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Friday, February 19, 2016

Reading List 2015

Of the 63 books I read in 2015, the one I enjoyed most was Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase. Brilliant, mind-bending, and quintessentially Japanese. The worst book I read this year was, again, Iain Banks's The Wasp Factory, although The Spider's Web, a cheap rip-off written by Charles Osborne that uses an Agatha Christie play as an outline, gave it a run for its vile money. The most disappointing book was Charles Stross's The Annihilation Score. I like his Laundry Files but Stross can't write women to save his life; the story would have been more credible, and more entertaining, if the protagonist had been Bob in a dress rather than his nominal wife.

On the non-fiction side, two Martin van Creveld books were excellent. Castalia published A History of Military Strategy, and van Creveld's Technology and War is a must-read for anyone interested in history. On the downside, J.B. Bury's A History of Freedom of Thought was little more than a historical prelude to the tawdry philosophical works of the New Atheists and its perspective has been rendered irrelevant by subsequent events. The book was particularly disappointing because I am a big fan of Bury's great editorial work, The Cambridge Medieval History Series.

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 three-star or above is likely going to be worth your while. As always, I have read more books than are on this list, but I only rate books that I have read cover to cover.

FIVE STARS

A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami
Demian, Hermann Hesse
The Book of the Damned, Tanith Lee
65 Short Stories, W. Somerset Maugham
If Symptoms Still Persist, Theodore Dalrymple
A History of Military Strategy, Martin van Creveld
Technology and War, Martin van Creveld


FOUR STARS

Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks
Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich
Danger & Play: Essays on Embracing Masculinity, Mike Cernovich
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
The Book of the Beast, Tanith Lee
The Book of the Dead, Tanith Lee
The Complete Stories, Evelyn Waugh
After the Quake: Stories, Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Haruki Murakami
The Changing Face of War, Martin van Creveld
Armageddon, Max Hastings
Japan 1941, Eri Hotta
Carthage Must Be Destroyed, Richard Miles

THREE STARS

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Somewhither, John C. Wright
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers
There Will Be War, Vol. III, Jerry Pournelle
There Will Be War, Vol. IV, Jerry Pournelle
There Will Be War, Vol. V, Jerry Pournelle
There Will Be War, Vol. VIII, Jerry Pournelle
Imperial Stars, Vol. I, Jerry Pournelle
Imperial Stars, Vol. II, Jerry Pournelle
Faces Under Water, Tanith Lee
Saint Fire, Tanith Lee
A Bed of Earth, Tanith Lee
Venus Preserved, Tanith Lee
Pirates of the Levant, Arturo Perez Reverte
Purity of Blood, Arturo Perez Reverte
The Sun Over Breda, Arturo Perez Reverte
Captain Alatriste, Arturo Perez Reverte
Back From the Dead, Rolf Nelson
The Sorcerer's House, Gene Wolfe
Churchill, Paul Johnson
The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke
History of the First World War, Basil Liddell Hart
The Shepherd's Crown, Terry Pratchett
Railsea, China Mieville
How to Deal with Narcissists, Michael Trust
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

TWO STARS

The Annihiliation Score, Charles Stross
Lord Valentine's Castle, Robert Silverberg 
Hallowe'en Party, Agatha Christie
Murder is Easy, Agatha Christie
Three Act Tragedy, Agatha Christie
Methuselah's Children, Robert Heinlein
Farnham's Freehold, Robert Heinlein

The Peril at End House, Agatha Christie
Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
Year's Best SF 18, David Hartwell

ONE STAR

Spider's Web, Agatha Christie (Charles Osborne)
The Wasp Factory, Iain M. Banks
Hero in the Shadows, David Gemmell
A History of Freedom of Thought, J.B. Bury
Grumbles from the Grave, Robert Heinlein

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43 Comments:

Anonymous BL February 19, 2016 6:45 AM  

I really enjoyed the Crusades by Thomas Asbridge which was recommended on this blog. Could anyone recommend a good book about the Reconquista of Spain and one about Charles Martel or Vlad Tepes?

Blogger Positive Dennis February 19, 2016 7:04 AM  

Somewither at three stars? Sounds about right.

Anonymous Millenium February 19, 2016 7:35 AM  

Hero in the Shadows was definitely not one of Gemmell's best but I didn't think it was worse than Farnham's Freehold.

