10 Books to Read in 2017 to Improve My Writing

I’ve recently made a good crack at starting my 2017 Goodreads Challenge, upping my goal from 35 to 40 books. Obviously I intend to enjoy this immensely but it’s a good opportunity to approach some books that I feel would be beneficial in reading, not only because they’re great reads but because I feel they’d be a good influence on my own work, especially with my own novel that I am currently working on, The Thaw.

day_of_the_triffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I recall watching a recent television adaptation of this book a few years ago and I enjoyed that, so it makes sense to see the original book. While researching this post I was surprised to see how recent The Day of the Triffids is, originating in the 1950s; reading more ‘classics’ is certainly a goal and I feel the setting – a futuristic England beset by killer plants – is both unique enough a premise to still maintain some relevance today. I certainly am looking forward to seeing how a post-apocalyptic Britain envisaged in the 1950s is realised. Plus, by all accounts, it’s just a cracking read!

the_children_of_menChildren of Men by PD James

Another saw-the-film-ages-ago kind of deal; again, I thought the 2006 film was gripping and appropriately desolate and bleak; archetypal post-apocalyptic fare but the film was effective. The premise, too, of the human race being sterile is close to my own plot elements in The Thaw, where children and genetic engineering are brought together in a quite harrowing way, makes this book almost ‘required reading’ considering what I’m working on.

world_war_zWorld War Z by Max Brooks

Again, this seems almost too trite to be true, considering my own work is currently happily residing in the post-apocalyptic genre, but I figured it’s about time to give this book a go, even as I didn’t manage to watch the film version. This is especially true considering, I believe, it’s almost the go-to when ‘zombie fiction’ is thought of. I’d a while ago discounted the zombie subgenre as almost too derivative to be meaningful anymore but I’m re-approaching my stance and, from what I’ve read, World War Z is a worthy bastion of zombie post-apocalyptic fiction.

battle_royaleBattle Royale by Koushun Takami

The Hunger Games wasn’t a bad series, even if the protagonist was a bit too far along the ‘whiny angsty antihero’ path, but one thing that I feel would’ve done the series credit was more violence. This would truly and effectively show the horror that comes from forcing children into a fight to the death. I’ve been recommended Battle Royale a couple of times because it doesn’t shy away from those kinds of visceral depictions so I’m going to finally grab a copy and see what a ‘proper’ Hunger Games is like.


the_standThe Stand
by Stephen King

Getting into King’s work last year was really good, and I definitely want to read his post-apocalyptic epic The Stand; like with the others on this list, I want to see how these different authors portray their settings and how their characters interact with each other and the wider worlds. King’s thrillers have been pretty atmospheric, creepy and gripping so The Stand is an obvious choice to read. I’m a tiny bit intimidated by The Stand’s length but I’ll overcome that!

the_firemanThe Fireman by Joe Hill

Again, a lot like the other post-apoc books on my list, I want to read The Fireman because it’s a pretty well-regarded outing in the genre that’s been on the periphery of my radar for a while. My goal in reading these books is to sample a good flavour of the variety available in the post-apoc genre so I can better see how my own work fits in! Plus, it’s by Stephen King’s son so it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast with King’s work!

on_writingOn Writing by Stephen King

I’ve recently started building a “writer’s library” of books that have advice pertinent to my craft. Again, it’s easy to buy a load of “tip books” but not implement so I’m being picky in which advice books I get. On Writing is cited all the time as a great book in terms of the craft and certainly one I intend to read closely, largely because I’m enjoying discovering King’s work and he writes books that are not-too-dissimilar to my own interests.

a_game_of_thronesA Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I’ve put off reading the Game of Thrones books mainly as the TV show is great, and I didn’t want my viewing of the TV show to cloud my interpretation of the books. However, now I feel quite confidently that enough time has passed that I can finally begin the books. I’ve read snippets and I’ve been pleased with how plain-speaking the books seem to be (this overuse of archaic, twee language that is a common pitfall in fantasy is why I couldn’t finish Assassin’s Apprentice). I’ve generally avoided fantasy, mainly as I feel a lot of fantasy is ultimately derivative of The Lord of the Rings which I controversially find unreadable. However, I feel A Game of Thrones would certainly be useful as a case study in excellent worldbuilding, so I look forward to visiting Westeros in literary form very soon!

