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Thursday, April 06, 2017

Reading List 2016

I was so busy in 2016 that the number of books I read in their entirety declined from 63 to 52. Of the books I read last year, the one I enjoyed most was South of the Border, West of the Sun, a novel about a jazz club owner by Haruki Murakami. The novel I most enjoyed was Nick Cole's Ctrl-Alt-Revolt!, I find it hard to imagine the game designer or serious gamer who would not enjoy it. Dance Dance Dance was very good, but Murakami did not quite bring his A-game in that one.

The worst books I read this year were Simon Hawke's clumsy attempts to turn Shakespeare into a detective, a fictional trend that I despise, and although he is a pop-SF writer with a historical bent whom I normally enjoy reading, I gave up on the Shakespeare & Smythe series after reading the first three books in it. They weren't horrible, though, and I did not read a single book I considered to be a one-star book this year.

On the non-fiction side, I read a number of truly excellent books from Hallpike, Oman, Huntington and Turchin. We managed to acquire the Hallpike for Castalia House, we tried and failed to do the same with the Turchin books. One for three isn't bad. The best non-fiction book was Underground, Haruki Murakami's fascinating and incredibly in-depth investigation into the perpetrators and the survivors of Aum Shinrikyo's sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

Keep in mind these ratings are not necessarily statements about a book's significance or its literary quality, they are merely casual observations of my personal tastes and how much I happened to enjoy reading the book at the time. A five-star book is one that I recommend without any reservations, while any three-star or above is likely going to be worth your while. As always, I have read parts of more books than are on this list, but I only rate books that I have read cover to cover.

FIVE STARS

Underground, Haruki Murakami
South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
Do We Need God to be Good, C.R. Hallpike
CTRL ALT Revolt!, Nick Cole
A History of the Peninsular War, Vol. I, Charles Oman
The Clash of Civilizations, Sam Huntington
Ages of Discord, Peter Turchin

FOUR STARS

Belief or Nonbelief: A Confrontation, Umberto Eco
Dance Dance Dance, Haruki Murakami
Iron Chamber of Memory, John C. Wright
There Will Be War Vol. IX, Jerry Pournelle
Red Rising, Pierce Brown
Golden Sun, Pierce Brown
Morning Star, Pierce Brown
Son of the Black Sword, Larry Correia
Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendahl
Why We Read the Classics, Italo Calvino
The End of the World as We Knew It, Nick Cole
The Origins of Political Order, Vol. 1, Francis Fukuyama
Clio & Me: An Intellectual Biography, Martin van Creveld
The God of Atheists, Stefan Molyneux
An Equation of Almost Infinite Complexity, J. Mulrooney

THREE STARS

The Majipoor Chronicles, Robert Silverberg
Agent of the Imperium, Marc Miller
The Red and the Black, Stendahl
War to the Knife, Peter Grant
Forge a New Blade, Peter Grant
Inventing the Enemy, Umberto Eco
Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco
Free Speech Isn't Free, RooshV
The Old Man and the Wasteland, Nick Cole
The Eden Plague, David VanDyke
Reaper's Run, David VanDyke
Skull's Shadows, David VanDyke
Penric's Demon, Lois McMaster Bujold
The Castle of Crossed Destinies, Italo Calvino
Soda Pop Soldier, Nick Cole
Valentine Pontifex, Robert Silverberg
Sorcerers of Majipoor, Robert Silverberg
Ultrasociety, Peter Turchin
The Savage Boy, Nick Cole
The Road is a River, Nick Cole
Stoke the Flames Higher, Peter Grant

TWO STARS

The Aeronaut's Windlass, Jim Butcher
Fight the Rooster, Nick Cole
A Mystery of Errors, Simon Hawke
The Slaying of the Shrew, Simon Hawke
Much Ado About Murder, Simon Hawke
The Khyber Connection, Simon Hawke
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Uprooted, Naomi Novik

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57 Comments:

Blogger KSC April 06, 2017 8:06 AM  

Always enjoy seeing these. I have read a ton of books because of this blog, starting in 2013. Also interesting to see the differences; I thought Aeronaut's Windlass was a steaming pile of crap but rather enjoyed Uprooted (certainly much more than the Temeraire novels, the first of which I didn't finish.)

