if I am very lucky this should take you to specific years in my list

2022 2021

okay it doesn't work how I want but note to self clean this section up later cheers future me

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K Le Guin, Finished .

The copy I got had three different introductions; one by Le Guin herself, one by David Mitchel, and one by China Miéville. Miéville’s stuck with me as I read, in which he opens by lamenting books that, far from receiving no attention, are acclaimed as classics. Once something is a classic everyone things they know it, even if they haven’t read it. I have read it however so I am allowed to have opinions.

I don’t know what you want from me, it’s easily Le Guin’s most acclaimed work after the Earthsea quartet. It is a classic, and worth reading. My observations are nothing new. Although it’s known for how it deals with sex and gender it is quite backwards looked at from a modern queer perspective. Even at the time some of it’s views on gender seem a little antiquated, which is something Le Guin didn’t shy away from. The book reflects the dominant views of gender from the time, and one must see it like that or else it seems like a truly dystopian view of our future.

Genly Ai, the protagonist, is from Earth far in the future and is so perplexed by a species without fixed sex. The observers from earth decided that using he/him for a genderless species would make sense. If human society is still like this in a thousand years then I would despair. But it is not a prediction of the future, rather a reflection of Le Guin’s prejudices.

Though it is often acclaimed for how it handles sex and gender, which to be clear I do believe it is worth noting even if I’ve put it down for that, how it deals with nationalism is far more interesting to me. We see Gethen, Winter, at a time when nations are finally forming as we would understand them, and the horrors that come so naturally with that. There is a quote that really stuck with me from Estraven:

“How does one hate a country, or love one? […] I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun set in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre [his home], but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate.”

I think this quote speaks to Le Guin’s broader philosophy, of her anarchic tendencies. It is one of the finest examples of her beautiful style and clarity of her critiques. Left Hand of Darkness, though not about anarchism such as The Dispossessed is, does grapple with ideas of state and power quite effectively.

As a final thought, I will take you back to when I went to see Dune in cinemas. A trailer came on for another sci-fi adaption (I can’t recall which) and I thought “oh no so many are getting made, it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to adapt Le Guin again!”. I may put down my thoughts on the difficulty of adapting Le Guin’s work elsewhere. However, I think The Left Hand of Darkness may be perfect for an adaptation. Give a queer director a modest budget and the freedom to use the concept of the book to tell a story as they wish, and I think you would get something amazing and interesting. Of course, I doubt that would happen and you’d probably get fucking “Zack Snyder’s Left Hand of Darkness!” where not a single idea of the novel is preserved. We can dream though.

A Game of Thrones

By George R.R. Martin, Finished .

Yeah it’s A Game of Thrones, wildly popular first book in a wildly popular series. It’s alright. What more can I say?

Okay no I do have thoughts. I don’t think it’s something I could or would even want to recreate, but I am really impressed by Martin’s ability to weave together so many threads of narrative at once. I do adore some of his character writing. The first scene with Tywin Lannister is incredible. We see him placed into a difficult negotiation with people who in no way share his values or understanding or how to negotiate and while we see Kevin simply try to brute force a deal with them, we see how Tywin deftly navigates the situation. We don’t need to be told how clever and calculating he is, we can feel it in how he adapts to a situation. Easily one of my favourite bits of the book.

Will I keep reading the series? Eh, maybe. Maybe if the final book ever gets announced so I know it’s not gonna be a sunk cost like the show. But honestly, the biggest turn off is all Martin’s turn ons. The descriptions of women often made me feel kind of grossed out and the use of sexual assault, while not inherently wrong to depict, felt a lot of the time gratuitous to me. I don’t know, the things it does well I really like but the things I don’t enjoy might be too much for me to continue.

The Witcher: The Last Wish

By Andrzej Sapkowski, Finished .

