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Books of 2009

And another list – this time books. Not a great year for reading, with only 45 works of traditional fiction, 22 graphic novels (excluding my weekly comic stack) and 4 non-fiction. Within that I read 12 ebooks, most of which I paid something for (Baen are awesome, especially if you are addicted to Honor Harrington books like I am), 1 eComic (Surrogates on my iPhone) and 1 mp3 audiobook (The excellent David Sedaris’s ‘When you are engulfed in flames’, read by the man himself). I also had 1 ‘enhanced’ book on my iPhone, The Death of Bunny Munro, with text and a reading by Nick Cave synchronised, as well as offering videos of him reading (complete with waved hands). So, a bit of a year of mixed media.

One thing it does show is one of my pet peeves – when I show people my ebook one of the first comments from many is ‘Oh, I could never give up real books’. As the numbers above show, even a ebook fanatic like myself hasn’t given them up, far from it. It’s not an all or nothing thing – you can still read whatever you want, wherever you want, but ebooks are just another choice. </soapbox>

Anyways, other than the Honor Harrington series, with which David Weber has ensnared me to read rather good pulpy military sci-fi (he really seems to like beating up his characters), there are a few books that I really liked this year:

  • 1974 – David Peace
  • The Eye: A Natural History – Simon Ings
  • When you are engulfed in flames – David Sedaris
  • More Trees to Climb – Ben Moor
  • The Surrogates – Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele
  • The Napoleon of Notting Hill – GK Chesterton
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
  • Harker Book One: The Book of Solomon – Roger Gibson and Vince Danks

As with my previous post, I’m going to choose three faves: Harker as my favourite graphic novel, The Eye as my favourite non-fiction and When You Are Engulfed in Flames as my favourite fiction, even if it is semi factual essays.

If anyone wants a lend of anything on the list below, please let me know. You will be enrolling yourself in the “Billy’s offsite storage scheme” by which I leave a chunk of my book collection with other people, but you will get to read books. It’s a trade off…

And now the not-so-long-as-the-one-of-films list, in the order Goodreads has told me (which is sort of chronological-ish) tweaked to be slightly less unreadable:

The Steel Remains – Richard Morgan
Richard Morgan moves from SF to violent fantasy with lots of shagging. Setup for at least a trilogy and quite good.

Bye Bye Balham: v. 1: Warming Up – Richard Herring
Mr Herring’s blog edited into book form. Good if you like Richard Herring, which I do.

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington, #1) – David Weber
The beginning of my downfall – a free ebook of the first Honor Harrington book. Baen and Weber know how to put things out there to ensnare me, and ensnared I am. I really liked it.

The Honor of the Queen (Honor Harrington, #2)
The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)
Field of Dishonor (Honor Harrington, #4)
Flag in Exile (Honor Harrington, #5)
Honor Among Enemies (Honor Harrington, #6)
In Enemy Hands (Honor Harrington, #7)
Echoes of Honor (Honor Harrington, #8)
Ashes of Victory (Honor Harrington, #9)
The Shadow of Saganami (Honorverse: Saganami, #1)
And the rest of them…so far. I’ve still got another 4 to go I think, and that’s excluding the extended ‘Honorverse’ books written by other people and all of Weber’s short stories. I may have to stop myself before I get on to that pile. I really enjoy them and I’m not ashamed. Any more.

Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia – Roberto Saviano
Depressing as hell discussion of the work of the Camorra, the Mafia-ish organisation that is much nastier than the Mafia.

The Shadow in the North (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, Book 2) – Philip Pullman
The Tiger in the Well (Sally Lockhart Trilogy, Book 3) – Philip Pullman
Lent by Naomi from work, these are rather bleak (Sally doesn’t really have a good time of it) but good adventurey books.

Way Station – Clifford D Simak
Strange and rocking SF that I keep confusing in my mind with my only unfinished book of the year, Report on Probability A. Way Station – good. Report on Probability A – no clue…

Welcome To Hoxford – Ben Templesmith
Mr Templesmith makes pretty pictures and, it seems, can also write. Which is nice.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Depressing. I don’t want to see the movie as I suspect I would just expire in my seat of despair. There are also some cannibals in it, which is exciting!

Martin Martin’s on the Other Side – Mark Wernham
Clockwork Orangey dystopian book with some flashes of really good. Read as it was on the Clarke’s shortlist, but I think it might have been the weakest on there. Not bad though.

