Sci Fi, Oh My's 2016 Reading Round Up

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to set myself a goal of reading 2 books a month. That might not sound like much to some but that’s 24 books total and a lot for me. Happy to say that I made it! Effectively tripling the number of books I read in 2015. Yay!

I tried to read a wide variety of book in 2016 everything from thrillers, romance, fantasy, British comedy and of course Science Fiction. With all that came many different writing styles. I can truly say that reading more makes you a better writer. Not only does it help your creative side it also helps you to realize styles and devices that you really like and don’t like.  It reminds you what a reader likes and then you can take that back to your own writing. Now, I’m not saying you should write for anyone but yourself but you should write something that you would want to read. Just something to keep in mind.

I want to talk about the books I read this year. I’m going to do my very best not to have spoilers. Mostly I want to talk about things I learned as a writer from reading these books. Here we go. (LOTS of book talk ahead)

In no particular order…

  1. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
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When I hear C.S. Lewis, one word comes to mind. Prolific. But I’ll admit the only thing I had ever read from him was of course The Chronicles of Narnia. So I saw this and had to get it. C.S. Lewis in space! How could I not. I went in not knowing what to expect and found of course that even though the words were coming for a blobby type alien they were deep, profound and spoke to me. Leave it to C.S. Lewis. This is the first book in a trilogy and I haven’t had the chance to read the others yet but I hope to in 2017.

One thing I have noticed in many space travel stories is the common theme that we on planet earth are oblivious to the vast life that spreads across the galaxy. Instead of painting the human race as a pack of idiots, C.S. Lewis gives us the feeling that it is more of a tragic state than a laughable one. I was surprised when I found this book to be so profound in theme but I’m not sure why since the author is so well known for just that. Looking forward to finishing the series.

  1. The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
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Another first in a trilogy, a Nomad of the Time Streams novel, I guess you might call this a steampunk science fiction. I very much enjoyed this book. Thought I would throw that out there before I say it was while I read this book I realized how much I’m not a fan of forwards and prefaces. I know they have a purpose I’m just saying they are not my particular favorite.  It was also while reading this book or maybe right after I finished it that I realized something I loved about it, it’s pacing! The timing and pace was wonderful, everything in it was pushing the story forward. No chapter after chapter of forest descriptions or paragraph after paragraph of how to make a sandwich (silly example). It made me realize I like a story that gets down to business. My imagination can fill in more of the blanks of what's around me. Tell me something about the plot.

This also helped me realize that an author who paces stories like this, then takes the time to elaborately describe something it must be because it’s important. An example of this isHarry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in which J.K. Rowling actually describes Rowena Ravenclaw's lost Diadem and its location, (We had seen the thing!) but it’s only a moment and doesn't come into play again until the Deathly Hallows.  

Good pacing can add weight and gravitas to other elements of a story.

  1. Veronica Mars, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham.
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If you were a fan of the show this is a great way to get more of Veronica’s Nancy Drew like sleuthing. It feels very familiar since in the show we often had Veronica’s inner dialog to tell us what snarky things she was thinking, this book has much the same feeling. Falling into the mystery/thriller category, it’s not a genre that I usually gravitate towards but containing a character I was already invested in made it easy for me to dive in.

The character of Veronica Mars does remind me of something I struggle with in my writing and that’s character development. Taking my character from being one person when the story starts to a changed in some way person at the end. I tend to make people who I want them to be from the beginning. I’m working on it.

  1. Red Dwarf by Grant Naylor
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The first 2 books in the Red Dwarf series says the author is Grant Naylor. Grant Naylor is really 2 different people Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Something I didn’t realize till I started looking for the 3rd book in the series.

What can I say about Red Dwarf… Okay. Red Dwarf (Infinity welcomes careful drivers) is easily a stand out favorite for me! Bringing the idea of what British comedy is to a whole new level of storytelling. You might remember (or not) that this was also a show on the BBC back in 1988. I still haven’t tracked it down to watch it since I haven't finished the books yet.  

This space adventure comedy showed me that something can be totally, completely, absurdly ridiculous and still be fantastic! The British have a way of doing this. I can’t fully explain. This book had more moments than I can remember that I found myself in stitches thinking “Really? This this really happening right now? This is the most amazing thing I have ever read.” I enjoyed it immensely. So much that is made it onto my favorite books list and that’s a pretty short list.  

The other thing that I found interesting about the Red Dwarf series (and please don’t let this deter you from picking it up) is its lack of likeable characters. It almost feels like a whole story filled with supporting characters that in any other novel would be a background character that showed up for comic relief but instead these guys are what you get.

