2012 Reading List

There are several small gaps, a month or more in length, between various of the 30 novels I read in 2012.  In almost all cases, these are a sign that I was having trouble getting into the book in question.  This doesn't necessarily mean they were bad books -- I had quite a few distractions in 2012, not least of which was the commencement of my final, concerted effort to finish off the writing of Episode 3.0: Attack of the Stiff...

Books completed in 2012
#TitleAuthorYearFinished
1 Fragment Warren Fahy 2009 27-01-12
2 Spear of Destiny Daniel Easterman 2008 01-02-12
3 The Schumann Frequency Christopher Ride 2007 12-03-12
4 Sign of the Cross Chris Kuzneski 2006 26-03-12
5 Sword of God Chris Kuzneski 2007 06-04-12
6 The Lost Throne Chris Kuzneski 2008 09-04-12
7 A Princess of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 10-04-12
8 The Gods of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1913 07-05-12
9 The Warlord of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1914 12-05-12
10 Thuvia, Maid of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1916 16-05-12
11 The Chessmen of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1922 21-05-12
12 The Master Mind of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1927 27-05-12
13 A Fighting Man of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1930 02-06-12
14 Swords of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1934 04-06-12
15 Synthetic Men of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1938 04-06-12
16 Llana of Gathol Edgar Rice Burroughs 1941 12-06-12
17 John Carter of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1942 13-06-12
18 Power Lines Anne McCaffrey &
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
1994 18-06-12
19 Power Play Anne McCaffrey &
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
1995 02-07-12
20 Cheat the Grave Vicki Pettersson 2010 14-07-12
21 The Neon Graveyard Vicki Pettersson 2011 15-07-12
22 The Lost Symbol Dan Brown 2009 23-07-12
23 Space Ranger Isaac Asimov 1952 25-07-12
24 Pirates of the Asteroids Isaac Asimov 1953 28-07-12
25 Oceans of Venus Isaac Asimov 1954 31-07-12
26 The Big Sun of Mercury Isaac Asimov 1956 01-08-12
27 The Moons of Jupiter Isaac Asimov 1957 02-08-12
28 The Rings of Saturn Isaac Asimov 1958 05-08-12
29 The Cloud Ray Hammond 2006 26-08-12
30 Battle Royale Koushun Takami 1999 18-11-12

Fragment
by Warren Fahy

Imagine an island -- a "fragment" of the world -- that has been cut off from the rest of the world since a time before the dinosaurs.  An island on which evolution has had free reign for several hundred million years; an island on which the biggest predator was originally the descendant of the mantis shrimp.  This novel takes us to that island, and shows us a landscape upon which everything is a devastating killing machine.

Just a dot in the ocean, this island was discovered -- and named -- by an ill-fated sailing ship in the 1800's.  It has now been rediscovered by a group of scientists whose funding comes via the reality TV show that wants to follow their investigations into the unknown.

Needless to say, it ends badly...

This was quite an entertaining novel; there are even signs that a movie might be in the works.  Certainly the multi-clip trailer for the novel that can be found on youTube gives a glimpse of how frightening the creatures of this island can be -- and what would be the likely results for the rest of the world if they ever got off the island.

Spear of Destiny
by Daniel Easterman

This is one of that whole genre of books that has come out in the wake of The Da Vinci Code (which is more of a comment on the publishing industry than the authors themselves, I think -- and given Array Wars, who am I to judge?) that touches all the usual bases: a religious relic or secret, a secret sect, plenty of adventure.  For good measure this one throws Nazis into the mix, and actually feels more like a Raiders story than a Da Vinci Code story.

The relic, in this instance, is named right there in the title: the spear which pierced the side of Christ as he hung on the cross.  Of course the Nazis want it -- to put with their Grail and Ark, no doubt -- and it's up to our hero to stop them.

The Schumann Frequency
by Christopher Ride

This is more of the same; a race against time to various archaeological sites to save the world, starting with a world-destroying mystery, the clues to which were discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The big twist here, of course, is that by the time the danger was discovered, it was far too late to do anything about it -- so the hero has been sent back in time from the future.

It was actually pretty good, and had a few interesting ideas (mostly centring around the time-travel aspect of the story) that kept it from being just "more of the same"!

Turns out this novel was originally self-published before being picked up by a mainstream publishing house.

