… but also exhibited some new, probably-permanent habits.
[This is going to be a wordy, free-ish-flowing post. It is all opinion, so I’m not going to continuously write “in my opinion”. Because only a moron wouldn’t understand that of course this is all opinion. It is jam-packed with generalizations. And I’m glib and hyperbolic at times. For effect. It is not prescriptive, nor is it meant to be. I apparently had a couple, small axes to grind that I wanted to write about. Or complain about, really. But with GIFs, so you know it’s meant to be light-hearted. Because apparently one can weaken the gravity of any situation with some well-chosen, amusing GIFs.]
Last year, my reading habits were all over the place. I feel like I read far more that was published before 2015 than during, making it the first year in a long while in which I read more “old” books than new. I don’t really think there’s anything wrong with that, of course, as books do remain available 12 months after publications (one hopes). My tastes are broadening, however, which makes it much, much harder to be remotely comprehensive.
I read more contemporary/literary fiction in 2015. Those genres seems to have eaten more into my thriller reading than SFF. Which was surprising, actually. But not a bad thing — I’ve found some fantastic new (for me) authors, and have a wealth of new sub-genres to read and catch up on. This is one of those new trends. I don’t know if I’ll review everything, or even many of the novels I read in these non-speculative genres, because… well, I don’t know how I feel about doing so. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll do them in batches. I don’t really have as good a grip on the vernacular and terminology many expect from reviews of literary fiction. And, while I’d do my best to not fake it, I don’t trust myself at the moment to not end up fucking it up. Like this, maybe:
I find that, while many novels in these genres follow just as much of a formula as they can in SFFH, there’s greater focus on writing — sometimes, because if there wasn’t, the novels would have no point whatsoever. Take Jonathan Tropper, for example: he’s an author whose prose is fantastic, but sometimes his novels can be underwhelming. However, I still read them cover-to-cover, pulled through by how he writes, if not what he writes. (The Book of Joe, though, is fantastic on every level, and you should read it ASAP.)
I read less tie-in fiction in 2015. Usually, Star Wars and Black Library’s various lines feature pretty heavily on CR. But, I just read far less this past year. Yes, that still includes a fair few short stories, but full-length novels dropped off. For Star Wars, of course, this has been a steady trend. Despite the ballyhoo surrounding Episode VII (I was as excited as many people), my interest in reading SW tie-in fiction remained pretty non-existant. Not a single new Star Wars novel published in the past four years has lived up to my expectations or done what I expect it to do (i.e. entertain me on some level). I have by no means tried them all, but after the disappointing, damp-fizzle that was The Fate of the Jedi and the lamentable Empire & Rebellion series, my interest plummeted and has never recovered. I’m not confident it will in 2016.
As for The Force Awakens…? I was kind of disappointed — I managed to avoid almost all press, going in effectively cold and innocent. About 20 mins in, though, I noticed what many others have pointed out: they effectively re-made New Hope. Which robbed me of the majority of surprises. Oh well. It was still fun and entertaining, and I understand completely why they made the decisions they did (all you need is to have watched the originally trilogy once, and you’ll pretty much get everything). And I wish J.J. Abrams had done what he originally wanted to do with Jar Jar Binks (put his bones in a desert shot…). The best review of the movie was by the ever-talented, brilliant Adam Roberts — you can find his piece over at Pornokitsch (the best SFF site in the world).
Interestingly, and this was unusual for me: the best fictional experiences I had (what an awful, inept way of putting it) were from movies. Two in particular: The Martian (watched just before Christmas) and The Big Short (which I saw today). Both were spectacularly well-made, thrilling in their own ways, and thoroughly satisfying. And I got more enjoyment out of those than I did from most of the fiction I read this past year. There were other worthy movies, of course, as 2015 wasn’t a bad year for cinema. The final Hunger Games movie was disappointing… Aside from that, I have blocked the other movies I didn’t care for from my mind. And I’m pretty sure I liked a number of movies that critics (professional and otherwise) panned for various reasons.
Returning to tie-in fiction: Black Library’s fiction? Well, the Horus Heresy is taking too damn long to finish. Age of Sigmar, their new fantasy line, is… well, to say it’s underdeveloped would be an understatement. It just doesn’t work for me on any level. It feels like the world-building equivalent of Warhammer Fan-Fic, but with “big concepts” behind it. It also makes me think that what has kept me reading their stuff has been mostly nostalgia. So far, my interest in the Horus Heresy series remains intact, as it does for select WH40k novels and series. But, given the rise in cost of their eBooks (£20 for an eBook novella?), their continued addiction to limited edition novellas (I assume the justification for the high eBook price-tag), not to mention the apparent slim-fast plan their novels are on, I’m losing interest. And I can’t justify the expense. So… yeah. Less of that, thanks. I’ve even left a number of Heresy novels unread, because I couldn’t generate the enthusiasm to read them. Maybe I was just having a bad day.
