Well it’s Year 9 of this “experiment.” I guess it’s a habit now.

Been a heck of year hasn’t it? One might suppose in such a year of lockouts and stoppages that my reading total would have gone up—not like I had much else to do… But, not so much.

One thing to note as you scroll the following list is the lack of rereads this year—more on that later. So without further ado…

January (8)

The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal (2018)
Lady Astronaut Book 1 – ebook;

The Lady Astronaut of Mars Mary Robinette Kowal (2014)
Lady Astronaut Book 0.5 – ebook;

The Fated Sky Mary Robinette Kowal (2018)
Lady Astronaut Book 2 – ebook;

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers (2014)
Wayfarers Book 1 – ebook; reread

A Closed and Common Orbit Becky Chambers (2016)
Wayfarers Book 2 – ebook;

All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders (2016)
– ebook;

Tripoint C.J. Cherryh (1994)
Company Wars Book 6 – ebook;

Master and Commander Patrick O’Brian (1969)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 1 – ebook;

February (7)

Post Captain Patrick O’Brian (1972)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 2 – ebook;

Record of a Spaceborn Few Becky Chambers (2018)
Wayfarers Book 3 – ebook;

HMS Surprise Patrick O’Brian (1973)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 3 – ebook;

The Mauritius Command Patrick O’Brian (1977)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 4 – ebook;

Consider Pheblas Iain M. Banks (1987)
Culture 1 – ebook;

Desolation Island Patrick O’Brian (1978)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 5 – ebook;

Ack-Ack Macaque Gareth L. Powell (2013)
Ack-Ack Macaque Book 1 – ebook;

March (9)

The Fortune of War Patrick O’Brian (1979)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 6 – ebook;

Willfull Child Steven Erickson (2014)
Willfull Child Book 1 – ebook;

The Poppy War R. F. Kuang (2018)
The Poppy War Book 1 – ebook;

The Surgeon’s Mate Patrick O’Brian (1980)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 7 – ebook;

The Dragon War R. F. Kuang (2019)
The Poppy War Book 2 – ebook;

The Quartered Sea Tanya Huff (1999)
The Quarters Book 4 – ebook;

Autonomous Annalee Newitz (2017)
– ebook;

The Killing Light Myke Cole (2019)
The Sacred Throne Book 3 – ebook;

The Ionian Mission Patrick O’Brian (1981)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 8 – ebook;

April (12)

Black Star Renegades Michael Moreci (2018)
Black Star Renegades Book 1 – ebook;

Treason’s Harbour Patrick O’Brian (1983)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 9 – ebook;

The Forge David Drake and S.M. Stirling (1991)
The General Book 1 – ebook; reread

The Hammer David Drake and S.M. Stirling (1992)
The General Book 2 – ebook; reread

The Anvil David Drake and S.M. Stirling (1993)
The General Book 3 – ebook; reread

The Steel David Drake and S.M. Stirling (1993)
The General Book 4 – ebook; reread

The Sword David Drake and S.M. Stirling (1995)
The General Book 5 – ebook; reread

The Far Side of the World Patrick O’Brian (1984)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 10 – ebook;

Sixteenth Watch Myke Cole (2020)
– ebook;

The Reverse of the Medal Patrick O’Brian (1986)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 11 – ebook;

Leviathan Wakes James S.A. Corey (2011)
Expanse Book 1 – ebook;

The Letter of Marque Patrick O’Brian (1988)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 12 – ebook;

May (8)

Caliban’s War James S.A. Corey (2012)
Expanse Book 2 – ebook;

The Thirteen Gun Salute Patrick O’Brian (1989)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 13 – ebook;

The Nutmeg of Consolation Patrick O’Brian (1991)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 14 – ebook;

The Last Emperox John Scalzi (2020)
Interdependency Book 3 – ebook;

Abbadon’s Gate James S.A. Corey (2013)
Expanse Book 3 – ebook;

Clarissa Oakes Patrick O’Brian (1992)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 15 – ebook;

The Wine-Dark Sea Patrick O’Brian (1993)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 16 – ebook;

