2022 in Review, Finale: Books

My reading was rather varied last year. A lot of science fiction, a couple of contemporary fiction novels, and some very smart and enlightening non-fiction. I finally read through a few classics within these genres, and very much enjoyed them. 

 My absolute favorites of 2022:

Children of Time
by Adrian Tchaikovsky - when I initially finished this long novel, I was so pumped I posted that it is a nearly perfect science fiction novel. I stand by this. Covering a long, LONG span of time, we follow a band of people trying find new habitable homes for an almost-extinct human race, and a race of spiders whose DNA had been inadvertently modified. An amazing novel that draws you in with its clear writing, interesting characters, and a payoff that does not disappoint.  

Golden State 
by Ben H. Winters - Over the years I have become an avid Ben Winters fan, since reading the Last Policeman trilogy. Interestingly (and maybe sadly, though having one of my own books show up on a discount rack someday would mean I'd made it, baby!), I picked up Golden State for a buck at the Dollar Store. An ingenious gumshoe crime mystery in a future city where lying has been outlawed. You can't lie, by law. Brilliant read.

Cloud Cuckoo Land, A Novel by Anthony Doerr - from the author of All The Light We Cannot See, another amazing (and long) novel, this one starts with a children's play being rehearsed in a library, sets up an ominous plot development, only to jump back and forth between this and the story of children on a spaceship learning about the planet they are traveling to and the Earth they're leaving behind, then back to ancient Greece (I believe it's Greece, been a while). Everything is very loosely connected by one ancient and strange Greek manuscript titled Cloud Cuckoo Land. You'll read and about 3/4 of the way through start to wonder what the point of all of it is, and though the tie-together and resolution isn't perfect, the overall ending is pretty friggin' awesome. This is a very, very unique novel and wonderfully executed. 

In fact, joyously-unique storylines is what connects all three of the above, my favorite fiction novels of 2022.

To mix things up during the year, I read a few comic / graphic novel series. My favorite of the bunch is a series I'd begun to read over a decade ago when its first issue came out, but I never followed through with the entire series (at that time you had to wait for it):

Saga, Vol 1 - 3 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Stapes: brilliant artwork, moving and funny storytelling, a Romeo & Juliette of the otherworld species variety. Narrated by the main character's baby. To read more I have to put a crowbar to my wallet and pay (Comixology only covers the first three, to get you hooked). I think it'll be worth it going forward.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright - my friend (and pastor) Marty loves N.T. Wright, but I knew I'd have to listen to the audio because the last time I'd tried reading him he was pretty heavy-handed stylewise. I'm so glad I did. Surprised by Hope finally puts the Christian faith with all its questions and ambiguities out of the darkness of "don't ask" into a clear, open room and makes sense of things that seemed impossible to understand. Especially looking at the concept of heaven and the supposed "end times". This is not an end-times book, be warned, it's more a discussion of Jesus' resurrection, and why understanding this is key to understanding everything about why He did what He did. Along with Children of Time, this was the best book of the year for me.

Other novels I read and really enjoyed:

Nemesis Games, Babylon's Ashes and Persepolis Rising (The Expanse Books 5-7) by S. A. Corey - The television series ended with Babylon's Ashes, which was also the best of these three volumes, and it makes sense to end the TV adaptation there since Persepolis Rising jumps ahead 30 years. This latter was a bit disjointed, and too little is different in the characters' lives for a thirty-year span of time. Still, an enjoyable romp with an interesting setup of the new proto-fueled enemies emerging into our system. I'll continue reading through the final two books in this series, since they're always a fun read.

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4) by Martha Wells - I've been enjoying this series of overpriced novellas about a robot on the run, and though I know the series kicks off in new directions with later novels, Exit Strategy is the end of the initial storyline, and is a quick, fun read.

Acceptance: The Southern Reach Trilogy, Book 3 by Jeff VanderMeer - the mind-twisting finale of the mind-twisting series that began with Annihilation does well to wrap things up and left me, as with the other two, a bit uneasy. As a writer, I wonder how this series ever got published considering how conservative publishers act most of the time. Still, good for us it did.

Earth Unaware (The First Formic War, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston - a new series in the Ender universe, though pre-Ender. The story of the first Formic war. This book was long or felt that way at times. Unlike most two-author books, I could almost tell when Card and Johnston were writing. Johnston (totally guessing here) wrote most of the Mazer Racham storyline since the style is very different than the rest of the book.

Elevation by Stephen King - got this on audiobook, and it's a sweet tale of a man for whom the grip of gravity is slowly loosening. This and one other novella from King were touching with great characterizations, as always.

Doll Face by Tim Curran, been too long away from Curran's horror, the last being the amazing novella Blackout. Doll Face is clever and fast-paced, so much so it was actually pretty exhausting. 

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams by Philip K. Dick - in honor of the series on Amazon they released this collection of Dick's short stories. They were very clever and still relevant (though as always with a previous generation's writing one has to read remembering the time in which they were written).

