 2007? As you can see by looking at the list of short stories read in 2006, I did not complete several anthologies. We're here in August, and I still have completed several anthologies! What's the scoop? I attribute this to several personal events (family health, the home improvement project from heck, etc.), but also reading/reviewing fatigue. Reading and reviewing (for the most part) 700-odd stories left me tired of short stories. I've got to try and balance the desire to write a good entry on an anthology and not "slight" any story in an anthology with the reality that it gets kind of hard to keep writing something other than "I really like this story" again and again.

So I may finish those unfinished anthologies in the remainder of the year. Or I may boot it all forward one year.

I also had plans to tackle several future history/serial universe collections such as Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization and James Schmitz's Hub series. I've started some stuff in each, but haven't written any summaries or postings. More time was spent this year taking down the old blog and re-posting stuff here, than writing new entries.

That will, hopefully, change now! This represents the last reading-related entry from the old blog so I can move forward with postings of the stuff I read this year (that I haven't already reviewed). And...maybe I can pump up the short story count, write that essay on military fiction that I keep fiddling with, etc., etc., etc.

I think it is better not to make any more reading plans going forward. Every time I make a plan ("I'm going to read all the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series books this year!") it gets scuttled shortly after the year begins. Better to let serendipity take me where it will.
The 2005 Dozois Megathology

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Twenty-Third Annual Collection; edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 0-312-35334-0).

Summation: 2005 (Gardner Dozois): As usual, it is worth it to get the book just so you can read the introduction. Dozois looks at the year in books, shorts and more in enough detail to make a MBA candidate weep with joy. Is SF dying? Growing? Here's the straight poop.

The Little Goddess (Ian McDonald): McDonald joins Alan Dean Foster with this short story and his novel River of Gods in looking at India as a subject for science fiction. I don't know if this tale is part of the larger work, but it was good enough for me to go out and buy River of Gods in hardcover. It is on Mount Toberead, near the top. Excellent tale of a devi, something that sounds like it ought to be fantasy or science fiction, but isn't!

The Calorie Man (Paolo Bacigalupi): This tale by Bacigalupi is good, but depressing. It reminded me of a lot of the science fiction that we waded through in the 1970's (pollution will kill us, overpopulation will kill us, etc.). SF can be used to illuminate, to teach caution, but too much writing without hope makes the genre a dull field.

The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars (Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold): My first encounter with Lake that I'm aware of; I bought the recent Mainspring based on this tale (yes, another contribution to Mount Toberead). I didn't really buy the science in this one, or the motivations of the one character's employers, but it is a great story with two great characters.

Triceratops Summer (Michael Swanwick): An accident at a local physics lab causing a rift in time. A herd of triceratops appears in the present and the main characters learn that the universe as they experience it will soon end. How would you react? Swanwick provides a very nice low-key tale (and yes, if you've read it, I know that isn't exactly what is going on, but one needs to balance revelation with keeping some suspense going).

Camouflage (Robert Reed): Part of Reed's long-running series about an immense ship that is circling our galaxy. A former captain (who has moved far underground) must solve a series of strange murders. Makes me want to seek out the novels set in the series.

The Blemmye's Strategem (Bruce Sterling): An alternate history (or fantasy?) story set in the time of the Crusades. So-so.

Amba (William Sanders): Post-climate change story. Along with endless transhuman tales, is this the rut SF will be stuck in?

Search Engine (Mary Rosenblum): George Orwell did it better.

Piccadilly Circus (Chris Beckett): Another transhuman tale, about the last few non-singularity humans in England.

In the Quake Zone (David Gerrold):

La Malcontenta (Liz Williams):

The Children of Time (Stephen Baxter):

Little Faces (Vonda M. McIntyre):

Comber (Gene Wolfe):

Audubon in Atlanta (Harry Turtledove):

The Great Caruso (Steven Popkes):

Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (Neal Asher):

Zima Blue (Alastair Reynolds):

Planet of the Amazon Women (David Moles):

The Clockwork Atom Bomb (Dominic Green):

Cold Mountain (Chris Roberson):

The Fulcrum (Gwyneth Jones):

Mayfly (Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy):

Two Dreams on Trains (Elizabeth Bear):

Burn (James Patrick Kelly):

Honorable Mentions: 2005 (Gardner Dozois): Not an essay, just an extensive list of those stories that almost made it. Thank you mr. Dozois for "vetting" these tales. I don't think I'd have the time to read everything on the list!

