Another year is in the books, and I have been in. . . well, a lot of books. I’ve already posted my favorite 2022 releases, but now I’d like to zoom out and look at some stats from a year of reading–particularly as relates to my 2022 goals, which I set last January and have basically ignored since. So how did I do? What interesting information is in my spreadsheet? Nerd post incoming:
Novels and Novellas
Totals, Pub Years, Competitions
I changed how I track short story anthologies mid-year, so I’ll exclude them, along with non-fiction and books I read to my kids, which I only sporadically tracked (though I heartily recommend Ursula Vernon’s Harriet the Invincible for parents of the early elementary set). Totaling up what remains, I attempted 79 novels and novellas in 2022, finishing 77 of them. Both DNFs were in January. Go figure.
SPSFC novels took up more than a quarter of my reading, with 22 books read in my capacity as competition judge. Unsurprisingly, this category saw the lowest average rating–it comes with the territory when slush reading. But while I found a few books I really liked, I was disappointed not to find a true show-stopper among those 22. Perhaps in 2023.
Another 11 books were 2021 publications read as part of the Hugo Readalong I led on Reddit. These had my highest average rating, 16.1 out of 20, with 36% earning a rating of at least 17, the score at which I begin rounding to five stars on the Goodreads scale. Again, this probably isn’t surprising when reading a pool of books nominated for one of the biggest awards in the genre.
Of the remaining 44 books, 19 were 2022 or 2023 releases, eight were 2021 releases, and 17 were backlist titles. I had absolutely terrific luck with the new releases, with an average rating of 15.5 and a five-star rate of 37%, a tick higher than even the Hugo finalists. Some of my worst luck, on the other hand, came during my scramble to read ballyhooed 2021 novels before the March award nomination deadline. The eight I read averaged a score of just 14.8, and only Bethany C. Morrow’s A Chorus Rises saw a five-star rating.
I also tended to quite enjoy my backlist series-starters, with an average rating of 15.4, but that rating was mostly driven by high four-star ratings than fives; my only 17+ rating was Carol Berg’s Dust and Light. Ironically, the sequels were worse. I did adore Sherwood Smith’s Treason’s Shore, but the average score was just 15.1–a surprise given that everything on the list was selected because I’d enjoyed the previous book.
I didn’t really set goals for gender diversity, counting on well-cultivated recommendation sources to ensure I read plenty of women. And that worked pretty well, with 52% of my reads written by women, 36% written by men, and the remainder by multiple or non-binary authors. Interestingly, when you filter out competition reading, the male-authored reads and female-authored reads ended up with identical 15.3 average ratings, with a hair over a quarter of each rated five stars.
Unfortunately, I fell just short of my goal of 25 books written by authors of color, finishing with just 23 (21 if you exclude anthologies). As I argued in my discussion on reading habits, I don’t put too much stock in binary success or failure in reading goals, but this is a good opportunity to evaluate my reading habits to see why I fell short.
And in this case, the culprit is clear. I did just fine on new releases, and even judging a self-published competition didn’t put me off the pace. But my backlist reading was overwhelmingly white, with the only authors of color in 17 works being Stephen Graham Jones (Mapping the Interior) and Yoon Ha Lee (Raven Stratagem). As I mentioned in the last section, I didn’t read as many backlist titles as I’d hoped to, but when I did pick them up. . . well, they weren’t as diverse as I’d hoped. I somehow managed to leave Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds on the shelf (literally–I bought a copy and it’s still on my shelf), and the doorstopping length kept me from starting either the Green Bone Saga or The Dandelion Dynasty, both of which I swore I’d read in 2022. Maybe in 2023. At any rate, there are options. With the majority of my reading being new releases, I’m glad to see those better balanced, but I’d like to get more balance with the backlist as well, perhaps starting with Lord, Lee, and Liu (I don’t know why they all start with “L,” I didn’t name them).
I also started tracking author nationality this year. It’s a little bit hard to be precise here, because many authors have lived in different countries, and I also didn’t have any particular goals beyond seeing how US-centric my reading was. And my SPSFC reading and my non-competition reading were both about two-thirds American, but my Hugo reading crept up over 80%. Again, this is a small sample, but it certainly doesn’t do anything to counter the critics who claim the Hugos are too dominated by the US. Now I really enjoyed the American-authored books I read this year–if I struggled anywhere, it was with Canadian authors, in an admittedly small sample size–but I’d definitely like to make sure I’m seeking out books outside the US bubble.
Paper Pages and Kindle Locations
I said I would track these, and I did. Averaged over a year of reading, 1000 Kindle locations corresponded to about 65 pages on average–almost exactly what I’d been estimating in my head previously. But the variance was high. Lots of short books advertised page counts drastically out-of-step with their Kindle locations, with the worst offender being Lavie Tidhar’s Neom (which is excellent, by the way) coming in barely over novella length and being advertised at over 250 pages. That’s 112 pages per 1000 locations. On the other hand, there were a couple books I read whose Kindle location count was significantly higher than expected based on average page count, led by Mizuki Tsujimura’s Lonely Castle in the Mirror (also excellent) at 39 pages per 1000 locations. I can only assume that there’s some sort of combination of formatting choices that cause the Kindle location count to rise in a way not justified by word count, because these few didn’t feel that long. I still wish the industry in general just normalized releasing word counts.
