What Am I Reading? December 2020

By Betsey Wilcox

Reading list Sep-Oct-Nov 2020

I hope that everyone is finding this column useful, entertaining and/or not awful. I have learned an important lesson from the first entry to this one. I learned not to tell you what I plan to read for the next column because that NEVER goes as planned. Case in point is the first entry here, which was nowhere on my list of books TBR (to-be-read) last newsletter.  There is, so far, only one book that I said I was going to read that I have managed to read. When it comes to following a list of what to read next, I sometimes feel like a dog in a yard full of squirrels or, in this case, a sentient cat in a junkyard full of bad nanobots. Cats do plan better though than dogs.

Faith Hunter- Junkyard Cats

If you have not heard of or read anything by Faith Hunter, you have been missing out.  I started on Kindle with her Jane Yellowrock series of books which welcomes you to the world of Skinwalkers, vampires, weres and witches, not all of whom get along. I then read her Soulwood series, which crosses over from Jane Yellowrock into the journey of an Appalachian cult church escapee & her journey to accept herself, change her family, and fit into the modern world all while not being quite human.  By great accident, I discovered that paperbound copies exist of both series. I had to have them in that format, so I’ve added them to my collection! I’m now the proud owner of 13 Jane Yellowrock paperbacks and 5 Soulwood novels.  Which brings me to the point of this piece: Faith Hunter has the start of a new series and she has moved from fantasy and folklore to Science Fiction! “Junkyard Cats” the first book in the “Shining Smith” series is most definitely science fiction and includes cats, self-repairing and self-replicating nanobots, Bugs, AI spaceships, scary sentient and deadly bicolored ants, warbots, motorcycle gangs, and enhanced humans. I got completely immersed into this world, which is post-apocalyptic but not yet dystopian. Kind of like one of the cats, I could not get it out of my mind. The book grabbed me like nothing else has in a while. I read it in 2.5 hours on my Kindle and went to sleep. Woke up still thinking about the book and downloaded an Audible copy & let someone else read it to me in 5.5 hours while I worked. So, I have “read” it twice in 24 hours.  I think I kind of liked it! From here I jumped into the book I said I was going to read…

John Scalzi- Murder by Other Means

I had to reread “The Dispatcher”, not because I forgot everything about it in the 4 years since its publication, but because I didn’t want to spend half my time on “Murder by Other Means” trying remember who was who to catch up. As the story begins, time and economy have not been kind to Tony Valdez. He is still a dispatcher, but without a regular hospital gig or police consulting job, he resorts to taking less than savory jobs. Not quite illegal, but close to the line. Fine lines that Tony almost crosses in this book include a dispatch to save 16 hours on a flight to China for monetary gain, 10 assisted suicides, a true ‘murder’ to save someone’s life, a bank robbery, a cop killing and the return of the Chicago mobster who is going straight and somehow all tied up in Tony’s troubles. It was a satisfying listen, and I will love the print edition when it comes out (you can order a limited edition from Subterranean Press now). I also heard from the author’s mouth that there will be a third Dispatcher novel & John is considering killing off a character from this book in the next one.  I cannot wait to find out if I am right about who dies next time!

Carol Nelson Douglas- Catnap

Did I tell you that I have a wide range of books that I like to read, not just science fiction? I got my love for mysteries from my mother, who turned me into a mystery reader early on. I loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in grade school and preferred to hang out with the “boys” rather than Nancy & her rescuing beau.  I have read cozy mysteries, hardboiled detective mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov and the list goes on. When the opportunity presented itself to buy a signed first edition of Carole Nelson Douglas’ first Midnight Louie mystery “Catnap” from 1992 I jumped on it. The book was in exceptionally fine shape and after I put a protective cover on the dust jacket I sat down and started to read. Yes, I read signed editions, they are not just for show on my shelves, although I do have “reading” copies of many of my limited editions!  As a first introduction to this feline and his shenanigans, Midnight Louie is a good beginning. The cat has sense and certain morality that only a cat can have. Temple Barr, the human in the book, has room to grow. There is murder, catnapping (in the literal sense) and dastardly deeds done by humans. The cats that show up as “costars” are perfect foils for Midnight Louie. Considering that the book was published 10 years before I got my first cellphone, I did not find the technology gap to be distracting any more than I find it missing in Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie mysteries. There are apparently 28 Midnight Louie mysteries so it might be worth my time to drop in later and see how things go. I do like seeing from the cat’s point of view.

