MY 2013 READING LIST

These are the books that kept me up late into the night, kept me company during long bus rides and rekindled my dream of becoming published some day.

Spirituality

1. Jaded – A.J. Kiesling

At a time when my faith was floundering, I picked up this book from my stash and read. Talk about a godsend. This was timely.

Experienced journalist, Kiesling explores the true meaning of church and community and offers hope to those who’ve been hurt , disappointed and offended by “the church”. Filled with paradigm-shifting truths.

2. The War is Over – Andrew Wommack

If I ever become a bible teacher, I want to be as simple as Andrew Wommack. His writing style complements his teaching – easy to read, easy to follow and easy to believe.

In this book, Wommack reassures Christians of God’s love for man and His finished work on the cross. Emphasis on finished. Over and over again, Wommack drives home the point that God’s favor and acceptance isn’t something to be labored for, but rather something that is already given to every believer. Just believe and drink freely.

Writing and Craft

3. On Writing Well – William Zinsser

I really hope I get to meet Mr. Zinsser before he dies. I would like to tell him how much his book has improved my writing. I want to let him know that I’m now one of his biggest advocates, regularly recommending this book to anyone who cares to handle a pen. I loved this book and I think it goes side by side with Mr. King’s On Writing.

Simplicity is the bedrock of all good writing. That and consistent practice. That is the lesson running through the soul of this book. It’s a handbook every writer should have and reference occasionally as it covers nearly every facet of non-fiction writing – Sports writing, Comedy, Review and Critique writing, Memoirs, Conducting interviews, Travel  writing and so on. The list is exhaustive. Get this book.

Psychology and Social Science

4. Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

I loved reading this book. The subject matter has a certain universal appeal. And the treatment the author gave it is engaging. It just didn’t have that OMG factor that I got from Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine last year.

5. How Laziness Saved My Life – Okechukwu Ofili

I’d heard some good things about the book. Debonairs bookstore even listed it among their bestsellers once. So it was only a matter of time before I got my hands on a copy.

Not bad for a Malcolm Gladwell wannabe. That might sound like damning praise but when you consider that Malcolm Gladwell has spawned a slew of big thinkers and a whole new genre of social science writers, you realize it’s not. Ofili’s personality comes through in the book and there are a few interesting ideas in here. It’s just that the research backing it up is measly. Nevertheless, had a good time reading it.

6. Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

7. Think! – Edward de Bono

8. David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is the master of the art of presenting BIG IDEAs and unintuitive thinking in social science. His bestseller – The Tipping point- is still being referenced in marketing circles today. David and Goliath may not attain such epic status but it’s a compulsory read nonetheless.

David and Goliath is a study in the tenacity of the underdog. Mr. Gladwell in his usual style, weaves tale after tale of disadvantaged people surmounting great odds and rising to the peak of their profession. As is now regular practise, Gladwell has gotten a lot of flak for the way he uses research and statistics in defending his ideas. But that is beside the point. His stories and his ideas are, if nothing else, fascinating. A good read.

Novels

9. The DarkTower I – Stephen King

10. Percy Jackson I – Rick Riordan

11. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

12. A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jeniffer Egan

13. Brief Encounters – Ben Fountain

14. Inferno – Dan Brown

This year involved a lot of firsts for me. This was my first Dan Brown book. It was about time I saw what all the hype was about. And boy, did I find out. This book took off like a hurricane from the first chapter and didn’t let up till the final 3 pages.

Our protagonist, Robert Langdon, wakes up with amnesia to find himself in the middle of an international cat and mouse game involving terrorists, secret government agencies and …let’s just say to say more would ruin the plot.

From what I hear, this is his weakest book so far, so I think I’m in for a treat with his other novels.