Blogger SteelPalm February 19, 2016 8:06 AM  

Considering that Murakami is one of my two favorite writers ever (the other being Joseph Conrad) I should note that while "A Wild Sheep Chase" is indeed an extraordinary masterpiece, the sequel "Dance Dance Dance" is even better.

In fact, I would easily put it in my top ten books ever.

And as I wrote this, I see that it's on your 2016 reading list. Wouldn't be surprised to see it top next year's iteration.

Blogger SteelPalm February 19, 2016 8:11 AM  

Also, I'm an enormous Maugham fan. His short stories are incredible, among the very best in the genre, and "The Moon and Sixpence" one of the greatest novels ever.

I wonder if he isn't more famous and widely-read these days because of how much his ideas and observations clash with the Narrative.

Blogger Tank February 19, 2016 8:30 AM  

Why are you reading so much Christie?

Blogger Tank February 19, 2016 8:31 AM  

I should add I enjoy Christie as a sort of harmless, easy, beach kind of read. Although she is often much better than that. But you don't seem to be enjoying her much.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 8:45 AM  

Why are you reading so much Christie?

I like quite a lot of her stuff. It's easy travel reading. But most of what I read this year was blah.

Blogger stareatgoatsies February 19, 2016 9:04 AM  

> Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks

First Banks book and still my favourite except for Feersum Endjin(1994). I loved the atmosphere. Anything in particular strike you about it Vox? Looking at his bibliography now I don't see any of his better SF works after 1994. A case of being to profligate?

Blogger wrf3 February 19, 2016 9:09 AM  

How does Hartwell's Year's Best SF 18 compare with the previous years?

Blogger Skylark Thibedeau February 19, 2016 9:22 AM  

I enjoy Murakami's magical realism. I find the plots somewhat hard for my Western mindset to follow sometimes but his themes and pictures are quite vivid. His introduction of a musical score that impacts the plot (especially in 1Q84 and Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki) always has me searching you tube for the work the characters are listening to.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 10:14 AM  

How does Hartwell's Year's Best SF 18 compare with the previous years?

Don't know, haven't read them. It's pretty SJW'd; most of it isn't in your face, but it's relentless.

OpenID malcolmthecynic February 19, 2016 10:18 AM  

Nice to see somebody else shares my opinions about the rough quality of "Somewhither" and "Do Anroids Dream".

Looks like I'm going to have to try this Murakami guy. Never heard of him.

I like Christie. "And then there were None" is a great book.

Good to see somebody else who is actually a Sayers fan. I've only read a single book by her but she's really terrific.

Best book I read in 2015 was probably T.H. White's "The Once and Future King". "The Sword in the Stone" and "The Queen of Air and Darkness" are okay, but "The Ill-Made Knight" and "The Candle in the Wind" are utterly brilliant. "The Ill-Made Knight" gets a strong claim as the second best fantasy novel ever written.

OpenID malcolmthecynic February 19, 2016 10:27 AM  

Also a good book: Elmore Leonard's "Gunsights". A cool western with a fun sense of humor and a subtly hilarious ending. It really only makes sense if you have the full context.

Bonus points for following up a couple of his short stories, specifically "Hurrah for Captain Early!".

Anonymous Bz February 19, 2016 11:45 AM  

Reconquista: I've found it nontrivial to locate the definitive works about it; perhaps there are some in Spanish? So there's definitely an element of search about it, which unfortunately tends to be erratic. There is the level of detail one desires, from the overview to the deep dives. The best book here might depend on mood, really. I'd furthermore prefer one with a reasonable viewpoint, which is usually not obvious from online searching.

Well, after pondering all this you need to take the plunge ... So for starters, I've bought Roger Collins' Caliphs and Kings: Spain 796-1031 (Wiley) which looked good in the bookshop at least. About 300 pages, so not too involved. Only covers the first part of it though.

Blogger RobertT February 19, 2016 12:12 PM  

Have you read The Fourth Turning?

Blogger bruce February 19, 2016 12:28 PM  

VD_ 'The most disappointing book was Charles Stross' The Annihilation Score'. I like his Laundry Files but Stross can't write women to save his life."

I had a pleasant surprise rather than a disappointment. After his awful sideways in time books, I thought Stross could not write women. But the chick in The Annihilation Score works. Yes, some wish fulfillment- the alpha male who pops out the the woodwork as soon as the fortyish wife has an argument with her husband. But she feels like a real woman to me. And of course the pure Laundry Files side of the book was good.

