Books Read in December, 2020
Voodoo Shanghai by Kristi Charish
Old Man's War by John Scalzi
How We Got Insipid by Jonathan Lethem
Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #243-258 (Comics) (r)
DC Comics Presents Vol 1 #2 (Comic) (r)
DC Comics Presents Vol 1 #13 (Comic) (r)
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 2 #259-273 (Comics) (r)
DC Special Series Vol 1 #21 Super-star Holiday Special (Comic) (r)
Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore (r)
The Sunken Lands Begin to Rise by M. John Harrison
Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes Vol 1 #1-3 (Comics) (r)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
December, 2020 Reader's Digest
And that was my reading for December, 2020 and a wrap for the year that was. This was a pretty good month of book reading for me, given how my life (notably my eyes) has been the last two weeks with whatever's going on, and I'm very pleased with how many books I managed to read this past month. I also re-read a good number of classic Legion of Super-Heroes comics for the month, and that was nicely productive on my part as well. It was a slightly above average month of book reads for me, since I tend to read usually 4-6 books per month, in addition to the other stuff. Most of the books this month were pretty enjoyable, though only a couple of works stood out. Anyway, the books that I enjoyed the most were...
Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore (r) - A wonderfully crazed excursion into the demented heart of a tropical paradise - a world of cargo cults, cannibals, mad scientists, ninjas, and talking fruit bats. Our bumbling hero is Tucker Case, a hopeless geek trapped in a cool guy's body, who makes a living as a pilot for the Mary Jean Cosmetics Corporation. But when he demolishes his boss's pink plane during a drunken airborne liaison, Tuck must run for his life from Mary Jean's goons. Now there's only one employment opportunity left for him: piloting shady secret missions for an unscrupulous medical missionary and a sexy blonde high priestess on the remotest of Micronesian hells. Here is a brazen, ingenious, irreverent, and wickedly funny novel from a modern master of the outrageous. I've read fourteen or so of Christopher Moore's satirical, witty novels, and have to say that Island is still one of my favourites when it comes to being humourous. This was a re-read for me, and it just gets better with time. Recommended.
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer - After thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X - a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization - has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray. John Rodríguez (aka "Control") is the Southern Reach's newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he's pledged to serve. This is the second book in the Southern Reach trilogy. I honestly don't know what to say about this book. To be honest, I wanted to spend more time in Area X itself, not get relegated to an almost sterile administration building for most of the novel. The protagonist of the novel, Control (and I use that term loosely) didn't even really begin to grow on me until well-past the half-way mark oof the book. I wasn't expecting any answers in this book and didn't get them, and yet just when one gets a glance of something, the book ends as the answers slip beneath the water (literally). The problem with this story is that it bogged down and too little happened. Most of the good stuff were the long conversations with Ghost Bird on the other side of an interrogation table, but it wasn't until Control had to leave the administration building that I started to gel with the novel, and that's a shame, because I actively started to like the novel at that point. That said, the book did progress my understanding of Area X somewhat. Ghost Bird, even for being placed on a pedestal and turned into an "object of understanding" by everyone else, still remains my favorite character in the first two novels. The book *is* good if one analyzes it, but it's too bad that it falls flat in execution. I don't know whether to recommend the book or not, but suspect it will be integral to the conclusion of the story in the third book.
The Sunken Lands Begin to Rise Again by M. John Harrison - Shaw had a breakdown, but he's getting himself back together. He has a single room, a job on a decaying London barge, and an on/off affair with a doctor's daughter called Victoria, who claims to have seen her first corpse at age thirteen. It's not ideal, but it's a life. Or it would be if Shaw hadn't got himself involved in a conspiracy theory that, on dark nights by the river, seems less and less theoretical... Meanwhile, Victoria is up in the Midlands, renovating her dead mother's house, trying to make new friends. But what, exactly, happened to her mother? Why has the local waitress disappeared into a shallow pool in a field behind the house? And why is the town so obsessed with that old Victorian morality tale, The Water Babies? As Shaw and Victoria struggle to maintain their relationship, the sunken lands are rising up again, unnoticed in the shadows around them. I read this book because of it's shortlisted for the 2020 Goldsmith's Prize. It's a story that follows two different characters, Shaw and Victoria. But the remarkable thing about the book is that the reader is quickly aware that there is a whole other storyline developing outside of Shaw and Victoria's lives and, crucially, just outside of the reader's perception. In a lot of ways, the book makes for an unsettling read. We follow Shaw and Victoria, but we know that just outside of our "field of view" there's a whole bunch of weirdness going on. The reader knows they're in a Brexit environment and we know Shaw and Victoria seem strangely unaware of upheavals across the country. But there are rumours and potential sightings of a new life form emerging and it seems that the man who has given Shaw a sort of job might be involved. There’s a door on a boat that cannot be opened. There are rumours of conspiracy theories. The Victorian (surely the name of one of the protagonists is not coincidental) novel The Water Babies keeps intruding into the story as copies are passed around. All this just scratches the surface. There’s a lot more going on in this book, but then, when you read it, you realize there's even more going on if only you could get a clear view of it. I recommend this book unreservedly.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - Set in the days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. One snowy night, a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time - from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains - this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. This is a work of literary fiction, but the fact that half of it is set in a post-apocalyptic future doesn't change this. The book is a study of lives before and after the end of the world (a flu strain wipes almost everyone out in short order, with nothing supernatural about it). There's very little action, tension, or intrigue in this novel but it is beautifully written, observed with a gentle but penetrating eye, and made me want to keep reading. The reader sees the life and loves of a fading film star who dies on the day the world's end begins. The reader sees, in a nonlinear manner, how some of the people connected to him (some intimately, some tangentially) survive on into a very different existence. The reader moves from a world in which one of the actor's wives has the leisure to spend a decade or more writing and illustrating a set of beautifully imagined science fiction comics that only ten copies are ever made of, to an existence without medicine, painkillers, transport or power. I enjoyed this book a lot. It's subtle, and I recommend it. But come into the novel with your eyes open.
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore - In this sequel to A Dirty Job, in San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing - and you know that can't be good. Something really strange is happening in the City by the Bay. People are dying, but their souls are not being collected. Someone - or something - is stealing them and no one knows where they are going, or why, but it has something to do with that big orange bridge. Death Merchant Charlie Asher is just as flummoxed as everyone else. He's trapped in the body of a fourteen-inch-tall "meat" puppet waiting for his Buddhist nun girlfriend, Audrey, to find him a suitable new body to play host. To get to the bottom of this abomination, a motley crew of heroes will band together: the seven-foot-tall death merchant Minty Fresh; retired policeman turned bookseller Alphonse Rivera; the Emperor of San Francisco and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; and Lily, the former Goth girl. Now if only they can get little Sophie to stop babbling about the coming battle for the very soul of humankind... You know how when you finish a book and you actually wish it was an additional two hundred pages? That's this book. This installment of the Grim Reaper series was enormously funny in a grim reaper way and gave me an awesome amount of pleasure, especially in these COVID-19 times, as my favorite San Francisco Death Merchants reappear (along with their entourage) and gird their loins to take on another menace to humanity. Everyone plays a part, and yes, there are naughty hijinks galore. Author Moore has a wonderful, delightfully prurient mind, and no doubt would rattle the morality code. This is just a fun frolic and I have to admit that I chortled at something on almost every page. I highly recommend this book to folks, but make sure you read A Dirty Job first. And I really hope the author writes another book in this series.
Overall, I managed to read 8 novels, 0 RPG and RPG products, 1 magazine, 37 comics, and 0 graphic novels in December. This brings the 2020 year end totals up to the following: 91 books, 16 RPGs and RPG products, 21 magazines, 157 comics, and 2 graphic novels. I'm a little disappointed that I didn't manage to get to 100 books (not including RPGs and other stuff) this year, but part of the reason for that was a couple of truly dismal months of reading. But it wasn't a shabby year's total, to be honest, so that's a good thing.
That said, I'm looking forward to what 2021 brings in my books (and comics) reading!