I had a big creative plan for this year, but most of my plans for the year have in fact not worked out because I am a horrendously lazy man.
However a conversation on Twitter with Juliet E McKenna ( jemck
) about representation of female authors on the genre shelves of bookshops got me looking at the ratio of male to female authors in that section of my local Waterstones and then deciding that this year I would only buy new fiction from female authors.
If I am honest, I don't always buy a lot of new books in any case, so this wasn't a big challenge for me, but this year I have bought way more new fiction than I have in a good few years so I thought I'd mention some of the books and authors that I read in case any of you might enjoy them too.The Lescari Revolution - Juliet E McKenna
I have read quite a lot of Juliet McKenna's books and always enjoyed them but this series, in which a team of characters set about instigating a revolution to overthrow the warring feudal barons whose actions have devastated their country is the best so far. An exciting mix of action and politics taking place in a well realised world ( that has been the setting for a lot of other novels, which you don't have to have read, but if you have this will build up some familiar characters ) the thing which really impressed me was that intensity that these books created- the pressure picks up in the first quarter of the first book and it simply doesn't let off until the very end of the trilogy. Three books at maximum intensity. An impressively unputdownable achievement.Ancillary Justice - Anne Leckie
This is one that you have probably heard of, albeit largely for the genderless society it describes ( everyone is simply termed 'she' ) rather than the storyline. I do enjoy a bit of space opera and this was very good but something about it didn't quite blow me away and I'm not entirely sure what. However I do remember at the time that it reminded me somewhat of something between Iain M Banks and Ursula Le Guin's sci fi, which is not a bad place to be. I certainly plan to pick up the other books in the series in future.Song Of The Earth/Trinity Rising - Elspeth Cooper
I enjoyed Song Of The Earth- the story about the young man raised by templars then condemned as a witch and his adventures and escape was a little bit familiar in places, but well executed and brisk reading. However when I got the next in the series, Trinity Rising, we started to learn more about the world and meet characters in different regions- the northern barbarian clans with scottish names, the fiery fanatics of the southern desert and the long-lived and magically inclined elfin folk of the forest - and I suddenly realised I was on main street of lazyworldbuildingville. Not to mention the "evil just because" antagonist. Now I acknowledge that sometimes the way you pick up existing ideas and reshape them is an important skill in its own right, but I just didn't feel that happening with this series. Interestingly herecirm
picked up the first one and gave up very quickly.God's War - Kameron Hurley
So at the other extreme we have a novel set on a planet where two sides are fighting an endless war in the name of religion in which women go out to fight and the core technology is based on insects controlled by magicians. This was an utterly, strikingly, original setting. Absolutely ideal, right? Well... the problem I had was that I couldn't find a character to hook onto. I loved the setting and the style and the imagination, but the main character was so busy being a relentless hardbitten bad-ass that I simply couldn't get any kind of handle on her. The other characters also lacked whatever quality it is that brings me to engage with them, possibly along with the fact that it was hard to believe any of them were going to survive for long. So there were lots of things that I really liked, but the story didn't draw me in. It wasn't quite an "awful things happen to awful people" narrative, but it certainly leant that way.Tea With The Black Dragon - R A Mackavoy
This is an old book, set in the early 1980s and dealing with silicon valley as it was then, which makes it something of a period piece by now. In essence it is a short, beautifully constructed, character study with a background thriller and a little bit of magic as well. I enjoyed it and I think quite a few people reading this would, but I can imagine it may not be for everyone. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N K Jemisin
This book was interesting and different- the setting is a world-spanning empire controlled by a royal house who took their power from imprisoned gods and most of the story takes place in their palace hanging high above the capital city of the kingdoms as an outsider princess finds herself drawn into the dangerous machinations of the royal house. The world was a little hard to get a handle on but it was worth the effort. It managed to pull a couple of totally unexpected but absolutely coherent twists on me, which is relatively hard to do and something I delight in. As a standalone book it is a little on the short side, but I believe a omnibus of all three books in the trilogy is available and that would be a worthwhile acquisition.
I did suffer a bit of a reading hiatus in the summer, partly because I had to do some technical reading to get up to speed on stuff for my new job ( the best parts of which were Eloquent Ruby
and The Design Of Everyday Things
) and partly because I ordered a bunch of books from my local Waterstones who proceeded to take nearly three months not to get them in
- this is the only major highstreet book shop left in the country and in three months they couldn't get a couple of books in to order. When I left the job I cancelled the order and bought them through Amazon instead. They arrived within the week.Range Of Ghosts - Elizabeth Bear
This is the first book of a series in a setting based around central Asian mythology and it is flipping awesome. I have always enjoyed fantasy that steps away from the standard northern European forms, something I was strongly reminded of when I read Saladin Ahmed's excellent Throne Of The Crescent Moon
last year. This is the story of the grandson of the great khan and begins directly after a major defeat in a war of succession which he only just survived. It has Rocs and wizards and a giant tiger lady and armies of ghosts and - as one might expect from a Mongolian setting - some excellent horses. I'm certainly going to buy the sequels to this one and I'm already looking forward to reading them. Strongly recommended.Cold Magic - Kate Elliott
I just finished this one and so maybe it is super-fresh in my mind but it has so many of the things I want to read about going on that it's crazy. We're in a 19th Century Europe where the last ice age persisted, magic works and things are culturally very different. There is radicalism and technological progress in the air, but the ruling princes and cold-mage houses are seeking to maintain the status quo. You'll notice that I've gone almost as long as some of my other mini-reviews just describing the setting, and that's before I've got to the characters and the way they develop and the trouble they get into and the things they learn and the way that every time a question is answered two more questions are raised and the way it's fun and sophisticated but also maintains a sense of humour and probably it's going to be quicker if you just get the book. Also I edited out a whole lot more where I realised I was just explaining the history of the setting because it's so great. Recommended to the highest degree.
So that was my year's reading and I have enjoyed reading a lot of books that I might not otherwise have gone to the effort of seeking out. There are certainly writers here who I am going to look for other books by. I think the main thing that this year has reminded me of is little to do with gender and a lot to do with the sheer amount of good genre fiction that is being published at the moment. I have also found Twitter to be a very good way of keeping up with authors and of finding interesting recommendations- I will tend to pay more attention to the recommendations of a writer whose work I admire and through the last year I have found a whole more of those, which counts as a good thing.