I’m going to try to get to more backlist books–and make sure they’re not all white–but I understand that I’ve pivoted significantly toward new releases, and I only have so much reading time, so I’m not setting an explicit goal. We’ll check back next year and see what it looks like.
I’m also going to track new-to-me authors next year, which I didn’t do this year.
Totals, Categories, and Scores
In 2022, I read a total of 278 pieces of short speculative fiction, excluding rereads. This does include 7 novellas that were a part of magazines (as opposed to standalone books, which I tracked with the last section), along with 51 novelettes and 220 short stories. Given that my goal was 100, I’d say that I safely exceeded it.
Before I go further into the categories, I want to briefly talk about scoring. I don’t publish numerical ratings for short stories, but I do mark a score on my spreadsheet to help me remember how I felt about a story in the moment. And while some really wow me, there are a lot of stories that chug along doing their thing for a few thousand words, leaving me having enjoyed the experience but not having anything that I’m going to remember a year later. These generally get scored at 15/20. And a big enough sample size, almost every category ends up with a median of 15. Which makes median a little useless, and is the reason I’ll talk about mean and percentage of stories rated five stars (17+).
Interestingly, my highest average score was for novelettes. The lowest, by far, was for flash fiction. While they count as short stories for Hugo purposes, 20 of the 220 short stories were under 1500 words and were listed as “flash” on my tracking sheet. These averaged a 14.3 rating, and I didn’t give a single five-star. In fact, the shortest thing on my 2022 Recommended Reading List was the 2960-word “Seen Small Through Glass” by Premee Mohamed–nearly double the length I used as a threshold between short story and flash fiction. There were a couple shorter ones on my 2021 list: the 1503-word “My Sister is a Scorpion” by Isabel Cañas and the 2048-word “Man vs Bomb” by M. Shaw. But it appears that I struggle to connect to the shortest of the shorts.
I read 278 stories from 61 different publications in 2022. 177 of those stories were published in 2022, across 33 different publications. 30 of those offer some or all of their fiction for free. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches, even for short fiction aficionados without a lot of extra spending cash. But with so many shiny objects, it does make it hard to focus on any particular publications. I would like to support the short fiction ecosystem, but I’m not joining patreons for 30 different magazines. So I started tracking, to see who consistently published works that I found interesting.
When limited to just magazines (I had poor luck with anthologies this year) and excluding pre-2021 reading that mostly consisted of old award winners, I gave an average score of 15.2 and five-starred about 17% of the stories I read. There were six magazines that I read at least five times last year that exceeded both those numbers: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, FIYAH, GigaNotoSaurus, Strange Horizons, and Tordotcom. In fact, Clarkesworld was so far out ahead by mid-year that I decided to become a regular, starting in September, making it the only magazine from which I read more than 10 stories published in 2022.
I was extremely impressed with GigaNotoSaurus, which I’d never even heard of going into the year, and I definitely plan to give them a closer look in 2023. I was also surprised at how well Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Strange Horizons graded out on my spreadsheet. My kneejerk evaluation was that the former (a magazine of “literary adventure fantasy”) tended to run long and that the latter was willing to push the envelope but the results were wildly inconsistent. My spreadsheet says otherwise–I liked both quite a bit in 2022. Of course, sample sizes are reasonably small, but they’re worth a closer look.
On the negative side of the ledger, there were a few publications that I was surprised not to see among the leaders. Uncanny had my vote for Best Short Story and Best Novelette in the 2022 Hugo Awards, but my pre-nomination scramble yielded just one story that really stuck with me, and 2022 yielded none. I also would’ve listed Lightspeed among the leaders in the field if you’d asked me six months ago, and I had a Fantasy Magazine story on my Hugo nominating ballot, but I tried and I tried and didn’t find anything that stuck with me from either magazine in 2022. Whether that’s on them having a bad year, not aligning with my tastes, or simply me having the bad luck to read a few tales that didn’t click while others I might’ve loved passed by unseen, I can’t say. I’m certainly not writing them off in the future, but they won’t be my first stops either.
I’m going to try to consistently patronize a few magazines in 2023–and put my money where my reading is. I’ll start with Clarkesworld, GigaNotoSaurus, and Fantasy & Science Fiction (which I didn’t read much in 2022 because it’s behind a paywall. . . but I get the impression it’s a classic for a reason) and go from there. Either that’s going to result in my biggest short fiction reading year ever, or it’s going to have me struggling to keep up and needing to scale back. We’ll see.
I’m also going to keep track of which stories are recommended by which reviewers. There are only a handful in the field who regularly put out recommendation posts, and my four favorite 2022-published short stories were recommended by one of them: Leonard Richardon’s “Two Spacesuits” by Karen Burnham, Russell Nichols’ “To Live and Die in Dixieland” by Paula Guran, David-Christopher Galhea’s “In the Time of the Telperi Flower” by Charles Payseur, and Ray Nayler’s “Fostering” by Maria Haskins. I didn’t have quite the same luck with the recommendations of Alex Brown, but I also didn’t diligently track them, so the sample sizes are somewhat small. I’ll add a few columns to my spreadsheet and we’ll see what 2023 looks like.