Sign of the Cross
Sword of God
The Lost Throne

by Chris Kuzneski

More of the same.  Sort of.  I bought these three books together and was thinking of them as a trilogy, but they are not the first books in the "Payne and Jones" series -- the first was The Plantation which is, as I understand it, not religiously-themed -- and there are others which have followed these.  I would not actually be averse to reading more by this author, although off-hand, I don't remember much about these three books.  There were murders most foul, and plenty of action -- including a spate of public crucifixions in the first novel, and a violent encounter with a sect still following the old Spartan ways.

The Martian Novels
by Edgar Rice Burroughs

  1. A Princess of Mars
  2. The Gods of Mars
  3. The Warlord of Mars
  4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  5. The Chessmen of Mars
  6. The Master Mind of Mars
  7. A Fighting Man of Mars
  8. Swords of Mars
  9. Synthetic Men of Mars
  10. Llana of Gathol
  11. John Carter of Mars

I first read some of these books when I was in year seven or eight -- that was the time I discovered both these and Tarzan.  Sadly, in a moment of insanity before we moved up to Bundaberg -- which is how I'm able to date when I read them -- I took a whole bunch of books to the second-hand shop because I wanted money (for who knows what) and then ended up having to trade rather than sell, and came back with a half-bag of books I didn't want instead of the full-bag of books I'd rather have had...  Ah, kids...

I had actually tracked down this whole series on eBay during one of my many series-filling sprees a year or two earlier, but it was with the release of the John Carter movie (based, despite the name, on the first novel -- with snippets from the second or third) that I finally had the excuse I needed to read the whole series.  It's funny how memory plays tricks on you.  When I saw the movie, and we first met Dejah Thoris -- leaping fearlessly into battle, not needing any man to fight for her -- I remember thinking "well, they got her right, at least"!

How wrong I was.  Dejah Thoris -- and indeed, Thuvia and Llana, and any of the other women of Mars -- are presented in the books as little more than a plot device, someone to be kidnapped or otherwise imperilled at the start of the book to give our male hero the chance to run off and rescue her.  Which was not how I remembered her at all.  Oh, they weren't complete shrinking violets; they would occasionally fight to preserve "their honour" (and often bravely consider killing themselves to preserve their honour, only to be rescued in the nick of time) and they would put on a brave front (which usually boiled down to "you're going to be so sorry when my man gets here to make you pay!")  In other words, completely misogynistic and sexist attitudes -- but I guess, given they were written between 1912 and 1942, what can you expect?

Oh, and the women were often a "jewelled harness" and a wisp of silk away from being naked -- but that's not remotely sexist; the guys were dressed the same!  (Now that never made it into the movie!)

I can only conclude that when I first read these books I was far too young to notice the themes of rampant sexism and misogyny -- in fact, since I'd guess the Tarzan books are much the same, it is indeed ironic that I first learned the word "misogyny" from one of the Tarzan novels; at the time I couldn't quite comprehend the concept.  As I grew up, and was exposed to (and came to love) "strong female characters", I guess my mental image of the "incomparable" Dejah Thoris morphed in my mind to suit that archetype.

However!

Despite the framework of "woman is kidnapped; man rescues her" upon which each novel is hung, there is actually a lot to love about these books.  They are full of imaginative ideas, some even well beyond their time.  Also, these books have been well-pillaged over the last hundred years; it is not at all surprising that the movie -- really only possible with today's technology -- seemed tired and derivative, given that most of the ideas from these novels have already been filmed.  Indeed, they formed the basis for much of Avatar -- but because that got there first, the 10-foot tall green natives of Mars seemed (to the uninitiated) like the copy-cat, not the original.  Most notably, I saw several names that have been lifted outright into popular culture via the Star Wars movies -- the "banths" of Mars became "banthas", and the "sith" name didn't even get changed (although in these books, a "sith" is essentially a giant wasp.)

Finally, a word about the cover art.  One should never judge a book by its cover, of course -- but when I bought this set off eBay, I was specifically looking for the same set that I had owned so long ago, because I had always loved their look.  This can be seen in the second cover shown above.  The art for the entire series was painted by Michael Whelan and can be found here, without text.  (If you're interested, a "sith" features on the covers of both The Warlord of Mars and Synthetic Men of Mars.)  What I discovered about these covers is that each one shows, specifically, a scene from the novel -- to the point that, once I realised this, one of the covers actually acted as a partial spoiler: "character X can't be dead because we haven't seen the cover scene yet, and he's in that!"