I’ve been reading too many highly acclaimed books to have much to say on them. Yeah, The Witcher is really good. What I will say on it, in contrast to A Game of Thrones above, is that it is very much not grimdark fantasy, in my mind anyway.

To me, grimdark is a particular fantasy world where things are shit. Some people call it realistic, I would call it hyper-realistic if you were going to use the term realistic at all but honestly? Grimdark couldn’t be further from reality, and not because of the dragons and magic people like to put in. The world isn’t that evil and cruel, not naturally.

And that is what The Witcher gets. The world it depicts isn’t full of evil and cruelty. There are arseholes in it. Kings and lords and selfish people who will make others suffer for their own crimes. The title story The Witcher is very much about this. A child cursed because of old men’s own evil actions. And yet the curse is lifted by Geralt. He suffers horrible injuries to achieve it, rather than simply kill the cursed child. In A Grain of Truth, the grain of truth is that love is a powerful magic, that true love can lift curses. The world isn’t cruel, but people certainly can be. If Geralt is a cynical protagonist, which he certainly is, it isn’t because he believes the world is hopeless. It is because he knows that it isn’t and that the problems are created by cruel men with power. A noble will tell Geralt people have to suffer because it is the way of the world. Geralt will see them ordering their knights to murder peasants who step out of line and see why they tell such a lie to him.

Call me an anarchist, because I am, but I think a world that is only made unpleasant by the self-serving people in power is far more realistic than grimdark where everyone is miserable all the time for no reason.

The Tombs of Atuan

By Ursula K Le Guin, Finished .

The Amber Spyglass

By Philip Pulman, Finished .

The Lathe of Heaven

By Ursula K Le Guin, Finished .

This would be a very weird first Le Guin story to read because it is explicitly not in her style, but nether the less it is fantastic. It is very dialogue heavy which isn’t usual for her which I enjoyed a lot (not that I don’t enjoy her usual style either). It is extremely readable, for want of a better word.

The story follow a man who’s dream alter reality, a talent which his therapist begins to use for his own gain. Things follow an expected ramping up of stakes until it is all of reality potentially at stake. The drama of the story is really set dressing for an exploration of ideas on the universe, of humanity’s place within it, of how we affect change and decide what is best for people as a whole. Like I say, it is fantastic, I have nothing more to say, read it, it is not too long.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea

By Usula K Le Guin, Finished .

The Word for World is Forest

By Ursula K Le Guin, Finished .

Meddling Kids

By Edgar Cantero, Finished .

I should start off by saying I really like Scooby Doo which is what sold me on this book (it is in part parodying Scooby Doo, if the title wasn’t obvious). As with most books I was going in blind and I have to say, I had a good time with the book. It has a particular style which I suspect some will find off putting but personally weird styles are often a positive. It slips into being written in script form quite a bit which I really enjoy, it gives the whole thing a really good sense of pace.

Story wise I really like how it carefully blends the “there’s a logical explanation” with just straight up supernatural elements, like monster that are genuinely from another dimension but that have certain anomalous traits simply because there’s CO2 leaking from old mine vents. It applies this well to the psychology of the characters as well, who are genuinely suffering from the trauma of the things they witnessed as kids but who are also just suffering from being human. When they ask about various symptoms of ennui to the villain, they respond “Yeah no shit you’re in your twenties everyone feels like that.”

That does bring me on to the villain who I like for the most part. She’s an immortal trans wizard pirate who’s trying to summon an elder god for shits and giggles. I don’t know that it handles the (sort of) transness (too much for me to bother to explain) particularly well. Or gender more broadly. I think I like that it tries but I don’t know that is succeeds. It’s handling of mental health and institutionalisation isn’t great either. All that said, I did have a good time with the book and would recommend it if you were considering it.

The Pandemic Century

By Mark Honigsbaum, Finished .