Garth Nix- The Left-handed Booksellers of London

 “A girl’s quest to find her father leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it intrudes on the modern world” is the elevator pitch for Garth Nix’s “The Left-handed Booksellers of London”. I was not sure what to expect but was well pleased with the book.  I have read other Garth Nix books, hoped for the best, and gotten it. I think the title of the book is what drew me in, but I really enjoyed the world building that was created to cradle this story. I would not be displeased to find more Booksellers of London, either right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous in the future adventures.

Dean Koontz- Elsewhere

I love reading Dean Koontz books because you never know what you are going to get when you open the cover. I have spent considerable time collecting the Charnel House signed limited editions of his books. This is just your everyday reading copy and not bound in silk or signed or numbered, but it is one of my favorites of his recent output. There is no doubt that this is science fiction. This is a multiverse journey across parallel universes along the lines of my favorite Grandmaster of Science Fiction. I lost track of  how many universes were visited, some I never want to see again as they were just over the top dystopian, but I did like the fact that people from different universes all ended up together in a safe and secure universe with the “black hats” neatly taken care. Thumbs up for Dean Koontz on this one!

Lois McMaster Bujold – Masquerade in Lodi (Penric & Desdemona)  

This is the ninth novella in this wonderful series set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods.  Coming between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission”, this fills in some hinted at stories in later books, but it is a lot of fun with a little who-dun-what when involving a demon ridden person, a saint, a murderer and the party of the year for those whose God is called The Bastard, not having to do with parentage or the lack thereof. It was fun and welcoming, and I just never know what I am going to get when I visit with Penric & Des. This, too, I hope will be forthcoming from Subterranean Press in a limited edition.

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson Dune-The Duke of Caladan

Dune, Arrakis, the Spice planet. All those terms stir up good & bad feelings. The latest installment from Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson does not disappoint. Set on Caladan, the Atreides homeworld for 10,000 years, the story begins 2 years before the family is sent to Arrakis. It fills in some blanks and answers some question that the original books left open, adding insight to young Master Paul and his training by his mother. It also hints at reasons for the Atreides move and Harkonnen hatred. As the first of 3 prequel novels to Dune, I am looking forward to rest with great expectations based on how this one captured my attention and left unanswered many questions.  I was so immersed in the call of Dune that when I finished the Duke of Caladan I had no choice but to re-read Dune & Dune Messiah. I expect that I will reread Children of Dune also before moving onto the growing TBR stack of books accumulating in my house.

As I said earlier, I learned my lesson and will not be telling you what I “plan” to read next because, well that never works out as planned! I am not going to run out of reading material any time soon, though.  I hope that everyone is staying safe and healthy and that the holidays coming up exceed your expectations. I am looking forward to the end of this dumpster fire of a year and a happier 2021!

Betsey Wilcox


Many thanks to Richard G. Griffiths for sending in his What Am I Reading submission:

“I first found RAH in 1959, just before turning 12. Have Space Suit Will Travel was my introduction to Science Fiction, and then I read any book or magazine I could. Over the years I have read, and reread Heinlein’s work, enjoying them all, especially Glory Road and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress–the first, for you cannot always trust what you see, or think you know; and the second for early computer ‘AI & gamesmanship’, exploration of marriage/reproductive arrangements, and exploring ‘government’. All of the ‘long life’ Johnson’s works explored sex, exploration, and social dynamics–which I was glad to be old enough to appreciate, and Stranger in a Strange Land…which all I find interesting because of Niven’s Law, though it applied to us humans. I especially like Jubal.

History is a passion–especially Ancient Mediterranean History. Science Fiction is an escape to relaxation and possibilities. Having attended  a number of Westercons and some WorldCons, I’ve delved further into the literature and milieu since my 20’s–since science fiction writers explore minds that think as well as we do, but differently [to paraphrase a Niven Law]. History provides glimpses into that as well, as demonstrated the books read since June 15th.
You will note that all of the books read follow a general theme: ‘Minds that think as well as you do [or better] but differently’

The Templars–Dan Jones   History of the Templars: A view history that explains current world passions, and historical cruelty.

Friends Divided–Gordon S, Wood  ‘The remarkable relationship between two presidents whose views defined—and divided— the early nation’: interesting personal look at two intellectuals that saw their motives as pure and the ‘right’ way that America should take–and their views/politics reverberate today.
The Deluge Drivers–Alan Dean Foster: Overcoming a climatological problem and bad guys while finding variations in an alien species like Reteif had to deal with. 


Timothy Zahn: Zahn approaches alien minds and technology based on ‘thinking differently’,

Conquerors’ Pride, Conquerors’ Heritage, Conquerors’ Legacy

Colleen McCullough: Reread every year–McCullough was very astute in her research, and it is reflected in her ‘people’. As part of the basis of Western Civilization and how it has structured the ‘Western mind’ over 2300 years

The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune’s Favorites”