2016 Stats

2016 Stats

I may not be capable of writing review any more, but I can at least crank out some numbers for the year! I imagine that makes everyone happy. First, let’s review a bit of the blogging disaster that was 2016.

Feb. – Switch jobs, begin a bus commute, optimism abounds for renewed reading and production.
Mar. – Stupidly agree to coach Little League. Stress rises, free time vanishes, the Spring is consumed by a very bad baseball team. (Son was ready to murder certain players by the end. Rough season.)
Aug. – Take a band on tour of Japan, also visit friends and family. Most of summer eaten up in prep. On the bright side, I did meet with blog friend Kamo, of This is How She Fight Start. Great guy and classy host. Amazing two weeks in my second home, disastrous two months for blogging.
Nov. – Wheels come off of 2016 for multiple reasons both public and private.
Dec. – Holidays commence, good bye personal time.

Missing from this year’s numbers are blog stats, because I don’t want to know. Too depressing. I had a rousing 2015, things were starting to take off, a couple of big posts went up that drew serious traffic. Then … crickets. Sorry all. Maybe 2017 will be better. I will say that I am on course to change jobs again, and back to a car commute, so I have doubts about reading numbers. On the other hand, I won’t be looking for work for the first time in several years, so that’s some time back in my evenings. (Mercifully, I should be done job hopping until the 2020s.)

Numbers!

Total: 49 books
Science Fiction – 17
Fantasy – 16
War – 9
Misc – 7

Couple of things to note here. First, I was on pace for 70+, so I’m not sure what happened. Second, this is the most even mix of SF and Fantasy I’ve had in decades. I don’t know if that means anything. Third, as mentioned in an earlier post, I hit a sudden SFF burnout around Thanksgiving, and have been reading war history books.

Women – 11
Men – 22

These numbers are only from SFF – war histories and memoirs are disproportionately male, so I threw those out. Proof once again that, if one isn’t paying attention, it is very easy to ignore the female half of our community. I’m not proud of it, but I have to make a special effort to read many women outside of matriarchs like CJ Cherryh, etc. Hopefully this year I can drag this particular number into balance.

Non-Anglo – 3

I read two Japanese books and one Chinese book, all in translation. (I have a book of Japanese short stories that I am crawling through. Maybe this year I will finally finish it.) I couldn’t decide how to break this down any further – basically everything I read was from the US or British Commonwealth, though several were black, Asian, etc. Some authors I don’t even know, so I decided not to do a racial breakdown. As far as I know, nothing from Europeans, Latin Americans, etc. I would like to branch out again in 2017, but still uncertain what my SFF percentage will be this year.

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Interesting Books So Far

Interesting Books So Far

Life is calming down a bit and it has occurred to me that I might consider reanimating the blog. Things will never return to the two posts per week heyday of a few years ago, but I may be able to scribble on a monthly basis for the time being. (The main lesson of this year, other than the crushing reality of raising children, has been “never coach baseball.” I am still recovering.)

Anyway, with my current job cursing me with a thrice weekly bus commute across a lake, I have been able to put away quite a few more books. Writing about all of them is completely beyond me though, so I’d like to mention a few that have stood out this year. A few more will hopefully be covered individually, so this is not a comprehensive list of my favorites for the year. Please think of it as a list of books that deserve wider conversation, but didn’t spark a 1200 word essay.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai – Brad Beaulieu

Doorstop followup to the impressive Lays of Anuskaya series, this is even more ambitious. I enjoy the fact that Beaulieu avoids both traditional epic fantasy cliché and grimdark convention in his meticulously constructed, wildly original worlds. He also manages to balance questions of representation and hierarchy, ie strong women, rulers and oppressed, and racial issues, with the demands of narrative, so things never sound preachy or hectoring. Twelve Kings reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson, but with the gonzo dial turned back down to maybe six or seven.

Wolfhound Century – Peter Higgins

This is, um, fantastical police procedural stuff in an alternate, Stalinist world. Gorky Park with aliens, monsters, terrorists, political machinations, cops, and I don’t even know what else. It’s as grim and violent as one would expect of the setting, and quite unlike anything else I have read recently. I will be continuing the series sometime in the next few months.

City of Blades – Robert Bennett

City of Stairs was my favorite book from a couple of years ago, so I was excited to read the sequel. Blades didn’t pack quite the punch of the first, but was still one of the best books I’ve seen this year. The broader questions of conquest and empire are still at the center of the story, along with the dead gods and the messed up societies they left behind, all coming together to make these books one of the most intriguing and original series out there.