I picked this book up in a charity shop for a single pound and it has been well worth that pound. Published originally in 2019 (though I have the 2020 reprint) the book unfortunately has an air of despairing “I told you so” in the updated introduction. The book tracks various pandemic and epidemic outbreaks of the last century, starting with Spanish Flu. It is quite an unpleasant read at times, but wonderful engaging. Honigsbaum is a journalist so that is hardly surprising.

Honigsbaum’s greatest strength is probably in making complex medical information understandable to idiots like me. He gives you a very good sense of why epidemic disease has been so difficult to confront on a medical level, but ultimately pulls it back to the human level, both in terms of consequences and faults. It is almost always scientific over-confidence and dogma that slows response to disease outbreaks, he argues, and does so very convincingly. He also warms that the effects humans are having on our environments, spurred on by colonialism and capitalism, are only going to make disease outbreaks more frequent and dangerous.

Like I said, I have the 2020 reprint which has an added chapter on Covid-19, obviously. Honestly, you get very little from that chapter, a lot of it was outdated by the time I read it. Overall though, it’s a very engaging book and I would highly recommend it to anyone. So long as you have the stomach for it.

A Brief History of the Samurai

By Jonathan Clements, Finished .

A very engaging history of Japan told through the evolution of the Samurai. I don’t know enough about the history of Japan to say if this is a particularly good history of it, but it seemed good to me. It does a good job of picking out very engaging stories from Japan’s history as well as putting it into a easy to understand narrative. A great companion piece to Bill Wurtz's History of Japan.

A Desolation Called Peace

By Arkady Martine, Finished .


By Adrian Tchaikovsky, Finished .

A Memory Called Empire

By Arkady Martine, Finished .

The Dragon Republic

By R. F. Kuang, Finished .


By Frank Herbet, Finished .

I’ve borrowed China Miéville’s point about a novel being regarded a classic before, but it bares repeating because I don’t think many sci-fi books suffer from it more than Dune. Its reputation precedes it and does it literally no favours in my view.

I read it so I could watch the film and understand what was happening and also so I could be one of those smug people who read Dune and in my humble opinion it is…fine.

Dune is not revolutionary to me, it didn’t shake my world view or change how I think about anything. It’s just some classic sci-fi shenanigans. Noble families and world ending schemes and messiahs and just…not a lot I found super engaging. Okay no, plenty I found engaging but not that much that landed and stuck with me. There were moments that really stuck with me but they were moments that didn’t and will probably continue not to make it into the film.

I am now going to talk about Dune in relation to the 2021 film because that is kind of what my perspective is shaped around. I enjoyed the film well enough but it is not the film I would have made. I’m not saying I could direct a film, but that the parts of the novel it choses to emphasis are simply not want interests me. In part it’s a failure of the form. Films favour visual elements when the moments of the book that are the most impactful are quiet and internal. The dinner party where Paul mostly sits around talking about ecology is, in my mind, one of the most important scenes in the book and it is entirely absent from the film. Paul’s fight against Jamis is present, which in the book is a very internal scene as Paul considers the consequences of his actions and reflects on the differences of imperial and fremen culture through their methods of fighting, in the film it is just two men scrabbling around with knives.

I don’t want to sound too down on the film, but I hope it brings out the elements of the book I did really like. When Paul stands in the water chamber and sees the generations long effort the fremen are making to change their world, that stuck with me. Sadly, it didn’t do enough with its thoughts on ecology for me. And while this is the inverse of what one is expected to say, it is too short. The third act is very rushed and just needed a bit more time, in my opinion.

And also, it’s not that complicated. In being a classic it is known for being so complex. The most confusing thing is just that most in-universe things have like three different names but that isn’t such an insurmountable hurdle. Either that or I’m just flexing what a massive brain I have, like I’ve been shovelling in Spice by the handful.

This Golden Fleece

By Esther Rutter, Finished .

(Beyond this point is before I was keeping records of what I was reading, so I can't date any of this accurately. Still I will go back as far as I care to, at least for books I have plenty to say about.)