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Sunday, December 31, 2023

Last But Not Least: Books I Read in 2023



Here we are at what has become the traditional final post of the year here at The Earliad: the list of books I read over the course of the last 365 days. As seen in the Goodreads screencap at the top of this post, I have at last crawled my way back to my baseline minimum of 100 books a year, a goal I've failed to achieve for the last few years now thanks to COVID-19, stress, and depression. 

But hey! The world is okay now. COVID-19 is behind us, human rights and decency are ascendant, the wealth gap is steadily shrinking, and we've turned the tide in the fight against climate change. 
. . . 

All right, nothing in that last paragraph is true, but somehow I managed to read 100 books this year anyway.


In 2023, I read

  • 82 works of fiction and 18 works of non-fiction
  • 52 science fiction novels, 21 mainstream, five horror, and four fantasy
  • 40 books by women and 60 books by men
  • 32 books from the 2020s, 29 from the 2010s, seven from the 2000s, five from the 1990s, eight from the 1980s, 10 from the 1970s, three from the 1960s, one from the 1950s, three from the 1930s, one from the 1980s, and one from the 1810s
  • Seven books by Charles M. Schulz, five by Kate Beaton, five by Matt Haig, five by John Scalzi, four by Stephen King, four by Nancy Kress, three by Sandy Petersen, three by Katherine Anne Porter, two by David Brin, two by Mona Clee, two by Diane Duane, two by Steven Konkoly, two by Jack McDevitt, and one by each other author on this year's list

Commentary and Analysis

Repeating my experience in 2022, I reread a lot of old favourites in 2023, including novels by Ray Bradbury, Mona Clee, Suzy McKee Charnas, Diane Duane, Daniel Keyes, Stephen King, Nancy Kress, Kate Wilhelm, and Connie Willis. I have only one thing to say about these rereads: I wish Mona Clee had written more novels. The two she published--Branch Point and Overshoot--are wonderful soft-SF tales of human folly and our efforts to do better and be better.

As promised last year, I read Roderick Thorpe's first novel about detective Joe Leland, a character Hollywood adapted twice--once as a straightforward adaptation of this novel starring Frank Sinatra, the second an adaptation of the sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever, as the action hit Die Hard. The Detective is more meditative and slow-paced than its sequel, but still worthwhile, and gives the character's journey added depth. I wish I'd read the two books in order. 

Last year Leslie gave me a novel for my birthday and one for Christmas. I don't remember which book was meant for which occasion, but I read Matt Haig's The Comfort Book first, and it really gave me an emotional lift when I needed it. Haig's style is warm and welcoming, and so is his subject matter, whether he's writing non-fiction, as in this case, or fiction, as in the other Haig books I devoured this year in response to the good feelings granted by The Comfort Book. Those books were The Midnight Library, How to Stop Time, and The Humans, works of speculative fiction with a common theme: making connections and dealing with trauma through empathy and a conscious choice to pursue understanding. All four reads left me feeling better about the world, and they were light but thoughtful. I'll be following Haig's work. 

The other book Leslie gifted me was Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway, a dense science fiction detective story about artificial intelligence, simulated worlds, and history's throughlines. It's a fascinating, nested, interweaving narrative, one I'll revisit again in a few years. 

I've long been a fan of cartoonist Kate Beaton's website, so this year I purchased all of her available works. The most notable was Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, an autobiography covering Kate's time in Fort McMurray, a place I'm familiar with through a couple of personal visits and my work in the public and private sectors. Knowing what I know about the working environment in Fort McMurray, I went into this book hoping that nothing bad would happen to Kate, but . . . well, one very bad thing does happen, and I wish I hadn't anticipated it. It made me wish that I could send Kate a message back through time telling her to pursue other opportunities. The book is very worthwhile and I'm glad I read it, but it's rough going in some places simply because Beaton doesn't shy away from the realities of her experience. 

