2020: And That’s the Year That Was

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:

The Funnest

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.

The Disappointingest

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.

The Best

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 Worst

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…

Finnegan’s Wake

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!

Bear with me please

UPDATE 9/18/19: I think I’ve found a good setup so things may stabilize. Is this more readable? It seems like every damn option WordPress has on offer is grey on gray unless I want to do some kind of negative mode with blue and yellow or some crap. Or picture backgrounds. It’s like nobody is expected to use this website for longform writing?

It’s been brought to my attention that my blog is not very accessibility friendly! I feel very bad about that, and I’m exploring options to correct the issue.

The most likely result is that I’m going to change the theme again. I know, that sucks and I just changed it and it probably was confusing enough the first time. I’m sorry. I’ll try to make this one stick for a little while, hopefully by means of not choosing one that sucks for people to read.

In the meantime you might notice the theme change and then change back, and things might move around a bit while I figure out what features are on offer and how best to use them.

If you have to blame anyone, blame me first and foremost, but also maybe blame WordPress for wanting to charge me forty dollars to add a little CSS. It’s like a 98/2 split.

Thanks for being patient with me, and let me know if there’s anything I can do to make this blog easier for you to read, or navigate, or anything else. My dinky little project might be niche, but it’s still for everyone.

Just Sharing a Link

Hey folks, I’m just popping in mid-week to point y’all to a blog post by author Syd Logsdon on the matter of jacket copy and book blurbs, a matter that is near and dear to my heart (it turns out). I enjoyed having an insider’s perspective on the matter, and I thought you might too! It’s good to know that they’ve historically been a plague on the writer as much as the reader.

Find it at his blog, which is chock full of good writerly stuff, serialized fiction, and other thoughts and sundry matters worth reading.

(Also, I know I mentioned it before, but I want to reiterate Cyan is very good.)

Merry Christmas, No Review Today

I hope everybody has a wonderful Christmas (where applicable) and a wonderful weekend (where applicable) and whatever kind of positive sentiment that is as close to universal as possible.

I haven’t renewed anything this week, mainly on the grounds that I’m at my mom’s house and it’s hard to concentrate with a Yorkshire terrier begging for my attention every third minute. On the plus side, I just finished a piece of nonfiction that would make very good reading for anyone looking to write or enjoy science fiction, a popular science book called We Have No IdeaA Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson. I’m not one to argue that a writer must have a grounding in science or engineering to write good science fiction, but I am one to argue that learning about such things is excellent fuel for the imagination. Yeah, ideas are cheap, but that doesn’t mean a writer should ignore any opportunity to find one. Tap water’s pretty cheap, too, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the faucet on all night.

A writer’s prompt I thought of while I was reading:

Physicists discover the most fundamental building block of the universe. Maybe it’s a wave or a particle or a wrinkle in space time or all of those things because the quantums are totally bonkers. It also turns out that this thing is sentient.

Here in a little bit I’m going to start We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’m not sure if I’ll get any good science fiction ideas out of that one, but you never know! Sociological science fiction is a fine and noble thing, and moreover, it’s important for any writer to read as broadly as possible. It can only help.

(This also is true if you’re not, you know, actually a writer.)

Anyhoo, I’ll be back next week with a review of something or other. I think I’ve got an interesting one lined up for you. It’ll be the last one of 2017! That’s bananas!

No Review Today

Hey, all, for a variety of reasons I’m gonna take a break this week from the old blog. Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere any time soon, I’m just a little bogged down right now.


Here’s a micro-review, just so you didn’t come all this way for no reason:

I read my first Michael Moorcock novel this week, Behold the Man, and it was very, very good.

Holy crap.

I know I have a rocky relationship with a lot of the New Wave writers, but Moorcock might be my favorite. The next time that I’m reading a pointless, tepid literary experiment in the guise of a science fiction novel, I’ll just remember that he’s out there, making New Wave science fiction great.

Have a nice weekend!

On Science Fiction Characters Who Are Not Robots

Hi folks! This week I’m trying a little something new. For a variety of reasons—chief among them my own lack of motivation—I chose not to read and review a book this week but instead to look back across the books I have read and see what lessons I can pull out about the craft of writing science fiction. Is this a good idea? Perhaps we’ll never know. Or perhaps we can choose to know.

Fun fact, this essay was originally going to be about Penetrator novels but I was having a really hard time finding a way to make that work. It wasn’t until late last night as I lay in bed reading Viktor Frankl that the idea of writing something about character agency hit me.

“Why were you in bed reading Man’s Search for Meaning instead of Assignment: Nuclear Nude, Thomas?”

That question might well answer itself.

Continue reading “On Science Fiction Characters Who Are Not Robots”