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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books I Read in 2016

2016 is fading into history, and while it was a hard year for many reasons, I take solace in having discovered some wonderful books, new and old. This year I managed to read 135 books, a new record since I started keeping track in 2011, but still short of the 150 I was hoping for. Maybe next year...

I've still failed to achieve gender balance in my reading, as noted below, even slipping a little since last year. But of the women I read, wow, there was some great stuff. I've mostly finished Margaret Atwood's works, save for the recently released Hag-Seed and a couple of her short story collections. The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride and Cat's Eye were my favourites. I found Surfacing, her second novel, the most puzzling - it doesn't feel at all like an Atwood novel to me, and I can't write it off to early author blues since her first novel, The Edible Woman, feels so fully formed. I was surprised to find that I didn't enjoy her MaddAddam trilogy as much as I had anticipated, and that could be because I'm deeply buried in science fiction tropes; all the speculative elements felt too familiar, and that distracted me from enjoying the character work.

This year I finished off the Harry Potter novels and started in on J.K. Rowling's other work, including The Casual Vacancy and her Robert Galbraith detective stories, worthwhile efforts all.

Finishing Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books (at least those available in the public domain) lifted my heart early in the year - they're such delightfully innocent fun, so good-hearted and full of life. I want to visit Prince Edward Island more than ever now.

My favourite woman author of 2016, though, is my friend Leslie Vermeer, whose book The Complete Canadian Book Editor was released this fall. Not only is it packed with tons of essential advice for aspiring book editors, it's written with great warmth, crystal clarity and perhaps most importantly, unfailing conscience. I'm obviously very happy for her, and I look forward to her next book.

After many years of promising to get to them someday, I finally read the works of Raymond Chandler, who did not disappoint in the least. As I remarked in an email to my friend Jeff, who I consider something of a Chandler scholar (or at the very least, a gifted analyst of the author), "He built an incredible world full of deeply sympathetic characters - even the villains are mostly just victims of another kind. And Marlowe himself is an astounding character, full of unjustified (in my view) self-loathing and soul-crushing, weary loneliness. And the prose is gorgeous, so very bittersweet."

Because 2016 saw the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, I found myself reading a bunch of Star Trek novels and behind-the-scenes books - as always of varying quality, sadly. The best of the bunch was the two-volume, roughly 1800-page Fifty-Year Mission, an oral history of the show and its spinoffs from the actors, writers, producers and crew who worked on the various series and movies. Even for a long-term Trekkie like me, these two books had a lot of interesting stories to offer. 

My friends who enjoy SF will doubtless be relieved to know that I've finally managed to read some of the seminal works of Robert Heinlein, long neglected by me: Double Star, Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I still don't think much of Heinlein's near-Randian politics, but I have to admit these were all crackling stories, and they helped me get closer to my goal of reading all of the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel nominees. 

2016 brings with it the end of Fantagraphics' excellent, 26-volume collection of Charles M. Schulz' Peanuts comic strip, some fifteen years in the making. Lovingly crafted, painstakingly indexed and featuring introductions from a wide range of celebrity fans of the strip, these are gorgeous books that I'm happy to have on my shelves for the rest of my life. And now I can say that I've read every strip. What a wonder it was, too - a real work of genius from start to finish. 

Those are the highlights of my year in reading; the gory details can be found below. Will I finally read The Lord of the Rings in 2017? Time will tell...

January: 14
Anne of the Island (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1915)
Anne’s House of Dreams (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1917)
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Stephen King, 2015)
Rainbow Valley (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1919)
Further Chronicles of Avonlea (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1920)
The Clone (Theodore L. Thomas and Kate Wilhelm, 1965)
Rilla of Ingleside (Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1921)
Phoenix in the Ashes (Joan D. Vinge, 1985)
New Maps of Hell (Kingsley Amis, 1960)
A Bird in the House (Margaret Laurence, 1970)
Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood, 1996)
Surfacing (Margaret Atwood, 1972)
Earthlight (Arthur C. Clarke, 1955)
The Lifeship (Harry Harrison and Gordon R. Dickson, 1985)

February: 10
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North, 2014)
No Enemy but Time (Michael Bishop, 1982)
Sight of Proteus (Charles Sheffield, 1978)
Brittle Innings (Michael Bishop, 1994)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling, 2007)
The Wild Shore (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1984)
The Gold Coast (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1988)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J. K. Rowling, 2001)
Quidditch Through the Ages (J.K. Rowling, 2001)
The Tales of Beedle the Bard (J.K. Rowling, 2008)

