I still haven’t got used to it being 2020. Even more than normal when we get to a new year, it doesn’t feel real, and feels like it should still be the future… Anyway, I was going to write a very different article called ‘Top 10 Books I Want to Read This Year’. But I realised this would probably prove impossible, so decided to be a bit less restrictive, and more expansive. Note – all book links are to the book’s Goodreads page.
I actually wrote one of these articles last year in February, My Top 10 Books to Read. I only managed 3, so some of the rest will carry over. Of these, I particularly want to read Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, a relatively recent big concept SF novel. Basically, one night all the stars go out as a giant black barrier is erected all around the Earth. I think it’s standalone but has spawned a series. Also on my wishlist from last year is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, generally considered one of Robert Heinlein’s best books.
I read a lot of good books last year, so inevitably there’s some authors I want to read more of, including sequels and the next book in the series. These include The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal, sequel to The Calculating Stars. The Fated Sky continues the alternative history and space program of the 20th century, and the story of female astronaut Elma York (the ‘Lady Astronaut’). Another series I read the first book of last year was The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. The first book was All Systems Red, and the next book is Artificial Condition. It follows an sentient self-aware robot who calls itself the Murderbot, but really just wants to be left alone to find itself and discover who it is.
One of the surprise hits of the year for me was Circe by Madeline Miller. It was set in the ancient Greek world of the Odyssey and followed Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, and sorceress. It got me hooked on the story, and fascinated by all things Greek. Her previous book was The Song of Achilles which is about, well, Achilles. I really want to read this one soon.
Moving briefly away from SF/Fantasy, one of my standout books of last year was Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. The author is an American poet and agrarian/environmental activist in addition to being a top notch fiction writer. He’s written eight novels and many short stories set in the fictional Kentucky town of Port William. Jayber Crow follows the life of the titular character, an orphan, failed vicar and eventually the town barber. It is set across several decades of the 20th century, spanning before and after the second world war. It introduces many of the towns residents, who will recur in other books and stories. I loved it, and can’t wait to dive back into Port William. I don’t think there’s an order as such, they can be read in any order, but I’m thinking of maybe The Memory of Old Jack next, and possibly getting his anthology of stories, A Place in Time.
Another author I want to read more of is Octavia E. Butler, after reading Kindred some time ago. Top of my list of her books to read, is The Parable of the Sower, first book in the Earthseed series. I also want to read more books by Jo Walton, after reading Among Others this year, particularly, My Real Children, which is about an old woman with two sets of memories, The Just City, first book of the Thessaly trilogy, and Farthing, the first book in the Small Change series. The Small Change series is alternative history stuff, the Germans won the war, which is a well worn trope, but am inteterested in what Jo Walton does with it. The Just City has a fascinating premise though – a time travelling goddess sets up the perfect city, to teach 10,000 children, with the aid of several hundred adult teachers, taken from all eras of history. Another big idea that will be fascinating to see how it pans out!
I’m not a big proponent of reading the classics or other books just because someone says you should, or to add them to your reading CV. Occasionally though there comes along an author and you think, how can I have missed reading anything by them. I’ve just had this realisation about 20th century British novelist Graham Greene. He wrote a lot of classic thrillers, as well as more serious novels, and is considered one of the best novelists of the 20th century by some. How have I got to nearly 40 and not read anything by him? So in 2020, I want to correct that. I’m not sure what to read yet though. On the serious side, I might try Brighton Rock, or for something lighter, possibly one of his thrillers like Our Man in Havana.
Anything else? Well I really wanted to read Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse – I enjoyed a short story by her last year, and her debut novel has been making quite a lot of waves. Basically, there’s been a climate apocalypse, but out in the Navajo country, Native American gods, heroes and monsters have been reborn. I like the Native American angle, and it just sounds like a really good book.
Sticking with post-apocalypse stuff, I really want to read some books by Paulo Bacigalupi. His first book, The Windup Girl, is probably a good place to start, although I really fancy The Water Knife too, and that one is supposed to be an easier read.
There is quite a bit of classic SF I want to read too. I’ve been reading and collecting the Gollancz Masterworks series. I’ve a few to read, including one I got for Christmas, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, and I fancy reading some John Brunner too – Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up. Then, I really do need to finish reading the Foundation series by Asimov (I’ve only read the first one).
Next up, I was browsing audiobooks for the daily commute to work (which sadly is starting again tomorrow). I came across Lois McMaster Bujold and her Miles Vorkosigan series. I read a handful of these at university and really enjoyed them, not that I can remember much now. I’d love to go back to them, and read from the start – maybe a mix of reading and audiobooks. Then I can across Neal Stephenson, and realised I’ve not read anything by him. I’d like to have a stab at his Baroque Cycle, starting with Quicksilver, at some point. Though apparently you really need to concentrate, so this probably is one to read rather than listen to. Then from Neal Stephenson it’s only a short leap to China Mieville – I don’t know why I link these authors in my head, but I do. I picked up Perdido Street Station on Kindle & audiobook really cheap in Amazon’s post Christmas sale, so that’s one to read.
Oh there’s so much more too, and that’s before we even get to non-fiction (I’ve been saving a Bill Bryson travel book, the only proper travel book I’ve not read before – A Walk in the Woods – and may get to this soon).
Can you see my problem? So much to read, so little time. I could write a whole other article on short story authors, anthologies and lit mags I want to read, in fact maybe I shall. But for now, I’d better get on with this reading!