19841984 by George Orwell

1984 is a book that sits firmly in the “classics you should’ve read ages ago” category for me, and reading it these days seems awfully relevant and topical. Again, I certainly am interested to see quite how Orwell portrays a dystopian society and I’m sure, as well as being highly enjoyable, it’ll be another strain of dystopian fiction for me to take some notes and inspiration from.

duneDune by Frank Herbert

Dune is another one of those “classic books I should’ve read by now” and I intend to finally get to it. Widely regarded as a science-fiction classic that I actually don’t know a great deal about (apart from how highly it’s regarded), I think the only plausible reason I’ve constantly kicked this one to the kerb is it’s length; however, I’m pretty confident that my reading speed has increased enough that it’s not going to consume too much of my time.

If you want to keep an eye on how I’m getting on with my reading then by all means check out my 2017 Goodreads Challenge page!

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My Year in Reading – 2016

I was pretty impressed to have accomplished my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, even managing to get a couple of extra books in before the year was through, bringing my total to 37 books. It’s definitely been a stellar year for my reading and this is something I’m proud of; I recall the oft-quoted maxim that a great writer is a great reader.

I decided a while ago that finishing this would be a great opportunity to reflect on some of the books I managed to get through this year, both the good and the bad!

Hall of Shame

twilight

Twilight: I was bemused and concerned to find Twilight on my university reading list and, to be honest, was, I suppose, morbidly intrigued to see if Twilight was quite as bad as it was. I was not disappointed. Bella is an awful, soulless character who is the epitome of a spoiled brat, and worse seems to exist only to live off Edward, who is himself a particularly manipulative, creepy menace. The stomping over the conventions that can make vampires quite chilling and frightening to pursue this romance yarn was the icing on the cake.

50_shades

Fifty Shades of Grey: This was pure morbid curiosity; if it was borne as Twilight fan-fiction, it must be the pits? To be honest, I did think it a tiny bit better than Twilight; some potential character development between both Ana and Christian, though her naivety (and its rapid disappearance) was a somewhat problematic. Again, though, it focuses the story upon the male character and the young, impressionable woman’s focus on him above all else. There’s little point analysing the literary merit of Fifty Shades of Grey as it exists as a means to an end. Oh, and the constant sex got pretty boring!

the_road

The Road: This was a surprise at the end of the year – I was expecting an exquisitely-crafted story of two characters in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Well, it was certainly a nightmare; the characters were unrelatable and, while they undertake a physical journey, their emotional journey doesn’t even begin – they’re as cold and distant to each other at the end as they were at the start, we the reader learn nothing about them (not even names), we learn very little about the disaster that has befallen the setting, or much about the setting at all. I found the format of the book extremely contrived – no chapters, very little punctuation, which made the scant dialog a chore. What portions there were, presumably to stand in as actual chapters, felt very under-developed, almost like shopping lists, which removed any atmosphere. A poor effort.

ancillary_justice

Ancillary Justice: This didn’t work out for me at all. The concept of a spaceship’s AI inhabiting numerous “ancillaries” and the journey of justice the last remaining one to discover the truth was potentially very interesting, but the cold and mechanical prose didn’t help the story. The protagonist was utterly unlikeable, and the lore impenetrable as the book wore on. The author, like with The Road, decided to experiment with the form and use female pronouns for every character, which was probably very noble but was something I found confusing and didn’t aid with picturing the characters, all of which seemed identical cut-outs, at all. A failed experiment.

Hall of Fame

Jurassic_Park

Jurassic Park: I’d easily put this book as one of my favourites to discover this year. It was approachable but detailed, and intensely thrilling the whole way through. I particularly enjoyed the dusting of plausible, realistic but also forward-looking science that was contained but also left approachable and not at all condescending. I’ve started pillaging the Crichton back catalogue after reading Jurassic Park and I continue to be impressed with his body of work. Jurassic Park was a fine example of Michael Crichton’s crisp, intense and exhilarating prose coupled with a clear affinity and knowledge of the subject matter. I’ve also read The Lost World and Airframe since finishing Jurassic Park and found them to be a continuation of this type of precise but enjoyable techno-thriller.

leviathan-wakes-james-sa-corey

Leviathan Wakes: It would be a bit glib to describe Leviathan Wakes as “Game of Thrones in space” but it does tick all the boxes that GoT does – here we have a compelling and epic drama involving some memorable and distinct characters primarily, but with a rich and detailed universe that doesn’t make itself known for the sake of it; rather it acts as a grounding for the drama. There’s a sense of the colossal scale of the politics and factions within the politics but at the heart of it is the crew of the Rocinante who get into all manner of scrapes that get more and more epic and exciting as the book (and series) progresses. I’m definitely glad I discovered this series and Leviathan Wakes is a strong opener.

