What a great year for reading 2013 was, 46 books in 52 weeks is the most books I’ve read in a single year. Accounting for the fact that I don’t really read at home and that four weeks of annual leave plus a week at Christmas and a week away on business adds up to six weeks without reading, that means I was more or less reading a book a week. Good going considering there were quite a few brick books in there!
Below I’ve summarised what I read during 2013 to give the highlights of the, mainly science fiction, reading world. I’ve split it between Series reads and individual stand-alone novels.
I read quite a few series during 2013 as well, finishing the amazing Void Trilogy that continues on from the equally amazing Commonwealth Saga. The Void Trilogy is set 1200 years into the future after the end of Judas Unchained and has some of the same characters such as Paula Myo, Ozzie, and Bradley Johansson. The Void Triology also introduces a fantasy element that is engrossing and which I could easily have read as a book on its own, it is simply that good.
Also read, in its entirely was the Enderverse starting with the fantastic Ender’s Game, continuing with the quite different but very good Speaker for the Dead, and with another four books as well read that are good (except War of Gifts, which was pointless). Now there is controversy surrounding Orson Scott Card’s reprehensible views on homosexuality and whether you should support him, but if I was to avoid all creative types who’s views I didn’t agree with, there wouldn’t be many books or music left for me to enjoy!
As well as the Enderverse, I read 8 books in the Honorverse, all of which differed in quality for me but were broadly similar in how they resulted in Honor coming through and generally being perfect. I get what some reviewers had said when they stopped reading the series because it was too same-y and Honor too flawless. I have currently stopped reading at book 9.
As well as reading Peter Hamilton’s Void Trilogy I also read his first books, the Greg Mandel series, which is absolutely excellent, very different from his later work being focused on a single character perspective and being more of a detective mystery bent set in a science fiction world after a ‘warming’ of the planet that has led to Mediterranean conditions in England and an entirely new system of Governments in the world. I recommend you give them a whirl, starting with Mindstar Rising.
The last series I finished in 2013 was the original Foundation Trilogy by the legend of science fiction, Isaac Asimov, which was very good. He wrote further books set in the same universe but I’ve heard less than great things about those with some saying they ruined the original trilogy.
Fantastic Individual Books
First there was The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom that is a wonderfully moving fable that addresses the meaning of life, and life after death, in a poignant way. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to everyone as I think everyone will take something different from it. Best of all from my perspective is it is about a guy who works at an Amusement Park (Life Goal Number Five: Own a Theme Park).
Picture credit: Goodreads.com
Although Ender’s Game can be read as an individual novel and is definitely a five star novel and one of my favourite’s, the next great non-series book of 2013 was quite a long time later (I read a lot of series books) and is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time which is a superb novel about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome and is written from a unique perspective in a very different style, a definite five star book for me (they don’t get handed out frequently) and is currently a play by the National Theatre at the Gielgud Theatre in London. You can read my review written in the style of the book on this very blog.
My next great novel of my 2013 reading list is The Inverted World by Christopher Priest, I found the book to be fantabidosy. The twist at the end threw me as I didn’t expect it and I found the novel and the concept interesting and clever. This is the second novel I’ve enjoyed by this author and as a result I will hunt down some more. A great book.
I started entering Goodreads Giveaways later in the year and the first book I won was The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison. It is a book I wouldn’t ordinarily have picked up and is a terrific story about a crime committed in Zambia. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have added A Walk Across the Sun to my to-read list and I am looking forward to reading it. You can read my review of The Garden of Burning Sand on this blog.
Image credit: Goodreads
My last fantastic individual book of the year (although it will be part of a series it stands on its own at the moment) is the Cleansing by Sam
Kates, a Welsh first-time published author who has a great concept and a well written story that really engages the reade
r. Sam is currently working on the follow-up novel ‘The Beacon’ and I am looking forward to reading that sometime in 2014 (hopefully). The book also has a terrific front cover.
It took reading other people’s reviews to put my finger on just why Final Days didn’t quite ‘do it’ for me. After all it had all the elements that make a good science fiction novel such as a good concept, a future world, elements of dystopia and in the end an apocalypse for humanity on Earth, all thrown together with a bit of a mystery.
Having been strongly recommended Gary Gibson by Kate at For Winter Nights I was a bit underwhelmed without being able to know why, until I read what others thought and their views sparked resonance in my head. The plot is a little chaotic and a lot of the time doesn’t make sense, we don’t know why things are happening or what the motives of characters are, we know little to nothing about major organs of the Final Days ‘world’, the ASI , the Sphere worlds/countries, and such like.
The wormholes being used allow a form of time travel that isn’t in my mind well explained and this forms a major part of the plot. Due to this time travelling, from early on in the book and given that it is stated throughout that the future is set and unalterable, we kind of know what is going to happen and this diminishes significantly the urge to see what happens because for the most part we know, we just don’t know what will happen to the characters.
Do I care what happens to them though? The characters, with the exception of Saul Dumont, are barely developed with almost no discernible personality between them and with goals that aren’t really understandable. Characters are introduced merely as a name, take part in some sort of sub-plot or short arc and then disappear, the novel to me reads like something that needs expanding of the world-building, more plot development and explanation, and better fleshed out characters.
When it came to the end, many things were unresolved and I didn’t feel any attachment to the characters who seem merely there for the big set pieces. It reads like an attempt at Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga that failed to match it for breadth and depth.
One thing I noted from reading other people’s reviews was that one of the people who helped Gary write the book and are credited by him, Ian Sales, gave the book 3 stars in his review of the book on Goodreads, something I found amusing.
Title: Dark Eden
Author: Chris Beckett
Buy: Waterstones; Amazon
Rating: 5 stars
There is a quote on the back of my copy of this book from Alison Flood of the Guardian. It perfectly catches my thoughts on the novel and the world that Chris Beckett has built within Dark Eden.
Dark Eden is truly its own world built philosophically, metaphysically, and linguistically into a believable and impressively fascinating world by Beckett. There is an anthropological angle to this and the biological worlds they live on is unique and engaging. The people exist with their own history and with their own customs in a different world longing to return to Earth.
The story is about the descendents of two marooned explorers living on an alien world, an alien world that doesn’t have a sun, but is somehow warm thanks to the planet they live on and the vegetation that grows on the planet extracting warmth from the planet and bringing both heat and light to the surface.
How this would work on a physical level in reality is not something I can answer but it sure makes the world that is Dark Eden both unique and fascinating. The story is written following different individuals living amongst ‘the family’ on a first person basis, switching each chapter between different individuals.
I would say there is largely one main character with a couple of important supporting characters who move the story along. It deals with how humans interact with a world, or not, and how humanity develops in an alien environment with a knowledge and history that encourages longing for the Earth and rescue. It is a novel that combines dystopia, evolution and alien life forms, and does so very well.
In a way the story is a play on Genesis, the first story of the Bible that tells the story of Adam and Eve (replaced by Tommy and Angela) but from the perspective of an alien world and a science fiction basis in that the reproduction of related individuals has led to a very genetically linked society with birth defects such as claw-feet and ‘bat-faces’. As these descendents of Tommy and Angela are initially small they must have lived out a lonely existence in a strange world, and although family reached over 500 around the time the novel starts, the effect of the initial isolation and challenges has a profound effect on the society that developed on Eden.
In Alison’s words though, it is ‘A world I’m desparate to return to’
Title: The Cleansing
Author: Sam Kates
Buy: Book Depository
Source: First Reads
Rating: 4 Stars
*I received this book for free as part of the Goodreads First Reads giveaway in exchange for an honest review*
I really liked The Cleansing by Sam Kates. I don’t read much post-apocalyptic fiction and entered the giveaway because this book sounded interesting. A warning though, reviewing this book without giving anything away is difficult, so be warned.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything in a book called the Cleansing by revealing that humanity is (virtually) wiped out (it is in the blurb!). Although I’ve read little apocalyptic literature, the method of wiping out humanity is even something I’ve heard of before as a common method in this type of book. That being said, the way it is done, and why it is done is different and mysterious. You really want to know why this is happening and for what purpose.
This is a novel that is interesting, mysterious, and well written. There is a clear sense of the feelings of the survivors being brought to the fore, and the horror of the actual plague and the effects it has on society are explored well and in detail. During this phase of the book you are introduced to many families and individuals, including children albeit briefly.
The motivations, thoughts, and characters of the perpetrators are revealed slowly and the premise is something I found original. At times, despite the post apocalyptic setting, I felt I wasn’t reading a science fiction novel but a story about surviving in the face of adversity combined with a mystery.
I enjoyed it immensely, even if I do have to wonder about the empathy of an author who can write so easily about wiping out children. (The author explores that very thought and subject here.
In the book, not only is the horror that the survivors are living through skilfully and artfully explored and described but what happens to the world and society at large is littered throughout the story, cars everywhere, power failing, hospitals unable to cope without it being overbearing, it is just something that each character encounters on their arcs.
One of my favourite bits in the book (SPOILER AHEAD) is the President’s speech to the world.
The real shame for me was that the book was over so soon, at 300 pages I easily could have read more, two or three times the length which may have turned it into a brick book, but I like brick books (a la Peter F. Hamilton.)
So, Mr Kates, please write number two and I’d be happy to read it and find out what happens.
Some questions I’d like answers to in the next book(s):
– How would the ‘People’ have wiped out humanity pre-20th century?
– Did they have any involvement in the Black Death or Spanish Flu?
– How did they hide their advanced technology for thousands of years?
– If they live underground on their home planet but rejuvenate through the Sun, how does that work?
– I recall Peter stating humanity was more intelligent, yet the ‘People’ could cure cancer and develop the Millennium Bug…
Also, if like me the first page didn’t make sense when you first read it, read it again once you’ve finished this book and it is actually a great big clue slammed in your face that you just missed first time around!
Overall a great book, looking forward to the second in the series.