Wrath of Betty Steven Erickson (2016)
Willfull Child Book 2 – ebook;

June (12)

Network Effect Martha Wells (2020)
Murderbot Book 5 – ebook;

The Commodore Patrick O’Brian (1995)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 17 – ebook;

Queen Timothy Zahn (2020)
Sibyl’s War Book 3 – ebook;

Accepting the Lance Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (2019)
Liaden Book 15 – ebook;

The Search for Spark Steven Erickson (2018)
Willfull Child Book 3 – ebook;

An Illusion of Thieves Cate Glass (2019)
Chimera Book 1 – ebook;

Lord Valentine’s Castle Robert Silverberg (1980)
Lord Valentine Book 1 – ebook; reread

Cibola Burn James S.A. Corey (2014)
Expanse Book 4 – ebook;

Oathbound Mercedes Lackey (1988)
Vow and Honor Book 1 – ebook;

Oathbreakers Mercedes Lackey (1989)
Vows and Honor Book 2 – ebook;

Oathblood Mercedes Lackey (1998)
Vows and Honor Book 3 – ebook;

The Yellow Admiral Patrick O’Brian (1996)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 18 – ebook;

July (10)

The Hundred Days Patrick O’Brian (1998)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 19 – ebook;

A Conjuring of Assassins Cate Glass (2020)
Chimera Book 2 – ebook;

Tooth and Claw Jo Walton (2003)
– ebook;

Jade City Fonda Lee (2017)
The Green Bone Saga Book 1 – ebook;

Split Infinity Piers Anthony (1980)
Apprentice Adept Book 1 – ebook; reread

Untitled L.A. Vermeer (?)
– manuscript;

Blue Adept Piers Anthony (1981)
Apprentice Adept Book 2 – ebook; reread

Juxtaposition Piers Anthony (1982)
Apprentice Adept Book 3 – ebook; reread

Ukridge Stories P.G. Wodehouse (1920)
– ebook; link

Blue at the Mizzen Patrick O’Brian (1999)
Aubrey–Maturin Book 20 – ebook;

August (9)

Love among the Chickens P.G. Wodehouse (1920)
– ebook; link

Nemesis Games James S.A. Corey (2015)
Expanse Book 5 – ebook;

Ninefox Gambit Yoon Ha Lee (2016)
Machineries of Empire Book 1 – ebook;

Raven Stratagem Yoon Ha Lee (2017)
Machineries of Empire Book 2 – ebook;

Jade War Fonda Lee (2019)
The Green Bone Saga Book 2 – ebook;

The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey Patrick O’Brian (2004)
Aubrey/Maturin Book 21 – ebook;

Maske: Thaery Jack Vance (1974)
– ebook; reread

Cocaine Blues Kerry Greenwood (1989)
Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 1 – ebook

Revenant Gun Yoon Ha Lee (2018)
Machineries of Empire Book 3 – ebook;

September (8)

The Way of the World William Congreve (1700)
– ebook; reread link

Babylon’s Ashes James S.A. Corey (2016)
Expanse Book 6 – ebook;

A Pillar of Fire by Night Tom Kratman (2018)
A Desert Called Peace (Carrera) Book 7 – ebook;

Flying Too High Kerry Greenwood (1990)
Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 2 – ebook

Days of Burning, Days of Wrath Tom Kratman (2020)
A Desert Called Peace (Carrera) Book 8 – ebook;

Cobra Traitor Timothy Zahn (2018)
Cobra Rebellion Book 3 – ebook;

Gideon the Ninth Tamsyn Muir (2019)
Locked Tomb Book 1 – ebook;

Alliance Rising C.J. Cherryh & Jane S. Fancher (2019)
The Hinder Stars Book 1 – ebook;

October (8)

Harrow the Ninth Tamsyn Muir (2020)
Locked Tomb Book 2 – ebook;

Deal with the Devil Kit Rocha (2020)
Mercenary Librarians Book 1 – ebook;

A Deadly Education Naomi Novik (2020)
Scholomance Book 1 – ebook;

New Moon Ian McDonald (2015)
Luna Book 1 – ebook;

With the Lightnings David Drake (2000)
Lt. Leary Book 1 – ebook; reread

Lt. Leary, Commanding David Drake (2001)
Lt. Leary Book 2 – ebook; reread

The Relentless Moon Mary Robinette Kowal (2020)
Lady Astronaut Book 3 – ebook;

The Far Side of the Stars David Drake (2003)
Lt. Leary Book 3 – ebook; reread

November (12/4)

The Physicians of Vilnoc Lois McMaster Bujold (2020)
Penric & Desdemona Book 8 – ebook;

Murder on the Ballarat Train Kerry Greenwood (1991)
Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 3 – ebook;

Wolf Moon Ian McDonald (2017)
Luna Book 2 – ebook;

Persepolis Rising James S. A. Corey (2017)
Expanse Book 7 – ebook;

The Galaxy Ballroom Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (2019)
Liaden Book 15.5 – ebook; (short story)

The Door Though Space Marion Zimmer Bradley (1961)
– ebook;

Moon Rising Ian McDonald (2019)
Luna Book 3 – ebook;

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crimes and Other Stories Oscar Wilde (1908)
– ebook; link

The Raven Tower Ann Leckie (2019)
– ebook;

Last Man Out Elliot Kay (2018)
Poor Man’s Fight Book 4 – ebook

The Perfect Gun Elizabeth Bear (2019)
– ebook; (short story)

The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex Tamsyn Muir (2020)
Locked Tomb Book 0.5 – ebook; (short story)

Death at Victoria Dock Kerry Greenwood (1992)
Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 4 – ebook;

The Origin of the Flow John Scalzi (2019)
Interdependency Book 0.5 – ebook;

A Year and a Day in Old Theradane Scott Lynch (2019)
– ebook

Tinker Wen Spencer (2003)
Elfhome Book 1 – ebook;

December (9)

The Wolf Who Rules Wen Spencer (2006)
Elfhome Book 2 – ebook;

Guns of the Dawn Adrian Tchaikovsky (2015)
– ebook;

The Green Mill Murder Kerry Greenwood (1993)
Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 5 – ebook;

Deerskin Robin McKinley (1993)
– ebook;

Children of the Fleet Orson Scott Card (2017)
Fleet School Book 1 – ebook;

Tiamat’s Wrath James S. A. Corey (2019)
The Expanse Book 8 – ebook;

Children’s Stories Oscar Wilde (1888)
– ebook; link

Or What You Will Jo Walton (2020)
– ebook;

Trader’s Leap Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (2020)
Liaden Book 19 – ebook;


The Afterword

So. Huh. I thought the final tally would show that I plowed through the books this year. But as I went back through the last few years’ totals, I realized that just wasn’t true. After a little contemplation I decided one reason (and trust me, there are many more excuses to come) was me making a concerted effort to get through my “To Be Read” stack and thus limiting the number of rereads—which always go a lot faster. And another reason was that for most of the year, lying-on-the-couch reading just wasn’t…appealing? So 80% of the 2020 reading was really just in the evenings before-going-to-sleep reading. I don’t know why that was so, but it was. “2020, huh, what is it good for…”

The numbers

112 books (and 4 standalone short stories)
15 rereads
9.33 books/month, .3 books/day

(Note: the short stories were a result of me downloading stories from the inter-webs and then making them into standalone ebooks. Eventually I will combine them into collections, but I had no real way of recording them in the count, so there they are, sticking out like sore thumbs.)

2020 Monthly totals

January — 8
February — 7
March — 9
April — 12
May — 8
June — 12
July — 10
August — 9
September — 8
October — 8
November — 12/4
December — 9

The Reread \ To Be Read Situation

You might want to skip down to So, What Did I Read since this section is purely self-indulgent and quite likely borderline-whinging unless you have strong opinions on the proverbial yet ubiquitous To Be Read Stack.

My ebook library now sits at 886 books. Compared to the 735 I had last year at this time. That’s an increase of 151 books… can you see where this is going?

