RogerBW's Blog

2020 in Books 02 January 2021

In 2020 I read 141 books, very slightly up from last year.

I was not a Hugo voter but I did read all but one of the novel nominees (except for the McGuire because I already know just how much I don't get on with Seanan's writing) – and I enjoyed all of them. (The one I remember most fondly now is Gideon the Ninth.)

But I liked none of them as well as the best eligible book that somehow didn't get nominated for the Hugo: The Future of Another Timeline, which still haunts me now.

In SF/F not eligible for the 2020 Hugo I enjoyed Kate Elliott's Unconquerable Sun, and started to revisit some David Drake series that I've read parts of before. I carried on with David Hambling's excellent Lovecraftian series, and thank him again for the review copy of Alien Stars. I finished off Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series, and enjoyed but didn't love it. And I read a whole lot of A. T. Rain's Vorkosigan fanfic.

On the non-SFF side I finished off Charlotte MacLeod's main detective series, and discovered that some of her other work might be rather more to my taste. I've started an occasional reread of Georgette Heyer, of whom I've been a fan for some years. I also enjoyed a few romances by Alyssa Cole and others.

Non-fiction suffered slightly from the pandemic, as I'd been mixing Book of the Week condensations in between the audiobooks I usually listen to on long journeys… and I haven't been making long journeys. But I did enjoy the full version of War Doctor (mostly as a potential source for games), West with the Night was lovely, and On the Clock is essential.

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

Girl With Dove, Sally Bayley (2018): in theory about how reading turned Bayley into the person she is, but for my taste too much dreary through-the-eyes-of-a-child. So much impression, so little reliable fact. It was probably very therapeutic for her to write it; it reminded me of Cider with Rosie, and not in a good way. This was a Book-of-the-Week condensation and I skipped it after the first episode; perhaps it gets better.

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron (1996): the idea of Jane Austen, Detective, does hold a slight appeal for me, but if you're going to write the "lost notes and letters of Jane Austen" you should at least be able to produce a convincing pastiche of her style. (If I'd written this, I'd have put it in the voice of her faithful Watson simply so that I didn't have to try to produce a whole book of Austen-pastiche.)

The Sword of Moses, Dominic Selwood (2013): Congolese terrorists steal what may be the actual Ark of the Covenant, and one brave archaeologist has to go and authenticate it. In Kazakhstan? Sure, why not. This was advertised as a more literate version of Dan Brown (not hard), but it's rather too prone to one- or two-sentence paragraphs, very short chapters, and superfluous adjectives (it's not just an AK-47, it's a 7.62mm AK-47, and the transport helicopter is a "US-101" even though that particular procurement was cancelled in 2009 and they don't exist, because extraneous detail apparently makes it sound as if you Know Stuff). Selwood "studied at university in Oxford, the Sorbonne, London, Poitiers, and Wales" (what, all of Wales?) but his London seems straight out of a tourist guide. But hey, Templars (who founded the French Foreign legion to give themselves a military arm), Freemasons, Mossad, Wewelsburg, all that stuff, turn the handle and out it plops. Should have known better really.

Infomocracy, Malka Older (2016): I tried, I really did; and I've rather enjoyed Older's short fiction. But this book has aged badly: it wants the reader to be surprised that there are factions setting out to discredit the entire concept of democracy. And meanwhile it presents this highly distinctive system of microdemocracies (the world's population is divided into 100,000-person "centenals" each of which chooses a government, some of them are corporate, etc., and whichever party gets most has some sort of control over some vaguely-defined world government) and a search-engine monopoly ("Information") which everyone just assumes is perfect and unbiased, so as something supposedly developed from the present day (even of say 2015) this left plausibility behind for me a long time ago; and if you don't find people talking about politics utterly fascinating, there's really not much for you here. I mean, there's a table of one of the characters mentally refuting another party's talking-points. Lovely ideas, but all the characters have the same voice and are basically camera-carriers for the reader's journey through the world much more than they are their own people.

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