I read twenty books in 2018, which is exactly the same amount as I read in 2017. Reflecting on that last year, I said “It’s not as many as I hoped.” It does seem like a meagre amount, but in my defence, some of the books I read this year were fairly hefty tomes.
I decided to continue my experiment from last year of alternating fiction and non-fiction books. That didn’t quite work out, but it makes for a good guiding principle.
In ascending reading order, these are the books I read in 2018…
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
I started this towards the end of 2017 and finished it at the start of 2018. A good sci-fi romp, but stretched out a little bit long.
Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
I really enjoyed this, but then, that’s hardly a surprise. The subject matter is tailor made for me. I don’t think this quite matches the brilliance of Gleick’s The Information, but I got a real kick out of it. A book dedicated to unearthing the archeology of a science-fiction concept is a truly fascinating idea. And it’s not just about time travel, per se—this is a meditation on the nature of time itself.
Traction by Gino Wickman
Andy was quite taken with this management book and purchased multiple copies for the Clearleft leadership team. I’ll refrain from rating it because it was more like a homework assignment than a book I would choose to read. It crystalises some good organisational advice into practical steps, but it probably could’ve been quite a bit shorter.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
It feels very unfair but inevitable to compare this to Ann Leckie’s amazing debut Imperial Radch series. It’s not in quite the same league, but it’s also not trying to be. This standalone book has a lighter tone. It’s a rollicking good sci-fi procedural. It may not be as mind-blowingly inventive as Ancillary Justice, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, with guest editor Juliet Ulman
This book is free to download so it’s rather excellent value for money. It alternates sci-fi short stories with essays. Personally, I would skip the essays—they’re all a bit too academic for my taste. But some of these stories are truly excellent. There’s a really nice flow to the collection: it begins in low Earth orbit, then expands out to the Mars, the asteroid belt, and beyond. Death on Mars by Madeline Ashby was a real standout for me.
The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle
For some reason, I was sent a copy of this book by an editor at Penguin Classics. I have no idea why, but thank you, Sam! This turned out to be a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how many classics of horror and sci-fi are the work of Richard Matheson. He probably wrote your favourite Twilight Zone episode. There’s a real schlocky enoyment to be had from snacking on these short stories, occassionally interspersed with genuinely disturbing moments and glimpses of beauty.
Close To The Machine: Technophilia And Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman
Lots of ’90s feels in this memoir. A lot of this still resonates today. It’s kind of fascinating to read it now with the knowledge of how this whole internet thing would end up going.
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
This gripped me from the start, and despite its many twisty strands, it managed to keep me with it all the way through. Maybe it’s a bit longer than it needs to be, and maybe some of the diversions don’t entirely work, but it makes up for that with its audaciousness. I still prefer Goneaway World, but any Nick Harkaway book is a must-read.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Terrific stuff. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got about one tenth of the story. The book charts a longer arc and provides much deeper social and political context.
Dawn by Octavia Butler
This is filled with interesting ideas, but the story never quite gelled for me. I’m not sure if I should continue with the rest of the Lilith’s Brood series. But there’s something compelling and unsettling in here.
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Frustratingly inconsistent. Here’s my full review.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
I devoured these books back-to-back. The Fifth Season was terrific—packed to the brim with inventiveness. But neither The Obelisk Gate nor The Stone Sky quite did it for me. Maybe my expectations were set too high by that first installment. But The Broken Earth is still a fascinating and enjoyable series.
Programmed Inequality by Marie Hicks
I was really looking forward to this one, but I found its stiff academic style hard to get through. I still haven’t finished it. But I figure if I could read Sapiens through to the end, I can certainly manage this. The subject matter is certainly fascinating, and the research is really thorough, but I’m afraid the book is showing its thesis roots.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
This plays out its conceit well, and it’s a fun read, but it’s not quite a classic. It feels more like a Neil Gamain or Lauren Beukes page-turner than, say, a Margaret Atwood exploration. Definitely worth a read, though.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The world-building (or maybe it’s world rebuilding) is terrific. But once again, as is often the case with Kim Stanley Robinson, I find the plot to be lacking. This is not in the same league as Aurora. It’s more like 2312-on-sea. It’s frustrating. I’m torn between giving it three stars or four. I’m going to be generous because even though it’s not the best Kim Stanley Robinson book, it contains some of his best writing. There are passages that are breathtakingly good.
A Thread Across The Ocean by John Steele Gordon
After (temporarily) losing my library copy of New York 2140, I picked this up in a bookstore in Charlottesville so I’d have something to read during my stay there. I was very glad I did. I really, really enjoyed this. It’s all about the transatlantic telegraphic cable, so if that’s your thing—as it is mine—you’re going to enjoy this. It makes a great companion piece to Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet. Come for the engineering, stay for the nautical tales of derring-do.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Not as disturbing as the Southern Reach Trilogy, but equally unsettling in its own way. Shades of Oryx and Crake, but in a more fantastically surreal setting.
The Airs Of Earth by Brian Aldiss
A good collection of short stories from the master of sci-fi. I’ve got a backlog of old pulpy paperback Aldiss collections like this that make for good snackfood for the mind.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
A Christmas present from my brother-in-law. I just cracked this open, so you’ll have to come back next year to find out how it fared.
Alright. Now it’s time to pick the winners.
I think the best fiction book I read this year was Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon.
For non-fiction, it’s a tough call. I really enjoyed Hidden Figures and A Thread Across The Ocean, but I think I’m going to have to give the top spot to James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History.
But there were no five star books this year. Maybe that will change in 2019. And maybe I’ll read more books next year, too. We’ll see.
In 2017, seven of the twenty books I read were by women. In 2018, it was nine out of twenty (not counting anthologies). That’s better, but I want keep that trajectory going in 2019.