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?

Reading: Chicks Dig Time Lords

The Doctor Who reading continues with Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love it edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea.  It seems appropriate to write about thDigTimeLordsis book on International Women’s Day as the book celebrates female experiences, fandom, and perspectives. Squee and all other kinds of love for Doctor Who are openly embraced in the essays in this book.

Similar to Chicks Unravel Time this book focuses on the female Whovian perspective.  The tone of the book is a bit more casual with more personal reflections on Doctor Who fandom and personal experiences with the show. Unsurprisingly I loved this book. It’s a great mixture of academic style essays and memoir style writings about individual relationships with Doctor Who. The book recreates the sense of community many fans have come to cherish in DW fandom.

I found the online communities discussion interesting – partially because it has changed so much since the launch of new DW and and again since the book was published. I wonder how the authors’ experiences of Doctor Who have changed with streaming, changing online communities, and social media.

Some of the book’s high points for me were Shoshana Magnet’s essay on gender and race in DW; Lynne M. Thomas’ “Marrying Into the TARDIS Tribe”; Johanna Mead’s piece on costuming, and Carole E. Barrowman’s reflection on her brother’s role as Jack Harkness.

I’m following up this selection by reading Anything Goes by John and Carole Barrowman.  So far it’s a light read and a wit filled autobiography.

Reading: Chicks Unravel Time

cut_cover-web-194x300As I mentioned earlier my Doctor Who love has recently ratcheted up into overdrive and I’ve been on a consume all the cool Doctor Who things.  Well, maybe not all the things as there is a huge world of fandom and a unbelievable number of official/unofficial writings, comics, and audio recordings relating to Doctor Who.

A few years ago I got hooked on Storybundle.com via a Doctor Who bundle. Until recently that handful of books were the only ones I read that related to Doctor Who.  This limited reading was recently expanded when I picked up Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who.  I came across this book via the Verity Podcast which I can’t speak highly enough of. Chicks Unravel Time is a collection edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles which brings together female writers to examine each season of new and classic Doctor Who from individual perspectives.  The book features essays by award-winning authors, media professionals, and academics.  I was particularly impressed by the range of perspectives in this book and the different ways women have experienced and reflected on Doctor Who.

Some of the highlights for me included “The Doctor’s Balls” by Diana Gabaldon where she describes how campaign Jamie McCrimmon inspired her Outlander series; Jennifer Pelland’s challenging and thought provoking essay on “The Problem With Peri”; the humorous look at the sexualization and objectification of the Doctor in “David Tennant’s Bum” by Laura Mead; and Emily Kausalik’s look at the use of stock audio and the importance of music in season five in her essay “The Sound’s the Star.”

I didn’t love every essay in the book – but I appreciate the breadth of viewpoints shared and the ability of the collection to look at Doctor Who critically from so many different perspectives and the integration of so many distinct female voices. I can see myself returning to some of the essays in the future as I continue to learn more about Doctor Who and continue to watch more classic Who. In the meantime I’ve just started to read Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It. 

Listening: Verity and Doctor Who

While working on repetitive tasks I often listen to music, podcasts, or audio books.  One of my favourite podcasts is Verity! which features six women talking about Doctor Who.  Many episodes focus on a specific episode with the participants discussing their take, likes, and dislikes of the episode.  Recently, they re-watched and discussed “Rose” the first episode in the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who.  Much of this particular Verity! episode focused on reactions to the re-boot and reactions to seeing that first Doctor Who episode after the lengthy hiatus.

This got me to thinking about my personal discovery of Doctor Who.  Despite my love of all things fantasy, history, and sci-fi I came relatively late to the game.  I don’t remember ever seeing the show while growing up and I didn’t start watching immediately in 2005.  I came upon it by chance.  I was away for work and surfing channels in the hotel room.  Stumbled across a Christoper Eccleston era episode on TV and was enthralled. I have no recollection of what episode it was but I do remember that it was a two part episode.  While talking to Andrew on the phone that night I was like “I was watching this thing….can you please record the other half of this thing called Doctor Who.”  For me it was like discovering this brand new amazing thing.

For Andrew this moment wasn’t nearly as memorable and was more like “Oh, I know that show… it terrified us as children. But yeah, I’ll PVR it for you.  Which from what I’ve read Andrew’s response was fairly typical of a lot of people his age in Ontario.  Apparently Doctor Who aired on TVO for many years and often immediately followed children’s programming.  So the end of the Polka Dot Door would transition in the eerie sounds of the Doctor Who theme without much warning. The video below illustrates the terrifying blending of children’s programming with Doctor Who.  Seems a bit jarring.

TVO Polka Dot Door Outro Dr Who Intro by Retrontario