March: 12
Pacific Edge (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1990)
Press Start to Play (Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams, editors, 2015)
Star Trek The Next Generation: Armageddon’s Arrow (Dayton Ward, 2015)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews, 2012)
Life After Life (Kate Atkinson, 2013)
A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson, 2014)
The State of the Art (Iain M. Banks, 1991)
The Violent Century (Lavie Tidhar, 2013)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist (Kij Johnson, 2011)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects (Ted Chiang, 2010)
Julian: A Christmas Story (Robert Charles Wilson, 2006)
Oceanic (Greg Egan, 1998)

April: 10
The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling, 2012)
Star Trek Voyager: Atonement (Kirsten Beyer, 2015)
The Cuckoo’s Calling (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, 2013)
The Silkworm (J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, 2014)
Star Trek Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies (Kirsten Beyer, 2016)
The Long Utopia (Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, 2015)
With the Night Mail (Rudyard Kipling, 1905)
As Easy as A.B.C. (Rudyard Kipling, 1912)
The Book on the Edge of Forever (Christopher Priest, 1997)
I am Crying All Inside: The Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak (Clifford D. Simak, 2015)

May: 6
Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination (J.K. Rowling, 2008)
Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood, 1988)
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (Alice Sheldon writing as James Tiptree, Jr., 1990)
The Western (David Carter, 2008)
David Lynch (Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc, 2007)
Horror Films (Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc, 2007)

June: 10
Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2015)
The Dog Said Bow-Wow (Michael Swanwick, 2007)
The Ultimate Earth (Jack Williamson, 2000)
Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge (Mike Resnick, 1994)
A Kill in the Morning (Graeme Shimmin, 2014)
Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein, 1959)
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein, 1966)
End of Watch (Stephen King, 2016)
Central Station (Lavie Tidhar, 2016)
Stations of the Tide (Michael Swanwick, 1991)

July: 7
Good News From Outer Space (John Kessel, 1989)
Lady Oracle (Margaret Atwood, 1977)
Double Star (Robert A. Heinlein, 1956)
Who? (Algis Budrys, 1958)
Uprooted (Naomi Novik, 2015)
Hidden Universe Travel Guide: Vulcan (Dayton Ward, 2016)
Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe (Andrew Fazekas, 2016)

August: 19
Star Trek: The Art of the Film (Mark Cotta Vaz, 2009)
The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Susan Sackett, 1980)
Star Trek Enterprise Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code (Christopher L. Bennett, 2016)
Bodily Harm (Margaret Atwood, 1981)
The Complete Peanuts, 1999-2000 (Charles M. Schulz with an Introduction by Barack Obama, 2016)
The Edible Woman (Margaret Atwood, 1969)
Thunderbird (Jack McDevitt, 2015)
Star Trek Legacies Book 1: Captain to Captain (Greg Cox, 2016)
Star Trek Legacies Book 2: Best Defense (David Mack, 2016)
Star Trek: Child of Two Worlds (Greg Cox, 2015)
Star Trek: The Latter Fire (James Swallow, 2016)
The King in Yellow (Robert W. Chambers, 1895)
Five Murders (Raymond Chandler, 1944)
Five Sinister Characters (Raymond Chandler, 1945)
The Simple Art of Murder (Raymond Chandler, 1950)
Finding Serenity (Jane Espenson, 2004)
Serenity Found (Jane Espenson, 2007)
The Maker of Moons (Robert W. Chambers, 1896)
The Mystery of Choice (Robert W. Chambers, 1897)

September: 10
Dancing Girls (Margaret Atwood, 1977)
The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler, 1939)
Farewell, My Lovely (Raymond Chandler, 1940)
The High Window (Raymond Chandler, 1942)
The Complete Canadian Book Editor (Leslie Vermeer, 2016)
Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way (Bruce Campbell, 2005)
Moral Disorder and Other Stories (Margaret Atwood, 2006)
Quantum Night (Robert J. Sawyer, 2016)
The Colossus and Other Poems (Sylvia Plath, 1960)
Star Trek Legacies Book 3: Purgatory’s Key (Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore, 2016)

October: 10
The Fifty-Year Mission: The First 25 Years (Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman, 2016)
Emergence (David R. Palmer, 1984)
The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams, 1922)
The Adolescence of P-1 (Thomas J. Ryan, 1977)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 1: Seeds of Rage (Kevin Ryan, 2005)
Sid Meier’s Civilization: Civilization Through the Years (Sid Meier, 2016)
Life Before Man (Margaret Atwood, 1979)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 2: Demands of Honor (Kevin Ryan, 2007)
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Lois McMaster Bujold, 2015)
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series One (Emily Dickinson, 1890)