Anonymous Jeff April 06, 2017 8:07 AM  

Come on, "Free Speech isn't Free" deserves at least 4 stars, if not 5!

Aside from that, a very nice list.

Blogger GamingMan April 06, 2017 8:21 AM  

Any comments on Molyneux last atheism video?

OpenID brefaucheux April 06, 2017 8:27 AM  

Glad to see someone else wasn't crazy about Uprooted. I didn't understand the praise honestly. But thanks for this post! I want to read some work by Umberto Eco and Haruki Murakami. And I can't wait to read more of Molyneux's work. I haven't been able to read as much as I would like this year. I've had to carve out an hour in the morning before everyone wakes up just to get through beta reads for some author friends. I admire how you get so much reading done.

Blogger VD April 06, 2017 8:36 AM  

Any comments on Molyneux last atheism video?

No. In case the subject of the post somehow escaped you, we're discussing books, not videos.

Anonymous Annoying Internet Atheist April 06, 2017 8:36 AM  

HEY VOX what are you thoughts on bad things happening to good people?

Have you even thought of that before? Where is your Xtian God now???

Blogger GamingMan April 06, 2017 8:41 AM  

No. In case the subject of the post somehow escaped you, we're discussing books, not videos.

Sorry I was just wondering if we will see a discussion on this topic.

Blogger Yollo April 06, 2017 8:47 AM  

It's nice to see Murakami on here since I read Kafka on the Shore after seeing it on Reading List 2014, I think. I've been slowly working my way through his bibliography since. I had no idea Underground existed and I'm really excited to get to it.

Anonymous Opus April 06, 2017 8:52 AM  

I loved Chartreuse de Parma but could never get into Red and The Black.

Anonymous Mr. Rational April 06, 2017 9:05 AM  

COMPLETELY off-topic except to VD and his readers, but Bizarro has picked up on a certain theme that will probably make everyone smile:

http://bizarro.com/comics/april-6-2017/

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 06, 2017 9:08 AM  

The best non-fiction book was Underground, Haruki Murakami's fascinating and incredibly in-depth investigation into the perpetrators and the survivors of Aum Shinrikyo's sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

That one just made my reading list.

I remember when that attack went down, an NBC guy I knew at II MEF HQ showed me the investigation results.

That cult's resources and capabilities were un(freaking)real.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 06, 2017 9:16 AM  

I have to agree with your assessment of Fight the Rooster. I love Nick Cole's stuff but that one felt over written.

It was like he was trying for something like Catch 22 or the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I understand the need to try and write the Great American Novel but I'm afraid it didn't work with one. The various side characters got too much of a life, it bogged the book down.

But don't get me wrong if you like Nick Cole's stuff it's worth a read. It's good book just not as good as Ctrl Alt Revolt

Blogger Amos Bellomy April 06, 2017 9:23 AM  

Interesting list. I'd probably have ranked Nick Cole's Wasteland books higher.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 06, 2017 9:26 AM  

The funny thing about Ctrl Alt Revolt was when I the first chapter about 99Fishbine's new place of employment. I started to roll my eyes. Well of course Vox loves the book. This Nick Cole guy just described his fantasy job.

Then I got tothe chapter about Mara and that one was like a punch in the heart to me. I had put the book down and walk away from it for few minutes. It got to me that much.

Mara gave me an inkling of just how good a writer Nick Cole really is.

My own favorite part, was the very concept of Ash Vs the Terminator.

Blogger VD April 06, 2017 9:27 AM  

I'd probably have ranked Nick Cole's Wasteland books higher.

Not a big Hemingway man myself.

Blogger bethyada April 06, 2017 9:34 AM  

Try to get through a book a week. Best nonfiction last year. Conscience by Naselli and Eve in Exile by Merkle.

Blogger Nate April 06, 2017 9:35 AM  

2 stars for The Aeronaut's Windlass? That's kind of a surprise. It wasn't the best book of the year but it was damn fun.

Blogger Happy Housewife April 06, 2017 9:35 AM  

I was a little disappointed with Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass. He's a great storyteller, but that one was simply boring.

Blogger bethyada April 06, 2017 9:36 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger bethyada April 06, 2017 9:36 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger SixtusVIth April 06, 2017 9:38 AM  

Cataline Sergius wrote:

I remember when that attack went down, an NBC guy I knew at II MEF HQ showed me the investigation results.

That cult's resources and capabilities were un(freaking)real.


The thing about sociopaths is that having no conscience also frees them from having a false, exaggerated conscience - they can't be cucks, in other words, congratulating themselves on their gentlemanly losses according to the rules of good cricket etc. Tremendous freedom of action. Japan is very lucky ASO didn't harm more.

Blogger Nate April 06, 2017 9:39 AM  

"I was a little disappointed with Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass. He's a great storyteller, but that one was simply boring. "

I cannot fathom how you could reach this conclusion.

Blogger seeingsights April 06, 2017 9:45 AM  

I'm a big fan of Murakami too. Why don't they just give him the Nobel Prize already?

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 06, 2017 10:00 AM  

I liked Aeronaut's Windlass but only about three stars worth. If you dislike a steampunk fantasy setting then it probably would only rate two stars.

Butcher's creative process is very structured and this book was constructed with one eye very firmly glued to the female readership demographic. As well it should be I suppose, he's a bricks and mortar store writer. That is his market.

Blogger Nate April 06, 2017 10:10 AM  

" this book was constructed with one eye very firmly glued to the female readership demographic. "

there was no love triangle. so either he doesn't understand the female demographic or he didn't actually write it for them.

Anonymous BBGKB April 06, 2017 10:48 AM  

we're discussing books, not videos STR8 from the Corroding Empire:

News Corps Chief: Using AlGoreRhythms instead of jews for censorship is dangerous.
#Speakfreely #AltRight http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/news-corp-chief-orwellian-algorithms-of-google-and-facebook-put-us-on-slippery-slope-of-censorship/

Anonymous Kyle April 06, 2017 11:35 AM  

South Of The Border is a novel, not a collection of stories; I think the only short story collections Murakami has released are The Elephant Vanishes and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. So I'm not sure if you read South of the Border, or you read one of the short story collections and mixed up the name? The dude has so many books that it's easy to get confused. That being said, South Of The Border is one of my favorite Murakami novels and I enjoyed both short story collections as well.

I didn't like Dance Dance Dance so much, Wind-Up Bird does similar stuff, but better. I still haven't read Underground for some reason, I should put that on my list.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is one of my favorite books I've ever read, I'm really surprised you haven't (as best I can remember) read that one yet.

Blogger Cataline Sergius April 06, 2017 11:44 AM  

either he doesn't understand the female demographic or he didn't actually write it for them.

The book has a talking cat in it.

If there is talking cat anywhere, in any book, it was written with girls mind.

Blogger VD April 06, 2017 11:48 AM  

South Of The Border is a novel, not a collection of stories;

Just mixed up the names. I was thinking of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. It's the jazz club one, obviously. It's probably my second or third favorite Murakami after A Wild Sheep's Chase.

Blogger VD April 06, 2017 11:48 AM  

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is one of my favorite books I've ever read, I'm really surprised you haven't (as best I can remember) read that one yet.

I have.

Blogger Nick Cole April 06, 2017 11:50 AM  

Honored. Deeply honored. Thank you.

Blogger KSC April 06, 2017 11:51 AM  

@22
The book doesn't hold a candle to Dresden (which is slowly sliding downhill) or Codex Alera (which was fun and, unlike most fantasy series nowadays, actually had a timely conclusion.)

Honestly Butcher is starting to worry me. It will be at least two years since he's put out a book, when for awhile he was putting out a couple in a year.

Anonymous A Paradigm Is More Than Twenty Cents April 06, 2017 12:10 PM  

CTRL - Alt - Revolt is the best SF novel I have read this year. The Three Body Problem was the best SF novel I read last year. Both of these are the best SF novels I have read in a decade or more.

I would not have read either of them if it weren't for this blog, because all other SF sources became corrupted years ago.

Thanks.

Anonymous VFM #6306 April 06, 2017 12:30 PM  

Murakami and Butcher do not write for women, but they both have an odd knack for making Gamma fantasies redeemable.

Dresden is a well done interesting protagonist that you would want to beat up in real life. Murukami's women are jump-on-your-rod hot for the thoughtful, non-annoying gamma protags.

I do not understand how both authors pull this off without ruining their books.

