2012 Wrap Up / 2013 Preview – Reading

As seems to be the custom at this time of the year, I’ve decided to do a bit of summary of my year in reading followed by a few thoughts on the year to come. Being an engineer by training, I’m breaking this post down into a couple of logical sub sections. Well, they are logical to me. Go find your own damn logic if you don’t like mine…

I’ve also published a companion post on my year in writing.

Reading in 2012

Probably the biggest influence on my reading year has been joining the Australian Women Writers’ 2012 Reading Challenge. The challenge forced me out of my comfort zone. Not too far out – I stuck with speculative fiction of course – but it did push me to seek out more authors. The results of my reading/reviewing can be found at my “Mission Accomplished?” post from a while back – in total I read and reviewed 17 books by Australian women speculative fiction authors in 2012.

I’ve looked back over this blog at reviews published in 2012 and come up with some statistics. Note: Given the number of novels, novellas, multi-author publications, anthologies etc, I’ve used a whim based system for counting up things I’ve read. Sloppy workmanship may also be a factor. It is highly unlikely that anyone who could be bothered going through my back catalogue of reviews would come up with exactly the same numbers, however the percentages should be roughly correct. Stop complaining. What are you – perfect?

Stuff in book form:

  • Total number of books read: 42
  • Total by female authors: 25 (60%)
  • Total by male authors: 17 (40%)
  • Total by Australian/New Zealanders: 27 (64%)

Sean the Bookonaut has put up a post describing a gender audit of his 2012 reading recently. He has graphs. They are very impressive. As a homage, I am also including the following graph:

2012 gender reading

Stuff in magazine form:

  • Total number of short story magazines read: 21

On the short fiction side of things, in 2012 I tried to read AurealisAndromeda Spaceways Inflight MagazineAsimov’s and Analog. I failed, but I did keep up with Aurealis and ASIM (I have a lot of Asimov’s and Analog to get through).

It wasn’t included in my review statistics above, but I also read every monthly edition of the online magazine Antipodean SF. This is partly because AntiSF was where all my flash fiction from 2012 was published. It was also because I like keeping in touch with what new and emerging authors are writing and AntiSF is an excellent venue for that. It was also also because I create the ePub version of AntiSF each month and get advanced access to the stories.

In 2011 I started broadening the base of authors I read, this trend continued in 2012. I also tried to become a lot more familiar with the Australian speculative fiction scene.

Looking back over my Goodreads reviews, my 5 star reviews included two books by Deborah Biancotti (Bad Power and A Book of Endings), Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott, The Silver Wind by Nina Allan, The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, the Sprawl anthology edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Pyrotechnicon by Adam Browne. So, I guess that constitutes my reading recommendations for the year that was.

2013 Reading

I’ve joined the Australian Women Writers’ 2013 Challenge, so expect more reviews of Australian speculative fiction from some of our fantastic writers (starting with Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott – review coming soon).

There are quite a few “must read” books from 2012 that I haven’t actually read yet (e.g. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson). I also intend to have read the Ditmar and Aurealis Award short lists before the respective award ceremonies, especially so I can vote intelligently in the Ditmars.

In 2012 I completely failed to read the Hugo short list. I intend to fail to do so again this year.

I’m currently rethinking my short story approach, but I will look to read Jonathan Strahan’s Best of the Year for 2012 to catch up on the good quality short fiction from 2012 that I missed. I’m also considering committing to Strahan’s Eclipse Online series of short stories which I think is an excellent forum. I will continue reading Antipodean SF, Aurealis and ASIM in 2013, and will give Asimov’s and Analog a red hot go. Apparently I can only commit to publications starting with ‘A’.

Apart from that, I suspect my short fiction reading will be spotty.

In terms of books:

  • I am really looking forward to Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott, Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung and Quiver by Jason Fischer. They are all loaded up on the Kindle ready to read and get my year off to an Australian start.
  • I also should mention the last volume of the Wheel of Time series is coming out in a few days. I started reading this series when I was a teenager and now sheer bloody mindedness is keeping me going. Having said that the last three books did lead me to the writing of Brandon Sanderson and I do quite like his work. But mostly I just need to see how the damn thing ends.
  • I’m also hanging out to see what Deborah Biancotti does next. Given how much I’ve enjoyed all her work so far, I don’t even really mind what it is that she writes, but I am secretly hoping for something longer set in the Bad Power universe.
  • I’ve just received the Library of America 1950s Sci-Fi collection curated by Gary K Wolfe – I think there are 9 novels in there, which will constitute the “learning more about the history of the genre” phase of my reading this year.

That’s about if for now – I’m sure there is more to say but my spidey-sense is telling me that you, dear reader, have run out of patience for reading this post. Stay tuned for a brief discussion of my writing year in review and thoughts for 2013.

Hope you all had a great 2012 and will have an even better 2013.

I’d love to hear your reading suggestions/hopes for 2013 – feel free to comment below or provide links to your own blog posts on the issue.

In which I become less impressed with my AWWC achievements

I recently posted on me reaching my target in the Australian Women Writers’ 2012 Reading  Challenge. I was (and still am) happy that I’ve participated in the challenge – everything that I said in the original post about expanding my reading etc still holds true.

As a part of the post I added up all the reviews that I’d done since I started this website to check the gender breakdown. It turned out it was roughly equal (16 female authors compared to 14 male authors). I was pretty happy with that too.

That’s the part I’ve been thinking about over the last week. While I remain satisfied with the ratio, there was one aspect of my own reaction that has started to bug me.

I feel like I’ve been reading mostly women authors over the last 6 months or so. I sought out books written by women in the genres I’m interested in and made a point of prioritising women authors in my to-be-read list. I didn’t feel like I was reading many male authors at all and that my reading was “dominated” by female authors.

