My 2017 in books

Okay, so I haven’t posted here in quite some time. But how could I let the year end without doing a wrap-up of everything I read in 2017?

Part of the reason for my lack of writing is all the podcasting I did this year, what with my existing podcast (Take Me To Your Reader) and starting up the Hugos There Podcast. You’ll see from my reading selections that my actual extracurricular reading was confined to just a few books and a ton of graphic novels. I just needed a break here from everything else I was reading.

So, without further ado, here’s the list, broken into categories of why I read them:

 

Extracurricular, non-comic reading (8 books I read because I wanted to):

The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick – I’d wanted to watch the Amazon series, so I blasted through the book. Excellent stuff as usual from PKD. The series is also good (through Season One is all I’ve watched).

Smart Baseball: The Story Behind the Old Stats That Are Ruining the Game, the New Ones That Are Running It, and the Right Way to Think About Baseball, by Keith Law – The subtitle is probably longer than I’d like (or Keith would like), but the book is just a tremendous tour of why the old baseball stats don’t tell us much interesting and don’t lead to good predictions for player or team performance. And then it’s a tour of which of the new stats actually do that. Highly recommended for any baseball fan.

The Caledonian Gambit, by Dan Moren – Great first novel from a regular panelist on The Incomparable. Space Opera, spy novel, military science fiction all wrapped into one. Very good read. (Also, he’s a future Hugos There guest.)

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson – I love short-topic science books, and NdGT is one of my favorite science communicators. Don’t expect it to go into a ton of depth, but the survey of astrophysics set as the scientific story of Creation is very compelling (unless you’re offended by that idea, which I’m not.)

The Switch, by Joseph Finder – I take a vacation, I read a Joseph Finder novel. Man accidentally switches laptops with a powerful person. Intrigue ensues. Standard stuff from Finder, but always enjoyable.

Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold – The aforementioned Dan Moren chose a book in this series and gave me homework to do before we get to it. (audio)

The Bible: English Standard Version – I read the Bible every year. The ESV is my jam.

Children of the Fleet, by Orson Scott Card – Surprisingly enjoyable, definitely more than his latest entries in the Shadow series.

 

Reading for TMTYR (5 books. Other episodes were short stories):
(Titles link to episodes if you’re interested)

Firestarter, by Stephen King – Definitely a fun read, and only #2 on my Stephen King reading.

Dune, by Frank Herbert – Classic, amazing work. I got two podcasts out of this one, because it was also my second Hugos There podcast.

The Last Starfighter, by Alan Dean Foster – This was a reverse adaptation, because we wanted to discuss the movie. The movie is better.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick – I read this one on the plane coming back from Hawaii. It’s a quick read and quite different from Blade Runner. Definitely worth a look.

The Children of Men, by P. D. James – This was a re-read for me, and a compelling one. My co-hosts didn’t necessarily agree.

A Christmas Story, by Jean Shepherd – Another re-read and just so much fun. Even more fun to check out the movie and the live TV special for our Christmas episode.

 

Reading for Hugos There:
(Titles link to episodes)

Here I’ll briefly describe the premise, then give a few thoughts.

The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester – Telepathy is a widespread gift. How do you get away with murder in such a world? The first winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and a delightful read, if very of its time. I’d love to see a film adaptation of it, though there are some unique things about the way it describes telepaths that would be hard to translate to a visual medium.

Dune, by Frank Herbert – The planet that holds the most precious resource in the universe is given a change in management. Intrigue ensues. Read it in print for TMTYR, then refreshed with audio for Hugos There. Definitely worth taking in twice in a year. Epic, sweeping, and for me, never boring on a re-read.

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons – The Canturbury Tales in space! Probably my favorite read of the year in novels. I still need to read The Fall of Hyperion!

Neuromancer, by William Gibson – A hacker gets his hacking abilities back and is manipulated by all and sundry. Had a hard time connecting to this cyberpunk classic. Not sure what my problem was. Fortunately, my guest more than made up for my lack of enthusiasm.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card – Humanity desperately tries to have a safe first contact with aliens, only to find that their attempt is seen very differently by the aliens. This is my favorite book. I love it. It’s my guest’s second favorite. We gush about it for a long time. I read it, listened to it, and read the graphic novel.