Made up of: Summation: 2005 (Gardner Dozois); The Little Goddess (Ian McDonald); The Calorie Man (Paolo Bacigalupi); The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars (Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold); Triceratops Summer (Michael Swanwick); Camouflage (Robert Reed); The Blemmye's Strategem (Bruce Sterling); Amba (William Sanders); Search Engine (Mary Rosenblum); Piccadilly Circus (Chris Beckett); In the Quake Zone (David Gerrold); La Malcontenta (Liz Williams); The Children of Time (Stephen Baxter); Little Faces (Vonda M. McIntyre); Comber (Gene Wolfe); Audubon in Atlanta (Harry Turtledove); The Great Caruso (Steven Popkes); Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck (Neal Asher); Zima Blue (Alastair Reynolds); Planet of the Amazon Women (David Moles); The Clockwork Atom Bomb (Dominic Green); Cold Mountain (Chris Roberson); The Fulcrum (Gwyneth Jones); Mayfly (Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy); Two Dreams on Trains (Elizabeth Bear); Burn (James Patrick Kelly); Honorable Mentions: 2005 (Gardner Dozois).

The following stories had been previously read and reviewed, so will not be counted again: Second Person, Present Tense (Daryl Gregory); Angel of Light (Joe Haldeman); A Case of Consilience (Ken MacLeod); Deus Ex Homine (Hannu Rajaniemi); Beyond the Aquila Rift (Alastair Reynolds).

Counts as six entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Counts as five entries in the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.
Two Dances

Dance for Two; Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books, ISBN 0-679-75877-1).

Letters to a Young Mathematician; Ian Stewart (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08231-9.

Dance for Two; Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books, ISBN 0-679-75877-1).

Made up of: Foreword; Pas De Deux; A Flash of Light; Smile; Is the Earth Round or Flat?; If Birds Can Fly, Oh Why, Can't I?; Students and Teachers; Time Travel and Papa Joe's Pipe; In His Image; Mirage; To Cleave an Atom; Elapsed Expectations; A Visit by Mr. Newton; Origins; A Day in December; Progress; I = V/R; Nothing But the Truth; Time for the Stars; A Modern-Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court; The Origin of the Universe; How the Camel Got His Hump; Ironland; Other Rooms; Seasons.

Counts as seven entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Short Story Project.

Letters to a Young Mathematician; Ian Stewart (Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-08231-9.

Made up of: Preface; Why Do Math?; How I Almost Became a Lawyer; The Breadth of Mathematics; Hasn't It All Been Done?; Surrounded by Math; How Mathematicians Think; How to Learn Math; Fear of Proofs; Can't Computers Solve Everything?; Mathematical Storytelling; Going for the Jugular; Blockbusters; Impossible Problems; The Career Ladder; Pure or Applied?; Where Do You Get Those Crazy Ideas?; How to Teach Math; The Mathematical Community; Pigs and Pickup Trucks; Pleasures and Perils of Collaboration; Is God a Mathematician?

Counts as fourteen entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Short Story Project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Master and Commander

What? Another sea or O'Brian-related posting? What's the deal, Fred?

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Take a look at this site. Chart the voyages of these sea stories! I hope this wonderful effort continues! And listen to the music!
101 Crackerjack Sea Books

As it is clear from postings such as these, I'm a fan of sea stories. Via Dean King at Bookmarks magazine, 101 Crackerjack Sea Books. This should keep me busy for a while!

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Far Side of the World

After working through H.M.S. Surprise and The Mauritius Command earlier in the year, I skipped forward and worked through The Far Side of the World. I was mostly curious to see how much it matched the movie (based on this plus Master and Commander).

(It may surprise some, given how much I like these books, that I haven't plowed through them by now. My method is simple. The author has passed, having started, but not finished the 21st volume of the series. I love these books. I want the joy to last, before reading them again. So I try to limit myself to a few a year.)

Captain Aubrey takes the H.M.S. Surprise on a chase around South America and into the Pacific searching for an American frigate that has been harassing British whaling vessels. Unlike the movie, there are no sea battles, but there are some nasty storms, shipwrecked sailors, desert islands, dusky maids (with interesting eating habits) and a lot more.