And it still came out 50/50.

It was a stark reminder of the power of unconscious biases. Admittedly my sample was pretty small, but somehow I’d “made an effort” reading 16 books by female authors, while reading 14 books by male authors had somehow happened without me noticing.

I consider myself a firm believer in equality. I don’t think I engage in any conscious sexist behaviour and I believe in judging individuals on their merits, not based on a stereotype or cliche. I knew I’d been guilty of letting my reading circle shrink over the years, but the fact that pre-challenge I was reading mainly male authors I put down to being time poor and perhaps a little conventional in sticking with authors I’d discovered in my youth.

Thinking about my reaction and listening to some of the discussion in the last couple of episodes of The Writer and the Critic podcast (episodes 18 and 19) when Ian and Kirstyn spoke at length about some of the default male centric settings in modern Australian society has left me a bit shell shocked. It’s triggered a lot of self reflection. I blame the bloody objective data. Self delusion would be a lot easier without it.

I look forward to the day when maintaining a more diverse reading pattern doesn’t seem like an effort. But in the mean time I’ll continue on with the AWWC, listening to excellent podcasts like The Writer and the Critic when they intelligently discuss these kinds of issues and hope like hell I’m able to evolve!

Looking for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Speculative Fiction to Read

There has been a lot of discussion about gender balance in Australian authors/award nominations etc over the last few years (most recently represented by some interesting posts by Ian Mond crunching statistics from the Ditmar awards – plus a follow up – and a guest post by Tansy Rayner Roberts entitled Is Australian Fantasy Dominated by Women on Cheryl Morgan’s website). I’ve found all these discussions very interesting and they have had an impact on my reading and writing.

As previous posts on this blog have shown (e.g. my reading comfort zone), I’ve been trying to expand my reading of late, in particular attempting to read more broadly across Australian speculative fiction and participating in the Australian Women Writers’ 2012 Reading Challenge. While obviously the pursuit of gender equity in my reading will never be complete, I am interested in exploring other aspects of diversity in the Australian speculative fiction community. To that end, I’m attempting to seek out Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander speculative fiction authors.

My search isn’t going too well so I suspect I’m not looking in the right places. So let me set a challenge for readers of this blog – any suggestions?

The Dreaded Kindle To Be Read List

I posted a comment recently on an article regarding to-be-read lists, the gist of which was how deceptive it was when your to-be-read list is on your Kindle. Such a slim device sitting innocently on your bedside table, completely masking the fact that you have the equivalent of bookshelves of books waiting to be read. It also has a large impact on your purchasing habits. When my to-be-read pile had a proper physical presence, I used to moderate my purchasing (“what’s the point of buying that when I still have 20 books waiting to be read”). Now, not so much (“how many books do I have on my Kindle? Oh, who can remember. One more won’t hurt”).

Through the week, I received in the mail my new Kindle Touch. My original Kindle is quite old, and I’ve been looking forward to getting the lighter and more interactive version for a while now. But then I had to transfer all my unread books from the old to the new.

50 books. Waiting for me to read them. Plus another 10 or so on the iPad. Plus about 8 issues of various magazines.

Added to the 20 or so yet to be read physical books I have in the mix (loving Damnation and Dames edited by Amanda Pillar and Liz Grzyb at the moment), it was a sobering experience.

No wonder I struggle to find time to write.


My reading complacency zone

One of the best things about starting to write speculative fiction is that I’ve started to read much more widely than I have in years. When I started to look around to see where speculative fiction was being published, I realised that there was a whole world that I’d been missing – especially Australian authors and the shorter forms of fiction (novellas, short stories, flash fiction etc).

It is funny how life creeps around you, slowly shifting you away from the things you used to love. As my career obligations and desire for family time have grown over the years I’ve had less and less time for reading. What I realised this year was that I’d got to the point where I was pretty much only reading new books by a shrinking pool of authors that I was already familiar with and who weren’t dead yet. So yes, I was keeping up with my Terry Pratchett, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson but I was not reading anything by anyone new.

(My one exception to this rule is pulp fiction based around universes created in TV series. I’m not too proud to say that I do go through quite a few Star Trek and Star Wars books each year. Always easy reading, sometimes good and worthwhile for the times where they are both. I come across new authors a fair bit through those books. However, I don’t think I could claim that I’m stretching my understanding of the speculative fiction genre by that particular reading trend – I’m mostly retreading already well trodden ground. Don’t get me wrong, I love ’em – but they are “I’ve had a crappy week and I just want to lose myself in a familiar but different universe” territory, not “I want a new, interesting and thought provoking perspective on the human condition with a twist that will have me thinking for weeks afterwards”. That characterisation is probably best supported by the fact that I almost never go on to read any of those author’s other work – more a sad commentary on me than any reflection on their work).

It’s been very interesting coming to grips with a new set of stories over the last twelve months. It’s also been interesting to actively consider where my fiction is coming from and whether I’m reading from a diverse enough range of authors. I’ve never really given a lot of thought to things like gender of authors, country of origin etc. But listening to some podcasts (see the podcasts page for my favourites) and you get a sense of the value of seeking out stories beyond your reading complacency zone. One of the things I most love about speculative fiction is its ability to show people and issues from different perspectives. Reading more broadly has certainly helped me recapture some of that.

So I’m still very time poor but I am reading more widely now and will continue to do so. I’m also paying more attention to issues in the speculative fiction community, like representation of gender and cultural groups in the field. It makes for more interesting reading and having a better idea of what is out there is definitely good for my writing as well.

If you are reading this and like me you’ve been stuck on the big name merry-go-round but you want to start reading more Australian content, I found Australian SF magazinespodcasts and publishers are a good place to start looking.