Dresden has good action and serious bad guys, so that helps. 1Q84 had me (unintentionally) laughing out loud at the hot teen female driven sex scenes and yet I think that book is brilliant and would not be improved by the removal of the unreal cartoony sex.

Blogger Rick67 April 06, 2017 12:31 PM  

I've read the Majipoor novels by Silverberg, enjoyed them, and was mildly surprised you gave them 3/5 stars. But then I'm not a professional editor or writer. I don't know how to evaluate a work of fiction much beyond "wanted to finish, liked it".

(I have taught writing to university students, can proofread articles and dissertations at an elementary level.)

Blogger Mike X April 06, 2017 12:38 PM  

South of the Border, West of the Sun was the book that made me love Murakami and inspired me to read much more. His best novels are probably H-B Wonderland, Kafka on the Shore and The Wild Sheep Chase, but this booklet is the one that will forever hold special sway over me.

Blogger Cubby8126 April 06, 2017 12:39 PM  

Did you ever finish the Nine laws?

Blogger Mike X April 06, 2017 12:46 PM  

Natsume Soseki is a good choice for people who want to get acquainted with the Japanese classics. The way characters interact and how they are introduced to one another is a bit peculiar, but the writing style on the whole is "Western" enough to be appreciated without any special knowledge of the culture and the story of Kokoro is as timeless as it gets. I'd contrast him with someone like Kawabata whose writing style I can only describe as opaque (Japanese Hemingway is a fitting comp, I think) and who mostly just left me puzzled.

Anonymous Bz April 06, 2017 1:00 PM  

Of the above fiction, I would rank Iron Chamber of Memory in the very top layer, perhaps with Charterhouse of Parma with it. While it has some longeurs in the beginning while stumbling around the dark house, it was in the end an astounding effort. Simply astounding.

I thought the best parts of Ctrl-Alt-Revolt was the beginning and the background. I very much enjoyed the take on future celeb culture. And it was quite well plotted and paced, even if I'm sick of zombies.

Aeronaut's Windlass. I tapped out quite quickly on this one after adding the dialogue "How dare you talk to your mother that way, shitty child?" Followed by bastionado of what probably was the heroine. So that was somewhere like chapter one, but it somehow really anti-engaged me. Maybe it got better later on.

Penric's Demon: Pot boiler by Bujold, mostly well executed with some strange detours. Like that time when the demon possessing Penric had a debate -- excuse me for being crass but it was what it was -- whether the straight protagonist should be compelled to suck dick for dollars in a nearby gay brothel? I've seen this leftist trope of mind control to make straight people have degenerate sex a couple of times this year. On the other hand, our side has Mike "Fry the Gay Away" Pence so come at us.

Blogger Amos Bellomy April 06, 2017 1:07 PM  

I'm not really a Hemingway guy either normally, but if he wrote post-apocalyptic SF with extremely well-drawn main characters I probably would be.

Blogger Happy Housewife April 06, 2017 1:46 PM  

"Aeronaut's Windlass. I tapped out quite quickly on this one after adding the dialogue "How dare you talk to your mother that way, shitty child?" Followed by bastionado of what probably was the heroine. So that was somewhere like chapter one, but it somehow really anti-engaged me. Maybe it got better later on."

You find out pretty quick that the mother is proud of her daughter for acting like that, and even provoked it, but it lost me, too.

@Nate, I just have zero patience nowadays for strong willed, spunky heroines who can hold their own with big burly men. It's a boring trope that dragged a potentially fun book down, at least for me.

Anonymous Bz April 06, 2017 2:01 PM  

Happy Housewife, it seems tone deaf to me and from what you write, it continued even worse. The point of situating your work in mock-Regency is after all manners, manners, manners.

Blogger Erynne April 06, 2017 2:15 PM  

I loved Ctrl Alt Revolt! which was the first Nick Cole book I read. When I read the premise to Fight the Rooster I bought it and started reading it immediately. I knew if it was anywhere near as funny as Ctrl, I would be howling before I knew it. Anyway, it turned out to be less of a comedy and more of a drama, but I still liked it a lot. I would 5 star Ctrl, but I also 5 starred Rooster because it contained a lot deeper character analysis than I was prepared for. There was definitely comedy in it, and my only discretion would be the ending came across as a bit sappy, but I would recommend it because the story was very interesting.

