2016 in Fiction

BooksReading is my happy place.  In past years I haven’t really taken stock of my reading or reflected on how I felt about what I read.  Inspired by  Allana Mayer’s post, “My year in fiction” I’ve deiced to take a look back at some of what I’ve read in 2016.  According to my Goodreads account, which I try to keep updated with all of the books I read, I tackled 101 books in 2016.  That seems like a huge number – but some of that was non-fiction I read as professional development and that number also includes a handful of audio books.

Part way through 2016 I took a fairly serious look at my reading habits and tried to shift them a bit.  I love fantasy books but I realized I had fallen into a bit of a rut and many of the books I was reading were written by white males and contained very little character diversity.  As a result I decided to actively seek out queer lit and books written by women.  I was somewhat successful in that endeavor but it’s something I want to continue with in 2017.  I would also like to continue to read more books written by Indigenous folks and POC.

The Brandon Sanderson Obsession

Prior to making a decision to read more widely I began 2016 by rereading some of favourite fantasy books – namely the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson.  This is hands down one of my favourite fantasy series and contains some of the best female fantasy main characters I’ve read.  In 2016 I also read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, a fun young adult romp that features librarians trying to take over the world.  I also read Sanderson’s Way of Kings and Words of Radiance which are part of The Stormlight Archive series.  These books are more traditional epic fantasy, but I love their magic systems – use of archives and the mixture of political and personal that permeates these books.  I also ventured into Sanderson’s Reckoner’s series by reading Steelheart, Mitosis, and Firefight.  This series is superhero fiction based around the idea of what if there were a bunch of people with super powers who were essentially evil and it was up to regular folks to fight back.  These were really quick reads for me – and fairly light, albeit with a fair bit of violence and action.  I concluded by 2016 Sanderson kick by reading The Alloy of Law which is the fourth book in the Mistborn world – though it’s set many years later and with a different cast of characters it was still pretty great. Much more of a steampunk Western feel than the other books.   Basically I’m still working my way through the immense amount of writing by Sanderson and still loving most of it.

Charlotte E. English and Kristine Kathryn Rusch

These two great female authors were hold overs from much of what I read in 2015.  Both English and Rusch write SFF and their work has been frequently featured in bundles on Storybundle.  In January I read Miss Landon & Aubranel by English which was a historical fiction with a bit of fantasy in the mix and felt a bit like Jane Eyre in it’s writing style.   I also read Traitors by Rusch which unlike most of the other books by Rusch that I’ve picked up this one was more fantasy than Sci-fi weighted.  I loved the world building in this one however I still think I prefer some of Rusch’s more traditional SF fare.

All the Torchwood

Torchwood novels, BBC audios, Big Finish audios – you name it and I’ve probably sampled it this year.  I went on a bit of a binge on this front that fell outside the idea of diverse reading.  I blame the fact that Doctor Who wasn’t on air this year and I was going through a bit of a withdrawal.   I also read John Barrowman’s two autobiographical style books and the Hallow Earth trilogy Barrow man wrote with Carole E. Barrowman.  I still have a few of the Big Finish Tochwood audios to finish but I’m saving them for the long drive to Southern Ontario at the end of this week.

Doctor Who Reading

Similar to my Torchwood binge I discovered the world of Doctor Who novels and audios.  There are substantially more of these than there are of the Torchwood variety so I’ve really only scratched the surface on this front so far.  I listened to Dark  Horizons a eleventh doctor novel by Jenny Colgan (yay female writer!) that is a delightful romp with Matt Smith’s Doctor involving Vikings and aliens. I also read The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter, The Stone Rose by Jacqueline Rayner (yay another female writer!), Touched by An Angel by Jonathan Morris, Human Nature by Paul Cornell, and Shada by Gareth Roberts, based on the screenplays by Douglas Adams. Of that batch I particularly enjoyed the revamp of Adams’ original screenplays and Rayner’s eleventh Doctor story.

I also listened to a few Big Finish Doctor Who audios this year.  Namely, the Eleventh Doctor and Donna audios which I would highly recommend.  Catherine Tate and David Tennant do a wonderful job making these stories come alive. I also listened to the Destiny of the Doctor audio series which was also good.

Elizabeth Bear

So much love for her writing.  Strong female characters, subverted gender norms, queer relationships, and wonderful SFF storytelling.  I loved her book Karen Memory which has a steampunk feel to it and her Jacob’s Ladder series and the Jenny Casey series.  The Jenny Casey series in particular has a raw, gritty feel that I loved.  And one of the main characters is a Francophone Canadian which is downright rare in SFF.  I highly recommend any of Bear’s writing if you’re interested in reading challenging and diverse SFF.

Uncanny Magazine

I have so much love for this publication.  Edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas this magazine brings together diverse voices, moving stories, and just plain good quality fiction and prose.  Each issue contains challenging writing, inspiring fiction, and thoughtful essays. I’ve religiously downloaded each new issue in 2016 and devoured them with delight.  I also really enjoy the Uncanny Magazine podcast which includes creator interviews and fiction being read aloud.