Burndive – Karin Lowachee

The followup to Warchild isn’t quite as intense, but that’s probably just as well. (Less child abuse is generally ok with me.) It’s still a tense, claustrophobic novel in the style of CJ Cherryh that would be well served by a third book. I suppose the same realities that keep Lowachee from cranking out annual best sellers apply here, but I wish they didn’t. I’d gladly read more from her.

Gene Mapper – Fujii Taiyo

Halfway through, I was ready to declare this my favorite Japanese SF book. Fujii updates cyberpunk with biochem, substituting computer hacking with GMO sabotage. The main character uses upgraded CSS to put the aesthetic finishing touches on rice genomes and must investigate when someone cracks the design to threaten the rice crop. Smart, post-climate change futures, cutting edge gene science, eco-terrorism, and more keep things entertaining. The book is short, and suffers for it I think. I had to knock some points off for the rushed and pat ending, but for the most part, it’s an on-point, near future tech thriller. One of my top three or four Haikasoru books.

Sorceress and the Cygnet – Patricia McKillup

Anything Patricia McKillup writes is a treat. I love them all.

The Half-Made World / Rise of Ransom City – Felix Gilman

I guess the kids these days call this “Weird West.” It’s sort of China Mieville meets John Wayne, but much better than that sounds on the surface. Gilman’s second book is lighter than the first, which can get pretty heavy at times. Taken together though, this is one of the more inventive creations I’ve seen lately. The Line and The Gun will stick with me.

The Red Trilogy – Linda Nagata

This is hard-hitting, near future military SF that everyone should read. The books are fairly short and go quickly; I tore through all three this year. (The last two in quick succession, something I rarely do.) Nagata combines the action and characters of standard mil SF with the cynicism and vague dystopia of cyberpunk, powering everything with an emerging AI narrative. It’s never quite what I expected, but hits all the satisfying beats of thrillers and hard SF.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

I’m late to the party with Ernest Cline, but finally got to his popular debut. Entertaining, feel good stuff. While I am a touch too young to get all of it, and woefully ignorant of much pop culture of any era. I still enjoyed everything. Most of the early computer games, D&D, etc. was right up my alley of course. There is only a modest level of suspense, since obviously the hero is going to conquer everything, but I was still happy to see things move inevitably to the joyous conclusion.

The Confusion – Neal Stephenson

I picked this for the flight to Japan last month, knowing that I wouldn’t get through it otherwise. I love Stephenson’s books, but how many of us really have time to push through 900 pages? Or wrist strength, for that matter. These heavy tomes are why I read ebooks. Anyway, it goes without saying that this is brilliant and madcap. Stephenson’s unruly band of misfits stomps its way through the beginnings of the modern economy, which somehow manages to be the actual theme of approximately 3000 pages of madness that pretends to be about wars, pirates, kings, and crazy people. I most enjoyed the hidalgo with Tourette’s Syndrome, but your mileage may vary. There is certainly enough to go around.

2015 Reading Stats

2015 Reading Stats

It was a dire year bookwise at Two Dudes. Posting and reading numbers are way down, but a new job next week promises to restore some numbers for 2016. For now at least – I don’t plan to keep my new commute for any longer than necessary.

Total books read in 2015: 28
This is my lowest number since grad school. Oh well.

Genre breakdown:
SF: 19
Fantasy: 8
Other: 1
Once again, I thought that Fantasy had crept up on the SF numbers, and once again it hasn’t. I wonder why I think that I read so much fantasy now, when clearly I don’t. That single Other was a delightful football hooligan memoir.

White Patriarchy breakdown (SFF Only):
Men: 15
Women: 10
Both: 1
Not too bad this year, though I was on track for a dismal ratio until I went on a late summer tear.

Languages:
English: 27
Japanese: 1
Translations: 2
Look for Japanese to pick up a bit this year, as bus time increases. I had one each of Chinese and Japanese in translation; that number should also tick upwards, especially as I’ve already read another Lui Cixin book.

ARCs: 3
Fewer ARCs came in last year, no doubt a partial result of fading blog numbers. I barely read the ones that did come, and purposefully didn’t request very many.

Total posts on Two Dudes in 2014: 35
Like reading, writing took a hit. Evenings filled up with family-related stuff, and much of what free time I had went into reading. Movies and gaming are even sadder right now. I will probably be writing more this year; I already had a relatively bountiful January.

