A 2019 Retrospective

Howdy, everybody! Sorry I’m not providing you with the usual proper content this week. I’ve got a big case of The Holidays and I just couldn’t muster up the time or energy to read anything. I thought it might be a fun idea to talk about what I’ve read over the course of the previous year instead, so here we go!

The Great

I know I just read and wrote about it but my mind keeps coming back to Bug Jack Barron. This is quite possibly because I started following Norman Spinrad on social media, and he’s fairly active. I believe he’s also started working on his blog again.

Similarly, I think that Ecotopia has been the one I’ve thought about most since reviewing it. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be had from a lot of directions—you’ll find some good ones in the comments section on that review—but what really stuck with me, and continues to stick with me, is the book’s optimism and hope that people can finally come around and think seriously and put into action programs that provide justice for everyone, socially, economically, and environmentally. It’s been hard watching our society move in exactly the opposite direction.

I wonder if Bernie ever read Ecotopia? I can’t find any evidence after four seconds of Googling, so I’m going to declare it a perpetually open question.

If I had to pick a book I’m most glad I read this year, it would probably be The Spitfires. It was likely the most entertaining book I read, and I have to admit that I enjoy the genre one might call Women Baddasses from History.

I’m Torn

The Time-Swept City is a book that, while good writing and ideas and all-around a fine one, was bad for me at that moment. I think that is still very much the case. Even the idea of re-reading that book fills me with dread. It’s not like I’m even planning on doing it, or of re-reading most of the books I’ve reviewed. It’s almost like…the possibility is frightening enough, though. I don’t need that kind of energy in my life.

Novelizations

I’m glad I started reading novelizations, and I’m also glad I only read the ones I did. That is to say, I’m glad I didn’t overdo it. I have a tendency to do that a lot. I have some more floating around here that I’m looking forward to. In fact, I found one at a bookstore just yesterday that looks like it’s going to be a real doozy. A real sort of “how in the hell do you novelize this” kind of experience. To make it better, it’s already a movie I don’t much like.

I hope that at one point that I’ll find a really well-written novelization that’ll blow my mind. That certainly didn’t happen this year, but it wasn’t like I was trying very hard. I’ve got at least one here that might fit that bill. I can’t wait to find out.

Non-Reviewed Material

I do read a lot of stuff that I don’t talk about at length on this blog. Here are some!

The Years of Rice and Salt

isfdb.org

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2002 alternate-history might have ascended to my top ten books. Maybe even my top five, depending on my mood. It’s a meditation on history, on life, and on mortality, all wrapped up in an alternate history where The Black Plague has wiped out most of life in Europe. We watch as history unfolds over hundreds of years. It’s big-picture stuff, with the kind of moving humanism that makes KSR so wonderful to me.

It’s less hard sci-fi than much of his other work, as it features a concept of reincarnation throughout the historical unfolding. Personally, I liked that, although it also surprised me. This is very different from something like the Mars trilogy.

Childhood’s End

isfdb.org

“Seriously, Thomas?” I hear you say. “You’d never read that one until now?”

Yes, it turns out that there are still a lot of classics that I haven’t read, and I’m still working on that list. My only Clarke experience had been some shorts, the Odyssey books, and his 2000 The Light of Other Days with Stephen Baxter, which I enjoyed a lot at the time and wonder if it holds up.

Anyway, it was really good. I didn’t expect any sci-fi from 1953, even by Clarke, to surprise me much, but this one surely did.

I have not yet watched the 2015 SYFY miniseries.

