My 2021 in Reading

I did something different in 2021, probably because for the first four and a half months of the year I was still on my 2020 quarantine-light. (I left the house, sure, but I limited those excursions and didn’t work at my “real” job until after my second jab) So for the first time since I was a kid who really wanted that free pan pizza, I kept track of my reading.

I generally have the goal of 52 books a year. (In my pan pizza seeking days, I could read 100 books over the summer, no problem. I didn’t have a job. Or pets and a house to keep up. Or, I guess, much of a life. Heh.)

I didn’t make it in 2021. I fell short, ending the year having read 45 books since January 1. I feel mostly fine with this number, given the fact that I got married in 2021. Putting a wedding together is a lot, and it was even more of a lot in 2021. Also, Syd and I had a three day party beforehand.

Anyway. Here are the best things I read all year:

In January, I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is a comprehensive demonstration of why generation ships are a terrible idea. Unlike most generation ship stories, this one isn’t limited to either somewhere in the midpoint of the journey/usually around the third or fourth generation or the end of the journey. Instead, Aurora starts out “near” the end of the journey, takes us all the way through to the end, and continues on through a decision that this was all a bad idea and we should go back home, and keeps going through a second journey. Fucking incredible. (For another unusual generation ship story, albeit one that is a flashback subplot to a different story, Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City is an old favorite.)

Also in January, I read Timothy Denevi’s Freak Kingdom, a truncated biography of Hunter S. Thompson focusing on his political years in the 60s and 70s. I’ve read other Thompson biographies, and this one doesn’t offer many new insights, but it does delve more deeply into one specific aspect of the writer’s life and explores it comprehensively. Recommended, even for non-Thompson fans. It rang especially relevant in the weeks following January 6.

Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline is fucking delightful. I read it mostly sitting by a canal on Longboat Key in our isolation-friendly vacation rental. It was compelling, fun, and an extremely well thought-out take on time wars. And the characters are fantastic. I would go to a concert with them, for sure. (Hopefully our own future timeline will include concerts.)

In February I re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and devoured S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood. Anne Rice just passed a few weeks ago, and if you’re a fan of her work who might be having mixed feelings in the wake of her passing, you might check that one out. It is very much in the same wheelhouse, but also … look, as someone who read Interview and Lestat about a dozen times each in high school, this is weird to say, but Dowry is better. Epistolic, and written from the points of view of Dracula’s three brides, it has the dark eroticism and angst of the damned nailed, but doesn’t wander in and out of Christianity and certainly doesn’t dip into aliens or lost cities under the sea. Focus. (Okay, a standalone obviously isn’t going to wander aimlessly the way a series encompassing 15 novels can. But still.)

I spent a good chunk of spring and early summer with Peter F. Hamilton and Timothy Zahn, and also catching up on short stories in FIYAH, Analog, and Asimov’s. (I definitely recommend a FIYAH subscription. They won a Hugo, and for good reason.)

I also got to read, pre-release, Cheryl A. Lawson’s A Dark Genesis. I recommend this one for people who like Star Trek: The Next Generation and sci fi horror like Alien. It’s a novella, and I read through it in two sittings, and I loved it.

I read a lot of comics over the summer. I won’t count single issues for my reading list, but graphic novels and trade collections are A-OK. It counts as reading a book, you weirdoes. Let your kids read what they want. Anyway: Far Sector by N.K. Jemison was absolutely everything I ever wanted from Green Lantern and a seriously awesome science fiction yarn. I also read Dan Slott’s entire run (to date) on Fantastic Four, and it is glorious. I also re-read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, because it’s going to be a show soon and I hadn’t read it since I was a teenager. Still good.

In October I finally got around to A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine’s follow-up to the phenomenal A Memory Called Empire. I highly recommend them both. Few authors can so skillfully render an alien culture. Martine ranks at the top along with C.J. Cherryh, and her Aztec-inspired Teixcalaanli are fascinating.

Also in October, Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase arrived. The latest installment in his Revelation Space universe re-uses some story elements he’s used in the past. (Including one from the aforementioned Chasm City involving identity.) It’s far from his best work in terms of ideas, but his craft has improved by leaps and bounds since 2001’s Revelation Space and his eye for cinematic holy-shit-that’s-awesome moments has seldom been better. Recommended for fans of the series, but definitely not a jumping in point. Anyone not familiar with Reynolds should probably start with a standalone like House of Suns, which has one of the best plot hooks I’ve ever heard of.

And I closed out the year re-reading James S.A. Corey’s Persepolis Rising and Tiamat’s Wrath, in preparation for the final Expanse novel Leviathan Falls. I’d hoped to round off the series by year’s end, but I’ll be taking the ninth volume into 2022 with me.

So how about you … read any good books lately?

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