However, when I went looking online for the cover art, I found the old "NEL" cover that I've shown at the top of this section -- and it rang a bell so loudly that I had to include it too.  I think this was the first cover I saw for the book; I guess it must have been one Dad got from the library.  This cover was painted by Bruce Pennington; it struck me as being very Dune-like -- very much like so many of what I consider the "classic" Science Fiction covers -- and it turns out that so many of those covers were actually painted by Bruce Pennington himself.  (How did I not know this before?)

Power Lines
Power Play

by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

These two stories continue (and conclude) the story begun in Powers That Be that I started reading in 2011; the ongoing quest for the sentient planet Petaybe to declare its own independence from external control, to declare its own right to be free from exploitation.

Cheat the Grave
The Neon Graveyard

by Vicki Pettersson

These two stories continue (and conclude) the Signs of the Zodiac series that I started reading in 2009.  Attempting to come back into the series after a three-year gap was a bit of a struggle -- one of the reasons I prefer to collect a whole series before reading them -- but ultimately, once I got my mind back into that world I quite enjoyed these final two books.

The Lost Symbol
by Dan Brown

Yeah.  More of the same from Dan Brown.  I actually found this novel quite frustrating, even irritating, to work through.  I think part of it was the whole fourth-wall-breaking presentiment of disaster that seemed to end every chapter...  "If only he knew what was waiting for him around the corner..."  DUN-DUN-DUUUNNNNNN.  It started feeling like one of those "WHEN VOLCANOES ATTACK!!" pseudo-reality-docu-dramas that you see occasionally (or not so occasionally; what would I know?)

The Lucky Starr, Space Ranger series
by Isaac Asimov

  1. Space Ranger
  2. Pirates of the Asteroids
  3. Oceans of Venus
  4. The Big Sun of Mercury
  5. The Moons of Jupiter
  6. The Rings of Saturn

Shortly after Ray Bradbury died, a conversation with a friend led me to realise that I'd never read any Asimov (and very little Bradbury, come to think of it!)  Since I had recently found a "recommended reading order" of Asimov's books -- by the author himself -- spanning his Robot, Empire, and Foundation stories, I decided I should fill out my Asimov library and read them all.  In the process of collecting the other series, I also managed to pick up these books, and they seemed a good place to start, despite not being on Asimov's list.

As it turned out, they were a pretty good choice.  The stories here are set in a time when there are some vague rumours of robots being produced out on the fringe, and some of the stories look at human (specifically "Terran", since the outside forces driving the conflict are also humans who left the planet decades/centuries ago) attitudes toward such rumours.  These are, effectively, "Robot" prequels.

Each of the six stories tackle a different planet/environment (the first being set on Mars.)  Being Asimov stories, the science around how space travel works is top notch.  (Additionally, because current knowledge of a couple of the planets has changed markedly since the novels were written, Asimov has included a foreword in a couple of them apologising for the fact that what he wrote is now no longer scientifically accurate!)  And they're good, short, fun stories!

The Cloud
by Ray Hammond

There's a storm coming.

Apart from providing the excuse to use a Terminator quote, I don't recall a whole lot about this novel.  There's a whole sub-plot about the evils of artificial intelligences (and about how, despite their being illegal, everyone develops them anyway.)  That aside, though, there's an interstellar gas cloud headed straight for us, and chances seem high that it will whip through our solar system like it's not even there, stripping away every atom of our atmosphere as it passes.  Will we survive?  Will the AI's win?  Why is the cloud sending us a coded message?  Will a pair of humpbacks in a stolen Klingon warbird really be enough to save us?  (Wait, I'm not sure that last one was from this book!)

I'm not sure I cared enough to remember...

Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami

So I got all excited, after watching the first Hunger Games movie, to go and read the novels.  Of course, no discussion of those novels (or movies) would be entirely complete without some mention of Battle Royale (or is that just me?) so I decided, before I read them, I had to read this.

I'd seen the movie a few years back -- and even read the first volume of the manga -- so the story was familiar to me.  More or less.  Turns out that the manga was more accurate than the movie -- or perhaps it just didn't cut out some of the scenes that the movie did.  Either way, it was interesting to read the novel, trying to spot what the movie followed closely, and where it had deviated, and why it might have deviated.  I did find it quite a struggle to get through this novel -- it took me almost three months -- but to be fair, I think a large chunk of that time was spent focussing on finishing my book 3...  I suspect I was also having a hard time wrestling with all the Japanese names -- and possibly something was lost in the translation.  Certainly there were a few phrases which stood out as being a direct translation of an untranslatable slang term, and hence nonsensical to a non-Japanese reader.

Overall, though, I'm glad I read it!

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