54. Bradley Marion Zimmer. The Mists of Avalon (876 p.)
55. Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather (Discworld novel) (354 p.)
56. Sargent, Pamela, ed. Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years (420 p.)
(Contents: Cassandra, by C.J. Cherryh; The Thaw, by Tanith Lee; Scorched Supper on New Niger, by Suzy McKee Charnas; Abominable, by Carol Emshwiller; Bluewater Dreams, by Sydney J. Van Scyoc; The Cabinet of Edgar Allan Poe, by Angela Carter; The Harvest of Wolves, by Mary Gentle; Bloodchild, by Octavia E. Butler; Fears, by Pamela Sargent; Webrider, by Jayge Carr; Alexia and Graham Bell, by Rosaleen Love; Reichs-Peace, by Sheila Finch; Angel, by Pat Cadigan; Rachel in Love, by Pat Murphy; Game Night at the Fox and Goose, by Karen Joy Fowler; Tiny Tango, by Judith Moffett; At the Rialto, by Connie Willis; Midnight News, by Lisa Goldstein; And Wild for to Hold, by Nancy Kress; Immaculate, by Storm Constantine; Farming in Virginia, by Rebecca Ore)
57. Briggs, Raymond. When the Wind Blows (40 p.)
December total: 1,690 pages
2012 YTD total: 20,605 pages
Only 2/3 as many books read this year as last year, but I did manage to surpass my goal of 50 books, and still managed to meet my secondary goal of 20K pages for the year--which tells you something about the average book size each of those years (361 p. average this year, vs. 293 p. last year and 277 p. the year before). Several long, slow slog books this year, too, which put a major dent in my totals.
Last of the "slog" books for the year was The Mists of Avalon. I like reading tales of the Arthurian mythos, but this retelling from the women's point of view (particularly Morgan le Fay & Gwenivere) was so slow-moving for most of it that there were long stretches where I was so put off by it that I couldn't bring myself to pick it up, so it took me three months to read it. Having the build for the entire first half climax (as it were) with Arthur, Lancelot, and Gwenivere having an all-way three-way didn't do much to help my suspension of disbelief, either. For all that, I can appreciate the craft that went into writing this, but I am definitely nowhere near the target audience for it. (In contrast, I'm being a glutton for punishment and following this with Malory's "Mort d'Arthur"--the only book I've ever started by choice but never finished because reading one page or less would cure my worst insomnia--in a version that modernizes spelling but not word choice or grammar, and I'm finding that to be an easier, faster-moving, more interesting read than Mists of Avalon ever was for me. But if woman-centered fiction that deals primarily with the struggle between Christian rulers and pre-Christian Druids, and features main characters you just want to slap silly--especially Gwenivere, the agoraphobic, paranoid, prejudiced, manipulative b***h--then this may be right up your alley.)
As a palate cleanser, and because it was December, I finally read Hogfather. Much fun, as Discworld tends to be. Highly recommended. Now I need to track down the Discworld Christmas TV special.
One almost certain sign of a mediocre best of or issue-focused short story collection--the editor includes one (or more) of her own stories. Oh, look, Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years qualifies. As a whole, these stories here are basically okay reads, but many of them just didn't grab me. If you can only get one of the two volumes in this series, I think more of the stories in the other one (The Classic Years) are much better overall--though the introduction this time seemed slightly better/less stridently "feminist first, quality second" than the other volume's is. That said, I'd like to see movie versions of a few of these, especially "The Thaw" and "Scorched Supper on New Niger". "Cassandra", "Angel", "Rachel in Love", and "Midnight News" also impressed me, though not to the same degree. Reichs-Peace felt well-written, but for me, its alternative history diverging in 1942 where the Nazis weren't genocidal and went on to win the war felt like it was in somewhat poor taste; I just couldn't bring myself to get over that particular mental hurdle to enjoy the story.
When the Wind Blows is a somewhat disturbing graphic novel (from the artist who did the classic story The Snowman), about a dotty, retired, married couple in rural England who survive a nuclear blast--despite their preparedness and post-blast activities being being so literal-minded and utterly clueless that even Amelia Bedelia would think them idiots--only to die fairly quickly of radiation sickness without ever seeing or hearing from another survivor. Comedy so dark it's black doesn't get much blacker than this. The parody of dotty old-age pensioners living out in the middle of nowhere, England who are always happy no matter what hardship comes their way is way over the top--they're still eternal optimists who always look on the bright sight and find a positive (if delusional) explanation for everything as they develop ever-more-serious symptoms of radiation sickness, and the juxtaposition of that and Briggs' otherwise kid-friendly illustration style with the very, very dark and depressing subject matter is whiplash-inducing (and I think that whiplash in tone vs. content is why this came off as so disturbing to me). I'm still undecided as to whether it's an effective anti-nuclear-war piece or whether the over-the-top depiction of the main characters distracts from and thus undercuts the message by making it hard to suspend one's disbelief at the inanity & total ignorance of the main characters long enough to take the story seriously. It's very rooted both in the Cold War fears of nuclear war and in remembrances of surviving World War II, and thus is now getting somewhat dated, so it's probably not worth tracking down purely on its own merits, but it's a very interesting read if you happen to find it.
Feudalism: Serf & Turf