Interesting Books So Far
Life is calming down a bit and it has occurred to me that I might consider reanimating the blog. Things will never return to the two posts per week heyday of a few years ago, but I may be able to scribble on a monthly basis for the time being. (The main lesson of this year, other than the crushing reality of raising children, has been “never coach baseball.” I am still recovering.)
Anyway, with my current job cursing me with a thrice weekly bus commute across a lake, I have been able to put away quite a few more books. Writing about all of them is completely beyond me though, so I’d like to mention a few that have stood out this year. A few more will hopefully be covered individually, so this is not a comprehensive list of my favorites for the year. Please think of it as a list of books that deserve wider conversation, but didn’t spark a 1200 word essay.
Twelve Kings in Sharakhai – Brad Beaulieu
Doorstop followup to the impressive Lays of Anuskaya series, this is even more ambitious. I enjoy the fact that Beaulieu avoids both traditional epic fantasy cliché and grimdark convention in his meticulously constructed, wildly original worlds. He also manages to balance questions of representation and hierarchy, ie strong women, rulers and oppressed, and racial issues, with the demands of narrative, so things never sound preachy or hectoring. Twelve Kings reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson, but with the gonzo dial turned back down to maybe six or seven.
Wolfhound Century – Peter Higgins
This is, um, fantastical police procedural stuff in an alternate, Stalinist world. Gorky Park with aliens, monsters, terrorists, political machinations, cops, and I don’t even know what else. It’s as grim and violent as one would expect of the setting, and quite unlike anything else I have read recently. I will be continuing the series sometime in the next few months.
City of Blades – Robert Bennett
City of Stairs was my favorite book from a couple of years ago, so I was excited to read the sequel. Blades didn’t pack quite the punch of the first, but was still one of the best books I’ve seen this year. The broader questions of conquest and empire are still at the center of the story, along with the dead gods and the messed up societies they left behind, all coming together to make these books one of the most intriguing and original series out there.
Burndive – Karin Lowachee
The followup to Warchild isn’t quite as intense, but that’s probably just as well. (Less child abuse is generally ok with me.) It’s still a tense, claustrophobic novel in the style of CJ Cherryh that would be well served by a third book. I suppose the same realities that keep Lowachee from cranking out annual best sellers apply here, but I wish they didn’t. I’d gladly read more from her.
Gene Mapper – Fujii Taiyo
Halfway through, I was ready to declare this my favorite Japanese SF book. Fujii updates cyberpunk with biochem, substituting computer hacking with GMO sabotage. The main character uses upgraded CSS to put the aesthetic finishing touches on rice genomes and must investigate when someone cracks the design to threaten the rice crop. Smart, post-climate change futures, cutting edge gene science, eco-terrorism, and more keep things entertaining. The book is short, and suffers for it I think. I had to knock some points off for the rushed and pat ending, but for the most part, it’s an on-point, near future tech thriller. One of my top three or four Haikasoru books.
Sorceress and the Cygnet – Patricia McKillup
Anything Patricia McKillup writes is a treat. I love them all.
The Half-Made World / Rise of Ransom City – Felix Gilman
I guess the kids these days call this “Weird West.” It’s sort of China Mieville meets John Wayne, but much better than that sounds on the surface. Gilman’s second book is lighter than the first, which can get pretty heavy at times. Taken together though, this is one of the more inventive creations I’ve seen lately. The Line and The Gun will stick with me.
The Red Trilogy – Linda Nagata
This is hard-hitting, near future military SF that everyone should read. The books are fairly short and go quickly; I tore through all three this year. (The last two in quick succession, something I rarely do.) Nagata combines the action and characters of standard mil SF with the cynicism and vague dystopia of cyberpunk, powering everything with an emerging AI narrative. It’s never quite what I expected, but hits all the satisfying beats of thrillers and hard SF.
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
I’m late to the party with Ernest Cline, but finally got to his popular debut. Entertaining, feel good stuff. While I am a touch too young to get all of it, and woefully ignorant of much pop culture of any era. I still enjoyed everything. Most of the early computer games, D&D, etc. was right up my alley of course. There is only a modest level of suspense, since obviously the hero is going to conquer everything, but I was still happy to see things move inevitably to the joyous conclusion.
The Confusion – Neal Stephenson
I picked this for the flight to Japan last month, knowing that I wouldn’t get through it otherwise. I love Stephenson’s books, but how many of us really have time to push through 900 pages? Or wrist strength, for that matter. These heavy tomes are why I read ebooks. Anyway, it goes without saying that this is brilliant and madcap. Stephenson’s unruly band of misfits stomps its way through the beginnings of the modern economy, which somehow manages to be the actual theme of approximately 3000 pages of madness that pretends to be about wars, pirates, kings, and crazy people. I most enjoyed the hidalgo with Tourette’s Syndrome, but your mileage may vary. There is certainly enough to go around.