Thursday, December 27, 2012

Year in Review: Books

On one hand, this list is the easiest to compile. I read exactly one book that came out this year: The Wrong Goodbye by +Chris Holm. It was very good and I'll talk it up again below but I'm going to start off by making a very serious New Year's resolution - I need to read at least five books published in 2013 next year.

Which shouldn't get in the way of the fact I enjoyed The Wrong Goodbye or take way from Holm's achievement. Sam Thornton is a Collector, the disembodied spirit of a man bound to a demonic debt, collecting the souls of the condemned for the powers of the underworld. The Wrong Goodbye is the second in the series and broadens the story by adding details to Sam's past, including introducing two fellow Collectors to the story. When one of these former companions steals Sam's latest assignment, he goes on a twisted road-trip across America to hunt him down. Like any good story on the road, the narrative is leavened by set-pieces, the inadvertent kidnapping of a cowboy, a Lovecraftian crack den, and the jarring climax set in the middle of a Day of the Dead festival. What makes all of this work is Holm's talent for characters, straight-ahead narrative, and subtle mythologizing. If you like Chandler but always secretly wished some of the bad guys were literally hell-bound instead of just figuratively, The Wrong Goodbye is your book.

Now, I'm also going to include a list of the five other books I greatly enjoyed reading this year even though they didn't exactly come out this year.

5) The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power by Daniel Yergin. The story of the 20th century as told from the point of view of the Oil Industry. This is not a quick read but looking at World War II and the Gulf War through the prism of the principal resource of the modern world has lost none if its relevance. I would live to write a future history written in this style about some other crucial resource. Although some might argue that what Kin Stanley Robinson attempted in his Mars Trilogy.
4) Koko by Peter Straub. Under appreciated masterpiece of characterization and ambiguity in modern thrillers. A group of Vietnam War comrades attempt to track down a serial killer named Koko, a man they believe is a fallen member of their platoon. While nothing overtly supernatural happens in the story it's hard to read this without treating it as a particularly subtle firm if ghost story.
3) Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Some call it dated, I prefer to think its an artifact of some parallel and perhaps superior time line. The first in an epic trilogy expressly about the colonization and terraforming of Mars, but more accurately a record of futurist philosophy. It's hard to imagine how Mars will ever be more full of life than in the pages of this book.
2) Blindsight by Peter Watts: A group of unlikely astronauts encounter an alien life form at the far edges of out solar system. It's tough to decide what's more unsettling about this book, the emotionless protagonist, the paleo-vampire captain, or the sinister, subversive nature of the aliens. Also a novel of ideas, primarily the idea that consciousness is a hollow and tattered illusion. Bleak, powerful stuff.
1) Cloud Atlas: my friend Dave has been talking up this book for years and I finally decided to read it before watching the movie. A collection of inter- tangled novellas, each story bearing links to the others, each a nearly perfect meditation on the themes of slavery, hope, and cannibalism. Taken as a whole, this is the most successful novelistic response to the Internet, a book about networks, connections, and choices.
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