Swiftly – Adam Roberts
A nice alternative history post-Gulliver’s Travel book, with Lilliputian underclasses and Houyhnhnm soldiers.

Survivors: You’ll be surprised who gets left behind – Zion Ben Jonah
The maddest book of the year. An answer to Tim LeHaye’s Left Behind series, by a pseudonymous Australian, self published via an indian company incredibly cheaply (cut pages stapled together and then wrapped in a cover) and bought by me from Oxfam. It mirrors the Left Behind books and accompanies each chapter with excerpts from scripture justifying all of the things that happen in the chapter and pointing out the mistakes that LeHaye made. Unputdownable.

Nineteen Seventy Four (Red Riding Quartet) – David Peace
Really good – gritty, dark and slightly surreal story based around the time of the Yorkshire ripper. It made me buy the rest.

Nineteen Seventy Seven (Red Riding Quartet)
Nineteen Eighty (Red Riding Quartet)
Nineteen Eighty Three (Red Riding Quartet) – David Peace
Progressively more weird than 1974 and dropping in quality with each one. I read Tokyo: Year Zero (his most recent) back in 2008 and these veered closer and closer to that writing style, which while interesting is a bit too much for my tired commuting brain. In normal fashion, I’ve already mentioned these on the blog before.

Promethea: Book Two – Alan Moore, J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray
Alan Moore is still great at writing things and Promethea continues to jump around ideas of fiction and reality in a most excellent way.

Bad Science – Ben Goldacre
Ben Goldacre is also lovely. The chapter on medical statistics reminded me that I like stats too much and led to me boring officemates with seemingly broken maths for a week.

Cromartie High School Volume 1
Cromartie High School Volume 2 (Cromartie High School)
Cromartie High School Volume 3 (Cromartie High School)
Cromartie High School Volume 4 (Cromartie High School) – Eiji Nonaka
Not actually read all at once, but grouped so that I don’t have to write this more than once – this is my favourite manga series of all time and it is entirely crazy. I got onto it after seeing the first couple of episodes of the anime. Here is the first one:

Mcmafia – Misha Glenny
An excellent dissection of organised crime around the world, let down by a stupid rerelease cover. I’ve mumbled about this before…

20th Century Boys, Volume 1: Friends
20th Century Boys, Volume 2: The Prophet
20th Century Boys, Volume 3
20th Century Boys, Volume 4 – Naoki Urasawa
The manga that the films in my 2009 list are based on. Not quite as mad as the films (as there are 24 volumes of manga and only 3 films, you get a bit more time to digest things in the books) but still quite crazy and excellent. I think volumes 5 and 6 should be out by now (one is being released every 2 or 3 months) so they, and the next 4-6 volumes, will be on the 2010 list…

When You Are Engulfed In Flames – David Sedaris
My first mp3 audio book I’ve listened to and my first audiobook in general that I’ve heard in years. I chose well. David Sedaris is an excellent essay writer and he is very good at reading his own work, as he did on the mp3 I got. He’s funny, poignant and very good at constructing an essay. I spent a good week or so of walking around listening to this instead of music and I’ve continued the trend since, listening to podcasts rather than music any time that I’m wandering the streets on my own. I got it from Audible for free, as part of their ‘get one audiobook for free when you sign up’ deal, but then cancelled my account as it felt a bit too much cash for what I was getting. I’ve been tempted ever since with a number of offers that they’ve sent to try and tempt me back in. I may take the plunge this year.

More Trees to Climb – Ben Moor
A book version of three of Ben Moor’s spoken word plays that he has performed around the country. I saw him do Coelcanth, the first in the book, after reading it and it’s definitely been edited to work as a story rather than a performance by a suited, barefoot man with a large stick in his hand, and it still works. I really loved the book and got another copy for my mum for Christmas. You can buy it (and the soundtrack that I also have, which is rather good) on his website.

Twisted Metal – Tony Ballantyne
I liked his other books and quite liked this one as well – a take on a world of organic-ish robots, with hints of religion, morality and all the usual suspects.

The City and the City – China Mieville
I’ve loved all of Mieville’s books so far but this one did divide me somewhat – the story isn’t all that great, but the setup and the idea behind the setup is good enough to carry the book even without a story. So, in the end I rather liked it.

The Blade Itself: Book One of The First Law (Gollancz)
Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)
Last Argument Of Kings (The First Law, # 3) – Joe Abercrombie
I’ve avoided fantasy for most of the year but after a bunch of recommendations I went for Abercrombie’s series and ended up reading the whole lot in a couple of weeks – really good modern fantasy. Lots of shades of grey, no good guys and some good writing.

Coyote Rising
Coyote Frontier – Allen Steele
I like the Coyote books, even if they do sit in the box in my brain marked ‘low brow sci-fi’ for some reason. Nice bit of world building with some evil and frontierism thrown in for good measure. I think I still have a few more to grab.

Buddha Volume 1: Kapilavastu – Osamu Tezuka
I’ve never ready any Tezuka stuff before and haven’t seen anything of his that’s been adapted for TV, so I thought I’d give it a go with his biography of Buddha. I thought it was a bit rubbish – way too many jokes about peeing on things for my liking. It became my first Amazon marketplace sale – I even made a profit on it…

The Eye: A Natural History – Simon Ings
My favourite non-fiction of the year – a discussion of the way the eye works and how it might have evolved. Really interesting and very well written – I’ve read a bunch of stuff that Simon Ings has written (he even dedicated one of his books to an old boss of mine) and I’ve yet to find a bad book, fiction or non. Top work.

The Prefect (Revelation Space, Book 5) – Alastair Reynolds
I don’t remember much about it – more Al Reynolds space opera-y goodness and a good read. If I remember correctly this one even had a proper ending…

Grey – Jon Armstrong
A random e-book download this one, a sci-fi retelling of Romeo and Juliet in a fashion and media obsessed future. I quite liked it.

Screen Burn – Charlie Brooker
Charlie Brooker’s first collection of rantings – there was no chance I wasn’t going to enjoy it.

Scar Night (Deepgate Codex)
Iron Angel (Deepgate Codex) – Alan Campbell
The debut series by one of the developers of the GTA series. I got the second book from a box of ARCs, so eventually grabbed the first in hardback off of Amazon – I’m glad I did. The first book is an interesting fantasy book, with an angel, demons, a strange heaven/hell/earth structure and a city held above a pit by chains. The second takes the ideas of the first and turns them into a total mindfuck, with blood gods, a hell where you are your own prison (in a strangely literal way), floating ships of souls and an expansion of the world to a ridiculous extent. I’ve got the third book now, bought from a dying branch of Books Etc for a laughably small amount of money, but I’ve heard it’s not as good as the rest. Which is disappointing, but I have hope.

Saturn’s Children – Charles Stross
Another author whose work has always been really good. I didn’t like this one. I’m not sure quite what it was about it, but I found it disjointed and confusing as well as laden with references that were going over my head. It’s probably my own fault for not reading enough Heinlein. I might give this an almost unheard of second reading sometime when I’m not so wooly headed.

Eternal Light – Paul McAuley
Another author I normally like whose book I didn’t enjoy. Again with the confusingness which makes me think that this was maybe a part of the year where my brain shut down. Another on the fabled ‘read again’ pile.

The Surrogates – Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele
One of my first eComics (I read the new Star Trek movie tie-ins as well, but haven’t included them in this list for reasons of snobbery – they made the film make much more sense and were quite good) and an excellent place to start. The art is gorgeous and the story interesting, examining the impact of remote controlled surrogate bodies on the human race. The film is a travesty from what I’ve hard (although it’s probably a fun actioner), not really taking much from the book apart from the vague idea and Bruce Willis’s gut. Definitely worth a grab. Here’s an article about it.

The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave
An ‘enhanced book’ for my iPhone, setting me back the same cost as the hardback, bought because I know one of the guys who worked on it. A combination of the full text, Nick Cave reading the book (with a Warren Ellis [not that Warren Ellis] soundtrack) and a number of videos of Nick Cave reading it was a really nice package and I’m looking forward to their upcoming version of David Simon’s ‘Homicide’. Bunny Munro is a weird book – bleak, deliberately shocking and featuring a main character that it feels bad to feel sympathetic for. It was an interesting read (well, listen) but I’m not sure how much I’d say it was enjoyable. Worth a punt if you want to hear the tales of a sex obsessed makeup salesman as he wanders around the streets of Brighton and Hove…

The Squirrel Machine
Bought because the art reminded me of the strange machines of Glen Baxter, this is probably the weirdest graphic novel I’ve ever read. I’m still not entirely sure what went on but the pictures are beautiful.

