I’ve not been making much (read: any) progress on writing the follow-up to The Aviator (there’s a plot outline, and loads of ideas, and it will be on its way when I finish a couple of other projects), but I have been doing a lot of reading – some relevant, most not. Here, in the best tradition of end of year roundups, is a list of the books I’ve read in the last 12 months, roughly in chronological order, with a few thoughts on each. Most were read on my iPad. Note: excludes cookbooks.
The Wind-up Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi
Mark Bernstein recommended this to me, as an example of a sci-fi world in which climate change is taken seriously, and I’m very glad he did. A compelling imagining of a complex carbon-constrained future, but first and foremost a fine sci-fi adventure.
The Great Disruption – Paul Gilding
In which Gilding takes us through consequences of allowing rapid climate change to happen.
Wool – Hugh Howey
Howey’s self-published ebook to riches story has obvious resonances for me, but there’s a reason he was successful. Wool is very good.
Turned Out Nice Again – Richard Mabey
Mabey is a wonderful writer, and this delightful short book of reflections on how we relate to the weather we experience is an object lesson in fine prose.
The Impossible Dead – Ian Rankin
I came late to Rankin – the Rebus corpus is so large that starting out on it seemed daunting – but in 2012 I started on The Complaints, the first Malcolm Fox story (set in Rebus’s Edinburgh). Rankin’s story-telling and great characters made the follow-up an easy choice. Interesting aside: Rankin worked on British hi-fi magazines at the same that I did (mid-80s). I even met him once or twice…
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
One day I’ll go back and read all the Booker winners I’ve never read (which is most of them, sadly), but I devoured these two in short order, and can’t wait for the final part. Mantel’s Cromwell is a wonderful (re)creation, the history fascinating.
A Delicate Truth – John Le Carré
One of the better recent Le Carrés.
The Quarry – Iain Banks
I’ve read nearly everything the man wrote, so his passing this year was a great sadness. In recent years, I’ve thought that his SF books were more interesting and engaging than his fiction, but The Quarry manages to recapture some of the sparkling dialogue and moral ambiguities that made books like The Crow Road and Espedair Street so compelling.
Singularity Sky – Charles Stross
Iron Sunrise – Charles Stross
Since one of the AI/minds in The Aviator is named Stross in homage to Singularity Sky, I thought I ought to re-read the book. It reminded me how interesting Stross is at his best, and prompted me to dig out a few more…
The Sea Inside – Philip Hoare
An interesting, if somewhat patchy, meditation on the sea and whales.
On the Steel Breeze – Alastair Reynolds
Every new Reynolds is a must-read for me, so the second part of the Poseidon’s Children trilogy was pre-ordered and read on publication. Immensely inventive, even if the idea of a herd of elephants on a colony ship stretches credulity…
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The final part of Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. Superbly written, of course, and ties up some of the loose ends from the earlier books, but perhaps without the visceral impact of Oryx & Crake.
Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter
I read this solely because I heard someone rave about it on the radio. It’s an entertaining tale of lost love, Italian geography, Hollywood chicanery and Richard Burton, and well worth the enthusiastic review. Perhaps a little too neatly clockwork in its plotting, but a lot of fun.
Standing in Another Man’s Grave – Ian Rankin
Carrying on with Rankin, being introduced to Rebus in the background of another Malcolm Fox story.
Shaman – Kim Stanley Robinson
After the near-space opera of 2312, KSR opts to set his story in the last ice age, when neanderthals still roamed and the first cave painters were creating great art on the walls of French caverns. Very nicely done.
Neptune’s Brood – Charles Stross
Stross on interstellar banking. Not many writers have been there…
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
You can’t be a New Zealander and not read this Booker Prize winner. It’s an orrery of a book hidden inside a great big shaggy Victorian novel set in the New Zealand west coast goldfields. Almost as interesting for its recreation of life at that time as it is for the love story everything orbits around.
Saints of the Shadow Bible – Ian Rankin
In which Rebus returns to the foreground, and works with his erstwhile nemesis. Which means that I have a nasty feeling that a substantial chunk of 2014 will be spent working my way through Rankin’s Rebus back catalogue.
Harvest – Jim Crace
One of the novels that missed out on this year’s Booker. I can see why the judges put it on the shortlist – it’s extremely well written, interesting in both the period it covers (the spread of sheep farming by the enclosure of common land in 16th century England) and the conviction with which Crace describes the realities of daily life – but I can also see why it didn’t win.
The Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s – Peter Doggett
I grew up listening to The Beatles and came of age listening to Bowie. Doggett does a sterling job putting the man and his music into their historical context. Fascinating.
In progress: An Officer and a Spy – Robert Harris
Harris is usually reliable, and this certainly starts well…
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