Off the Bookshelf: Summer’s End 2014

It’s November. Summer is long gone, and so is my summer reading list.

There were 15 books and four graphic novels on my official Summer 2014 reading list. I read 13 of the novels and five graphic novels, beating last year’s total of 11 novels and an equal number of graphic novels.

This surge of book reading productivity was due to my vacation at Lake Champlain, where I was able to finish four print novels and the five graphic novels. During the eight-hour trip north and the equally long return trip south, I made a significant dent in the 48-hour audio edition of Words of Radiance, but it took most of July to actually finish the book. Meanwhile the 14-hour road trip to Indiana and GenCon in Indiana gave me ample time to listen to Gary Gibson’s Empire of Light.

I started the last two books on my list — the print novel Consider Phlebas (Culture #1) by Iain Banks and the audio book The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham — but the beginning-of-school crush greatly slowed my reading pace. I’ve since finished The Dragon’s Path and I’m hoping to get through Consider Phlebas by the end of Thanksgiving weekend.

I was on a good pace to finish my print books until I hit John Ringo’s Gust Front. The first third, maybe first half of the book is all build up to an alien invasion. In the context of the novel it made sense to illustrate the desperate quiet before the storm but it was a slow read filled with the minutia of day-to-day military life. The story picked up considerably once the aliens made Earthfall, but by then I’d lost my momentum.

On the audio book side, I just didn’t have enough time. Words of Radiance had two days worth of audio. Even the 16-hour round trip drive to Vermont wasn’t enough time to slay that book. Even with my morning runs, I simply didn’t have enough time in the day to listen to the books I had queued.

So with all the books having been read, what was the best?

The top honor goes to Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson which was a satisfying follow-up to Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. We learned a hell of a lot more about the nature of the world of Rothar, the doom that came to it long ago, and its ongoing magical dysfunction. There are some surprising turns, including the early death of a major character that I didn’t see coming, and while it I got frustrated with main character Kaladin’s Superman II style power loss, Sanderson made good on the story arcs.

Second place is Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey, the fourth book in The Expanse series. This book sees humanity undertaking a gold rush as wildcat colonists flee the Sol system through a worm hole before the major powers can slam down emigration rules. It’s more of the same catastrophe-driven story telling, this time on a planetary scale, as wildcatters settle a world that is subsequently assigned to a corporation by the United Nations. The colonists begin a resistance campaign aimed at drive the invaders from their world, but both sides soon find themselves up against the planet itself. My only complaint about the book is that it incorporates a major resolution to the “protomolecule” storyline … but I’m not quite sure what happened. I need to re-read the book before next year’s sequel to see if I can puzzle it out.

Third place is The Hand of Oberon by Roger Zelazny, the fourth book in his Chronicles of Amber series. In it his protagonist, Corwin, begins to understand major truths about the multiverse his family rules, but he’s a long way from truly understanding the schemes that are afoot. The thing I love about this book, and the series in general, is how utterly convinced Corwin is that he’s in the know. There are mysteries to be sure, but he thinks he grasps the manipulations of his family members In truth, he’s oblivious to the large schemes, though in this book he comes closer to the truth than ever before.

Fourth goes to Empire of Light by Gary Gibson. This is the concluding book of the series and it does a satisfactory job of resolving the “Nova War” initiated in Book 2. Unlike the prior novel, it eschews torture porn and focuses on the implications of two galactic civilizations intent on killing each other by detonating one another’s stars.

Rounding out the top five is Lt. Leary, Commanding by David Drake. It’s the second book in the RCN Series and sees its namesake, Lt. Daniel Leary, receive his first command in the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. He’s joined by his right-hand woman, Adele Mundy, a librarian and spy, who takes on the role of an intelligence officer.

In it, Lt. Daniel and the crew of his corvette starship, Princess Cecile, get caught up in an interstellar conspiracy that sees them dealing with pirates and waging war against nearly impossible odds. It’s a fun space opera, and scratches the same nautical itch as Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series novels.

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