My unread stack now sits at 72 as compared to the panic-inducing 87 of last year. A decrease of only 15 books. And yet I read 97 new books in 2020, only occasionally taking a break and dipping back into the old stuff for relief. And it is important to note that unlike regular bibliophiles (which incidentally I don’t actually count myself as being among) I abhor a to be read stack and count it as a black mark. Never in my life have I ever had more than four or five unread books, and usually that was from a particular buying binge or the starting of a new multi-book series. The situation as described last year was/is intolerable and I worked hard in 2020 to deal with it. To my obvious despair, as I counted it all up this last week of December and found the total to be still completely unacceptable.

The why is complex. Some of it is L’s acquisition of 20 Phryne Fisher Mysteries that I said I wasn’t going to read and then, ever so slowly, started in on. I’ve only read 5 so far but that forced me to file the other 15 in my to-be-read ‘pile’ rather than dump them as I had originally intended.

Some of it was stubborn complete-ism on my part. Quite a few series were added to or completed by their authors in 2020, so obviously I went out and got them rather than wait until I actually had time to read them (which is a really new [and bad] habit for me). That accounts for another 10 or so. As well I mistakenly acquired a book 5 of a series (Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams) and upon that unhappy discovery, felt I needed to go get books 1–4.

Also I decided to read the Aubrey/Maturin Books (22) and the Expanse novels (8) which was a massive mistake if I had really intended to knockdown the already unwieldy unread pile. I also added a few new emergency classics I don’t really intend to read like The Great Gatsby and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Confusing the numbers further there was also a concerted effort to acquire ebook copies of old favourites. So in reality the Grand Total encompasses another ~45 books that are ones that I have read before (in paper) but are now in a to-be-reread pile. So they are new acquisitions but not counted as unread. But then again, I also moved the 30 or so “unread” ebooks from last year that fell into this category into that to-be-reread pile, deleting them from the to-be-read total—so that just makes it worse.

All in all a distinct failure and I really, really intend to stop acquiring new titles until I have the pile down to 10 or so with another 15-20 of long-term good intentions/emergency titles (Around the World in Eighty Days, Middlemarch, Treasure Island, a bunch of Verne etc.).

So, What Did I Read?

I had heard great things about the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks but for some reason ended up getting an Expanse title by James S.A. Corey. I think it was me reading Earl’s mention of them last year in his list that got them jumbled in my head. Which is why I read the Expanse series this year. I did read Consider Phlebas by Banks and will likely continue on with them if I ever get through my pile.

I also read the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal — another series I had meant to put off acquiring, but L wanted to read them so I got sucked in. A particular apt series to read in 2020. I revisited Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey’s classic fantasy universes and of course indulged in the much anticipated full-length Murderbot novel.

Non SF/Fantasy

I also racked up an amazing (for me) total of non-genre books. I started in on the Aubrey/Maturin books because…well…sailing—and it turned out I really enjoyed them. There was also Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne books (I had watched the excellent TV series and was eventually tempted to the dark side (mysteries…shudder). My work with Standard Ebooks added one play, some Wodehouse and 2 collections of Oscar Wilde stories which in reality started as 4 or 5 volumes. There are links to these titles in the list so feel free to download and enjoy. L finished her YA MS and I got to read that (it was damn good and I am keen to hear what the publishers say).

All in all that’s 32 non sf/fantasy books. Close to a third.

(The Aubrey/Maturin books set off a reread of the first couple of David Drake’s RCN Series which is, in some ways, a remarkably close SF reworking of the Aubrey books.)

a note about gender

I have long not cared a whit about the gender of my authors—and, having grown up in the now slightly icky SF tradition of women hiding their gender behind initials, I can still be mildly surprised some days when I find out an old favourite was written by a woman. (By which I mean I never bothered to look it up, not that I am surprised a woman wrote it.)