November: 16
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two (Emily Dickinson, 1891)
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Three (Emily Dickinson, 1894)
A Colder War (Charles Stross, 2002)
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood, 2003)
The Lady in the Lake (Raymond Chandler, 1943)
The Little Sister (Raymond Chandler, 1949)
Star Trek Errand of Fury Book 3: Sacrifices of War (Kevin Ryan, 2009)
Dark Matter (Blake Crouch, 2016)
Robots Have No Tails (Henry Kuttner, 1952)
The Long Goodbye (Raymond Chandler, 1953)
Playback (Raymond Chandler, 1958)
Double Indemnity (Raymond Chandler, 1943)
The Year of the Flood (Margaret Atwood, 2009)
Selected Essays and Letters (Raymond Chandler, 1995)
MaddAddam (Margaret Atwood, 2013)
The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood, 2015)

December: 11
Stone Mattress (Margaret Atwood, 2014)
Charlie the Choo-Choo (Beryl Evans, 2016)
Lifehouse (Spider Robinson, 1997)
Covergirls (Louise Simonson, 2007)
Delirium’s Party (Jill Thompson, 2011)
The Complete Peanuts: Comics & Stories 1950 to 2000 (Charles M. Schulz with an afterword by Jean Schulz, 2016)
The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains (Jon Morris, 2016)
The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years (Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross, 2016)
The Spirit Ring (Lois McMaster Bujold, 1992)
Irresistible Forces (Catherine Asaro, editor, 2006)
America Lost and Found: The BBS Story (various, 2010)

Nonfiction: 20
Fiction: 115

Science Fiction: 46
Mainstream: 39
Star Trek: 13
Fantasy: 10
Horror: 3
Peanuts collections: 2

Top Authors
Margaret Atwood: 14

Raymond Chandler: 12

J.K. Rowling: 8

Lucy Maud Montgomery: 5

Kim Stanley Robinson: 4

Robert W. Chambers: 3
Emily Dickinson: 3
Robert A. Heinlein: 3
Kevin Ryan: 3

Mark A. Altman: 2
Kate Atkinson: 2
Kirsten Beyer: 2
Michael Bishop: 2
Lois McMaster Bujold: 2
Greg Cox: 2
Jane Espenson: 2
Edward Gross: 2
Stephen King: 2
Rudyard Kipling: 2
Michelle Le Blanc: 2
Colin Odell: 2
Charles M. Schulz: 2
Michael Swanwick: 2
Lavie Tidhar: 2
Dayton Ward: 2

Books by Women: 55
Books by Men: 80

Books by Decade
1890s: 6
1900s: 1
1910s: 4
1920s: 3
1930s: 1
1940s: 7
1950s: 8
1960s: 5
1970s: 8
1980s: 10
1990s: 12
2000s: 25
2010s: 46

Friday, December 30, 2016

On Fatigue

One day a great author
Will scrape a well-chewed pencil across a sheet of scrap paper and
In so doing will write the definitive poem about
The problem of sleep
But I am not that author
And this is not that pencil

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Leggo My Ego

It was
1990 and
We huddled in 620 SUB
Between classes waiting
To grow up
(It still hasn't happened)
And someone said something funny
And I said "Leggo my ego!"
And Jeff howled with laughter like it was
The greatest thing since toaster waffles

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Interesting to the End

Back in June, millions of fans tuned in to watch the last episode of Person of Interest, a smart thriller about the growth of the surveillance state, the looming threat and promise of artificial intelligence, and the importance of doing the right thing even - or especially - in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I've written briefly about the show in the past, but I've never really given it as much attention as it deserved. On the surface, especially at first, it seemed like nothing more than another formulaic action-adventure series. But even those early episodes brought with them the show's clever conceit: a Machine that tapped into surveillance cameras, telephones, electronics and the Internet to track and predict potentially violent criminal behaviour. The Machine's creator, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson, best known as Benjamin Linus from Lost), not content to let the government use the Machine only to prevent terrorism, uses his creation to prevent crimes against ordinary citizens. He enlists John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former CIA operative, as his field agent. Along the way, they recruit semi-crazed hacker and Machine worshipper Root (Amy Acker), NYPD detectives Fusco and Carter (Kevin Chapman and Taraji P. Henson) and assassin Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi).

There's a catch: the Machine provides only the social insurance number of the latest person of interest, and doesn't let Finch, Reese or the rest of the team know if that person is a potential victim or perpetrator.