BL has a new interest in offering slightly-discounted bundles, too. Join the “Librarium Club” for £75, to get one novel a month that you can post reviews of on their website! It’s unclear how this is anything other than a deal of £75 for 12 novels upfront — I can’t see how they would enforce the reviewing component of the deal, but a selling point is that it’s “the ultimate opportunity to have your opinions heard.” Heard by people who already agree with you, because I imagine they will likely nix any negativity. Or, if you have the cash to burn, how about £600 for everything they’re going to publish in 2016? Because, who doesn’t have that amount lying about, disposable? When buying either of these bundles, I should point out, you will have no idea of what’s going to be included — in terms of authorship, format, or in the larger bundle quantity. Except for the Beast Arises series, which is one novel per month for 2016. [To be clear, this is more a complaint about the publisher’s business practices, than any attack on the authors’ abilities. Some of them remain among my favourites.]
On the comics and graphic novel side? Well, I’m losing steam there, too. This is definitely true with regards to an increasing amount of Marvel’s an DC’s output — the former is starting to feel ever-more juvenile. (Yes, before anyone bitches — I know they’re trying to appeal to a younger, broader audience. But come on.) The level of quipping, while sometimes amusing, reaches Lorelei Gilmore levels, and ruins the storytelling. Just because you can make a quip in almost every panel, doesn’t mean you should. The endless rebooting, cross-pollination, Events, etc… It all got ramped up to the All-New, All-
DifferentFamiliar MAX-NOW in 2015, and…
Image, Vertigo, select Boom and Oni titles… That’s where it’s at for me. Though, that being said, I might still borrow a couple Marvel/DC titles from the library. Just because.
In the SFF genres… Well, I don’t know. I don’t really think there’s been much of a change, except for the number I’ve read. I’m a little less adventurous, perhaps — because I feel more picky, I’m more often sticking “close to home” by reading authors with whom I’m familiar. (Though still suffering from “Save it For Later” syndrome, where I put off reading favourites for reasons that are quite beyond understanding.)
Some people are hoping for a slow/quick death of “grimdark”, that ever-popular and ever-lambasted sub-genre of fantasy. That continues to sell rather well. Some have expressed an ardent desire for happier fantasy and sci-fi, novels that are more hopeful and inspirational. I don’t see why we can’t have both. Some people are just waiting for the next A Song of Ice and Fire novel (or Game of Thrones, if you came to it via the TV series), and a disappointing number of them will bitch about G.R.R.M. while they wait. Some observers are just waiting for the next awards kerfuffle/conspiracy/white-genocide/etc. — either to take part in, or just as another way to feel superior to this-or-that fandom. On this topic, see the Spike GIF, above. I still probably won’t have read anything that gets nominated for any awards, anyway.
Many new authors will either slip onto the shelves or stride onto the stage confidently, maybe brashly. Some of them will be great. Some won’t. No doubt one or two (maybe more) authors will be… indelicate on social media, generating a firestorm that will last all of one minute, relatively speaking. Most likely, it will be on that has pontificated about author behaviour and the author-fan divide/relationship. Or there could be another Hugos/World Fantasy Award/Sick Puppy moment. Or any other kind of snafu that shines a glaring light on fandoms. It’s always these great ways that get SFF into the popular imagination and attention, and help explain why some people continue to look at me strangely when they learn I enjoy novels in these genres.
No doubt, I will still eagerly pay attention to the release schedules of Tor (US and UK), Gollancz, Orbit, Hodder, Grand Central, and all of the others I’m not going to list right now (because, frankly, this isn’t a survey of publishing, and that would make this post even more boring). I’ve always found it to be a comforting experience, to know that there will always be more books to read. Even if, as is obvious, I likely won’t be able to read even half of the ones I want to read.
Will these new reading habits of mine change in 2016? Probably not.
I can’t see any of the things that influenced my reading habits this past year going away. I don’t believe I’ve ever been one to follow the herd (which should explain an awful lot of absences from this site), but nor is it something I actively attempt to avoid. I do think it’s useful, though. I think the Goodreads 2015 Choice Awards were an interesting (if hardly scientific) example of this: while I owned a lot of the novels nominated (purchased and as ARCs) and even a few of those that won their categories, I’d basically read none of them. Brian Staveley’s write-in-to-the-second-round Providence of Fire was the only one that went anywhere that I’d read, and it’s superb. (You should buy and read his series ASAP. Final volume out in March.)
Given the considerable number of 2015 (and fair few 2014) releases I have yet to read, I imagine I will continue to pick my next book on one criteria: how interesting does it look to me, at that time? This will likely result in genre binges — be they fantasy, sci-fi, fiction, thriller, politics, biographies, music, tech, or comics. I make no promises as to how 2016 will shake up, or which series or books I will definitely read. I won’t review everything I read. Sometimes, I won’t even review books that I loved reading. It will all depend on my mood at the time. I make no apologies for this.
[This sentence included because I wanted to get this post to 2,016 words.]