Saturday, January 26, 2013

2012 – Books Read in Review

Something I picked up from another site, I thought I'd take the chance to review all the books I've read over the passed 12 months.  It appears a fair amount, and an acclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction.  Who knew?

1. The Eisenhorn Trilogy (Xenos, Malleus and Hereticus), by Dan Abnett (8/10 each).  One of the seminal series for the Warhammer 40k novels, Dan Abnett takes us away from the grand armies and elite Space Marines clashing against titanic enemies and world-spanning conflict.  This espionage, crime thriller set in the far future does a marvellous job of expanding the everyday setting that the tabletop game is based on.  A really fun read with a great cast of fallible but supremely dedicated characters.

2. D-Day to Carpiquet (The North Shore Regiment and the Liberation of Europe), by Marc Milner (7/10).  This one was something of a professional development read.  It accounts the history of my Regiment’s advance through the landing at Normandy, through northern France and up into Belgium/Germany.  There are a lot of great stories within that frankly translate very easily to fantasy and science fiction.

3. The Way of the Samurai, by Inozo Nitobe (8/10).  Another notable review of samurai history, customs and culture of the era.  It covers content ranging from bushido as an ethical system to the samurai concepts of politeness, duty and loyalty, sincerity, as well as training and education of the samurai, to a woman’s place in society.

4. The Samurai: A New History of the Warrior Elite, by Jonathan Clements (9/10).  When writing about a fictional world based on samurai and ancient Asian myth and history, it behoves an author/prospective author to bone up on history.  This book was a great read and a treasure trove of ideas.  It also demonstrated just how much political manoeuvring played into samurai culture before and leading into the Edo period, which largely defines what we currently think of when we think of samurai.  A definite score and forced an entire re-write of my manuscript, which brought it leaps and bounds forward in terms of quality, complexity and characterization.

5. The Warrior’s Way: A Treatise on Military Ethics, by Richard A. Gabriel.  Another professional development read, this was primarily to reinforce some of the ethics lectures I’ve had to present throughout the year.  Adapting this textbook like reference to spec fiction sometimes provides a springboard for more in-depth characterization, particularly how to reinforce villainous activities.

6. Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein (10/10).  This was almost a dare from someone on the Writers of the Future boards.  I couldn’t help but admit that, after watching the film, the book held relatively little interest.  Once I got past the first page, I couldn’t believe my folly for not picking this up sooner.  Heinlein got both the military training atmosphere down to a ‘tee’ and he developed the character’s motivations in ultimately believable ways that anyone in the military would immediately identify with.  The over-arching themes and story arcs blended beautifully into an instant favourite of mine.

7. The Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (8/10).  Off another recommendation, this book literally took me three days to read over summer holidays.  It was that engaging.  The Arabic style setting is richly detailed and the characters involved play off each other really well.  The magic system and the main character (a fat old man desperate to retire) are very different from the norm.  I can’t wait to see if a follow-up novel is offered.

8. The Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay), by Suzanne Collins (9/10 for the first two, 6/10 for Mockinjay). I’ll be the first to admit that YA is not typically my thing; I bought this post-apocalyptic trilogy for my Kobo on sale.  I couldn’t put it down.  The play involved within the arena and the characters building up to the conflict were outrageous but well characterized.  The first two books were incredibly well done, while the third is something of a let-down.  Of note, I was impressed in the film adaptation, and equally surprisingly, so was my wife.

9. Ashes of a Black Forest, by Chris Evans (7/10).  Completing the escapades of an Elf leading a human regiment of musket bearing soldiers against a magical enemy threatening to take over the world, there are some really great characters herein.  A good twist on the norm, it’s 19th century technology and strategy meets Lord of the Rings.  A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

10. Helfort’s War Book 4: The Battle for Commitment Planet, by Graham Sharp Paul (7/10).  Not a huge fan of space operas and grand space fleet conflicts, this series was a definite and refreshing surprise.  The fourth book really departed from the first three, which I know upset a lot of his readers.  Personally I thought it was a brilliant departure and the tactics and politics involved in the insurgency on Commitment Planet, as well as Helfort’s involvement, were well played.  The only critique I must agree with is the Mary Sue-ism that Helfort’s character seemed to fall into.  That said, book 5 is on my ‘To Read’ list.

11. The Gathering Dark, and Walking Nightmares, by Christopher Golden (8/10 each).  After the initial trilogy, which I admit to rereading and enjoying much less than before, thus starts the new adventures of Peter Octavian, former vampire turned mage.  It builds on the original trilogy, taking the vampire mythos and turning it sideways in a very refreshing twist.  The new demons and enemies encountered are really wild and unique, each more than a match for Octavian alone; and there are still rogue vampires out there to deal with.

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