Category breakdown:
Reviews: 23
Commentary: 6
Interviews/Guest Posts: 1
Misc.: 5
Commentary took off this year, mostly in a series of Hugo/Sad Puppy response essays. Some of them have to rank with my best work on here. I would love to get more research paper-esque posting going, but it’s hard to cook up topics and then find the time to write decently about them.

Review Genre breakdown:
SF: 16
Fantasy: 7

White Patriarchy breakdown:
Men: 13
Women: 6
Both: 1
Japan: 2
China: 1
This is calculated by the main topic of the post, i.e. author gender/ethnicity, essay subject, etc. Posts lacking an identifying characteristic (announcements, genre-wide topics, etc.) are excluded from the count. I feel like I could add the Sad Puppy posts in there somewhere since all of them are about diversity, but I’m not sure exactly how I want to count that.

Popular Stuff:

Unsurprisingly, the 2015 Hugo Imbroglio post and KIC 8462852 were my most read of the year. The first was picked up by noted genre curator Paul Weimer, leading to a crushing amount of views and comments. That is probably the blog’s finest hour so far. The second was lucky timing – scientists announced that they may have found artificial structures out there, and I happened to crank out a summary before almost anyone else. Oodles of random people found the post on search engines and dropped in, probably never to return.

2014 Reading Stats

2014 Reading Statistics

For the statistics loving, OCD part in all of us, I too have compiled some data on my reading in 2014. It is taking all of my self-restraint powers to not crank out a pile of Excel-generated graphs and charts here; that seems a little crazed even for SF fandom. The numbers this year are fairly disappointing, on a number of fronts.

Total books read in 2014: 50
At the start of the year, my bus commute was over two hours round trip. In April I started a new job, with a combined bike/bus commute that provided about 40 minutes of reading time. Once rain and dark came, I started carpooling, and now I drive so I can cover afternoon kid duties. For obvious reasons, reading time has fallen off a cliff.

Genre breakdown:
SF: 33
Fantasy: 10
Other: 7
Somehow I thought I read more fantasy this year. It certainly seemed like SF got shafted in favor of swords and monarchs, but I appear to have deceived myself. Most of the “Other” were about baseball and soccer.

White Patriarchy breakdown (SFF Only):
Men: 29
Women: 8
Both: 6
Ouch. This is much worse than I thought. I was thinking it would be a much closer split, but I guess this is what happen when I don’t pay attention.

Languages:
English: 43
Japanese: 0
Translations: 2
Probably the most disappointing number of all. In my defense, I didn’t finish one Japanese book that I started and am finally very close to finishing a second. Even translations suffered this year though, which is an all-time low for me.

ARCs: 9
New record! I’m not going looking for much, but haven’t said no when things come my way. These are fun, but I have to resist the urge to hunt down more things I don’t have time to read.

Total posts on Two Dudes in 2014: 58
I held steady with a just-over-one-per-week average. A couple of those are throwaways, but my writing kept pace in spite of reduced reading.

Category breakdown:
Reviews: 35
Commentary: 3
Interviews/Guest Posts: 5
Read Alongs: 4
Lists: 6
Misc.: 5
This was a banner year for guests on the blog. Through the kindness and planning of others, I was able to interview two people and host two guest posts. Exciting stuff.

Genre breakdown:
SF: 25
Fantasy: 10

White Patriarchy breakdown:
Men: 19
Women: 13
Both: 10
Japan: 4
This is calculated by the main topic of the post, i.e. author gender/ethnicity, essay subject, etc. Posts lacking an identifying characteristic (announcements, genre-wide topics, etc.) are excluded from the count. Better here than my reading, so that is heartening. Again, the overall lack of Japan or Asia-related posts is an all-time low for the blog and quite alarming. It’s definitely something to pick back up this year.

The challenge for 2015 is to adjust to my new schedule, figure out how best to keep my reading numbers up, and find a way to bump the Japanese numbers back to where they should be. I miss the reading time it provided, but I doubt I will ever go back to the long commute that powered the early days of Two Dudes.

Series Continuations

Series Continuations

Offered as a counterpoint to last week’s post, I will now congratulate myself for striding boldly through a few of my to-complete series. Not as many as I would like, but I am slowly checking off a small selection of reading goals.

