In the first quarter of 2008, I read the following books:
1. Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
Hard to follow at first, but worth persevering with. The story itself is nothing special, and could do with the confusingly named characters and objects being explained better, but the sheer quality of the writing more than makes up for it. In places, it's more like poetry than anything else.
2. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
God that was depressing! The author does a good job of bringing her character to life and describing the bizarre circumstances, it's just a shame that the end is so rushed and that it's not really finished.
3. The World in Winter, by John Christopher
A good end-of-the-world story. It's very dated, both in the scenario and language, but remember, this is from before the worries about global warming and before calling black men Sambo and assuming they were inferior was thought to be perhaps not in the best of tastes. I refuse to judge a book badly simply because of when it was written. But unfortunately, it is let down by an unconvincing ending, in which the main character's motivations and the new life he has created for himself get turned on their head for completely incomprehensible reasons. Still worth reading though if you can find it for a few pennies second-hand.
4. Hunter's Moon, by David Devereux
I couldn't help but think of Charlie Stross's Laundry while reading this. That's a good thing. Hunter's Moon is faster-paced, and requires more suspension of disbelief. I'm looking forward to reading the next one.
5. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The author seems to think it far more appropriate to let us all know what a well-educated fellow he is by the use of overblown pompous classical waffling, than to tell the story. Avoid this book.
6. Prison Planet, by William C. Dietz
Trash sci-fi. The ending is telegraphed right at the start, poorly executed when we get to it, and the last third of the journey is too contrived. The first two thirds makes for a good read though. This is one to buy second-hand for pennies.
7. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy
I was expecting this to be a load of gung-ho crap that had been accidentally turned into a pretty decent film, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't. There are far too many coincidences, but it's a spy thriller so they are to be expected. Worth reading.
8. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi
I got this as a free e-book when Tor were running some promotion in February. Turns out it was good enough that I've also ordered it in paperback, and its sequel.
Another free download, this one from the author's website, and his first novel. In the introduction he talks about how hard it was to sell. I'm not surprised, because as sci-fi it doesn't really work very well - an awful lot of the story just isn't sci-fi, being far more of a comedy of Hollywood manners. But the sci-fi elements would alienate the sort who normally read such things. Even so, I liked it. Not great, but enjoyable, and certainly worth the price.
10. Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson
My second free Tor download, this book has a very interesting premise, good characterisation and moves along at a good pace - not too slow, nor so fast as to seem occasionally forced. When what's been going on is finally made clear it is perhaps a little too magical for my tastes, but that doesn't detract from the book much. I see that there's a sequel. I've added that to my Amazon wishlist.
11. Farthing, by Jo Walton
Another freebie from the nice people at Tor. This is apparently a science fiction book. I mean, it must be, it's been nominated for the Nebula and all! And it's published by Tor! Of course it's sci-fi! Well, no, it's not. While it does use the common sci-fi trope of being set in an alternate history (and a rather pedestrian one at that - peace between Britain and Germany in 1941) the story itself is just a country-house detective mystery, with political meddling. A fairly competently executed one too. While it's obvious from the start whodunnit (or at least oneofwhodunnit) the whydunnit isn't clear at first, and it's fun to see the investigation flail around a bit. On the other hand, the characters are a bit two-dimensional and stereotyped. Stupid aristocrats. Nasty aristocrats. Good copper with a hidden past. Nasty Nazis. And the Jewish hero is, of course, a banker. In summary, worth reading, but wait for the paperback. The book is apparently the first in a trilogy, I'll give the second installment a try - the excerpt Tor appended was at least interesting.