It’s that time of year again. As always, this list is composed of books I read in 2015, not necessarily books that were published in 2015. Indeed, none of the books on this list hit the shelves this year. The order is alphabetical by author.
1. The Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
Asimov is one of the big lacunae in my sci-fi reading, and remedying that became one of my goals this year. Thus little did I realize that the majority of Asimov’s robot novels are actually detective novels. They’re even more notable for existing before Blade Runner and Neuromancer made cyberpunk noir the obligatory aesthetic for that kind of subgenre.
2. Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
I did try to read this one as a teenager, but for whatever reason never made it beyond the first part. Foundation is iconic enough that, given Asimov’s stripped-down approach to storytelling, it feels more like a template (a foundation, if you will) for future hard sci-fi authors than a novel in its own right. But Asimov is really stronger as a creator of fictional histories than he is as a novelist, and Foundation is immensely satisfying for playing to that strength.
3. The King of Elfland’s Daughter, by Lord Dunsany
On the opposite side of things, Lord Dunsany’s only novel is almost nothing but ecstatic prose and memorable images. Like Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Elfland is about two ill-fated lovers, but also like Wagner’s opera, not a lot really happens. But there’s a lot to soak in nonetheless.
4. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, by Neal Gabler
Neither an exercise in hagiography nor in mudslinging, Gabler’s book is a very readable biography of the man behind America’s biggest pop cultural institution.
5. Le Morte D’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory
As I’ve been reading it in fits and starts over the course of the year, I still have a substantial chunk of this tome to get through. Nevertheless, it is probably the most important book I picked up in 2015. There are other books on this list that I’ve had more immediate enjoyment reading, but this is the one that actually feels like a world I visit.
5. Of Mice and Magic, by Leonard Maltin
One of the first serious treatments of American animation (slightly antedating the 90s Renaissance). Maltin tackles his subject by studio/animator rather than chronologically, giving a good assessment of the major players in the early-to-mid 20th century.
6. The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
I finished this over a weekend. The Anubis Gates is the best kind of historical fiction there is – namely, the kind that involves time travel, sorcerers, an evil clown, and a large helping of English Romantic poetry.
7. Last Call, by Tim Powers
I’ve never been a gambler or been to Las Vegas, but the sort of surreal Las Vegas described in here where incredibly high stakes games become the arena for mythic archetypes to play out is……well, again, I’m not a gambler.
8. The Soul of the World, by Roger Scruton
While I criticized Scruton’s book elsewhere on this blog, it is still one of the more interesting examinations of religion and the sacred done by a contemporary philosopher.
9. The Wreath, by Sigrid Undset
The first volume in Undset’s celebrated work of historical fiction, Kristin Lavransdatter. Tracking the life of an ordinary woman living in medieval Norway, Undset’s work is lacking in the time travel department, but it is an extraordinarily vivid and sympathetic account of medieval life.
10. The Wizard Knight, by Gene Wolfe
Apparently this was Wolfe’s stab at writing a young adult novel. If so, he certainly doesn’t pull any punches; all his characteristic intricacy and subtlety are on display here. And although it is more uneven than his earlier works, there is plenty to be enjoyed here. Particularly if you’re looking for a modern fantasy novel that isn’t drowning in cynicism.
Honorable Mention: E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman novels. They were an enjoyable ride, but once the historical interest is factored out, I find it difficult to want to bump any other book off the list to slide Galactic Patrol in there.