Starship (Mike Resnick) – All five volumes of this one done! It was alright. I think the series peaks in book two or three; after that, both the author and the main character realize that they have painted themselves into corners and things go downhill a bit. There are hilarious moments, a few bits of worthwhile SF insight, and some good characters. The narration is breezy and fun, though very rarely does anything actually challenge the hero. It would be nice if there was some way to take all of the good parts of this series and pair them with a story that isn’t outlandish, since the continuing pointlessness of the hero’s quest cuts this one off at the knees. These should probably be read after an extended period of grimdark, in case an antidote is needed.

The Third Lynx (Timothy Zahn) – Volume Two of the Quadrail books picks up right after the first ends. I like the world that Zahn creates, with the FTL train system and cool aliens. Lynx is very much a middle book though. With the Bad Guy revealed, the mystery loses some of its fun, and the absence of pace found in a final book means that this one somewhat lukewarm. Most of the plot beats are crime fic staples – “Yer off the case, Compton!” – leaving things almost wholly reliant on the setting for any sort of variety. I’ll keep reading for now and hope Zahn puts enough surprises in later books to keep me engaged.

Deepsix, Chindi (Jack McDevitt) – McDevitt is the Honda Accord of science fiction – sturdy, reliable, and never getting the attention of flashier models. I’m now three books into the Academy series, one of his two essential sequences. (The other is Alex Benedict.) Neither of these books really carries on the main arc from the first book, instead spending time with the central character and exploring McDevitt’s universe. I preferred Chindi, with the galactic gallivanting and escalating sense of wonder, but both books are typically solid McDevitt. I suppose he’s technically Hard SF, though there is a sympathetic, human core in each of his novels that make them warmer than much of the usual “white engineers solving problems” stereotype. I will say that I’m looking forward to book four, when the galactic menace from Engines of God returns.

The Neutronium Alchemist (Peter Hamilton) – One might wonder how much over the top Hamilton can get with this series. After all, the first book involved marauding Satanists, the dead coming back to possess living bodies, galactic empires on the brink, mass murderers, and gargantuan, sentient habitats. I expected the author to hold the line, but not to escalate. Then Al Capone returned with a fireball-shooting tommy gun. Don’t get me wrong, The Night’s Dawn trilogy is rampant fun. It’s not at all what I expected, completely subverts the invading alien menace trope, and kicks out a steady stream of memorable scenes and characters. It also out-pulps the pulps, just barely staying on this side of absurdity. Hamilton is also one of the few authors I know that says, “Here we are on page 2000 of a series; it’s time to add some new plot lines!” Utterly fearless, and he’s never met a background detail he didn’t like. I’ll have to wrap this up sooner rather than later, since there’s no way to keep everything straight in my brain with a long layoff.

First Books in Popular Series

First Books in Popular Series

Jhereg
Steven Brust
Agent of Change
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The Tyranny of the Night
Glen Cook

Despite my stated intention to finish multiple ongoing series, about all I have accomplished this year is to start several new ones. Go me. In my defense, those looked at here are two long-running series that come highly recommended and a third by a very trusted author. The Vlad Taltos books have been on my radar for awhile, so I was happy to find the first two volumes at a library sale. The Liaden Universe must be doing something right, since it’s well into twenty books by now. (Or maybe more. I lost count.) Finally, anything Glen Cook touches is gold, so The Instrumentalities of Night pretty much has to be good, especially with that name. I suppose this means that series completion will have to wait for another day, so let’s all bow to the inevitable and enjoy my irresponsibility.

Jhereg (Steven Brust) – Lots of people rave about these books and Vlad appears to be a favorite of the fantasy crowd. I’m sure he’s not the original super-cool, slightly rebellious but actually a nice guy assassin type, but he does pre-date the widespread subgenre shark jumping that followed R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt, and that counts for something. Jhereg came out in 1983, about five years before my serious fantasy reading commenced, but somehow escaped my notice at the time. While I don’t know enough about fantasy to accurately place Brust in the assassin/thief subgenre continuum, as best I can tell, he was writing the stuff before it was cool. This makes Jhereg hipster fantasy; all it needs is a dapper hat and ironic facial hair.

