RogerBW's Blog

2022 in Books 02 January 2023

In 2022 I read 164 books, up again at last (some long drives meant I started to get through audio books again too).

I ended up reading several really excellent SF/fantasy books:

  • Nicole Kornher-Stace, Firebreak
  • Suzanne Palmer: The Scavenger Door
  • Natalie Zina Walschots: Hench
  • Emma Newman: Before Mars
  • Emma Newman: Atlas Alone
  • Katherine Addison: Witness for the Dead
  • Frances Hardinge: Unraveller
  • Tamsyn Muir: Nona the Ninth

I wasn't a Hugo voter again this year, and didn't feel inspired by the nominees, so I didn't read any more of those than I already had. (But two that I had read and enjoyed, A Desolation Called Peace and A Psalm for the Wild-Built, won Novel and Novella.)

Unraveller is eligible for the Hugo next year, and if I had to pick a favourite book of the year that would probably be it. Nona is also eligible.

In non-SF&F I finished off the Spellmans (more of a fizzle than a bang, but the first four are solid), and started two new-to-me mystery series: Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway and Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope, which I've been enjoying so far. I finally started reading the Hornblower books; I suspect that for maximum enjoyment I should have done this when I was in my teens and instead discovering H. P. Lovecraft. I also got hold of a copy of Rocket to the Morgue; nothing could live up to its reputation, but I had a good time even so. Just before the end of the year I finished Linda Barnes' excellent Carlotta Carlyle noir PI series.

In non-fiction, Molly Lefebvre's Evidence For the Crown and Keith Simpson's own Forty Years of Murder gave me a fine look at the move of forensic medicine from pure argument to a more scientific basis during the Second World War.

Books I didn't finish, which therefore didn't get individual reviews:

Blast from the Past, Lauren Carr (2012), abandoned on New Year's Day even before the last of these had been posted: I'd been havering about the small-town and police fetishism of this series, not to mention the ordinary dude with huge wealth fantasy, and when our heroine casually kills two "high-priced assassins" by being better at shooting than them (she's a country girl, don't you know) I was definitely unimpressed; but what finished it for me was our hero saying "To tell you the truth, I'm more frightened by a woman pointing a gun at me than a man. Women tend to be more emotional. When you mix emotions and guns, bullets tend to fly." which is the right pragmatic conclusion but pretty much the exact opposite of the truth. Women with typical Western socialisation are less likely than men to make threat displays, so if a woman gets a gun out at all she's probably already intending to use it. Just one thing too many.

Columbus Day, Craig Alanson (2017), first of a long milsf infantry series that feels exactly like every other milsf infantry series all mushed together. Aliens invade Earth, other aliens fight them off but can't be trusted, humans become their janissary troops, blah, blah, blah. US Army fantasy in space, sex is "a-w-e-s-o-m-e", lots of pew pew. Then the AI sidekick shows up and there are lots of bad jokes too. Unchallenging comfort read for people who already like this sort of thing, and to be fair it doesn't pretend to be anything else.

Her Last Goodbye, Melinda Leigh (2017): I quite liked the first one (Say You're Sorry), but this felt more like a TV show treatment, complete with unresolved sexual tension between the leads and long exploitative sequences of a woman kidnapped by a serial killer (from both her viewpoint and his). But what finally caused me to toss the thing aside was the male lead getting suspicious because his mother – who admittedly is in a slightly fragile mental state – blanks her computer screen when he turns up. Shocking.

Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin (2007): one day I may give it another go, but I really wasn't in the mood: the very first page was all done in choppy breathless short-sentence short-paragraph writing style, with a gloating we-know-better omniscient narrator; and the best plot and characters in the world wouldn't get through my gritted teeth at the moment-to-moment writing.

One Foot in the Grave, Jeanine Frost (2008): the first book offered something beyond the bog-standard urban fantasy sex with vampires, but this one really doesn't, and Heydt's Eight Deadly Words got me at about the 80% mark: I Don't Care What Happens To These People. Not even enough to finish the book. Even if I do enjoy the heroine's penchant for quaffing neat gin by the bottle.

Ruins of Empire, Jay Allan (2017): I really liked the first book of this series! Yeah, space-navy SF, but with interesting things to say about the struggle of good against good. Then there was Call to Arms which was good against comic-opera evil space commies, and now we have a sexy partner for our hero (when first mentioned, "she was clad in her usual costume, black leather from head to toe"), and an ancient alien relic which could Alter the Course of the War – but obviously won't, because that would mean no more spaceship go boom against desperate odds and there are fifteen more books after this one. Oh well.

Fifty Grand, Adrian McKinty (2009): Cuban detective goes to the USA for vengeance against the murderer of her father. Everybody is terribly macho, including her, and I can't bring myself to care about any of them. Some of McKinty's books are excellent, but…

Heart of Malice, Lisa Edmonds (2017): unambiguously, and unambitiously, genre urban fantasy. Messed-up relationship-shy first-person heroine who's tougher than anyone else out there but just soooo tortured, too-good-to-be-true sexy werewolf hero, vampires, conspiracies, telling not showing, blah. And it just has nothing to say beyond winding up these people and letting them bump into each other as they skitter around the table. I might well be in the market for "more like Kate Daniels", but it would have to be, well, like Kate Daniels.

How to Start a Fire, Lisa Lutz (2015): a potentially interesting story of three people over twenty-five years, chopped up into a random order. That can work for me if a character is recovering from amnesia or otherwise has a reason for knowing no more than the reader does, but that's not the case here. Not my taste.

See also:
Say You're Sorry, Melinda Leigh
A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine
A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers
Firebreak, Nicole Kornher-Stace
The Scavenger Door, Suzanne Palmer
Hench, Natalie Zina Walschots
Before Mars, Emma Newman
Atlas Alone, Emma Newman
The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison
Unraveller, Frances Hardinge
Nona the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

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