Anonymous Coldhand April 06, 2017 2:16 PM  

Wait. Vox, you nominated Aeronaut's Windlass for a Hugo award last year and then voted it third.

Now it's not worth your while?

Blogger VD April 06, 2017 4:06 PM  

Wait.

I also nominated Space Raptor Butt Invasion.

Blogger Azimus April 06, 2017 4:09 PM  

I read the Iliad last year for the first time (not that this is about me). Curious for the Dread Ilk's thoughts:

Who is the hero of The Iliad? I have my own thoughts, but I'm curious who VD, VFM's, and the Dread Ilk say - "That's our guy" when they read the story.

I've actually been listening to a lot of Molyneux destroy everyone from Che Guevara to George Washington and wanted to ask him the same question, but this is a pretty well-read crowd so I'm throwing it out there.

Anonymous Looking Glass April 06, 2017 5:13 PM  

@46 Azimus

It's been a while, but Diomedes is probably the best option. Though he fades in importance as the core themes of the epic take hold. Hubris gets the better of everyone and you make really stupid decisions out of it. That's mostly the insight I always gleaned from the epic.

https://infogalactic.com/info/Diomedes

Anonymous Mycroft Jones April 06, 2017 5:58 PM  

Agree, Charterhouse of Parma was pretty good. Nice view of Napoleonic era Italy, at all levels of society.

Blogger Doc Rampage April 06, 2017 8:35 PM  

Bz wrote:Aeronaut's Windlass. I tapped out quite quickly on this one after adding the dialogue "How dare you talk to your mother that way, shitty child?" Followed by bastionado of what probably was the heroine. So that was somewhere like chapter one, but it somehow really anti-engaged me. Maybe it got better later on.

It didn't. I have serious doubts that the same person wrote Aeronaut's Windlass and the Dresden books. The characters in the Dresden books are so unique and well-drawn: The Winter Queen, Michael Carpenter, even the spunky woman cop was unique enough to be tolerable. By contrast, the characters in AW are all poorly-drawn stereotypes. The talking cat's entire personality consists pretty much of one joke that gets repeated monotonously throughout the book. There's a love interest between two characters that seems completely unmotivated.

If Jim Butcher wrote that book, then he has fallen a long way from his peak.

Blogger GK Chesterton April 06, 2017 8:46 PM  

"Son of the Blacksword" and "Nemisis" are both Larry writing with his Mary Sue gone. They are HUGE improvements. He's clearly gotten better with age.

Blogger Alexandru Constantin April 06, 2017 10:06 PM  

You turned me on to Murakami, I read three of his books in the past few months and have his nonfiction book about running sitting on my kindle. I agree that Dance Dance Dance is good but has somewhat of an awkwardness to it that placed it in the 4/5 area for me also. Now, The Iron Chamber of Memory is a book I barely enjoyed, 3/5, just didn't do it for me.

Blogger Alexandru Constantin April 06, 2017 10:08 PM  

"Son of the Blacksword" and "Nemisis" are both Larry writing with his Mary Sue gone. They are HUGE improvements. He's clearly gotten better with age.

Agreed. I'm not a huge fan of the Monster Hunter stuff, but went to a book signing, met Larry, and grabbed this one when it came out. Really enjoyed it.

Anonymous xyzsese April 06, 2017 10:58 PM  

No human heroes in the Iliad, that is the point. The father of Briseides (who gets the Greeks to give his daughter back, eventually) and Odysseus (who manages not to die so that he can become a real person later on) are two human candidates, but the first is too minor and the second wastes most of his life through his folly. Sarpedon and the talking horses and Cassandra and Helen and one or two of the charioteers come off well. Diodemedes is a failure due to hubris.

Blogger Minal Kapoor April 07, 2017 1:56 AM  

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Blogger SteelPalm April 07, 2017 1:59 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger SteelPalm April 07, 2017 2:02 AM  

Bit surprised you felt that way about Dance Dance Dance. It's my single favorite Murakami novel (moreso than A Wild Sheep Chase, although that one is great, too) and among my top 5-10 novels ever.

Agreed with you about liking Stendahl's The Charterhouse of Parma significantly more than The Red and the Black, although the latter is still good. I consider the former one of the best works of the 19th century.

Blogger John Wright April 07, 2017 12:21 PM  

@46
"Who is the hero of The Iliad?"

Thersites.

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