Books of 2012
I think 2012 will go down as a major year in science fiction. Unlike 2011, when only a few books stood out to me, the last twelve months have been a gold rush. Past masters like David Brin and M. John Harrison released new books, high profile writers of the current generation like Alastair Reynolds and John Scalzi published eagerly awaited novels, big time collaborations like Stephenson – Bear, Stross – Doctorow, Baxter – Pratchett, and Benford – Niven caused heart palpitations throughout nerd-dom, and follow ups to some of 2011’s best kept interest at a fever pitch. I’m sure my greater engagement and awareness this year added to the euphoria, but I still think that the 2012 haul of SF is one of the best in recent memory.
The following list is everything I read in the last year, with links where applicable, so it leaves out several prominent books that I just haven’t gotten to yet. I will probably add some later edits as I finally read things, but for now I can only guarantee completeness on my own terms. Also, this is almost entirely SF; I know there have been lots of heavyweight fantasy books published this year, but I’m either too far behind in the series (Erikson), ignorant of, or apathetic about (Wheel of Time) to read. Apologies for my limitations, but I hope this is still somewhat entertaining or informative. Titles are listed in the order I read them, not by an arbitrary ranking.
The Navidad Incident – Ikezawa Natsuki
This was published in the early 1990s in Japan, but finally saw an English translation this year. One of the best books of the year, though more fantastic realism than speculative fiction. Difficult to condense into a four sentence blurb, but this is a unique portrait of the world, and especially Japan, at the end of the Cold War.
Death Sentences – Kawamata Chiaki
Another older Japanese book, Kawamata wrote this in the mid 1980s, with the University of Minnesota Press finishing the translation this year. Kind of a Phil Dick meets The Ring, Death Sentences is another essential Japanese SF novel.
Redshirts – John Scalzi
Scalzi is a science fiction rock star, so there isn’t much about Redshirts that hasn’t been hashed out already. Anytime someone as popular as Scalzi takes on Star Trek, The World will take notice. I will hopefully get a review of this up soon, since it’s definitely a book worth talking about, a must read for anyone trying to stay current in SF.
Armored – ed. John Joseph Adams
I don’t read a lot of short fiction, but as a long time Battletech fan and recent convert to Japanese giant fighting robot anime, I couldn’t miss this collection. Lots of interesting and varied takes on power armor from a mix a rising stars and old timers.
2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson
My vote for the best novel of the year goes to 2312.
Caliban’s War – James S.A. Corey
This is Corey’s follow up to 2011’s Leviathan Wakes, a well regarded, throwback space extravaganza. Caliban’s War largely escapes middle book syndrome, despite the fact that most of what happens is just laying the ground work for the next book. Very enjoyable, if less ambitious than Robinson and Brin.
The Mongoliad Book One and Two – Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, et al
The Subutai collective published the first two volumes of their alternate history retelling of the Mongol invasions this year. There is much background on both the story and the mechanics of writing it that are almost as interesting as the tale itself. I am interested to see how everything wraps up in Book Three, as well as what else they have in mind for this alternate Earth.
Existence – David Brin
In the absence of 2312, this would get the nod for the best of the year. Between the two of them, Robinson and Brin accounted for an estimated 78% of the amazing ideas, 56% of net coolness, and 83% of the thinking immediately applicable to our time. I may or may not have just made all that up, but if someone were to read just two SF novels this year, they should be Existence and 2312.
Bowl of Heaven – Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
Benford and Niven was the most anticipated collaboration of the year for me. Bowl lacks some of the Right Now relevance of other novels published this year, but did more to revive Big Mysterious Object stories circa 1972 than any other book. Unrelenting fun for Hard SF fans.
Ashes of Candesce – Karl Schroeder
And if someone were to read just three novels this year, Ashes of Candesce should be the third. This is the final volume of Schroeder’s Virga series, which I wish more people were talking about. I am encouraging all and sundry to check this out so I have someone to natter with.
The Fractal Prince – Hannu Rajaniemi
Pretty much what I expected: mind-altering, half incomprehensible Hard SF. Not necessarily for the casual fan, but a grognard like myself will savor this like a plate of Godiva chocolate. (Preferably paid for by others.)
Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds
The quality one expects from Reynolds with a more down to earth setting. 2012 was truly the Year of the Solar System. Blue Remembered Earth joins the top four or five list for the year.