Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading list 2015

Oh look! It's that time again where I list all the books I've read over the last 12 months and the few remaining people that have any interest in this blog bemoan the fact that I've wilfully neglected it for yet another year. Who knows, maybe that will change in the new year, but for now you'll have to put up with knowing that I filled the time I didn't use to write this blog by reading a lot of books in 2015 -- and some of them were brilliant.

Usual rules apply: I'm grading books on a scale that ranges from A+ for those that made me want to do a special sex wee, to D- and beyond for those that made me put them down and gently nudge them away while wrinkling my nose like they smelt of a particularly pungent poo. I'm also, of course, linking each book title to the page of a huge multinational tax-dodging company, purely for convenience sake I should add. If you fancy any of the following titles, I'd urge you to buy from a real honest to God bricks and mortar bookshop (Waterstones and Foyles are both LOVELY), although graphic novels (of which there are plenty) can also undoubtedly be found in a variety of wonderful independent comic book shops. So there. Shall we begin?

01. Star Trek Volume 8 - The latest volume collecting the ongoing JJ-verse stories of Pine-Kirk and Quinto-Spock features tales in which they meet female versions of themselves, sees the Enterprise gain sentience and a remarkable new member of the crew, and discover what happened to a missing astronaut from NASA's Apollo-era. Entertaining, but not the series' best collection: B

02. The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero - Intriguing novel told in an intriguing way about a 23 year old and his mute 17 year old friend who attempt to unravel the secrets of a haunted house and a conspiracy that spans the globe. An unusual book, and not without its flaws, but it's a good read that for the most part keeps you hooked: B

03. Star Trek: Ships of the Line by Doug Drexler - Updated edition of the coffee table book that collects images from the ships of the line calendars. Considerably bigger than the original edition, and packed with a whole load of beautiful new images from all eras of the Star Trek franchise and beyond. A stunning book: A

04. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix - Great little horror story set in a furniture store that bears an uncanny resemblance to IKEA, made even more convincing and enjoyable for the fact that the physical book is designed to look like an IKEA catalogue with fictional - and increasingly terrifying - products scattered throughout. A very enjoyable read: A

05. All You Need is KILL by Hiroshi Sakurazaka - The book on which the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow is based. It's a fun read, but truth be told, I actually enjoyed the film more: B-

06. The Canary Trainer by Nicholas Meyer - Another Sherlock Homes pastiche from the director of Star Trek II. This tale sees the famed detective living quietly in Paris after having faked his death following the events of The Seven Per-Cent Solution, until his post as a violinist at the Paris opera is disturbed by a series of incidents and ultimately murders committed by a shadowy figure known only as Nobody. A thoroughly enjoyable read: A

07. Love and Rockets: New Stories Vol. 7 by Los Bros Hernandez - The latest collection of stories from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez continues the brothers' ongoing Locas and Palomar storylines. As brilliant as ever: A

08. Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter (Kindle) - An enjoyable enough novel from acclaimed sci-fi writer Baxter focusing on the second Doctor and his companions Zoe and Jamie, but I felt there was something lacking in the story, and parts of it simply felt hurried: B-

09. Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden (Kindle) - The final book in the new Alien trilogy of novels that began with Out of the Shadows and Sea of Sorrows takes us back to LV-426 to see how the aliens overran the colony prior to the events of the 1986 film Aliens. It's a bit of a slow burner, with much of the novel dealing with the personalities and politics surrounding life at the fledgling colony and the xenomorphs only turning up around halfway through… but that's by no means a bad thing, and this turns out to be a very effective story - probably my favourite instalment in this series, in fact: B+

10. The West End Horror by Nicholas Meyer - Rounding out the trilogy of Sherlock Holmes pastiches from the writer and director of Star Trek II is this tale of a man called Jack committing murders in London's West End. While the reader is let to believe this story might be a spin on the heinous crimes of Jack the Ripper, the tale that ultimately unfolds is one that is surprisingly terrifying in an altogether more unexpected way, and an absolute thrill to read. I thoroughly enjoyed all three of Meyer's Holmes stories, and can only hope he'll eventually give us another: A

11. Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever - The Original Teleplay - Ellison's original script for the classic original series episode is finally realised as the writer intended, albeit in graphic novel form. It's a cracking read with some truly stunning artwork, and provides a tantalising glimpse of what could have been had budgets and Roddenberry allowed: A

12. The Planetary Omnibus by Warren Ellis, illustrated by John Cassidy - Collecting every issue of the classic comic book into one gigantic book, this omnibus collection tells the story of Elijah Snow and the Planetary team as they go about keeping our strange world strange. Beautifully written and illustrated, Planetary does a wonderful job of subverting some familiar comics conventions to tell a tale that spans the 20th century: B+

13. Star Trek Volume 9: The Q Gambit - The latest volume in the ongoing adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise as they boldly go in the new movie universe. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this edition – which collects a six-issue storyline that introduces Q to the new crew and throws them into a future timeline where they encounter an alternate reality version of the Deep Space Nine crew – is one of the best Star Trek comics I've ever read: A