Blogger bruce February 19, 2016 12:29 PM  

VD_ 'The most disappointing book was Charles Stross' The Annihilation Score'. I like his Laundry Files but Stross can't write women to save his life."

I had a pleasant surprise rather than a disappointment. After his awful sideways in time books, I thought Stross could not write women. But the chick in The Annihilation Score works. Yes, some wish fulfillment- the alpha male who pops out the the woodwork as soon as the fortyish wife has an argument with her husband. But she feels like a real woman to me. And of course the pure Laundry Files side of the book was good.

Blogger JCclimber February 19, 2016 12:37 PM  

I re-read Lord Valentine's Castle again this year too. It wasn't quite as fantastic a read as it was when I was a young teenager and new to Sci-Fi.

I would rate it a 3 star. Decent depiction of aliens sharing a planet with the inherent tensions. The villains weren't very believable nor likable.

The mommy rescuing me angle was a little off-putting as an adult, as well as traces of gamma poking out here and there as Lord Valentine's special snowflakiness came through to win the day....

Blogger frenchy February 19, 2016 1:24 PM  

Vox,

One year you said you read 87 books. This years it's 63? Do you just read fast, or do you have some method, or technique, that you use to get through so many books. I'm asking cause I have a slew of books to get through and would like to get through them quickly.

Whatever it is, I'm all ears. Thanks.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 1:36 PM  

But the chick in The Annihilation Score works

No, she doesn't. Not even a little bit. She's Bob in a dress, right down to the snarky Monty Python quotes. You could read a page from the book, leave out any direct female references, and not know it was supposed to be a character of the opposite sex.

She even agonizes over the same stuff Bob does, in the same way Bob does.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 1:37 PM  

Do you just read fast, or do you have some method, or technique, that you use to get through so many books.

The last time I took a test, I read at 987 words per minute. Apparently this is considerably above average. I also read while in between sets while working out at the gym.

Blogger John Wright February 19, 2016 1:39 PM  

Wow. I am flattered to have gotten the same rating as a book by Dorothy Sayers or Tanith Lee, but embarassed to have gotten the same rating as FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE, which is the first Arthur C. Clarke book I really thought was bad on all levels, and the first book by him I put down unfinished.

Blogger kudzu bob February 19, 2016 2:45 PM  

I'm surprised that you gave Methuselah's Children only two stars.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 3:04 PM  

I'm surprised that you gave Methuselah's Children only two stars.

Like I said, this is not a rigorous quality rating. It's how I happened to enjoy the book at the time.

Blogger Dave February 19, 2016 3:30 PM  

The last time I took a test, I read at 987 words per minute. Apparently this is considerably above average. I also read while in between sets while working out at the gym.

Reading between sets? Is your gym in a library or a bookstore. In most gyms, it's a requirement between sets to flex in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Blogger 1337kestrel February 19, 2016 3:35 PM  

I am flattered to have gotten the same rating as a book by Dorothy Sayers or Tanith Lee, but embarassed to have gotten the same rating as FOUNTAINS OF PARADISE,

JCW, I have found Vox's tastes to be inscrutable and completely contrary to mine, despite all his literary analysis being technically correct. That's my main concern with Rabid Puppies... But Vox will at least nominate works with redeeming qualities.

Blogger Dave February 19, 2016 3:43 PM  

I'm not sure how to evaluate a 3 star rating from your own editor.

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 5:00 PM  

I'm not sure how to evaluate a 3 star rating from your own editor.

Do you like all books by the same author equally? Why, then, would you expect me to simply because I edit John's work? Look at the other books given three stars. This isn't Amazon, where three stars means "meh, I suppose it was okay".

Many people love snarky dialogue. Even more people like gamma heroes with special, unique powers. I intensely dislike both, so it shouldn't be surprising that Somewhither was not my particular cup of tea. I much prefer Iron Chamber of Memory and One Bright Star to Guide Them. But the art of being an editor is not about shaping the book to your preferences, it concerns helping the author hone his vision.

And at least you know that I am honest when I discuss my authors.

Anonymous BL February 19, 2016 6:22 PM  

Bz,

Thanks for the suggestion. I had done some internet searches, but hadn't come up with anything which grabbed my attention.

I'm reading Fox's Book of Marytrs now. Your suggestion will be my next book.