I took some time last year to finally sit down and read some classic novels which were the basis for some of my favorite science fiction movies growing up.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin - Saw the BBC film version as a teenager and it amazed me. So good. However, the ending was completely nonsensical (2001: A Space Odyssey nonsensical). I told myself I would read the book someday. Forty years later, I finally did. Sort of explained itself better, though aside from my love of the film, this novel wasn't a very good read. One of my all-time favorite books (The Dispossessed) notwithstanding, I haven't been overly fond of Le Guin's work so far.

The Day the Earth Stood Still and Other Classic SF Novellas by Harry Bates. Harry Bates is a forgotten treasure. These stories were very fun. I have to say, they filmmakers took a LOT of liberties with the title story when they made the film. The two are nothing alike. If anything, the story takes place after Klatu is shot. What would humans do if Gort the robot didn't wake up and start killing people, but instead just stood there? In this case, they built a museum around him. But is he really inanimate? 

Logan's Run by William F. Nolan. I really, really enjoyed this book. The movie was close, but the book goes off in a new direction, with an ending that's far less optimistic. (Side note, Blogger is offering suggestions on words as I type and it's REALLY annoying how good most of the suggestions are. Stop it.) Logan himself is far less likeable as a character on the page, but for some reason you're rooting for him.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - this, the basis for the massive SF film BLADE RUNNER (a term I don't believe was every used in the novel), wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped. In fact, after reading his short stories, I discovered most of PKD's main characters are cut from the same mold. Quiet, sullen men who aren't too happy about life. As in the movie, the book hints Deckard might be a replicant, but never says (though sometimes he wonders). The story does reveal how they've infiltrated the innermost ranks of the police (another insinuation in the movie, ala James Olmos' character). Interestingly, the most interesting storyline is of J. F. Sebastian, the toymaker in the film who takes in the fugitive replicants but in the book simply a loner obsessed with androids. He's a far more interesting and likeable character than Deckard in the book. Still, glad I read it. 

In fact, if there's a film you love, sometimes you must read the book it derived from, to truly understand its origins. 

Another comic series I jumped into was:

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 1 - 3: Vader by Kieron Gillon & Salvador Larocca. Interesting how the author and artist expanded the canon of STAR WARS using the between-films jaunts of the main villain.  I enjoyed volumes 1 and 2, though 3 had a completely different storyline, enough that I suspect it was Vol 3 of a different series under the Darth Vader moniker. Beautiful artwork, it made Vader an interesting anti-hero, without losing any of the villainy that made him so appealing in the movies.

Other Non-fiction work I enjoyed:

Favored Not Forgotten: Embrace the Season, Thrive in Obscurity, Activate Your Purpose by Scott Silverii & Adam McCain - captured what I've been moving through in my life lately, this book says it's not only all right, but necessary to take a sabbatical from everything that you might be known for, step back into the shadows and let God show you - in the ensuing silence - what's next.

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis - finally, this has been on my to-be-read list for too long. Maybe that's why, though it is a decent, everyman's explanation for Christianity in a lot of ways, the book was not nearly as oh-wow-ish as some of his others. This is safe enough to be famous, but not nearly as inspiring.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine of Hippo, trans. Henry Chadwick. In fact I'm still listening to this and am blown away how one man's life sixteen hundred years ago can resonate so closely (at times) to our own. Covering Augustine's life from his atheistic youth to deep love for Jesus in later years, it is candid about how he struggles always with his own lusts. The translation is perfect (and though the introduction is a bit dry, it's critical for understanding the context of what you're about to read), bringing this man's words and life into today's minds clearly and enjoyably. Note - in an audiobook I can drift off now and then if what he's saying sometimes gets repetitive or vague. Recommend this route.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer - listened to this one earlier and though I don't remember a lot of it, I know the ideas and concepts were firing on every cylinder in my heart and mind. Bonhoeffer is a German scholar from the 50's and still so, so applicable to today.

A Church called Tov by Scot McKnight & Laura Barringer - a great book about keeping your church real and avoiding the traps so many western churches fall into. A reminder why we're doing this, and it's not for anything to do with the building.

The Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare by Chip Ingram - a friend in church has had some amazing, and at times frightening experiences so I bought this - which is, in fact, a set of four sermons by Ingram - on demons. Dealing With Demons 101 if you will. Very interesting stuff, and never gets too over the top (though might very much depending on your background)

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 3) by K.M. Weiland - a very helpful, interesting look at how most bestsellers are structured. When I began ghostwriting, the publisher used this approach for every book.

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene - was having such a problem with our ADHD foster child, I decided to give this one a listen. A lot could be applied. 

Speculative fiction aside, I tried a couple of general fiction books, but in both cases did not finish them.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin - In the past I've watched or listen to Baldwin talk, such an eloquent and unwavering intellect speaking out in the 60s against how the Blacks were treated, his voice never held enough sway to change things. Perhaps they did still plant the seeds. His writing is tremendous and very approachable. Being a gay man in his time, Giovanni's Room is partly autobiographical (though as one reads, there is less evidence the narrator himself is Black like Baldwin). The story is so introspective, there is hardly a story there at all unfortunately. To the point I eventually lost interest in reading.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - my above issue was the same here, in that I found myself turning to other books rather than return to this, acclaimed as it has been. The character, a wealthy aristocrat banished to a hotel's attic room after the communist takeover in Russia, was somewhat interesting, but not enough to pull me back in time and again.


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