In 2023 I read three books by fantasist Naomi Novik. The first, The Golden Enclaves, is the finale of a trilogy of works about a university of magic with campuses across the globe. I didn't find the conclusion of the series as satisfying as the first two books, but it was still engaging and enjoyable, and doesn't preclude further exploration of the world. I was more impressed by a pair of standalone novels by Novik: Uprooted and Spinning Silver. They explore the usual fantasy tropes, but Novik's command of characterization and structure make them both entertaining, breezy reads. 

Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream is grotesquely violent, absurd, and troubling--as it should be, because Spinrad posits an alternate world where Adolf Hitler was a science fiction writer instead of the mad dictator of our reality. The book's most chilling section, though, is the framing material, which expounds upon the outsized influence of this alternate Hitler's novel on his world: he achieves a cult-like following which has, if you read between the lines, influenced his world in reactionary directions that might, in the long run, do more damage to humanity than our Hitler achieved in the real world. It's a scary book. 

I stumbled across a fun experiment in 2023--an opportunity to read Bram Stoker's Dracula across the course of the year via emails sent out on the date of the letters and journals that make up perhaps the world's most famous epistolary. (There are some editorial allowances made for the long out-of-sequence section describing what happens on the Demeter.) Reading the book this way really connected me to the characters; it was like I had to wait for the various letters and newspaper clippings just as they did. 

The Road is my first experience with the work of Cormac McCarthy, and he certainly lives up to his reputation. Dystopic, bleak, hopeless, and sparse, this is one of those works that really captures the mood of the 2020s, even though it was written in 2006. McCarthy builds a vivid world, though; even though his prose is sparing, his choices depict his chosen milieu with crystal clarity. 

I had the most fun this year, though, with Leslie Vermeer's Last But Not Least: A Guide to Proofreading Text. As with her earlier The Complete Canadian Book Editor, Last But Not Least is written with great authority--Leslie knows her subject matter backwards and forwards--but just as critical to the book's value is the way Leslie expresses that authority with empathy, kindness, and authenticity. She also peppers her texts with fun little in-jokes, this time with an emphasis on cultural touchpoints in Edmonton, British Columbia's lower mainland, and Vancouver Island. They're lovely touches that don't distract from the message, and fun Easter eggs for those who spot them. 

It must be said that I've known Leslie for years, so I'm predisposed to enjoying her work. Despite this, I'm confident in predicting that Last But Not Least will be incredibly useful to working communications professionals. Indeed, as one such professional, I've had to perform my share of proofreading jobs over the years; in fact, I have a very large proofreading task coming up in January. Leslie's book does an incredible job of clearly and carefully defining the role of the proofreader, its importance to publishing credible text, and how proofreaders can succeed at the task. Last But Not Least will be by my side for my January task and others to come. 

(I did not proofread this post, by the way; had I followed Leslie's excellent guidance, this blog would be error-free, or nearly so. Blame the student, not the teacher.) 

Plus, Leslie was kind enough to include me in the acknowledgements for my teeny-weeny contribution to the book. How cool is that? I'm genuinely thrilled. What a lovely way to end the year! 


January: 11
The Detective (Roderick Thorp, 1966)
The Comfort Book (Matt Haig, 2021) 
High School Journalist, Promoter, Jester - Kurt Vonnegut in the Shortridge Daily Echo, 1937-1940 (Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 2023) 
The Effort (Claire Holroyde, 2021) 
Hark! A Vagrant (Kate Beaton, 2015) 
Step Aside, Pops (Kate Beaton, 2015) 
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Kate Beaton, 2022) 
The Princess and the Pony (Kate Beaton, 2015) 
The Midnight Library (Matt Haig, 2020) 
Fractured State (Steven Konkoly, 2016) 
The World of Star Trek, second edition (David Gerrold, 1984) 