15. Seven Wonders – Adam Christopher

16. Crystal Rain – Tobias S. Buckell

17. The Emperor’s Soul – Brandon Sanderson

My first Sanderson novel. This is the book that spoiled me for other others. Sanderson’s style, intricate magic systems and clever worldbuilding hit all the right notes within my brain. This novellete drove me into a Brandon Sanderson frenzy. Ironically, the book is just a little over a 100 pages but, Damn!

A master forger is entrapped to restore the soul of the emperor of the kingdom. She must do this while imprisoned, under threat of death by skeletal warriors and so many other complications.

18. The Rithmatist – Brandon Sanderson

19. Steel Heart – Brandon Sanderson

My best book of 2013, hands down. There was a point in Steelheart where I put the e-reader down, pumped my fist in a “hell yeah” gesture and spent the next five minutes basking in the images flowing through my mind. Such was the thrill of reading this book. This is superhero fiction unlike anything you’ve ever read.

20. Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson

21. Mitosis (A Reckoners Story) – Brandon Sanderson

22. Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson

23. Hero of  the Ages – Brandon Sanderson

24. Alloy of Law – Brandon Sanderson

25. Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

26. Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi

27.The Fall of Five – Pittacus Lore

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HOW I DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FICTION

PLEASE!!! Could everyone just SHUT UP!

Everywhere I go, it seems there is always a new definition of science fiction and fantasy and the difference between the two genres.

It’s really confusing. And exhausting.

Here’s one and here is another one. They both make valid points but it just doesn’t help me. The debate keeps going on without any resolution in sight. What is the distinction between science fiction and fantasy fiction? Can the lines truly be drawn?

Some really creative writers have stretched the genre, further complicating the lives of experts who’re trying to help people like me understand what the hell is going on. There was a time when it was easy to tell them apart. Elves never wandered into the future and time travelers didn’t faceoff against wizards.

Distinguishing between the two genres really bothers me because I eventually have to categorize my novel.

When the book publisher/book store asks, “What genre is your novel?” I want to know what exactly to say.

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So I invented my own way of identifying/categorizing fantasy fiction and science fiction. I call it – The Human Interface system (cue drum roll).

It’s simple. First, you count how many major characters are in the story, divide that by how many times the hero and the villain meet in person. Then depending on the presence/absence of an epilogue/prologue, you decide how often…. I’m kidding.

This is it – In the story, what is the interface between the real world (our world) and the story world? If it is magical/supernatural, then it is fantasy; if it is technological/scientific, then it is science fiction. Simple.

 TESTING THE THEORY

Let’s start with an easy one. In the Harry Potter series, the story takes place in a world of magic. Human beings ignorantly co-exist with witches and wizards and this is possible through magic. The human interface is magical therefore Harry Potter is a fantasy book.

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On the other hand, the Old Man’s War series chronicles the story of an intergalactic war taking place between human beings and hostile alien colonies beyond the Milky Way galaxy. It doesn’t get more sci-fi than that. Intergalactic travel is made possible by devices called skip drives, the workings of which are explained (well sorta).  This means the human interface is technological – science fiction.

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If the world in which the story is set in is not earth, but there are humans there, how did those people get there? Was it something supernatural that took them there or was it technological? For example, in Tobias S. Buckell’s Crystal Rain, humans are stranded for centuries on a foreign planet after their spaceship was shot out of the sky in a foreign planet. The only way those humans got there was through space travel therefore the human interface is technologgical – Sci Fi.

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In Zoo City, Lauren Beukes creates a South Africa where murderers are animalled – get attached to an animal that gifts them magical abilities. She doesn’t explain how this happens or where the animals come from. It just is. Something supernatural is responsible for the “animal” people, which means the human interface is supernatural – fantasy.

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If the story world is not set on earth, and there is no explanation how the story world came to be, nor is there any link between that world and our planet earth, then there is no human interface whatsoever. I guess you can call it whatever the hell you want to call it. I’ll call it fantasy e.g. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora.

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It really is simple.

I don’t think this method is perfect but I think it easily handles 98% of the books in both genres. If there is any exception to this rule, I’d definitely love to hear it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.