I digress. The story itself is light and fun. It’s the Chips Ahoy cookie of fantasy, if one makes a bizarre comparison of a literary genre to baked goods. It goes down quick and easy, doesn’t require a big investment of time or money, but comes up a bit lacking in depth when placed next to something more challenging. I have no real complaints with the book, but I wouldn’t use the word “weighty” to describe it. Oddly enough, one can see plenty of meatier themes on reflection: there is a lengthy and complicated history in Brust’s world and everything moves against a backdrop of ethnic conflict and discrimination. The plot is a jaunty caper though, skipping lightly across the surface with flashes of sarcastic wit and wry narration.

I will definitely continue this particular series, even though the first book didn’t come across as one for the ages. I liked it and want to read more, though I don’t think Brust is hitting his stride yet.

Agent of Change (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller) – Both this book and the series it opens seem to be the SF counterparts to Vlad Taltos. Popular, multi-volume series that somehow stayed off my radar, fast paced and frothy opener, promise of later greatness….Again, there isn’t much in the first book that makes me expect a demand for twenty follow-ups. Agent of Change was a fun read, but it didn’t seem like a book to launch a major franchise. I guess that’s why I’m not an acquisitions editor for a major publisher, because Lee and Miller have built their careers on the Liaden Universe. That alone guarantees that I will keep reading; I want to know what all the fuss is about.

I should probably offer a more intelligent mini-review, but alas I haven’t retained a whole lot of this one. I keep mixing up in my head with Catherine Asaro’s first book, for no discernible reason. Curious readers can expect more incisive commentary when I get to the second book. I promise.

The Tyranny of the Night (Glen Cook) – Does anyone out there write fantasy that sounds more like Scandinavian death metal records than Glen Cook? Seriously, anything with major characters called “The Instrumentalities of the Night” is begging for gaunt Swedes to record sprawling and pompous concept albums about it, especially if they are signed artists for “The Black Company” or something. I need to make this happen.

However, Cook’s novel is nothing of the sort. It is about 12th Century Europe, if 12th Century Europe had magic, angry elder gods, and an impending ice age. I noticed many parallels while reading, and even more when checking out reviews by bloggers more informed than I. Those parallels help the reader navigate the early infodumps and prevent drowning in the deep waters Cook tosses us into. I expect this series to amp up the butt kicking as it goes on; for now a lot of things feel introductory. There’s a lot of ground to lay before everything explodes, so Tyranny requires a little patience. There are still severed heads and flying limbs, but not before much ink is spilt in exposition.

Cook also writes very short sentences. And fragments. It’s very distracting. Most of the time. I have no idea why he chose to do this, as I didn’t notice the tendency in any other of his books. I found it annoying, but maybe there are artistic reasons. They don’t get completely in the way of the story, though I found it hard to tune the writing style out. It’s not a deal breaker though, since everything else is plenty entertaining.

I will also continue this series, because I trust Glen Cook. If this is half as good as the other Cook books I have read, it will be well worth the time. I hope that the investment pays off in later books, since this first one could be a bit of a slog. I think it will though.

Most Read Authors

Most Read Authors

Excellent blogger and FOTD (Friend of Two Dudes) Lynn recently posted a list of of the top ten authors by book count in her personal library. I wanted to do the same, but realized that my library is a collection of randomly purchased used books (often by the pound), grad school textbooks, and the occasional ARC. As such, it is an abysmal reflection of what I am actually reading and instead merely an indication of what one might find at local thrift stores. My list has to be a little bit different. I decided to parse my database of finished books from the last eight or nine years (has it been that long???) and write down the authors I’ve read the most of.

The usual caveat applies here: this only counts the books I have read since restarting my personal SFF craze, not everything I read as a dewy-eyed youth. That list would include a lot of Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, David Eddings, and (gasp) the Dragonlance crew. I kept no records then, so I will just disqualify it all and hope that I one day reread the best of it.

7-10 Books Read
Poul Anderson
Iain M. Banks
David Brin
CJ Cherryh
Glen Cook
Jack McDevitt
Jerry Pournelle
Alastair Reynolds
David Weber
Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

10-15 Books Read
David Drake

15+ Books Read
Eric Flint
Larry Niven

I’m not sure what the above says about me, other than I am an unapologetic Larry Niven fan, have read far too many entries in Flint’s 1632 shared universe, and relied heavily for several years in Japan on the Baen Free Library. Plenty of big names not on the list now that will be within a few months (Karl Schroeder, Neal Stephenson, Charlie Stross, Greg Benford, many others), plenty of deserving names that I am excluding because I read everything they wrote back in 90s. (William Gibson is the biggest omission.) Otherwise, this is a pretty accurate reflection of what I like.