February: 10
Rogue State (Steven Konkoly, 2017) 
They’d Rather Be Right (Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, 1954) 
Village in the Sky (Jack McDevitt, 2023) 
The Golden Enclaves (Naomi Novik, 2022) 
Uprooted (Naomi Novik, 2015) 
Spinning Silver (Naomi Novik, 2018) 
The Official Art of Big Trouble in Little China (Tara Bennett, 2017) 
The Art of Tron: Legacy (Justin Springer, 2010)
Robotic Existentialism: The Art of Eric Joyner (Eric Joyner, 2018) 
Tomb of Annihilation (Christopher Perkins, 2017) 

March: 10
How to Stop Time (Matt Haig, 2017) 
Old Venus (George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, 2015) 
The Dead Zone (Stephen King, 1979)
The Toynbee Convector (Ray Bradbury, 1988)  
Branch Point (Mona Clee, 1996)
Overshoot (Mona Clee, 1998)
Music of the Spheres (Margaret Wander Bonanno, 1990) 
Probability Moon (Nancy Kress, 2000) 
Probability Sun (Nancy Kress, 2001) 
Probability Space (Nancy Kress, 2002) 

April: 8
The Iron Dream (Norman Spinrad, 1972) 
We Think, Therefore We Are (Peter Crowther, 2008) 
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (Kate Wilhelm, 1976) 
Gnomon (Nick Harkaway, 2017) 
Fallout 4 Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide (David S.J. Hodgson, 2015) 
Dark Mirror (Diane Duane, 1994) 
Intellivore (Diane Duane, 1997) 
The Postman (David Brin, 1985) 

May: 10
The Art of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos (Pat Harrigan, 2006) 
S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters: A Field Observer’s Handbook of Preternatural Entities (Sandy Petersen, 1988)
S. Petersen's Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands: An Album of Entities from the Land Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Sandy Petersen, 1989) 
S. Petersen's Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors: A Field Observer's Handbook of Preternatural Entities and Beings from Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Sandy Petersen, 2015) 
The Actual Star (Monica Byrne, 2021) 
Murder by Other Means (John Scalzi, 2020) 
Travel by Bullet (John Scalzi, 2022) 
Wondrous Beginnings (Steven H. Silver and Martin H. Greenberg, 2003)
The Simultaneous Man (Ralph Blum, 1971)
A Deadly Affair (Agatha Christie, 2022) 

June: 12
Alien3 (Pat Cadigan, 2021) 
Old Mortality (Katherine Anne Porter, 1937)
Noon Wine (Katherine Anne Porter, 1938) 
Pale Horse, Pale Rider (Katherine Anne Porter, 1939) 
Observer (Nancy Kress and Robert Lanza, 2023) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 (Charles M. Schulz, 2013) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1956-1960 (Charles M. Schulz, 2014) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1961-1965 (Charles M. Schulz, 2015) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1966-1970 (Charles M. Schulz, 2016) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1971-1975 (Charles M. Schulz, 2017) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1976-1980 (Charles M. Schulz, 2018) 
Peanuts Every Sunday: 1981-1985 (Charles M. Schulz, 2019) 

July: 6
The Shining (Stephen King, 1977) 
‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King, 1975) 
Down to a Sunless Sea (David Graham, 1979) 
The Practice Effect (David Brin, 1984) 
Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes, 1966) 
The Lathe of Heaven (Ursula K. LeGuin, 1971) 

August: 10
The Last President (John Barnes, 2012) 
Hope Rides Again (Andrew Shaffer, 2019) 
How It Unfolds (James S.A. Corey, 2023) 
Void (Veronica Roth, 2023) 
Falling Bodies (Rebecca Roanhorse, 2023) 
The Long Game (Ann Leckie, 2023)
Just Out of Jupiter’s Reach (Nnedi Okorafor, 2023) 
Slow Time between the Stars (John Scalzi, 2023) 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960) 
Lincoln’s Dreams (Connie Willis, 1987) 

