Welcome, everyone, to the year two-thousand-seventeen. I hope you’re seated comfortably. Let us begin.
I’m hopeful for this new year, because…well, because you sort of have to be, don’t you? The alternative really doesn’t do anybody the least bit of good.
Twenty-sixteen was a difficult year, for a lot of reasons — not least of all because of the US presidential election, following (for so many months) on the heels of the disastrous UK Brexit decision. Sometimes I worry about this sorry little world we live in. But hope, and working to make my little corner of it better, is really all I can do in the new year.
I hope you find ways to improve your little corners, too, and I wish you all the very best in 2017.
And now, some music.
I don’t really do “best albums of the year” or anything like that, but I do put together a mix every month of songs that I like. If you’re one of the imaginary people I’m writing this to now, you may have even seen some of those playlists earlier in the year. Then I try to pull together a combined mix, something like two songs from every month.
So that’s what this is. Some of the songs are from 2017, some are just tunes I heard somewhere along the way. Either way, these are songs I really enjoyed and wanted to share as we stumble forward into the new day. Enjoy!
And there it is, the end of the month, and the end of a year. Just a quick write-up of the month. It was mostly uneventful, a couple of weeks at the office (plus the yearly holiday party), and a couple of weeks on vacation. And there was Christmas, which was very nice. I hope yours was too!
So November. I think it’s safe to say that the first week of it did not play out as expected. The many long weeks since then have pretty felt just like shell-shocked aftermath. It’s anybody’s guess how exactly things will play out over the next four years, but it’s almost guaranteed to be difficult and ugly on a lot of levels.
I read Company Town by Madeline Ashby for my monthly book group. And I didn’t much like it.
It wasn’t terrible, but I think the group largely agreed with my own assessment: there’s way too much going on in the novel, with too few of its threads connecting or being resolved. And the ending…ooh boy. It’s rare to find a book where you want many, many longer stretches of exposition just so you can better know what’s going on and who everybody is. The book’s pacing is really weird, and it really does feel like working on a mystery without any clues.
It seems to set itself up for a sequel — despite rumors it’s a one-and-done — but I don’t think I’d read more. Maybe another book by Ashby, or even a completely rewritten and expanded version of this book, but no, not a sequel.
“A Shot of Salt Water” by Lisa L. Hannett (The Dark)
“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (Stories of Your Life and Others)
All but the last two were from 2016. I don’t set out to read current short fiction and nothing but, but it does often turn out that way. After last month, when I read a whole bunch of much older reprints, I was probably due.
I don’t know how this has happened, but September is over. It wasn’t a super-eventful month, but it also wasn’t too terrible as far as these things go. I read some stories, read some books, watched some movies, and listened to some (not much, actually almost none) music.
In September, I read two books: Stay Crazy by Erica L. Satifka and Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. I thought the former was an impressive debut novel and the latter, while not the best thing I’ve read by Valente, is full of a lot of playful and poetic writing.
How is it the end of the first week of September already? August went by very quickly.
I spent several days of it in Kansas City, MO, attending the 74th annual Worldcon (or MidAmeriCon II). After last month’s Readercon, where I wasn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders, I was maybe a little nervous about this one. It’s also the first really big con I’ve ever seriously been to.
(I mean, there was that comic book/sf/Star Trek convention I attended in…oh, I want to say 1988 or ’89? I was there only for a couple of hours, with my very bemused father, and I don’t remember much of it, beyond a lot of Trek costumes and my youthful enthusiasm at obtaining what in retrospect isn’t a particularly worthwhile comic. Oh, and a panel where, as near as I recall, Forrest J. Ackerman and Isaac Asimov amused themselves by being slightly dirty old men and celebrating one of their birthdays.)
Anyway, I had a lot of fun at Worldcon. It was not without its nervousness — I think I lasted all of five minutes at the late-night Tor party — but everyone I met was really great, and I attended some terrific readings and panels. I’m almost certainly going to next year’s in Helsinki.
(And yes, I was at that panel. It was exactly the trainwreck that’s been described. Which is a shame, really, because it could have been a very interesting discussion, worthy of much debate. That it seems to have been the only major controversy at the con, and that it was handled so quickly, is, I think, a real testament to the MidAmeriCon II organizers.)
I read thirty-four short stories, and I think I only counted one that I heard read at Worldcon, rather than read myself. (I mean, if I’m going to count podcasts in my one-a-day habit, readings have got to count too.) Anyway, my favorites included:
“Thundergod in Therapy” by Effie Seiberg (Podcastle)
“Between Dry Ribs” by Gregory Norman Bossert (The Dark)
I also really enjoyed the two stories I read in Jeffrey Ford’s A Natural History of Hell collection: “The Word Doll” and “The Angel Seems.” Both of them appear to be doing very simple things at first — the former is actually more short meta-fiction than short story — but both are doing much more interesting things under the surface. I said this on Twitter, but it bears repeating: I mean this in the best possible way, but Ford’s stories are kind of fucking with my head.
I’d read most of the Clockwork Phoenix collection earlier in the year, and I’ve mentioned some of the stories previously. Even when I didn’t love every story in the book, I loved the weird mix that Mike was going for, similar but different to the sometimes disquieting, sometimes dreamlike tales he publishes in Mythic Delirium. (Full disclosure: I had a story in that magazine last year.) The collection really is a uniquely impressive mix of stories.
I read Experimental Film for a book club…that actually met while I was at Worldcon. I probably would have gotten around to it anyway, though. There’s demonstrable proof that I’ve enjoyed Files’ writing in the past, for one thing, and I picked up a copy last year at Readercon. (Or maybe World Fantasy? I’m pretty sure I picked it up last year, along with her short story collection, last year at a con.) And I liked the book a lot — maybe less for what it has to say about film than about human interaction and storytelling. For instance, this:
…you’d be infinitely surprised what people will accept as a miracle, so long as it gives them something they really want: forgiveness of sin, unconditional love, the idea that your wounds make you special. That doing you art — your work — can help you save your own life.
I’m still not sure what my book club thought about it.
And finally I read The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, which is the sequel to a book I read earlier in the year, also for my book club. Like that book (The Fifth Season), this one is genuinely remarkable. If I was less gobsmacked by it, that was only because the rich world that Jemisin has created was slightly more familiar this time around, and there was maybe less for me to puzzle out as a reader. But her writing is just staggering, and there were lots of passages that left me breathless. Like, for instance, this:
Yes. It’s all so understandable, really, when she thinks about it. The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too. Then it’s all broken hands and silver threads woven like ropes, and mothers who move the earth to destroy their enemies but cannot save one little boy.
Seriously, it’s hard to imagine not nominating this for a Hugo next year. I’m just disappointed I’ll likely have to wait another year for book #3.
I didn’t listen to a lot of new music in August, or at least not enough that made enough of an impression to make me want to include it on my monthly mix. But here, for completeness’ sake, are the three songs I did include on that mix: