And so another year bites the dust. In December I did far too much socialising, got Covid for Christmas, had some wonderful times, went back to a long distance relationship with The American for a bit, regularly did my three person team’s job single handed, and generally feel in need of a holiday.
I also read an absolute shit ton.
What I read
Seven Killers by Gu Long translated by Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai – I didn’t think much of this story for a lot of it as it kept trying to throw in too many twists, but the last one was effective enough that I forgave most of what went before.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo – Very fascinating book. Structure is spot on. The quietness of the narrative and action was compelling. The ambition is huge and thoroughly well executed. I didn’t quite fully connect with it emotionally though.
Khaled by F. Marion Crawford – Quite fascinating story about a Djinn who is made human and has to win the love of his wife to win his soul. Not perfect, maybe a long way from it, but fascinating. Someone should steal the idea.
Dying Earth/Mazirian the Magician by Jack Vance – Baroque your heart out. It just feels so wild and poetic that I have to love it. First five short stories in this were really fun. The novella that’s the last part is less fun, but the ending is nice.
The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan – I’d kinda forgotten just how good this is. It’s full of alternate realities and gloom and a top notch quest, and the characters and use of the Darkfriends comes into their collective stride. The ending is magnificent.
The Farthest Shore by Ursula Le Guin – I remember this being quite nice, and instead found it preachy and dull despite many good elements to the story.
The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed – Interesting and charming novella about a part-blind would be Archivist, who lives in a hub between worlds for aliens. I veered between struggling to get into this and really liking it, but think on a re-read this one might really pop.
Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey – Big fun adventure that treads the line between goofy and gritty fairly well. Most of the dark stuff happens off-screen and what’s left is Tarma and Kethry doing a bunch of scheming and showing off how competent they are. They’re pretty easy to like, although there’s an occasional tendency to think as the plot demands than as makes sense for the characters.
Quest for Lost Heroes by David Gemmell – A reread where I really connected on a thematic and emotional level, elevating a very good quest fantasy where a young man persuades a group of crabby former heroes to help him rescue a a farmgirl that doesn’t even love him to a very powerful meditation on people as individuals vs people as things, and living with fear.
Eye Spy by Mercedes Lackey – I actually enjoyed this one, even if I have so many questions about the plot.
The Brentford Triangle by Robert Rankin – Painfully dated in some respects i.e. a completely unnecessary n-bomb and nearly as pointless homophobia. A fine yarn in most others, but a little too style over substance and the jokes are wearing thin, and those bits did kinda shock me.
Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold – Started slower than I remembered. But so very good and beautiful a book.
Tribe Novels: Children of Gaia and Uktena – Had some good funky spiritual stuff, so far from the worst in this series.
And I have a strange urge to write poetry about noses.
Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold – The start of a minor obsession. It’s fun, thoughtful, several genres in one, and reads quick. It’s almost like Wodehouse and Lucas decided to collaborate on a female led Space Opera.
Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold – Even better. Miles Vorkosigan is one of SFF’s greats as a characters who’s so strong but so weak, and this takes a crime caper’s twistiness and a bildungsroman’s emotion and sticks it into fantastic Mil Sci Fi.
Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather – Elegantly told with a solemn, hard-hitting feeling to it. Liked the characters. My main criticism is that this idea – nuns on a living spaceship attending to scattered colonies in the aftermath of a brutal civil war – could have used a lot more than a novella to explore it.
The Iron Hand of Mars by Lindsey Davis – My least favourite of the Falco rereads so far. Bit too much fact sharing, bit too little mystery, and not nearly enough Helena Justina.
Sharpe’s Company by Bernard Cornwell – Fun read, gritty read (insomuch as it can be with a guaranteed win at the end). Hakeswill is so astonishingly hateable.
The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold – A couple of things didn’t quite work for me but still super good.
Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente – I loved the prose in the sample then didn’t click with this one at all.
Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff – Absorbing and beautiful story. It feels plausible and evocative, and the heart goes out to Drem’s struggles (even if he’s got his head up his own arse sometimes)
The High Kings by Joy Chant – A mix of Brythonic myth, Arthurian retelling vignettes, and notes on ancient Celtic culture. The first are the best, but an interesting read all in all.
Byzantine Aristocracy edited by Michael Angold – A collection of essays the emergence and composition of the Byzantine aristocracy (roughly around the turn of the millennium). Some fascinating, some “we don’t really know much”, but an interesting picture over all even if it’s one I believe that’s being challenged somewhat by newer scholarship.
24 Hours in Ancient China by Yijie Zhuang – An engrossing piece of social history that uses the idea of snapshots into people’s lives as a way of getting across the general tenor of how people lived; what they did, ate, drank, believed, hoped for, feared, and so on. Very clever use of human interest to hook people.
The Poetical Cat: An Anthology edited by Felicity Bast – A wonderful, wonderful wee book. Highly recommended for the cat lovers in your life, and why have anyone in it who doesn’t?
24 Hours in Ancient Egypt by Donald P. Ryan – Not as engagingly written or as interesting as the one in China; it seemed more general and court-orientated than focused on everyday life. Which, judging from the foreword, is a source limitation issue. Still useful.
Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature by Kathryn Hume – Some very interesting ideas, although I think the work could have been shorter for spending less time giving the author’s opinion as to which work fell into which basket as objective reality, and also less annoying. Incidentally, I have a pet peeve against academics who go “let’s take this widely known term and use it to mean something different” because it very much seems to defeat the point of communication.