I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets: The Comics of Fletcher Hanks
You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!
An very strange pair of books, collecting the work of Golden Age comic writer/artist Fletcher Hanks. After hearing of their existence I searched online to make sure that they weren’t a made up, over the top homage to the golden age, but it seems that Mr Hanks was a real guy who worked in comics for a couple of years before disappearing from public view, until he turned up dead, frozen to death, on a park bench in New York in the 70s. The stories are incredibly surreal, with the evil receiving fitting but strange punishments for their misdeeds, all illustrated in a detailed but exaggerated style. Again, I saw the machines of Glen Baxter in here, seeing his inspirations, and I loved both volumes.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill – GK Chesterton
I’m a big fan of Chesterton’s Father Brown books but have not read much more. I found this on Gutenberg as one of their prototype epub books and absolutely loved it. It’s funny, ridiculous, prescient and very clever. Thoroughly recommended.

The Drowned World – JG Ballard
I’ve not read much Ballard and I really didn’t get on with this. It is very well written, with a heavy claustrophobic atmosphere, but it just didn’t work for me. I suspect it was another casualty of the summer of dead-brain-ness.

Harker Book One: The Book of Solomon – Roger Gibson and Vince Danks
My favourite graphic novel this year – a comic that I picked up an issue of after Andrew in Gosh pointed out that it featured a bunch of locations around the shop. Independently produced, it became more difficult for Gosh to get copies, especially after Diamond (the comic distributer) pulled an annoying move of dropping a bunch of smaller titles. However, at a comic show this year Andrew managed to negotiate a deal with the creators and brought back a pile of collections and the next few issues after. The story is a bit Gene Hunt meets Sherlock Holmes, with great detailed black and white art. Story two has now started and has moved from Bloomsbury and the occult to Whitby and crime writers. Really good. They have a website.

Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim Versus The World
Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness
Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs The Universe – Bryan O’Malley
A really good series of comics that I’d never got round to reading, recommended by loads of people (especially Anna and Michael). Book 6, the final volume, is still to appear and a film, helmed by Edgar Wright, should be out in August. I am impatient.

Grandville – Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot does steampunk anthropomorphic animals with a badger policeman who likes punching the french? I, of course, enjoyed it. It’s a bit heavy handed in its parallels with the present day but it looks good, as Talbot’s work normally does, and is a good read.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards, #1) – Scott Lynch
More fantasy, but this one was the best I’ve read of the ilk this year. It contains the best chapter of fiction that I’ve read all year as well as a generally good story. I don’t think it quite kept up the pace and it felt a little long towards the end, but was still very good. I’ve heard that the series goes down hill from here, but this one is really good.

In Search of the Blues: Black Voices, White Visions – Marybeth Hamilton
An interesting book on the history of the blues and the concept of a ‘pure black voice’, something that the early white documenters searched for in the opening third of the 20th century. It didn’t introduce me to as many new artists as I hoped but was a thought provoking examination of the influence of documenters and their preconceptions on the creation of ‘historical fact’.

Bad Wisdom – Mark Manning and Bill Drummond
Out of print and difficult to find for a reasonable price, I’ve been looking for this one for a while after Matt recommended it to me a while back. Finally I got a copy and it’s totally ridiculous – alternating paragraphs between Bill Drummond of the KLF (the straight man) and Mark Manning, Z of Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, (the mad man) as they travel to the north pole to place a picture of Elvis, commune with Jesus and save the world. Z’s reality is not quite the same as Drummond’s and it alternates between a man musing about the nature of fleeting fame, music and his family and a crazy person, riding on spiked motorcycles with viking chippendales armed with chainsaws towards a final showdown with Satan herself, Madonna. Z also does a lot of shagging and likes the phrase ‘shit locker’ a lot. Not for everyone. Wikipedia’s comment is suitably downplayed – ‘Mark Manning’s writing style is graphic.’

I have used the words ‘Crazy’ and ‘Mad’ too much. I think I need to read less crazy and mad books…


Comment from Jon Armstrong
Time 5th January 2010 at 8:14 pm

Glad you enjoyed Grey! The next, Yarn, is on the way!

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