The_Rats

The Rats: I recently started reading quite a few of James Herbert’s work, given as I enjoyed The Fog quite a bit last year. His work is definitely enjoyable and lacks the pretention and is humble, which makes it so approachable. The Rats was a truly horrific story, well executed and exciting and, as a sign of its success. Even though it’s over 40 years old, I still found it visceral, gruesome, gripping and pacey, which is a mark of success given how desensitised society has become since it was published in the 1970s. I also read Lair, the follow-up, which continues the story admirably; however, The Rats is definitely a book I enjoyed a ton and I just wish I’d read it sooner!

christine

Christine/Misery: Continuing the thought of “books I wish I’d read before”, I finally gave some Stephen King a go. I suppose I’ve kindof been ignoring King in the search for other, less archetypal writers but I was wrong – King’s books, of which I’ve read two, were gripping and uniquely crafted, but still thrilling and, honestly, scary! There’s some original plots too and I appreciated how atmospheric both the books, Christine and Misery have been, definitely giving a feeling of something not being quite as it seems or right. Look forward to exploring more of King’s work!

Overall I think 2016 was a pretty fantastic year for reading and I certainly don’t regret pouring so much time and effort into it; I definitely feel I’ve gotten something out of it. It’s proved a catalyst to do equally as well, and hopefully better, next year. And I hope, too, that I’ve gained some insight, potentially subconsciously, that I can use to great effect in my own work going forward!

Book Choice of the Year 2014

I was originally advised not to title this post my “Book of the Year” as none of the contenders were published during 2014. However, I have chosen to disregard this advice.

2014 has been a great year in terms of reading and I’ve enjoyed some thoroughly gripping stories through my Kindle. As such, I’d like to identify a few really notable reads I feel have been especially awesome this year!

3: One by Conrad Williams

One - Conrad Williams

“The descriptive writing in One is haunting but beautifully bleak. Towns are destroyed, the dead laying as heaps that don’t decompose. Roads and their traffic lay smashed. Life is simply frozen by the Event, never to resume. The nature of The Event is alluded to by several characters but the concrete truth is never explicitly stated; nor does it need to be. It happened, and that’s enough.”  – from my review

I really did enjoy One, which I discovered almost by chance languishing in a saved list from a good web buddy of mine. The world-building (ironically of a devastated UK) was sublime and the atmosphere palpable, with the distress of the protagonist and the rest of the cast shining through the unending bleak and desolate nature of the narrative. The ending really left me thinking, even to this day, and when a book does that it’s one worth reading.

2: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir

“There’s a sense of friction between the characters but this is not in the aid of any ulterior motives, just the search for a better or more successful way to spend billions of dollars to save one guy. There are vested interests but overall the dedication from an organisational and societal standpoint to not abandon Watney and want to save him is pretty endearing.” – Review excerpt

The Martian was a birthday recommendation from a group of close friends in February and I was again pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the book – a funny, likeable protagonist; well-researched and feasible science writing that showed the author’s attention to detail and a refreshing vibe of altruism – there is no “bad guy” per se but it remains a tense and thrilling adventure.

1: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

“The cover of Ready Player One pits the book as “Willy Wonka meets the Matrix”, and I really couldn’t put it more succinct than that. The plot moves at a rocketing pace but there’s plenty of time to see Wade’s character develop and relationships blossom.” – from my review

Another absolute home-run in terms of recommendations from nice online folks, Ready Player One was truly a read that I didn’t want to finish. The book is unashamedly geeky, with a great cyberpunk adventure threading its way through some classic (and obscure) pop-culture references. I may have deemed myself a little young for some of them but it didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying this book! It’s one that I feel has profoundly impacted me as writer as it gets to many things right. Easy choice for Book of the Year!

Special kudos to friends Sam, Si, Dan and Chrissy for being the brains behind getting these books onto my Kindle; I’m really appreciative. Although I’ve ultimately had to make a choice in terms of ranking, all three titles are absolute stonking reads, and I look forward to delving into more of these authors work in 2015!

#SuggestionSaturday (30/3/2013)

I’ve decided to get a bit of involvement with my social media community in the form of something I call “Suggestion Saturday” and I hope to get steered into new stuff to experience!

The inaugural Suggestion Saturday is in aid of something I’ve wanted to do for a while but not known where to start: explore classic sci-fi literature more. It’ll be a great experience and a great inspiration.

Specifically this week, I’m after examples of the work of Isaac Asimov, one of the pinnacles of science fiction!

Isaac-Asimov

Do you have a particular work of Asimov that you think I’ll enjoy? What story would serve as a good introduction to his work especially? Send me a suggestion here; can’t wait to see what’s sent in! :-)