One thing that always strikes me when I read O'Brian. I now essentially squat about naval matters, especially age of sail naval matters. I would not know a foremast from a mizzenmast if it hit me in the head. But when I am reading these wonderful books, I feel like I understand the concepts, just from the joy of the writing. When I am finished, I am a clueless landlubber again, but for a brief time, I am one with the wooden vessel.

Good stuff, once again. Will I finish either Treason's Harbor or Desolation Island by year's end? If not, there's always next year!

Addendum: In re-reading the review of this book, recommended by a friend, I was struck by the following. So true, so true, of us lovers of sail and salt!

Those of us in thrall to the late Patrick O'Brian are still combing book stalls and reviews looking for his successor, however profoundly we understand there'll never be one. Like alcoholics licking the lids of empty brandy bottles, we grope for the next fix, hungry for almost any author who will pipe us aboard a square-rigged ship for provocative cerebral adventures.

Addendum (January 12, 2007): In response to a comment, here is where I found the picture used above. It is a print by Geoff Hunt, whose work graces all the volumes of the Aubrey-Maturin series that I own. A gallery can be found here. I'd love to get a set of these (and enough wall space to display them!)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eggleton and Martiniere

Two of my favorite (currently practicing) artists who deal with a lot of science fiction subjects are Bob Eggleton and Stephen Martiniere. Eggleton now has a blog. Martiniere has a new book out and is interviewed here by The Art Department.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Magnetic Sheep

A very brief short story by James Lyn. Hey, but it counts as another installment in the 2006 Short Story Project!
Vintage Smog

Another brief entry, with thanks to an e-mail from the author (S. Foster). But, once again, it counts towards the 2006 Short Story Project!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Gordon R. Dickson Returns

Sort of. When he died in 2001, Gordon R. Dickson had been working on a continuation of his long-running Childe Cycle of novels called Antagonist. Looks like it has been finished off, but the co-author, David W. Wixon, is not a name that is familiar to me (but this brief entry at the Locus site suggests that he is well familiar with Dickson's work).

I wonder if Antagonist will be the first of a pair of novels, as some of Dickson's other later works were. From what I recall, the novel had been called Childe.

It would be wonderful if his notes could get published. The original plan for the cycle was to be several historical novels, several contemporary novels and several future history novels. The way the cycle worked out was a number of future history novels greater than the original plan. I'd like to see whatever exists for the historical and contemporary novels, to see what the grand vision would have been.

Dickson! Gordon R. Dickson. Notes by Sandra Miesel. (The NESFA Press, ISBN 0-915368-27-7.)

Made up of: Introduction (Poul Anderson); The Childe Cycle: Status 1984; The Law-Twister shorty; Steel Brother; The Hard Way; Out of the Darkness; Perfectly Adjusted.

Introduction (Poul Anderson): Anderson and Dickson had both been friends since early in their respective careers. They collaborated on several works and influenced each other in many ways beyond writing. This is a nice little essay talking about their relationship. It makes you wonder, though, given our increasingly time-stressed and attention-fractured lives whether these small communities of budding writers will continue to exist in the future. Can internet chat rooms and discussions take the place of a night of drinking, filking, etc., that took place on a very regular basis for these (at that time) young writers?

The Childe Cycle: Status 1984: My first encounter with Dickson's Childe Cycle was in Soldier, Ask Not. I don't think that edition made it clear that it was part of a larger body of work (and a later volume in that body as well). It wasn't until several years later that I came across (as a member of the SFBC) an omnibus edition of Dickson's works (which included Necromancer, Tactics of Mistake and Dorsai! plus an introduction by Dickson and material between each novel that was taken from The Final Encyclopedia, then a work in progress) that I could see the larger picture. All three of the books in that volume interested me and when I tried reading Soldier, Ask Not again, I had a "world turned upside down" moment.

Flash forward from then to the time of this essay (1984). Dickson takes the brief introductory material from that omnibus and expands it multiple ways, throwing in autobiographical detail, plot outlines for the unwritten works, his intentions, his plans and more. Interestingly, what was to be the final novel (as mentioned) took many more years to be written (but not completed) and several novels (The Chantry Guild, Young Bleys, Other) are not even mentioned. The detail on the books never written is particularly interesting, but one wonders if any publisher would have embraced the historical and contemporary volumes. Would fandom? Perhaps now, given the popularlity of works such as Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, Dickson would have found a receptive audience. Alas, we'll never know.

Counts as two entries in the 2006 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2007 Short Story Project.

Part of the 2008 Year in Shorts.