The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson – How might nanotechnology affect a future Earth society? Really a pretty amazing accomplishment, as Stephenson surveys so many implications of nanotech. One of these days I need to get back and read more of his work.

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu – First contact with aliens who hail from a star system very different than ours. The most different thing I read this year. Fascinating science fiction mixed with interesting commentary on the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny – Humans have used technology to gain immortality and apparently magical powers. They take on the guise of the Hindu pantheon and lord it over the population of their planet. One of the immortals rebels. Another very different title as you can see, but a great read (read it in Hawaii, and that’s always nice.)

Cyteen, by C.J. Cherryh – A very large, very interesting book about cloning and genetic manipulation. But it’s large. Very large.

Redshirts, by John Scalzi – Another re-read for me. Galaxy Quest-ish in book form. Don’t want to give much more away, but if you were ever into Star Trek, you’ll enjoy it.

Gateway, by Frederik Pohl – We found a space station left behind by aliens. It’s the Gold Rush in space! Such a fun read and a great episode (posting first thing in the new year.)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – Classic dystopian work. Books are banned, and society is the worse for it. I read it primarily because my son was reading it for school, then found someone to record it with (posting in February).

 

Books I read because my son was reading them for school:

I like to read along with my teenager so I can quiz him and make sure he’s paying attention.

Animal Farm, by George Orwell – Another dystopian classic. Animals stand in for the rise of communism. Still powerful and a quick read. The boy liked this one.

Slaughterhouse-five, by Kurt Vonnegut – Very timey-wimey as Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. Unlike any other book I’ve read. The boy gave up on this one after reading his assigned 100 pages. So it goes.

The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald – Not sure why this is a classic, because literally nothing happens, but I enjoyed it all the same. The boy categorizes this book as the worst one. Ever.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – Mentioned above. It was a pleasure to read. The boy loved this one. I am relieved.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel – Vivid imagery, and I’m still not sure which story I believe. The boy found this one a bit of a chore, but not the worst thing ever.

 

Graphic Novels, or how I padded my reading numbers!

I won’t comment on all of these, so I’ll lead with my favorites:

All-Star Superman, by Grant Morrison – Classic Superman origin and ending(?) story.

Crisis on Infinite Earths, by Marv Wolfman – Classic that takes me back to reading comics as a kid. So many DC characters I just love.

Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid – Definitely the most different, done in a watercolor style, and an interesting Elseworlds story.

The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, by Marv Wolfman – Another flashback to an arc I read over and over as a kid.

Aaaaand all the rest:

(You’ll notice it’s basically all DC. I’ll admit it, I don’t care much for Marvel comics. Never have. DC has the characters I grew up with. And I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read from DC Rebirth.)

Batman, Volume 1: I Am Gotham, by Tom King
Batman, Volume 2: I Am Suicide, by Tom King
Batman, Volume 3: I Am Bane, by Tom King
Countdown to Infinite Crisis, by Geoff Johns
Deathstroke, Volume 1: The Professional, by Christopner J. Priest
Green Arrow Vol. 1: The Death and Life Of Oliver Queen, by Benjamin Percy
Green Arrow Vol. 2: Island of Scars, by Benjamin Percy
Justice League, Volume 1: The Extinction Machines, by Bryan Hitch
Shazam Vol. 1, by Geoff Johns
Superman, Volume 1: Son of Superman, by Peter J. Tomasi
Superman: Action Comics, Volume 1: Path of Doom, by Dan Jurgens
Superman: Action Comics, Volume 2: Welcome to the Planet, by Dan Jurgens
Superwoman Vol. 1: Who Killed Superwoman, by Phil Jimenez
Tag & Bink Were Here, by Kevin Rubio
The Final Days of Superman: Road to Rebirth, by Peter J. Tomasi
The Flash, Volume 1: Lightning Strikes Twice, by Joshua Williamson
Titans, Volume 1: The Return of Wally West, by Dan Abnett

My total, including audio (which totally doesn’t count), was 54 books. But without graphic novels, it would’ve been a very pedestrian year for me.