14. Paper Towns by John Green (Kindle) - Thought I'd give this novel by one of the bestselling young adult authors a whirl after reading good things about it. Wish I hadn't. It's a dull, drawn out story of a young guy trying to track down a missing girl using clues she's left behind. None of the characters are interesting or sympathetic enough to care about, and it feels like a book that should've been about half as long: C-

15. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Kindle) - After seeing the film and the stage show I thought it was about time I read the original novel on which they're based, and what a cracking, haunting read it is. Thoroughly enjoyable and quietly sinister - I loved it: A

16. Star Trek: The Original Series - Crisis of Consciousness by Dave Galanter (Kindle) - This TOS novel finds Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise trying to prevent a race of Vulcanoid beings from activating a devastating weapon of mass destruction in order to destroy an ancient threat. An interesting premise but only a mildly diverting read with too little plot spread too thinly across too many pages. I never felt the threat was truly threatening enough regardless of the stakes (in fact, the threat of galactic-wide devastation was possibly too silly, thus negating any fear the weapon might actually be used), and it felt very much like a Star Trek novel by numbers: C

17. Revolt at the Beach by C.D. Payne (Kindle) - Book eight in Payne's ongoing Twisp family chronicles that began with Youth in Revolt. This book focuses on Nick's illegitimate son, also called Nick, who is left with his father in L.A. and goes on to star in a movie based on events from the original book. While there are hints of the earlier novel's brilliance, I can't help but feel Payne has returned to the well a little too often and the series has begun to outstay its welcome: C+

18. Stallo by Stefan Spjut (Kindle) - Brilliant story of a woman who investigates the abduction of a young boy, believing that trolls are responsible. A gripping, well-written novel: A

19. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (Kindle) - Haunting tale of a 1937 expedition to the Arctic circle that suffers a series of incidents that ultimately leave just one member of the team alone in the dark. Told through a series of journal entries, the story unfolds to reveal that the lone team member isn't actually alone. A thoroughly enjoyable little ghost story: A

20. Love and Rockets: Luba and her Family by Gilbert Hernandez - More tales from Beto, focusing this time on young Venus and Luba's efforts to get her husband into the U.S. As always, masterful storytelling from one of the brothers behind Love and Rockets: B+

21. Go Set a Watchmen by Harper Lee (Kindle) - Lee's somewhat controversial second novel is finally published after being hidden for years in a bank vault. Not as memorable as To Kill a Mockingbird, but a beautifully written, thoughtful novel that I'm glad we've been given the opportunity to read: B+

22. Star Trek: The Original Series - Vulcan's Glory by D.C. Fontana (Kindle) - Written by one of the original series' best writers, this tale is set during the time of Captain Christopher Pike's tenure as captain of the Enterprise and focuses mainly on Spock, although it is deftly woven with a few other storylines. It's a great Star Trek novel, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed: A

23. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Good that Men Do by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The first book in the Enterprise relaunch series corrects the television series' greatest mistake (the killing of Commander Trip Tucker) by revealing how Enterprise NX-01's chief engineer faked his own death in order to become a spy charged with infiltrating the Romulan Star Empire. An entertaining read that sets up events to come in future novels well: B+

24. Star Trek: Seekers - Long Shot by David Mack (Kindle) - The third novel in the Star Trek: Vanguard spinoff series has the crew of the U.S.S. Sagittarius visiting a world where the laws of probability have been thrown out of balance. Perhaps not quite as enjoyable as the first couple of books in this series, but still a very enjoyable Star Trek novel: B+

25. Star Trek Online: The Needs of the Many by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - An unexpectedly brilliant novel detailing events that tie into the long-running Star Trek MMO game. Told in the style of a series of interviews featuring new and long-established Trek characters primarily discussing the Federation's war with Species 8472, but also tying in with the destruction of Romulus as seen in the 2009 Star Trek film, this book reminded me conceptually of Max Brooks' terrific World War Z, and was all the better for it: A

26. Star Trek: Enterprise - Kobayashi Maru by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - The second book in the Enterprise relaunch series explores the growing Romulan threat against the newly formed Coalition of Planets, and reveals the true story behind Starfleet's Kobayashi Maru 'no-win' scenario: B+

27. Star Trek: A Flag Full of Stars by Brad Ferguson - A classic Star Trek novel that was lent to me by a friend purely because of a subplot involving a Klingon taking care of a kitten! Kittens and Klingons aside, this was an solid read that fills in some of the blanks between the end of the Enterprise's five year mission and its relaunch in Star Trek: The Motion Picture: B+

28. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - Beneath the Raptor's Wings by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - After being set up in the two previous novels in the Enterprise relaunch series, we finally get to one of the most fascinating unseen events in Star Trek's long history - the outbreak of war with the Romulan Star Empire. This is a solid tale that gives good insight into the war, not only from the perspective of the Enterprise crew buy from other sources too. Entertaining, if lacking perhaps a little in something that would make it truly brilliant: B+