UPDATE: I just found out that The Light of Other Days was pretty much just Baxter working off of a synopsis from Clarke, so I guess it doesn’t count the way I thought it did.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded

isfdb.org

This 2018 nonfiction work by Jason Heller might as well have been addressed directly to me. It’s an incredible look at 70s music and how it intersected so strongly with science fiction. Starting with Bowie and “Space Oddity” in ’69 and then following him through Ziggy Stardust, we also learn that the #1 Billboard hit during the Moon Landing was Zager and Evans’s delightfully depressing “In the Year 2525.” It goes from there, and gave me a new appreciation for Parliament/Funkadelic (oh, I also read George Clinton’s 2014 memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You? as a followup), introduced me to groups like Magma and Julian’s Treatment, and reminded me once again why 2112 is my favorite Rush album.

discogs.com

Oh, and not long after I read Strange Stars, my buddy Eric introduced me to the 1977 album Dune by David Matthews, which I listened to about six times in a row. I’m listening to it again right now. Side A is super good, with four tracks directly inspired by the novel in a cheesy, delicious, late 70s funky way. Side B is a different kind of assortment, featuring a pretty meh cover of “Space Oddity” and two songs from Star Wars, which had been released very shortly before the album was, so that’s neat. It’s on Spotify and probably other places. I like it a lot.

In Conclusion

2019 has been a wild year for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons. As for me, I got some new kittens and have read some good books and bad books. I look forward to seeing where both of those things go in 2020!

Have a wonderful holiday season!

6 thoughts on “A 2019 Retrospective

  1. I read Childhood’s End about a decade after it was published. My HS English teacher gave me a copy and asked me to write a review for him to turn in to a class on SF he was taking as part of his master’s. He hated SF and he was lazy. I had great fun with the book, and with getting my first grad school A while I was still a sophomore in HS.

    Your post also sent me doing research. That happens a lot. I couldn’t find Strange Stars in any local library and Amazon does not have a READ ME for it, so I couldn’t skim the index as a normally do. I found a review in Tor (dot) com that spelled out who was in it and they were almost all musicians I didn’t like. Except 2525, of course.

    One of my favorite SF rock songs from that era was 2000 Light Years from Home by the Stones. That old LP and the machine that would play it are both in storage, so I dipped into YouTube for an aural reminder. It will never make a greatest hits album, but I still like it.

    I’ve also put Years of Rice and Salt on my to read list.

    Thanks for all the fun Sunday afternoons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I don’t know that song! Most of my Rolling Stones knowledge is concentrated in the early years, so this can be my opportunity to branch out a bit.

      And thank you so much for reading! I never imagined when I started this blog that I’d become Internet buddies with one of the authors I’d reviewed, and I treasure it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The enjoyment goes both ways.
        I love music that is just plain strange, especially in a medieval, droning way. Much of the lesser known Airplane/Starship tunes fall into that category. So does the Doors song People are Strange. The weirdest of all is the Byrds song Mind Garden.
        Before acid rock came along there was a folk group called Pentangle which reached back into the medieval, especially with their Lyke Wake Dirge. And nobody was stranger than Buffy St Marie.
        If you ever want your mind blown — as we used to say in the 60s — spend some time dialing them up on YouTube.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi again. I just bought a CD on a cheap rack the other day, After Bathing at Baxter’s, a lesser known Jefferson Airplane album that I all but memorized when it came out. I had missed it, and all my originals are buried under newer stuff. I’ve been listening to it all day which is probably part of the reason for the post above.

    I just re-heard Two Heads and it turned me inside out just like it did fifty years ago. I’m giving a link (https://genius.com/Jefferson-airplane-two-heads-lyrics) that includes written lyrics. This is deep sixties, not the things that survived in some flower power remix. You hadda be there — but you didn’t, really, if you listen here.

    It was a time of deep fear and unhappiness, about the war, the draft, American paycheck and purchase culture, hypocrisy about sex (Papa said, “We never did that!”), and even the bomb wasn’t completely forgotten. Young people were looking for something new, and often that was a little pill that just screwed with their minds.

    When I hear these lyrics, especially the first verse, I see a young Asian refugee trying to be him/her self and an American at the same time. Of course you can’t nail down meanings in anything written in the decade of Dylan.

    I don’t mean to come on too strong, but this one stirred me up, so I’m adding it to the list.

    Liked by 1 person

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