The Art of Coarse Rugby by Michael Green – A hoot. Much has changed about the game, but much has stayed exactly the same.
Eat Korean: Our Home Cooking & Street Food by Da-Hae West – In the net age, good cookbooks need to be super impressive, or full of fun tidbits. This one leans more towards the latter and the recipes feel very comprehensive. Solid addition.
Premiere: Film Cuts -Classic Movie Writing – Weird but intriguing little collection of interviews, diary pieces, and essays from cinema greats. Good view into some of the things going on in their processes.
Asterix in Switzerland by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (trans Anthea Bell) – Overlong buildup, so-so resolution. Meh by Asterix standards (i.e. just fairly good)
Kittyquest by Phil Corbett – Fun comic about a pair of anthropomorphic cat adventurers for kids. Main thing I dislike is that Guild of Kitquaroo is a dope name and should have been kept. Lovely comic otherwise.
A Disease of Language by Alan Moore – So incredibly dense and interesting. I wish I could write like that. A goal for the future.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons – Even on a reread, shocking in the best way. Pretty much perfect. Contains arguably the best villain mic drop in all fiction ever.
What Else I Did
Hello? Still there? I genuinely feel borderline apologetic – certainly a tad weird – about how much I read in December, but, I had decided to reach 200 books for the year and that’s how it happened. And it did. 202 books. Yes, I am somewhat proud. But we’re past the book section.
Food and Drink: Well, what is December for, if not for overindulgence?
I think the highlight was going to Dishoom (a small British chain celebrating the Iranian cafes of Mumbai). It was something The American wanted to do before she left, and we got to do it with some good friends. They’ve got a true special menu – their black daal and lamb raan in particular is great – and some wonderful cocktails.
We also did a bunch of takeaway and old favourite recipes. We did Tai Kitchen and Mikos Gyros – both highly recommended if in South London – as well as the ubiquitous Nandos. I’m sad we didn’t get to Hawksmoor, but there’s always another day. Recipe wise, I nailed my Cajun Chicken Pasta and wish I’d written down what I did. Harissa Lamb Tacos needs some research though.
Drink wise… wow, I did an awful job keeping Untappd updated. I did have two five star beers though. Vault City’s Blackberry Mango Coconut Dreamcake is an astonishing thick, fruity sour that I could drink until my stomach spewed bile everywhere. If you get the chance, I think Vault City are a special brewery. And the Awkward Handshake by Hidden Springs and Pontoon Brewing – a matcha macroon inspired sour with yuzu, coconut, vanillla, and milk sugar – was just as good. I’m not saying the way to my heart is fruity sours, as between the third and fourth rib is a lot quicker, but it’s very good. Also memorable was sticking Brewdog’s Chocolate Cherry Rum in Whittard’s Cherry Brownie Hot Chocolate, a bottle of Croatian white wine I remember too little about, and last but not least the last of my Wild Goose whiskey that I drank in the bath with bits of cork in.
And despite it all, I think the best thing I ate was the Chocolate Stout cake The American made. No, I don’t think she reads these round ups.
TV and Movies: I rewatched Heat and it remains the dog’s danglies.
I also finished (or at least finished all available episodes) of Superstore, Schitt’s Creek, and Brooklyn 99, all sitcoms that I used to really enjoy and come the end was somewhat happy to be done with. Granted, that’s usually how most sitcoms end, but these felt a bit more so than others. I considered doing an analysis post but stopped when I realised that Superstore and Schitt’s Creek basically nosedived for me as they stopped concentrating on great character dynamics (Jonah-Garrett, David-Stevie) and instead concentrated on characters who were awful and nobody seems to mind they’re awful. Not a lot to say there.
Brooklyn 99 is a slightly different kettle of fish and I’m reluctant to criticise the show’s last season as I struggle to think of a case of a show’s raison d’etre and it’s audience’s (and creators’) desires suddenly diverging so much. But the prior season felt played out before real life events ever happened – like they’d told Jake’s story and weren’t quite sure what to do other than the jokes, which weren’t quite enough. More than that, I think the last season opened my eyes to something that had kind of been there subconsciously for a while, which is I just wasn’t particularly interested in their take on serious real life societal matters. Why? I don’t they ever really committed to it enough, and I thought their romantic escapist comedic take on good guys and bad guys simply didn’t meld with a more mimetic, gritty take.
In fact, that’s just something I’m coming to realise about my current tastes. If you want to tell a heavily mimetic story about complex social structures, but want to give it the romantic sheen of Good vs Evil with clear lines and big simple victories, you’re going to struggle to take me with you. Not my cup of tea.
Anyway. I will very much miss Brooklyn 99’s characters. I will probably rewatch the hell out of the first six seasons.
Incidentally, can anyone think of any sitcoms that do go out with the creative side of it still on top of its game?
Music: I made a deliberate attempt to spend less time listening to individual songs, which resulted in a fair few Depeche Mode and Fields of the Nephilim concerts, and also not spend all my time listening to music beloved by goths. By listening to more metal. Which is also liked by goths. Shut up. The Dave Gahan and the Soulsavers Imitators album didn’t really do it for me sadly (although the Metal Heart cover still remains amazing). I also gave some of the Taskmaster musical tasks another listen – Taskonbury remains iconic and Rose Matafeo an underappreciated gem among contestants.
Exercise: Not a good month. Between us getting Covid one after another there wasn’t a lot of walking, which is just as well as my pronation had ruined another right shoe and was starting in on my ankle. Here’s to a better January…
And that’s everything. Now onto all the other roundup posts I’ve got from last year.