RogerBW's Blog

2019 in Books 02 January 2020

In 2019 I read 138 books, down again even though that included several Book-of-the-Week condensations; I did a lot of other things too, and generally didn't remember to make time for reading.

I was a Hugo voter, but I found many of the entries a fair old slog, particularly the novels; there was only among them this year that I really enjoyed. I don't believe that science fiction is dead (and I don't share Bill's dislike of anything that smells even slightly of socialism), but I do think that I'm out of tune with the sort of fan who now nominates and votes. I'm not planning to vote in the 2020 Hugos though I'll at least take a look at the novel nominations.

In SF not eligible for the Hugo, I finished off my re-read of The Company (alas, I think the first book is still the best of them), and read what will probably be the last Expanse book I bother with. Hey ho. Vandana Singh's Ambiguity Machines collection was excellent, if sometimes tough going; but it was really the only SF I read this year that I loved. On the other hand I very much enjoyed the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series, which made up most of my fantasy reading for the year.

On the non-fantastic side I was in a mood to drop series that, while enjoyable at first, were no longer engaging me (David Handler's Berger and Mitry, Simon Brett's Mrs Pargeter, Anne Perry's William Monk); and I started Harry Bingham's Fiona Griffiths series, of which I've now read and enjoyed four.

I didn't read a great big non-fiction book last year, but Lying for Money was good fun. Still, I want to read more non-fiction this year, and I have some possibilities lined up.

Books I gave up on, which therefore didn't get reviews:

  • Beckett, Chris, Mother of Eden (2015). Near-savages live on a weird swampy metal-poor planet that seems to have been engineered. But all they talk about is "isn't this basic life enough for you" versus "but I want to see more of the world", at great length, not helped by a dialect that's often hard work and the audiobook narrators giving the characters slow careful stupid-sounding voices. Gave up very early on this one, and it may get better or be more appealing in written form, but I was so very unenthused I doubt I'll bother to find out.

  • Christopher, Adam, The Burning Dark (2014). Desperately derivative skiffy horror that's full of buzzwords ("psy-Marine", "technetium star", "lightspeed link") that turn out to have nothing to do with the story. (The lightspeed link is faster than hyperspace across interstellar distances. The violet (!) light from the technetium star drives you mad. As far as I can tell from a skim, we never find out what a psy-Marine does that's different from a regular Marine.) The planet-eating robot menace, which might be the basis for an interesting post-Berserker story, is wasted on an introductory scene. Heavily telegraphed villain, a handful of characters on a mostly-abandoned space station (plus a few hundred background expendables), random spookiness happening until it's time for someone to die, a millennium-dead cosmonaut… look, I quite enjoyed the film Event Horizon, and very clearly Christopher did too, but that film was by any reasonable standard rubbish, and this book did not engage me.

  • Dudley Edwards, Ruth, The Anglo-Irish Murders (2000). I've been havering on this series for a while, but when everyone is a stereotype, the "humour" consists of repeating all the tired old stories about the Irish being lazy, incompetent, argumentative and on the make – the author is Irish herself, but that doesn't make it any more funny – and everything else is about how anyone to the left of Genghis Khan is deluded and useless (also fat people are evil), I just get tired. Giving up on this series. (The remaining volumes deal with, no doubt "skewering", a literary prize, American academia, and conceptual art.)

  • Olson, Karen E., The Missing Ink (2009). First in the "Tattoo Shop Mystery" series: Brett Kavanaugh runs a tattoo shop in Las Vegas, her brother's a homicide detective, and someone goes missing after coming to her shop. I liked the way she picked up information by virtue of knowing about tattoos, but there's a lot of preachiness about how tattoos aren't just for That Kind Of Person, an equation of male homosexuality with being a wimp, and most importantly a main character who does nothing to gain my sympathy (and makes some very silly decisions).

  • Phillips, Louise, Red Ribbons (2013). Ireland, criminal psychologist, murdered schoolgirls. Too self-consciously Literary for my taste; a mystery story's first job is to entertain, not to show off how clever the writer is at very great length. I need to care about the characters, at least a little bit; the actual psychology is at the TV show level of sophistication; and far too much is described at second hand rather than shown.

See also:
Lying for Money, Dan Davies

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