January 2020 Reading Log

Everything (of substance) that I read in January, with some annotations.

A ⌛︎ before a title indicates that I have not finished reading it.

Total: 11 novels, 2 novellas, 13 short stories, 5 essays/articles, 1 manga chapter, 1 poem


The Raffles Stories

During the last few months of 2019 I slammed back most of E.W. Hornung's Raffles stories (those found in The Amateur Cracksman and The Black Mask), and I started 2020 with A Thief in the Night. I'm in love with the series and know that I'll definitely be rereading them; they scratch the same itch as P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories. I still have yet to read the novel Mr. Justice Raffles, but I'm making myself save it for later.


I have been entranced by the covers and blurbs of Garth Nix's books ever since I was a kid, but I didn't get my hands on the first volume of his Old Kingdom series until December 2019. Now the only reason I haven't finished reading the entire series is that I don't have the other books. The writing is fantastic, I love the setting, and the romance in it is actually believable and doesn't feel shoehorned in. Sabriel is just an unbelievably cool character and I can't wait to see more of her.

Racism and Science Fiction and Empire Star

Reading Samuel Delany's excellent essay Racism and Science Fiction got me in the mood for another of his novels, and I had a copy of Empire Star laying around that I'd not touched. I ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting in a coffeeshop. His prose is so careful, both in nonfiction and in fiction, and he can do so much in a tight space. Empire Star reminded me of The Stars My Destination, in that it blows your mind with so many different settings and fascinating world-building ideas and plot twists that you have no time to catch up, but in Empire Star it felt more like I was being guided along a smooth track, rather than slung about. Delany has a gift for making a story feel innately queer, instilling in it that sense of being Other; Empire Star has that feeling even though it doesn't actually contain any romance or sex, as compared to Dhalgren, in which some of the few scenes that didn't give a sense of wrongness and unreality were explicitly grimy and perverted.

“The Sphinx”

His face was as the must that lies upon a vat of new-made wine: The seas could not insapphirine the perfect azure of his eyes.

Clifford Simak

This was a thrift store find. I spotted it in mid-December, but decided that I wanted to look up the author first, considering how hit-or-miss so much 60's sci-fi can be. I read a few of his stories and a novel of his in old archived issues of Galaxy Magazine, and lo and behold they were fucking great. I went back to the thrift store weeks later and, miraculously, the book was still there. This book has everything: sentient robots, star-scattered humanity, time travel, rural splendor, academic intrigue, tolerable romance, and the of takedown a corrupt corporation. I'm very happy to have my copy.

“Brother Jacob”

I had this saved on my computer to read after I'd had enough of a break from reading Middlemarch in the autumn. It's about a young man who steals money from his family so he can run away to Jamaica and be a king among the natives, gets caught in the act by his mentally disabled brother, returns to England after several years of having his expectations lowered, manages to create success for himself under a new name, and then thanks to his continued greed has his life ruined by the reappearance of his brother. Very worth the read, even though I just spoiled the entire plot.

“I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter”

Literally everyone else on the internet read this story in January, and probably has smarter things to say about it. I loved it and I'm very sad that the author was bullied into having it removed.

Catherine Asaro

The bulk of my reading this month was over half of Catherine Asaro's Sage of the Skolian Empire. I meant to only read one book, after seeing nostalgebraist's review of the series, but I got sucked in and couldn't stop. As nostalgebraist says, the series is a very fun blend of sci-fi and romance, genre-wise. I fully support Asaro's weird kinks for four-fingered hands that hinge down the middle and metallic skin and hair, and I respect anyone with the guts to give her protagonist hair that naturally fades between three different colors (black, wine, gold).


This month I read: an essay on racism in the science fiction publishing community; a history of nazi suppression of trans people and how trans/queer people fit into the national socialist ideology; a history of shade as public infrastructure or a commons, centered on the LA area; a history of Marxist feminist thought thus far; a short study on the frenulum, the skin bridge, and the perineum.