But this year, for some reason, I thought I would count. Turns out I read 42 books by women. That’s close to 40%. And if you removed the relentlessly masculine (and definitely not sf/fantasy) Aubrey/Maturin books, it would likely have been close to 50%. Which in a historically male dominated genre, is pretty damned good, if I do say so myself…and I do. So I hereby give myself a self-satisfied nod and stuff that particular stat back onto the back closet top shelf where it belongs. Just read good books people. Judge me if you will.

Modern SF Redux and more excuses

Last year I brought up the topic of the state of modern Science fiction and Fantasy and admired it for how it had “kicked it up a notch.” And after reading a whole sh#t-ton of newer stuff this year I still stand by my judgement—but have a caveat to offer.

I like schlock. And publishers are, understandably, not publishing much of it these days in their efforts to elevate the genre. Even a book touted as a “space opera” like Elizabeth Bear’s Ancestral Nights takes a bit more effort that I can (or am willing to) sustain over the course of 100 books/year. My brain starts to be full and the escapism part of reading starts to diminish in ever increasing waves. This is another reason why my count is a bit down. I read for pleasure, not edification, so a great romp is always greatly appreciated.

Some of my favourites of the year (The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, Fonda Lee’s The Green Bone Saga, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and most especially Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower) were dense enough that they in no way could qualify as a light read. So I often found myself trying to find something a bit lighter and more “fun”—yet another reason for acquiring titles rather than continually taking from the “To Be Read” pile (I know, I know…excuses, excuses). And the better a book was, the more you had your brain cells and guts wrenched around—I particularly was affected by Robin McKinley’s Deerskin and she pulled me out of it just as I was considering abandoning the book for the sake of my mental health…2020 will do that to you. It’s enough to want to make you stop reading good books. (OK, not really, but you get my drift.)

So while I commend the modern editors for their exaltation, elevation and expansion of the genre(s), could we maybe still publish some quality space lasers and explosion stories and thoughtless muscled heroes (of any gender whatsoever) succeeding against stupid odds—just for some relief? (I’ve got the aforementioned Fleet Elements series cued up so maybe that will be my 2021 guilty pleasure.)

A Note About Home-made Books

I “made” 3 illicit editions of books this year (other than the 4 short stories). All three are not available as ebooks and 2 of them are likely never to be issued as they are old and desirable to no one but weirdos like me. The third though, ah that one is an example of the stupidity of how rights are being handled in a digital age.

Frederick Pohl’s Gateway was literally a gateway for my science fiction reading. It was among the earliest and best sf novels I read and has been a timeless goto that I have reread many, many times. So I took it into my head that it was just what I needed in 2020. Nope. Not available as an ebook. And even if I wanted to, my paper copy is one of those books literally held together by masking tape.

But hold on! The rest of the series (which are ok but not anywhere near in the class of the original…sort of an Ender’s Game scenario) were available. Here’s the thing though. Baen holds the rights to Books 3, Heechee Rendezvous and 4, The Annals of the Heechee, and Tor (MacMillan) owns the rights for Book 2, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon and The Boy Who Would Live Forever (nominally Book 5, which I have never read as it was written 20 years after the others). No one, as far as my extensive searching (accompanied by much swearing), owns the rights to the first book in this monumental series and thus, because the world of electronic rights is bizarre, was unavailable as an ebook.

Seriously? Books 2-5 are available but not the original? Who came up with a universe where that was reasonable? It’s something out of some futuristic corporate dystopian novel.

So I stole it. I found a site that had bad OCR posted in html, wrote a python script to download the text. Went through and fixed the gross errors and formatted all the sidebar stuff (there is a lot if it in Gateway) and made my own, illicit, ebook. If and when the rest of the publishing world ever gets their heads out of their collective asses I will most assuredly acquire a licit copy, but until then… seriously?… no Book One? Aaargh.

(Note: I did buy the other 3 books so several someone’s got their money out of this debacle.)

Wrap it up already

In conclusion, I think this is enough maundering—how ’bout all y’all draw your own conclusions. As for me, in summary, good books, and plenty of ‘em.

And now on to 2021!

My fellow book counters: Leslie’s 2020 book and music list and the one, the only, the original, Earl’s 2020 retrospective.

Links to previous years’ book count posts: