Hi, friends! Beloved readers, longtime and firsttime! I’m so happy to see you!
We made it!
I’m sick of hearing and I’m sick of saying that 2020 was a rough year for all of us, so I hope this is the last time I do it. And let’s not just hope that 2021 is better, let’s actively work to make it better! That’s my resolution and I’ve got a couple plans in place to make it happen. Let’s see how well they work!
But first, I wanted to take a little look back at that longest, most tumultuous year of my life, and see what good can be scraped from it. Most importantly, I want to look at it in terms of what I read.
First off, stuff for the blog:
Last March I read John M. Ford’s remarkable Star Trek tie-in, How Much for Just the Planet? It was a heck of a ride! I kind of want to read it again, just to see if the madcap zaniness will be a little clearer, a little more, um, followable, for me this time. Despite it being lighthearted, I think it deserves another look, on its own merits and as a piece of Star Trek lore.
This one’s actually a tie, for different reasons.
In April I did a revisit of a book that I dearly loved as a teenager, Eric Idle’s The Road to Mars. It’s a book I read over and over again, you might even say it was formative. Upon a revisit, however, I found that the plot was lacking and overly convoluted, the jokes were stale at best and nonsensical at worst, and the things that I thought were important life lessons were, in fact, not all that deep. Let’s chalk a lot of that down to the fact that I was a teenager when I first read the book, and it’s okay that some things just don’t hold up! Life goes on, moves on, carries on, etc.
On the flippo, I finally got around to reading Theodore Sturgeon’s Killdozer!, and I just hate to say that it left me cold. It was so unlike any of the other Sturgeon works I’ve ever read, and it had none of the warmth and charm that I’d come to expect from him after reading such shorts as “Microcosmic God” or novels like Godbody. I still love him dearly as an author and as a person, and I hope to finally just finish reading everything he ever wrote. I have a copy of More Than Human just waiting for me to crack it open, and I hope that’ll happen soon.
Pierre Boulle just never fails to impress me, and I’m so, so glad that I read the book upon which one of my favorite movies is based. Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece of a book that got turned into a masterpiece of a film, and it’s amazing to me because they’re so different, with wildly different narratives and goals for those narratives, and yet they end up working very well on their own. These aren’t two things that complement each other so much as exist from the same root and happen to have planets with apes on them. Many of the names are the same—with the chief exception being the human protagonist—but don’t let that fool you.
I really wish I knew how to read French to get the original experience. Maybe that should be a 2021 goal?
THE CLONES. Oh my freaking god. Anybody who has been following along this year probably won’t be surprised to hear me claim this book is the nadir of my reading for this year.
This book made so little sense, and yet occasionally my mind drifts back to it, like a dream I had once that I like to pick at to see if maybe some new understanding will arise. As if somehow it will come together and not only make sense, but be revelatory. I think that sums up this book pretty well, actually: It’s so bad that I want it to be deep and meaningful. But, no. It never will be. This is a book that is utterly asinine in its mad science, its evil machinations, and its nonsensical, self-contradictory plot. In fact, it’s almost giving it too much credit to call it self-contradictory, as if there was ever some kind of internal logic for it to contradict.
This is a book where a mountain explodes and the pieces fly up and literally hit the stars. It’s a book where some aliens fly at 100,000 miles per hour to another galaxy in a matter of hours. It’s a book where the words clone and alien are synonymous, as are words like galaxy, universe, world, and constellation.
Big props to reader Alan Hopewell for recommending it to me.
Outside the Blogoblog
As usual, I read a good few books and works that I didn’t blog about (although I might have mentioned them) and have enjoyed, so I reckon I’ll toss them out as a recommendation in case they capture anybody else’s eyes.
The Ministry for the Future
I spent a lot of this year feeling pretty hopeless. Part of that is because of, well, everything, but another part of it is just that the general state of my mental health went down the crapper. These things are probably connected, but on the plus side, I have finally started seeing a therapist and making progress there, as well as taking some medications to keep my anxiety and depression under control. It’s been a journey toward getting better and finding hope.
But part of that journey was definitely aided by Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book, The Ministry for the Future. It’s a book that starts pretty dark, with a heat wave in India killing millions of people, but gradually grows in scope and brightness to bring forth ideas for a world where we can work together to mitigate the damage that will definitely come from climate change, as well as working toward justice for all of humanity, not least by beginning to dismantle the tight grip of capitalism.
It’s a book about the first tiny steps in building a utopia, and for that, I’m grateful. Many of the ideas in the book were not just plausible, they were downright “well, let’s get started with that, then!” It’s a book of ideas, yes, but like all KSR, it’s a book with wonderful characters and sparkling humanity.
I don’t want to talk the book up too much—I definitely had a few little problems with it here and there—but on the whole, it was about 570 pages that I utterly devoured.
Walt Simonson’s Thor
Kinda cheating because I’m not quite done yet, but I’ve been catching up on some old comics and getting around to Walter Simonson’s 1983 to 1987 run on Marvel’s Thor, and holy crap, y’all, this might be some of the best comics out there. I know this isn’t exactly a controversial opinion or anything, but dang, I’m loving this.
It is, of course, the series that gave us my favorite Marvel character, Beta Ray Bill, so it’s kind of a shame it took me this long to read it. I knew all about Bill’s origin and stuff, I’d just never seen it for myself, firsthand, and now I’m glad I did.
Another cheat because I’m still in the middle of it, but China Miéville’s history of the 1917 October Revolution has got me gripped, y’all. I admit I’ve never read any of Miéville’s fiction, and I need to fix that, but this history is written better than most fiction I’ve read anyway. The historical figures feel real, the events are breathtaking, and the scope is magnificent. Czarist Russia has never felt so alive for me, and watching it crumble and fall has made for a very, um, interesting end to the year.
Just a Whole Bunch of Robert Anton Wilson
At some point around the middle of the year I decided I wanted to read everything Robert Anton Wilson ever wrote, so I got around to a bunch of it that had been on the back burner. Cosmic Trigger I was a deeply personal story that had me crying at the end, something completely unexpected. I figured it would just be more of Wilson’s usual conspiracy-laden gurudom, and yeah, there’s a lot of that, but it’s also his autobiography, for a certain level of truth, and I enjoyed it deeply.
Ishtar Rising failed to grip me quite as much. It’s some of his earlier work and, honestly, he went over a lot of what he says in this one a lot better later, in books like Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology. It’s neat reading some early RAW, but it’s more of a curiousity than anything.
The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, on the other hand, is hella good stuff if you’re a fan of The Illuminatus Trilogy. I don’t want to give too much away…
I got a whole three paragraphs in, which is a new record for me.
There’s probably a lot more that I meant to say and forgot, but that’s gotta be most of it. Despite the world falling apart, I did have a lot more time on my hands to read, and that’s certainly not a bad thing in and of itself.
I’m looking forward to reading a lot more interesting stuff as 2021 develops. But before then, I want to hear about what you read last year! Let’s hear it! What was good, what sucked, what helped get you through, what tempted you to give up? Fill up my comments, people!
2 thoughts on “2020: And That’s the Year That Was”
What did I read? Well, first of all, there was this guy I read every two weeks who typically had a batch of smart ass comments on some piece of crap paperback. It’s funny how much I looked forward to that.
Since I rarely left my house, I spent the year re-reading books from my massive pile of old cheap, not schlock, stuff. That worked out well; comfort food for the mind.
I am glad to see your non-blog recommendations. I’ll probably check some of them out. I never liked Boulle, but I concur about French. I want to learn it so I can read Jules Verne in the original. I’ve also wanted to learn Dutch ever since I was a kid, because when I was twelve years old I read Andre Norton’s At Sword’s Point, a cold war thriller set in the Netherlands, and it burrowed it’s way into my soul. It’s a little late for both languages, but a guy can dream.
Here’s a toast to the future.
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To the future! Thank you for hanging out with me in this digital space!