Blogger Ron Harris February 19, 2016 7:00 PM  

Dude. Once in despair i asked you what was wrong with me ..... You informed me that I was in love...... Now married to her drinking and eating prime rib I wonder if you ever re-read books.

Anonymous Dave February 19, 2016 7:05 PM  

In order to assist your blog readers in distinguishing between your typical analytical, intensive, exhaustive, and subjective book reviews and these casual observations of your personal tastes and how much you happen to enjoy reading the book at the time; may I suggest you use a different rating system.

Instead of "3 stars" perhaps say "3 Vox(s)" or staying within the ELoE theme; "3 Dark Lords"


I also notice you gave 3 stars to four of the TWBW anthologies. Would you say your opinion of those has changed from when you originally read them with the passage of time and changing preferences?

Blogger frenchy February 19, 2016 7:09 PM  

Vox,

Thanks. Maybe I need my eyes to go to the gym. (smile).

Blogger Eric February 19, 2016 7:09 PM  

I've been meaning to read The Three Body Problem, but they've made such a big deal about it at NPR I was wondering if it somehow supported their Weltanschauung.

Anonymous Dave February 19, 2016 7:31 PM  

meh; "objective" obviously not subjective

Blogger VD February 19, 2016 8:33 PM  

Would you say your opinion of those has changed from when you originally read them with the passage of time and changing preferences?

No. But I don't rate those volumes as highly as volumes 2, 9, and 10.

Blogger JCclimber February 19, 2016 9:02 PM  

I've spent about 14 years trying to get through the copy of Norwegian Wood by Murakami that my wife bought me. I just can't get into enjoying the mindset of the protagonist enough to keep reading. The flavor or perhaps a better word is tone, reminds me of 70s movies, kind of a washed out pastel. Maybe it is the utter lack of Christian worldview and objective morality or something.



i'll try A Wild Sheep Chase based on this recommendation. Maybe it will go down the ol' optical nerve better.

Anonymous Malwyn's apprentice February 19, 2016 9:04 PM  

Glad to see that you've been enjoying Tanith Lee. I understand that she left a fair amount of completed & unpublished work -- any chance that Castalia might reach out to her husband/estate about publishing any of those works? For that matter, is there any interest in publishing some of her titles that are out of print (I'm uncertain which rights may have reverted)?

Blogger dfordoom February 19, 2016 11:52 PM  

@5. SteelPalm

Also, I'm an enormous Maugham fan. His short stories are incredible, among the very best in the genre

I agree wholeheartedly. And his Ashenden, or the British Agent is one of the greatest works of spy fiction ever written. Perhaps not surprising, given that Maugham was a real-life British spy.

Blogger dfordoom February 20, 2016 12:00 AM  

@13. malcolmthecynic

Good to see somebody else who is actually a Sayers fan. I've only read a single book by her but she's really terrific.

Her detective stories were fine until she added the appalling Harriet Vane to the mix. The books featuring Harriet Vane are cringe-inducing wish-fulfilment fan-fiction. The Lord Peter Wimsey books without Harriet Vane are generally pretty good though, especially Murder Must Advertise and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.

Like all the "crime queens" apart from Christie she's been absurdly over-rated. The best writers of detective fiction in the golden age were men - Henry Wade, Freeman Wills Crofts, S. S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen, J. J. Connington, Rufus King.

Blogger Groot February 20, 2016 2:16 AM  

I find it almost physically painful to choose fiction over non-fiction. I've only read a couple of dozen of the above books, but can't, for example, either remember a single one of the dozens of Agatha Christie books I read or want to remember one. The exceptions recently have been emphatically due to the Puppies, with John C. Wright and Larry Correia (yay). For the most part, though, there is only regret when slogging through some dreck by Charles Stross about spending time as a flock of birds (no, really) instead of, say, reading a book by James freaking Watson about the Molecular Biology of the Gene. I know it's a textbook (and, yes, I do the exercises), but it's just not a contest.

OpenID malcolmthecynic February 20, 2016 11:05 AM  

@40

Meh. I thought she was clearly the superior writer to Christie. I very much enjoyed "The Nine Tailors".

Blogger Gunner Jacky August 23, 2016 1:55 AM  

At least you find that much time to read all these books. I feel sometimes that life shouldn't e that much busy that you don't even get enough time to fulfill your dreams. If anyone of you guys are interested in firearms like me then they can take help form the MA Gun License to find guns of your choice.

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