I realize that this book will probably not appeal to everyone, but in my opinion it’s pure brilliance.

  1. Better Than Life (Red Dwarf #2)  by Grant Naylor
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Continuing with a ship full of buffoons that you are now somehow inexplicably attached to, Better than Life takes us on to the next chapter of the Red Dwarf’s journey. Giving more of the crazy goodness.

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
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Talk about the kind of book I usually wouldn’t have picked out. But a friend suggested it and I did enjoy it. This falls in the romance drama category. Really, I should probably read a little more in this area since I find it difficult to write romance into my stories. This was very informative one ways to slowly grow two characters closer to each other. And SPOILER not all romance ends in a wedding and riding off into the sunset.

  1. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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This was an exciting book. Made all the more exciting by the fact it was written during a NaNoWriMo. Erin Morgenstern takes a beautiful story concept and weaves a magical tale full of whimsy. I didn’t love this book as much as it seemed many others did but I was still happy to take the ride. The author has a wonderful way of describing fantastic scenes of impossible things, but you know “magic” so…

Erin Morgenstern also uses a style in small sections of “Present Tense Writing”. A style you rarely see in novels. It reminds me a lot of the odd choose your own adventure books. “You’re standing in front of a forked path. To the left you see a forest. To the right an open glen.” That kind of thing. Writing that makes you feel like you’re living it. I can’t imagine an entire novel like this but it does remind me that you can try new things new styles?. Some of them might work some might not but it’s okay to try.  

  1. The Siren by Kiera Cass
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This is a  standalone novel by The Selection author Kiera Cass. It’s a haunting tale of a Siren’s life. You know a Siren, the mythical women that sing to bring boat crashing into rocks killing all that are one board. Yeah, those sirens. I like the originality of the concept. Though I had some small things I would have liked for her to explain more. This book reminded me how nice it is to read a standalone novel. A quick read that doesn't lock me into reading 3 or more books just to complete one story.

  1. The Crown by Kiera Cass (Spoilers)
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The 5th book in the Selection series. We are now following Eadlyn, the daughter of America. America is the heroin from the first three books in the series. I have liked the other books in the series but I wasn't overly in love with this one. I found that I cared about every supporting character more than I did Eadlyn. It might have been more about the kind of character I like more than the writing itself. What it lacked in keeping me invested it made up for in giving me what I wanted in the end.

  1. The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson
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An Autobiography of the actor that played Dwight K. Schrute. The only non-fiction book I read this year. It read like fiction as Rainn Wilson had the kind of life you would think had to have been made up. Nothing like  I would have imagined him in real life. It was odd to see behind the veil. If you’re interested in Rainn Wilson and his eccentricities this will give you deep insight but if you’re not it’s a pass.

  1. The Cosmic Puppet by Philip K. Dick
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Another author that qualifies for the word Prolific. You might not  recognize the name Philip K. Dick but you have probably heard of some of his work. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly are all his handy work. Can I also point out that Blade Runner is based on a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now is that a name or what? (I love it).

This novel reads much like an episode of the twilight zone. (Spoilers) A man rolls into the town he was born in only to find that things are a little off and according to the current town, he was never born.

  1. FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell
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This was my first read from Rainbow Rowell and another that was written during NaNoWriMo. Since this is the only book I have read from Rowell I’m not sure if this is her usual subject or if all her books deal with different themes. This is basically what I would call a coming of age story. Set in the real world and driven by the relationships in the book. I listened to it on audiobook and enjoyed it for what it was. A not too heavy story about a girl figuring out how to life.

  1. Prodigy: (A Legend Novel #2) By Marie Lu
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Honestly, I read this early in the year and I having trouble remembering a lot about it. Which just reminds me that I wasn’t overly wowed with it. I think at this point I was getting burnt out on teenage dystopian futures. I remember I liked it enough that I do plan to finish the series. What it’s taught me as a writer is to work towards coming up with something new and fresh. Don’t get me wrong; nothing wrong with a dystopian future but unless you have something that really makes you stand out you might just get lumped into a category that readers are bored of.   

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Mass
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This adventure into a fantasy world of faeries was enjoyable. I like to read and learn how other writers do their world creating. Since I find that exhausting, it’s the thing I dread about writing fantasy more than anything. That’s probably why I tend toward Science Fiction where I can base my stories loosely in the ‘real’ world. In that aspect, my hat  is off  to Sarah J. Mass. She does a great job at painting you into a new place with magical and impossible creatures.

  1. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
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Alright I had to take a deep breath before this one. I LOVE this book! It was a gift and I read it without the tiniest idea of what it was about and I am so glad I did. I finished it in 3 days. (Which is fast for me.) This Science Fiction thriller came to me at the perfect time. I was dealing with writer's block and a heavy dose of laziness in my writing. Dark Matter was the kick in the pants I needed. Wonderfully exciting, clever, and original it’s very hard to put down. I’m pretty sure at one point I had the book in one hand and I was flipping pancakes with the other.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series, The Restaurant at the end of the Universe, Life the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thank for all the Fish, and Mostly Harmless: by Douglas Adams   

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Back to my British sci fi comedy kick, I immensely enjoyed this series. Some of the books more than others but I see them all as one story. The first book is a fantastic nonsensical romp in the galaxy immortalized not only by Douglas Adams writing but also by Martin Freeman in the 2005 film adaptation. Though the script wasn’t as strong as it could have been, the casting was on point. With Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel being perfect matches to their characters. (In my opinion, which is the right one because this is my website ;D) But this isn't about the movies, I just appreciate that the Arthur Dent in my head will always be my hobbit friend in a bathrobe.

Each book the story becomes more exciting and even more confusing. It’s only one of the few times I find it pretty easy to let go of the glaring continuity errors. In fact, many times they are explainedlater. I mistook foreshadowing for plot hole more than once in this series. Sadly, Adams died in 2001 with the series uncompleted. There is only more “Official” book in the series but it is written by another author and I have yet to read it because am a skeptic.  

If you like British humor, it’s a great series. I even gave a compendium to a friend as a gift. I force her to read all the books I want to talk about.

  1. Armada  by Ernest Cline
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I’m a big fan of Ready Player One so when Armada came out, I had no hesitation in getting it. I wasn’t disappointed. It definitely felt like an Ernest Cline novel but that’s not really a bad thing, he just has a subject he really gravitates towards and that’s 80’s pop culture. A very different story and premise than Ready Player One but a similar feel that reminded me not only of his own work but also of Ender's Game. Definitely worth the read if you liked either of those books.

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
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Because it was a screenplay this was a quick read. Although not a “book,” I decided to count it on this list because… why not. Reading a screenplay requires a bit more imagination but lucky for us J.K. Rowling and David Yates have already established the visual aesthetic of the wizarding world.  Making it easy for me to create my own mental storyboard as I read it before seeing it on screen.  While I read this, I discovered that I wanted to write my NaNoWriMo project into a screenplay as well as a novel.

  1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Script by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, and J.K. Rowling
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There was so much excitement around this script from Harry Potter fans everywhere and I was no different. Even more so once I started reading and found it dealt in time travel. (Insert fangirl squeal here)

I hear a lot of people say they couldn’t really get into it because how it’s written. (Script and not a novel) My brain sees everything I read in a film adaptation in my head so I had no problems and got REALLY into to. I read it in only 2 days. It’s a great addition to the story but I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t pick  apart the time travel.

The Prisoner of Azkaban had always been one of my favorite in the series probably because it has a time travel element. Moreover, it handles time travel as I prefer which is a fixed time line. (I’m not going to go into that right now, this post is already long enough. If you want to talk about it, message me.)    But in the Cursed Child, Rowling abandons the theory of fixed time lines and moves to using a Dynamic time line. A HUGE continuity error that drives me CRAZY!

I understand that the whole plot of the Cursed Child hinges on a dynamic timeline so I pushed it to the back of my mind and enjoyed the story. But since I hate plot holes and the like, and this story has many, it was a bitter sweet read for me.

  1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
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When I found this at the used book store, I had to pick it up. I had seen the movie but wanted to read the original story and see how the author approached the unique situation.  Zero disappointment. Chuck Palahniuk blow me away with the odd style this is written in, that somehow works. Although I wondered if I hadn’t seen the movie first would I have been able to follow it as well as I did. (I guess I’ll never know.) I think it’s one of the best film adaptations from a book that’s out there. The film differs only very slightly from the book from scene to scene. This is a great book to read and take in different ways to foreshadow. If you already know the story you really appreciate all the small details more.

25.-ish (Reread) Ready PlayerOne by Ernest Cline

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I really do like it that much. It was my only reread of the year. It helps I have it on audio and Wil Wheaton narrates it. He’s amazing FYI. I enjoyed it just as much as I did in 2015 when I read it the first time. It’s another I highly recommend if you’re a fan of 80’s pop culture.

So that’s it! I’m looking forward to all the reading to come in 2017!