Books of 2015

A short roundup, mostly for my own purposes, of what I read in 2015 (in no particular order):

  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, Chris Hadfield

My partner queued up for a signed copy (apparently Chris Hadfield has the manliest of handshakes) of this part autobiography, part inspirational pep-talk. Not my usual read but quite enjoyable and full of glimpses into a modern astronaut's training.

  • The Lost Road and Other Writings, Christopher Tolkien
  • Return of the Shadow, Christopher Tolkien
  • The Treason of Isengard, Christopher Tolkien

I'm getting a bit obsessed with The History of Middle-earth series. Volumes 1-5 cover Tolkien's writings before he started The Lord of The Rings; I've now finished those (with the exception of vol 3, dedicated entirely to poetry which even I haven't the fortitude for...yet), and am halfway though the 4 volumes dealing with Frodo and the Ring. Tolkien is my weakness.

  • Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell

A wonderful glimpse into both a war I knew almost nothing about, and the motivation behind Orwell's later novels.

  • A Song of Ice & Fire, George RR Martin

Yep, I re-read the whole damn lot. A part of me was holding out for The Winds of Winter being released this year, but I should have known better.

  • Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon
  • Odd John, Olaf Stapledon

Not one for sensationalism, I have to describe Star Maker as mind-blowing. Hands down the most original and expansive sci-fi novel I've read. Odd John is also interesting but doesn't come close.

  • Cosmographics, Michael Benson
  • A History of the World in Twelve Maps, Jerry Brotton

Two books about maps - sorry. The first is a beautiful coffee-table book full of illustrations from early renaissance painters through to visualisations of the universe; the second shows how the study of maps can describe the outlook, attitudes and biases of civilisations.

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

I'd never read any Le Guin before, but am definitely going to find more. One criticism I've heard is that this descends into a "boy's own" adventure, however there's more than enough discussion of politics / power / gender to focus on.

  • The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem

I couldn't find a copy of Solaris so picked this up instead; an extremely clever collection of absurd philosophy and mathematical wordplay which makes me wonder how on earth it was translated.

  • The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Short stories don't normally grab me, but some of these are simply marvellous - The Veld beats any episode of Black Mirror, and The Long Rain and Kaleidoscope are pure gems.

  • Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm

Following several generations of humans and their clones, this 70s novel is, on the surface, either a painfully obvious allegory for the author's opinion of Communism or a ham-fisted warning against GM. Awkward dialogue, unexplored mysticism and one-dimensional characters didn't encourage me to consider any subtleties the novel may have.

Others I read and don't have to say much about:

  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • Alpha and Omega, Charles Seife
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman
  • Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

A few DNS / DNF:

  • Dune, Frank Herbert
  • China, A History, John Keay
  • The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
  • Virtual Unrealities, Alfred Bester

And here's what I'm thinking for 2016:

  • The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • Day of The Triffids, John Wyndham
  • Persepolis, Mariane Satrapi
  • Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  • The Star Diaries, Stanislaw Lem
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  • Life on The Edge, Jim Al-Khalihi & Johnjoe McFadden
  • The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
  • Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, Gerard Russell
  • SPQR, Mary Beard
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde