Remembering the last books I read (part 1)

Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson: The third in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. A much tighter book than Gardens of the Moon. This was the book where I knew this series was something special. Pretty bleak. On a second read, I was extremely impressed by how many seeds were planted that bore rich fruit throughout the series.

Batman: Last Knight on Earth by Scott Snyder: All I remember of this one is that it was extremely surreal. A fever dream. But the art was cool.

The Lido by Libby Page: Before this year, I’d never encountered the word “lido”. Apparently, it’s a British term for a public swimming pool. A charming story about a neighborhood coming together to save their swimming pool. Also, the story of an old woman and a young woman becoming friends over swimming. Heartwarming in the best way.

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson: The third book in the Malazan series. This is the one where I feel like the series really starts to come together, even though this is a looser, baggier story than Deadhouse Gates. Some of my favorite characters in the series were introduced here.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk: A bleak, wintry novel about death and human-caused environmental devastation. Also, murder. Really solid writing. Recommended. I had only recently heard the term “ice dam” and then encountered it in this book. Funny how that happens.

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd: Exquisite nature writing. A beautiful, lovely meditation on the Cairngorms mountains in Scotland. Worth your time, even if you don’t think you’re into nature writing.

The Man Without Talent by Yoshiharo Tsuge: A comic about a lazy man with exceptionally poor business ideas. Bleak but quite funny.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault: A retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. I’m super into these creative reimaginings of ancient stories. Really good stuff.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: Shakespeare and his son. A story about a plague. I wasn’t sure about this one at first, but O’Farrell stuck the landing, which moved this from good to great for me.

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi: Part two of a trilogy. Very readable. An emperor that doesn’t really want to be one plus an empire that’s dying but doesn’t know it yet. I’ll definitely read the third one.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: I really, really liked her first book. This sequel is quite good, too. Highly recommended (but you probably want to start with the first one).

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots: A book that tries to reckon with the human cost of superhero antics. An interesting spin on the superhero genre.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer: Another by one of my favorite authors. I guess you could call this one ecological noir. VanderMeer seems to swing between surreal and a more realistic, minimalist writing. This is one where he’s more restrained. Recommended.

The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp: Punctures many, if not all, of the false mythologies of the slave-holding South. Paints a stark and upsetting picture of a time that some in our country seem to think was just a grand ole time. Well worth a read, especially if you want some deeper insight into why the USA operates in such perverse and self-destructive ways at times.

Feed by MT Anderson: People have computers implanted in their brains and, turns out, it’s mostly used for advertising. One of the more compelling and creative teen dystopia novels I’ve read.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson: Makes the compelling, well-researched, and personally engaging point that the USA’s problem isn’t racism so much as a race-based caste system. Another one that’s very much worth your time. Thought-provoking!

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox: A charming, jumble of a book. Angels, demons, fairies, talking crows, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Sometimes it seems like an author just has so many ideas, tumbling round and round, just bursting out. I had no idea where this book was going but I found it to be a pretty satisfying ride.

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson: A clear-eyed take on our climate dilemma that also manages to avoid complete doom and gloom. All about the hard work it’s going to take to tackle the challenges ahead. Robinson is an excellent science writer and describes complex scientific and technical concepts with great clarity.

Some books I read that I only vaguely remember…

(Can a person read too many books? If one measures by how well one can recall them, perhaps I’m in the “too many” camp.) Here are some books I read, but I only vaguely recall. And I only read them last year!

Something Is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV: A monster-slaying comic about a (pretty evil) secret society of monster-slaying folks. I thought the art was pretty great, even if the story felt a little … rote? Oh yeah, the gimmick is that only kids can see the monsters. I could be more generous with this one. I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more in my 20s, when I had a larger appetite for stuff that’s “dark” and “edgy”.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada: I read this one because Shimada is considered the “father” of the Shin-Honkaku (New Orthodox) genre of mystery novels in Japan. I’m fascinated by books that inspire entire new genres of writing. The deal with Shimada is that he loved mystery stories, like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, but got frustrated that you couldn’t solve the mysteries from the clues provided in the fiction itself. Shin-Honaku stories give you everything you need to solve the mystery in the story itself. A kind of super extended puzzle. There’s even a point in this book where the author jumps in and says, basically: You know everything you need to know to solve this mystery. Don’t go any further if you want to solve it on your own! The characters are pretty flat, but they’re not really the point of the story. I thought this book was intriguing and pretty unlike other mysteries I’ve read.

