The 2019 Readcap, Pt. II

Well, that was 2019 and that was the 2010s. What a shrill, hateful, nihilistic, pointless decade. 

This year I read 33 books (the most I’ve read in any year since I started keeping count) and countless short stories in various SFF magazines. 55% of the books I read were written by women, so hooray for statistical gender equality! I liked pretty much everything I read this year, but I loved rather fewer things than I have done in previous years. I can’t say why that is exactly, but I still have some wonderful books and stories to tell you about so without further wasting your times, high quality non-content away!

Books:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Honeyman’s 2017 debut about a lonely woman’s long path to getting better is one of those books, the ones that hit the trifecta of having topical-yet-timeless subject matter, an effortlessly readable style, and being actually quite good. The closest point of comparison I have for this book is Mark Haddon’s brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, which has pretty much transcended the normal cultural reach of literature to become a genuine cultural touchstone. Eleanor Oliphant feels like it will achieve the same status in time. Funny, compelling, heartbreaking in places, and genuinely uplifting in others. Honeyman writes with the rarest and deepest kind empathy, the kind that shows us the full spectrum of human action and thought. From the monstrosities of Eleanor’s past, to the small acts of kindness that set her on the path to recovery, the book glows with warmth, thoughtfulness, and compassion. If you read one book from this list, read this one, if for no other reason than to say you’ve already read it when your children bring it home from school a decade or so from now.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers

I love generation ship stories. I wrote a generation ship story this year. But until reading this I never really found one that dealt with what it means to be a person on a generation ship, and what it means for the people who grow up after the ship has finished it’s long journey. Chambers writes with warmth and elegance, showing a depth of understanding of the Sci-Fi concepts she plays with that few in the genre manage. This is technically the third book in a series and takes place immediately after the end of the first novel in the series, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but this book absolutely can (and I would argue should) be read by itself. A great comforting reads for fans of Sci-Fi or generational storytelling.

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

Wharton’s widely loved novel about a wealthy New-York aristocrat in love with two women in the late 1800s is ostensibly a love triangle story,  but really it’s about the bloated decadence and shallow bitchiness of an outrageously wealthy and self-obsessed society. What Fitzgerald was to Long Island in the 1920s and Wilde was to London in the 1890s, Wharton is to Manhattan in the 1880s; a chronicler of a petty, spiteful, and repressed idle class struggling against their own moral decay. A thrillingly written story of romantic angst that pulls back the curtain in a dazzling plot turn to show you that reveals you were reading a different story all along. If you like turn of the century Americana or well written love triangles, you’ll really enjoy this one.

Short Fiction:

A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide – Sarah Pinsker

Pinsker is rapidly becoming my favourite writer working in short SFF today. Her stories are small in scope, but big on story and even bigger on heart. This fantastic tale of a prosthetic arm that thinks it’s a road in Colorado is a great example of her work, although I’d also recommend The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye, if you like your stories a little spookier. Both stories are available for free in written and audio format.

The Two Bullet War – Karen Osborne

Something about this story just sticks with me. Maybe it’s the series of domino like revelations that lead to an inevitable and heart-pounding conclusion, maybe it’s the strong central relationship, or maybe it’s how it packs a novels worth of story into just a few thousand words without feeling shallow. Either way, this tragic tale of forbidden love is available for free in both written and audio form.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies – Alix E. Harrow

Harrow’s Hugo Award winning short story is a triumph of the form and a richly deserving winner in what was an exceptionally strong category. This is a fine tuned, sanded down, precision instrument of a story. An a emotional stiletto to the blunt tool of the novel. Perfectly crafted and wonderfully uplifting, if you want to know just how good short fiction can be this is the story for you. Harrow’s novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January comes out next year and I am very, very excited about it. The story is available in written form for free.

Nine Last Days on Planet Earth – Daryl Gregory

Alien plants are falling to Earth! They’re growing and changing our ecosystems in unfathomable ways, but why? And more importantly how do I come out to my father? A delightful, imaginative, and empathetic story about family facing a changing earth. Gregory succeeds at showing us whgat feels like a real family in an SFF scenario where hundreds before him have missed the mark. A cracking good read. The story is free to read in written form.

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections – Tina Connolly

Probably the short story from last year that has the fondest place in my heart. This delightful, simple, intricate, and beautiful fairy tale of a baker whose products can literally send people back in time to relive their fondest or most horrible memories is a joy to read. Full of hope, masterful storytelling, and gorgeous descriptions of food, Connolly’s story is bright and inventive. It is free to read in written form.

I suppose it’s usual to pick a favourite of the year at this point, but unlike last year where there was a clear and obvious winner, I can’t really say I have a clear favourite for 2019. I will, however, the two books that have remained in my thoughts since I read them were The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett and The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. I would happily recommend both of these books to anyone, but I would say that seasoned readers of Discworld will get more out of The Fifth Elephant than someone who is completely new to Pratchett. Make of that what you will.

Alright, so now comes the difficult bit. The bit I’ve been dreading. The bit that I haven’t actually told anyone bar a handful.
As I promised in the read cap at the end of 2018, in 2019 I tried to write a novel. I sat down and wrote 500ish words a day, everyday until August, when I finished the first draft of the project at ~85,000 words. It was a hot mess. The beginning had little to do with the end and the middle was mostly unconnected vignettes, but I’d done it. I’d written a first draft. Where 90/100 people who set out to write a book fail, I’d succeeded. I’m still kind of proud of that accomplishment.
Then everything went down hill. I put it away for the month of September, focused on other things in my life and other projects. Nothing wrong with letting the thing breath a bit, I thought. And come October, I rolled up my sleeves and spent the month carefully pulling the book apart and putting it back together again into something that resembled a coherent structure. No actual rewriting had occurred yet, but I had a story that I could tell, with characters that I came to love. So, come the middle of October I sat down to start the second draft. The one that was going to make a mess of ideas a story.
In about 8 weeks, I had less than 5,000 words of a second draft and every single sentence was painful to write. It was exponentially more difficult than the first draft, and by the end of November I just wasn’t writing at all. I told myself that I would, but then I sat at my keyboard and didn’t for hours on end. It took another week for me to finally realise what was wrong.
To put it simply, the book had grown bigger than me. It was a book about a young woman dealing with the loss of her family, and a young man desperately trying to heal a mourning, downtrodden community and realising he can’t. I fundamentally believe this is a good story, but I cannot write this story with the sensitivity, understanding, and skill necessary to make it work. I cannot tell this story right now. I am not nearly a good enough writer nor have I lived long enough to do these themes and characters the justice they deserve. As such, I’ve put aside that story, and soon will be starting work on a different one.

So yeah, that’s where I’m at creatively. I hope to write more frequently for this place in the coming year, but I’m not going to make any promises as of right now.

If you’ve made it this far into this whateverthisis, thank you! I wish you all the best for the new year/decade and here are the two types of Panther, Actual and House.

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