Pardon the tumbleweeds! (What have I been doing?)

It’s been nearly a year since I posted anything here, so I thought I’d let anyone out there (entirely theoretical that there is anyone) what I’ve been doing.

Podcasting. Yep, that’s it.Alien04-twitter

I’ve been co-hosting Take Me To Your Reader (discussing adapted science fiction at its best…and worst) for nearly four years now, so feel free to check out one of our 50+ episodes if you’re interested in that (we only post one a month now).

 

Hugos There PodcastIn more recent (2017) news, I started the Hugos There Podcast (reading the Hugo winners one guest at a time) in March of this year. And even though I’m also only posting once a month, it’s still a lot of reading, recording, and editing to get done (yes, I used the Oxford comma).

 

I’m also doing some editing for another podcast, which had the side effect of getting my foot in the door for poaching a few guests from that show/network. So I’m pretty much set for guests until Rapture.

And that’s why I haven’t written anything here in a long while. And why I likely won’t do so in the near future.

Review: The Forever War

The Forever War
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had read about a third of this one before getting distracted by other books, so I ended up going back and starting over. I caught up the 90 or so pages I’d previously read in a day and finished it in less than a week. The narrative greed (readability) here is super high, keeping me coming back to see what was going to happen.

It’s a great counterpoint to Starship Troopers, with the character and author definitely not being gung-ho about war, and the narrative showing the effects of time dilation on a war campaign and its participants. (To say nothing on the economy and conditions back home.)

The book is definitely for mature readers, as it’s got a substantial amount of language and a lot of frank discussions of sexuality (though without any actual explicit sex). I *am* a bit curious what a gay reader would think of some of the twists and turns humanity takes in its view of hetero and homosexual relationships (and how the POV character thinks about those issues).

View all my reviews

Review: Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often say I’m not a fan of cinematic universes because they, by definition, lower the stakes in any given film (not necessarily in concept, but definitely in practice). So what I love about the whole concept of an “Elseworld” title is that it stands on its own, not tied to previous continuity, and can just focus on telling an awesome story.

Superman: Red Son is a great example of doing it right. It answers the question: What if Superman hadn’t crashed in Smallville, but rather in the Soviet Union? Rather than defending the American way, what if he was a committed Communist?

I’ve seen glimpses of the Red Son version of Superman in other comics (“Convergence” most recently), so it was cool to finally fill in the blanks. I also loved that several other Justice League members made appearances, albeit in very different forms. Of these, I felt that only Wonder Woman was badly served (love interest / damsel in distress doesn’t really fit).

This is also probably my favorite portrayal of Lex Luthor, who comes across as pretty sympathetic here, as you might expect since Superman is, in a sense, the Big Bad of this graphic novel.

Highly recommended.

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Review: I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein

I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein
I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein by Michael A. Burstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally got around to wrapping up the few stories in this collection I hadn’t already read. (On the way back from a work trip in Italy; great place for an anthology.)

As with any collection of short stories, there are some ups and downs here, but overall it’s an absolutely tremendous collection of terrific stories.

Some of my favorites:

“Kaddish for the Last Survivor” – A very personal story, obviously, given the author’s Jewish faith and heritage. It’s hard to conceptualize that the world could ever forget the Holocaust, but this story convicted me to make sure I don’t contribute to its being forgotten.

“TeleAbsence”/”TelePresence” – An interesting pair of stories dealing with virtual reality and its potential for future education. Unfortunately, it could end up being not available to those who could benefit the most from it.

“Broken Symmetry”/”Absent Friends”/”Reality Check”/”Empty Spaces” – Easily my favorite section of the collection, even though I’m desperate for another story in the series. Get on it, Michael! (Pretty please.) The story series brings in the potential effects of multiple universes on such things as high-energy particle physics. Or more properly, the effect of high-energy physics on multiple universes. Great hard science fiction here.

“Time Ablaze” – This one felt like a great episode of “The Outer Limits” or another anthology show. Traveling in time to observe and record a tragic (and forgotten) event is fine, right up until you start to get to know the people involved.

“Sanctuary” – A great space opera-ish story of xenophobia and prejudice, told from the perspective of a Catholic Priest. I love the respect Burstein gives Catholicism even though he doesn’t share the faith. The story seems to have been inspired by the M*A*S*H episode “A Holy Mess,” going beat-for-beat with the developments of that episode, but I don’t mention this as a criticism. The SF setting and differing circumstances easily make it into a great adaptation of the former story.

“I Remember the Future” – This story is a great sandbox that Burstein plays in, using a fictional author’s work as an excuse to write in the styles of several different eras of science fiction. We talked with Michael on Take Me To Your Reader about this story (and its short-film adaptation) and his career and life. Make sure to check that out.

View all my reviews

Review: Watchmen

Watchmen
Watchmen by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard to pin down exactly how I feel about this graphic novel. First, it’s a bit genre-bending, mixing traditional graphic style with intersections of prose. Second, it’s not exactly light reading. The story is dark, the philosophy heavy and depressing, and many of the characters are less than redeeming.

For all that, it’s extremely compelling. My favorite bits were the parts where the main narrative was told in alternating panels along with a character reading Tales of the Black Freighter. The way the two stories interpreted and complemented each other was fascinating and it’s pretty genius the way Moore pulls the feat off.

I really decided to read this one because the DC Rebirth event actually ties into it, and I’ll be fascinated to see where that goes.

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Review: A Pleasure To Burn

A Pleasure To Burn
A Pleasure To Burn by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great collection for anyone who wants a bit more background and color in the world of Fahrenheit 451. The stories in this volume aren’t all directly connected to 451, but they give a view into Bradbury’s evolving story for that book. Particularly when you get into the latter stories, “Long After Midnight” and “The Fireman”, you have basically a couple of drafts of the later novel. So it can get a bit repetitive, but as someone who really enjoyed 451, reading this collection was a great experience.

The last three stories (a bit of a curtain call, I think, or an encore) don’t connect much with the 451 universe, at least they didn’t seem to, but I’d love to see an adaptation of “To the Future,” because the idea of taking vacations in the past is a winner.

And if you’re really interested in some discussion of 451 and its film adaptation, check out our latest podcast episode featuring Phil Nichols of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies: Take Me To Your Reader #43.

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Movie/TV-themed Graphic Novel Reading, Part 1: Batman v. Superman

I’m planning to do a few of these posts, but given my recent track record, this could be the only one you see. But I’ll list out the planned posts in the vain hope of actually doing all of them:

  • Batman v. Superman – A bit of Miller and Moore (this post)
  • Captain America: Civil War – Civil War (thought I’d be going with something else, didn’t you?
    • Might also do some Ultimate Spider-Man or Black Panther here
  • Daredevil Season Two – Daredevil, by Mark Waid

 

One of the reasons I’ve been getting into comics these days is Comixology. They tend to do digital comic sales to tie in with whatever movie or TV show is close to premiering, and I’m a fan of cheap books, even if they’re comics. (Though I’ll probably pass on upcoming X-Men sales, because the movie looks terrible and I’ve never actually read any X-Men. (But if it’s cheap enough, I might still do it.)

Since I typically watch before reading, I should probably jot down a few thoughts on Batman v Superman. Very timely of me, no?

(Ugh, do I have to?)

In no particular order, my thoughts:

  1. Didn’t care much for it
  2. Batfleck wasn’t the problem. His Batman versus Luthor’s henchmen scene was awesome.
  3. Wonder Woman was cool; wish I’d been watching her movie.
  4. Cinematic Universe setup should take a back seat to making a decent movie. The Avengers wasn’t born in a day. First they made Iron Man, and it was awesome. The Justice League setup added too much heavy lifting for this movie. There was a good story in there that wasn’t told.
  5. Going into this movie with a massive headache was a terrible idea. Unless the idea was to make the headache yet more massiver. And yes, massiver is definitely a word in some language.

