My yearly retrospective on the books I read, general impressions they left on me (if any of note). This post will go over the fiction works I’ve read and what I think about it in a line or two.
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu - Paula Guran (editor)
This was a bundle of short stories inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos. I found it to be pretty disappointing overall, so that I can’t really seem to recall any specific stories from it.
The Difference Engine - William Gibson & Bruce Sterling
The quintessential steampunk novel that shines best when you recognize the historical and technological references. I did find the plot to be somewhat muddled and confusing.
Ring Shout - P. Djèlí Clark
Cool action flick, set in a dark, Lovecraftian setting, with people of color fighting against racism-as-a-cosmic-horror.
Story of the Eye - Georges Bataille
Best read with the knowledge of the time it was written in, but even so it’s can still be considered rather transgressive. Although after the umpteenth chapter of graphic incest and bodily fluids, it gets kinda boring.
The Rats in the Walls - H. P. Lovecraft
A favorite of a good friend of mine, I found it - as with most Lovecraft stories - to be interesting in idea, rather mediocre in execution.
The Great God Pan - Arthur Machen
There is some evocative atmosphere here, but maybe that’s to do with the title and the reputation of the story. By itself, it’s rather dull.
Foucault’s Pendulum - Umberto Eco
This was one of my favorite books of the year. There’s so much I love in an Eco novel here, loads of historical references, philosophy and a wonderful plot. It hits some of the same notes as The Prague Cemetery, but without the loathsome protagonist. Here, they don’t have bad intentions, they’re actually having some sort of fun and end up in the tangle of their own game. Great stuff!
My Work is Not Yet Done - Thomas Ligotti
I prefer Ligotti’s shorter work. This seems to be in the genre of ‘corporate horror’ of which I’ve never read a satisfying version.
Heart of a Dog - Mikhail Bulgakov
Imaginative satire on early Soviet society, the different types of characters (the bourgeois, the opportunist, the dogmatic lackey,…), told through a sci-fi lens.
Magpie Murders (Susan Ryeland 1) - Anthony Horowitz
Solid detective novel by Horowitz, whom I haven’t read since my childhood. It was a nice reunion, albeit nothing extraordinary.
The Word for World is Forest - Ursula K. Le Guin
As she herself admits, it’s not a very subtle allegory on the Vietnam war, but nonetheless a great story about colonisation and humanity. “I don’t know what ‘human nature’ is. Maybe leaving descriptions of what we wipe out is part of human nature.”
De wonderlijke avonturen van Cies Slameur - Paul Kenis
A picaresque novel about a coach driver from my home town Ghent who gets drafted during the early days of the First Wold War and the (mis)adventures he has. Written in the local dialect, it was very amusing to read.
Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir
I don’t get why Weir gets so much praise. His background as an engineering affecionado and comp-sci student really show, there’s lot of practical things that happen, but his character are so two-dimensional! Even the alien, Rocky, is only funny for a bit.
All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries 1) - Martha Wells
First part of my easy-reading-in-between bookseries. It doesn’t take itself too serious and it’s all the better for it. Murderbot is socially awkward, doesn’t like humans but has to deal with them.
Artificial Conditions (Murderbot Diaries 2) - Martha Wells
More murderbot, more of the same shenenigans. The action descriptions do get confusing sometimes though.
My Shit Life So Far - Frankie Boyle
I really like Boyle as a comedian, but his book is just a collection of funny bits. Which is fine, I enjoyed it, but I expected an extra dimension.
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
I really should have read this when I was in my late teens. This would’ve resonated with me so badly, and would’ve been a better academic fantasy than whatever else I read at that point (I’m mainly thinking of the Harry Potter series I’m afraid). Loved the atmosphere and the psychological depths the characters go through in the anxiety-ridden last part of the novel.
Cursed Bunny - Bora Chung
Bunch of short stories, often with a distincly physical, body horror element to them. Which I don’t mind, but the stories themselves didn’t give me the weird vibes it was trying very hard to go for.
Satan Burger - Carlton Mellick III
Probably the worst book I read this year? From one of the defining authors of bizarro fiction, I expected more. I expected to be shocked, to read things that were truly out there, but instead I read a (thankfully not too long) adolescent story where the weird wasn’t weird enough and the shocking felt very crude and uninspired.
Ringworld (Ringworld 1) - Larry Niven
Classic sci-fi story, written as an adventure in space. It felt a bit dated with the way the female character gets treated.
Rogue Protocol (Murderbot Diaries 3) - Martha Wells
Part three in the Murderbot series. Where the second was a story where Murderbots does something on its own, disconnected from their first adventure (and escape). Here callbacks are getting made. Evil megacorp from the first story is doing more shady stuff.
The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
One of the greater sci-fi and political novels I’ve read. Le Guin succeeds in creating a believable alternative society and even to make it seem natural when confronted with some more traditional ones, without seeming convoluted. The alternating chapters, slowly revealing the reason of Sheveks departure from his home planet of Annares while at the same time telling the story of his flight to and life on Urras gets employed to great effect.
The Wind’s Twelve Quarters and the Compass Rose - Urusula K. Le Guin
A whole bunch of short-stories, from her Earthsea cycle to classics like ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’. As with all short story collections, it’s a mix, but overall a very good collection.
The Man Who Died Twice - Richard Osman
In this sequel to The Thursday Murder Club, Osman takes the same characters but places them in a somewhat more outlandish spy-plot. I’d preferred it if they kept it smaller, more local in scope. But still enjoyable.
Exit Strategy (Murderbot Diaries 4) - Martha Wells
Fourth part in the series. At this point, I became a bit bored by it all, more of the same, the writing is still a bit confusing at times, but the humor of Murderbot keeps things fresh enough to finish.
The Divinity Student - Michael Cisco
Big name in the world of Weird fiction. Wanted to read something by Cisco for some time and decided to bite the bullet with this classic, in part because it’s shorter than the other one that’s high on my list. The prose is quite purple (with reason) but the description can get so convoluted that it got difficult to follow. That really took me out of the story, which is a shame because the atmosphere that permeates it is a vaguely defined modern gothic one that I really liked.
Tender is the Flesh - Agustina Bazterrica
Written pretty dry and descriptive, the book succeeds in shocking the reader, feeling repulsed by the mechanic way the cattle are treated. Also the ending is pretty good, not at all what I expected.