It’s time again to clear out my Books Read section of the website for the new year, but before I do, let’s save it for posterity in a post, shall we?
I didn’t read as many books in 2018 as usual, though I still covered decent ground. One reason is I’d started , then put down more than my usual share of books. If a book doesn’t grab me by the quarter-read mark, I generally put it down and start a new one. There are too many waiting to be read next. For example, I’d been wanting to pick up a new Terri Blackstock for years, and Last Light was one that started out intriguing enough, about an EMP (I assume) that knocks out power everywhere. Though the writing was good, as always, the main characters were so unlikable it was too wearisome to live in their world any longer. I was enjoying The Hideaway by Lauren Denton, but about halfway realized it was a romance novel and I simply wasn’t engaged in the story and its pace (romance novels aren’t my thing), though I do understand why this book was a big seller. Some classics, like the original Casino Royale (James Bond #1) by Ian Fleming or the next Perry Rhodan (volume 4) honestly weren’t that good, or simply so dated it interfered with my enjoyment of them, so I stopped.
Then what did I like? On the fiction front, a couple of my favorites were happily by a friends in the business, which is always nice (they did not make this list because I knew them, though, trust me). Christopher Golden’s contribution to the Alien franchise: Alien: River of Pain which shows us what happened at the Hadley’s Hope research station on LV-426, before Ripley and the marines arrived in ALIENS (1986), was heartbreakingly awesome. I also finished the Seven Forges fantasy series with The Silent Army: Seven Forges Book 4 by James A. Moore. As chaotic as it was with so many characters coming together, the overall series was incredibly original and entertaining (and dark, and bloody....). A surprise by an author I had never heard of: Space Team: A Comedic Sci-Fi Adventure, Barry J. Hutchinson’s first in a series of comedy science fiction novels, and this one was very funny. It shouldn’t have been, with much of the humor being snarky wise cracks by the main character, but it was. Hutchinson has a deft, and very funny touch with scene building and dialogue. Looking forward to volume 2.
I returned to my reading roots with more science fiction (I’ve also been writing more sci-fi), and wanted to find a decent example of an SF book with a Christian bent – not easy to find any sci-fi in this market, let alone good ones. I was pleasantly surprised at my first try with Edge of Oblivion (The Chronicles of Sarco Book 1) by Joshua A. Johnston. Published by a small CBA publisher, it was fast paced and interesting with a pretty veiled (until the end) Christian theme. Another product of a Christian author (but not religious-themed at all) was The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C. S. Lewis. The Dark Tower (no association with the King series, obviously) was an interesting, but unfinished science fiction novel by Lewis dealing with alternative universes. It was amazingly written, especially for such an early draft, but also very odd at times in an original, fascinating way. It might have changed not only the genre with such a sharp turn of originality and dark tone, but how people might have viewed the author. I picture him working on this much as I myself do with some projects, trying to incorporate faith into writing but at times veering away completely into uncharted waters.
Along the lines of classic novels, I’ve always enjoyed the 70’s movie SOYLENT GREEN (1973) so grabbed the original novel by Harry Harrison titled Make Room! Make Room! Interestingly, the food product Soylent Green gets only a minor mention in the book, which focuses instead on the cop investigating the murder of a rich mobster, while showing what the world will be like straining under the weight of overpopulation. It’s a well-written, interesting novel, with a diverse (for the time) cast of characters, ethnically-speaking. In the film they were mostly all white-washed, but re-watching SOYLENT it is obvious they took the source material in many other ways quite seriously.
Other fiction books I finished and enjoyed were The Walk by Lee Goldberg, Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman which was not quite as universally approachable a story as Bird Box but still a weird, fun read, along the lines of another book I devoured (after having loved the film version): Annihilation: A Novel by Jeff VanderMeer. My daughter gave me Stephen King’s new one, The Outsider for my birthday last year and enjoyed it. Paul Tremblay’s sophomore release Disappearance at Devil's Rock which again plays with the reader as to whether it is horror or not, but even more subtly in this one. Have Paul’s next on the list for this year, looking forward to it. The Lion's Game (John Corey Book #2) by Nelson DeMille was at times a rough read (I dislike reading from mass murderer’s/serial killer’s perspective, and half this book was from a sociopathic terrorist) but nonetheless gripping. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is another classic read last year – I’m noting a reading trend with classic novels. Since I’ve been writing science fiction more lately, I decided to give Greg Bear another chance (Moving Mars was too political and slow-paced for me, but I might return to it someday) with his classic The Forge of God. Again it was a political science fiction, but a good read. He’s an amazing writer. On the other end of the scale, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom told the tale of slaves near the end of that era and the young Irish child the plantation owner brings home for them to care for. I have to admit, I couldn’t finish it, not because the writing was weak, but because it was too good. I didn’t want to see characters I’d quickly come to love go through as much shit as I knew they were going to in the second half. So I chickened out, and stopped reading. Sorry, Kathleen, but you did too good a job.
One last book I finished, mostly, and was interested in initially but eventually got tired of was The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay by Harlan Ellison. Ellison was known as being an abrasive and opinionated man, but a brilliant writer. This book was his way of showing how much better the classic STAR TREK TV episode would have been if they hadn’t made so many changes to it before final shooting. There were some interesting aspects of his original story which would have been cool but after reading early treatments, then various edited versions of the teleplays... basically every draft of his original screenplay... I honestly feel the version eventually filmed is better than Ellison’s original. I stopped reading the book halfway because between drafts of his script are essays where he pontificates endlessly on how he was wronged, and how this person or that was a lousy human, or how his version is so much better. It got tiresome.
I also went back and read the Oct-Nov 2018 issue of Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, now edited by Charles Coleman (CC) Finlay. I used to read this magazine religiously years back, but found it harder to keep up with it over time. I still pick up an issue now and then. As usual, stellar fiction all the way through.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (it’s always good for writers to read a writing book now and then to remind ourselves why we do it), The Great Movies Roger Ebert’s first volume of revisits to his favorites films, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans, beautiful writings of how the author became disillusioned with organized religion and slowly, through searching and experimenting and connecting with God on her terms, found a community again. It’s a poetic, at times searing rebuke to churches who have completely lost the point. As well, Good News for a Change: How to Talk to Anyone about Jesus by Matt Mikalatos was a funny, common sense (something we tend to forget to use in church circles) discussion on how to speak to people, hostile or otherwise, about our faith. If the idea of taking to anyone about God outside of the pews gives you the willies, read Matt’s book.
Other completed non-fiction, of which quite a few dealt with matters of faith and were quite good in their own right, were The Ultimate Treasure Hunt: A Guide to Supernatural Evangelism Through Supernatural Encounters by Kevin Dedmon, Waking Up: To The Way of Love by Ted Dekker, which was more a prologue to a new inspirational series he has just released, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns, a book I do not recommend for new Christians because it challenges the entire basis of how the Bible was written and intended– as important as this is to a degree. How much of what he says is accurate, I can’t say, but for well-anchored people of faith it’s a good wake-up call that we need to understand the context of where and when something was written to truly understand it. Finally, on the other end of the scale, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix is a massive coffee table book chronicling, through hundreds of beautiful or (mostly) gaudy book covers, the history of modern horror.
Well, that’s it for 2018’s reading list. Below on the right I’ve begun the 2019 list. Looking forward to the worlds I’ll be visiting this year.