Today is a focus on the fiction books that I read this year. I read more fiction than I have in the past few years, as I got stuck in the rut of assuming that only non-ficton was worth the majority of my time. Stories, even those not based in fact, are useful thinking tools, and just plain entertaining.
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales
Margaret Atwood has been one of my favorite authors since I read The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake in high school. She is a no-nonsense writer, both in her books and in real life. While painting vivid pictures of the worlds that her characters inhabit, she does not waste words.
Stone Mattress is another short story collection of hers, with several stories sharing related characters, but all sharing a similar theme. The stories do not move so far out of the realm of reality that you couldn't feel them happening around you.
One of the best books that I've read this year. Cory Doctorow always has the ability to make believable worlds out of the unbelievable, showing how we could move from topical arguments of the day into unknown territory.
Walkaway concerns a new mode of living in a world where tech has gotten good enouhg at repurposing waste that a freegan lifestyle is not only possible, but an attractive alternative. When it's cheap or nearly free to produce food and goods but copyrights and patents on their designs and processes stop them from being shared freely, class inequality is brought to extraordinary levels.
I don't want to give away the plot, but suggest that anyone who thinks things could be different or better without going into purely dystopian territory as so much hard sci-fi seems to do, this book is worth reading.
When everything is burning down around you, will you make the decision to walk away?
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, #1)
I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I started this book. Secret societies and codes based on a Borgean library nestled in a San Francisco bookstore? The book has this and more, and is intriguing to the very end.
Mr. Penumbra puts a bit of focus on technology, archiving, and the value of knowledge while contrasting the time consuming process of working your way through hundreds of books while a computer and the resources of Google can handle thousands or millions more in seconds. The book shows that there is still room for human ingenuity among machines, and the narrative within a narrative structure gives me hope in the end.
Gamers and developers will get a special pleasure from this book. The main character is working as a developer for a game company that his friends founded as he split off from them after high school. He returns after the death of one of the co-founders and the failure of other career prospects. The book splits between in-game discussions of the characters that he designs and plays, reminisces of their shared childhood, and the struggle of keeping a AAA game company afloat.
Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) (audiobook)
Speaker for the Dead (Ender's Saga, #2) (audiobook)
Xenocide (Ender's Saga #3) (audiobook)
Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #4) (audiobook)
I read at least a dozen of the Ender books years ago, and wanted to return to them to remind myself of what kept me captivated for so long. While I find Orson Scott Card maddening at times as a person, he puts such humanity and insight into his characters that I wonder how it can be the same person.
I chose to listen to these books to make it a bit more of a passive process, and I'm not sure if that helped or hurt as I moved along. The first two books are my favorites, but the third and the fourth are a bit maddening in a way that had me wanting to skip past portions if I could. The story seems to slow down, and things that I found clever and insightful a few years ago now seemed to come from someone with a particular axe to grind yet a disinterest in offending.
I’m continuing on with this series and will be moving onto the Shadow Saga after I finish the interstitial books here. I only hope those ones hold up to the fond memories that I have on what I considered an insightful and clever look at religion and geopolitics.
Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
I don’t think I’d loved any artist the way that the author loved Freddie Mercury. I have an affinity for David Bowie, but not on as deep of a level and not from such a young age. It makes me feel like I’m missing something, not having a measuring stick that I can put up to my life as a reminder of how far I’ve come.
Fahrenheit 451 (audiobook)
Another classic that felt important to return to this year. The most shocking part of this novel that I’d somehow forgotten is the act of the firemen and how it is directed. It was not the government putting dissent aside as in 1984. It was the general population deciding that they did not want to allow dissent to cultivate. Books aren’t illegal because some Big Brother told us they were. It’s because we mutually decided to make them that way.
Whenever someone says “The government is doing this”, what they mean is that there’s a comfort in being the victim to a larger evil, to spare the thought that it is the society that you are surrounded with that is that government. There’s no us and them, just the us that has been raised up high enough to speak for the rest of us.
One of the earliest of Old English tales, and the basis for many later stories. This was shorter than I expected and an easy read. Beowulf kill Grendel. Beowulf kill Grendel’s mother. Spoiler!
Treated as a religious text, there is a bit of the tone here that bothers me. I don’t want the stories of fallible figures who have some of the same flaws that I have. I want to look towards a religious figure to be raised above human flaw and not used as an excuse for poor behavior. Siddhartha may find redemption in the end, but he has no struggle or sacrifice, he simply nothings his way into being the most holy doer of nothing.
Siddhartha read a lot like business parables to me, along the lines of “The Go Giver” with a bit of misogyny and racism sprinkled in. It’s not terrible, and deserves some of the praise that it gets, but I don’t want to breathlessly condone a text just because the ascetic characters are considered the most holy without any reason.
Norse Mythology (audiobook)
Listening to this book read aloud by Neil Gaiman was a treat. He has a warm tone that lends an air of gravitas to his writing. The stories that he tells are simple, in that they are the start of all things, and in this case the end of them as well.
Odd and the Frost Giants (audiobook)
After listening to Gaiman’s book on the overarching Norse Mythology, I moved into this story about an individual human named Odd and how he used his unique position to best the Frost Giants after they overtook Asgard.
Dead Trees Give No Shelter
I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of this short by Wil Wheaton, and I wasn’t quite expecting the ending. He is a pleasure to read and listen to on his blog, and he is a pleasre to read stories from. Give this a go if you are a fan of his voice or want to see what King Nerd is like.
A clever little story that combines a past and present story into one narrative about secrets and darkness. Hope Larson is a great writer and artist, and her talents are on full display here.
I wanted this to be a good murder mystery, but it went a bit too out there and retconned too much to fit a specific narrative that I could not enjoy Original Sin. You get most of the Avengers throughout this storyline, but ineffective at best, standing around debating poorly at the worst.
I used Amazon affiliate links for the books above. If you want to read any or get any other suggestions, let me know!