29. The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman (Kindle) - Without doubt the most entertaining Star Trek novel I've read in a long time. From unseen moments in Kirk's life through to ingenious retellings of familiar Original Series moments from the captain's perspective, this was a wonderful book. My only complaint? The events of Star Trek V are dealt with a little too harshly for my liking when they could have tied in nicely with the ongoing Kirk-Spock-McCoy friendship that runs through the book. But this is a minor complaint: A+

30. Star Trek: Enterprise - The Romulan War - To Brave the Storm by Michael A. Martin (Kindle) - the Romulan War continues in… well, a somewhat underwhelming style, if I'm honest. After setting up the conflict between Earth and the devious, pointy eared Romulans so well in the previous three books, what should've been an epic conclusion to this chapter in the Star Trek novel continuity kind of falls at the final hurdle. It's by no means an awful book, but it feels just a little rushed and genuinely in places like the author couldn't be bothered or didn't have the time to write what could've been some rather thrilling and explosive sequences: C

31. The Watchers by Neil Spring (Kindle) - Thoroughly enjoyable novel that puts a paranormal spin on the apparently true life sightings of UFOs over parts of Wales in the 1970s. This is a cracking, page-turner of a read that zips along at a fair old pace; I got through it in mere days and loved every page: A

32. The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring (Kindle) - A wonderful novel that postulates what could've happened during real life ghost hunter Harry Price's visits to what is believed to have been the most haunted house in Great Britain. Thrilling and just a little bit terrifying in places: A-

33. Fun with Kirk and Spock: A Parody by Robb Pearlman - A very amusing take on the original Star Trek series presented in the form of a beautifully illustrated children's book. Laugh out loud in places and highly amusing throughout: B+

34. Star Trek Volume 10 - Another collection of stories from the ongoing new Star Trek comic book series, this time detailing events that transpire when the Starship Enterprise is transported to the distant Delta Quadrant. Not the series' strongest tales, but enjoyable nonetheless: B

35. Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King and Mark Jude Poirier, illustrated by Nancy Ahn - Graphic novel telling the tale of an outbreak of alien parasites at an isolated college. Easy to read and great fun: B+

36. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 1 by John Byrne - An interesting collection in which Byrne creates new Star Trek stories via a photo montage technique (basically photoshop). The result is actually quite remarkable and the tales themselves are rather enjoyable: B+

37. Liberty Meadows Sundays: Book 1 by Frank Cho - A beautifully presented collection of the Liberty Meadows sunday strips. It's a hilarious, rude, wonderfully illustrated and often crude collection, and I loved it: A

38. Star Trek: New Voyages Volume 2 by John Byrne - The second collection of Byrne's photo montage stories is rather more assured in its storytelling than the first, and highly recommended: A

39. Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson - A wonderful graphic novel telling the story of a young girl and her two friends as they traverse the depths of the Murky Way in search of her missing father. This book is bright and bold, beautifully written and illustrated and a complete joy to read: A+

40. The 42b - The first book from independent publisher We Are Cardiff Press is a beautiful little book of short stories held together by the thread of a bus line that runs through the city. I thoroughly enjoyed these wonderful stories: A

41. The Complete Peanuts 1991-1992 by Charles Schulz - Catching up with more tales of Charlie Brown and Snoopy as this collection enters the twilight years of Schulz's masterpiece: A

42. Star Trek: Seekers - All That's Left by Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore (Kindle) - The fourth book in the Seekers line is a cracking tale of alien parasites attempting to 'collect' members of a Federation archaeological team and the U.S.S. Endeavour crew to ensure their own continued survival. Felt a little like a Star Trek spin on the film Prometheus, and proved to be thoroughly enjoyable: A-

43. The Complete Peanuts 1993-1994 by Charles Schulz - Another cracking collection of Peanuts strips: A

44. Before Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen, illustrated by Jonathan Case - A wonderful story set in 1939 New York which sees a mother and son drawn into a conflict between a crazed Nazi scientist and a group of forward thinkers including Howard Hughes, Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla who unite under the name Plus Ultra. The book is a prequel to the movie Tomorrowland but both stand alone; I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, and it reminded me a little of Michael Chabon's Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. It's a beautifully packaged book too, with my only minor grumble being a rather significant number of sloppy proofing errors that should've been picked up before it was published: A

45. Groo: Friends and Foes Volume 1 by Sergio Aragon├ęs and Mark Evanier - I've long been a big fan of Aragon├ęs' Groo the Wanderer comic book, and this collection of the first four issues of the Friends and Foes series doesn't disappoint. Each issue stands alone as a wonderful example of Groo humour, but there's also hints of an over-arcing storyline that will no doubt play out further in the coming second and third volumes. Funny, beautifully illustrated and a great read: A

There we go - 45 books in total, a smidgeon less than the 50 I've managed over the last couple of years. And aside from that what did we learn? I read a lot of Star Trek books this year. A LOT. What was that all about? Anyway, after a wonderful haul of presents at Christmas I've already got a lovely stack of books waiting for me to lay my grubby little mitts on in 2016 (none of which are Star Trek, you'll be pleased to know). But of course, I won't talk about them until this time next year. But who knows, maybe I'll pop back here and write something before then? No promises, of course…

Until then, a very Happy New Year to all!