September: 4
Dr. No (Percival Everett, 2022) 
The Kaiju Preservation Society (John Scalzi, 2022) 
7TV Cinematic Skirmish Rules (Karl Pelleton, 2023) 
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818) 

October: 10
The Humans (Matt Haig, 2013) 
Artwork from Baldur’s Gate (Joachim Vleminckx, 2023) 
The Radleys (Matt Haig, 2010) 
Starter Villain (John Scalzi, 2023) 
King Baby (Kate Beaton, 2010) 
Holly (Stephen King, 2023) 
Return to Glory (Jack McDevitt, 2023) 
On His Majesty’s Secret Service (Charlie Higson, 2023) 
To Be Taught, If Fortunate (Becky Chambers, 2019) 
Walk to the End of the World (Suzy McKee Charnas, 1974) 

November: 2
Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897) 
The Machine Never Blinks (Ivan Greenberg, 2020) 

December: 8
The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2006) 
Touch Not the Cat (Mary Stewart, 1976) 
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Various, 1986) 
Upright Women Wanted (Sarah Gailey, 2020) 
The Defector (Chris Hadfield, 2023) 
Maybe There—The Lost Stories from Space: 1999 (David Hirsch and Robert E. Wood, 2023) 
Last But Not Least: A Guide to Proofreading Text (Leslie Vermeer, 2023) 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Interlude: Shadows of Terra

Previously on Jedi/Superman . . . 

Last Son of the Republic
Growing Up Under Twin Suns
Chariot of the Gods
The Emperor's New Genocide
The Quality of Mercy
A Job for Supermen
The Green, Green Glow of Homicide
A Dream of Droids
A Vision of Future Past
The Dark Heart of Krypton
The Phantom Hope
Wrath and Recrimination
Jest of the Fates

Not so long ago, in a star system far, far away . . . 

Deep underground on a primitive backwater planet far from the Empire, a small group of forgotten baseline humans huddled in a dark room lit only by an array of flatscreen monitors that glowed in hues of green and amber. These people were perhaps the surviving descendants of some long-castoff tribe, people who had long forgotten their true origins. Or perhaps the truth was quite the opposite; perhaps these were the original humans, fallen from grace, backsliding into barbarity after having conquered the stars. Or perhaps they were a rare example of parallel evolution. 

Whatever their origin, they shared an experience common to most humans: they were yoked in slavery to a great power. As ever, some submitted to their fate; others fought. 

“There hasn’t been a sighting for months,” said a voice in the half-dark. 

“It’s a trick. He’s waiting us out. Waiting for us to come out of hiding,” said another. 

“Or maybe he doesn’t care what we do while he’s gone, because he knows he can crush any organized resistance when he comes back. Even if we imprison every human Quisling tomorrow, he’d just set them all free when he returns or kill them all and put more traitors in their place.” 

A woman in her mid-20s stood up in front of the wall of monitors, throwing her shadow on the greenlit faces of her companions. 

“If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do,” she said. “If it’s hopeless, I’d rather go down fighting. I say we muster all of our remaining assets now. International Rescue, Universal Exports, the ILC—they all kept weapons and materiel in reserve for a chance like this. 

She paused. What she had to say next wasn’t easy. 

“And we should risk a transmission to Alpha.” 

Someone hissed in dismay. 

“Alpha’s our ace in the hole. It’s an absolute miracle he missed it during the initial takeover. If we lose Alpha, we lose everything!” 

“Risk is our business now,” the woman said. “We can’t just cower here anymore. When Zod returns, we need to hit him with everything we have. We know we have the numbers and the support to dismantle his puppet government. But that will take at least a month, maybe more, and we’ve already let months go by. I refuse to wait any longer to seize an opportunity that may never come again.” 

“She’s right,” said the industrialist, moving to stand beside the woman. “We’ve been too cautious. If we agree to act now, I promise you I’ll throw my entire fortune behind the effort.” 

One by one, others rose up—some more reluctantly than others. But they rose. 