Aaaaand that’s enough of that. So, what did I read?

 

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, by Alan Moore

This was actually my first Alan Moore, and it’s a terrific collection, leading off with the titular story, which was essentially the final story of the Silver Age Superman, treated like the final issue that would ever be published. As such, it unloads the rogues gallery, so there are bits with Braniac, Lex Luthor, Metallo, and any number of other villains. Plus, you get a variety of heroes in on the action, including Krypto the Superdog. (Seriously.)

It’s a great sendoff for Supes, even though it’s more or less an imaginary tale when it comes to DC Continuity. (Also, it didn’t really happen in real life, so it’s fantasy in that sense, too.)

The collection also has a Superman and the Swamp-Thing story in it titled “The Jungle Line,” which is a nice introduction to that character (which I remember reading a bit of as a kid), and we also get a fun story called “For the Man Who Has Everything,” which was nicely paralleled in Supergirl’s episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything.” (BTW I’m a fan of that show. Glad to see it move over to the CW.)

Definitely recommended reading, all of it. I also have All-Star Superman, which I’ll get to eventually. But for now, on to the Batman stuff…

 

Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller

This wasn’t my first Miller (having previously read The Dark Knight Returns), and this is kind of the opposite end of things, re-telling Batman’s now very familiar origin story, but in great style. There’s clear influence here on Batman v. Superman, though why they decided to show the Waynes being killed again is a mystery to me (except it set up the godawful “Martha!” crapola from the movie).

Here again, as with the aforementioned Dark Knight, you can also easily see influences into the Nolan series and beyond. I particularly enjoyed that there was quite a bit of time showing Jim Gordon’s origin as well as Batman’s.

 

Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore

Okay, this is more Joker than Batman, but I kept getting recommendations to read it. It’s fantastic, and a great (possible) Joker origin story. It’s also brutal. I’m not the least shocked that the DC animated film is getting an R-rating. This is the comic that has Barbara Gordon brutally shot in the spine by the Joker, who then photographs her and uses the images to torture her father, Commissioner Gordon. Brutal. But the art is stunning and the story is well worth a read.

 

And that’ll wrap it for this time. I think I’ll also do a “short reviews of several books I’ve read recently” post soon. Because long reviews just haven’t been happening.

Book Review: Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

This is one I’ve been wanting to read for some time, and let me just dispel the suspense right away: Old Man’s War is pretty awesome. In fact, I may break with protocol and actually continue the series. At some point, anyway.

The premise of the book is that in the somewhat distant future, you can get a new lease on life (complete with new body) after you turn 75, so long as you’re willing to join the Colonial Defense Force in your new life.OldMansWar(1stEd)

Like Starship Troopers and The Forever War (which I will totally finish someday, probably), it’s told in the first person, and as military science fiction goes, it’s top notch. Cool tech, interesting aliens (with the exception of the tiny species, which I found just silly), and awesome battles. Scalzi manages to draw you in to care about the main character in his friends, but I’ll just warn you now to not get too attached.

There’s a bit of sexy times in it, so I wouldn’t put this one in the YA category (language, too), though it’s nothing terribly graphic. But the recruits are encouraged to see what their new bodies can do, and the bodies are hot, so you do the math. Kinda makes sense, actually. 

But the thing that I really enjoyed is the heartfelt sadness at the core of the book since the main character lived long enough to make the transition, but his wife did not. It’s really quite sweet.

One of the great things about it is that it manages quite a bit of world building, which is something I’m usually averse to, but not when it’s done well.  Here it’s definitely done well, creating a nice, big world for a series of books.  As I said, I may pick up another in the series, and I’ve been told it’s actually worth it to do so. But don’t look for me to do that anytime soon. Too many other things to read.

Speaking of which, I picked up and finished the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, Calamity.  So I’ll post a review for that in the near future.

I’ll also be posting a podcast about Colossus, and we’re currently reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and going to be covering it for April.