The Drowned World by JG Ballard: A post-apocalyptic world flooded by global warming. It felt very much like a book written in the 60s. At the sentence level, pretty fantastic. The plot was pretty forgettable. There’s a way in which this captured the emotional weight of living in a completely unforgiving environment that was quite powerful. Also, the thought of a flooded, jungle England is pretty horrifying in itself. This probably isn’t his best book. I found it in my free little library, I think.

What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van den Berg: I’m sorry to say I absolutely no recollection of this book. [quick detour on the internet] Oh! It’s a book of short stories. That’s probably why I didn’t remember much from it. OK, yeah, I remember there was this one short story about a woman who has a job dressing up as Bigfoot that was quite good and definitely worth reading.

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes: A short book that makes these two (among others) super valid points:
1. We’re all of us going to experience being disabled at some point in our lives, either permanently or temporarily, so we should be more mindful about the affordances we provide.
2. When designing something physical or digital, considering the needs of more than just men, for example, will lead to better designs.
I think I would’ve gotten more out of this if I were a designer, but there were a lot of great and specific examples in here.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer: A friend of mine really wanted me to read this, so I did. :) As New Age, self-help books go, this is pretty good. Specific, not too much in the way of incomprehensible nonsense, and ultimately pretty pragmatic. Definitely useful for someone who finds themselves bedeviled by their brain’s internal monologuing.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez: Impossible to argue with this book’s fundamental premise. The world is designed by and for men, which leaves more than 50% of the human population out in the cold. A super important book that more people should read.

stuff what I found in some old browser tabs

Death’s Jest Book by Thomas Lovell Beddoes A strange Shakespearean era revenge play.

This is a strange article about quantum particles, parallel universes, and time going backward.

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine I often think it would be nice to read more short stories, but then, for some reason, I don’t.

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed Looks like a fascinating voodoo, crime novel from the 70s.

I Am a Cat A satirical Japanese novel from 1905 that looks pretty intriguing.

Laura Miller read a bunch of Trump official memoirs… so you don’t have to. Glad to see they’re still going strong a year in.

The current reading ecosystem A lot of green shoots!

The first two books of The Locked Tomb trilogy

Those would be Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir.

For the last couple of years now, I’ve been telling everyone I can get my hands on that they should read Gideon the Ninth. It’s a story about space necromancers solving a locked room mystery and so much more. Also, the sword fighting is tops.

Harrow the Ninth is a much more difficult book to recommend. First, because it’s a sequel and Gideon is very much a prerequisite to reading it. (Although, now that I think about it, it might be an easier book to understand if you don’t have to wade through the murk of your Gideon preconceptions…)

Still, I’ve been more fascinated by these books, as experiments in fiction, than almost anything I’ve read in the last several years. Also, the writing is just stellar, if you’re into reading sentences of pure delight.

Am I gushing too much? Maybe. You’ll have to read and find out for yourself.

some links I found in my browser, part 6,439

Carmina Gadelica Folk poetry from the Western Isles of Scotland. Volume 1 of a collection published in 1900 by Alexander Carmichael

Technical writing resources on github If you ever wanted to get into technical writing, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

Some pretty good advice by Kevin Kelly looking back on 68 years. I hope I have even a third of this insight then.

The 19th Newsletter “gender, politics and policy news” Haven’t read it, but it looks interesting.

The Messiah Generator A tabletop roleplaying thing. Dig the aesthetic and the roasting of sacred cows, presumably.

Attending to Technology by Alan Jacobs About technology and our attention. I’ve gotten a lot out of Jacobs’ books. This is definitely in my (nearly infinite, sigh…) TO READ pile.