“Freedom or death,” the woman said quietly. 

“Freedom or death!” the room shouted back. 

Even as the echo of that defiant cry faded, six billion Terrans went about the stale business of a defeated people—some daring to look to the stars above, many casting their gaze to the earth below, trying to ignore the finely-wrought statues or gleaming neon billboards that lionized their conqueror: 

Praise be to Zod, Ruler of Earth and Heaven. 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Riddle Me These

Here are two objective markers for the DC Multiverse Miniatures Game. I've painted them purple and green to match the Riddler's costume colours. 

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Western Legends

Today Sean came over for a couple of games of Western Legends, a board game where you take on the role of an Old West figure of legend and perform deeds of deviltry or derring-do to become the greatest legend of the era. We played two games: Sean ran away with a massive victory in the first by finishing off his escapades with some rather intense carousing, and he won the second by a comfortable margin by arresting my character (Jesse James), mining tons of gold, and finishing off with some more revelry. 

This was the first game played in the library space I've been converting for some years now. There's finally space for a small gaming table, what's left of my physical books, and most of my Lego and gaming material. Perhaps I'll finish this project in time for retirement. 

We also screened two cult films: The Visitor, a truly off-the-wall quasi-religious science fiction spectacle from Italy starring John Huston, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, and Shelley Winters; and Impulse, In which William Shatner chews the scenery as never before in a 1970s serial killer spectacle. 

A good day! 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Drifters and Prospectors

Here are a pair of drifters and a pair of prospectors for the board game Shadows of Brimstone. I used speed paints for these, and I'm pretty happy with the results; the details look fine and the colours are vibrant. 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Our 20th Christmas Together

Yesterday, Sylvia and I realized that 2023 marks our 20th Christmas celebrated together. Sylvia's mom captured a nice photo of us to save the moment. 

A John Saxon Christmas

I made it to the underground mall in Leaf Rapids at the last possible minute. It was gargantuan but nearly deserted, a seemingly bottomless pit of escalators, raised gardens, water features, hanging chandeliers, and storefronts in every dimension. I hadn't bought anything for Dad, and I was in a panic. Now I was riding one of those endless escalators up to a midlevel strip of stores, hoping to find something thoughtful and appropriate. 

"You've already gotten his gift, you know," said a voice behind me. I turned. 

"John Saxon?" I blurted, for there he was. 

"You don't need to get him a gift. He's with me, remember?"

The truth deflated me. I just nodded and leaned against the escalator rail as we rose. 

"He invited me over to watch you and Sylvia opening gifts together last night, enjoying the lights and music. And we were with your mom and Sean, too, in Leduc. And we'll be there tomorrow, when you guys get together."

"So you're getting along?" I asked, somewhat bewildered; for Dad had always irrationally hated John Saxon, though he'd never met the man. 

Saxon smiled. "Your dad never really hated anyone," he said. "We're pals now." 

Not really understanding why, I felt immense relief. 

"Just keep enjoying your life," Saxon said. "That's what he likes to see." 

"Is he still angry?" I asked, for my father was always angry when he came to me in dreams. 

"Only sometimes," Saxon said. "It's not forever." 

We escalated in companionable silence, and then I transitioned back to the real world, like a ghost slipping away from home. 

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2023 Day 24

An Ewok Xmas
Santa's hearty ho-ho-ho
Distant jingle Bells

Christmas in Leduc
Photograph by Sean E. Woods
Elizabeth's smile

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Friday, December 22, 2023

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Friday, December 15, 2023

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Monday, December 11, 2023

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku Day 9

Angelic heralds 
Sing Hark! to Captain Rogers
STAP*'s blasters silent

*Single Trooper Aerial Platform--as seen in The Phantom Menace


Friday, December 08, 2023

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku Day 6

Clone's wrapping paper
Crinkles; his ice sculpture crackles
As fireworks sizzle 

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Monday, December 04, 2023

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Friday, December 01, 2023