Reading Highlights of 2019

I started 2019 with the intention of blogging about every book I read. This is an intention that eventually fell by the wayside because there are some books about which I really don’t have anything to say. These were the books that were neither great nor terrible, and about which all I can say is “that was okay”.

This post is not about those books.

I also read some really, really good books, and these are the books that this post is about.

Among these were two novels by Sarah Pinborough: The Shadow of the Soul and The Chosen Seed. These are the second and third parts of the Dog Faced Gods trilogy and, if you like dark urban fantasy, this series is well worth a read. The series is both dystopian and apocalyptic and keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

I also read a couple of (completely unrelated) novellas by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Expert System’s Brother is a science-fiction story masquerading as a fantasy and, while short, packs a lot of detail into the page count in a way that manages to be both immersive and gripping. The second Novella was Made Things which was a short and very readable tale about trust, loyalty and friendship. The question of what it means to be a person is a theme that often appears in Tchaikovsky’s writing and is one that is very apparent in both of these stories.

2019 was also the year in which I discovered C.J. Cherryh by way of Foreigner, the first book in her eponymous series. Foreigner is a first contact novel wrapped in a thriller, the twist being that, this time, it’s humans that have landed on an alien planet and having to navigate a completely alien culture. I cannot believe that I still haven’t gotten around to reading Invader yet — I shall have to rectify this very soon.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor utterly blew me away. At less than 100 pages, this was a very quick read but there is so much packed into this novella that it really is worth going back and reading it again. The synopsis I saw for this made it sound like a fairly unexceptional space opera. What makes it stand out is that by drawing on her Nigerian roots, Nnedi Okorafor manages to look at questions of culture and cultural identity is a way that is (to me) utterly original.

Another novel that felt completely new to me was The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Again, by not relying on the usual white western stereotypes, Jemisin presents a densely detailed world that is like nothing I have read before. I have already read the second book in this (The Broken Earth) series, and will be picking up a copy of The Stone Sky just as soon as I have the time.

And finally there is The Jennifer Morgue by The Jennifer Morgue, the second book in the Laundry Files series. This is, subversively funny, often unnerving and absolutely spot-on about PowerPoint.

The End of Christmas

Today marks the end of our Christmas break. The visitors have all gone home, the spare bed has been folded up for another few months and now all that remains is to clear up a bit and start getting ready for school and work tomorrow.

The tree is still standing, of course, but it will be disassembled and put into storage before too long.

But first, I shall start scrolling through the long list of articles and blog posts that I haven’t gotten around to over the past couple of weeks and start catching up.

How’s your 2020 going so far?

Call Me

I was going to start this post by claiming that a Rockabilly band with a name like The Hillbilly Moon Explosion must be Italian. It’s a good thing I checked, because it turns out that while the singer, Emanuela Hutter, is half Italian (the other half being Swiss), the rest of the band comes from elsewhere in Europe.

Their song, Call Me is a cover of the Blondie song of the same name, and is really rather good.

Five Things #19

Shades of H. P. Lovecraft in Nesters by Siobhan Carroll.

Was it just luck that Earth has plenty of oxygen? Lewis Alcott and Benjamin J. W. Mills suggest that breathable atmospheres may be more common in the universe than we first thought.

Luke at Start Your Meeples examines the enduring popularity of Carcassonne.

Ryan Billingsley suggests that if you want your kids to read, you should let them read whatever they want. This is a view I can wholeheartedly endorse.

And James Parker considers the joy of being middle aged.

That was the year that was

This is not a resolutions post, because I don’t do resolutions. That said, now is as good a time as any to take stock of where I am right now.

Looking back at where I was this time last year, I am quite pleased to be able to say that I do now have my weight under control. When I was younger, and cycling to work every day, I used to be able to eat and drink whatever I wanted with no need to worry. I’m older now, and commuting by car and by train, and back in 2018 I finally had to admit that it wasn’t my shirts that were shrinking.

I needed to lose a few kilos and, importantly, I wanted to do this in a manner that would be sustainable. I know what I’m like and I know full well that gym memberships and calorie counting are not things that I will continue with for any length of time. Instead, I have attempted to make some changes to my lifestyle and behaviour (more walking, less snacking) and it seems to have worked. My weight has fallen from 92 kilos to a near-optimum 81.3 kilos. I am not planning to make any further changes to my behaviour and, if I stick with my current habits, I should be able to stay reasonably healthy for the foreseeable future.

I also wanted to catch up on my unwatched DVDs. Finding time for this is still a bit of a struggle, although as my eldest son gets older, the range of films that can be added to our Saturday night film is slowly growing. I have stopped buying DVDs though and am no longer mentioning films when people ask about Christmas and birthday presents.

I am pretty much caught up on my unread books list and did reach my target of reading 30 books in 2019. That said, some of the books were very short — some of them not even long enough to be called a novella — so this feels like a bit of a cheat. I will give myself the same target in 2020, but this time with the aim of reading two and a half actual novels a month.

I’m still rubbish at Go. Improving, slowly, but I still lose way more than I win. I am not really trying to improve my game either at the moment, just playing for the fun of playing and seeing how things go (pun intended).

And that’s it really. I am going into 2020 much the same as 2019, but more so. There are other things I would like to fit into my life, but the challenge is always working out where to find the time, so I’m not mentioning any of these until I have some idea of the how.

All that’s left, therefore, is for me to wish everyone a very Happy New Year.

See you in 2020

The Future of Fireworks

Bruges replaces New Year’s Eve fireworks with drone show

It’s official – the city of Bruges will replace its annual fireworks show on New Year’s Eve with a light display by drones, with no intention of ever going back to traditional means.

The picturesque city has been granted approval for one hundred computer-controlled drones to be used to form figures, texts and images in the sky to celebrate the new year.

We’re not planning to be in Bruges for the New Year this time around. But if they do this again, I will certainly be keen to see what can be done with 100 drones.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I have grown up with Star Wars. I was nine when I saw the first film (then a self-contained film called Star Wars in which Han shot first) and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was hooked and rushed to the cinema when the Empire struck back and was thrilled when the Jedi returned. I sat through the (best forgotten) prequel trilogy more out of nostalgia than anything else and felt that sinking feeling when you see a franchise grinding to a miserable end.

Then Disney took control and, it has to be said, the House of Mouse really do know how to make a film. For me, The Force Awakens was an excellent reworking of the original film and The Last Jedi turned the franchise towards a new direction, leaving me both optimistic about where the next film could go, and slightly concerned about where it would go.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was everything I hoped for and then some.

Right from the start, the film delivers edge of your seat action scenes that leave you wanting to high-five whichever random person is sitting next to you. The dialogue is just as snappy as ever and the characters are all suitably engaging and keep you rooting for them throughout.

This being the end of the final trilogy, there are plenty of nods to what has gone before. None of this is overdone and, instead, it brings a sense of closure to this ending of the trilogy of trilogies and this makes The Rise of Skywalker a very fitting end to the nine film saga.

It is also a truly spectacular film.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a cinematic spectacle that raises the bar for whatever comes next. As such, it really does deserve to be seen on the largest screen you can find with the loudest sound system available.

And, if you haven’t already seen it, prepare to be blown away.

Five Things #18

In Dislocation Space by Garth Nix a Soviet political prisoner is ordered to use her unique talents to explore a strange scientific phenomenon. It could be a trap…or a way out.

With this second decade of the 21st Century coming to a close, Den of Geek has compiled a list of the top 20 movies of the decade. I’ve seen exactly half of them.

J Oliver Conroy claims to have found the seven most terrifying Christmas traditions around the world.

Carsten Welsch stretches his definitions a bit in order to talk about whether the science of Star Wars holds up. Short answer: it doesn’t, but look at this slightly similar stuff that is much more interesting.

Tom Jolliffe looks at the weirder wonders of cinema.