Queer Voices

I’ve been actively trying to read books that are by queer and marginalized voices or contain well written queer characters.  I’ve also been struggling to find books that represent queer characters as part of a larger story, beyond just a coming out work.  That’s one of the reasons why I love so much of the writing done by Elizabeth Bear and so many of the stories in Uncanny Magazine.  In both cases queer characters are often written as matter of the fact, as part of life, and part of the fabric of the world.  That representation is so important to me and is something I’ve struggled to find.  This year I read Funny Boy by Shyam Selvaduri, Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, In One Person by John Irving, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, City of Night by John Rechy, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson, and The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham.  I probably enjoyed Middlesex and City of Night the best.  But I’ve also been really wanting to read a book with a strong bisxual, pansexual, 2spirit, asexual, or non-binary character.  And I have yet to come across a book that fits that bill.  The nearest I’ve come yet is Elizabeth Bear’s writing which subverts gender and relationship norms in a SFF setting.  If anyone has any recommendations in this category feel free to share.

Basically I read a lot and I’m really trying to change my reading habits to discover new authors and new ways of thinking.  There are bunch of other odds and ends I read in 2016 but didn’t cover in this post.  I also didn’t talk about any of the non-fiction I read this year as I hope to write a separate post covering that topic.  What’s on your fiction reading list for 2017?

Beer of the Month: Pie Eyed Pumpkin Ale

Another pumpkin beer. This one was by Nickel Brook Brewing Company (Burlington, Ont.) which I’ve tried a couple of beers from previously.  I haven’t been thrilled with their beer in the past – kind of a good but not great selection of beer.  Similarly, I have yet to find a pumpkin flavoured beer that is great.  I love pumpkin but that love doesn’t seem to transfer into pumpkin beer.

The “Pie Eyed Pumpkin Ale” fell about middle of the road in terms of pumpkin beer.  It poured a hazy copper colour with minimal head and smelt fairly strongly of spice.  The taste was predominately spice (cinnamon, all spice, cardamon) with a little bit of malt.  The spice wasn’t crazy strong but the balance didn’t quite do it for me.  It wasn’t really the flavour mix I associate with pumpkin and felt more like just a bottle of spices tossed together.  It was good but not really pumpkin at all.

Beer of the Month: Marzen Revisited

I was delighted to find that this month’s beer deliver contained a beer from the Black Creek Historic Brewery.   I’ve written previously about my love for the fact that their beers are brewed based on archival recipes from the 1800s.  I love the idea of using beer and food generally as a way to explore the past and connect present day people to history.

When I went back to read my recollections on the Black Creek Brewery I realized that I’d had their “Marzen” beer before, which is the one that was included in this month’s delivery.  This particular selection is brewed in the style of something from 1860s and I enjoyed it the first time.

My opinion of the beer has stayed fairly similar – I loved the balanced hop and malt notes in this beer.  It pours a dark amber that is almost brown, is unfiltered, and has minimal head. It’s a bit of a heavier beer which makes it a bit of an outlier for the traditional Marzen style, but despite that heaviness it is still smooth drinking.  I would definitely recommend this and buy it again.

Watching – Power of the Daleks

Animated Daleks

Animated Daleks

This year marked 50th anniversary of the Doctor Who story Power of the Daleks.  The original footage of this story has been lost and the hopes of finding it aren’t all the high.  Given the anniversary and the missing footage BBC opted to celebrate by creating an animated version of the story. It was aired on BBC stations, iplayer, and in theaters.  Since it wasn’t available on Canadian television I opted to attend the local Cineplex screening of the story.

I know it’s a bit of an obscure thing – an animation of a 50 year old TV program – but I was really surprised by the dismal turnout in the local theater.  There was a whole five us.  Despite that lack luster crowd I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This was the first time I was able to see any form of Doctor Who on the big screen and it was a neat experience.  The animation was interesting to watch and it did really bring to life a solid story.

That being said watching a six part story in theater is not at all how the original content was meant to be viewed.  It was produced as a weekly serial and the animation probably would have been viewed that way — which BBC America was airing it in six parts, which might have been a better watching experience.  One thing I wish the film version had of done was include quick fade to blacks or the episode titles in the longer version.  The sense that this was a six part story was completely lost in the film version and the cliffhangers that were built into the original story were greatly diminished in not giving the episodes space  – even if that space was seconds, I think it would have worked better.

In terms of the animation, the daleks were wonderful.  The TARDIS, Vulcan planet scenery, and the design of the regeneration sequence were solid.  The human characters were a bit less so.  The animation was done in a very realistic style but the physical movement of the people was a bit clunky.  It also seemed as though substantially more time was put into drawing and animating the Doctor with companions Polly and Ben feeling very one dimensional in their drawing and the other characters even more so. That being said it’s a solid story and the animation doesn’t hinder it in any way.  There was moment where a group of characters kind of side shuffle of screen that caused me to laugh out loud because of the awkward nature of the animated movement, but otherwise it mostly blended into the story.

I was also really impressed by the sound quality of the production.  The sound was remastered from a fan created audio recording from the original airing.  A recent Radio Free Skaro interview with Mark Ayres goes into detail about how this process took place and is a really fascinating look at how the audio for this project came together.

Overall I think this was a really interesting bit of the Doctor Who universe that’s been formatted in a new way and made more accessible to a wider audience. Plus seeing the classic Doctor Who opening and theme song on the big screen really made my day – it pretty much instantly put me a good mood.