This factor alone kept up my interest for the first season, but it quickly became clear that the producers (particularly creator Jonathan Nolan) had bigger storytelling aspirations. As the show moves through its second, third and fourth seasons, it becomes clear to the protagonists that the Machine is a conscious being of immense power, and that it needs to be taught the difference between right and wrong, lest it rule the planet as the most brutal and efficient dictator ever known. To complicate matters further, a second Machine, Samaritan, emerges as the Machine's rival, and it seems to have already chosen to rule the world, recruiting human agents to do its bidding.

A solid cast of recurring characters, both villainous and virtuous and sometimes a little of both, add dramatic tension and verisimilitude to the show's events and themes, often embodying or illustrating the high stakes the protagonists are fighting for.

Finch and his team make heartbreaking personal sacrifices over the course of the show's five seasons, and not all of them live past the final episode, which wraps up operatically; it's a masterpiece of action, pathos, heartbreak and hope. Not many long-running, high-concept dramas conclude as satisfyingly as Person of Interest, and I'm grateful to the showrunners, cast and crew for delivering on the promise of the show's ambitions.

For those who haven't sampled Person of Interest, I highly recommend it. It's a great, thought-provoking ride.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

An Explosion of Christmas Colour

Mom and Dad always do a great job of stringing Christmas lights in front of their house. To get this effect, I zoomed out while the shutter was open. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 23

When the sleds collide
Worlds crash like shattered ice floes
No presents for you

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

One Rogue Review

When I went to see The Force Awakens last December, I Ieft the theatre feeling a little melancholy. There were parts of the film I enjoyed very much, but the whole was unsatisfying. The Force Awakens was fairly well-received by critics, so I started to wonder if I was the problem. Maybe, I thought, these movies aren't meant for me; maybe I've finally grown too old to enjoy them.

My reaction to Rogue One was entirely different. I was energized by a Star Wars movie that opened up the universe in a way I thought every film after the original failed to achieve. I was impressed by the verisimilitude of the military action; aside from its fantastic setting, this felt very much like the way a "star war" could play out. The Rebellion and Empire were both given additional definition and shades of grey, with sympathetic (or at least believable) characters on both sides. What little comic relief there was was understated and appropriate.

The film embraces its premise and doesn't take the easy way out. It dovetails perfectly into the original Star Wars, and there are plentiful satisfying touchstones for longtime fans of the films. Even the loathsome prequels are slightly redeemed, or at least given a touch of additional context.

I couldn't tell you the character names off the top of my head, and you'd think that would be a bad sign, but it isn't. There's the intelligence guy, the Imperial pilot, the blind guy, his buddy, the droid and the plucky heroine. And it's okay to think of them this way, because you're rooting for them all the way through the movie. Even the supernumeraries have little touches of personality that make you care about them as they fight and die namelessly.

This was the Star Wars movie for the everyman. There are no Jedi Knights or princesses or swashbuckling rogues or any of the other typical heroic archetypes; it's as if they made a Star Trek movie (if I can mix my fictional universes) with just the Chekovs or even the Baileys or DeSalles or Palmers of the Federation - the everyday Joes and Janes who do the day-to-day work that makes civilization possible.

I cared about what happened to these characters. That's the mark of a good film.

Aside from the timeless original, this may be my favourite Star Wars movie, surpassing even The Empire Strikes Back. The sacrifices depicted in this story give dramatic heft and meaning to the rest of the saga while telling a fast-paced, character-driven, compelling story of its own. It's quite an achievement.

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 21

O Christmas Tree of Hoth
Not the tree I'm looking for
A lonely trooper

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 17

"Gonk," said the Gonk droid
The Christmas Kiosk unmanned
They don't serve droids here

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 15

Tantive IV lunch break
But they don't serve androids here
At Xmas drive thru

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 12

Bothans by gaslight
Stealing plans on small cat feet
Droid cat feet at that

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Friday, December 09, 2016

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 7

Hell hearth no fury
Like a snowmantrooper's scorn
Fire all the snowballs

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Monday, December 05, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 5

Rebel fodder: "The
Christmas we get we deserve"
To sleigh, not to slay

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 4

Hark! Fireman herald
Sings a crackling Christmas song
Death Star gunner sweats

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 3

Ice-T.I.E. in the house
Prepared to drop sick beats for
Some Rebel gangstas

Friday, December 02, 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Lego Advent Calendar Haiku 2016 Day 1

A festive gunship
Drifts softly down in search of
A snowman and his boy